Pairing: Kirk/Spock pre-slash
Disclaimer: Not mine, more's the pity.
Word Count: ~8000
Summary: While accompanying his parents on a routine visit to Earth, a teenaged Spock meets a fascinating young boy named Jim.
A/N: This was the story I submitted for the KiSCon zine. I missed out on attending, but I hope everyone who got to go had a hell of a time!!
“Mother,” Spock called, in a voice he judged sufficient to carry to his parents but insufficient to carry into the entryway. “Is something amiss?”
“Just a moment, Spock,” Amanda said absently, smiling at him with what he knew to be fond exasperation before turning back to the collection of Starfleet officers she and his father were currently engaged in conversation with. Spock determined from this mild rebuke that his interruption was unwelcome, but not precisely detrimental; thus, he subsided back into his chair with nothing more than calm acceptance.
He allowed a further twenty-one minutes of silence to pass, during which he carefully respected the adult’s right to privacy, before saying again, “Mother? Is the issue one in which I might assist?”
Amanda broke away from the smaller group to approach him, immediately busying her hands straightening his otherwise pristine clothing when she reached him. It was a particular habit of hers he found unnecessary, but which he could not bring himself to dissuade her from.
“It seems our visit to the garden has been delayed,” she said after a moment, smoothing his hair in a manner most of his peers would have found unforgivably presumptuous. Spock allowed it because his mother desired he do so, and because he could deny her very little.
“Was not our appointment verified for 14:30 hours?” he asked.
“Yes,” she confirmed, “but one of the groups scheduled for this morning is having some difficulty, and since the Vulcan Embassy supports and contributes to this project they’ve asked for your father’s assistance.”
“I see,” Spock said neutrally.
Amanda sighed softly, aware that Spock had been eagerly awaiting this excursion to the Xenobotanical Arboretum with as much enthusiasm as a Vulcan could legitimately express. Having his carefully crafted afternoon nixed in favor of his father’s professional duties would be accepted, because that’s what Vulcan children did, but it would put a dampener on their entire visit to Earth, if only from Amanda’s perspective. And it made her heart ache in sympathy for her son.
She glanced over her shoulder at where Sarek was quietly arranging for additional personnel to search the building. She considered the dozens of people still flowing in and out of the overgrown archway serving as the exhibit entrance, and looked again to the group of Starfleet officers milling about in a generally discontent and ineffective group.
She considered how little purpose was served by denying Spock his exploration, when it was his parents who truly felt the burden of their responsibilities, not he.
“This isn’t likely to resolve itself anytime soon,” she reflected, taking in her son’s expressionless face from the corner of her eye. He nodded silently.
“Is there any assistance I can offer?” he asked again, and she felt a swell of pride fill her from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. Her son was still so young, just barely a teenager, but already she could see the brush of adulthood creeping up on him. Children aged so fast, and Vulcan children faster than most. She beamed down at him brightly.
“Yes, you can, Spock,” she said, grasping him by the elbow and tugging him to his feet. “You can go ahead without us and pick out all the best displays we should see.” And she pushed him gently toward the entranceway, watching him stumble and right himself, a tiny blink the only concession to his surprise.
“Go on, Spock,” she said kindly. “Keep your communicator on at all times and, if anything alarming happens, meet us back here. If you haven’t heard from us by the evening meal, feel free to get yourself some dinner and credit it to our account. I trust you won’t get lost?”
“Of course not,” he said, just this side of smug. She suppressed a wicked grin. “Vulcan’s have a highly developed sense of direction. I will not ‘get lost’.”
“Good,” she commented, already returning to her husband, who glanced only once in her direction, absorbing the situation between her and Spock with a minute not of approval before refocusing on the matter at hand.
Watching her, Spock reflected on the fact that, though his mother was highly unconventional by Vulcan standards, he would no more give her up for a Vulcan parent than she would give him up for a Human child.
He entered the gardens, already compiling a list of which plant species his mother would likely appreciate most.
