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When Spock was six, barely bonded and committing to the Vulcan way, his father's work took them to Earth.

Spock, when he looked back, always thought that it was very poor planning on his parents' part.

He was moved from his parents' estate on the edge of the desert where there were four people and dozens upon dozens of rooms to an Embassy less than half its size housing them and his father's staff.

Sybok they left behind on Vulcan to complete his degree work at the Vulcan Science Academy.

To Spock San Francisco was too loud, the sky was the wrong color, and indeed everything was tinted a shade off. His mother had made it clear that while he was allowed to roam the Embassy and its gardens at will, he was only allowed into the park behind the Embassy to further explore. For a child used to the vast expanses of Vulcan's deserts, it was abruptly confining.

The park was closed in by officer's housing on three sides, and iron gates opened onto it. It was very private and, Spock was given to understand, unusual. It had huge trees and benches beneath them, a strange structure that he had seen small children playing on (it hardly seemed safe), and within two days he had exhausted its limits and had no more use for it. The insects distracted him when he attempted to read and the glare of the sunlight off his PADD was most inconvenient. He concluded after a week that to stay indoors was far more preferable.

His mother insisted he try to make friends, however, because apparently that was something of an important Earth tradition for its children. Spock had known T'Pring, but she had been his betrothed, not a friend. He had had no interest in forming bonds of friendship on Vulcan—he had had Sybok when he was lonely, but more frequently he was capable of entertaining himself. He did not see why this should change on Earth, though he would admit that without Sybok—without other Vulcans—his world seemed an emptier place. Indeed, two weeks into their residency he decided that Earth was going to be very lonely.

On the fifteenth day on Earth, he walked into the garden to find a boy sitting on the top of the garden wall. Spock stopped and looked at the sheer wall that stood seven feet tall and lifted an eyebrow.

"What are you doing?" the boy asked, as though the perfectly serviceable wrought iron gate did not exist.

His hair was golden—product of a recessive gene not prevalent (or present) on Vulcan—and his eyes were blue. It was enough to make Spock look just to look, and the boy raised his eyebrows.

"You speak Standard?" he asked, and then tilted his head and said in serviceable High Vulcan, "Um. One Standard speak?"

Spock's other eyebrow went up. "Your accent is terrible."

"Hey, I read it out of a phrase book," the boy defended. "Come on. Come play. How old are you?"

"Seven." He wondered if this would bar him from playing.

"I'm six," the boy told him, and seemed to consider the gap in their ages. "It's okay, I'm old for my age. I'm promiscuous."

Later, Spock would look back on that moment and curse his lack of familiarity with Terran colloquialisms. At the time, Spock was simply at a loss as to how to respond to any of that. On Vulcan one did not approach strangers and start up conversations with them, and one certainly did not volunteer unsolicited information.

One also did not climb walls and invade another's property.

Well, unless one was Sybok, but Sybok was always the exception, never the rule.

"Play with me," the boy repeated, and then his face twisted in a frown, as though he was judging Spock and finding him sadly lacking. "Don't you even know how to play?"

"Er," Spock said, trying to remember if he knew any Terran games. His mother had not informed him of any. "No?"

The boy stared at him and then pointed to the ground behind him imperiously. "Come on. I'll teach you. I'm an excellent player."

If Spock had known then that that was more of a warning than the boy intended, he would have cut his losses and gone back inside to explore his new home again.

As it was, he opened the gate and waited for the boy to drop down beside him. He submitted to the scrutiny of the boy's gaze, taking in Spock's robes. However, unlike every other Terran child Spock had met thus far, he decided not to comment in favor of grabbing hold of Spock's robe to pull him forcibly to a patch of dirt where various toys were strewn.

“Everyone is dying,” the boy explained, surveying them all with a grim expression, leaning against the tree. He sighed and shook his head, folding his arms over his chest. “It’s a no-win situation.”

Spock tried to understand why the jumble of figurines could be construed as a situation without solution, but he felt he lacked sufficient data. “How do you play if they all die?” he asked instead, and the boy gave him a look that said Spock was an idiot, completely and utterly. It stung: on Vulcan Spock was one of the most intelligent children in his class, and this boy was a child who had decided arbitrarily that inanimate figurines had to die. Spock was not given to using his imagination, but he was fairly certain one could create a last-minute rescue while playing.

“When I was in Iowa I used to be able to throw them off the cliff,” the boy informed Spock, a little wistfully. Spock feels his eyebrow go up.

“That seems...wasteful,” Spock told him. The boy stared at him, then rolled his eyes.

“Fine, then you play with them,” he snapped, and stomped off through the gate towards the houses on the far side of the park. Spock stood, waiting to see if this was part of the game, if the boy was coming back. After several minutes it was clear that he would not return, and Spock crouched to pick up the generic Starfleet figurines and the miniature space ships. He put them on the bench in case the boy decided he wanted them after all, even if they had disappointed him by dying.

When his mother asked if he had made a friend, Spock had replied truthfully, "I do not know."

She had laughed and touched his face and shown him his room, and that had been that.

Spock was a level ahead of the boy in school, though for some classes Spock had been moved up and for some classes the boy had been. It turned out that his name was James Tiberius Kirk but that he answered to "Jim" or "Kirk" or "Mr. Kirk"—which was what all the teachers called him when he was in trouble (which seemed to be frequently).

He felt his brain atrophying quickly, and after a week of school he went outside, determined to seek Jim Kirk out because while the Terran boy had been oddly erratic and seemed to have intense behavioral issues, he was not boring. Which was more than Spock could say for the entire rest of the planet.

Spock hardly had to look, as Jim was leaning against the gate, facing the park. When Spock approached he passed a figurine through the grate and turned.

"You haven't been here the last week," Jim said.

"I have been adjusting to the pace of schoolwork," Spock said.

"Whatever," Jim dismissed, and stepped back so Spock could open the gate. "That's the captain," he said, pointing to the figurine in Spock's hand. "It's a lot of responsibility, because now you have great power. Also if the ship goes down you die."

Jim took him to a corner of the park where the bushes next to the gates had grown into an old tree and had started reaching for the bench under it. They were secreted away like this, and Jim rolled his eyes and told Spock what to have the captain say, what the plans were. Spock could hardly see why he was necessary when Jim clearly had everything mapped out, but thought maybe Jim was lonely and wanted the company, so he tried to do as directed, though sometimes Jim clearly did not see all the options and Spock had to take matters into his own hands.

After that it was just habit to look for Jim when he got home from school, even though after about a month they started fighting. Jim would yell that Spock didn’t know what he was doing and Spock would point out that pantomimes like these were foolish and served no purpose and Jim would call him stupid. Spock’s heart would race and Jim’s face would flush and sometimes Spock would storm out of their corner and sometimes Jim would. There would be weeks where Spock would refuse to go outside at all, just in case he saw Jim, and then there were days when he felt like if Jim stayed away Spock would break into pieces, shatter like his father’s favorite vase an assistant had knocked over last week.

In school, though, Jim had adopted Spock into his circle with ease, none of the after-school tensions surfacing. The other children merely nodded, some of them envious of the attention, and Spock observed that though they were clearly afraid of Jim they wanted his approval, and could not help following him. If Jim was cruel it was carelessly so, not intentional. In all, Spock's perceived idiosyncrasies were shrugged off by most of the student population, which was incredibly diverse, and whatever tensions there might of been, Spock watched as they were shoved down under the weight of Jim's personality.

Jim was always talking, always holding court, but Spock was the one whose lunch he stole from, who got the fleeting smiles.

Spock tried to teach Jim how to solve physics equations using T'Sorra's Theorum, and Jim tried to teach Spock how to hack into Starfleet's Intranet.

Well, "tried" was the wrong word: they were both successful. Jim learned how to speak Vulcan and Spock learned to speak bastardized Romulan, which Jim apparently learned from his mother and spoke with his brother (and then Spock) exclusively.

One day Amanda asked Spock who his friend was, and Sybok, who was visiting and who was what Jim would call a “big-mouth tattle”, told her it was Jim Kirk.

Amanda frowned, thoughtful, looking over at Sarek the way she did when she was trying to remember someone they'd met. “Isn’t he much younger than you?” she’d asked.

“Only a year,” Spock had told her, and she nodded, and that had been the last of it until suddenly, two months later (after parent-teacher conferences), she was telling him that he was not permitted to play with Jim Kirk anymore. His stepfather was, apparently, not very nice, and Jim had a ‘reputation’. Spock had found her logic to be incomplete and emotionally-driven, so he had ignored it. It was hardly Jim’s fault that his mother married a man who was unkind, and if Jim had a reputation Spock could not see how that would stack up against him actually knowing Jim.

Jim’s cruelty was less about Spock than it was about Jim, and when Jim played too rough Spock was stronger and could sit on his chest until Jim stopped, gasping for breath and telling Spock through his tears that he hated him, hated him.

He did not, in fact, hate Spock, because after, when Spock cautiously got off his chest, Jim would sit with him, sulking, until Spock told him his eyes were no longer red and his face was no longer splotchy.

By the time they were nine and eight the figurines vanished, and mostly they would lay down and watch the sky, or, if Jim was feeling particularly angry, wrestle. Sometimes there was a game attached—Jim was the commander of an invading force and he had captured Spock and was going to force him to tell him all his secrets—but just as often there was not.

Spock...well. He was unsure of why he actually continued to play with Jim. He had classmates who were more interesting, and there were other children in his intellectual peer group he could have spent free time. Most of them lived nearby, he could have had any of them over.

He never did, though. He went back to Jim, sometimes furious with himself after for thinking that this time would be different, that Jim would want to play something like chess or just talk, tell Spock what it was that made him angry. There had to be a reason: it was a law of physics and everything. Jim could not be so volatile without some sort of impetus.

But the thing was, when Jim had him backed up against the shrubs with little sticks poking into his back or when he was sitting on Spock’s chest, he looked...not happy, perhaps, but less unhappy.

Sometimes Jim’s stepfather (“Frank,” Jim spat, once, glowering) would come looking for him. He always muttered under his breath, a steady stream of threats and self-pity. Jim would go very still, his breathing slowing and not moving, trying to be as silent as possible. Sometimes Spock was near enough to feel his heart race, and he always made himself as quiet as he could be when Frank stumbled past them.

Sometimes Spock would be in the middle of speaking (arguing) and Jim would slap one hand across Spock’s mouth and the other across the back of his head to hold him steady, acting like Spock was going to call out to Frank and give him away.

“Does he hit you?” he asked Jim once, and Jim had shaken his head.

“No, he’s just...not nice,” Jim had replied. Spock never saw any bruising, so he had to accept it as fact.

Frank Hallie and Winona Lawson Kirk were married when Jim was four. Frank had gone to school with George and Winona, all three of them growing up in Riverside, Iowa. Spock was able to find reports on George and Winona—the occasional police report on Winona, scholarship notices on George, who seemed to be the golden child of the town.

Spock didn't know much, had no way of going to Iowa to ask if Frank was a stop-gap, Winona's way of tying someone to her children so that she could get away. Commander Kirk was away more often than she was at home—in the last three years Spock thought she had come back only twice…if that. Spock wondered at that—that she changed her name for George but not for Frank. Wondered if it was a reason that Frank was unhappy. His mother kept her name and it didn't mean she loved his father any less, but Winona had done it once—he had insufficient data. Spock felt like he always had insufficient data about Jim's life.

When Frank would come around Jim would curl around Spock and Spock would let him, would keep him close with the irrational thought that he could perhaps protect Jim from this. When Frank passed, they would untangle a little, boneless like their bodies were exhausted from being held still so long, panting breathlessly. Sometimes Spock could reach over to wrap his fingers around Jim’s wrist and Jim would let him, like he couldn’t see or hear or feel anything, too tense and angry and caught up in his own thoughts. Spock tried to explain it to Sybok, once, and all he can come up with was that it was like Jim’s mind just left, hurtled out past the clouds and into the stars where there was enough space for him to be as angry as he was.

Sybok had looked at him a little strangely. “That’s a bit fanciful for you, younger brother,” he had observed, and Spock had winced at the contraction, the newest facet of Sybok’s rebellion, which seemed to be getting worse, not better, as he finished his degree.

“I believe it to be true, nonetheless,” Spock had replied, and Sybok had launched into a description of part of his thesis. Spock had spent the better part of an hour arguing history with him before Amanda came to collect him for dinner.

Spock could never quite explain Jim to his own satisfaction. He was illogical, he was maybe a friend, but maybe not. He was something Spock kept close, whose attention he was jealous of.

On Jim's eleventh birthday, Winona Kirk returned, and Spock did not see Jim for a month.

And then one day Spock left for school only to find Jim waiting for him just before the shuttle stop. There was something wild in his eyes, and Spock went as Jim pulled him down the wrong street. He would be in trouble and face disciplinary action for missing school, he knew, but he also knew this mood, and he knew that this was the kind of mood in which Jim contemplated setting things on fire.

So he went. Followed Jim into the heart of the city and trailed him as he examined booths. It took all of an hour for Spock to realize that Jim's pockets were beginning to swell, and after that it was an ongoing battle to keep Jim's kleptomania in check. On the occasions he failed Spock was always torn between paying and not being held responsible, and Jim laughed at him, head thrown back and his fingers warm around Spock's wrists as he told Spock to let him get away with it.

"Come on, come on," Jim said, and they ducked into the Exploratorium behind a class of students. Jim dragged him along, pointing to exhibits and Spock pointed out the many inaccuracies, much to the irritation of the staff.

"Christ, and people think I'm annoying," Jim laughed as they were escorted out. He looked up and down the street, and then critically at Spock. "Have you ever worn Terran clothes?"

"I have not."

"Do you want to fix that?" Jim asked, and Spock could hardly see how it would hurt.

"I would be willing to try it," Spock agreed warily.

He managed to get Jim home by seven that night, which he counted as a victory (he had also managed to avoid any fights and grand larceny. Spock was clearly King of the Universe).

He had not, however, remembered to change.

“Spock,” Amanda sighed when Spock came back in jeans and a t-shirt. Then he remembered that he had not found out whether Jim paid for them and had a moment of distress that the authorities had contacted his parents.

“I was only trying,” he told her as she crouched down, frowning at the STARFLEET OR BUST insignia on his shirt. “It was an experiment.”

She nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “Spock, it’s perfectly natural for you to explore your...heritage.”

“I have decided to follow the Vulcan way,” he reminded her, and then after a moment's consideration added, “These clothes are binding.”

Amanda bit her lips like she was trying not to laugh, and then she stood up, touched his cheek, and said, “Get dressed for dinner.”

He went upstairs, pulling off the shirt, scratching his chest where the fabric had been too rough; unfamiliar.

“You’re putting the dress back on?”

Spock almost asphyxiated himself trying to turn around while taking off the shirt.

“You have broken into my room,” he pointed out when the danger had passed, because it had been five years and Spock was mostly adept at handling Jim.

“You left your window open,” Jim replied, as though this was Spock’s fault, as reasonable as any Vulcan. “It was practically an invitation.”

“I need to get dressed for dinner,” Spock told him severely, getting his clothes and then shutting himself into the bathroom to change. Then he realized that he had just let Jim chase him out of his own room and exhaled impatiently, but when he came back out Jim was nowhere to be found.

And then he was gone again, for a solid week, but Sam was not in school either, and so Spock waited, and wondered how bad this was going to be.

Nine days after Jim disappeared he reappeared. Spock could not say what woke him, because from the way Jim was sitting he had been there for a while.

"Jim. What are you doing here?" Spock demanded lowly, sitting up abruptly and glancing at the door to his bedroom. If his parents heard they would kick Jim out. Spock was unsure when that had become a priority, but then, Jim had been gone for over a week and he was staring at Spock like someone had kicked him in the stomach.

"My mom died," Jim told him, arms wrapped around his chest. "And the funeral was yesterday and everyone said I look just like my dad and now Frank wants us to go to Iowa. Do you always sleep in a nightgown?"

Spock blinked. "I was unaware she was ill."

"Blood clot. They think it probably started in her leg or something, caused an aneurism." Jim gestured with his hands. He looked very small, and very angry. It took Spock a moment to realize that he was, in fact, more scared of this Jim than he was of—anything. He had never been scared of Jim before.

Not in five years.

Jim paced restlessly. "Frank's packing. Sam's—they're fighting. They always fight, but now they're fighting louder. Frank'll win. There's a…farm, I guess? The house Dad grew up in."

"When do you leave?" Spock asked. Jim snorted.

"I don't know, Spock. Probably tomorrow morning." He looked at Spock like Spock was a moron. The familiarity of being annoyed with Jim helped, actually. Settled him.

The wind whipped through the room and Spock got up and shut the window, turning the latch and then turning around. "Jim."


Spock hesitated. Jim was leaning into the corner of the room, hiding and tucked away in the shadows, holding himself tight. Spock, despite his mother's influence, was not terribly good at emotion. Jim slid down and put his face in his arms, and Spock crossed the room carefully.

"Do you want to stay with me tonight?" he asked, reaching out slowly, trying to telegraph his movements. Jim made an angry sound, but his shoulders were shaking, and he let Spock touch him. Spock never knew what was going to set Jim off, so instead of trying to make him get up he folded himself down next to him, pressed up close and wrapped around him carefully.

"No," Jim told him, and Spock ignored him because sometimes, he had learned, Jim just made noises that sounded like words but carried none of the associated meanings.

Spock wanted to wake his father up and make Sarek do something, make Jim's step-father stay here. Spock's father was the most powerful person he knew on two planets, and he was sure that there was something that could be done and something had to be done. Spock needed time: Jim had to be put back together, and Spock could hardly be expected to do it in a night. He needed years, possibly.

Jim sobbed himself to sleep—or at least into a state of exhaustion so pure he allowed Spock to maneuver him to the bed, to tuck him under the sheet before Spock slid in next to him, wrapping an arm carefully around him. "I grieve with thee," he murmured to Jim in Vulcan, when he was sure Jim would stay asleep. Jim looked strange, soft and very young, and Spock was afraid of him—of what he would do—but he was also just—afraid. Of what would happen next.

He fell into troubled sleep, and when he woke up he was too hot. Jim was draped over him, had his hand fisted in Spock's night shirt and his shoulders shaking again. Spock blinked down at the mess of blonde hair and then tentatively put his hands on Jim's back.

That made the crying worse.

Spock looked around a little frantically. He tried to think of what his father had done the one time his mother had cried—when they had come to Seattle when her father died. He rubbed Jim's back carefully and Jim pressed his face into Spock's chest and took great shuddering gasping breaths. It felt like the world was tearing apart, and Spock just held on.

He was good at that: holding on. It was something Jim had taught him.

He fell asleep holding Jim and woke to the feeling of Jim sliding out of his hold, crawling over him to get to the window, opening it. Part of Spock wanted to tell him to stay: that they would figure it out. He wanted Jim to trust Spock to take care of it—of him. He wanted Jim to stay where Spock could watch out for him—yank him out from in front of cars and stop him from beating on people who couldn't fight back or the people who would hardly hesitate to punch a child; pay for things Jim casually took. Jim paused, or maybe Spock just thought he paused.

He was gone, though, and the next Monday he was not present, and when Spock got home he went into the park and waited. By dinner it was clear they were gone, and Spock ignored the relief on his parents' faces. If he looked at them too long he was too tempted to destroy things, to hurt them. It was a strange impulse, to hurt things because he was hurting.

Spock wondered if Jim could find someone in Iowa whose window would be left unlocked.

Something savage in him hoped he would not.

Chapter Text

Life without Jim took on a strange hue but perhaps it was to be expected, as it had been six years since Spock had been anything other than the first half of the entity known as "Spock'n'Jim." He found himself less tolerant of his classes, and by the end of the first month Sarek had suggested that Spock reaffirm his commitment to the Vulcan principles and pursue his meditation more aggressively.

It afforded him some peace, but lulled him into a false sense of security, a fact made abundantly clear when, on April 24th, he received a call from an unknown number.

He tilted his head—his private line was exclusive and very few outside his family had it—and then pressed accept.

Immediately he flinched back at the roar of sound and the high, whining assault of…well, perhaps it was music. He looked again at the number, and then hazarded, "Jim?"

"Spock! Spock, this car is awesome!" Jim's voice shouted over the din.

Spock hesitated and then said, dubious, "Eleven-year-olds can drive in Iowa?"

"Don't be a dumbass, Spock. Shit, wait, hang on—"  There were a few vaguely mechanical sounds and then the protesting scream of metal being forced to do something. Spock was not a technician, but he was also not an idiot. No vehicle should make that sound. Spock, who had been headed downstairs, handheld pressed between his cheek and shoulder, stopped on the second floor landing, feeling abruptly apprehensive.

More apprehensive.


"No, we're cool, the top just kind of flew—ripped—off, but it's okay!" The truly remarkable thing about Jim was that he could say things like that and believe that it was in any way reassuring. Terrans, Spock had found, put too much stock in the word "okay". It was among their chief failings, this predilection for understatement. One day Spock would write the book.

"Jim, what are you doing?" he asked, keeping his voice even.

"This car is an antique," Jim told him nonsensically, and then laughed. "He's gonna be so pissed."

"Who—Jim, pull over." Spock's hand was beginning to dent into the wood of the banister, and he forced his heart rate to steady.

"Nah, come on, we're going to —Spock, you think we could fly?  Hey, Johnny!"

Spock heard the wood start to splinter, recognized that he was exerting influence on an inanimate object in order to supplement his lack of control over Jim, and squeezed harder. "Jim, pull the car over."

"He kicked Sam out!" Jim shouted abruptly, angry and combative.  Spock hated this, that Jim seemed to start arguments without Spock and then got angry when Spock was unable to keep up with all the facts. Come to think, Spock hated a lot of things about Jim. Currently the fact that Spock could barely breathe for fear and Jim sounded on the verge of laughter.

"A logical decision, then, to crash a car in retaliation," Spock shot back, and then tilted his head. Yes, those were sirens he was hearing. Spock wondered if Jim's step-father alerted the authorities to the stolen car or if an officer was pursuing Jim due to the no doubt extensive number of traffic violations he was committing. Either was entirely plausible.

"Well, he likes the car, Spock.  I mean, he really likes the car.  Lots."  Something about Jim's tone suggested the fondness might be sexual.  Spock had always assumed that was a cruel stereotype about the Terran male.  Perhaps not.

In the background a slightly mechanical voice commanded, "Citizen, pull over."

There was a crash after that, but the car was still running and Jim was screaming in something like pure adrenaline and joy and Spock thought, I am going to listen to him die.

"Jim," he said with no real hope of being heard over the music and Jim's yelling as he closed his eyes. "Jim. Jump."

There was a squeal of tires and a quick succession of crunching sounds, and Spock stood and listened as the shouting faded, his ear burning with the pressure with which he was holding the handset to his head, and then there was the crash, loud and horrific and visceral, knocking the breath from him, staggering him back.

"Spock?" Amanda said, hurrying up the stairs. "Sweetheart, what—?"

"He didn't jump," he told her numbly, pulling the handset away and staring at it.

"Who didn't jump—who's on the phone?" she asked, reaching to take it from him. He jerked it back. It was illogical, as he was hardly going to hear anything further. The transmission had been terminated when the car no doubt went up in flames, but he could not bring himself to disconnect his end.

"Jim.  He—his step-father evicted his older brother from the residence and Jim took it poorly and stole his stepfather's antique car and…drove it off a cliff." Spock had not even been aware Iowa had cliffs.

He looked up at her, feeling numb, and was gratified to see the horror in her face, the immediate grief she felt for a boy she forbade Spock to play with years ago, whom she had never truly liked.

"Oh, Spock," she murmured, folding him into her arms.  "I'm so sorry."

He let her take the handset from him, then, and disconnect the line but he found the contact suffocating and disentangled from her.

"Spock—" she started, but he took the stairs to his room quickly and shut his door before he could hear the rest, sitting on the bed with his hands on his knees as he tried to meditate, to concentrate, to clear his mind.

His father came in after fifteen minutes of unsuccessful attempts at being calm. He wanted to throw things. He wanted to go to Iowa and yell at Sam, and Jim's step-father, at the officer who did not cut the chase short. He wanted to find Jim and kill him, which was impossible as Jim was dead.

Jim was dead.

Spock was going to vomit.

"Grief is the most difficult of emotions to manage," Sarek observed.  Spock looked up at him.  "You must accept it, meditate upon it—"

Spock's phone rang.

They both looked at the I.D. and if Sarek was perturbed that Riverside County Police Station was calling his son, Spock was unable to tell.  As it was he was too busy snatching up the handset and saying, "You jumped."

"'Course I jumped," Jim scoffed like Spock was an idiot for thinking otherwise.

"You weren't going to," Spock pointed out evenly, watching his father close the door behind him before standing up and grabbing his satchel, putting his PADD and his ident card into it.

"Fuck you," Jim snapped, and Spock grit his teeth and reminded himself he was glad that Jim had survived, that this rage was not directed at him personally; Spock was simply the nearest available target.

"Why are you in jail?" Spock asked, pulling his PADD back out and looking up incarceration laws in Iowa.  He was fairly certain that, as a minor, Jim was not to be held indefinitely.  Surely Earth was not so backwater as that, though sometimes he was forced to wonder.

"My stepdad wants me charged with grand theft auto, destruction of property and reckless endangerment.  Plus all the driving stuff." Jim's tone had shifted from anger abruptly into something fearless and strangely amused, like this was a joke Jim was waiting for the rest of them to understand.

"You are guilty of those things and more," Spock pointed out.

"Whose side are you on?" Jim demanded. "Anyway, I guess they don't know what to do with me, there's like, a social worker and shit so we'll probably have to do family counseling or something."

"He is not kicking you out?"

"No, can't torture me if I don't live there," Jim said, and then the line went dead.

"I am going to kill him," Spock informed the room serenely.

Upon reflection later, Spock would assume that the only reason his parents had not thought to forbid him from going to Jim that night had been their complete shock. That, and Spock had never before gone anywhere not escorted by one or both of his parents.

So the idea that Spock would slip out the window and take public transport (first class, because Spock was angry, but he was hardly going to be uncomfortable) to Riverside, Iowa—that idea never occurred to his parents.

He spent the four hour trip researching bail and laws pertaining to minors in the district Jim was being held, trying to estimate how much would be needed to procure his release and wondering if he would have to call Sybok to lend him funds.

He imagined Sybok would enjoy the conversation, would say that this was Spock embracing his Terran cultural roots. Spock would also never hear the end of it. He pulled up his account information: he had several thousand at his disposal, and thought surely that would be sufficient. According to the literature available, he was given to understand he would get the money back when Jim appeared at his court date.

Of course, Spock would probably have to stay in town to ensure Jim appeared in court, but he could do that.

There was no one else in the shuttle, and the two attendants were sitting in the front row, legs splayed in front of them and talking, obviously tired. Both Terran, Spock thought and watched the way they interacted to try to distract himself from his concerns. It was illogical, perhaps to be apprehensive, but it seemed equally illogical not to accept the severity of the situation Jim could find himself in.

There was also the slow, steady burn of anger, but Spock had deliberately put that aside.

When they arrived at the dock station there was a taxi waiting to take him to the destination of his choosing and the man behind the wheel barely blinked when Spock told him he would like the police station.

Surely it must have been unusual—people coming from out of town at 20:00 and asking to be taken to the jail. Perhaps Riverside's criminal element was greater than Spock had previously anticipated.

The police station was in an old building with several more modern additions, no doubt recently expanded on due to a population surge caused by the jobs brought to the area by Starfleet. The woman at the desk looked at him and raised her eyebrows.

"Can I help you, son?" she asked, looking a bit apprehensive, as though wondering what one did with misplaced Vulcan children.

"I am here for James Tiberius Kirk," he said, and she lifted her heavy brows even further. "I can pay his bail," Spock added, holding up his bank card between his fingers.

"No bail," she said after a moment's hesitation. "Just needed someone to come pick him up. Wait here, I'll go get him." She stood up and paused a little, looking at him curiously, but then went to fetch Jim while muttering something about knowing that boy was just like his Momma, honest to God. Spock stood in the empty room, ignoring the curious gaze of the other officer on duty, and wondered why she would release Jim into the custody of another minor. Perhaps the woman was unfamiliar with Vulcans and assumed him older.

He heard Jim before he saw him, telling the officer that parting was such sweet sorrow. His blue eyes were limpid when he came into view and she was trying very hard not to laugh at him as she pushed him at Spock, who noticed Jim's hands were bandaged across the palms and raw at the knuckles. His lip was cut and he was absolutely filthy, but he was alive.

It took him several seconds to notice Spock, and when he did it was with gratifying shock.

"Spock," Jim said in surprise. Spock turned on his heel and walked because if he assaulted Jim in the presence of an officer he was likely to get arrested or detained and his mother might cry. Additionally, he doubted Jim had sufficient funds to engineer Spock's release and having Spock in jail for assault and Jim in jail for grand theft was not the purpose of this visit.

So Spock waited until they were sufficiently out of range of the reach of the law, turning down the long stretch of road covered by dirt. Jim seemed not to quite know what to say—kept on drawing in quick breaths as though to say something and then exhaling in frustration. They walked for a mile and a half like that until Spock stopped and looked at him in the dim light the moon provided.

Then he punched Jim in the face.

Vulcans were much stronger than Terrans, explained by stronger gravity on Vulcan, so when Jim went down, he went down hard.

"What the hell?" he screamed up at Spock, shoving off the pavement to rush Spock, who ducked and grabbed his wrists, gripping too tightly and tucking his heel into the back of Jim's knee, following him down and pinning him solidly. He straddled him as he had when they were small, half their lives ago.

"I could ask you the same," Spock snarled. "You made me listen to that and expected me to…what? Not be upset?"

"Anger isn't logical," Jim sneered, pressing into Spock's hold with his entire body, writhing like some sort of sea creature.

"I am finding it most logical," Spock assured him. "What if I had not picked up? What if I had not thought to tell you the obvious? That you should jump."

"I don't know!" Jim yelled, and it was the truth, and startling enough that Spock let him go. Jim shoved him off and Spock hit the pavement hard, staring at him.


"I don't know," Jim repeated, angry and caught out and Spock did not know what…what to do, what he should do. Jim was angry, but Jim was always angry, full of rage and impossible but it was like the breadth of Riverside could not contain him—like it made him worse.

Lack of stimulation, Spock thought. Isolation.

And there were no adults, no one Spock could go to. Sam had been four years older, was fifteen and hardly an adult figure to Jim. Jim's mother was dead, his father was dead, and his stepfather was hateful. Spock's life was rife with adults who had opinions about how he ought to conduct his life—it was staggering, always, to remember that Jim had no one but Spock.

"Suicide is not the answer," Spock told him, and Jim huffed a laugh, hugging his knees and resting his bruised cheek on them. "Neither is larceny, grand theft, disorderly conduct or destruction of property," he added, because it needed to be said, for all the good it would do. He had the sinking feeling that in years to come he would need to repeat this, and expand upon the list. It would undoubtedly need to be written down. Possibly in triplicate.

Jim laughed again, knocking his shoulder into Spock's knee. Headlights came into view, and Spock stood and pulled Jim up and off the road.

"It is very late," Spock said, "and my parents will doubtless panic when they have discovered I have run from home to attend to a small psychopath."

"I have the tests that prove I'm not," Jim told him, and Spock believed him, but also knew Jim could cheat whatever test he put his mind to. He reached out as the light grew stronger and touched Jim's bloodied lip with something like regret. Jim watched him quietly.

"It sucks here," he told Spock finally, after the vehicle had passed and they were plunged back into dark. "But you should go back before you get in trouble."

Spock had never been in trouble with his parents before. Not really. He wondered what it would look like.

They walked silently back to the station where Spock presented his return ticket to the man behind the counter. Jim sat beside him while they waited, hand wrapped around Spock's wrist tightly.

Spock turned to him as he was getting ready to board. "Do not do this just so I will come," he said severely, because some part of him thought that maybe that was what this was. He was teasing, but then, he was not. Not at all. "There are other ways of telling me you miss me."

"In your dreams," Jim told him, grinning and splitting his lip again, careless and alive and Spock wanted to grab him, bring him home and hide him in one of the rooms of the Embassy that they never used, keep him close and watch him and maybe keep him safe, if such a thing were possible.

Instead he allowed the attendant to help him into the shuttle and sat by the window, watched as Jim grew to a speck of nothing, watching Spock disappear with nothing like regret or longing on his face. Just watching. As though this was the normal course of things, that Jim should be left.

He had no way of knowing if they had resolved anything—fixed things or if Spock had made Jim see any kind of sense. He thought they were better—he doubted sincerely that this would be the last time that he would make late-night trips to Riverside but maybe they were better.

«The intake officer seemed fond of you.» Spock sent as the western half of the United States flew by his window. «If you were in trouble, and four hours was too long, she might listen.»

There is a pause long enough for Spock to get an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach, and then: «older woman would be a challenge»


«i look like a domestic abuse psa»

«You are lucky not to look like a corpse.»

«would you grieve for me?»

Spock stares down at his PADD. «Do not give me cause.»


Spock leans his head against the cool window and wondered, not for the first time, what he was doing.

Spock's parents seemed to be genuinely unaware of his late-night trip to Iowa until they got the bank statements a month later.

By that time Spock was already over the entire thing, moved past it and focused back on school, on the upcoming break for summer, and warily watching as the building blocks for explosives go missing in small quantities from the Riverside Shipyard.

