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.