A fascinating array of colors and configurations greeted Spock as he walked slowly through the initial atrium. He had to suppress his illogical impulse to see everything at once; there was time enough to see it all, but he could not deny an inescapable sense of anticipation. This collection of horticulture was unique for two reasons: first, it was the only exhibit currently in existence which boasted contributions from every major member of the Federation, and second, it managed to maintain that status by a careful application of force fields and artificial atmospheric environments built into ninety-seven independent chambers. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before, and actually witnessing something so unique was a privilege indeed. In preparation for this visit, Spock had made it a point to research all the various species of flora contained in the garden, but as he debated where to begin his extensive investigation he was forced to admit that no amount of research could have completely prepared him for this. The garden itself sprawled over precisely two-point-two city blocks, and was constantly undergoing expansion. It was, in a word, fascinating.
As he meandered from one chamber to another, Spock noted that some of the displays were familiar to him, particularly those which had originated from his home world. He passed by these with only a cursory examination (though he did stop to inspect a rare Kal’ta plant, its rich violet leaves in full bloom). Others were particularly striking, including the Betazoid Muktok plant, which issued tiny musical sounds when shaken, and the Rigelion Ratana tree, which produced an enthralling scent that could quite literally intoxicate its visitors if inhaled for an extended period of time.
Spock would never admit to being enchanted by anything, particularly within hearing distance of any of his peers, but the extensive garden was so inherently soothing that he could at least admit to being – unusually content. And exceedingly fascinated.
He made one full circuit of the garden, a time-consuming but worthwhile endeavor, and slowed to peruse the most interesting displays at a leisurely pace. Unknown humanoids passed him occasionally in his exploration, but none paid him particular attention, nor did he pay them any. A garden, in his estimation, was not a place for idle discussion.
He came to the Vulcan exhibit again, noting that it was somewhat less vibrant in its design than others, possibly because much of the vegetation on his planet thrived in a desert atmosphere and was therefore generally unappealing to the untrained eye. He might not have chosen to revisit this section at all, but as he stood outside the entrance to the exhibit, he was overcome with an unusual urge to pass through the force field holding the hot desert air in check. He examined the urge with scientific curiosity, unsure of where it had come from or why it existed. He could recall seeing nothing in this exhibit which was worthy of further inspection, but the impulse persisted.
Not normally one to follow the urgings of his instincts (roused, as they were, so rarely), but with no outstanding demands on his time, Spock considered that there was little to lose by indulging in a short repeat visit to Vulcan’s flora. He felt the curtain of the field ripple over his skin with a faint tingle as he moved beyond it, and then he was breathing deeply, recognizing the scents and sights of home. Perhaps his atypical impulse had merely been the result of a desire to experience the familiar. He considered this as he moved deeper into the exhibit at an unhurried pace.
As he approached the shadowed recesses of the exhibit, he became aware that something was not entirely as it should be. Each of the enclosures included a restricted section, where the more dangerous and hazardous plants were kept securely, and each was normally protected by a low-yield force field which had to be manually deactivated with a pass code to gain additional access. Though imperceptible to the Human ear, Spock’s heightened hearing was sensitive to the minute whine of the field generators. At present, there was no whine beyond the one which hovered far overhead, containing the artificial environment itself. There was no localized field in effect, and there should have been.
Curious and not a little concerned, Spock quickened his step as he rounded the corner.
“Stop,” he commanded, coming to an abrupt halt as he immediately catalogued and verified the situation his eyes reported to him. “You are in imminent danger. Move away from the S'gagerat enclosure immediately.”
The Human, barely older than Spock himself, if not in fact younger, turned his head to regard the Vulcan with an imprudent lack of alarm. Spock wondered if his instructions had been misinterpreted; perhaps the boy had deficient hearing.
“Retract your hand behind the glass partition before the S'gagerat becomes aware of your presence,” Spock instructed, taking light, cautious steps up the staircase so as not to alert the plant to his arrival.
“Oh,” the boy said, continuing to wave his hand above the ominously shifting sands with a careless abandon that Spock found highly unwise. “It’s definitely aware I’m here. We’ve been playing hide-and-seek together for the last twenty minutes.”
Spock had no idea what hide-and-seek was, but he could extrapolate the meaning from the words alone. Vulcans did not allow themselves to be appalled and yet Spock could find no better way to describe his reaction to the boy’s words; therefore, he was appalled.
“Do you mean to say you are aware of the S'gagerat’s ability to attack potential prey and have been – provoking it into action?” Spock would have preferred to believe that no sentient being could be so foolhardy, but even in his short collection of years he had already learned that a determined person was capable of anything, regardless of logic and reason.