Spock was fairly certain Jim would not give into his homicidal tendencies and wipe Riverside from the map, but at the same time he was not entirely confident that no one would provoke Jim. He was also fairly certain that Jim was doing it to see if he could, without true intent. In any event, he estimated he had until school was out before he had to be seriously concerned, but sent off a message anyway: «Do not for a second presume that I am ignorant of what you are doing.»

«fuck off spock» came the swift reply. At the bottom there was a short vid of a space station exploding in horrific fashion.

Spock narrowed his eyes and hacked the Riverside Shipyard's security, elevating the security on the last three ingredients Jim would need. Jim could get around it, because Jim had taught Spock to hack, but he would be irritated.

«You worry me constantly.»

«i get that a lot»

«Then stop.»

«cant too bored»

«Blowing things up is never an answer.»

«spockwords to live by»

«I suggest you take notes.»

Spock turned back to his homework, and then looked at his mother when she came in, holding a slender tablet.

"Spock. Did you go to Riverside a month ago?" she asked. "The—the night that—"

"Yes," Spock said.

She looked at him and sat on the bed, smoothing her skirts. "Why?"

"He was in holding and required liberation."

"You went to liberate him."

"He was not charged with anything."

"Spock," she sighed, scrubbing her face with her hand. "I—I appreciate that you're friends with him, that you feel an…an obligation—"

"He is my friend," he said, and thought that as a human his mother should understand this.

"Okay," she said, taking his hand in both of her small ones. They were nearly of a height, he was startled to realize. "Spock, I'm concerned about—I understand that he's your friend, but you need to stop the sneaking around, and you need to ask one of us before you use your bank card. You're twelve, and still a child."

He nodded. "I apologize if I caused you concern."

Amanda tilted her head and looked at him quietly, studying his face and lingering as though she was just noticing differences. Spock sat quietly, waiting for her to finish. She sighed and then kissed his forehead.

"Ambassador Rasha is coming over and she'll be bringing her son," his mother informed him. "Please be downstairs in an hour."

Spock stared at his door and then pulled up his PADD.

«My mother is inviting children over.»

«enjoy your date»

Spock did not, in fact, enjoy his date. Eric Rasha had a drawl so thick it as to be nearly incomprehensible and he seemed to value himself very highly with very little reason to do so.

After Eric had departed with his father, Amanda asked Spock if he had liked Eric; if she should invite them back. When he had responded that he would rather be alone she had interrogated him on Eric's faults. He suspected her of taking avid mental notes.

Next Friday Amelia Sopowith came with her parents to dinner.

The following Friday it was the Gelish'tha twins. Spock took to writing two reports: an unfiltered, unkind version he sent to Jim and a more appropriately edited version which he submitted to his parents.

His mother was undeterred: the following Friday it was Vilaska Misoq.

That Sunday there was a get together where the children were pushed together, and Spock, in a desperate bid to save his sanity, spent the entire time talking to Jim. They were unintelligent, uninformed, unimaginative and, to a one, more interested in the hierarchy of the room's inhabitants than they were in any kind of conversation, and while Spock strived to be polite on a one-on-one basis he could not be compelled to do so now.

"It's not really their faults," Jim said over the line. "I mean, their parents are dumb, so it stands to reason. Stupidity can be hereditary, and if you take in the nurture argument, too, like. They're just doomed, Spock. Doomed to be idiots. Can we talk about the fact that you're like the prince and these are your suitors? Because you realize this is like Cinderella's prince's ball. Spock. Spock. Do you see Cinderella?"

"You are enjoying this far too much," Spock informed him, scanning the room in spite of himself. "Rio Gelish'tha is wearing a very large…ensemble."

"With translucent shoes?" Jim pressed, sounding like he was going to hurt himself in the attempt to keep from laughing.

Spock looked and then looked away, because under no circumstances was he going to answer that question.

"He does, doesn't he?" Jim asked, laughing outright now. "Spock, I'm so proud, it's your happily-ever-after come true!"

"I find you hateful," Spock informed him, and Jim laughed again, brighter this time.

"If anyone asks you to dance, Spock, I'd run," Jim advised. "And don't return any footwear."

No one asked him to dance, and his mother stopped trying to force him into socializing. He thought that would be the end of it: that she would realize he had no interest in his so-called peers in the way he had no interest in his classmates, and that this would stop.

In a way, it was the end of it. She just watched him sadly, constantly concerned and he had no way to explain to her that he was fine. He did well on his own, and the social group left behind by Jim was still partially Spock's peer-group. They ate lunch together and talk and defaulted to each other when it came to partnering or group projects. At home he had his parents, and Jim was rarely more than a text or call away. Some days he could even be persuaded to stay still long enough for a vid call.

He had found an equilibrium, and he thought—perhaps foolishly—that all parties would be satisfied, if not happy. However, three days before his thirteenth birthday, when San Francisco's weather was roiling and the thunder was cracking above his head, Spock slid from the bedroom to get something to drink and was brought up by the sound of his parents arguing.

It was hardly a new thing, his parents' discordance. His mother assured him it was healthy—that Terrans enjoyed yelling (Spock's own interactions with Jim had demonstrated this to be true, as well as his own inclinations to reprimand Jim in less than civil tones). His father had tried to explain that sometimes, because they lacked emotional control, Terrans were irrational and given to screaming without thought. It would have held more weight if Spock hadn't known that Sarek was watching the door carefully for a hint of Amanda, wary of being overheard.

"He has no friends!" his mother was saying, and Spock's respect for his parents' privacy warred with the knowledge that they were speaking of him (Sybok had many friends, and there was a particular tone parents used when speaking of their children).

"He has very few peers," Sarek replied, even. "Were we on Vulcan he would be surrounded by his cultural and intellectual peers and might form bonds of companionship. On Earth he is scarcely challenged by his teachers, never mind his peers."

"Right, well, I'm really sorry that my job keeps us here when it's so bad for our son," Amanda snapped. "Oh wait—no, no I'm not because this is your job, keeping us here, and if you try to turn this around on me again, Sarek, I will end you."

"Sarcasm is not helpful at this—"

"You're really aiming for the couch tonight," Amanda interrupted. "Look. Fine, he's not interested in his peers, you can make that argument except that he's all twisted around the Kirk kid, which—god. It's not that I don't feel bad for him, and I don't want to visit the sins of the parents on the child but that kid—Sarek. Someday we're going to turn on the news and he's going to have taken out an entire star system, and Spock will go bail him out and look at us like we're monsters when we try to stop him!"

Spock's hands curled into fists, listening. Even when his soldiers lay dying, scattered across an imagined warzone, Jim had hated them for it. Jim was reckless and stupid but only with himself—he was self-destructive not homicidal—Spock knew him. And if Jim—well. Spock was there. It would never get to that point.

"It is illogical to draw conjectures—" Sarek tried, only to be interrupted again.

"Spock thought he was dead. Jim called him and then drove off a cliff, Sarek. And then Spock went to go see him and didn't tell us. I'm not comfortable with—with any of this. But Spock is so militantly against even giving these children a chance, he just calls Jim and they're in their own little world and—"

Spock left, then, not wanting to hear if logic or instinct prevailed (sometimes, he felt, the two were mutually exclusive). He understood his mother's apprehension, after all, he was the one who had been punched in the chin and sat on and forced to give up state secrets in the tucked away corner of the park, and he was the one who listened to Jim yell in pure joy as he headed for a cliff, the one whose wrist ached from being gripped too tightly.

But he was also the one who was boarding a late-night shuttle yet again, and one of the attendants smiled at him in recognition as he settled down.

It was foolish, perhaps, but Spock was—

Knocking on the Kirks' front door.

"What are you doing…here?" Jim asked, frowning at him when he opened the door to see Spock on the porch.

"My parents are fighting," Spock said. "Or, they were, four hours ago."

"My step-dad's asleep," Jim said, gesturing to a room to their left that glowed blue with muted voices coming from the holovid. "Passed out, really, but who's keeping track?"

"You have a score board, undoubtedly," Spock replied, and Jim grinned at him, just a sharp little thing.


The house was large, if ill-cared for. The floor was dirty and there were dishes visible on the dining room table. It seemed impossible that people lived there; there was nothing alive about it and it had all the hallmarks of neglect and abandonment. Jim led him up old stairs and down a hallway with faded rugs that might, once, have been centered but now were skewed and shoved against walls. They went into the room at the very end of the hall, and Spock looked around.

He had never seen Jim's room in San Francisco but he imagined it had been strewn with discarded toy soldiers and Starfleet recruiting posters, toys and the books and bits of computers.

This room had bare walls and a large window overlooking what appeared to be endless fields of some vegetation Spock was unable to identify at first glance. The bed was shoved into a corner, sheets and blankets twisted into a rope with the bottom sheet hanging on by only one corner at the top. There was a bathroom attached, but beyond that…

"I never really unpacked," Jim admitted, looking at the ten boxes stacked neatly in the far corner.

There were bookshelves to be filled and a bureau devoid of clothing, a closet with nothing in it and a chest at the foot of the bed that was, unsurprisingly, empty.

"That seems stupid," Spock told him, and before Jim could start complaining Spock pulled open the top of the first box and peered in. "Take a box, Jim."

"You're such a fucking pain in the ass," Jim told him, coming over. In this light Spock could see the way his hands were still shiny new pink criss-crossed with white—battle scars. Spock had not studied them, six months ago (it seemed far longer).

"That one should be fine," Spock replied blithely, directing him to a box and they unpacked in silence. It was not uncomfortable or charged like the silence that was undoubtedly reigning in Spock's home, but neither was it the comfortable silences Spock had shared with Sybok.

It was something new, not yet quantified. It was a Jim-silence, whatever that meant.

Eventually Jim grew tired, or bored, and he fell onto the top of the sheets and blankets, wrested them into something that resembled a bed, shut his eyes and, in a matter of seconds, was asleep. He had dark circles under his eyes and Spock contemplated telling him to get up, to finish helping him unpack (because Spock was a guest in his home, and Jim's manners were appalling), but decided against it. Setting up the room was mindless and straight-forward and the monotony of it was almost comforting.

Additionally, the knowledge that Jim was going to be cursing him for months to come when he was unable to find something gave Spock a deep sense of satisfaction.

But then he was done and still very much awake. The room—the house—was suddenly claustrophobic. He crept from the room and gently down the stairs, though it seemed Frank had gone to bed as there was nothing playing in the viewing room anymore.

He slipped out the door and off the porch, down the steps to the stone walk-way, carefully within hearing range should something happen (he did not know what he expected, only that he expected something—everything seemed worse, somehow, or amplified by the isolation of the farmhouse. He resolved to find Jim's stockpile of near-explosives and liberate them from him. In the dark of this night it all seemed so much more ominous). The sky was dark over his head—darker than it was in San Francisco, something reminiscent of the quiet on Vulcan. He thought if it was a clear night he would be able to look up and see all the stars, but it was overcast, with little droplets of rain falling on his arms and face. Not quite raining, but it would soon, he was sure of it. In the distance lightening flickered, too far away to be anything more than the impression of light, there and gone again.

He disliked it for reasons he could not explain, even to himself. Where he had always liked the open space of Vulcan that seemed forever untamed, he disliked the fields of Riverside. Something about Vulcan always hinted that something more was to be found, that a boy who stumbled into her deserts could happen upon some secret that none before him had gleaned.

Riverside felt as though all her secrets had been bled and stripped from her, and now she was simply allowing those who lived off of her to defile the corpse she left behind.

Riverside felt as though she had already been conquered, and the restless itch that had settled into his skin as the rain dripped off spoke to his unease, to the feeling that this place was wrong.

Objectively he supposed that those who lived here must like it—must not feel that way. Jim's parents grew up here, and while they left his grandparents lived here. In this day and age there was no reason for people to stay where they were born if they disliked it. Perhaps it was transference—his own dislike of the place a mere byproduct of his acquaintance with Jim.

"You're getting wet," Jim told him from the porch. "Didn't anyone ever teach Vulcans to come in out of the rain?"

"It will dry," Spock said, not turning around, though he became aware that his skin was prickling with something more akin to chill than restlessness.

"Not if you stay in it, moron," Jim argued, because at the end of all things there will be Jim Kirk, arguing.

"Is this a new habit of yours?" Spock wondered. "Stating the obvious?"

"Fuck you."

"Ah, profanity. The level of discourse continues to rise."

"Yeah, you're talking but all I hear is 'I'm a fucking moron who doesn't come out of the rain'," Jim replied. "Seriously, can you not see that you're shivering?"

"A curious sensation."

He listened to the sound of the stairs creaking wetly as Jim came down them, the soft sound of bare feet sliding through grass and over stone, and then Jim was there, eyebrow lifted, hands shoving at Spock's chest.

"In the house, dumbass."

He let Jim give him Sam's clothes and shove him into a shower which shrieked at him. He heard Frank's door open but could not make out what was said over the sound of the faulty heating system. He wondered why Jim had not fixed the piping as he pulled on the flannel pants and the thin cotton shirt, folding the cuffs of the sleeves back so they did not hang over his fingers, which, if he remembered correctly, was Sam Kirk's favored way of wearing his shirtsleeves.

He found Jim in bed, but there was enough space left so as to be deliberate, and Spock fit himself into it.

"I hate it here," Jim told him.

"I know," Spock agreed, and he wanted to hold Jim—offer some sort of comfort. It was novel: he had never been particularly empathetic, much to Sybok and his mother's chagrin.

"Tell me about your parents' fight," Jim said, fastening a hand onto Spock's wrist after Spock wrapped an arm around him.

"They worry I am lonely. My mother worries that I am compromised, that my judgment is impaired by affection or loyalty."

"Your mom doesn't like me."

"My mother is concerned you are a bad influence. It must be a frightening thing as a parent to see your child willfully select influences which have a high probability of leading him into trouble."

"You've ran here twice," Jim reminded him. "It's kind of possible I'm the worst influence in the history of influences."

"There was also the theft," Spock reminded him, and Jim laughed.

"Yeah. There was that."

"What were you going to do with it?" Spock asked, because he had wondered. He wondered if Jim had watched the car and thought to take it for his own, if he had thought he would keep driving until he hit an ocean; if he had contemplated heading to San Francisco. Or perhaps the plan all along had been suicidal.

"Nothing. Just seeing if I could do it," Jim said, and his grip on Spock's wrist shifted slightly; just holding on.

"Try to rein that impulse in," Spock suggested, and Jim laughed.

Eventually they fell asleep, Jim tucked between Spock and the wall.

He woke up the next morning with Jim's face in his armpit and one of his legs thrown over Jim's hip. Jim's fingers were digging into Spock's side so hard he was sure he would have bruises upon inspection, and he looked at the ceiling, wondering how to extricate himself, exactly.

The sound of Spock's comm going off saved them, jerking Jim from sleep to wakefulness in the space of a breath, detangling from Spock with enviable ease and on his feet.

"My parents," Spock said, and Jim relaxed a little. Spock wondered what he had thought the sound was: from the reaction he would have had to expected a bomb of some sort which frankly required further investigation. Spock got up and fished the comm out of his jacket pocket.

"Spock, what is your present location?"

"17 Arcadia St, Riverside, Iowa," he replied, glancing over at the sound of the bathroom door closing.

"Spock, your mother was very concerned."

"I left a note," Spock pointed out, sitting on Jim's thin mattress.

"She did not believe it to be sufficient," Sarek informed him. "I shall come to collect you, please be ready for my arrival in an hour."

"Yes, Father," Spock agreed, keeping his voice clear of the thought that going back was not what he wanted to do. Not at all, really.

"They coming to get you?" Jim asked, toweling his hair dry, jeans and faded t-shirt advertising McKee's Garage on.

"My father will be here in an hour."


"He is undoubtedly taking a private mode of transport."

"They mad?"

"My father does not get angry—it is an emotion and unbefitting a Vulcan."

Jim thought about that, then said, "So…he's like, disappointed that you didn't act like a Vulcan?"

"Most likely," Spock agreed. "My father thinks my life will be easier if I follow the Vulcan way. My mother…will be supportive no matter what decision I make, but she will not necessarily be pleased."

"Do Vulcans play?" Jim asked, pulling open drawers, searching for something but too proud to ask for help even in something so trivial. He finally found the Starfleet figurines and held up the box, grinning at Spock and shaking it. "Because that would suck if they don't."

"I would not say what you do is playing," Spock pointed out. "It is more of a genocide."

"But pretend, so it counts as playing," Jim said, dumping them on the floor and sitting, cross-legged. Spock watched for a moment as Jim set up the figurines.

"Where did you crash?" he asked.

"Over at the launch site," Jim said, not looking up. "They named it after my parents. Kirk Shipyard."

Part of Spock wanted to see: to know where, but he sat, instead. Sat and picked up a small ship and let Jim dictate the game to him, watched an entire universe unfold in the small bedroom, full of villains and heroes and when the doorbell rang it startled them both.

"That will be my father," Spock said unnecessarily.

"I think you need to practice," Jim said, surveying the floor of his room. "Your war strategy is lacking."

"My—your rules are nonsensical," Spock said, and Jim grinned.

"You want me to go down with you?"

Spock looked at Jim, tried to see him as his father would. A small Terran boy with too-long hair and ill-fitting clothes, obviously poor and uncared-for, irrational and illogical with none of Amanda Grayson's redeeming characteristics.

"Yes," Spock said, and Jim nodded and walked with him downstairs to face Frank, standing at the door and holding it ajar, staring at Sarek with a slightly combative air.

Jim squeezed Spock's wrist once and let go, standing on the last step and leaving it to Spock to cross to his father's side. Sarek put a heavy hand on Spock's shoulder and guided him outside after thanking Frank for his hospitality.

Sarek was somber and disappointed and concerned and showed none of that on his face as he escorted Spock to the shuttle, but Spock could feel it coming off of his father through their contact.

"You heard the disagreement your mother and I had," he observed as Spock buckled himself in. Spock wondered if this was a Vulcan trait: stating the obvious. Perhaps it was just one of his father's less appealing verbal tics. Spock would have to ask Sybok.

Spock looked out the window at the Kirk house, at Jim in the window, watching him leave.

"I did. I thought it would be prudent to remove myself from the premise."

"The home of Frank Hallie was not prudent place to remove oneself to," Sarek pointed out.

Spock kept his silence.

"Spock. The circumstances of my post have changed, and it has become possible for our family to relocate to Vulcan. After discussion, your mother and I agreed that it would be in your best interests to be exposed to Vulcan after such an extended absence."

There was nothing to say to that—no logical argument to make, and certainly none that either of his parents would hear.

"When?" he asked.

"When school concludes for this academic year."

Finals started the following week.

Chapter Text

Amanda Grayson and Sarek were fiercely protective of their children in a way that was excessive even on Vulcan. They were known for it, for the way Sarek tolerated no slights against the son who would never follow the teachings of Surak and the son who was only half-Vulcan.

They had good reason: neither Sybok nor Spock was easy to come by.

Sybok was born Shiav, the byproduct of a casual encounter Sarek had a year before he went to Earth and met and married Amanda. Shiav's mother, T’Rea, was a southern Vulcan who went on to become a Master of Gol when Shiav turned three.

At that point, she had him sent to the Vulcan Embassy on Earth, where Sarek and Amanda were living. There were paternity tests and fraught legal battles, interplanetary issues because a child had been transported from one planet and abandoned on another, and the only reason it didn't become an incident was that Sarek was the Ambassador.

Sybok, three, abandoned and inconsolable, had refused contact or food. Amanda took a sabbatical from UCSF's linguistics department to stay home and try to coax the will to live back into Sybok, whose empathetic abilities were at the highest testable levels. Sarek scaled back his activities, citing family emergencies so frequently T'Pau nearly removed him from the position.

It was a year before Sarek was able to formalize his custody and three months beyond that for Amanda to finalize the adoption. Sybok, who was refusing to respond to "Shiav", was renamed something more traditional. When Sybok was five, they moved back to Vulcan, and things settled. Spock, however, often suspected that the reason his parents tried for so long to have another child was that they wanted to give Sybok a feeling of family and permanence.

Spock was, more or less, an accident inasmuch as a genetically engineered baby can be.

When Spock turned six his parents deemed him advanced enough to understand the data and showed him the process. He had looked at holos and PADDs and Sybok had helped to walk him through the trickier technical language while his mother translated it into what it had meant for her body, for Spock’s. He listened intently as Sybok, then 14, explained how Spock survived initial implantation and then was removed after only 20 days. How he was monitored in a test tube for 65 days while a team of Vulcan and Terran bioengineers and pediatric surgeons worked constantly to chemically and genetically engineer him. At the end of it, he was placed back into Amanda’s body, where there was a 14% chance he would reattach to the uterine wall. He did, though, and stayed in her body for eight and a half months until he was delivered and put into an incubator. It was as far as they’d ever gotten before, and there was very little hope. But Spock survived.

Against impossible, daunting odds, Spock survived.

He had been their last attempt, Amanda told him, looking at all of the ultrasounds and images of the children who never were. There had been seven years of hormone therapy and she had suffered four late-term miscarriages. They had agreed, as a family, to stop after one last attempt. It was too risky: the medication and radiation was starting to cause hemophilia and damage to her bones.

But that last attempt had been Spock, who had fought to live, and had managed it.

When Spock is angry with his mother for being overprotective, he tried to remember this. That it took his parents seven long years and countless disappointments to have him. That they had spent a year not knowing whether or not Sybok was going to be taken from them on a whim. He could understand why his mother so fiercely guarded him, and was so afraid of Jim.

But the transition to Vulcan was not made easier by understanding the motivations. It still felt a betrayal, arbitrary and petty. Jim was twelve, and could hardly be that great a threat.

Worse, all the things he had missed seemed foreign when before him. It was as though he had recreated them in his mind like a painter might reconstruct a landscape, but when confronted with the reality one remembered the sharpest edges.

He spent the summer relearning the terrain of Vulcan, venturing out into the Forge under the excruciating sun, traveling into the city and remembering what it felt like to enter buildings which hung down, rather than extending up. To go into buildings where there was a murmur of conversation rather than a deafening wave of speech overlaid with terrible popular music.

He spent hours in school, sliding down into the pod that would be his, trying to reacquaint himself with this technique of learning. So much of it was mass-memorization, dependent on speed and an ability to multitask while performing in dead silence. There were no teachers, merely observers who walked the paths above the pods and intervened only when absolutely necessary.

"The point is to throw information at you and make you memorize whole books while standing for four hour stretches, break for a nutritious lunch that tastes like fucking shit, and then do it again until it's time to go home, where you're expected to engage in several hours of physical exercise to maintain a bangin' bod," Sybok explained one day, sitting at the top of the pod. Sybok had taken to sitting at the top of Spock's pod and making unhelpful comments as he worked on his thesis. Sybok was wearing one of the sweaters their mother knit them when she was feeling particularly hateful, and he seemed to have gone out of his way to look nothing like a Vulcan. He had his hair carefully styled and seemed to be entertaining the idea of facial hair. Spock had serious doubts about Sybok’s ability to carry off facial hair.

"Well," Sybok amended, "some days you get independent study. I mean, it's all about time management."

"No one uses the phrase 'bangin bod'," Spock told him, eyes still fixed on the equation before him. To his left he was being lectured on ethics. "Your idioms require updating."

"Incorrect." the computer chimed at him.

Sybok laughed, and Spock looked up and glared at him, stepping forward to shut the power down and look up at his brother again. At twenty Sybok was still very young, but Spock doubted somehow that this would be a phase. Sybok was going to spend the rest of his life trying to drag their people towards a middle ground between their history of violence and their present passivity. He had such dreams of social reform.

Spock had no such aspirations, and lately found his eyes wandering to the skies, his interests curving towards astrophysics. He supposed it was more appropriate than social reform by Vulcan standards.

Still. “I scarcely pass as Vulcan,” he admitted, low. “Father—has indicated he believes things would be easier for me were I to adjust my behavior to fall further in-line with the mores of Vulcan culture.“

“Well, Spock, he’s not wrong. It’d be easier. And you’re not used to it, so it might be…” Sybok trailed off as he searched for appropriate phrasing, fingers skimming the air as though they will help him find the words. Sybok was endlessly, easily tactile. “You’re kind of like the single member of a race. First and last of your kind." He paused to smile, pleased at his own turn of phrase. "Did you worry so much on Earth?”

Spock thought about it. He could dimly remember feeling overwhelmed and bereft, but he did not remember how much of that was due to the move and how much of that was true loneliness. It was long enough ago now that he couldn't trust his own memory. Regardless, there had been only two weeks before he met Jim, and Spock had never been lonely after knowing Jim. In contrast, he had now been on Vulcan for near three months, and he severely doubted that anyone was about to drag him off to participate in whatever the Vulcan-equivalent of killing toy soldiers would be.

“I was younger, then,” Spock said finally, because it was the only way he could think to answer the question truthfully without inviting Sybok's further investigation.

“But you didn’t worry about not fitting in,” Sybok pressed. Spock sighed. Sybok never did know how to leave well enough alone.

“That sentence was terrible," Spock observed lightly.


“No. No, I did not think it a cause for concern. But Earth does not have set coming-of-age traditions which I had not participated in and no one knew of me that I was aware of. I have been greeted by name no less than seven times on campus and the year has not begun.” It had been unnerving.

“You gotta get a chip on your shoulder,” Sybok decided, the cadence of the expression suggesting he was quoting something.

Spock exhaled quietly, glancing around to make sure they were truly alone.. "What if I cannot do this?" he asked.

Even Sybok, wildly unpredictable and unorthodox, was a noted scholar, and a student of the Vulcan Science Academy. He could, if he wanted, go into the southern deserts and find people like him, who rejected the ideas of Surak and used contractions which made everyone else’s ears bleed.

If Spock was incapable of excelling academically, he had no clear idea of how he would survive on Vulcan. On Earth, Spock was more Vulcan than the Terrans and it was enough, but Vulcan's best and worst-kept secret was its xenophobia, and Spock was a walking example of how that was ignored.

And he had no Jim Kirk here to force his peers into acceptance, to run interference and distract from the oddity that Spock understood himself to be. Jim had carved out a space for Spock which had fit him perfectly, grew with him and endured even in Jim’s absence. It had been Spock’s place to claim, and he had owned it and would perhaps have occupied it without Jim, but here he had none of that. He was an outlier, and his ally was sixteen lightyears away.

“You are doing it,” Sybok pointed out, instead of telling Spock it was illogical to dwell on the what-ifs.

Spock looked at him. “I am, at best, feigning. How can I—I am not like them. I never undertook the kahs-wan, and now I am too old.”

He remembered, vaguely, that Sybok undertook it initially and then wandered back a day later demanding to know whether their parents were aware of how hot the Forge was. No one had expected Sybok to complete it, and Spock seemed to recall his parents were surprised when Sybok had expressed his intention to attempt the kahs-wan. It was a shared coming-of-age experience, a cultural touchstone and Spock was even more an outcast for not having experienced it.

“Yeah, no one really does that anymore. I mean, you can, and people will talk about it, but there’s been an increase in the le-matya population and most parents think it’s not really worth bragging rights to have their kid killed. Logic before all things. Besides, you must have done an Earth equivalent. Cut school or stayed out all night or something.”

“Yes, but those are hardly—”

“You cut school?” Sybok interrupted, staring at him incredulously. Spock looked up at him, and wondered what his brother saw of him when he looked. If he thought that Spock had had no part in the events which led to their relocation to Vulcan.

“Jim’s mother died," Spock said, defensive. Then he considered and admitted, "I was unaware that that was the reason at the time, however.”

“So you just…Spock my whole perspective of you just changed,” Sybok told him earnestly, hand pressed to his chest. “You are significantly more of a rebel. You are kind of a badass."

Spock lifted an eyebrow at him, unimpressed and Sybok laughed, scooting aside so Spock could climb out of the pod.

“You’ll be fine,” Sybok said, helping him up and heading for the transport with him.

“Fine has variable definitions.”

“…Yeah. You’ll be fine.”

Despite their efforts, none of his family’s support and advice adequately prepared Spock for the reality of being treated as an experiment; as an interesting lab result. There were oddly patronizing glances and vast condescension, and Spock bristled under it. He watched Sybok, who returned scathing and tactless comments with utmost compassion and wide, effusive smiles, frequent comments of, “Let me share your pain.” Sybok reveled in the attention, and had found a peer group willing to accept him, who watched him with tolerantly raised eyebrows. T’Aris, his bondmate, was often scathingly rebuking, but also content to allow him to press a kiss to her palm.

It was almost enough to give Spock hope.

However, as the first semester drew to a close Spock had come to understand what a false hope that had been. He had proven his academic ability, of that there was no question, but he was as alone as the day he had arrived, and far lonelier than he had ever been. He tried to take some sort of strength from his solitude, but found no serenity in it. He meditated long hours, and could not banish his anger.

He was slow to forgive his peers, who seemed most intent to pick fights, test the limits of his emotional control, and remembered acutely every slight. Anger was an emotion, though he thought, sometimes, it was the most important emotion Terrans possessed. It fueled them through despair and forced survival in impossible odds. It seemed sometimes that the only options were to despair or get angry, and Spock did not have it in him to despair.

He knew his family was concerned. Amanda reached out to him more frequently, afraid he was not receiving enough contact, and his father invited him to do his schoolwork in Sarek’s study as he worked. Sybok hovered at the edge of Spock’s consciousness when he could be wrested from his own work, though the closer it came to publication the less aware Sybok was of anything.

As break started, it occurred to Spock that he had not spoke with Jim in five months. He reached for his PADD as the dry, chilled breeze slipped in his window. He got up and shut it before settling at the head of his bed.

≪I miss you.≫ he sent before he could think better of it.

≪im obviously amazing without you≫ Jim replied instantly, and Spock felt something shake loose in his chest, burn in his throat. Relief, he thought, and perhaps gratitude. He could not have blamed Jim if Jim had ignored him the way Spock had ignored Jim—however unintentionally.

≪How is Riverside?≫

≪still standing i think≫

≪You think?≫ He felt insufficient levels of alarm at that.

≪im in china≫

Spock frowned down at the PADD curiously, and then pressed the call button.

Jim’s face popped up, flushed and squinting in bright sunlight. His freckles were dark across his nose and forehead and his hair sun-bleached.

“China,” Spock said, interrogative. He had never seen much of Earth, despite his father being the Vulcan Ambassador to the planet. He had seen San Francisco, and Riverside, and New York City, and once London. His mother took him to Seattle a few times, so he could see where she grew up, but he was aware he had only been permitted to see a very small part of the planet, and none of its diversity.

”I wanted to see it. I’m on the Wall. Look,” Jim said, turning the camera around so that Spock could, in a vertigo-inducing sweep, see the Great Wall of China and the Chinese landscape around it. A pink blur resolved into Jim’s grinning face. ”Cool, right?”

“How are you financing that?” Spock asked, lifting an eyebrow, and Jim just grinned at him.

“Check your account lately?”

Spock sighed, but on balance supposed he’d rather be the financier than have Jim arrested for credit fraud. He imagined that to be a federal offense at the very least, and he had no pull with anyone outside of Washington County, Iowa. “Someday you will get arrested and it will stick.”

“But it is not this day,” Jim said.

“Where else have I taken you?” Spock asked, wondering what he had been missing while he was miserable on Vulcan. Jim grinned at him.

“Nowhere off-planet,” Jim said, and then told Spock about Brazil, about Kenya and Iran, about Ireland and Mexico and Russia and Palestine. Spock stayed up the entire night listening to Jim talk, and when he was yawning hard enough that his jaw popped Jim laughed and told him he should probably sleep at some point.

Spock made a lazy sound of agreement, shifting and watching as Jim disappeared from view.

“I—we should not go so long without speaking,” Spock said, because it was true, and he did not want the responsibility to be only his. He wanted Jim to talk to him, to invade his life again and fill up the spaces that have been left empty, waiting. He did not want to feel as though he was constantly begging for Jim’s attention.

“We should run away and be space pirates,” Jim said, coming back into view in pajamas. He slid into bed and put the PADD on something—the other pillow or the bedside table. His hotel room was sparse but well-maintained, and Spock wondered how much it was setting him back. He would check the accounts later, tell his parents it was a charitable donation. It was technically true. Spock thought he was the only Vulcan who skirted this inability to lie so finely.

“My parents would cut me off and we would have no way of funding our life of piracy,” Spock pointed out, laying down and propping his own PADD up on his bedside table. It was almost like being in the same place, curled on their sides and facing each other, and the ache of missing him was almost physical.

“Spock,” Jim sighed, exasperated and clearly not as preoccupied with melancholy thoughts, “we would be pirates. Pirates steal shit. Ergo, we would not need your parents.”

“Ergo,” Spock repeated, amused.

“Fuck you, I have the vocabulary of a criminal mastermind.”

“Goodnight, Jim,” Spock said, and Jim laughed.

“Goodnight, Spock.”

This was, he reflected as he settled further into bed, was why Jim was imperative. Everyone thought Spock was the calming influence, the mitigating force, but they had no idea how Spock was reined in by Jim. How necessary Jim was to Spock’s ability to maintain even a façade of calm.

He did not shut down his PADD, and instead, closed his eyes against the pale light of morning and let the sound of Jim’s breath evening out lull him to sleep.