“Well, no. I didn’t exactly provoke it – “ and Spock leapt the final two stairs in alarm as a barbed tendril shot up from underneath the sand, intent on the boy leaning so casually forward, hand suspended in the air. He reached out, calculating the odds and already aware that he would not be fast enough to prevent the impending injury, but, as proven a moment later, the Human’s unfathomable dismissal proved – not unfounded.
Before Spock’s surprised eyes (curious eyes, rather, as admitting to surprise was inadvisable), the boy flipped his hand up, neatly avoiding disaster and thwarting the tendril’s furious attempts to capture the strangely agile limb which hovered just out of its range. Spock belatedly checked his forward lunge, which was obviously unneeded. He blinked as the vine rapped repeatedly on the glass, unable to reach beyond it (likely a deliberate act of management by Starfleet’s xenobotanists), before slithering back beneath the sand with what could only be described as an air of frustration. He had never before seen a plant display emotion. But then, there were few plants like the S'gagerat, which had been known to kill adult Vulcan males, and which was considered one of the most deadly predators of his home world.
It was therefore disturbing to witness a Human boy casually engaging in a particularly dangerous game of ‘hide-and-seek’ with one.
Even as he thought it, he watched as the pale hand was extended once again, sketching lazy patterns in the air with loose fingers.
“See?” the boy said, gesturing to the sand below, which now sat deceptively quiescent. “I’m not doing anything to provoke it except exist.”
“Considering it is a carnivorous plant, that is provocation enough,” Spock said, tucking his own hands in the folds of his sleeves and keeping an alert eye on the S'gagerat. One could never be too careful around them, though the Human did not seem to share this opinion.
The boy snorted, a sour look on his face that Spock could not immediately identify. “Oh, trust me,” he said, laughing, though his voice lacked the usual intonation of humor. “You don’t have to be a carnivorous plant to find my mere existence aggravating.”
“I see,” Spock said, though he very much did not.
“I’m Jim, by the way,” the boy said, extending the hand which was not currently occupied with infuriating the plant below. Spock did not take it, eyeing both outstretched appendages with curiosity.
“I am Spock,” he said, continuing immediately with, “and it would behoove you to desist in this behavior,” as the sand below began to ripple in warning.
“I see,” the boy, Jim, said, looking far too amused for one who was courting death. “Thanks for that. Question: is your primary language Vulcan or Standard?”
Spock tilted his head to better regard the Human, uncertain. “I fail to understand the relevance of your query.”
“It’s just that I’m not sure I know what the word ‘behoove’ even means. And I only speak Standard.”
Spock still could not see the relevance, but he was willing to indulge the Human, provided the conversation shortly ended with him retracting his hand from its current position.
“I speak Standard and the five predominant Vulcan dialects fluently, but cannot communicate in any other Earth languages with more than passable efficiency.”
Jim eyed him with a peculiar smile on his face. His blocky teeth shone unnaturally white in the glare of the artificial glow filtering down to them from above.
“I think you’re an overachiever,” the Human told him, and Spock could not be certain, but the words were said with a certain lightness he had come to associate with his mother when she was – jesting.
How odd; were his Vulcan peers to say something similar to him, he would have found himself immediately obliged to defend his academic prowess from their scrutiny. As it was, he merely felt the need to suppress the amusement which attempted to surface at the Human’s words.
“Perhaps it is actually you who is the underachiever,” Spock commented.
Jim grinned, sunny and unconcerned. “Ain’t that the truth.”
The S'gagerat made another attempt for his hand, darting two vines at him this time, which Jim neatly avoided, ducking backwards from where he’d been leaning on the glass. Spock quickly concealed the apprehension that leapt into his veins and settled low in his chest at the sight of those deadly vines striking at the Human.
“Why do you persist in this activity?” Spock asked, watching the tendrils linger threateningly pressed against the glass. The plant was becoming unusually aggressive. Spock theorized that it had never encountered prey that continuously eluded it only to return for further investigation. It was likely as confused as Spock was fast becoming.
“Do I need a particular reason?”
“Yes,” Spock said, because surely one did not invite death without one.