A week later Jim was back in Riverside with the terse note ≪fucked will send out sos if need cavalry≫

Spock supposed he should have thought sooner that something was strange: that Frank would not have indulged in Jim’s wanderlust so easily.

Spock re-learned how to be comfortable with only his family for company. His father was traveling more for work, perhaps more comfortable doing so now that Spock had settled.

His mother was organizing a series of protests and petitioning the Federation to stop the colonization of Tarsus IV.

“Beyond the ionic field which is going to make communication impossible,” she complained as she cooked dinner, Spock slicing vegetables beside her. This was familiar, and his mother had never believed in censoring her speech overmuch for him—there was no subject that was off-limits. “They’re giving command to Mikhail Kodos. Do you know what his dissertation was on?” she demanded.

“Eugenics,” Spock supplied, wondering how much more stress the wooden spoon could take before it fractured.

"Exactly,” Amanda said, glaring at the sizzling contents of the wok she had brought with them from Earth. Their kitchen was littered with Terran cooking implements, as his mother said that Vulcans had contributed much, but their culinary supplies were lacking. Sybok had theories that Terrans had so many tools for food because they were hedonists. Their mother had never disputed it.

“And," she said, "it’d be one thing if you read it and were like, okay, this guy isn’t going to do anything morally dubious, and he was looking into the psychology of it and he came out the other side condemning it, but he didn’t. Okay? He didn’t. He came out practically—" she bit off whatever she was going to say, shaking her head. "It's because he's in that old boy's club. They all know each other and it's practically a circle—" she cut herself off again.

"Jerk," Spock supplied, and she laughed, wrapping her arm around his shoulder and pressing a kiss to his cheek, fond and a little embarrassed.

"Don't tell your father you know that expression," she said. "But yes, okay, it's a circle-jerk. And anyone who says anything must be overreacting and should go back into the corner and shut up and let the big boys handle shit, because God forbid we want someone who, you know, seems trustworthy in charge of this. But," she continued as she scooped up the vegetables and threw them in, gesturing with an elbow for Spock to set the table, "this is all happening so fast. It's only about four months to settlement, and they just—if there's nothing to hide, why is this being so rushed? No one else is fighting for that planet, it's just—it's just a rock, not particularly special in any way, and it's not even advantageous to colonize it because there's a more valuable resource close by."

"You think they have not done adequate research?"

"I think that they've probably done everything very by-the-book, and that this settlement isn't any different than the dozens that have gone before it," she said, sighing as she lifted the wok off the fire and set it on the table, rubbing her forehead. "But the people who are behind it are the same people, and there's no diversification of opinion, no outside groups brought in to consult and homogeny and groupthink are incredibly dangerous things."

Spock looked down at the stir-fry she put on his plate. "Starfleet is in charge of that."

"No, the Federation is in charge of it. If Starfleet was in charge this bullshit wouldn't be happening," his mother disagreed, taking a bite and then wincing at the heat, gulping her water. "Starfleet is much more diverse than the Federation, they have far more failsafes, and far more opportunity for flaws to be brought forward. In fact, when Starfleet originally discovered the planet they categorized it as unfit for colonization due to its ionic field."

She sighed. "Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe I'll have overreacted."

"You wish to overreact?" he asked, genuinely bemused.

"The alternative is that I'm right and they just put a Machiavellian eugenics theorist in charge of a planet with an ionic field that renders regular communication impossible."

Spock tilted his head in acknowledgment. "I see."

Still, while the consequences of her being correct would be horrific, true, they would not be her fault, and he could not imagine preferring to be incorrect.

Jim's PADD had been confiscated when he returned from his trips abroad. A well-meaning judge agreed to put a monitor on Jim’s ankle which prevented him from leaving Riverside, and sent officers after him when he was out past 8:00.

Spock found this out because after two weeks of silence he contacted Officer Officer Kiablick, the woman who had been on duty after the car crash two years ago. She was more than happy to tell him that while Jim was angry and they had a local betting pool going on when the old Kirk place was going to burn to the ground because one of those two finally lost his head, Jim was fine.

Spock came away somewhat less than reassured.

She spent a lot of time telling him that Jim's behavioral problems were partly genetic, and supported that claim with anecdotal evidence featuring his parents. Spock doubted the validity of her premise, but if this was what Jim was enduring—constant comparison to his parents—Spock could understand why the problems persisted unabated.

It was two more months before Spock received any kind of communication, and when he did he wished against all logic that he had not.

≪going to tarsus 4 aw yah≫

There were two more months until the shuttles departed for Tarsus IV.

Spock spent hours after school in his pod, trying to find a way to circumvent natural ionic cloud dampening in communication. He read Kodos' articles and attempted to find what manner of execution he might favor.

"Executions covered up by a rumor of some sort of pestilence," a voice behind him said.

Spock turned to find Stonn, son of T'Reii, behind him.

"He might favor mass-execution in theory, but his resources on the colony will be limited," Stonn continued. "They will, however, be divided into sectors related to the type of work they will supply—it would be simple to claim that everyone in a certain sector has fallen ill, when the truth is that he has had his forces kill them in the night."

"It would take a great deal of time to effect that, and would likely require some kind of excuse."

"My calculations indicate that if colonization is successful, he will do nothing, but if there is some kind of illness—whether botanical or animal—there is a 93.43% probability that he will, in fact, attempt some kind of eugenics-directed genocide."

"There are 4,000 colonists."

"At least half will die."

It was nothing that Spock had not surmised himself.

Stonn tilted his head. "You have a personal interest."

"My—a friend from Earth is going to Tarsus, to be part of the initial colonization," Spock said.

"I see," Stonn said. "You are attempting to circumvent the ionic cloud?"


"Have you read Rosen-Vendii's latest work?"

"It is on my list," Spock said.

"They raise an interesting hypothesis that one might be able to utilize the cloud to amplify communication into space."

Spock lifted an eyebrow. "Fascinating."

"They produced several interesting lab results, and currently there is a team on Illyria attempting to duplicate them."

"How close are they?"

"Several years," Stonn said. He paused, looking at Spock, and then said, "I am pursuing my own experiments. Anther pair of hands would be advantageous."

Stonn was from a High Council family, and was highly spoken of. He was all angles and very tall, and he had never spoken to Spock before. Spock wondered if this was how Vulcan children made friends.

"Thank you," Spock said. "I would be interested."

Spock and Stonn started spending their independent study times together in the laboratories. Stonn was surprisingly easy to talk to, and he did not seem offended when Spock was quicker to grasp the more technical aspects of their experiments.

Spock, despite himself, found he liked Stonn.

Of course, through Stonn Spock was reintroduced to T'Pring, who came to fetch Stonn one evening when their experiments had kept them late.

"You are late," she said, standing in the doorway. Stonn's head snapped up with such violent haste Spock feared for him momentarily.

"We are on the verge of a breakthrough, it is illogical to stop and break the momentum," Stonn told her.

T'Pring lifted a graceful eyebrow and stepped further into the lab, shutting the door behind her. "Spock," she said, inclining her head slightly, an acknowledgement of their bonding, perhaps.

"T'Pring," he said, matching her tone. She watched Stonn with something vaguely proprietary in her eyes, and Stonn's emotional control was not so great that the back of his neck did not flush a dull green.

"I did not know you were following the establishment of the Tarsus IV Colony," T'Pring commented, looking at Stonn's PADD and then at their datasets. "You are attempting to disrupt an ionic cloud."

"Circumvent," Spock corrected. The shuttles left tomorrow. So far only concentrated databursts would get through, which Starfleet would be aiding every month. Starfleet would check in every six months.

It was too much time unsupervised.

"You refer to the concern that Mikhail Kodos will effect some kind of genocide based upon his background in historical eugenics," T'Pring surmised. "I would remind you both that it is unlikely he will be able to effect an type of eugenic policy with the constant monitoring of Starfleet. Attempt to remember you are a Vulcan and engage your higher reasoning faculties."

"It is unlikely, but not impossible," Stonn told her. "And given previous case studies, it would not even pose great difficulty."

"He has been a model citizen," she said, picking up a spanner idly.

"Or he has never been caught," Spock said. She looked at him, and he felt her mind brush against his curiously.

"You appear to have a personal motivator," she observed in that damning way Spock was becoming accustomed to.

"Terran friend of his is one of the colonists," Stonn told her, turning back to the data. "Personal investment is an excellent motivator."

"It also clouds one's judgement," T'Pring pointed out.

"He is not attempting to defuse a bomb," Stonn said. "Interest in a subject matter is not judged on whether or not the interest is academic, personal, or passing. He has a personal motivator, that does not render his interest any less valid."

T'Pring lifted her eyebrow at him, and then looked at Spock. "Where do you require assistance?" she asked.

The first several weeks were filled with notes from Jim, at least once daily, with absolutely nothing capitalized because Jim was a terrible human being, but at least he was punctuating:

≪the sky is always gray. various shades of gray. its complete balls and the sunlight is more like moonlight.≫

≪nancy is cool but i swear to god shes an idiot≫

≪i miss really terrible shows. also days without rain.≫

≪the sky is so clear at night i swear you can see the entire universe. can you see me waving?≫

≪send me a care package—include condoms.≫

≪and chocolate≫

≪staying with kodos—apparently he too thought dad was the shit≫

There was nothing of any real substance, but they started coming with more and more regularity, and they became more and more lighthearted and Spock thought all his concern—all his mother's concern—had been for nothing: things were fine. Jim seemed happy, and for that if nothing else Spock wanted the entire venture to be a success.

Then he realized that he was getting these regularly, outside of the databursts.

T'Pring looked at him when he slid into her pod after lunch, handing her his PADD.

"He did it," Spock told her.

"He did what?" she asked, wiping his PADD off with her sleeve. Fingerprints apparently bothered her beyond the telling of it.

"He is somehow circumventing the ionic cloud. I am requesting your assistance in determining how he has done this."

T'Pring looked at him for a long time, her dark eyes staring into his, her mind brushing against his mind. He allowed her to see that this was a genuine request. T'Pring's familiarity with the various programming languages as well as her skill made her a highly-sought-after candidate for the VSA already, and she had recently co-authored a paper ripping to shreds the latest security firewalls put in place by the Federation.

She turned on the PADD. "Your mind does not recognize mine," she said, apropos of nothing.

"What?" he asked, leaning against the ladder and wondering if it would be worth the hassle to go get something to eat.

"The bonding we underwent as children: the link is not there. I had wondered if it was the distance which prevented me from sensing you, but I do not feel your presence in my mind even when you are near."

"I do not feel you in mine," he acknowledged.

She nodded thoughtfully. "Perhaps you are incapable of it."

"I do not think that is the case," he said, because he had given this some thought. There had been speculation about whether Spock, as a hybrid, would be able to accomplish a bonding. Since returning to Vulcan he was more aware of that speculation than ever. "It would seem highly improbable given my skill in the realm of telepathy that I would be incapable of a bonding."

"Then we were ill-suited," she decided, unbothered as her fingers flew over the screen of the PADD.

"Which is perhaps just as well," Spock said.

"You are insinuating something," she said, looking up and lifting her eyebrows. T'Pring had fine, delicate bone structure, and she was beautiful by most aesthetic standards. She was dangerously intelligent and her adherence to the teachings of Surak were exemplary. She came from an excellent family and would one day be a great asset to Vulcan.

It was logical, then, that Stonn was so besotted.

"Stonn is very fond of you," Spock said.

"It is illogical to focus on one person at this stage," she dismissed, looking back down at the PADD.

"Pre-marital bonding is illogical?" he asked, and she twitched irritation at him for finding flaw in her reasoning. "I am only attempting to understand your logic," he said, as innocently as he could manage.

"I cannot work on this when you are distracting me," she informed him, and sat down to hunch over his PADD. If she had been anyone else he would have called it a sulk. "Go fetch us lunch."

He did not.

Several hours later she conceded that she was not making any progress, and Stonn brought them sandwiches and they spoke of things that did not include genocide, or lost friends. Spock, instead, attempted to explain how Terran schools worked while the other two gave him looks which were not nearly as blank as they likely hoped.

He took great pleasure in explaining the concept of group projects to T'Pring. Stonn, he had noticed, was good with other people, but T'Pring was a force of nature, bowling over everyone in her path.

He thought she and Jim might get along well.

Or they would kill each other.

He shared that with Jim, along with a photo.

The response he got was not quite along the lines he expected

≪hey can you find out what this is? [download attachment]≫

Spock opened the file and looked at the plant with a strange reddish-gold fungus on its roots.

≪Yes. Are you all right?≫ he sent back.

≪I'm having second thoughts about how smart everyone is. Apparently it didn't occur to them to ask for help, and like—no one has a PADD except me.≫

Jim was capitalizing. That alone was disturbing. On his lunch break and during his independent study time Spock searched the various databases publicly available, and Stonn attempted to do a reverse-image search while T'Pring continued to attempt to discover how Jim was sending Spock messages, sitting at the base of Spock's pod, legs curled under her and frowning down at the PADD.

After forty-five minutes of fruitless searches, Spock took his PADD back and tried to remember how Jim had showed him to get into Starfleet's databases. He knew even if he remembered it it was possible they had identified that weakness and rectified it, but he could think of nothing else.

"This is illegal," Stonn told him.

"It is illogical to keep this information from the public," T'Pring said, unexpectedly coming to Spock's defense. He looked over his shoulder at her.

"That argument will not hold up in a court of law."

"Then we will ensure we are not caught," T'Pring said, and Spock was unexpectedly warmed by the plural pronoun. "And if they are so stupid as to leave a very obvious backdoor open then they cannot entirely blame us for making use of it."

"That is it," Stonn said, several minutes of scrolling later. Fungi Isopin. It was commonly found on star ships that had travelled through the Metalli system, and was harmless to the ship but toxic to any plant-life encountered. Evidently it was originally thought to be a tool of bioterrorism until its origins were discovered.

Spock copied the blurb and pasted it into a message, sending it back.

And then he waited.

He was grateful to T'Pring and Stonn, who offered a kind of solidarity. They occupied that time trying to gain remote access to Jim's PADD and not worrying, because worrying was illogical.

Spock might have been concerned, but that, T'Pring told him, was permissible.

"You are not Vulcan," she told him, and Spock let it pass, because arguing with her on this was fruitless. He suspected that he and T'Pring had found a truce specifically because she did not view him as a Vulcan. T'Pring viewed him as his own species, similar to Romulans in that there was a common ancestry there, but culturally there was a disparity.

Stonn, however, did not share Spock's acceptance of T'Pring's interpretation of Spock's racial identification, and took every opportunity available to attempt to eradicate her xenophobia.

They made a competition out of their school work and T'Pring made Spock come with her to help her select a pet sehlat.

The response came late at night on the 94th day, while Spock was idly monitoring news feeds in bed.

≪hey spock. remember when we used to play? you're right. but so was i.≫

For several long moments there was nothing. His mind was blank, and then he could not move fast enough. He shoved the covers aside and slammed the door of his room in his haste, tearing across the house to his father's study.

"Spock, what—?" Sybok began, coming out of his own room, but Spock shoved him aside, booting up the direct line to his father's office on Earth.

"Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan's line, how may I—"

"I must speak with my father," Spock told the assistant, who blinked at him, then glanced over her shoulder.

"Wait a sec," she said, and the holo display was the Vulcan Embassy's emblem for several long moments. Spock could barely stay still, knowing that Sybok was standing in the doorway, watching him curiously but not saying anything. Thankfully not saying anything. Their mother was asleep upstairs.

Sarek came into view and Spock wasted no time on greetings: "Tarsus IV is suffering from an outbreak of fungi isopin and I have reason to believe that rather than sending out a distress signal the Governor is putting into effect a genocide."

Sarek's eyebrows lifted involuntarily before smoothing again. "And what prompts these allegations?"

Spock pulled up the communications from Jim, the images, the screen captures of messages notifying colonists of an outbreak of the flu, the evidence of a lack of influenza but clear evidence of starvation. Put together it was damning.

His father was a brilliant man: he had put it all together in less than a minute.

"I do not understand this reference," Sarek told him, indicating Jim's last message.

"I used to tell him that he did not play, he committed genocide on his toys. And he always insisted that there was a no-win scenario. We would…fight about the philosophy of it," Spock replied, and looked up at Sybok who was standing in the doorway, watching, not looking at Spock as though he was crazy. It was…fortifying. Spock turned back to their father. "Father, it is imperative Starfleet to send someone to check. The next scheduled check-in is—"

"No communication from Tarsus IV has been managed for months," Sarek said slowly. "The ionic cloud makes it nearly impossible. It is possible that you are being…misled."

"This is Jim, and he is in trouble. I have had regular communication from him since he arrived, though we do not know how he is circumventing the ionic cloud. However, prior to this message it had been 90 days," Spock said. "I am asking you for your help. If everything is fine then fine, I will apologize and kill Jim, but I do not think either of those will transpire."

Still his father hesitated.

"Mom had misgivings from the start," Sybok said gently, standing behind Spock and drawing their father's attention. "And Spock's not usually this excited about anything, and if the kid managed to hack through an ionic field to ask for help and you don't do anything? I'll never forgive you, let alone Spock."

Sarek looked between them, Sybok's concern writ large on his face and Spock trying to seem pulled together, reasonable, worth believing.

"All right," he said, standing. "It will take several days to convene an emergency hearing, and then to find a starship that could go—"

"Contact Captain Christopher Pike," Spock interrupted, pulling up his contact information and sending it to his father. "He was George Kirk's friend and wrote his dissertation on Kirk's heroism during the Kelvin disaster, spoke at Winona Kirk's funeral. Terrans are swayed by emotion: he will go for Jim, even without a mandate from Starfleet."

Sarek touched his desk briefly, as though about to say something, but in the end he only nodded and disconnected the transmission, leaving Sybok and Spock alone in his study, shoulder to shoulder.

"Get out of my head, Sybok," Spock instructed, feeling the well-meaning but overbearing pressure of his brother trying to alleviate some of his concern. He could not bear to be indoors any longer—he walked around the desk and stepped out onto their father's balcony, looking out over Shi'Kar.

"You really think something's up?" Sybok asked quietly.

"Jim is many things, many unfavorable things, but he is not a liar, and that was a plea for help."

Spock was fluent in the way Jim asks for help. Spock listened to Jim once as he hurtled towards death, and he had perfected the dialect since. He could hear it coming, now, knew what to say when (always a variation on jump), but this was Jim screaming for help, begging for it. Spock had never been able not to respond to Jim.

And Spock could tell Jim to jump, but this time there would be nothing to catch him. This time, Jim knew to jump, and this time it was Spock's responsibility to make sure that he landed safely; was caught.

He knew that Sybok was aware of Jim, knew now that Jim was the reason their parents moved Spock away from Earth, and likely had formed unflattering opinions of Jim. Still, Sybok's hand folded over Spock's and squeezed, pulling him into the kitchen as Sybok brewed them tea.

"You're really worried about him," Sybok observed.

"He is my friend," Spock said. He had no idea how to explain this to Sybok, who had always had friends, had them still, people to talk to and turn to. Spock was not his brother. He tolerated some people, liked fewer. Stonn and T'Pring were the closest things he had to friends on Vulcan, but he would rather call them peers, or companions.

"He was a dick to you. Mom hates him—Mom doesn't hate anyone, not even T'Pau," Sybok pointed out.

"He is less of a dick to me than he is to anyone else," Spock replied, and Sybok laughed, surprised, and handed him a mug of tea. Spock wrapped his fingers around it, letting the heat seep into his fingers. "He is my friend, not hers. I do not require that she like him."

Sybok lifted his eyebrows. "You know he's going to be fine, right? Father will be impressive and Captain Pike will come to the rescue and—"

"This is life, Sybok, not a novel or some Terran movie." Spock felt he ought to be congratulated on his emotional control.

"You need to start having some faith, Spock."

"I prefer to be pleasantly surprised," Spock told him. Having faith was too frightening.

He went to school as usual, though Amanda offered to let him stay home. It was illogical to stay and worry when he could not do anything.

On the third day Sybok slid down into Spock's pod, tumbling over his robes. He was pale and trembling, hair askew, and Spock was reaching for him before he finished the conscious thought. Sybok tilted his face up, giving, always giving, and let Spock fall into his mind:

James T. Kirk among the survivors/no response from any relatives/17.23% of the population murdered/Kodos in secure custody/wife pregnant/divorcing him/conspiracy/inquiry to be held/Jim is alive, Spock./Alive

Spock wrenched way, fighting for air and any kind of control. He was aware they had an audience.

"San Francisco's Starfleet Med Center," Sybok said.

"You have a shuttle," Spock said. "Why?"

Sybok gave Spock a look which spoke eloquently of his sorrow at Spock's inability to know his own mind. "Because you need to see him."

Chapter Text

In a perfect universe of Spock's creation, the trip to Earth from Vulcan would have taken twenty minutes, and the Antares, Grayling, and Sumner would have already returned form Tarsus IV to Earth, and Jim would have been released and would be sitting in the hospital lobby waiting for Spock to collect him.

Well, no. In a perfect universe, Winona Kirk would still be alive, Jim would still live in San Francisco, and Spock's parents would not have had a joint panic attack about Spock's indeterminate racial identity and bad taste in friends and moved back to another planet.

In a slightly-more perfect universe than the one he presently inhabited, everything would happen in a couple of seconds and there would be a happy reunion and Spock would not have this stone in his gut.

It was not a perfect world, and so Spock received a message from Jim instructing him not to come to Earth—that Jim was fine, would be in touch.

Spock stared at the message, ignored it, and got on the shuttle.

"This is one of the experimental ones," Spock observed neutrally. Sybok grinned.

"Yeah. Maybe we'll blow up," he said cheerfully, and Spock did not hit him, but that was a very near thing.

A normal cruiser would have taken roughly a week to arrive at Earth from Vulcan; it took this cruiser two days. Which were still two full days with only Sybok as company.

its really not so bad≪ Jim sent.



I can't imagine why that would be the case.


Fine has variable definitions.

fine (adv): if you are at the hospital im going to punch you in the face

Spock lifted an eyebrow. ≫I will look forward to it.


"What?" Sybok asked as he entered Spock's room aboard the cruiser.

"He is being an ass."

"I'm shocked," Sybok said, and Spock lifted an eyebrow at him.


"Brooding is bad for little Vulcanets," Sybok told him, patting Spock's head. Spock glared at him.

"That is not a word."

"I just used it, though."

Spock elected not to answer, instead stretching out on the bed and closing his eyes. Jim was listed as a passenger on the Antares, which was Christopher Pike's ship. Christopher Pike had served with the Kirks on the Kelvin. He had written a dissertation about the incident in which both Kirks were mentioned fondly and in which Jim was included as a living metaphor for hope. Jim would be well-cared for, perhaps even favored and shown preferential treatment.

"He'll be fine," Sybok murmured, reaching for Spock's hand and squeezing gently.

"I sincerely doubt it," Spock disagreed. "To be fine currently would imply that he was fine to begin with."

"You know," Sybok said, thoughful, "you don't actually sell him."

"No," Spock agreed.

"I can't wait to meet him," Sybok decided.


There were eleven days between the day Spock arrived and the anticipated arrival date of the Antares. Spock had given Jim his word he would not be at the hospital, but that was only because Spock had no intention of departing Earth's Spacedock. There were housing quarters for those who wanted a particular thrill and were willing to pay through the nose for it. Spock was the son of the Ambassador to Earth from Vulcan, and his mother had developed the Universal Translator. Spock, unlike Sybok, was not above using his status to get what he wanted, and he found quickly that certain accommodations were quickly made for Spock, Son of Sarek.

"Mom would be so ashamed of you," Sybok hissed at him, staring at the suite.

"Are you going to tell her?" Spock inquired, and Sybok glared at him and then sighed.

"No," he muttered resentfully, and went to soak his resentments in a bubble bath.

Spock settled in and called his mother, assuring her that he was fine, he was with Sybok, and he was going to stay at the Spacedock—yes, it had been cleared, no, he wasn't going to be under foot.

His father was a little harder to sell, only because Sarek, no doubt, had heard about his sons being honored guests.

"It is important," Spock had said, and his father had not replied. Spock never quite knew if Sarek's silences were agreements or damnations.

Most of his time was spent messaging Jim, who must have been in medbay and bored, because they would stop abruptly for a few hours before starting back up again.

It was rather unexpected when he received a terse communique from Captain Pike's First Officer.

Mr. Spock,

Captain wishes to inform you NCC-501 docking ESD-001-202.


Spock stared at it. NCC-501 was the Antares registry identification, and ESD-001 was the Earth Spacedock. 202 must be the port.

It took him two days to figure out which receiving bay it was, and two days further to gain (relatively) authorized entry to it.

"Dad says you've got the makings of an excellent politician," Sybok informed Spock as he walked into their room. He had gone to Earth for a few days to see their father.

Spock, who was playing a word-game with Jim (who cheated), hummed and lifted an eyebrow.

"I think he means the Terran kind," Sybok says. "Meaning you're kind of a sneaky bastard."

"Yes," Spock agreed. "I can be."

Sybok laughed, sitting on the bed. "Embracing your humanity, then?"

"It seems illogical not to," Spock allowed, and then looked down at the PADD. "He is beating me," he realized, a little sadly. 3-D chess was far more Spock's speed. It was a logical game. He would even condescend to play 2-D chess. He did not approve of Scrabble; it provided Jim with more opportunities to cheat, Spock was certain of it.

"How did you two even meet?" Sybok asked. "I never heard the story—just that you had a friend that Mom was worried about and that you ran away a couple of times."

"He bullied me into playing a game with him," Spock said. "And then had a temper tantrum and walked away."

"Sounds like a real charmer," Sybok said, obvious sarcasm thick in his voice, and Spock put the PADD aside and pulled his covers up to his chin, settling down into bed.

"He is," he said simply, and Sybok shifted almost uncomfortably before sliding into his own bed.

Spock felt almost bad that he could not explain Jim better, but he was aware that every time he attempted to explain he ended up making Jim sound bad. He had tried it in Standard, in English, and in Vulcan, but he could not find the correct words. Could not find the word they could accept—he had a feeling that his mother would be very displeased if he told her Jim was t'hy'la.

Bay 202 was on the Starfleet side of the Spacedock, and required clearance and was off-limits to press and civilians. By the time Spock got there it was already full of Admirals and officers, doctors and nurses with med kits reading PADDs. There was a quiet tension while they waited for the orderly disembarkment of the Antares crew and passengers.

Jim was not in the first wave, which Spock supposed was a promising sign: the truly damaged were the first to come off, efficiently transferred into the hands of the medics who would stay with them on the trip down to Starfleet Medical Center.

When he did come out of the corridor he was seemed small and frail and very alone. And when he crossed the threshold he scanned the room immediately. He was so obviously looking for someone that Spock felt perfectly justified in raising a single smug eyebrow.

'Don't come' indeed.

Spock pushed off of the wall where he had tucked himself unobtrusively and walked towards him, ignoring the Starfleet and medical personnel, meeting Jim somewhere at the edge of it, and Jim only stopped when he had crashed into Spock.

"You're such an asshole," Jim muttered, leaning into Spock's shoulder, one of his hands fisting in Spock's robes and the other anchoring around his waist. Spock wrapped his arms around Jim and held on, and felt completely justified in ignoring him when Jim continued, "Told you not to come."

"There is a Terran saying about pots and kettles that springs to mind at this very juncture," Spock informed him, and Jim huffed a laugh into Spock's neck. Spock held on a little tighter: he was here and he was safe and possibly until that very moment Spock had not believed it.

"I'm obviously fine," Jim said. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Why do you insist on lying to me?" Spock asked, and Jim laughed again, a little rusty. 
"'S fun." 
"Oh yes. Very amusing."
"Just 'cause you don't laugh doesn't mean it's not funny," Jim told him, pulling back enough to fix Spock with a severe look. "But I said fun, not funny."

"You are deeply twisted," Spock told him. "And choosing an interesting time to become pedantic."

"My timing rocks like a rocking thing."

"You are exhausted. That is the only reason that is getting a pass," Spock informed him flatly, and Jim laughed and held on tighter.

"God, I fucking missed you," he said. "You would have fixed it."

"You did admirably without me," Spock told him, and Jim hummed.

"Never really do," he mumbled, and Spock looked down at the too-long dishwater hair, wondering what that meant, exactly, and what he was supposed to do with it. He elected to remain silent, and backed up until he hit a couch, settling down with Jim half-sprawled against him. He shifted, head in Spock's lap, and Spock lay a hand on Jim's chest, over his heart, and carded the fingers of his other hand through Jim's hair, nudging him towards sleep. Jim reached over and gripped Spock's wrist tightly, but his breathing deepened and evened out, and Spock watched the docking and unloading process, keeping vigil as Jim slept.

Jim woke sporadically, tried to get up twice, and Spock just pressed down, pushing Jim back into sleep and slipping into the storm of Jim's trauma to create a calm in the center of it. It was easier each time, which maybe ought to have concerned Spock, but he just held on tighter and tried to sift through it, the flashing images bathed in terror and blood and rage, an all-consuming, blinding hate. He tried to organize it and tuck it away in ways that were logical; easily dealt with.

He was not conscious of time passing, and startled badly when someone cleared his throat very close to them.

Spock looked up, and Christopher Pike looked down at him. "So you're him," Pike said mildly.

"That statement did not provide me with sufficient data, so I can neither confirm nor deny," Spock told him, stroking his thumb along Jim's neck when he shifted restlessly.

"Jim's friend. You're the the one who got us there."

"That assigns me more credit than I am comfortable accepting," Spock told him, and Pike laughed, scrubbing a hand over his face.

"Okay, Spock," he said. "Well, I just wanted to thank you."

"For my part, you are welcome," Spock said, trying not to say 'thanks is illogical' because generally he did not believe it to be true: the verbal expression of gratitude was a fundamental part of most cultures. The emotional sentiment behind it might be uncomfortable to Vulcans, but it was not illogical.

"Excuse me, Captain, but Dr. Boyd says that Mr. Kirk needs to go down to SFMC now," a nurse interrupted.

"Yeah, okay. Mr. Spock is going to go with him," Pike told her, and she shrugged amicably.

"Fuck that, 'm not goin'," Jim muttered, and Spock lifted his eyebrow down at him. Jim's hand batted in Spock's general direction. "Put that down," he said, without even opening his eyes.

"Captain, Admiral Komack is in the briefing room," a dark-haired woman in command gold said.

"Joy and rapture," Pike exhaled. "Can't you?"

"I'm sure the next words out of your mouth were not to suggest I go and speak to the admiral," the woman said mildly. "Unless of course you were interested in mutiny."

"You're a terrible first officer," Pike informed her before glancing at Spock and Jim. "I'll be down to the hospital soon—I just have to go talk to Komack."

"The captain seems fond of you," Spock observed, and Jim groaned as he stretched, moving as though he ached.

"Transference," Jim dismissed. "Ugh, okay. Let's get this over with."

Spock was not certain one could simply get a visit to the hospital "over with", but he tactfully refrained from saying so.

Doctor Boyd, the Antares' CMO, was an older, no-nonsense Terran. He brusquely dismissed the idea that he should relinquish Jim's care to someone else, and at first Spock thought that this was yet another facet of Chris Pike's influence, but when the boards lit up with Jim's allergies Spock revised that.

"You're Spock, huh?" Boyd said, and Spock nodded, carefully tucking himself into a corner of the room where he was still within Jim's line of sight.

"I am," Spock confirmed.

Boyd made a few noises as he checked Jim's vitals, made a few notes in his chart.

"Am I gonna live?" Jim asked, as sullen as he could manage. Spock looked at him and Jim shifted.

"In spite of your best efforts, yeah, probably," Boyd told him, ruffling his hair. "Should be fine."

"Joy," Jim told him, and Boyd smacked him lightly upside the head and then left them alone.

"I like him," Jim told Spock, who stared at him and then sighed, pulling the chair in the corner by the window over to the side of Jim's bed.

"He seems able to tolerate you," Spock acknowledged.

"Weren't we fighting?" Jim asked, and Spock glanced at the IV, wondering what they were giving Jim.

"No," Spock told him. "Go to sleep."

Jim did, which was undoubtedly due to the medication and not a spontaneous manifestation of telepathic control on Spock's part. Spock stayed by the bedside, shifting only when the nurses came in to check on Jim, who endured it all with a kind of ill grace mixed with bizarre stoicism that seemed to endear him to everyone. Spock was not an idiot, and so braced himself for whatever tantrum was brewing under Jim's skin.

Around midnight an ensign brought in a bag that had KIRK written in standard-issue Starfleet block letters, and Spock puzzled over that until he saw that inside the seam was written, KIRK, W. Not Jim's, then, but Winona's. Inside was a filthy PADD, a canteen of water, a slingshot and…and a phaser. Some clothes—not all Jim's, there was a little-girl's t-shirt and a couple pairs of pants that were far too big for Jim, a sports bra and several tube socks. There was a small first-aid kid that was mostly-empty, and a comm. Spock set them all aside carefully, trying to piece together a story but the data was insufficient. Jim would tell him, and so Spock repacked everything except the PADD, which he turned on to figure out how Jim circumvented the ionic cloud.

Jim startled awake at 0200, tensing and breathing too-carefully, just his eyes moving as he took in the room, clearly trying to place himself.

"Jim," Spock said softly, and reached out to take Jim's hand. He could feel Jim shattering in a thousand directions, held together by rage alone. Spock held on and used the call button to summon the night nurse, who administered another round of sedatives quietly, navigating the space around Jim carefully. Spock held on until they kicked in and Jim relaxed, the sharp edges of Jim's mind softening and blurring.

Spock sat back and looked back at the incomprehension that was Jim's PADD, rubbing his burning eyes and shifting slightly in the vastly uncomfortable chair.

Jim had not subverted the ionic cloud in any way. Spock supposed they would have realized that if they had been paying any attention, and while he could excuse himself and Stonn, he had difficulty excusing the fact that T'Pring missed it.

"I—you were able to send me things, though," Jim said, refusing to eat his breakfast as Spock marveled over the simplicity of his solution. "I mean, if it had been the field, I might have been able to send you stuff but you wouldn't have been able to send me things in real-time. I just used the Starfleet channel 'cause it has automatic push-data so you'd get it near-instantly and I'd get it near-instantly, and any kind of data blips would be ignored by Kodos because, well, they looked like data blips. With the ionic interference and his proxy blockers, I mean, it would have been pretty far-fetched of him to think anyone was going to be hacking it. Plus, apparently it was a thing that no one was supposed to bring a PADD? Or they got lost in like, travel," Jim said around a yawn. He shrugged a shoulder, then leaned forward, pushing the breakfast away. Spock could not blame him—the eggs looked like the plastic playthings one saw in shops. "What're you doing?"

"I am telling T'Pring," Spock told him. "Because she did not figure that out, and she is meant to be a genius."

"So are you," Jim pointed out.

"Not like she is," Spock said, and had to smirk when Stonn replied: ≫This is amazing, she is actually speechless with rage and disgust.

Someday I will introduce them.

My only request is that I be present.

"What?" Jim asked, and Spock looked up.

"I found…friends on Vulcan. After a fashion," he admitted, and it felt like a kind of betrayal.

"Qualify that a little more," Jim suggested, and Spock shrugged.

"It is nice to have allies on Vulcan," he said. "But I think you and T'Pring would not get along."

"I get along with everyone," Jim informed him.

"I suppose that is why my bank account is frequently laid low by the lawyer I have on retainer," Spock mused, and Jim smacked him.


Jim did not seem at all offended that Spock had friends, and instead grilled him on life on Vulcan. Spock recognized it as a diversionary tactic, but if Jim wanted to ignore what had happened for a little while until he was somewhere private, Spock could not fault him for that.

By the second day, Boyd had decided Jim was capable of leaving, and Spock was struck with the realization that Frank Hallie was not going to come.

Is the Captain available for lunch?≪ Spock sent to Number One.

1305 Milk Cafeteria.≪ she responded, and Spock wondered how angry Jim was going to be about this, on the scale of decimated toy soldiers to driving a car off a cliff. He suspected this was going to be car territory.

Captain Pike looked exhausted, but he stood when Spock arrived and sat only after Spock sat.

"What's up?" Pike inquired.

"Frank Hallie is not coming for Jim," Spock said. "And I cannot take him to Vulcan. His brother is nowhere to be found and you are his current legal guardian."

Pike narrowed his eyes at Spock, drinking his coffee and apparently unaware that he was grimacing terribly. Spock stayed silent.

"My commission's not up for another four months," Pike told him, which perhaps he did not mean to sound like a capitulation.

"You have been approached to teach at the Academy," Spock pointed out. "You have a home here in the city—"

"Look, Spock—"

"You were a friend of his parents. You have written about them extensively, and I can think of no greater betrayal to their memories than to allow their son to be put into the nation's foster care system after enduring what happened on Tarsus IV."

Pike stared at him, then exhaled on an explosive laugh and sat back in his chair hard. "Wow."

Spock sipped his frankly terrible tea and held Pike's gaze. All of the reports indicated that Pike had been feeling about for an Earth-bound position for the next few years in light of the particularly turbulent last five-year mission he had been on.

Pike clearly liked Jim, and was by all accounts a good man. This was logical, and more than that if this failed Spock did not know what else he was going to do. He had far more resources and influence than the average child of fourteen and a half, but Jim was still very much a minor and obstinate for the hell of it.

"If you do not do this, they will put him with his step-father, and he will run away, and we will never hear of him. He will be dead in two years by every calculation I have made."

Pike hunched forward, pressing the heels of his palms into his eye sockets and exhaling. "Yeah, okay, kid. I get it."

"Will you do anything is the more pressing question."

"Jesus Christ, never go into politics," Pike told him, and then, "I'll make some calls."

"He is being released at 1600."

"..I'll make some very fast calls," Pike amended, standing. "But you get to tell him."

Spock looked at him, then nodded. "That seems fair."

"What?" Jim demanded.

"He is offering you a home—"

"What did you even do?" Jim demanded, cheeks flushing, shoving himself up in the hospital bed. The monitors chimed notice of his accelerating heart rate.

"Attempt not to tear anything as you descend into histrionics," Spock told him flatly. Apparently this was going to be a fight no matter what Spock did, so he may as well set ground rules.

"Histrionics?" Jim repeated, gaping at him. "You fucking overbearing—"

"Where is your stepfather?" Spock asked, like he was unaware that Frank Hallie was in Riverside without any intention of coming to pick up his stepson until someone compelled him to do so by force.

"None of your fucking—" Jim starts, which really is the time-honored opener of all Jim's greatest battles.

"Yes, none of my fucking business," Spock agreed. "And when you are shipped back to Iowa, how long are you staying there?"

Jim went quiet, jaw set, though his eyes did not dart to the bag. The truly terrifying part of it was that if Spock could not recognize every one of Jim's tells and if he had not spent the last two days inside Jim's head, trying to keep him calm and sane, he would not have known. He would have gone to Vulcan and received a message down the line that he no longer needed to keep Ms. Schmidt on retainer, as Mr. Kirk had, as far as anyone could tell, left the planet.

Jim would have been gone, and Spock would not have known, and that was unacceptable.

"You have a bag already, and if you think after seven years of knowing you I cannot recognize when you are about to run you ought to be kept for closer observation," Spock told him. "Christopher Pike is a good man who cares for you and cared for your parents. You are going to stay with him, and if you need to be furious with me over this, then fine: I will accept the fact that you require a scape goat and for some unfathomable reason are refusing to place the blame upon the person who deserves it."

"Sam's on Londinium," Jim said, and Spock stilled. He had not known that Sam Kirk was even still alive. It had been two years and change.

"That is not a relevant," Spock said, and Jim shrugged.

"He did okay."

"'Okay' is unacceptable," Spock said, and Jim looked at him.

"You bullied Pike into this."

"I may have implied that your chances of survival diminished drastically if you were not provided with a stable home environment," Spock admitted, and Jim laughed, easy, because Jim's moods were mercurial at best. "It was not a lie," Spock defended.

"Spock, I survived an execution squad," Jim laughed, rough around the edges. "I can survive fucking anything."

It was all he would say on it, though, and Spock could not form anything coherent from the things he gleaned from their contact. Spock knew from what he had overheard these past two days that Jim had fared better than many; that trauma experts were being brought in, but to a one they had passed Jim over. Spock was unconvinced that had anything to do with Jim's mental well-being, and instead thought it had everything to do with Jim's acting skills.

Chris Pike had a two story house in Officer Housing. It looked like every other house on the street except for the two ornaments that hung from the porch framing the doorway.

Inside was a different story—Spock supposed this was the home of a man who was not often able to enjoy the comforts life could provide and so he took advantage where he could. There was art that would make any of the galleries in town sob with want hanging from the walls, lush-looking leather recliners and couches and a kitchen with all of the latest upgrades.

Spock peered around curiously: Jim was strangely recalcitrant.

Number One was sitting in the living room on one of the couches drinking beer watching something on a holo screen. "Those fucking dicksucks," she swore, getting up and fishing her phone out of her jeans. She nodded to them both before heading towards the office.

"Does she live here?" Spock asked. Pike shook his head, comfortable in jeans and an old Starfleet Academy shirt, barefoot and casual in his home.

"No, God," Pike said. "It's the first few weeks back—you get used to living out of someone else's pocket and suddenly they're not up your ass twenty-four/seven."

Spock was not certain he liked the off-duty version of Pike, but Jim was grinning at the floor and so Spock took care to control his expression.

Pike showed them Jim's room, which was on the second floor—Pike, it seemed, slept on the first floor. There was a lock, the key to which rested on the desk, and at some point Jim pocketed it while Spock was rummaging around in boxes.

"I didn't know what you liked," Pike said, leaning in the doorway. "I figured blue was safe but Number One is on this neutral kick so you wound up with gray. If you hate it we can exchange 'em."

The room was enormous, a bathroom connected. The walls were white and the bookshelves sleek black metal, the desk matched the bookshelves, and the bed, which was enormous, was in fact outfitted in gray. There were boxes in the corner, old ones that Spock recognized. He had unpacked them a couple of years ago.

Jim was looking overstimulated, and he sat down hard on the bed, his entire body curving in on itself.

"Dinner's at five-thirty, Number One's staying and Spock you're welcome to join us. After that, your evening is yours," Pike said, and excused himself quietly.

"This is going to be such a shitshow," Jim groaned, putting his face in his hands. "Riverside would be better than this."

"Let us not lie," Spock said mildly, sitting down beside him. "This door appears to lock from the inside."

Jim laughed, tired and a little wrecked, leaning into Spock's side, and Spock cannot bring himself to move away because he is functioning on very little sleep and there is a very small part of him that is panicked that this is a very detailed hallucination, and that Jim is going to be taken from him again.  
"I like lying," Jim told him earnestly. "It's a great comfort to me."

Then again, even Spock's brain would not be able to manufacture a reasonable facsimile of Jim Kirk.

Sybok picked Spock up on his way back to the Embassy, and his hands were shaking, his eyes bruised looking and red-rimmed.

"This was not our smartest plan," Sybok told him. "Also, I didn't get to meet your hooligan."

"Please shut up," Spock implored, slouching against him in the back of the cab. He felt suddenly exhausted, as though abruptly he was aware of how long he had gone without any kind of genuine, uninterrupted sleep, and both his brain and body were staging a coordinated revolt. 

Somehow they made it out of the cab and staggered into the foyer together. Sybok was barely maintaining vertical integrity beside him, yawning enormously over and over again, and between them they did a passable job navigating stairs and feeling their way to their bedrooms.
"Leave me here to die," Sybok croaked, looking into the room at the bed two meters away, clinging to his doorframe. "I can't go on."
"Be silent," Spock instructed, shoving at him. Sybok shuffled in: Spock, who believed in listening to a person's wishes, did not look back to help him. If Sybok wished to collapse and perish, Spock could not be held responsible for that. Sybok was a grown adult, and Spock had his hands full with Jim.
His own door opened faster than anticipated and he stumbled, only just avoiding his suitcase (when had that arrived?) and navigating towards the bed. The window was open, likely done by a helpful staffer who had meant to air the room out and then forgot to shut it, and the night was colder than he was used to enduring.
He could not bring himself to shut the window, logic be damned.
He did not even notice his mother on his bed until he attempted to collapse upon it and hit her knee with his nose. 
"Spock!" she said, surprised, and he looked up at her, bemused. She could have shut the window.
"Mother," he said, kicking off his shoes and tugging at the blankets, settling against the pillow and exhaling heavily. "I am very tired," he told her.
She sighed, shifting up and helping him into bed, settling beside him and bending over to press a kiss to Spock's temple, one of her hands gently squeezing his shoulder. "Oh, Spock," she sighed, clearly in the mood to talk about this. Spock spared a fleeting, longing thought to all the seconds of sleep he was not getting before re-settling on the bed to look up at her.
"I should have told you," he said, and she hummed agreement. 
"Yeah," she allowed. "Luckily your father believes in communication, so when the school called to tell me that my youngest son had been abducted by my oldest son, I knew what was going on." 
Spock had not considered that, but thinking on it it seemed like something the school would do: accuse Sybok of fraternal abduction.
"I had to," he said, and opened his eyes because allowing them to stay closed would have been cowardice.
"How is he doing?" she asked, which was not at all the question he expected of her. 
"Captain Pike is taking him in," Spock said, carefully editing. He hated that he felt the need to censor himself around her, and resented that she seemed to want to talk now.
She nodded thoughtfully. "Chris Pike is a good man," she said. "I did some work with him when we were younger."
He nodded against the pillow. "That is—fascinating," he mumbled.

She sighed and stroked her fingers through his hair lightly. "We'll talk when you wake up, hm?" she said, and he nodded, incapable of response.

Just as he was about to sink entirely into sleep his PADD dinged and he reached a heavy hand towards it, hating the entire galaxy.

Go the fuck to sleep.

He was going to kill Jim.

Chapter Text

Spock slept through Jim's many missives after. His body was exhausted, and though he roused twice to use the restroom, he was hardly awake and functioning. In all, it was eighteen hours and Saturday before he truly woke. When he reached out a hand and pulled his PADD towards him, it pinged sullenly.

Someday, Spock thought, he would find out how Jim managed to make even technology reflect his moods.

your mom has been over here twice

theyve been talking for hours

wake up asshole

seriously how are you still asleep

spock your mom hates me

wake up



Spock groaned and rubbed a hand over his face before hunching over the PADD, forcing his fingers to type: ≫My mother is likely preparing Captain Pike for parenthood, something she has experience in and the Captain does not. And she does not hate you, but I am beginning to find myself in that neighborhood.

its been 2 days and vulcans dont need as much sleep suck it up

Is she still there?

no she left 3 hours ago.

I will speak with you later. I am going to finish waking up.

if thats code for sleep im disowning you

Spock stared down at the PADD and then set it aside, deciding that it was not worth it to keep that conversation going. That way lay homicide, and Spock had only just gone to the trouble of saving him.


He woke up a few hours later, because his body staged a revolt about being asleep.

His PADD had a single message: ≫BAM disowned

Snorting, Spock got up and went through his morning routine, despite the fact that it was 1600.

When he made it downstairs, his foot had barely touched the floor before his mother linked her arm through his and said, "Step into my office."

Her office was technically his father's, and Spock knew that this was not going to be a conversation he was going to enjoy from the way his parents sat themselves on one side of the desk while he occupied the lone seat on the other end. At least he was on the side of the door, though he doubted very much he would be allowed to make a break for freedom.

"Captain Pike has been given custody of Jim Kirk," his mother said. "Pike's going to pursue adoption, just to make everything…"

Spock nodded, and wondered why he had to hear this now, when he could just as easily have called Jim and gotten the entire story.

"You know how we feel about him," Amanda continued, tucking her hair behind her ear. "But—well, it seems cruel to separate you right now, and so we'll spend the summer here. The four of us, as a family, but there are rules, Spock."

"Conditions," Spock clarified, and she sighed, glancing at Sarek before nodding.

"If you want to think of them like that, sure. The first is that you have a 10:00 curfew, which is reasonable for a 14-year-old. The second is that you're going to have an electronic curfew of midnight, which means no messaging, calling, texting, nothing after midnight.

"Your weekends are for you, and we spoke with Captain Pike and we're not going to dictate which house you sleep at, but the rules will be the same at both houses."

She paused, and then worried the nail polish on her thumb. "The last one—Spock. If you feel like you just can't be here anymore, for whatever reason, you have to tell us that you're going. Or Sybok—just. Someone needs to know. Do you find these unreasonable?"

Spock looked at her, and then at his father. "We will stay for the summer."

"I have a paper I want to write," his mother said. "And Sybok might actually go to medical school if we keep him here."

"Do you agree to these conditions and have your word that you will adhere to them?" Sarek asked, and Spock thought that this was why the Vulcan High Council kept sending his father away to speak on its behalf: he was implacable.

It was May, which meant almost four months until they would go back to Vulcan.

Four months. It was going to have to be enough.

"You have my word," Spock told them. "May I be excused?"

"Go on," Amanda said, and Spock shut the door carefully behind him, only to be confronted with Sybok, who had clearly been listening in.

Sybok, Spock noted, was in scrubs, and he looked like a hedgehog.

"You look like a hedgehog," Spock informed him, and Sybok cheerfully flipped him off.

"You look like a condemned man given a stay of execution," Sybok replied.

"Are you going back to the hospital?" Spock asked Sybok, ignoring that last bit because most of the time it was better to just ignore Sybok.

"Yeah, just to be on the suicide watch," Sybok said, shoving his mouth full of food in a truly alarming way. "You want to split a cab?"

"Yes," Spock said. "Wait a moment while I collect my bag."

When he came back downstairs Sybok was already outside in a cab.

"You seem very dedicated," Spock observed as the driver pulled through the gates and out onto the street.

"They need me," Sybok said, spreading his hands wide and smacking Spock in the chest as he did so. "Can't live without me."

"That would be more amusing if it were untrue," Spock told him.

"Yeah, you just don't have a sense of humor."

"That is patently untrue," Spock told him, climbing out of the cab and looking at Christopher Pike's house.

"Oh, hey, I could totally meet him right now. You promised you'd let me," Sybok said.

"Not right now," Spock told him, and shut the door firmly.

This would either go very well or extremely terribly. He had a feeling it would be the latter, and he did not need an audience of Sybok.

Pike directed Spock upstairs, and he knocked on the locked door. "Jim," he called, and the key turned and the door swung open. Spock glanced up, and was very abruptly unable to cross the threshold.

"You look terrible," he said. "What did you do?"

"Nothing," Jim said, and he sank back onto the bed with the air of someone who could no longer endure the force of gravity.

Spock forced himself into the room, shut the door carefully and turned the key in the lock. "Have you eaten?" he asked, keeping his voice steady. Perhaps, because they had been in a hospital, Spock had been more accepting of the physical toll Jim's body had paid. Here, in the context of a home, Jim looked infinitely worse. The theories of relativity supported that logic.

It could be equally true that behind a closed door, given 48 hours to himself, Jim was killing himself about Tarsus IV.

"Yeah," Jim exhaled.

"Are you lying?" Spock persisted, and Jim gave him a tired smile before gesturing to an empty plate. "That proves nothing," Spock told him, but he sat next to Jim on the bed. "There may be very well-fed birds outside."

They sat in silence for some time, both of them knowing what conversation was impending and neither of them willing to be the first to raise its specter. But the silence grew evermore tense, and Jim had begun to worry the skin on his wrist, and so Spock reached over and took his hand and said, quiet,

"I think it is time you told me."

"I didn't—" Jim started, and then. "You've been in my head, why do I—?"

"Because, and I realize this may shock you," Spock said, dryly, scooting down so that he could lay beside Jim, "your head is not exactly coherent." It was true, but perhaps not the best explanation. Jim's head had not been coherent, but Spock had also been trying to respect his privacy, so while he had been present in Jim's mind, he had not been aware.

"Fuck you,' Jim muttered. "Just—here."

He gripped Spock's hand and put it to his face, and then held Spock's wrist as though to anchor him there. His face was hot under Spock's fingertips, and his eyes were glassy.

"I can't say it," Jim explained, sounding resentful and hoarse, and Spock adjusted his fingers on Jim's head and nodded nodded.

"Take me through it," he said, and Jim did:

Tarsus IV was set up into six different districts, only three of which actually existed. As Kodos had made sure that everyone was as deprived of technology as possible and had set himself up as a benevolent dictator, no one questioned the number of districts.

Except for Jim, who was a shithead.

Kodos kept all the technology for himself and made everyone work long hours—rumors of illness started circulating by the second month, most of it concentrated in District 4 (which did not exist). Those who disagreed with any aspect of Kodos' governing style was "relocated" to another district.

But Kodos had no real reason to do anything but rule with an iron fist, and after a couple of months things were fine; most people had settled into their new reality.

And then crops started failing, and animals started dying and giving birth to stillborns and people started to get nervous. Jim sent Spock the picture, and then was called to the capitol.

He had stood in a plaza that was gated in with high, high walls, and Kodos stood on a balcony, talking about morale and a need to survive, the needs of the many and the risks of any colonization attempt.

Spock, as Jim told it, could feel the hot press of the Tarsus sun, the smell of exhausted, unwashed bodies, the electric whine of fully-charged phasers.

"The thing is, thank God Mom was who she was," Jim whispered. Because Winona Kirk had believed in letting her baby boy practice with a phaser, had taught him to take one apart and put it back together, how to charge it and flip the settings, draw and shoot in one fluid movement. Winona Kirk had taught Jim what a fully-charged phaser sounded like, and Jim had recognized the sound.

And Jim had run.

("You ran," Spock interrupted, pulling back and staring, disbelieving. Jim looked at him, then away, too fast. "What did you do?" Spock pressed, and Jim shook his head and closed his eyes, so Spock fell into his mind again.)

Jim had backed himself towards the door, trying to appear like a bored kid. He had grabbed one of those whining phasers and he had shoved the guard down, and he had fired.

("Did you—?" Spock started, wondering if Jim had changed the setting from kill to stun; if the phaser had even had the alternate setting.

"I don't know," Jim said, and Spock nodded, and allowed the lie.)

Jim got the door to the gate open, because no one had expected a jailbreak, and he had run, screaming at everyone to follow. He stood outside the door, but the capitol had been deserted, or else everyone had known what was going on and they were staying inside, too afraid to come out, or they just—they had not cared.

No one stayed confused for long, not the people in the plaza, not the guards. The guards were outnumbered, though, and people were running in blind panic, creating a stampede, maybe trampling one another, trampling anyone who tried to stop them.

They scattered as they ran—ran home, ran into the woods, told their neighbors what had happened and that was it.

"I didn't make it out," Jim said, and Spock found himself back in his own mind, his hand resting on the pillow. Jim swallowed and then continued, "I mean—I should have. But there was this kid who was like, four and crying and holding a baby and what the hell was I supposed to do?"

So Jim, the thirteen-year-old, had gone back for the children and gotten himself captured.

"It was fine. I mean, two days later Starfleet showed up," Jim said.

"And in the meantime?" Spock asked, and Jim shook his head, hands sliding uncomfortably along his thighs, along his forearms.

"It was just two days," Jim said.

Spock looked at him, and Jim looked up. "Show me," Spock said, because he had to know. He could not bear not knowing, even though he was sick to his stomach with what he did know.

Jim got up and stood by the bed, fingers playing with the hemline of his shirt before he pulled it off, and then skimmed off his pants, standing in his boxers and staring at the wall behind Spock's head.

Spock looked over the scars, faded and barely-visible, cuts along his cuticles and between his ribs, mottled uneven burn marks and the faded discoloration of deeper burns. Jim would never have any need for a tattoo, Spock thought. Jim's life was mapped across his body in pink and white lines, and there was no ink in the world fit to cover this.

"It could have been worse," Jim said, and Spock looked at him.

"That does not excuse what it is," he said, harsher than he meant to. He could not control it, this was rage, a visceral anger that burned against his chest. He felt bruised by it, fragile and beaten, unsure what to do.

"Boyd says most of the scars will be gone in a year," Jim told him, in what Jim probably imagined was a soothing tone. Because Jim, unlike Spock, did not care. If Jim felt the bruises he got by being the Universe's plaything, he was only ever angry at their presence, and forgot them quickly enough. Jim took bruises and turned them into scar tissue, harder to cut and desensitized, and Spock wondered what that would mean in five years' time, in ten.

This could not endure, and Spock knew his time here was finite—his parents would take him back to Vulcan at the end of the summer and he would remain there until he was eighteen. Four months was not enough time, though he could admit that it was, probably, for Jim.

It wasn't enough time for Spock, who did not know how to live in a place where these things were allowed to happen without retaliation.

"I want a burger," Jim announced, brushing off the atmosphere, the mood. He pulled his clothes back on and walked downstairs, tugging Spock's wrist as he went to Pike's office. "I want a burger, where's your card? I want that place, the good one that delivers. Spock's never seen Revenge of the Space Pirhana."

"A travesty, truly," Pike said dryly, but handed Jim his credit card. "Order me something," he said absently, and Spock watched, careful, as Jim hesitated just before crossing the threshold into the office. Watched the way Pike stayed carefully still and carefully casual. He was holding the card between his index and middle fingers, just the edge, so that Jim would not have to touch him.

Spock was, for a sickening moment, blindly grateful to him, and when Pike glanced at him Spock tried in some way to convey it.

"Sure," Jim said, oblivious, and then headed for the kitchen.

"They have vegetarian, I presume," Spock said as Jim looked down at the card in his hands, turning it over and over again.

"It's San Francisco," Jim said, grinning at Spock. "They have fucking fruitarian if you want it."

Spock did not think that that was a real thing.

In June, the Senate subpoenaed Jim to testify about Tarsus IV.

Spock found out when he went over to Pike's and Jim, his nose stuck in a battered copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and said, "They're having hearings next week."

To pretend he did not understand was stupid, and so Spock said only, "When were you subpoenaed?"

"This morning."

Jim reached over to pull the bedside table open and handed Spock a copy of the legal paperwork. "Pike said he'd—I don't know, fight it or something. I think he's calling someone now or—"

"You are a minor, they cannot compel you—"

"Yeah, but I know what happened, and I'm the one who sent out the SOS and I'm the one who could contact the outside world and—" Jim cuts himself off and scratches at his cheek, just a little too violently. "I should have asked for help sooner and I didn't."

"Stop being stupid," Spock snapped, snatching Jim's hand away. "You asked."

"It took too long—"

"That was not your fault," Spock said, hard and gripping his shoulders, shaking him. "Stop being stupid."

Jim shoved him and Spock fell back, but only a step. He was the stronger of them, and Jim was a gangly teenaged human.

"Guilt isn't stupid," Jim snapped.

"It is when it stops you from living your life," Spock replied. "You are going back to school, everything is looking up and yes, the circumstances under which that is happening are dreadful—"

"'Dreadful,'" Jim scoffed.

"—but you have an opportunity to prove that you are not the waste of space your stepfather accused you of being," Spock finished.

The silence hit hard and rang around them, tangible and awful, and while it was true, and Spock was more terrified of Jim's apathy than he was of his rage or his violent inclinations, perhaps it ought not to have been said. They had been apart for a long time, and Jim had recently gone through terrible things and perhaps—

"You're such a pain in my ass," Jim said. "Jesus Christ, I can't believe you brought Frank up. The fuck is the matter with you?"

"I miscalculated," Spock admitted, and Jim rolled his eyes.

"Come on. We're going to eavesdrop on Pike now," Jim said, and they crept from the bedroom, sitting together at the top of the stairs, and the press of Jim's chin into Spock's shoulder felt like forgiveness.

Pike was, indeed, fighting. He was using a low, even voice that made the hairs on Spock's arms stand up. But the longer the conversation went on, the more Spock realized that the grateful, vicious feeling of triumph was not just his. That it was Jim experiencing an adult who was on his side, in his quarter, and Spock was desperately glad for it. That he had done the right thing, that it was working, because he was going to go back to Vulcan—there would be no moving his parents. And he would be too far away again, and Spock was always there, always would be, was on Jim's side even when there were no sides to be taken. But he was not supposed to be the only person on Jim's side, and it seemed that Pike was happy to fill that role.


Later, Jim had wondered if they had wanted to have Spock testify, given that he had been the one to raise the alarm in the first place (which was wrong, because Spock had only received the alarm and passed it on to his father—at best he was a intermediary). If there had been any such summons it had been firmly squashed by Spock's parents before he had heard anything about it.

And now, instead of testifying, they were sitting on Pike's couch, having stuffed themselves full of pizza and watching highlights of the days testimony with high levels of disdain.

"My mom once said that these were shit," Jim said, and Spock looked at him in surprise: Jim never mentioned his mother, not really. He had her rucksack (still packed in the corner of the room closest to a window—Spock was well aware that Jim would run at the slightest provocation), but he never spoke of her.

"Oh, they are," Pike said, and Spock and Jim twisted to look up at him. He looked drawn, older, watching the holo. "There's a lot of posturing, a lot of cover-up, and in about six months no one will give a shit except the more fringe blogs and news shows, and even they'll be dismissed as conspiracy theorists and instigators trying to rile the public and discredit the government."

"Yeah," Jim said slowly. "That's what she said."

Pike stilled, then said, careful, "You were an infant, you couldn't remember that."

"Yeah," Jim agreed. "But she talked about it a lot, after. Every time they'd start investigating something she'd get all pissed again."

"What did she say?" Pike asked, and Spock could see the way he was moderating his voice, careful, always so careful around Jim.

"Just that it wasn't a freak accident. She said they should've listened to you, sometimes."

Something complicated worked its way across Pike's face, something Spock wasn't fluent enough in to understand. If Jim understood it, he kept his silence, and Pike said, a little roughly,

"She eviscerated them at the testimony. She brought you with her, both of you boys, and she was—remarkable."

"She said they bought her off. I gotta trust fund waiting for me when I turn eighteen," Jim said, but the calm was feigned. He was palpably desperate for these stories of a mother he had lost. "Did they?"

Pike walked around the couch and sprawled in the armchair, pausing the holo on some pundit or another frozen in the act of rhapsodizing his opinion. "Buy her off?" he asked, and Jim nodded. "I don't know. I mean, the money's there, but we all got compensatory pay-outs."

The conversation meandered from there—Spock got the impression that though it had been a month this was the first time they were really speaking to each other. Jim was laughing, bright and easy, and Pike was obviously taken, charmed completely the way people should be with Jim. Part of Spock wanted to record it, or call his parents over, so he could say: see? This is Jim. You have had the wrong idea all along.

Pike told them stories about Jim's parents, about his deep space adventures and what it was like to captain a ship, and after a while Spock forgot to be interested on Jim's behalf and was fascinated in his own right. Pike had married all of his away team at least once and broken the Prime Directive dozens of times.

"It's important as a peacekeeping armada," Pike said, "but at our heart we're a military force, and deep space exploration is where you remember that. Every second you might have to fight to keep yourself and your crew alive. You can't sit back and just—follow directives and the rules because it'll get you killed. But it's not mandatory for new grads to go on a deep-space mission, so we wind up with people like Komak, who go their entire careers without ever being in a firefight and don't know shit about defense and war."

"The scientific benefits—" Spock said, and then broke off.

"Oh, sure," Pike agreed. "Enormous. Especially when your science officer is on top of things—but you've got to be flexible, because even if your CSO is a botanist, they've got to be able to be an engineer, a physicist, a biologist. Never gonna find more challenging work."

"Stop recruiting Spock," Jim said, and Spock kicked him idly.

"Starfleet is a worthy career path," Spock told Jim severely. "It merits more than a cursory glance."

"Federation needs politicians who won't let Tarsus happen," Jim shot back, and Spock stared at him.

"I am not going to be a politician," he said flatly. "If you have concerns perhaps you—"

"Wait, what time is it?" Jim asked, and it turned out it was 2330, so Pike called Sarek and Amanda to apologize for Spock missing curfew and say that Spock was going to sleep over because it was too late to leave now.

Heading up to Jim's room, Spock paused on the staircase, wanting to thank him, to express to Pike what this meant, that he wasn't alone in understanding what it was to like Jim, but also wanting to warn him. That Jim was being good, right now. That there would be temper tantrums and dark swings and a violent disregard for his own personal safety that had nothing to do with the trauma he experienced on Tarsus IV.

"Hey, come on," Jim said, grabbing Spock and dragging him up behind him. "You can't warn him about me, he's gotta figure it out."

"I was not going to warn him," Spock protested, and Jim laughed at him, digging for pajamas in a drawer.

"I thought Vulcans couldn't lie," he said.

Spock just lifted an eyebrow at him. He had not lied, but it was simply a matter of nuance.

Sybok kept on bothering Spock about introducing him to Jim, relentless and dropping it into every conversation they had.

Spock chose the park, where Jim was given to watching people playing with blatant mistrust but was at least not flinching at every passer-by.

The literature all suggested that exposure therapy was likely to be the most effective, and Spock was not above bullying Jim and bribing him.

They sat on a bench under a tree, Spock with a book on his lap and Jim with his arms crossed, glaring out at everyone as though they had wronged him from behind mirrored sunglasses. San Francisco was hot, and Jim's bare feet were tucked under Spock's thigh.

"Spock!" Sybok called, raising a hand. He was in scrubs, having just come off a shift, and he jogged over to them, beaming and rifling a hand through his hair.

"Be nice," Spock murmured to Jim, who looked at him and said nothing, which was not reassuring in the least.

"Sybok, this is Jim Kirk. Jim, this is my older brother, Sybok," Spock said when Sybok reached them, tugging Jim into a stand beside him.

Jim said nothing, which was still better than Sybok's opener: "That is a metric fuckton of pain."

Spock closed his eyes, reached his hand out and grabbed Jim's wrist tightly, and waited.

"Spock, you didn't tell me your brother was a new-age crackpot," Jim replied cheerfully, and then, less cheerfully: "I like my pain."

"No one likes pain," Sybok scoffed, making a face. "Well, I mean, psychopaths and masochists and sadists and—"

"Sybok," Spock said, fixing him with a glare and moving himself bodily between them. "That is enough."

"I was only commenting," Sybok defended. "He started a philosophical discussion."

"I don't need mind-control, thanks," Jim said, and Spock blinked at him. Sybok frowned, looking at him, and then at where Spock still had hold of Jim.

"I don't control minds," Sybok said, looking hurt, pouting theatrically. "I free them."

"Yeah?" Jim asked, derisive.

"You face your pain and draw strength from its defeat as you accept it. Once you've done that, fear cannot stop you."

Spock exhaled, bracing himself, and Jim tilted his head. "What'm I afraid of, then?"

Sybok stepped closer and Spock put a hand on his chest with his free hand. "Sybok," Spock said, quiet and doomed.

"Losing Spock," Sybok said, staring intently at Jim. It was as though Spock did not even exist, though everything in him wrenched at the declaration. It was not that he was unaware of it, but hearing it was entirely different and unexpectedly affecting.

"And accepting my pain is going to make me fear that less?" Jim asked, and Spock squeezed Jim's wrist. Jim twisted in his grasp, and for a heart-stopping moment Spock thought he would wrench away. Jim only tangled his fingers in Spock's, pressing his shoulder against Spock's.

"Stop it," Spock said, not sure which of them he was speaking to.

"No," Sybok exhaled, looking surprised, and he took an involuntary step forward.

"Pain and guilt can't be taken away like magic," Jim said, not flinching away. "You carry it with you and it makes you who you are. If you lose it, you lose yourself."

The silence was thick and ringing, and Spock wanted to take them both and crack their heads together, but Jim was staring Sybok down and Sybok…was listening. Maybe even hearing what Jim was saying. It was mind-blowing and incredible and Spock had no idea what to do with this.

He had expected hilarity, he thought. Perhaps childish bickering. He had not expected worn lines on Jim's face making him so much older than he was and the wounded expression on Sybok's face making him seem infinitely younger.

Spock realized abruptly that this person was a stranger. That he did not know this Jim, and for an endless moment he was terrified. This was not something he could save Jim from, and not something he could fix by proximity. If Jim was growing up and growing away from Spock, there was little Spock could do but cling to his ankles and plead.

"Jim," Spock said, and Jim looked at him and grinned, easy and familiar, and leaned into his shoulder briefly, and it was easy to breathe again.

"Your brother's a dick," Jim said. "I can see why you're related."

"That was cruel," Spock informed him.

"You got the good genes," Jim soothed him, laughing. "Come on, let's get ice cream."

"Sorbet," Spock insisted.

"Freak," Jim muttered, all affection, and Spock wondered if it was wrong that he did not want Sybok to take Jim's pain, because there had already been so many changes, but a Jim who was…at peace.

A Jim who was at peace would have no need for Spock.


Sybok did not like Jim.

"He's—Mom, he's fucked," Sybok insisted over dinner that night.

"Just because he's—" Spock began.

"No, no you do not defend that shit," Sybok snapped at him, and Spock fell silent. Sybok never shouted at Spock. "Do you know what they say about him on the wards? Do you know how many times I have seen your best friend kill people in the minds of others?"

"You know nothing," Spock told him. "You have no idea what he—you have no right."

"Spock, he's not—"

"You will not finish that sentence," Spock said flatly. "You have incorrectly conjectured from the minds of the traumatized. You have no idea what he has endured, and I will not hear anything further. You are not required to like him, Sybok, and I do not need your permission to be friends with him. The only decision you need to make is whether or not you and I continue to have a relationship."


"It is Saturday," Spock said to his mother, who was watching the exchange with tired eyes. "I will be spending the night at Jim's."

He did not answer his ringing phone, and when he got to Pike's, Jim was waiting on the doorstep, a wry grin on his face.

"I do not wish to discuss it," Spock warned him as they went inside and climbed the stairs.

"Yeah, don't care," Jim said, closing the door to his bedroom behind them and locking it.

"You have to stop it," Jim said when Spock was settled in Jim's bed. "I don't care your brother's a dick. It doesn't make you any more or less of a freak."

"It is not—do you never get tired of being so violently undervalued?"

"They're idiots, Spock," Jim said. "I don't know. I mean. They don't count."

"You must—you cannot be entirely indifferent."

"You like me," Jim said, picking at a seam on the comforter. "Mom liked me, Pike likes me, I think Number One likes me. I'm not—I'm not a psychopath or whatever he was saying because I don't care what people think. It's just—Not everyone matters in the same way. You don't care about those idiots who say you shouldn't have been born, not like you care what your parents think. I mean—not all people matter the same. And it's bullshit to pretend they do."

Spock looked at him, up at his drawn face and the fierce jut of his jaw, the way his brows were drawn together.

"You like me," Jim repeated, and Spock sighed, tugging Jim to lay beside him.

"Better than you deserve, certainly," he agreed, and Jim laughed.

"That's why you're my favorite."

Chapter Text

Pike enrolled Jim back into their old school. Jim spent a lot of time pretending not to be pleased by this, and Spock spent a lot of time contemplating how best to convince his parents to allow him to re-enroll. He came up with several excellent plans, but was met with stonewalling at every turn.

In late August Amanda began to pack and Spock was staging his protest by not going back to the Embassy for a week. He had long since given up on any attempt to rationalize it logically.

He knocked on Pike's door politely, shifting his grip on his bag.

"You're staying?" Pike asked, eyeing the bag, and Spock looked at him, and then up at Jim who was leaning against the railing at the stair landing.

"For a week. Spock is having his teenaged rebellion while he's still on Earth," Jim said, and Pike exhaled, looking up at Jim. He seemed about to say something rational and parental, but the door burst open again and then slammed shut. Number One raised her heavy eyebrows at them, stark against the pale white of her skin. She was, Spock thought, a beautiful woman.

"So, what's going on?" she asked casually as she turned the lock.

"Spock is staying for a week. Why are you here?" Pike asked, and then added, "And do I need to call someone?"

"I'm reacquainting myself with your couch. It's been a long time, I fear its affection for me has waned," she said blithely, opening the hall closet and getting blankets and a spare pillow, patting the couch affectionately.

"What's wrong with Snow?" Pike asked, watching with the attitude of a man long-since worn down.

"Nothing, I don't think," Number One said, setting up the couch. "River, on the other hand, is in…a bit of a strop."

"Oh," Pike said, as though there was nothing strange about this scene. "That makes sense. Jim, you and Spock will have to share your room, Number One is going to hide from her feelings on my couch."

Spock looked up at Jim, who was trying to decide if it was worth it to seem like that had not been the plan all along.

"Oh damn," Jim said. "Well, Spock, I guess you'll have to cope."

Spock followed him into the bedroom, listening to the low tones of Number One and Pike bickering at each other until Jim shut the door and turned the lock.

Spock sat at the head of the bed, propping himself against the headboard. "My mother is packing," he said.

"I could kidnap you," Jim suggested, throwing himself onto the bed. Spock sighed.

"My parents would exact the full force of the law against you and petition for the highest sentence possible, which, given that I am not a citizen on this planet with residency, would be inter-planetary kidnapping. It carries a sentence of at least fifty years," he said. "Sybok would also likely compel some of his patients to testify. It would all be very dubious but the end result would be you behind bars until you die and me stuck on Delta Vega. Possibly in a tower without doors, and you know how Vulcans, as a species, are not built for colder climes."

Jim inhaled as though he was about to say something, then paused and looked at Spock incredulously. "Did you just compare yourself to Rapunzel and then call yourself delicate?" he demanded.

"It would be ghastly to grow one's hair out that long," Spock mused, and Jim dissolved into laughter, which had been Spock's goal. He did not fully understand humor, though he was better at it than most Vulcans. He understood Jim well enough, though, and that seemed to make up for whatever ignorance he still possessed on the subject.

"I'd visit," Jim promised.

"You would be in jail," Spock reminded him. "Without my funds at your disposal."

That was a lie, actually. Spock had set up a trust when it had become clear to him that his parents were never going to support their friendship. It was run by an investment firm on Besotha, and was apparently growing steadily, and Jim would be able to use it until Spock said otherwise. Of course, the people managing it thought that Jim was Spock's husband, but it was a necessary deception.

"Yeah, that would suck," Jim admitted. "I could probably get out, though."

Spock looked at him and stayed silent, because it was likely true, but Jim did not need the encouragement.

"Hah, you even think so," Jim crowed, and Spock kicked him idly. He wondered if he could encourage Captain Pike to begin recruiting Jim heavily into Starfleet. Even if Jim decided to go into Engineering, he would be kept busy, and have legal hobbies.

"I'd break you out, too," Jim said abruptly, leveraging himself up onto his elbows so he could look at Spock, and his grin was all teeth.

On the last day of the week, Spock woke up to Pike calling them down to breakfast.

"Jim, wake up," he said, sitting up and shaking Jim's shoulder.

"Fuck all the things," Jim snarled from the tangle of blankets he had trapped himself in. Spock looked down at him and thought that if ever he had been tempted to roll his eyes, this would be the time to see if he was physically capable of the act.

"It is likely delicious," Spock said, getting dressed and standing at the foot of the bed.

"Fuck. All. The things," Jim repeated. Spock grabbed the blankets and wrenched them away, and Jim kicked out at him. Spock wrapped his hands around Jim's ankles, pinning them to the bed until Jim sat up, glaring blearily. "I hate you," Jim muttered.

"Lying this early in the morning is gauche," Spock told him. "Get dressed, I will go downstairs."

He released Jim's ankles. There were white marks in the shape of his hands pressed into Jim's skin, and he watched the blood flow back into place and erase the evidence of his grip before Jim swung himself off the bed and stalked into the bedroom, swearing foully under his breath the entire way.

"Do not forget to brush your teeth!" Spock called after him as the door slammed shut.

"Suck on it!" Jim snapped, and Spock left the room, carefully locking it behind him, with a sense of peace and general well-being. He liked morning-Jim. Jim was slower and meaner in the morning, and Spock found the combination highly entertaining.

Pike smiled at him when he came into the kitchen. "Pancakes for you, side of bacon for us," he said. "I'm gonna take Jim shopping later, you could come if you wanted."

"I would like that," Spock agreed, and they both looked towards the stairs at the crash from Jim's room.

"He always like this in the mornings?" Pike asked.

"Some days are more trying than others," Spock said, getting up to pour coffee. Jim stomped down the stairs and from the couch Number One mumbled something in Illyrii.

Spock handed Jim the coffee, and Pike slid the plate over, careful not to brush against Jim in any way. It was strange, to see humans interact like this. Even Spock's family had always been, if not affectionate, then at-ease in each other's presence. He had always been welcome in his parents' spaces, and they had never paused at the threshold of any room he was in, except perhaps for a cursory, polite knock. Sybok and Amanda were tactile, and while Spock and Sarek were not, they accepted it as part of their lives, found comfort in it. There had never been any locked doors.

He did not remember well enough if Sam or Winona had been tactile, though Jim was. Or rather, Jim was tactile with Spock.

Jim had rigid boundaries with other people, but over the course of the summer he had learned to share Pike's space, often with Spock as a buffer. Jim was adaptable, but not always in his own best interests. He hoped that Pike would be good for Jim this year, when Spock would be—unable to be there. He had hope, though. Pike was extremely adept at reading Jim's body language, a skill he imagined came from dealing with Number One, who was a veteran of her planet's war.

Still, Spock was fairly certain that with Pike, Jim was experiencing a kind of culture shock. He had gone from Frank's aggressive neglect to Pike's obvious and sometimes painful investment in Jim's well-being, and Spock could hardly blame Jim for his wariness.

Pike was being—well, exceptionally good with Jim. Exceptionally good to Jim. Spock could hardly even care if Pike was projecting his feelings for Jim's parents onto Jim—it did not matter. He was invested. It was more than Spock had hoped.

Jim handed Spock the empty cup. "More," he demanded.

"Eat," Spock countered, and Jim glowered at him hatefully, but picked up the fork. He ate his eggs as aggressively as anyone could eat scrambled eggs, and Spock looked on indulgently. He really was unaccountably fond of morning-Jim.

After getting Jim his second cup of coffee, Pike held up his card between two fingers and said, "So you probably need new tech, right?"

Jim did not smile, because he seemed, as of yet, unable to give anyone but Spock his smiles when he meant them. Jim did, however, rattle off a list of things he could hardly need, but seemed to want. He was perhaps testing how much money Pike was willing to spend; how much attention he was paying; testing the limits.

Spock was just reveling in the fact that Jim was asking for something, rather than taking it.

"Yeah," Pike snorted, looking down at his PADD and then back up at Jim. "We'll see about all of that—I already got the list from school."

The grin on Jim's face was there-and-gone, but Pike's face softened and he turned away towards the sink too-fast, clearing his throat.

The moment was broken by the doorbell ringing.

"Number One, get that," Pike called.

It rang again.

"Get the door!" Pike shouted at Number One, who snarled something at him and fell off the couch. Spock turned from the scene back to his plate, only to find Jim trying to poach his kiwi quarter. Spock stabbed Jim's hand with his fork. Jim looked at the fork, then at the kiwi, obviously deciding whether puncture wounds were worth it. Spock picked up the slice of fruit and shoved it into his mouth, raising his eyebrows.

Pike made a sound that was obviously stifled laughter, and Jim narrowed his eyes, watching Spock chew.

"It's the Lady Amanda," Number One announced, tugging a hand through her thick dark hair. "Here for her progeny. Anyway, I'm showering, don't run the water."

Pike looked very tempted to put the water on and leave it running, but instead his face smoothed into a polite smile. "Amanda, good to see you. I imagine you're collecting this one?"

"It's time to start packing," Amanda agreed, and Spock kicked Jim lightly under the table to preempt any comment, swallowing with a bit of difficulty. The method of securing the kiwi had been effective, but perhaps not his best plan. Undignified.

"Spock?" she said, and he stood.

"Coming," he agreed, and headed upstairs to gather his things, Jim trailing him.

"She booked a shuttle for tonight," Jim said. "I might have looked it up."

"Yes. Well, no time like the present."

"I don't know, the future's gotta be pretty awesome."



Spock put his wallet in his bag and collected his PADD, sliding it on top of his clothes. "We will keep in touch. You cannot think otherwise."

"Yeah, no. I know," Jim agreed, dismissive as he flopped onto his bed.

"No, Jim. You are not allowed to elect not to respond to my messages or not take my calls because I am not close enough to—" he said, harder than he meant to. It was that old, lingering fear he could not seem to shake: that Jim would leave him (though Spock knew he did his own share of leaving—was the one leaving now).

"Okay, you know what, fuck you, this time wasn't even my fault—" Jim started, and cut off when Spock kissed him.

And then jerked away and was on the other side of the room, heart hammering in his chest and his fingers pressing into the smooth wood of the bedroom door. Jim sat at the head of the bed, staring at him, mouth working but no sound coming out.

"Wh—" Jim started, pressing his fingers to his lips and then looking up at Spock, and he looked like might be starting on angry but was still stuck on confused. "I—"

"I apologize," Spock said, stiffly. He was not sorry, but he was…he was apologetic. It was not a lie, and there was a distinction between those two things. He was walking a very fine line, but he was still being truthful. Still, he felt the need to qualify: "It was impulsive and I did not consider—"

"Come here," Jim said.

Spock went, wary. Jim was fast when he wanted to be, and Spock was not interested in getting punched in the throat, even if he did deserve it. How could he do that—Jim was still in a delicate state of mind, traumatized and highly-stressed, virtually homeless…it was unfair of Spock to have done that. It made him some kind of predator, surely—he should have actually thought about it. Acting on impulse was not how he was raised.

He stopped a foot away from Jim, and Jim swung to sit on the edge of the bed, legs spread a little, and he pointed to the ground before him. "Here," he clarified.

Spock moved forward, and Jim put his hands on Spock's shoulders and pulled, and Spock hesitated long enough to look at Jim's slightly pursed lips, at the ferocious determination on Jim's face. He bent the last two inches and kissed him again. His nose hit hard against Jim's, and he put a hand to Jim's face to adjust their angle. It was hard not to sense what Jim was feeling—hard not to peek, but he hardly needed to because Jim was pushy and insistent and took miles when given an inch, and the kiss transitioned from exploratory to slick and needy rapidly when they pulled apart they were both breathless. Spock was half on top of Jim, and Jim had one of his legs bent up, pressing against Spock's side. They were really incredibly close.

"Yeah," Jim said, nonsensically and mostly to himself, Spock thought. Spock kissed the curve of Jim's smile, lips pressed against teeth and lips in equal measure. Jim laughed into it, and—

"Spock!" Amanda called, and they broke apart, knocking foreheads in the process. Jim was flushed, his lips red and swollen and Spock wanted to bite them.

Which was an unexpected impulse.

"Spock, come on!" Amanda repeated, and she was beginning to sound impatient.

"How do I look?" Spock asked Jim, turning to look in the mirror over the wardrobe. His cheeks were flushed green, and his own lips might have been…

"Press your lips together, let her think the flush is you being angry," Jim said, chewing on his own lower lip.

"I will come back next summer," Spock said. "Or perhaps Captain Pike will—you could visit."

"Well, failing that, there's always kidnapping," Jim mused. Spock narrowed his eyes at him, and then darted forward to steal another kiss.

"The estate is large," he agreed. "I could hide you easily."

Jim's laughter followed him down the stairs, something warm to comfort him against his mother's expression and Pike's forced politeness.

Number One was standing behind Pike's right shoulder, and Spock had only known the pair of them for a summer, barely three months, but he knew that position well. That was their facing-down-danger pose, and he wondered if his mother even realized she was considered a threat.

"Thank you," he said to them both, lifting a hand. "Live long and prosper."

"May your aim be true," Number One replied, and Pike just smiled at him a little ruefully.

"Good luck," he said, and Amanda escorted him out of the door into the waiting car.

He kept replaying the kiss all the way back to the Embassy. He had not even been consciously aware of the desire to kiss Jim until he was already doing it—how was it possible that he not know himself? Had it been perhaps a simple manifestation of his reluctance at their separation?

He closed the door to his bedroom and leaned against it.

His PADD dinged.

dont freakout ok

I am not "freaking out."

its lieka promise

Spock stared at that for a long time. A promise that—that what? They would pick this up when they next saw each other? Were they together now—did that mean Jim would not date for an entire year?

He exhaled slowly. He needed to regain control of himself, he was starting to feel alarmingly emotional. He began to pack, finding the monotonous action its own form of meditation.

or not if you dont wanna

spock you dick throw me a fucking bone

heh dick bone

Spock sighed and typed carefully, ≫Perhaps we should reevaluate when next we see each other. I would not want this to affect our friendship, and it is an unfair time to start anything.

fine but if I jerk off to you you cant even blame me

You need not feel compelled to tell me.

so youll alwayd be wonderng ;)

There are days I cannot remember why we are friends.



dont be guilty either i was gonna kiss you too

Spock stared at that message, and then another came through: ≫youre just braver than me

Liar.≪ Spock typed back with shaking fingers.

cross my <3 and hope to die

Don't you dare.

oooh baby get forceful w me

Do not sext me with Captain Pike right there.

so lame fine ttyl

Spock laid down on his bed, abruptly exhausted, and wondered if everyone had known.

If this was the reason for his parents' overreactions, for Sybok's vitriol. If this was why Pike had been accommodating of him. Did everyone think they were—well, they were young. When he had thought of Jim as t'hy'la it had not been sexual in nature, but perhaps that was his own naiveté. He would be fifteen in two months. This was nearly farcical.

A knock at the door startled him from his thoughts.

"You know," his mother says, leaning against the doorframe of his bedroom, "before meeting your father I had no idea Vulcans had moods? And then I had a husband and a son who perfected the ability to sulk. Stoically."

"Sybok would not know stoicism if it committed acts of violence upon his person," Spock said.

"That's true, but I wasn't talking about Sybok," Amanda said, smiling at him. "You and I were getting along better, this last year." She said it in neutral tones, and Spock could not point out that he had been very alone on Vulcan without her perceiving it as an insult.

"Yes," he agreed. "It seems that Earth brings up points of insurmountable contention."

"Hm," she sighed. "I don't hate him, Spock."

Spock did not scoff, but he could not control his right eyebrow, which lifted in pure skepticism.

"I don't," she insisted. "But you…you don't make good decisions when he's involved. You're…rash. And I worry for you, and sometimes that manifests as…" she ran a hand over her head and sighed again. "You're exceedingly bright, Spock. You're intelligent and mature for your age, but you're not an adult. Not yet. And I want to make sure that you get there."

"This is not Romeo and Juliet," Spock said. "Neither of us is—"

"Oh god," Amanda choked. "Are you—are you in love with him?"

And Spock was grateful that she had asked that question in that way, because he could say truthfully that he was not yet in love with Jim. He loved him, certainly. But further meditation was required to determine whether he was in love with him.

"No," he said flatly.

Amanda looked at him, her gaze hard and direct. "If you were, you could tell me."

"I could," he agreed, which was hardly the same as saying he would, and both of them knew it.

The silence that descended was tense and uncomfortable, and Spock looked at the door longingly.

"You have to understand," Amanda said, quietly. "To us, he only needs you when there's a problem. I know that you feel this is reciprocal, and maybe it is in a way that you haven't allowed us to see, but to an outsider concerned for your well-being, this relationship is not healthy, which is…it's a big part of why you and I are going back to Vulcan."

"Sybok is staying?" Spock asked. He had not known that, and felt a stab of jealousy.

"Sybok has been accepted into Starfleet Medical and apparently it's a good 'starter career,'" she said, rolling her eyes at the terminology.

Spock supposed that much seem strange to humans, but he knew that to Vulcans there was time enough to have three careers, if not dozens more. Longevity affected one's perspective, and though Spock, in some ways, shared that perspective, he could not help but wonder if he would have such a long lifespan. If he would live even to seventy, or if, like in the shows his parents attempted to ban him from seeing, those bonds which were holding his atomic structures together would fail when he turned twenty. It would not be unreasonable to assume that, having been forced together in a way nature never intended, they would stay that way.

He thought that perhaps that was one of the reasons he and Jim got along so well. Their timelines were questionable. Neither of Jim's parents had survived past the age of 35, and Spock was a science experiment whose entire life was built upon borrowed time. It was freeing, in a way. Liberating, perhaps, was the better word.

"I just worry that you're being taken advantage of, and that someday you're going to look back and realize that you haven't—" she broke off, considering her words. "I'm worried that you're going to realize you didn't do what you wanted because you were too busy living for someone else."

"I see," Spock said, but he did not. They worried Jim was subverting his agency and so they undermined it themselves. It was all hardly fair—this was not them as children going across country, this was a legitimate, interplanetarilly-recognized tragedy that Spock had been helping his best friend recover from. Under the circumstances, Spock was fairly certain that begrudging Jim any of Spock's time was petty at best.

She sighed, scrubbing a hand over her face. "You don't."

"No," Spock agreed. "Or rather, I see your perspective, but I disagree with it."

She looked down at her hands, a familiar gesture from fights with his father. It was a slap to see it directed at him.

"I need to finish packing," he said, and she stood up, nodding.

"The car is picking us up at five," she said, and shut the door behind her.

I just compared us with Romeo and Juliet to my mother.

spock i can honestly say if tarsus didnt kill me were gonna fucking live forever

Unless I kill you for your lack of punctuation.

you know it gets you hot

Chapter Text

Starfleet Medical is a pristine facility, built to accommodate the worst, and it seems to Sarek that it is handling itself extremely well, given the circumstances.

Jim Kirk is in a private room, with doctors and nurses going in and out while Sarek takes up residence in a chair outside, working with Tonya, his chief aid. He is not here to provide support to Jim, but rather to ensure that whenever anyone mentions the fact that Spock is sitting at Jim's bedside, they do not mention it but the once.

He thinks that providing this harbor is the best he can do for both of them right now. Tonya is handling his calls and messages, moving meetings around so that he can do this for his son.

Spock has become so withdrawn from them, more social than either of them could have anticipated when he was young. He has friends, and is friendly with a number of peers, but at some point things went awry, and all of Sarek's conversations with his son are superficial. Sybok went through this phase as well, and they came out of it well enough, but Sarek spent years worried that he would drive Sybok away. Spock has already run away twice, though as of yet always with the intention of returning. That may not be the case next time, and so Sarek keeps his silences and trusts that Spock knows that Sarek will be there for him.

He thinks that the fact that Spock had called him, white as snow and shaking, desperate, shows that his son yet trusts him. He is not logical when it comes to his children: he suspects they both know and revel in it.

Still. Spock did not call Amanda before departing with Sybok, and she is furious and hurt and scared, and he cannot blame her. He does not know what to say to reassure her, and she reads book after book about codependency and abusive relationships and Sarek thinks that Sybok is not far behind her--both of them believing Spock to be unhealthily attached.

Sybok doesn't believe in the concept of t'hy'la, has never experienced it.

Not many do, but Sarek knows how to recognize it, and thinks that Spock is not the one they should be so very concerned about.

He can see the way Jim has angled his body towards Spock, the way he keeps contact, and the way he defers to Spock every time a doctor speaks. More often than not, it is Spock who replies, who knows allergies and medical histories while Jim lays back, tired and resigned and like the child he is. It is abruptly, starkly obvious that Jim Kirk has no one else in the world but Spock.

There is a part of Sarek which rejects that: his fourteen-year-old son is not prepared mentally to be anyone's touchstone. There is another part which understands why Spock has always been so desperate when it comes to Jim Kirk.

They have always assumed that it is because Jim manipulates him, toys with him and pushes him so off-balance the only thing that seems right is Jim. But that's not it, Sarek thinks. Or that's not all that it is. Spock is intelligent and observant, and would not have missed the wild imbalance in their relationship.

Sarek exhales slowly, looking down at the tablet Tonya holds out to him: an emergency meeting with the Federation President at 1900. He nods to her, and she gets up to make a call.

Perhaps removing Spock will be for the best. They will have to ensure that Jim is stabilized, insomuch as they can, but after--after it might be the best thing to do. Spock, Sarek knows, is already angling to get Christopher Pike temporary guardianship of Jim, and he will be successful, of that Sarek has no doubt. Jim needs someone else in his life to rely on. Multiple someones. Spock will not thank him for it, but that does not make this the wrong decision.

Sarek stands and nods to the doctor handling Jim's case. Tonya looks up as he exits the wing.

"Contact Captain Christopher Pike," Sarek says. "I would speak with him."

She nods, and he follows her into the car waiting for them. He will have to speak to Amanda, and then explain to Pike what Spock is truly doing, and then...well. And then they will have to trust that Jim Kirk has the will to survive.

Chapter Text

When Spock had been young, he had been witness to countless arguments between his parents and Sybok. They had echoed throughout the house, his mother's voice rising and falling, matching and overtaking Sybok's while his father had supplied the punctuation. Sybok had been their trouble child, was the one Spock thought they expected to worry about.

Sometimes he wondered if his own, smaller rebellions were more of a betrayal. If, even if they would not voice the thought, they had hoped Spock would be an easier child to raise. He thought he had been, as he had only run away the single time and had had every intention of returning. He had not antagonized anyone, and he did well in school.

But for all the conflicts he had had with his parents, he had truly only ever been held accountable by his mother. Even when Spock had fled to Riverside, his father had not disciplined him, not in the way he might have done Sybok. Spock expected it had something to do with the perceived emotionality of his attachment to Jim: his father judged that his mother would be better-suited to understand and guide Spock.

Apparently that was going to change. Sybok and his mother were both conspicuously absent from the house, murmuring something about going into Shi'Kar to make sure the house was properly stocked, leaving Spock and Sarek alone.

Spock had not realized, which he could not be blamed for. Jim would have noticed, but Jim was a suspicious creature, and Spock was not. So Spock had gone to his room, which seemed unfamiliar even though he had been gone three months (three months, how was that all? How could that possibly have been all it was?). He turned all of his computers on methodically, and then his holo, and it was only when he turned to perhaps go to get a snack that he realized his father was standing in his doorway, silent and watchful.

"Spock. Your mother is concerned," Sarek said, and Spock thought sometimes that Vulcan syntax and speech patterns leant themselves to restating the obvious with startling frequency, juxtaposed with Standard or English. Perhaps he would write a paper. Or ask Amanda, she would have insight after her work on the Universal Translator.

"She has expressed those concerns to me already," Spock told his father. "Unless you had concerns of your own to contribute, and that was a segue." He winced internally: that was too human. He would have to curb that before returning to school.

"Spock, how often do you speak for him?"

Spock felt his lips twitching towards a frown and schooled his features quickly, still thrown by the question. How frequently did he speak for Jim? Rarely, he thought, and only when Jim was refusing to speak. Jim was more than capable of advocating for himself, and did so—except that was untrue. Jim rarely advocated for himself. Jim had long ago decided that actions were better than words, or had been taught that silence and defiance were the better options to attempting to rationalize and converse with a world that did not want to hear him, anyway.

"I do not understand—" Spock began, only to be interrupted again.

"It is an admirable thing, you have done," his father said, stepping into Spock's room and looking out his south-facing window. "To give him a family, a support system. He was very alone: it was astute to recognize that you could not be everything."

Spock bit back the obvious, which is that he could have been everything, if they had stayed on Earth. Pike was a contingency plan that was made necessary by Sarek and Amanda's own actions, and Spock's status as a minor. If there had been a possibility of keeping Jim safe, Spock would have done it, but Tarsus IV had proven that Spock would not always be able to be there. That until Spock was eighteen other people were…necessary.

"Ah," Sarek said, in a tone that meant he was both amused and disappointed. "But perhaps it was not so admirable?"

Spock looked at his father, the worn, severe lines of his face, and wondered how, in some way, his father did not understand him. Could not see in Spock's devotion to Jim his own devotion to Amanda. Sarek had met and married Amanda in a year's time, a thing that had never before been done. Vulcans and humans had, in the past, entertained romantic relationships, but to Spock's knowledge, none before his parents had attempted it successfully. Vulcan courtships lasted decades when marriage was the end result, and yet his father had flouted all tradition in order to marry Amanda. Spock was merely insisting on a friendship, he did not see why he should be vilified for it.

Even more worryingly, he was uncertain what his father was getting at, and it was startling, to remember that his father was not only powerful, but vastly, wildly intelligent. Spock had never been on the receiving end of his father's attention like this. He found he did not care for it.

"You have always been a child of two worlds," Sarek said, watching him steadily. "You have always had great potential, and have made a way for yourself."

"That is untrue," Spock said. The floor was smooth, and glowed dully in the late-afternoon light. It would be warm if he put his bare feet on it, unlike all Earth surfaces, where all floors were chill to the touch. Spock wondered what that was, that made it so.

"Explain," Sarek said, and sat in the chair across from Spock's bed. Spock did not want to explain. It was humiliating and private to explain all the ways in which he had not made a way for himself. He had found his way by following Jim, had taken his cues from Jim always.

"On Earth—I was very alone," Spock said, slow and careful. He had to find the right way to word it, so that Sarek would understand, and not damn Jim. His father was—he might understand. Spock was surprised by how desperately he wanted Sarek to understand. "He gave me a place to sit and someone to—Earth schools are very social, and it is difficult to be an outsider in that setting."

"He ensured you were not."

Spock had been so alone, uncertain and afraid, even, and Jim had been frustrating and wonderful and had deftly maneuvered Spock from his loneliness, taught by example how to find someone and hold onto them when there was no compelling reason to do so, save for wanting to.

Jim had saved Spock long before Spock thought to save Jim.

Jim had been a cruel child and was a cruel adolescent, but he had found Spock and kept him when no one else did, when no one else wanted to. He had trusted Spock with his secrets and held onto the ones Spock gave him, and Spock knew that he was different because of Jim. That there was a plan for his life that no longer fit because Spock was not the Vulcan-committed boy he had been before leaving for Earth. He was, as T'Pring insisted, something different. Spock thought that acknowledging that would have been a life-long struggle if not for Jim, who made the issue irrelevant.

"Yes," Spock agreed, consciously keeping his shoulders loose, his posture correct and nonaggressive. "I was lonely and afraid and he provided me a safe harbor. I met Jim and I was no longer alone."

"He is strong, then."


"Perhaps now you must trust that he is strong enough to save himself. You have given him people who want to help him if he will let them. Whatever your motivations for that, Spock, you should trust your instincts that it was the right thing to do."

Spock stared after him, and felt gutted. Jim was—

"Sybok says there is no such thing as t'hy'la," he found himself saying, and Sarek turned, his hand on Spock's doorframe. Spock wished he could take that back, but he could not hold it all. He had kissed Jim, and now Jim was lightyears away and Spock was—alone. Felt alone for the first time in almost a decade.

"Sybok does not know everything," Sarek said, though he was fond, a warmth in his voice. "Sybok believes that the concept is rooted in repression and shame."

"You do not?"

"I married your mother. "

The silence that fell then was thick and heavy, as though Sarek wanted Spock to understand something, or to confess to something, and Spock already felt he had laid himself too bare as it was. His father reached out, after a moment, and touched Spock's cheek.

"I am, and always shall be, proud of you," Sarek said. "You are my son."

Spock stared at his father's retreating back, and sat on the bed, still and quiet, for a long time. He knew he had only to reach out for T'Pring or Stonn, or even Sybok, but it was not the same.

≫I am lonely.≪ he sent Jim, laying on his back.


Sarek and Sybok returned to Earth after a week, and Spock went back to school, and it was all very…civil. Stonn filled him in quietly on everything he had missed, and T'Pring stared at him, hard, before turning away. She was doing her hair differently: piling it up in intricate knots, and her school uniform was no match for the way she held herself. Someday, T'Pring would be the best of them all.

Spock went to classes, and he came home, and Amanda worked on the Universal Translator.

Spock did well, and it was all…familiar. Which was good, except that it was providing him time to think. Having time to think was rarely a good thing, but now Spock had kissed his best friend and he had nothing to distract him from that. The worst of it—the thing that had him laying on his back staring blankly at the ceiling—was that when Spock had thought of his relationship with Jim and its future, he had never imagined it in a romantic context. He had written the words of their future and they had been brothers all their days, a sometimes-ill-matched duo making their way through space, catching each other's rough edges but fitting together better than anyone else ever would.

He had thought that he would return to Earth and go to the Starfleet Academy. It would put him in closer proximity to Jim, whose future had always been a little less well-determined, but Spock had thought that it would likely only take him a semester to get Jim's life in order and Winona and George Kirk's child was guaranteed acceptance to the Academy.

They would go to the Academy, Spock in the science corp track and Jim in engineering, perhaps (Spock knew Jim had a talent for language, but his tact made communications an unlikely fit). They would obtain the same assignment, and whatever came…it would be theirs to figure out together.

The truth was that Spock had not seen the kiss coming, but now he didn't know how he hadn't, because it seemed so obvious. He wondered if this was what had his parents nervous, if they had been obvious to everyone but themselves (and Spock didn't know if Jim hadn't seen it coming, or if Jim had been deferring to Spock in that). He was supposed to be clever, and this was absurd, since he had done the kissing.

He had serious doubts about his intelligence. Serious, serious doubts.

His PADD pinged, and Spock picked it up idly while Stonn and T'Pring bickered at each other across the table.

The image was Jim, shirt lifted and pants slouched far too low on his hips, so low it seemed that they must fall off, torso laid bare, pouting absurdly at the camera. Vulcan pornography was almost exclusively written, which made Jim's image…far more tantalizing. Spock's mouth went dry.

"Oh," T'Pring said. "That's what he looks like?"

Spock hastily closed the image and looked at her amused face.

"He looks different when he's not emaciated," she said.

"One reels at the thought," Stonn said, and T'Pring waved a hand at him.

"When will we meet him?" she asked.

"How do I say this diplomatically?" Spock mused, lifting an eyebrow at her as he sent a message to Jim: ≫That was extremely inappropriate.≪

≫thats knda the point spock (;≪

Spock narrowed his eyes at the winky-face. Jim was laughing at him, Spock knew it, and he couldn't berate him further because if Jim knew T'Pring had seen it he would not be ashamed, he would think it was hilarious.

"Never?" Stonn suggested.

"Never," Spock agreed, looking back up, and T'Pring shook her head at both of them.

"Absurd. One might think you to be ashamed of him."

"One would suppose incorrectly," Spock told her icily, and she nodded.

"Good. That is as it should be, then."

He watched her walk away, bemused.

"What just happened?" he asked Stonn.

"You are protective, and that is not a common facet of relationships between Vulcans," Stonn said. "And T'Pring is a traditionalist."

"She is not," Spock said.

"In some ways she is intensely conservative," Stonn said, and his cheeks were tinted a vague green. "But you are a friend, and she—we—would hate to think less of you."

"The fact that the—object of my affection is Human—"

"Your mother is Human," Stonn said, picking up his PADD and standing as the chimes rang for classes to resume. "And you are half-Human. In this you are granted more freedom than T'Pring or I might be."

"The expectations are lower," Spock surmised, and Stonn inclined his head as they fell into step.

"I did not say that the reasons were flattering to you. Though I had not thought you to hold the opinion of others in such high esteem."

"Others, no. T'Pring, yes. It is…important to me."

"Yes," Stonn agreed. "It is fortunate her logic lies with you."

It was a strange thing. On Earth, Spock's world had narrowed down to Jim and only Jim, but here he had people whose opinions did matter. He had friends—not many, but Stonn and T'Pring were enough. He felt as though he was living two separate lives, but Tarsus had blurred the lines, and Jim's persistence in sending Spock flirtatious (or explicit) messages and photos while he was in school involved Spock's friends in his…relationship. His relationship with Jim.

Which was not to say that it was not terrifying. Sometimes Spock thought he had the worst timing of anyone in the entire galaxy. Jim's stability with Pike was brand new, in its infancy yet, and wildly untested. For Pike, Jim was still a novelty, and Jim was still regaining the footing he had lost on Tarsus IV, and Spock—well. Spock expected that he would get at least one emergency call. It was too new to be counted on, and Spock had to consider all the variables to this new facet of their relationship.

"I wonder," T'Pring said one day as they studied after school, "if those images could be construed as child pornography."

Spock stared at her. He was going to have to have to buy his own communications package, because Jim would only escalate (or Spock would. Spock would not pretend even to himself that this was something he was being reluctantly led into). One of them would escalate, and Spock did not want his parents peering into his usage summary and seeing…any of it. It was likely bad enough as it was.

Spock got a communications package through an Orion provider, because they had bigger problems than two sexually-frustrated teenagers. He kept the original for family and his friends, and the second was for Jim.

≫Use this, and only this when you are harassing me.≪

≫im totally your dirty little secret rn≪

≫Do you want my parents calling the police and alerting them to the nature of the images you've been sending?≪

≫yeah liek your msgs arent any less explicit≪

Spock called him: some conversations needed to be had out loud.

"You are the bane of my existence," he said, settling on his bed and stretching out. His mother was at a seminar for the next two days, and Spock had tomorrow free. It was luxury at its finest.

"You know it's like, four in the morning here, right?" Jim yawned, and yes, Spock did know. It was called tactical advantage, and he would take what he could get with Jim. "Also, I'm hot, don't lie."

Spock opened the photo up again as he laid on his bed, sliding a hand down his stomach. "It is a flattering photo." This one wasn't ridiculously posed, and was taken by someone else. It was at school, and Jim had a foil and was laughing, a bruise on his arm indicating he'd lost the match. He was shirtless, and there was a fine sheen of sweat, but he'd cut his hair, and he was—

Well, he was a cock-tease.

"Did you open it at school?" Jim sounded far too gleeful not to have known that was precisely what Spock was going to do.

"T'Pring sends her compliments, as always," Spock said, his hand sliding lower, under his pants. He was half-hard already from looking at that stupid photo, and now Jim's voice was in his ear. "Stonn wishes you would confine yourself."

"You don't have to open them," Jim laughed, and his voice was thick and low and Spock wanted him so badly.

For Jim's 15th birthday Spock had sent him a crate of Vulcan tea and deliberately ignored the link Jim had sent him. Apparently there were places one could go to get a custom-made dildo replica of one's dick.

Spock had a shady communications package and a tendency to jerk-off to terrible duck-faced images of Jim: he was not going to test the limit of the law by ordering a replica of his underage dick and send it to his equally underage boyfriend.

There were limits.

"What were you doing?"

"Hm? Oh, the pic. Ugh, Sulu thinks that he's some kind of like, martial arts master." There's a pause. "I mean, he's not wrong, but I can't tell him that."

"Obviously," Spock agreed, stroking himself lazily.

"Anyway, Scotty took the picture. You remember Scotty? The Scottish one whose last name is actually Scott? He's made a new camera he thinks is the shit, I think he's just biding his time because he hacked the Enterprise specs and oh," Jim groans. "Spock, she's beautiful. You should see this ship they're building, she's going to be the flagship and her warp drive is off the fucking charts."

Spock wonders what it says about him that he's sexually attracted to someone who's sexually attracted to a ship.

"I mean, I was growing up under her, you know? But she never looked like much, but—are you jerking it out?"

"Attempting to."

"Want me to talk about something else?" Jim asked, and then, without waiting for Spock's reply: "So, I got a vibe for my birthday, and since Pike's at this conference and Number One is on again with Snow, I thought tonight I'd break it in."

"Oh?" Spock's was proud of the way his voice did not break, but he knew how close it was. As it was, his dick was leaking, mixing with the lubricant and making slick sounds as his hand pumped up and down. He squeezed on the base of his dick, a warning to his body. It would be useless: when Jim was like this Spock was doomed.

"Mm. Was kinda weird, trying to get myself that open, you know? I don't think I'm flexible enough, maybe should go do a yoga class. But I got the bed just fucking drenched with lube, kept on working it and then it went in and fuck, Spock. Felt so full, like I was gonna come apart, and I bet your dick is bigger'n that. That's all I kept thinking, about how big it felt inside of me, how deep it felt like it was going and about how you're gonna feel even better, you'll be able to fill me up and fuck me until I scream and then maybe you'll play with it after. Do you think you will? Finger me when I'm still sore from you fucking me? I'd let you, let you put your fingers in me and keep me open so you could slide back in when you were hard again."

"Jim," Spock managed, strangled, because he could see it. The way Jim would be loose-limbed, sprawling and pliant and letting Spock do what he wanted to Jim's body. He was making a mess of his hand, now, precome dripping everywhere, his balls tight. This was torture, it all was. Unfair that Jim was so uninhibited, wanton and hungry and unashamed. Spock let Jim do the talking, spent too many daylight hours agonizing over every one of these calls. But none of it ever mattered in the moment. In the moment all Spock wanted was for Jim to keep talking, to hear his breathing change and the little sounds he made while he fucked into his fist.

"God, I'm still loose," Jim groaned, and Spock closed his eyes, picturing Jim reaching behind himself to feel, fingers tracing the rim of his hole, a finger sliding in to the first knuckle easily. "If you were here you could slip right back in. If Sulu wasn't coming over for a run in…Christ, fuck, three hours—I'd put it back in. We should—we should plan it. I'd do it for you on a vid, so you can see and pretend it's you."

"You are going to kill me," Spock managed.

"Not yet," Jim said, and Spock choked and came, his whole body tensing and hips jerking, seeking.

"Fuck, you have no idea—no idea how you sound," Jim groaned. "So hot, shit, I'm gonna—Spock—"

"Come for me," Spock said, voice low and hoarse, and before he had a moment to second-guess himself, his phrasing, any of it—Jim was shouting, sounding wrecked as he came.

"I think that's the best we've done yet," Jim decided after a couple minutes where Spock found the strength to get up and clean himself, changing into a casual robe.

"It was satisfactory," Spock agreed, and Jim laughed at him.

"Such an asshole," he said. He didn't say anything else, falling asleep easily, but Spock kept the line open, listening to Jim snore lightly and laying on his bed. He could almost pretend that if he reached a hand out Jim would be there, beside him.


The thing was, Spock was an excellent student. Often he would hear professors say things to the effect of: In spite of his poor genes and inadequate mother, he has managed to not fail spectacularly. These comments never failed to infuriate him, but if he had learned anything from his mother's example, it was to do well in the face of those who expected nothing from you.

Amanda Grayson had, for two decades and more, been defying all of her critics. She was a published, noted and hailed scholar, an Ambassador's wife, the Human mother of a Vulcan boy and a half-Vulcan, half-Human boy. She spoke perfect Vulcan and could navigate any social situation. His mother was not perfect, but her detractors were not worthy of speaking her name, much less garnering her attention.

In some ways, his mother baffled him.

She was his first Human example, the model he compared his actions against for seven years. And then they had moved to Earth, and he'd found Jim and realized that Amanda Grayson was a subdued example of Humanity. She got angry and she carried a grudge and she was fiercely protective and preferred to walk away from arguments before they escalated into wars, but she was his mother.

And so Spock did exceptionally well in school because they did not expect him to. He did it for himself, for the Human need in him to find satisfaction in defying expectations. But he also did it for his mother, because all of the weaknesses people saw in Spock were always blamed upon her.

Which was odd, because when his classmates on Earth had commented on his Vulcan demeanor, it was a characteristic of his race. It wasn't Sarek's fault that Spock was more comfortable raising an eyebrow than he was yelling at someone, it was his Vulcan heritage; it was because he had been raised in the Vulcan culture. If he did well in his classes that was never blamed on his father, or even Vulcan—Spock was a bright student, and had been treated as such.

But on Vulcan, everything was Amanda's fault. There was no flaw Spock possessed that wasn't because of her, and no accomplishment he had that wasn't in spite of her.

Some days he came home and sat in her study, filled with rage on her behalf, and listened to her speak what sounded like gibberish at the Universal Translator program for hours, swearing at it under her breath when it came out wrong. She would ask him for tea, or what he felt like for dinner, and the Universal Translator would echo the question in another language, but she never asked him what was wrong.

After a while he realized that she did not ask because she knew exactly what it was, and knew that there was nothing either of them could do about it except continue to hold their heads up. Their detractors, while vocal, were not multitudes, and Spock noticed a distinct generational shift—his peers, once bullies, no longer commented on his mother, on his mixed blood. As they grew into individuals with their own ideas, his genetics seemed to matter less.

Perhaps Vulcan culture was not as stagnant as Sybok thought, though it would never move quickly enough to satisfy him. Sybok was radical, and happier now, on Earth, working towards his doctorate in emergency surgery and trauma response at Starfleet Med.

"It will be strange when you go," Amanda said over dinner one night as they listened to Sybok's latest message, a rambling, 20-minute long monologue that was impossible to follow at times. "I'll have to move back to Earth, unless your father gets a new assignment."

"Perhaps you could persuade Sybok to come back home. He is making friends, it sounds like they would be very lively."

Amanda glanced down at the recording and sighed. "I wish he'd remember that I'm his mother, and while I'm happy he's exploring his sexuality and being safe, I don't need to hear about it in detail."

Spock flushed and tensed, ready for an arch look and a lecture, a probing question and a muted warning about how Jim Kirk was a dangerous boy who would break Spock's heart and abandon him. He had decided to endure such comments.

"Still, I think five is a bit excessive. And not very hygienic," she mused, and took another bite of her dinner.

Spock waited a couple of moments, but that seemed to be all she had to say. "Well, Sybok is very ambitious," he said.

"Yes, well. I just hope someday he meets someone who isn't as charmed as the rest of the world is."

"I am not charmed," Spock pointed out.

"Yes, dear, but if you start sleeping with Sybok, we're going to have words."

Spock stared at her, revolted. "Mother."

Amanda laughed and poured herself a glass of wine, and Spock watched her and thought she was beautiful when she was happy. It had been a long time since she had seemed happy around him.

Bonded pairs became a subject of interest the summer Spock was sixteen. There were courting rituals and flirtations, and Spock tried to explain it to Jim over a video chat one day (well, it was late afternoon on Vulcan, but for Jim it was the early hours of the night. Spock would feel worse about that if Jim showed any remorse about remotely hacking Spock's phone to play FUCK ME BABY (UH-HUH, UH-HUH) every time anyone called. Spock was fairly certain he was going to have to resort to homicide).

"It's like everyone's getting it out of their systems?" Jim asked, dubious. "Like a bachelor party thing? Or like, spring break?"

"Perhaps? I believe everyone is realizing that they will be bonded if they are not already, and that if they want sexual experience without emotional implications they need to apply themselves to finding a willing partner now." Spock had been propositioned no less than eighteen times, though he suspected part of that was a fetishization of the other. He was not telling Jim. He would wait for a special moment. A moment where he could revel in the look on Jim's face.

"I mean, it goes without saying you find a fuckbuddy and I kill you, right?"

"I should tell Stonn that our tryst for this evening is off, then?" Spock asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Yeah, you're fucking hilarious, see if I put out for you tonight," Jim muttered, sulky as any child.

"I will have to take care of things myself, then," Spock said, and Jim grinned, mercurial as ever.

"I mean, if you think that's what you want to do," Jim said generously. "It's a trying time, I know."

Spock sometimes wondered if the Elders would be horrified at how much Jim, a Human, knew of their ways. Amanda had married into their culture over the protests of almost everyone, and Spock was owed the knowledge by birthright, but Vulcans were intensely private to the point of xenophobia, and Spock imagined that Jim would not be seen as someone who needed to know Vulcan cultural mores.

Spock would not lie and say that the thought of upsetting them was displeasing to him.

"Not that trying," Spock allowed, watching as Jim skimmed his boxers off, the play of shadow and light along his torso. There was Vulcan poetry that was heated and possessing, all pre-reform, and Spock wondered how any of them had managed the reformation if even a small portion of them had felt as he did. Like they could destroy anything for a glimpse of bare skin and flushed cheeks.

"Do you know why our bond failed?" T'Pring asked one day as they were walking through the city. Stonn was ahead with T'Mek. T'Mek was not going to survive to see tomorrow if Spock was right about the way T'Pring's hands were folded in front of her as they walked.

"I had thought lack of proximity in its founding years," Spock said, because he had. He could remember, very vaguely, her presence in his mind as a child. That after the agonizing initial meld there had been something foreign in him. He had, if he recalled correctly, hated it. He had been quickly distracted from it, and by the time he had thought to remember it, there had been no one in his head other than him.

"Perhaps if we were another pair, yes," she agreed. "But it was not. When my parents informed me of your imminent return I had intended to act as your wife. I thought that the distance had rendered us strangers, but that when you were in closer proximity the bond would reappear."

"I remember no such moment," Spock said, pausing while she looked into a shop. It was strange: the last time he had walked through a city was with Jim, and he remembered being worried about kleptomania making a return. Jim wanted to touch everything, and in San Francisco the stores had thrown their doors open, and vendors spilled their wares right onto the street. On Vulcan it was simply long lines of shops, windows displaying wares but it was all very subdued. No one was performing on the streets, no one was shrieking about. It took him aback, how much he missed Earth in that moment.

"No," T'Pring agreed, leading him into a store. They sold jewelry and hair accessories and she inspected them all. It was interesting, the way his classmates had begun to assert themselves as individuals. T'Pring had a proclivity for intricate, expensive strings she could weave through her hair and long earrings, though it might have been a status-symbol. Spock thought it was probably a bit of personal taste and a bit of her personal taste for reminding everyone that she was better than they were. Pride was illogical, but acknowledging fact was not, and T'Pring walked the line better than anyone Spock had ever seen.

"I presume you have more to say."

"The bond was gone. And now that I know you, and you know me, I conclude that if we had remained bonded, we would never have ended that way. I would have challenged you at the end. It is perhaps better, this way."

"How can you be certain?"

"We are ill-suited. I am Vulcan, and all I wish to know is Vulcan. I would be ill-suited to being the wife of a man who was constantly running, much less the wife of a man constantly running towards something or someone else." She pointed to a white chain and the assistant put it into a box for her. When she had paid, T'Pring looked at him. "And I think that you are destined to be a name known on Vulcan, and perhaps through the galaxy. Being the consort of such notoriety does not appeal to me."

He could see how it would not: T'Pring would be a Councilor, and perhaps one day sit on the Federation High Council. She would be great in her own right: being known as anyone's wife would not sit well with her. Her logic was flawless.

"Of course, you would not have wanted me," she said as they headed back to the shuttles. "As you are bonded with another."

Spock stopped, and she turned to look at him, tilting her head.

"Were you in some way unaware that you had bonded to Jim Kirk while on Earth?" she asked, lifting an eyebrow at him.

"It is not a full bond."

"No, though it is speculation only that you would be able to accomplish a full bond with a human, as you are not Vulcan," she allowed.

"Is she being racist again?" Stonn demanded as he joined them. He had a sweet halfway to his mouth, and was looking disapprovingly at T'Pring.

"I was simply stating that it is unknown as of yet if a—if Spock can bond with Jim Kirk."

"Spock is the most powerful touch-telepath of our generation," Stonn said bluntly.

"But Jim Kirk is human," T'Pring argued, swiping her boarding pass as they piled into their car. Their private compartment, thankfully. Spock took up the seat by the window and wished he could rest his head against it. He ignored them: the Vulcan equivalent of bickering was even more grating than the human version of it. Instead he pulled out his phone.

≫I have to negate my bond with T'Pring≪

≫you have to go to court and shit for that≪


≫well cause its a contract so you have to both say you negate it and like her parents and your parents have to agree≪

Spock narrowed his eyes at the screen. ≫How do you know that?≪

≫i know shit what≪

≫That is extremely specific.≪

≫you shoudl filea petition hc.vul.go/2383l/s99o/req44033553≪

Spock clicked the link and it seemed very straightforward. ≫You did not answer my question.≪


Jim would not reply to any further contact after that, and Spock gave up trying, instead pulling the petition up on his PADD and sliding it to T'Pring.

"I will speak to my parents when we return," she said.

"You will be unbonded," Stonn reminded her, and flinched a bit when she turned to stare at him.

"Perhaps I will follow your example," she said. "And engage in coitus with the next penis that walks by."

"There are some things," Spock mused, "that Earth-influenced Standard simply does better. Referring to sexual matters is one of them."

"Oh?" Stonn asked, desperate to get away from the thought of T'Pring parading her lovers in front of them.

"'Jumping on the next dick that walks by' is far more satisfying to say," Spock said, and snapped a picture of the twin expressions of high-Vulcan distaste at such crude language with enormous relish.

He sent it to Jim.

Because both Spock and T'Pring were sixteen (nearing seventeen quickly), their petition was expedited. Their parents had to sign that they were aware of and supported the motion, and then there was a hearing.

"Do not mention—do not mention Jim," Spock said to T'Pring as they waited to be called in. "I would prefer that to remain private."

"Everyone knows that you were on Earth for a Tarsus IV survivor," she pointed out.

"There are things which, logical or not, I am uncomfortable with the High Council being privy to," Spock told her. She considered it.

"I understand," she said. "Though I will reference it in a nonspecific manner. It helps our case immensely."

"They will not refuse us," Spock said, though he was suddenly unsure. His father had come to Vulcan to speak on his behalf, and was going to be hearing Spock's testimony, but that—what if they refused? Could they refuse?

"No," T'Pring said. "No, they will not refuse us. We could stand before them and recite pre-reformation odes to war and still they could not refuse us."

She looked certain, and when they were called in she surveyed the room with her head lifted, dark hair piled high and she was beautiful and in her element, and if Spock could have fallen in love with her he thought that this would have been the moment for it to happen. As it was, there was a part of him that adored her, and in her fearlessness he found his own backbone, and together they faced down the High Council.

Spock could tell from his father's posture that the hearing was not going as easily as expected, but it did not matter. He would not marry T'Pring, and if pon farr was something the future held for him, he would not find relief in her.

In the end, it was T'Pau who inclined her head and dismissed them, and they walked out to Stonn, Sybok, Amanda, and T'Pring's parents, Soren and T'pen, as well as her brothers, Sakkhet, Senva, Satark, Sakkath, and Satelk—most of whom were attempting not to look as though Sybok was bothering them with his mere presence.

"Awesome," Sybok said. "So now we get to wait. I'm an excellent waiter, so this isn't going to be a problem."

"Sybok," Amanda said, "shut up."

Sybok laughed, and T'Pring's family all looked at him, and Stonn tried not to look like he was deeply uncomfortable.

"Here," Sybok said, handing Spock his phone. "Also, that's an interesting encryption algorithm you have on that."

"Indeed," Spock allowed, arching his eyebrow. Eighteen messages, most of them from Jim, but one from Chris Pike wishing him luck, and astonishingly one from Number One, telling him not to fuck it up.

≫Number One just told me not to fuck this up.≪

≫did you≪

≫No, I do not anticipate any backlash.≪

There was a long silence, where Spock attempted to help his mother keep Sybok from harassing Stonn, who was somewhere between too fascinated and still scandalized. Last night Stonn had said he did not think it was logical to have sexual experiences with only one gender: Spock's headache had the potential to turn into a migraine. His phone chirped at him.

≫youre good≪

Spock frowned down at the screen. ≫How are you in the system?≪

≫you remember scotty≪

Spock sighed. ≫Yes. Hello, Mr. Scott.≪

≫he says youre still terryfing≪ Spock spared a moment to be pleased by that. Scott had always been very loud and very irritating, though Jim had always liked him. Spock wondered if they would blow up the school before graduating, or if they would save it as a farewell: make that final destruction their legacy.

≫What if they reject the petition?≪

≫then i kidnap you weve been through this spock we could be space pirates≪

≫I would make a terrible space pirate.≪

≫nah i dont think so actually≪

"If the petitioners would reenter the arena?" a page said, and Spock locked his phone and handed it back to Sybok.

"It'll be fine. Dad wouldn't let them make you do something like that," Sybok said, hugging him tightly before pushing him lightly away. Spock nodded, then looked at T'Pring. She smoothed her dress and touched her earrings, and he tweaked his robe where Sybok might have crushed it.

Saren, an ancient Councilor, read the decision, which was to grant annulment, and something inside of Spock untwisted. He had not realized that he had thought, genuinely, that they might deny them. That someone might think that they could force a marriage upon two unwilling participants.

They left, though Spock took a brief moment to reassure Stonn and suggest that perhaps being T'Pring's immediate entanglement would not be for the best. Spock had consumed enough Earth media to understand that being anyone's rebound was not something one wanted to aspire to be.

Sybok was talking about the facist nature of the High Council and how the entire bonding/arranged marriage practice was antiquated and bullshit, and Amanda had called Sarek and was talking to him, a couple of steps behind Spock.

"Sybok," Spock said, and Sybok glanced at him. "Shut up."

"Facist," Sybok replied, flipping him off and running ahead to harass Senva, whom he had apparently gone to school with. Spock wondered idly how many of his schoolmates Sybok had been the experimental sexual partner for. Sybok had always seemed so worldly to Spock, but he wondered. Sybok had no friends on Vulcan. He had many of them on Earth, and scattered among the galaxy, but as far as Spock knew there was no one on Vulcan who had kept in touch with his brother.

It was disheartening, and spoke ill of their society. Sybok was annoying, but what younger sibling does not think the elder annoying?

Still, Senva had pulled away from his family a bit and was looking at Sybok with mild tolerance which, from T'Pring's family was practically open adoration. Perhaps Spock was worrying for nothing: the hearing had put him in a strange mood.

≫You were correct.≪ he sent Jim when they arrived home. He did not feel up to talking just yet.

≫you okay≪

≫"Okay" is relative, with variable definitions.≪

≫don't be a dickface≪



≫I am relieved.≪

≫good bc if youd said you wanted to marry ehr after all idve killed you both dont fucking think I wouldnt≪

≫It's comforting to know you haven't lost your fondness for melodrama≪

≫suck my dick≪

Spock locked his door behind him, put the phone down and picked up his PADD.

"Oh," Jim said, smirking and wicked when the connection was made. "Are you going to virtually suck my dick?"

"I do not even begin to know how to go about doing that," Spock informed him. "I did think that to celebrate I might like to come on your face."

"Jesus fuck," Jim swore, and then he was out of frame, and Spock was looking at Jim's ceiling. He heard the lock click and music start up—something terrible and trashy—before Jim reappeared. "Okay. You were telling me how you were going to come on my face," he prompted, pulling off his shirt and grinning.

Chapter Text

She didn't actually want to work with Chris Pike. He'd written a dissertation and was clearly in love with the subject matter: the XO and brief Captain of the Kelvin, George Kirk.

She'd read the dissertation and gone to a lot of the hearings and was pretty sure that Chris Pike was going to fail out of Starfleet at the last minute and run off to try to convince Winona Kirk to let him raise her babies. The whole Kelvin thing had been interesting to watch, from a bureaucratic point of view. Once you got past the fact that people they'd all known (or known of) were dead, it was kind of fascinating to see how Starfleet tried to find the most expedient, convenient theory.

If she'd known him better, she would have seen that the face Pike had made when the official line was "space anomaly" meant that he was going to be a pain in the ass from that point out. As it was, she'd just chalked it up to a bitchface and gone about her life.

She hadn't seen him for another five years, and barely recognized his name when she got assigned to his second tour as Captain of his own vessel. Which was a fucking shitshow. The CMO didn't stay in sickbay, everyone seemed to be a functional alcoholic, and Pike was weirdly, bizarrely puritanical while still managing to fuck everything capable of enthusiastic consent.

The first two months had been fucking terrible. It got better after that because she'd lost her temper and punched him in the head and submitted her application for transfer.

When he'd regained consciousness he had overridden the controls to her room and they'd yelled at each other for hours, and nothing had been resolved until the next mission, when he'd been kidnapped by aliens who wanted him to mate with some woman as though they were an endangered species. She had clenched her teeth together: humans weren't an endangered fucking species, not like—not like her own people.

And they'd asked her if she'd wanted him, wanted to fuck him, and she had stared at them, incredulous because this was a species meant to be highly advanced, and all they wanted was porn. It's possible to say she lost her shit.

Later, after the firefight but before they got beamed back up, he'd pressed gauze against her thigh, eyebrows knit together.

"You—I mean. I know you're not…happy, here, but—"

"If I was going to enter into the world of adult entertainment," she mused, because she wasn't having this conversation. There were too many feelings in the is conversation, "I think I would be a very expensive porn star."

He'd stared at her, and she'd lifted her eyebrows back and said, "Do you really want to be an Orion slaver?"

He'd blushed a brilliant, brilliant red and covered his face with his hands (which were smeared with her blood).

"Because I get it if it's a fantasy—your kinks aren't your politics, you know? But if that is your politics, we're going to have a lot of issues. The last five months are going to look like a cakewalk, okay?"

"Jesus, Number One!" he'd shouted, mortified. "It's—it's a kink, okay?"

"Sure," she agreed, leaning back and closing her eyes. They'd saved the day, and soon the ship would beam them back up and maybe they could make this whole thing work. "It's cool, sometimes I get off on the idea of getting gang raped—dicks everywhere, you know, and nothing you can do about it but take it?"

He made a brilliant choking noise and she patted his hand soothingly. Weirdly prudish.

After that she figures they bonded over terrible sexual fantasies and lines of professionalism being crossed.


The thing about Jim Kirk is—she gets it. She gets what it's like to feel like being seen is a dangerous thing. She gets that despite what the Vulcan kid thinks he understands, he has no idea what it's like to feel like every single person in your life has the potential to turn into a hostile.

No fucking idea.

She gets it. She's the queen of getting it. She survived Illyria.

She and Chris still fight about how she's one person in private and another person in public and how he gets whiplash between the two of them. He gets, now, that it's born of survival techniques, and he tries to be understanding of it, but sometimes he loses his shit and she has to beat his fucking head in.

That said, when the Vulcan kid brow-beat Chris into an adoption (and she had laughed herself sick about that), Chris had wandered around his house aimlessly while she sat on the stairs drinking a beer.

"Winona Kirk's kid, One! The hell am I going to—do you remember Winona Kirk?" he asks, and she sighs and goes to the hardware store down the street and installs a doorknob that locks on the inside. Then she melts down the key and puts it under the kid's pillow, because clearly she's going soft.

"I'm not going to--" Chris says, awkward and shifting his weight back and forth, the way he does when he's on the bridge and knows she's about to throw down about some bullshit command he's going to make (seriously, they need a less Terran-driven model at the Academy, because fucking Terrans). But she gets it, kind of: the implicit accusation that he would do something if not for the door. But she thinks that Chris gets that as well as anyone who grew up in a functional home can, because he sees the scars of it on her. Everyone needs an anchor, and it's supposed to be a parent, but some of them don't have that luxury. Chris is her person (she's still not 100% on how that happened, but he is). Spock is Jim's, and she can come over and hide when her apartment feels too big and empty and she thinks she can hear footsteps or a transporter hum, when her nightmares fill the shadows and there's nowhere to run but away. She can do that, because her person is less than a mile away and she can run there if she needs to (needs to, wants to, is hiding from the person in her bed who she has no real memory of except nice teeth).

"This is one of those scenarios where actions are going to speak louder than words," she says, and then makes him take her out to dinner at one of those food-truck things, where he complains about all the illnesses they're inevitably going to get.

Spock is going back to Vulcan—anyone with eyes can see that Ambassador Sarek and Dr. Grayson are only staying because Jim's been abused and because they're not convinced that if they left now their son wouldn't find a way to escape. For a while, Spock will stay, and Jim will have his anchor and feel like the world is something that can be managed. But then Spock will leave, and so this place will have to be sufficient.

And they have a lot—a fucking lot—of conversations about how Chris isn't being blamed for whatever's happened in Jim's life, but that he is going to be guilty until proven innocent. He's going to have to prove he won't hit the kid, that he won't ignore him or scream at him or blame him for things that a child has no control over. She has to tell stories she hasn't even thought of in a long time, and Chris gets that gut-punched look he gets, sometimes, when he realizes how bad it was on Illyria. It's gut-punched and laced with murder, which is why she likes him, because Chris Pike is a good, steady man, but then, sometimes, he's really not.

"It's going to be a shitshow," she says, watching Jim Kirk struggle in his sleep in the hospital. Spock reaches out and presses a hand over Jim's, dark green bruises under his eyes.

"Yeah. You're fucking moving in," he replies, and fine. That seems fair(ish).

(She doesn't move in, not anymore than she already is).


The ship is going down. She's going to run out of breathable air, and her corpse is going to float, bumping off of walls and ceilings until the ship explodes or something intercepts it. This is such…bullshit.

"Were you an actress or something, on Ilyria?" Jim asks, side-eyeing her.

She glances over at him and he shuts off the game. Someday she'll tell him about it, when he's ready to ask. He's started to, a couple of times, but kids like them recognize their own, and it's hard to take on someone else's hurt when you're only just coping with your own.

"Don't answer that," Chris calls from the kitchen.

"Not professionally," she says, grinning at Jim with too many teeth. Jim rolls his eyes at her, jumping over the back of the couch. She follows by going around, mostly because once a sixteen-year-old boy has done something, it's no longer satisfying.

"What's dinner?" he asks.

"Stir-fry," Chris decides, pulling his head out of the refrigerator. She smiles, and he rolls his eyes at her: his ass is really nice in those jeans and he knows it. "Grab a knife, kid."

It's been about two years and change. Jim is sixteen now, almost as tall as Chris and grown into the sharp lines of his jaw. His lips are still too big, and his hair is, frankly, a disaster, but he shares space easily enough, not like he has something to prove. Chris still has a policy of letting Jim come to him, rather than reaching out for affection, and the locked doors still hurt, sometimes, but now he understands not to take it personally.

Jim is at the top of his class in spite of himself, and sometimes catches himself talking about the ethics of deep-space exploration. He pulls amazing faces and then hides in his room, probably sexting his boyfriend.

He is, in spite of himself, alright.


"No," Chris says.

"It's Vulcan. What trouble is he going to get into on Vulcan?" she demands, bored. Jim is out, because it's Friday night.

She was going to go out. She was going to drag him out, but apparently that's not going to happen because he's a moron.

"Have you met Jim?" he demands. "And—look, I—Spock would be fine. That would be fine. It's not—it's not Vulcan, and it's not Spock, and it's not you."

"Obviously," she snorts, and then shifts, looking up at him. He looks down, hands hovering, uncomfortable. He doesn't like when she does this, puts her head in his lap, laying on the couch like they're a couple.

It's not that, actually. Not that he doesn't like it, she means. He does, he just doesn't like that he likes it, and doesn't like that she won't pretend to be bothered by whatever stupid Terran version of propriety he has in his head.

"Spock's parents are—" Chris starts, and then stops again, weighing the words carefully. "They're good people. Good parents. I owe Ambassador Sarek for pulling the strings that got us custody of Jim, I just don't think that—

"Jim is good right now." He sounds frustrated, that thwarted rage that gets in his voice when he's talking about Jim. He's so protective of every little hint of progress in Jim, has sat in meetings at school and argued himself to distraction. He's so terrified that he'll see that boy who didn't know how to navigate anything without Spock.

Which is fair—Jim had been. It had been really rough. He had been untethered, had flinched and gone quiet, and then been abruptly angry, striking out at everything. He had done everything he could think of to make sure they were watching, and then hurled abuse at them for watching. There were days when Chris had only barely scraped by, had sobbed into her shoulder and she had tried to comfort him. She didn't know how to say that it was fine. That he wasn't hurting himself, and every time this happened, Chris was proving he wasn't Frank.

"I made it," she'd said. "I made it, and so will he."

She doesn't blame Chris for wanting to protect him from this. Dr. Grayson is too clever not to see exactly how wrapped up in Jim her son was, but that knife cut both ways, and Jim is out on a Friday night, but he'll come home by curfew and call Spock.

"He is," she says now. "He's good, and he needs this."

The playing field is even, now--or it's more even than it was. Jim isn't helpless, hiding in Spock's shadow because he doesn't want anyone to see him. He's not that boy, he's something new, something better, and they need to see if they still fit together, the way she needs to make sure she and Chris still align when she goes off for a short tour.

"I'm taking him to Vulcan," she says. "It's for a month, not the end of the world."

"You don't know that," he mutters, and she wonders if he knows his hand is in her hair. She wonders if he's ever going to admit he wants her.

"What's not the end of the world?" Jim asks, tossing his keys on the counter and making a face at them. "Are you guys like, together or what?"

"We're going to Vulcan, end of next week," she says, and watches the way he shifts. He tenses like he's waiting for the punchline, trying so hard to be calm, nonchalant, and failing spectacularly the way only a sixteen-year-old can.

"Yeah?" he asks Chris, who tugs her hair, petty and spiteful.

"Yeah. For a month," Chris relents, and she smiles at the ceiling.

At least Vulcan won't be boring.

Chapter Text

Jim told him he was coming to Vulcan for a month two months ahead of time.

Two weeks prior to Jim's arrival, Spock had yet to tell his mother. It was not that he was uncertain as to how to tell her, nor was it that their relationship was so fraught he felt he could not speak to her. It was—They had an understanding, an easy rhythm to their lives, just the two of them sharing the house while Sarek and Sybok coexisted on Earth. A large part of that, Spock knew, was due to the fact that Jim was absent, and that Spock kept him absent. So it was a strange thing, finding the words, the timing, the courage. He had to tell her Jim was coming. Though he should not tell her. He should ask, and not make it appear that he was dictating—but if he asked and she refused then they would be back to the last time Jim was in his mother's life and she and Spock had been distant to each other, and Spock was seventeen now, almost eighteen.

"You might as well say something," Amanda said, and he startled badly. She laughed a little, tucking her hair behind her ear and rooting through the refrigerator. She was not even looking at him, seated at he was at the counter. "I thought we had more v'sketh?" she asked, distracted.

"I had it for lunch," he said, putting down his PADD after a last, lingering glance at the photo Jim had sent him of the spacedock (Spock had not been able to properly appreciate it last time he had been, as he had been otherwise distracted by stupid people). "We could have stir-fry?"

"We had that last night," she sighed, and proceeded to stare into the refrigerator as though it would reveal its secrets if only she lingered long enough. "We've had that a lot. It's time to accept we might be boring, Spock. What are you going to eat when I'm gone for weeks? We're going to have to go shopping."

"Number One is coming to Vulcan for the conference," Spock said, and he did not pick at his cuticles or smooth his hands over his thighs or speak too quickly. He very pointedly did not do any of those things, which he reflected might have been worse than doing them. Or at least as bad. "She—Jim said she offered to bring him and he's accepted."

"Oh, she's coming to the Translator conference?" Amanda asked. She gave up on the refrigerator and went to the breadbox, pulling out a loaf of rich, homemade bread they had bought the previous weekend. "That's good, I like when she's there. It adds an air of…what's a nice way to say that she always seems like she's actually two seconds away from killing people but in a really sociopathic way that even Vulcans can't really handle?"

"That doesn't translate to 'polite,'" Spock told her after considering, and she pulled a face but nodded. "I wondered how you would feel about Jim visiting for part of the stay?"

Amanda paused, and Spock tried to read the set of her shoulders, the line of her back, but he could not. She pulled out a knife and began slicing the bread. "Start making the garlic dip," she said. "You know I'm presenting at this conference."

"Yes," Spock said. Perhaps—he could go with her, to the conference. He and Jim could stay in the hotel while Number One and Amanda gave presentations. It was not ideal, but it would be—

Well. Terrible.

Amanda hummed under her breath, and then put down the knife, leaning her back against the counter. The light in the kitchen was a rich reddish gold, and she looked young, just then. His mother always seemed ageless, but now, in this moment, she seemed young. "I don't want to say no," she said after a moment's consideration. "I want to tell you that he can stay here, with you, while I'm at the conference. I feel like we're in a better place—I feel like you're in a better place, and Jim has to be. On the other hand, I'm not wild about leaving you two unsupervised for a month, especially since it's the start of summer vacation for you."

Spock stayed quiet. There were so many things he could say, and almost all of them would result in her saying, "No."

She sighed. "Let me talk to Captain Pike."

It was not a "no." He had to hold onto the fact that she hadn't said "no."


When he excused himself from dinner he had a list of missed messages:

≫your mom jst called pike and now hess uper pissed at no1≪
≫how big is your bed do vulcans sleep on wood spock these are important things to know do i need to bring lube≪
≫omg did what if yo ugot ugly spock i couldnt handle you ugly lie to me≪
≫iv ebeen giving it careful thought and Iiwant your dick in me≪
≫i have to shower≪
≫i dont understand why youre never around≪
≫spock i just took a showre and i had my fingers in my ass and this dildo and two weeks is a really long time≪
≫spock i came so hard i think i passed out≪
≫and i was thinking of you≪

Spock made a face at his PADD—this, he thought, was the worst part of being apart—and called Jim. "H-hey," Jim said. Just audio, no visual.

Spock locked his door hastily, engaging the headset. "Jim."

"Is your dick double-ridged?" Jim asked.

"What?" Spock reminded himself to tread with care: last time Jim had questions about Vulcan anatomy, Spock had wound up fingering himself and taking a poorly-lit shot of his asshole.

"I mean, you never send me dickpics, so I was thinking: ridges. Maybe a flower. Oh shit, Spock, do you have like, a venus flytrap down there? Spock, if you don't have something capable of fucking me I'm going to be so disappointed."

This led to Spock taking a picture of his dick and sending it to Jim, who wanted to know if it tasted like wintergreen or spearmint or sour apple, and Spock coming so hard he strained something.

"Hey, Spock?" Jim said, lazily, when Spock's breathing had returned to a more regulated state.


"Two weeks and you can actually fuck me."

He hung up, then, because all other things being equal, Jim Kirk was a complete asshole.

Jim was going to stay with them, in a guest room. He was going to arrive in the evening on Spock's final day of the semester, and he would stay with Spock while Number One (or, as Spock was baffled to find, Urivelasoibhan da Diashkovi of the Ilyrii sector wars) attended the conference with Spock's mother.

Spock had reviewed the timetable with Jim, with Captain Pike, with Number One, and with his parents. He felt confident that things would go well.

Jim showed up at school.

Spock reflected that he should have seen that coming: Jim liked to make an entrance and he had been far, far too vague about when he was going to be able to meet up with Spock upon his arrival.

Spock liked to think he would have sensed him, but really he recognized the heated stirring and the way his classmates were drifting towards the entrance of the building, striving for some kind of nonchalance. T'Pring was parting them, moving the wrong way against the flow of students, and her left eyebrow was pointedly arched.

"Jim Kirk is here," T'Pring said, stopping in front of him. She glanced down into the pod where Stonn was still finishing up the day's assignments, refusing to deviate. "Failure to complete in a timely manner results in points off," she told him.

Stonn threw a stylus at T'Pring's head in reprimand for the interruption. She caught it without a look down and continued to stare expectantly at Spock. It was possible that allowing Jim this moment would be less humiliating than standing here with Stonn and T'Pring. Possibly.

"Yes," Spock agreed. T'Pring looked at him expectantly, and Spock realized that he really could not stay here and collect himself. He was going to have to go out there.

When Spock had been young, before they'd moved to Earth, he'd asked his mother why she wore Vulcan styles when no one was ever going to be fooled into thinking she was Vulcan.

She told him that she did not dress that way to pass as a Vulcan; she did it because she married a Vulcan and had two Vulcan sons, and she lived on their planet, and while it was Sarek's job to stop talking when she was trying to tweak the Universal Translator, it was her job to support him. "Only one of us as a very strong cultural identity linked into our jobs," she said. "And the gowns are very pretty and practical."

What she hadn't said was that she was a target, an enormous banner of attention, and so that in whatever way she could deflect criticism from herself, from himself or Sybok or Sarek, she had. She could not be Vulcan, but she could respect that she had married into Vulcan society. His mother was a brilliant tactician.

Spock had never learned the lesson, but perhaps because he was Vulcan he was always meant to feel the inverse. He wore Vulcan clothing when he had been young because he was Vulcan, inescapably so.

Jim was inescapably human.

He stood out among the sober garb of Spock's classmates, pale gold hair a shock amidst the sea of black. He was wearing a white t-shirt, soft and worn and maybe just too-small. His jeans were new, though, tapering over dust-covered Starfleet-issue boots. His mother's rucksack was slung across one shoulder, KIRK, W. still a shocking black against the faded olive.

He was talking to a couple of Spock's classmates, grinning at them, pleased with himself and amused by them. He was perhaps worse than Sybok, Spock realized, fond. His classmates, however, were appalling. They touched his arms, his hair, and it was a blatant invasion—if Jim had not been someone who was already aware of the fact that Vulcans were touch-telepaths, it would be a gross invasion of privacy.

"He is very attractive," T'Pring mused from behind him. Spock glared at her, and she flicked her fingers at him dismissively. "Human is not sexually stimulating to me, even as a fetish," she dismissed, and then, with remarkable tact for her, added: "You are not in full control of your shields."

Stov was leaning into JIm's space, and Jim was allowing it. Stov was attractive, tall, two years older than Spock, and had a reputation for being a skilled lover.

Spock was going kill him.

"Shields," T'Pring repeated. "Although if you have to be emotionally compromised, there are worse things to be compromised for."

Spock had excellent control. It was often remarked upon, scathing and resentful but there, noted over and over again. He was a powerful telepath, and he had staggering control. That he should be so obviously compromised was—untenable. And he was suddenly furious with Jim for putting him in this position.

Spock had another year to live among these people, another year to endure their constant remarks about the inadequacy of his genetics, the flaws of his humanity, and Jim had come here as though to prove that Spock would never be Vulcan. Jim was here for the summer, and Spock could—Spock could endure anything for Jim, could endure anything knowing that Jim was at his side, but he was going to be here, alone, with these people, and Jim was going to leave again.

Already Spock was too emotional for their tastes, though T'Pring's interpretation of him as not-Vulcan seemed to be taking root and working in his favor. As he was not Vulcan, he could not be shamed for his emotionality, but the story might change if he were to be—if he were to smile.

Or kill someone.

Or smile and kill Stov.

He was struck with the insane urge to flee.

"He could not know," T'Pring said quietly at his side. "It is not logical to blame him for wanting to see you as badly as you wish to see him."

"You were not meant to be on his side," Spock told her. She tilted her head.

"Shields," she said firmly, and then glanced around. "Is he still not finished? How is this possible?" she demanded, and stormed back into the school, presumably to find Stonn and continue to be a terrible friend to Spock.

When Spock was calm, he moved forward. Or rather, he tried to, but people refused to move, once he got to a certain point, and so he stood outside the deepest cluster of them, arching an eyebrow at their backs. Finally he sighed and said, "Jim."

"Spock!" Jim said, shoving his way through the crowd in a way Spock could not, careless and violent. "Surprise."

And just like that, Spock forgave him. It was achingly clear Jim had not done this to antagonize Spock; had not given a thought to the ramifications of this for Spock. Jim had done this because it had been years since they had stood in front of one another, and Jim had been unable to wait. Spock's fingers ached. He wanted to grab him, to take him away quickly, to not engage in this performance. Their friendship was not for these onlookers. It was for no one else, and certainly not before Spock had taken the time to know Jim again. It was one thing to text and call and video conference back and forth, but it was another to share the same space. The last time Spock had seen Jim, he had still been bruised and only barely healing, and Spock had not felt this out of place, this uncertain, since he was seven and a strange boy had scaled his garden wall.

"Commander Urivelasoibhan did not require you into the evening?" he asked, focusing on his shields, on keeping his features clean and his body language appropriate.

"Who?" Jim asked, frowning and adjusting the bag on his shoulder, his hip jutting just enough for his shirt to ride up, exposing the smooth skin pulled tight over a hipbone. It was all violently unfair.

"Number One?" Spock clarified, lifting an eyebrow at him.

"Oh, yeah, no, she pretty much ditched me," Jim said, easy. "Her meeting got moved up or something. You're done, right?"

"Yes," Spock said, beginning to walk towards the transporter building. "Coming?"

Jim fell into easy step beside him. "Not yet," he said, and Spock didn't need to look at him to know the shape of his smile. "But I have high hopes."

Spock did not hit him, but it was a very, very close thing.

The journey to Spock's home was oddly strained. Spock was out of the habit of filling silences, and Jim was clearly refusing to speak. Spock tried to articulate to himself all the ways in which Jim was different. His hair was darker, but his eyes were bluer, somehow. The cut of his jaw was hardening, and the scars along his cheek from the time he had jumped from the car had almost vanished. He had grown into his nose, and the growth spurt had arrived at last: they were very nearly of a height (though Spock remained taller, and if he felt some satisfaction at that he would, naturally, deny it).

"How pissed is your mom about this?" Jim asked abruptly, as they stepped off of the shuttle. The final mile to the house was on foot, though there was a cruiser that could be used (he would use it if his mother ever remembered to leave it in the garage).

"She is supportive," Spock said, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the sun. Jim slid on sunglasses.

"Yeah," he snorted.

"She does not, perhaps, anticipate the extent to which I have planned to have you," Spock allowed, because part of the artful deception he had maintained was that he and Jim were simply codependent friends, perhaps more—perhaps, but it would all be new. If she knew that Spock had sent Jim a dick pic, she would not have let them stay alone.

"You're such an asshole," Jim said, and Spock caught him by the wrist, easy and familiar like a song he had known from childhood. It might have been years since he last heard it, but he would always know all the words. Knowing Jim was like that, comforting and intimate.

Now Jim came to him easily, pressing against him, letting Spock pull him close, tilted his face up the scant inches for Spock to kiss him. He wanted to do it now, kiss him hello before they saw Amanda, before they crossed the threshold of his parents' house. Jim's fingers trailed across his, and it felt as though all of Spock's nerve endings had lit up, were singing under the attention.

He pulled Jim in, one hand around his waist and the other at the nape of his neck, Jim's hands on his back. It had been two years since their last kiss.

It scarcely mattered.

His mother was gone already, had left a message as she was packing, about how she hadn't gone grocery shopping because maybe Jim would want to see what that looked like on Vulcan; how bizarre it was to shop somewhere where no one ever listed prices ever—where was that other shoe, did she pack her itinerary already?—remember to call Sarek—no wild parties, well, Sybok might encourage that and who had the patience for it?

Spock listened to the entire thing because his mother liked to do that, set her phone recording and walk around the house, narrating whatever she was doing as much as she was talking to him, and she'd been known to stick important things at the very end to ensure they listened. He had been trained young. Still it was strange to listen to his mother's disembodied voice with Jim right there, lips red and slightly swollen from their kiss, and so Spock watched the recorder because it was easier.

Jim was leaning against the counter when Spock hit the 'end' button, and the smile he gave Spock was small, strangely restrained. It was—unfamiliar. A blatant, snarling reminder of how long it had really been.

"What?" Spock asked, something tight in his stomach.

And then the smile shifted, twisted into something brighter, wickeder, briefly hidden as Jim stripped off his shirt and cocked his hips. "So, where's your room?"

Spock felt like he was losing patches of time, every third step, maybe. He was irrationally frustrated by that: he wanted to remember this, wanted it pressed in vivid detail into his memory.

Jim's mouth was cool against his, ambient temperature of humans lower than Vulcans', lower than Spock's, which ran higher still. Their teeth clacked together, two years out of practice and moving, moving, Spock pushing Jim back down the hall, through his bedroom door. Jim laughed when Spock pushed him up against the door, unbuttoning his jeans.

"No wait, do you, do—come on you've got like, a fucking bazillion layers on and I've just got jeans and socks and boxers. Dude, get naked," Jim said, breathless, and Spock pulled off his tunic, his shirt and his boots, hopped out of his trousers.

"Fuck, your ass is—I kind of want to eat your ass, which is weird, watching it in porn you're like, yeah, I could do that, but then you think maybe in actual practice you'll be a little bit—" he broke off, only because Spock kissed him again, swallowed the rest of that horrifying sentence. It was heady, to grind his hips against Jim's, to feel their cocks sliding against each other, to have the expanse of smooth skin against his. "No venus dicktrap, huh?" Jim murmured at one point, but Spock dismissed it because there was only so much attention he could devote to Jim's insanity over the more pressing matters of having sex right now.

They made it to the bed, Spock falling with Jim on top of him, laughing and pressing stinging, biting kisses to Spock's neck, his clavicle, the line of his jaw.

When they had been young, almost a decade ago, now, they had wrestled a lot. It was difficult, now, with Jim above him, red-cheeked and panting, not to remember that. Not to remember the boy who had only looked less unhappy when he was sitting the victor on Spock's ribs. Jim was so much better now, and Spock could not have imagined this, then.

He could not have imagined how his hands were hungry for every inch of Jim, pressing and dragging along every inch of exposed skin, leaning in to taste, to worry at one of Jim's nipples. Jim's breathing hitched at that, caught in his throat as he rolled his hips, Spock's dick sliding between his cheeks.

"Okay, okay now," Jim decided, getting up and Spock would deny that he made a longing, bereft sound when Jim got off of him. It would not matter, because Jim was laughing when he returned, a small tube of lubricant clutched in his fist. "Yeah, you're not doing me dry," Jim told him, coating his own fingers and reaching behind him. Spock watched, fascinated, at the ease of the motions.

"How often—" he started, wrapping his fingers around Jim's dick.

"Oh, like every shower," Jim gasped. "And sometimes just to have it—could pretend it was you, you know? Was a reminder—ah!—to be good."

"You required reminders?" Spock asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"I'm sixteen and hot, Spock, do you know how many people want to fuck this? People who aren't lightyears away?" Jim demanded, and effectively derailed Spock's rage blackout by guiding Spock's dick inside him. They both hissed at the too-tight burn because Jim was impatient and had not properly prepped himself for the intrusion. Jim's fingers dug into Spock's chest as he lowered himself, until Spock was seated fully inside him. Spock thought he could die for this, that it could kill him.

"No one else," Spock snarled into Jim's lips when Jim bent for a kiss.

"No shit," Jim gasped, riding Spock hard. "We're never getting out of bed. They have delivery on Vulcan, right?"

"Synthesizer," Spock replied, and was frankly shocked that he could even find that word. That he could find any words. Jim was sweaty, Vulcan hotter than he was used to and he was trembling, fucking himself back onto Spock and then up into Spock's fist. His skin was flushed, red spreading down his chest and up into his hairline.

Jim came first, clenching down almost too-hard on Spock when he did. Jim was vocal, surprising no one, but the sound he made when he came, like it was punched out of him, ripped from his lips—Spock wanted that noise again and again.

Jim was beginning to slump, and Spock rolled them over, because he was so close, so close, it wouldn't—he knew that first times often left one or both partners unsatisfied but it would be too cruel for this not to—

"Just come on, just fuck me, you're such a—how are you still thinking?" Jim demanded, and Spock slammed back into him. He was being too rough, careless in his need, but Jim was only broadcasting pleasure and when Spock came he was hunched over Jim, biting down on his shoulder. Jim's hands were in Spock's hair, tugging until Spock let go, could kiss him.


They stayed like that, pressed together, for a long time. The sweat on his skin was cooling, and the come between them was growing tacky, would be uncomfortable in another minute, but Spock didn't care. He listened to Jim catch his breath, felt his heartbeat slow under Spock's palm. Jim shifted, pressing into the pillows a little more firmly, and Spock brushed a kiss to the side of his neck.

"Broke me," Jim mumbled, and made a soft sound when Spock pulled out of him—he should do that sooner, in the future; it was not comfortable like this. He stretched over, pulled out a handkerchief and cleaned them up superficially. Jim was easily manipulated, pliable and acquiescent in Spock's arms.

"Never," Spock replied, and Jim huffed at the base sentimentality of it, but Spock ignored him. He was unbothered whether or not Jim needed to hear it: Spock needed to say it. Could breathe promises like that into the dark, heavy space between them. It was less terrifying to think, I love you when there weren't lightyears between them.

Jim's breathing evened, slipping if not into sleep than into something close, and Spock shifted, pulling back to trace the marks on Jim's back. The twin clusters of freckles on his shoulder blades, the scar just under his left shoulder blade, jagged and thick and never satisfactorily explained. There are others, smaller and familiar, and nothing new. The patches of roughened skin from his flirtation with death had become smoother, and Spock would have missed it if not for the fact that his fingers knew where to go.

"I'm boring," Jim mumbled, turning in Spock's arms. His eyes were almost eerie in the dark, lit by the various tech in Spock's room. "Nothing new."

"I am grateful," Spock argued, too honest, and he knew it was, that it would elicit a scoff and perhaps embarrassment, but Jim surprised him by laughing a little, shoving at Spock until he had him arranged to Jim's liking. When Jim had settled, half on top of Spock, he pressed a kiss to the underside of Spock's jaw.

"Yeah," he murmured, and then settled down, leaving Spock to war against the unexpected surge of violence in his blood. He would kill for this, could do it. Would destroy planets and civilizations and this, this was why Surak had spoken of temperance, of control. Spock did not know how Sybok lived with this feeling inside of him fully acknowledged; how he retained his composure and compassion. It was dangerous, this was—

"Fuck's sake," Jim muttered, batting at Spock's face, uncoordinated and tired. "Go the fuck to sleep."

Spock did.


Spock woke first. Jim was pressed into Spock's side, defiantly clinging to the small portion of the bed Spock had not taken over, closed in between Spock and the wall. He was beautiful in the warm light of the morning, the reddish-hue of the sun touching him in a coppery gold. Spock hesitated to wake him, watching the steady rise and fall of him breathing, remembering that it was a luxury. Jim would jerk awake if Spock made a move towards him, would startle and tense because Jim Kirk hadn't woken slowly a day of his life, and while Spock would acknowledge much had changed, that never would.

Eventually, however, the need to use the bathroom was too great, and Spock extricated himself. He was halfway off the bed when Jim jerked awake, up on his elbows and looking around wildly.

"Jim," Spock said, and Jim's eyes snapped to his, some of the—fear? wariness? panic?—falling from his face.

"Spock, it's too early to be awake," Jim groaned, falling back into the pillows.

"Then sleep," Spock said. "I hardly need your company while I urinate."

"Kinky," Jim approved muzzily, grinning at the ceiling. Spock arched an eyebrow at him and then went to go do just that.

He did not look—different. He had expected perhaps some visible cue that he was no longer a virgin, but he simply looked like himself. Really, he was absurd.

Jim was warm when Spock slid back into bed beside him, brushed his thumb over the barely-there stubble on his cheek. "I'm not shaving for you," Jim said.

"The romance is dead," Spock replied, and Jim cracked an eye open to grin at him.

"I'll let you fuck me," he offered, as though in trade, and Spock leaned in and kissed him, less heated than last night but still hungry. He wanted—everything. Perhaps in a week he would not feel so anxious, but for now—for now he was jealous, covetous. For now he was his most human.

Jim was still loose from last night, Spock able to slide two fingers in easily once coated with Jim's lube. Jim writhed, incapable of staying still, arching away and bearing down all at once as though it was too much and not enough simultaneously, and Spock ran his other hand up and down the tight line of Jim's stomach, soothing.

"Another, another, come on, I'll get one of the dildos, Spock, I swear I'll hnnh!" he broke off, high and breathless as Spock pressed in fingers three and four and curved them, finding Jim's prostate and pressing, relentless. "Fuck, fuck, shit!" Jim gasped, arching up and thrusting his hips helplessly, dick hard and leaking against his stomach.

"You were saying?" Spock asked, and Jim made a wordless sound—though it might have been Romulan, Spock could not quite tell and it was not the appropriate time to ask about linguistics.

He was making grabbing motions with his hands, fingers clenching into fists. Spock went to him easily, let Jim kiss him hungrily, press the whole of himself up against Spock.

"No dildos," Spock murmured against his lips, sucking at the full expanse of Jim's lower lip.

"Not today," Jim agreed, which was probably as good a promise as Spock was likely to elicit.

"Turn over," Spock told him.

"Bossy," Jim huffed, but did it, wrapping his arms around a pillow as Spock kissed his way down Jim's spine, marveling at the muscles playing across his back, at the way Jim was no longer the skinny child Spock remembered. He bit into the swell of Jim's ass, just to hear the noise—somewhere between indignation and laughter—that Jim would make.

"Look, I don't know why you think foreplay is the best idea ever invented," Jim managed, "but if you don't fuck me I'm going to like, explode or something."

Spock sighed: clearly this was something they were going to have to work out (and they had months to do that, a gluttonous expanse of days and nights). Still, he knelt behind Jim, slicked himself again, pumping idly. Jim shoved his ass back, impatient.

"Wait, here," Spock said, pulling at Jim's thighs until he laid down. It was too early to do anything truly athletic, and he could still slide into Jim like this. It was tighter, hotter, and he watched as his dick disappeared into Jim until he couldn't: had to stop because the haze of sex was tinged with something else: discomfort. He paused, and heard Jim's breath hitching an abrupt staccato.

"It's just—fucking deep," Jim managed when he realized that Spock had stopped. Spock dugs his fingers into the sheets, kept his hips still and pressed his lips against Jim's temple, waiting.

"It's—okay. Okay, let me just—" He arched his back a little more, rolled his hips, fucking himself back onto Spock's dick. He did it a couple of times, experimental, and then shifted on his knees, spreading them a little wider. He made a helpless noise, then, one hand flying back to grip at Spock' urge him forward. "Fuck me, fuck me, come on, oh fucking—please!" Jim groaned.

He fucked him with short thrusts, whatever control he'd had last night evaporated. He wanted, had wanted for years, and Jim was here, fingers pressing bruises into Spock's ass as he pulled him closer, urged him on, panted and squirmed beneath Spock, rolling his hips to meet every one of Spock's thrusts like he could die if he didn't.

Spock did not know who came first, knew only that it was Jim who got up to get a cloth to wipe them down because Spock was spent, exhausted: defeated.

They fucked…many different ways. Jim liked to drop down, use his mouth to reduce Spock to a trembling mess. He liked it when Spock was rough, like the last three years had failed to teach Jim anything about being gentle, and so by the end of the week, Spock had wrapped Jim's hands around the headboard, told him to stay. He had taken his time, ignoring Jim sobbing and pleading with him. His hands had not moved, and after Spock had gathered him close, kissed him and kissed him until Jim was himself again. It was not something he would do often—perhaps when they were older he would be able to take Jim apart down to the atoms of him, but—not yet.

Still, eventually they did run out of food, and synthesized vegetation always tasted faintly metallic ("This is why you should just eat meat," Jim would say around his steak, and Spock would flick wrong-tasting peas at him).

They would have to go into the city, which Jim met with genuine enthusiasm—which was to say Jim did not balk and offer to trade sexual favors.

He did, however insist upon sunglasses— "Your sun is really harsh, okay? I have delicate genetic-recessive eyes and you don't know my life." It would be fine, Spock thought. In reality it would be a disaster: hiding one's eyes was a rather egregious faux pas.

"I absolutely could be your biographer," Spock replied, and resigned himself to the fact that he was always going to be remembered for this, the way people still remembered his father and mother walking around the streets of San Francisco, early into their courtship and still so young.

"Yeah," Jim agreed, lips twisting up in a smile as though it was a revelation, to remember that Spock had been there, continued to be there. "Yeah, you could."

The city was sprawling, ancient and beautiful. It sang with the history of their people, the collective consciousness of Vulcans past and present (and those who might be, if Sybok was to be believed). Jim wanted to go to the very bottom of the buildings, to see the sheer drop below him. Spock looked on indulgently, though he was less indulgent the fifth time.

"Give me a break," Jim said, hands and face pressed to the glass, sunglasses perched on the top of his head. A pink semicircle the shape of Spock's teeth was faintly visible on the back of his neck. "We build everything up, and on Tarsus there wasn't a lot of building so much as a lot of dying."

Spock coughed because if he did not he was going to laugh, and the disapproving elders behind them would undoubtedly find someone to tell. It was inappropriate to laugh at tragedy, regardless of Jim's coping mechanisms.

They headed up to the primary level, and Spock reminded himself that they weren't ten anymore. Then he just grabbed hold of Jim's wrist because he could see the need to pick up, hold, have, take.

They stopped at the market, and Spock went to go buy the necessary basics while Jim refused to be moved from the exotic imports section tucked away in its shady corner. Vulcans were nothing if not consistent in their xenophobia, Spock thought to himself. Isolationism was fine until it was embarrassing, and Spock was Vulcan enough to be mortified that he was being humiliated in front of a human.

Still, while he was very logically pointing out that the vendor's prices were outrageous, Jim came over.

"Here," Jim said, handing the vendor coins.

"Those are worth eight times that," the vendor told him, disapproving. Spock tried to look as though he was simply an onlooker.

"Thanks!" Jim said brightly, and walked away, produce in hand.

"Excuse me," Spock said, and walked behind Jim, watching him pull the Stupid Human Act over and over again. It was illogical to get angry, and none of them figured out how to object, and so Jim walked out paying the merest fraction of what he should have.

"I know, you think it's hot," Jim grinned, tilting his sunglasses down when Spock joined him outside.

"You are lucky you were not arrested."

Jim laughed, bright and too loud in the space, but Spock could not bring himself to care.

"So this is Jim Kirk," Stonn said. Spock looked at him, tilting his head in query.

"She is shopping," Stonn said. "It possibly involves buying the store, I was unclear on the details and not read into the attack plan."

"I see," Spock said. "Yes, Jim, this is Stonn, Stonn, Jim."

Jim lifted his fingers in salute, which Stonn returned, slower.

"Thanks for the Tarsus assist," Jim said. "Who is it who's in there and why are we afraid of her?"

"T'Pring," Spock said.

"Your ex-wife."

"Yes," Spock agreed, because it was simpler to meet Jim's flat tone with a mild carelessness. Easier—perhaps more accurately it was fun.

"Let's go say hi," Jim said, and Spock watched him go up the stairs.

"Will you not follow?" Stonn asked.

"This will surprise you to hear," Spock said, joining him in leaning against the building in the shade, "but I find living preferable to dying."

"You are very wise," Stonn said gravely. Spock slanted a look at him, and they listened and heard nothing. Spock could not sense any distress, however, so he thought—they would be fine.

"I approve of him immensely," T'Pring announced. Her arm was linked through Jim's, and Spock counted five new pieces of jewelry. Jim had a slender, infinitely-delicate looking ring on his pinky.

If his ex-wife stole his boyfriend Spock was actually going to commit grave acts of homicide.

"I am thrilled beyond the telling of it," Spock said, extending his hand. Jim caught it, let himself be drawn to Spock, tucked against him and holding out his hand.

"She bought me bling."

"He is very dishonest," T'Pring reported, putting her arm through Stonn's. It was a fascinating turn of events: most unexpected. "He acts as though he has no idea what is happening and blusters through the entire transaction."

"Yes," Spock agreed. "We spent only eight credits in the market."

T'Pring lifted her eyebrow. "For all of that?"

"You guys really think we're stupid," Jim said. "Turns out you're kind of idiots about it."

Spock lifted his eyebrow at him and Jim just widened his eyes, affecting a blank expression.

"Stop it," Spock said, and Jim grinned, knocking his sunglasses down onto his nose.

"What are your plans for today?" Stonn asked.

"Fucking, mostly," Jim said before Spock could think of a way to maneuver around the question.

"Logical," T'Pring agreed. "May your sexual encounters continue to be satisfying."

She and Jim exchanged contact information and Spock shared a moment of sheer panic with Stonn.

"I like her," Jim said as they walked away. "You said she's really traditional, though?"

"She is…less so than she was," Spock admitted, allowing Jim to take some of the bags from him. "I believe much of it was parental influence."

"Mom's the one who taught us how to do that," Jim said. "The stupid human thing—if people have this perception of you, you shouldn't fight it, just use it against them. She said Dad always tried to correct people but she thought it took too long."

Spock tried to think of some way to say that he thought she must have been a terrifying woman in a way that would not insult Jim.

"She was kind of crazy," Jim said. "It's okay to say you think so."

"I do not remember her," Spock demurred, because he was, in fact, his father's son. "She was frequently gone, and you were absent when she was present."

He remembered that vividly: that Winona's return to Jim's life meant that Spock would only see him at school, and then only sometimes. He wondered what Jim would have been like if she had lived: if she would have made any difference. He liked to think she would have.

"Yeah," Jim said, and when they rematerialized, a mile from the house, Jim's expression was distant, like he did not allow himself to think on his grief very often and it was still so sharp because of it. Spock could not imagine it.

Number One and Amanda came to the house when Jim and Spock were having a fight. To be fair, they were expected, and had let Jim and Spock know when they were on transport and only ten minutes away. Spock just had terrible timing.

In his defense, they had been talking about Jim leaving that night, and the conversation spiraled away from them. They were actually very good at displaced anger, both of them. It had been a good day, quiet and Spock had had Jim ("Shut up, I had you.") three times. It was a good day until the message came from Amanda saying she was 45 minutes away.

And now they were fighting.

Jim, Spock had discovered, now flipped to a mishmash of Illyrii and Romulan when he was mad. Spock had not spoken Romulan in years, not since—it had been at least six years. No one who wasn't Illyrian spoke Illyrii because no native speakers would talk to anyone else about the language. Spock knew this because it was one of his mother's favorite rants.

At the end of the fourth week, Spock was back to his old fluency in Romulan and was conversant in Ilyrii out of sheer self-defense.

All of which meant when Amanda and Number One walked in, Jim and Spock were fighting across the house in four languages, mostly about the fact that Jim was refusing to take a Starfleet Academy sponsored year next year that would put him ahead when he actually went to the Academy.

"You don't actually run my fucking life!" Jim snarled from where he was packing in the bedroom: Number One was going to stay on Vulcan for another month but Jim was going home to take entrance exams (if Spock had to follow him, sit him down in the chair, and force him to participate, he would).

"Neither do you," Spock pointed out, carefully slicing mushrooms in the kitchen. "Obviously."

"Maybe I don't—"

"Try that on someone who will believe it, though I wish you luck finding someone who will," Spock interrupted, and Jim threw himself into a chair at the island. It was an odd thing—Spock's mother frequently walked away when she was arguing with his father. Jim refused, would dog Spock's heels, grab at him, force the confrontation. It was Spock who was constantly trying to walk away from it, trying to give them both space.

"Are we interrupting?" Number One asked from the door, and they both jerked up, Spock missing his fingers only because Jim grabbed the knife from him.

"You are in time for dinner," Spock replied, and she nodded, her dark eyes on Jim.

"Were you speaking Romulan?" Amanda asked Spock, putting her bags down and unbinding her hair with a sigh. "Did I know you could speak Romulan? Are you fluent in Romulan?"

"I do not do it often," Spock said, starting on the peppers.

"That's not a 'no,'" she pointed out, taking over the dinner preparation from him. "And that's quite a hickey."

Spock slapped a hand to his neck, glaring at Jim, who smirked at him and pointed, mouthing, Other side.

Amanda was laughing, though. "Sybok was impossible to embarrass," she reflected, almost wistfully.

"So you will torment me because you could not do so to him?" Spock asked, wronged. Sybok was the worst: he challenged anyone to endure Sybok as an older brother. Even in his absence he still tormented.

"Someday you'll be a parent and understand," she said comfortingly, and started boiling water for pasta. "Or not, and you'll carry this injustice to your grave."

Number One and Jim were talking quietly, and it was interesting, looking at them together. Number One was shorter than Jim, now; slight and delicate, and both of them had their hands in their pockets, strange mirrors. He wondered if perhaps Number One had been—

They all knew of the Illyri sector wars, they consumed and devoured the planet until children had reached out to the Federation. Of those children, only one was found alive, and she had been one of the king's wives. Urivelasoibhan da Diashkovi disappeared shortly after a truce was negotiated, and no one had seen her since. Spock wondered how young she had truly been—she was not more than forty, now, and the last of those wars had been at least twenty years ago.

It had all been bloody and brutal, and the Illyri people would not speak of them, even now; it was still too raw. Spock wondered, watching her navigate Jim's space, if she had been as instrumental as Pike in Jim's recovery: if perhaps she had been more so.

"You said you didn't speak it anymore," Amanda accused abruptly. Number One lifted her head, one of her eyebrows lifting as well. She was, actually, strikingly beautiful.

"No, I said I wouldn't teach you," she corrected, smirking. "What are you cooking? Is it terrible?"

Amanda narrowed her eyes, and then looked at Jim. "Are you fluent?" she demanded.

"Uh," Jim said, glancing between them and then at Spock. "What?"

"Illyrii. Are you fluent?"

"I—no," Jim said, slouching a little, chin tilted up.

"Lie," Spock said mildly. Jim glared at him.

"Perhaps you two could speak it to one another. Spock and I are very quick learners, and it would be helpful to add it to the Universal Translator," Amanda said, pointedly glaring at Number One. Spock could feel that this was a very old argument.

"Wait, I have a better idea," Number One said, widening her eyes for effect. "We don't and say we did."

Jim was laughing, chewing on his lower lip, and Spock was so grateful to his mother, to Number One.

The evening went smoothly, though Jim was quieter than he had been. Number One made up the difference, deftly turning the conversation around, and when she and Jim left for the night, Spock expected nothing. If Spock had been reluctant to let anyone see their relationship out of self-defense, Jim was only performative when it suited him. So it was a surprised when, on the doorstep, it was Jim who leaned in to kiss Spock good-night, his hand sliding up to palm Spock's jaw, holding him close until Spock's hands gripped his hips.

"I'll see you," Jim said.

"Let me know when you're onboard. And when you arrive," Spock said, releasing him, and it took a moment for Jim to step away from him.

"Really good friends, hm?" Amanda said when the door was shut.

Spock looked at her. "I did not lie to you—"

"You omitted," she said, folding her arms over her chest. "Your father tries to pull that with me sometimes, and do you know what I say?"

"Lying is lying, whether by omission or falsehood," Spock repeated dully, because this, at least, he knew.

"Exactly," she agreed, and exhaled through her nose, looking tired. "Are you in love with him?"

"I am seventeen."

She nodded. "Yeah. That's what I was afraid of. Come on, help me clean up."

He did not notice it at first, though he could be excused for that. It was just a small binder on his desk, and he was distracted by Jim leaving. One more year, and he would never have to do it again. Not unless he decided to leave, or Jim did. One more year before the decision was theirs.

T'Pring and Stonn came over, and it was T'Pring who found it.

"I liked him," Stonn was saying. "Though you never buy me jewelry."

"It is logical to adorn beautiful things," T'Pring replied, and Stonn looked at Spock, who only just refrained from pointing out that Stonn was the one who had fallen in love with T'Pring, and he knew what she was like. "We are friends, now," she added.

"You're friends with a human," Stonn said.

"Yes," she agreed. "My mother is having fits."

Spock did not know what it said about him that T'Pring's rebellion was linked to his boyfriend, but he was certain it was nothing good.

She continued to flip through the file idly. "I did not know you were applying to the Science Academy," she said, arching an eyebrow at him. "I thought you were going to Starfleet Academy."

"I am," Spock said, and she handed him the sheaf of papers.

"That is your signature," she said.

I, the above signed, verify that this application to The Vulcan Science Academy is complete and accurate.

It was his signature.


"We could make him an honorary Vulcan on his bureaucratic aptitude alone," T'Pring murmured as she went through it. "They could not refuse you entry based upon this application. They could not refuse you anything with this application."

"How did he get your—how did he get the notes of recommendation?" Stonn wondered, flipping through other pages.

"I do not know," Spock said tightly. He was furious, and hurt, and he wanted to jump on a ship and go to Earth and shake Jim, demand answers from him.

The application was in a perfect mimic of Spock's handwriting, down to the syntax of his sentences. It would be flattering, to be so known, if Jim was not so wrong. Spock pulled out his phone while Stonn and T'Pring marveled over the application.


"This is remarkably unsubtle, even for you," Spock said.

"Well, I guess it's good that subtle wasn't what I was going for," Jim says. "You should send it in."

"No one rejects them if they get accepted," Spock said.

"I know," Jim agreed, and Spock stopped, wondering if they were even having the same conversation. "Hey, I gotta go, 5th period is starting, call you later."

Spock stared down at his phone and then at the applications and course materials and then at his friends.


Jim did not call him back, and Spock could not bring himself to shake answers out of Jim. Not when—it was bizarre. It was so strange, the timing of it, and it was such a misread of Spock. Going to the VSA was a commitment to the Vulcan way of life that Spock had not been comfortable making for over a decade. He had long ago realized that he could not be himself if he was going to hold himself to an ideal he neither agreed with nor extolled.

More than that—they had been fine. Better than, they had relearned each other. Spock had thought that month was a reaffirmation, but what had triggered in Jim the thought that Spock should stay on Vulcan? Had that kiss been a good-bye?

It was not as though Spock was in this relationship because it was fun for him. Granted, yes, the sex was great and when they were good together they were incredible, but it was hard, and Jim was—not easy. Spock had broken laws for their friendship, in Jim's name, and he regretted none of it; would do it all again in a second, but he had invested time and money and himself into this relationship, and here in his hands he held the obvious truth that Jim—

Valued none of those things so highly.

And Spock could not—he did not know who he was without Jim. In all the ways Spock had been there for Jim, Jim had been there for Spock, pulling him out of his head and coming up with kidnapping plots and being this place Spock could just be. Jim Kirk was the first person to accept Spock as a person—there was nowhere else in the universe Spock knew to go to figure things out except where Jim was.

Even Spock's mother had come to terms with their relationship.

When he had been too young to know better and too young to understand, he had thrown his lot in with a boy who was incapable of keeping himself safe, let alone the piece of Spock he had been given. And it was hardly fair, because Jim never asked for it. Never pretended that he was in any way equipped to handle what Spock was giving him. Never pretended that he even understood that he had been given something.

But it had been years since Spock had felt the need to remind himself of that. Apparently he should have been more vigilant in remembering. In remembering that Winona Kirk's legacy of running until you run out of ground lived on in her youngest son.

It was like listening to Jim drive over the cliff again. He felt as though he was standing on the landing of the Embassy in San Francisco. Here he was again, too far away to do anything useful, to do any good, while Jim did something to permanently erase himself from Spock's life.

He should have remembered that despite all of his healing, all of the ways in which he was better, Jim Kirk was still a fucking asshole.

Chapter Text

Spock had had a headache since mid-summer. It was a persistent, terrible thing that occasionally manifested as a ringing in his ears, but whenever he focused on it, it vanished.

It was obnoxious, and made it all the more difficult to deal with his peers. There were sneers and taunts the likes of which he had not experienced since early childhood. It seemed as though all of Vulcan had seen him with Jim, displaying affection, and were set on punishing him for it. It was all of the sins of his parents being revisited on him, but he was not a small child anymore, committed to them or their way of life. His classmates had moved on from their methodical harassment, and now were blithely cruel.

Spock had learned to be cruel while hiding from an abusive step-parent. This was, literally, child's play for him.

"I do not think you said that with sufficient venom," T'Pring observed after Spock had advised their chemistry professor to live long and prosper.

"One cannot lie in the imperative tense," Spock pointed out.

T'Pring looked at him and shook her head. "Stonn is in the labs."


"I have decided that he is not my responsibility," T'Ppring said. "And neither is the welfare of everyone else."

Spock thought if he had been friendless on Vulcan, things would have been much different. Perhaps he would have tried harder to fit in; would have considered more seriously applying to the VSA. Now, though—he could not imagine doing so.

Starfleet Academy did its acceptance interviews the year before attendance in order to ensure all students who would like to apply had the opportunity to do so.

Spock had his materials submitted with recommendations from professors and Captain Pike prior to Jim's visit, and in late July they had called him for an interview.

He was scheduled to go on his mid-semester break.

He was—he had to perform to the highest standards this semester. He had to do so in spite of everyone, and so he had no time to dwell on Jim. Jim had—there had been a few messages. Stupid little things as though nothing had changed when clearly everything had, and Spock had not known how to respond, and then it had been far too late to respond, and now the silence was deafening.

"Excuse me," T'Pring murmured, looking down at her PADD. Spock saw the name KIRK and blinked at her.

"You still speak?" he asked, and she looked up from her tablet, fingers pausing over the controls.

"Yes," she said.

"Of me?" he asked. He felt sick, betrayed.

"No," she said. She glanced at Stonn, who was singed around the edges as he approached them, then at Spock. She lifted a curious eyebrow. "Should I be?"

"No," Spock said quickly. "No. It was inappropriate of me to inquire, I apologize."

"When is your interview at Starfleet?" Stonn asked, showing remarkable tact.

"In two weeks. I will leave after classes end and spend the remainder of the break in San Francisco. I have not seen Sybok or my father in quite some time. I believe my mother also intends that we will spend winter break there."

T'Pring nodded. "Logical," she approved, and Stonn's face did not move, but they all knew he was rolling his eyes.


"The thing is," Sybok said, because in the absence of Jim Spock had started speaking to his brother more regularly. Spock did not, in fact, like what it revealed about him that only when Jim was gone did he look to his own brother for company. "They're going to be relieved to be rid of you."

"Thank you, Sybok," Spock sighed.

"I don't mean anything by it," Sybok protested. "They were really excited when they got rid of me."

"So I should be comparatively flattered?" Spock asked, frowning.

"I just—the way I always thought of it was—why bother, you know? They don't want you, or they only want you on certain terms, and those terms are absolute bullshit, so why would you try to be less just to please them?"

It made a great deal of sense, and Spock clung to it, let it settle into his spine. When they sneered at him, commented on his poor breeding, he ignored them with lifted chin and impenetrable shields.

He was meant for more than this.

(But sometimes, when it was quiet, he wondered if he was not. If he was meant to pursue a career at the VSA, if that was what Jim, who knew him best, had seen for him. The plan had always been to reunite at Starfleet, but Spock wondered now if that had only ever been his dream, not one shared between them. His fingers itched for his phone, would punch in Jim's number, hold down the speed dial, but he could—he aborted, always, before it rang through. It would be worse to know for certain, and in some ways Spock was a coward.)


It was a relief when school broke and he packed off for Earth. He was surprised to find he had missed the planet. It did not feel any more home than Vulcan, but then, it did not feel any less like home than Vulcan, either. He was simply caught in between: he was learning to accept it. Learning to accept that his path was his to forge.

Sybok met him at the platform, took his bag and hugged him enthusiastically, kissing the top of Spock's head. "You're tall," he accused. "Like, really tall."

"I am thrilled beyond the telling that your eyesight remains functional," Spock told him, and Sybok threw back his head, laughing. "Sybok, what is growing on your face?"

"I like a beard, now," Sybok said earnestly as they headed for their shuttle. His hair was long, and curled messily around his head. The beard was scraggly, untrimmed and unimpressive. Perhaps in twenty years he could grow a respectable beard.

"It is terrible," Spock said flatly. "Shave it immediately."

"You're not the boss of me," Sybok told him, stroking his beard and pouting. Spock lifted an eyebrow.

"Yes," he said. "I am."

"What're you going to do, pinch me and shave me? Wait, Spock, don't actually do that," Sybok amended quickly while Spock gave him his best stare. "Ugh, little siblings are the worst," Sybok sighed.

Earth was beautiful, young where Vulcan felt settled, diverse where Vulcan was homogenous. He inhaled the scent of the sea as they departed docking, walking carefully to adjust to the gravity shift. On Earth he felt impossibly light. If he was human he might try to find a metaphor in that.

There was a car waiting, and Sybok stayed quiet for much of the ride.

That he would stay silent for all of it was clearly too much to ask.

"So you two still aren't—okay?" he asked finally.

"What?" Spock asked.

"You keep checking out anyone in a cadet's outfit," Sybok said gently, as though breaking terrible news. "Is he even a cadet?"

"Prep," Spock said shortly, sitting back in the seat and staring straight ahead. Sybok touched his knee gently.

"Still?" he asked, tentative as though he thought Spock was going to yell at him. They were older, now. Sybok might never like Jim, but Spock was nearly eighteen, and able to make his own choices. Sybok would always be his older brother, but they were on more even footing than they had ever been before. Sybok could not influence Spock's choices anymore—not that he had ever been able to, not really.

"My interview is tomorrow," Spock said, swallowing carefully. "What if I am not prepared?"

"Yeah, that's hilarious," Sybok snorted.

"I am not joking."

"That's because you got Dad's sense of humor," Sybok told him apologetically.

"Sybok," Spock snapped.

"Oh, there you are." Sybok was grinning, impossible and wide and Spock blinked.


"It's weird, it's like you got more repressed."

"I—have been reading on the Kolinahr," Spock admitted. "Not as an ambition, you understand, simply—it has been difficult. These past months have been difficult."

"What happened?"

"He—he made it clear he did not want me, anymore. He thought my place was on Vulcan."

"Bull," Sybok said, opening the door as the cab pulled to a stop. He reached around to feed the meter, and then helped Spock out of the car and onto the sidewalk.

"No," Spock said softly, looking at the embassy and pushing open the gate. It felt strangely as though he was coming full circle. "No, I do not think it is."

Sybok did not call Spock a liar. He just muttered about stupid kids and their bullshit until Spock did, in fact, administer the pinch.

"Spock, welcome," Sarek said, his calm gaze drifting to Sybok, crumpled in the front hall. "Ah," he said. "It is always pleasing to have one's children so close to one," he observed.

The interview was a three-to-one meeting with Starfleet professors. They asked him what languages he spoke, why he wanted to be a member of Starfleet. They wondered, did he understand what a commitment it would be? Would he tell them about Tarsus IV; was he comfortable in a multi-ethnic setting? Did he have friends who weren't Vulcan? What did it mean to him to be such a strong touch telepath; did he feel he would have sufficient control?

They all knew him, knew his story, who his parents were: everyone of a certain age knew Spock's story, gave him a second glance when they read his name or he introduced himself. He was gratified that they did not ask him about his parents: that they asked him about himself. What did he want, where did he see himself?

They gave him the coursework, said that due to the way Vulcan school systems worked he would be heavy on the physical side of Starfleet coursework, less on the theoretical, generalized concepts. His advisor, they said, would help him to navigate all of that.

"You will likely finish your undergraduate studies in three years," Admiral Vqor told him. "Whether you take up an active commission at that point or continue on in your coursework is up to you, but you'll be better informed to make that decision when we come up against it."

They would consider everything and he would have an answer in three weeks, they told him, and they conscientiously raised their hands in farewell, mindful of touch telepathy.

He felt confident as he left. It had been illuminating and vindicating. This, at least, was still a good choice.

He was completely unprepared to see Jim. He wasn't doing anything, just sprawled out under a tree, reading. But it was Jim Kirk being quiet when there was no one around to manipulate, and Spock scarcely knew what to do with that. He stepped forward, off the path, though to say something, anything. But the words would not come, and Jim was okay. Jim was okay and that was all Spock had ever really wanted, and if Spock's absence was contributing to that then he could hardly in good conscience stand in the way. He withdrew back to the path.

"There you are!" Sybok exclaimed, his voice too loud, and Spock closed his eyes against the headache. Delayed reaction to stress, no doubt. Sybok was eating some kind of frozen chocolate concoction. Excellent, he would be drunk in five minutes.

"My sundae brings all the hotties to the yard," Sybok told him seriously. It had the cadence of a quote, though Spock was not familiar with the source material.

"How'd it go?" he asked, pulling Spock in by wrapping an arm around his shoulders. Sybok was impossibly tactile, but he was calming, right now.

"I will have a decision in three weeks," Spock said.

"They're going to accept you," Sybok scoffed, as though to consider anything else was absurd.

"We shall see," Spock allowed. His headache was worse than ever; perhaps the stress. He needed to go home, meditate, perhaps even sleep. As impossible as it was to consider that they would not let him in, it seemed equally impossible to think they would let him in. It was too overwhelming to think about, and so he put it out of his mind. It was illogical to worry, but not worrying was exhausting.

"So," Sybok said as they left campus, "are we going to talk about the fact that your bond is killing you, or are you just…ignoring it?"

Spock paused in rubbing his temple. He gave it several seconds, but he still did not understand. "What?"

"Seriously?" Sybok demanded, reaching over and pressing his hand to Spock's cheek. His fingers were cool, and the ringing in Spock's ears dimmed almost to nothing. "How are you so bad at this?"

"I am not Vulcan—"

"Fucking—okay, fine. Look. You've had a fucking bond with Jim Kirk forever, but it got like, bondmate-level when he came back from Tarsus. Mom and Dad pulled you away, hoped the distance would change it. Kinda hoped you'd fall in with T'Pring, actually, though I did say that wasn't going to work."

"I—no one said," Spock said, wracking his memory. Sometimes Sybok had a point about the inherent repression in their culture: there was no open dialogue about how to recognize an unplanned bond, a telepathic link. If there had been, Spock might have known; might have recognized the signs and been able to stop all of it before it got to this point. "Can you—could you break it for me?"

"You—what?" Sybok demanded, taken aback. Spock sighed.

"Not now," he clarified. "Right now I'm tired."

He contemplated confronting his mother, but his father was closer, and would have recognized more acutely what was happening. His mother had thought perhaps he was infatuated with Jim. His father must have known otherwise.

Now his father looked at him and said, "It seems premature to request the breaking of a full bond at this juncture."


"You have been out of contact with Jim Kirk for five months. It would be logical for you to confront the issue and deal with it instead of asking your brother to raze your mind."

"Sybok is a doctor," Spock pointed out.


"Why did you not tell me? I was not raised on Vulcan, you were responsible for educating me—"

"And I have failed you in that, yes. I had thought you would realize on your own, and that if this sort of a situation should arise that you would stay true to precedent and go find Jim Kirk," Sarek replied, and tilted his head. "Why have you not?"

He hurt my feelings seemed like such an infantile response, for all its accuracy. He made it clear he was finished with me did not feel right either.

"Perhaps you should think on it," Sarek said. "Take some time, meditate."

Spock went up to his old room. It had been so easy. All of it: it had—to everyone else it was so difficult, their relationship had been so fraught, but it had not been the case. Spock had always known what to do. Jim had always given him a sign, but here he was, floundering. In a room he had outgrown long ago, filled with shadows and memories.

He did not mediate, he could not find the peace of mind.

When the sun rose up high in the sky again, he called for a cab and took it to Chris Pike's house, because if this was going to hurt he wanted to have earned it. He wanted to understand.

He pressed the doorbell.


Chris Pike opened the door, blinked at Spock and said, "He's still in bed."

"I remember the way," Spock said.

"Yeah," Pike agreed, exhaling. "Yeah, I'll just bet you do. Thing is, it's school break and he's not going to be up for another three hours, so you can park it and make yourself comfortable. I gotta go to work."

Spock nodded, stepping inside and letting Pike pass him.

"Oh, hey, Spock? Whatever the hell it is you did? You break his heart I'll come after your ass."

Spock looked at him. "Yes. That seems fair."

It was 0900. Spock sat on the couch, read the news, tidied a bit, and made lunch. At 1300 Jim wandered downstairs, scratching his stomach and yawning enormously.

"You cooked?" he asked, scrunching up his face, and then he saw Spock and the atmosphere became charged, tense.

"Hello, Jim," Spock said.

It was not as though Jim had been a constant presence in Spock's life. They had gone for long bouts of not speaking, usually because of Jim, for whatever reason.

And they had fought all the time as children, so this wasn't—the distance, probably, had a lot to do with how well they had been getting along.

In the end, it was not an unfamiliar set of circumstances, but it had been—it had been a long time since Spock had felt like Jim was starting the argument without him. Worse, this time it was as though Jim had already had the argument, lived through the fall-out, and moved on. Spock—he had forgotten the feeling of being a step behind. Forgotten that Jim could do that to him.

When he had been fourteen, waiting for Jim to arrive after Tarsus IV, he had thought about Jim as t'hy'la. A year later his father had intimated he understood that Spock felt that way about Jim, in all of the definitions of the word.

Right now, standing in Captain Pike's kitchen, the pasta cooling in front of him, staring at Jim who looked sleep-mussed but so sharp, Spock could not remember why that might have been.

"Spock," Jim replied, folding his arms across his chest.

"What are you doing?" Spock asked. "And do not refer to the fact that you are standing in the hall, I can see that."

"Staring at a moron," Jim said, and Spock's head was throbbing now. He was so stupid not to have realized what that meant.

"Interesting, as I do not see a mirror anywhere," he replied, which was wrong, was not how he meant to start this, but he could not bite back the automatic response fast enough.

"Did you come just to call me names?" Jim asked flatly. "Like, who even let you in?"

"Captain Pike as he was leaving for work," Spock said.

"Fucking of course he did," Jim sighed. "Why are you on Earth?"

"I had my interview at Starfleet on Monday."

Jim did not look surprised.

"It was inappropriate, what you did," Spock told him. "To interfere like that and then not to explain at all—"

"I'm actually going to kill you," Jim said, almost conversational. He was so beautiful, Spock could not help but think. And Spock was so—invested. "Okay, can I just point out—you're getting pissed because I went behind your back and arranged your life? Right?"

"That is, yes, the major point of the argument," Spock agreed, though there were nuances he felt Jim was ignoring.

Jim stared at him, and then burst into a flurry of action, slamming his hand against the wall and laughing incredulously. "Are you fucking kidding me, Spock? I applied to a school for you, you fucking got me adopted."

"You had no one, you would have—"

"Yeah, it turned out great, but you don't really get to be pissy with me about the one thing I did, because mine was like, an option. You didn't have to go, and hey, you didn't. But you—I woke up and you had signed on the dotted line for me. So, you know. Comparatively, if anyone is going to get pissed about the other person being an interfering shitdick, I win that forever," Jim said, breathing hard. There was color high on his cheeks, and he was looking at the window just past Spock's shoulder.

"You did not call," Spock pointed out.

"Your phone broke?"

"You—you gave me that—no, you did not even do me the courtesy of that, you simply left it for me to find once you had gone, what was I supposed to—?"

"Maybe not think that I was fucking breaking up with you? Although clearly you were okay with that, because hey, here we are and we're—"

"We are fully bonded!" Spock snapped at him. "It has ramifications for you which I do not fully understand and—"

"No fucking shit," Jim snapped, throwing up his hands. "Really?"

Spock stopped talking, startled into silence.

"W—you didn't know?" Jim demanded. "Seriously. Seriously, you didn't know?"

"I knew we were—T'Pring brought it to my attention, but it was weaker, the type which I maintain with my family. There was some speculation, but the other day Sybok said—"

Jim groaned, scrubbing his face with his hands. "Spock. You are—you can't." He broke off, shifted his posture. He looked older, more grown up, somehow. It was as sudden as flicking a switch. "Do you not want to be?" he asked, level and calm as though this wasn't the most extraordinarily absurd question Spock had ever heard in his life (and once someone had asked him if he had tear ducts).

Spock could not find the words. One wrong word and Jim would be gone, of that he had no doubt. But the longer he stood here and searched for the perfect phrasing the more it looked like he was trying to find a way to be kind and—

"What d'you want, Spock?" Jim asked. He sounded resigned, tired, suddenly, like all the fight had been beaten out of him. Jim only ever sounded that way for Spock, he realized.

"I want to know when you decided you were through with us," Spock said, and the laugh was like a physical blow. He had—Jim might have yelled, he had thought, or been stonily angry, but laughing was not something Spock felt he'd prepared for.

"I didn't make that call. I put it in your hands and you're the one who decided to be done."

Spock stared at him, at the sad set of Jim's mouth, the way he was tucked into himself, and there was clearly something Spock had missed. He had not—he was, in fact, an idiot.

He was an idiot, and Jim had gotten it before Spock. Spock needed Jim, wanted him, but it was possible none of it had translated in his head. They were just them, and Spock had been willing to follow them, however it manifested. He had kissed Jim and Jim had escalated because Jim always escalated, took the pressure off of Spock and kept them moving. And they had fit together so well that month, had woken up in the morning and yes, sometimes they had fucked but some mornings they had just stumbled into the kitchen to get breakfast, Spock bullying Jim into consuming more than tea while Jim complained at him.

"You were--it was an out," Spock realized.

"No shit," Jim snapped, fingers twitching against his thighs.

It had been an out. Their time together last summer had been good, and Spock had relearned Jim but it was more than that: he was meeting Jim for the first time, this Jim. A Jim who could charm Vulcans and hold his own against Spock's mother and walk through a market without stealing anything. Jim had always had it in him to be this person but here he was, grown into it (or at least realizing the potential of who he could be), and Jim had been asking if Spock wanted him.

It had been Jim's way of asking if Spock could want a Jim Kirk who was centered, had things going for him. A Jim Kirk who did not require Spock's help; who had little need for his money; who might be able to jump before being told.

"You are--so incredibly stupid," Spock managed finally.

"I'm stupid," Jim repeated, incredulous. "You're the asshole who thought—I don't know, what, that I was—I don't even know!"

"Because you're stupid," Spock agreed. "Because if you thought for a second that after all of this, after a decade and more of this, of time and money and—if you thought that I was going to let you go after you were finally okay—"

Only that was the wrong thing to say, because Jim's jaw clenched, and he tilted his head slightly, eyes dangerous.

"So now that you've fixed me you want me, but once I've repaid my debt—"


"No, seriously, Spock, how does this play out? We have like, five years of good times, like June, and then you get tired and find someone else who's really fucked up? Do the whole cycle over again? Make sure they're really indebted to you, make sure they misjudge the entire situation—"

"I cannot believe how infantile you are being right now," Spock snapped. "If you think so little of me that I would—I am going to keep you."

"Yeah? Awesome, everyone's dream—"

"Stop it!" Spock yelled, grabbing Jim's wrist as Jim stormed past him towards the door. He wanted to shake him, to hit him, but they were too old for that: had come too far for it. "I desire to keep you because I am in love with you, and I have been miserable these past months.

"Do you want a proposal? We can go to Las Vegas right now if that is what you want, just—Jim. You have to tell me what you want."

Jim's wards were exquisite, slick and smooth and without cracks. He was impenetrable, and Spock could not read him, not at all. It hurt. All of it hurt.

"I am going to Starfleet as we planned," he said. "I am right here, and in six months nothing is going to be able to move me. I am right here."

"Spock—" Jim broke himself off, and he looked tired. Spock wanted to shield him; to protect him, but Spock had never been able to protect Jim from Spock himself. He had always wanted too much of him.

Spock had lived all of Jim's trauma second-hand. He had found solace in the eye of the hurricane, taking advantage of the way Jim could keep everything at bay. I know you, he thought. I do not want to know who I am without you.

"You didn't call. Not a message, nothing."

"A miscalculation."

"…Did you say you'd marry me?" Jiim demanded, and Spock stared at him. That had been—that had been at least five minutes ago.

"You are only now—"

"Shut up. Spock."


"Why're you going to Starfleet."

"Because Captain Pike made many compelling arguments in its favor," Spock said. "I believe it is important to see what is out there, and would be a stimulating experience."

"If you do this again? I'll fucking kill you," Jim warned him.

"On the condition you cease manipulating—"

"Hah!" Jim barked out, letting Spock pull him in by the wrist, link his forefingers through Jim's belt loops. "Pot, kettle."

"Perhaps we can be better."

"Well, I mean. You can try," Jim mused, and leaned in to kiss Spock, no doubt to ensure he had the last word.

There would, Spock knew, be more battles. Small ones about the fact that Spock had no plans to live in the dorms, and if Jim thought he was living anywhere but with Spock, he was insane. Jim was considering Engineering; he would be a better fit in Command.

There would be bigger ones, too. About what tours to take, whether they could stand to be apart. Where they would take leave, if they could work together.

But Spock would be damned if they ever wound up here again, strangers after five months of bitterness and resentment. He would not make that mistake again, though he doubted Jim would let him.

I am going to keep you, he thought, and meant it in terrible ways. I have survived this, and that means I get to keep you.