“Can’t I just do it because it’s there?”
“It is obvious that you can; you are doing so currently. I am merely inquiring as to your motives.”
“Sorry; those have always been a bit fuzzy.”
Beginning to grow frustrated, Spock schooled himself to calm. “Though you have obviously escaped injury thus far, you should be aware that the barbs on the S'gagerat’s tendrils are toxic. It would not take more than a brief exposure to the soporific coating them before you became lethargic and would be in danger of falling into their clutches.”
“Oh,” Jim said, looking somewhat – guilty.
Spock stared at him.
“Well, I guess I missed that part when I was reading the data display,” Jim said, raising his arms defensively. “And I guess that explains why my eyes are getting fuzzy.”
“You are injured?” Spock asked, stepping closer in alarm. “The barbs pierced your skin?”
“I wouldn’t say pierced. Grazed, maybe,“ Jim admitted, holding up his hand until Spock could see the tear near the elbow of his long-sleeved shirt where blood had turned the material a light pink in a few spotty areas.
Not a little disbelieving, Spock regarded the Human with severe disapproval.
“Hey, don’t give me that look. How was I supposed to know the thorns were poisonous?”
“The information is located on page seven of the data display,” Spock informed him.
Jim muttered something under his breath which sounded distinctly unhelpful.
“Come,” Spock commanded, retreating down the stairs to one of the cushioned viewing areas, where a small beverage processor provided him with water. Though he regretted it could not supply medical ingredients it was, of course, designed to provide for the plants, not people.
The Human had not followed him, and was currently eyeing him with some uncertainty from his post.
“Depending on the depth and severity of the injury, you may begin to feel the effects of the S’gagerat’s poison immediately, or you may remain relatively unaffected. It is not inherently damaging; it is meant to induce sleep so that that plant may begin the digestion process of its victim without interference.”
“Well, that’s disgusting,” the Human announced, beginning to move down the steps with no obvious difficulty that Spock could see. “Efficient. But disgusting.”
“Surely no more disgusting than some of the procedures utilized by your ancestors in the slaughter of livestock,” Spock said, handing him the water as he slumped onto the padded bench with a sigh.
“Can’t argue with that,” Jim agreed, and Spock noted the blush of color staining his cheeks with unease. While the soporific should do no more than induce a deep sleep, an allergic reaction might be possible…
Reaching a decision, he pulled out his communicator, but before he could depress the activator, he found his hand gripped in a shockingly intimate hold.
“What are you doing?” Jim demanded, the blaze of anger in his eyes, and in the clutch of his fingers. Dizzy beneath the onslaught of unexpected emotion, Spock closed his eyes, breathing deeply. He pulled his hands away with no care for his greater strength, and the Human staggered sideways, bumping into his arm.
“I had intended to contact my parents. They are currently in contact with the Arboretum authorities in organizing a search of the facility, but I believe my interruption is justified; I estimate that your temperature has gone up at least two degrees since my arrival. How long ago did the S’gagerat mark you?”
“How long ago did you come in?” Jim asked, sagging into his shoulder sluggishly. Spock steadied him, discretely fumbling for his communicator again.
“Approximately twelve-point-four minutes.”
“About twenty minutes ago, then.”
“We should call for medical aid immediately,” Spock said, attempting to use his communicator to no avail. The Human knocked it from his hand with one determined swipe. “Jim, I do not understand. Can you not see that medical intervention may be necessary to ensure your continued good health?”
“I’m fine, Spock. Just a bit woozy. You said yourself the toxin isn’t gonna hurt me; it’s just making me tired as hell. Just keep playing cushion and I’ll be all right.” Suiting actions to words, he burrowed closer, rubbing the side of his nose against Spock’s shirt in a way the Vulcan found frankly perplexing. They had not even known each other for more than one sixth of a Terran hour. Were all Humans so quick to impose on the personal space of strangers?
And what was even more disconcerting: Spock found that, for reasons unknown, he was not averse to the imposition. In fact, contrary to most uninvited instances of contact, he found Jim to be oddly – soothing.
“If your condition worsens, I insist we call for medical aid,” Spock said finally, feeling the cooler Human heat seeping through his shirt with a curious lack of distaste.
“Deal,” Jim murmured.
They sat in silence for several minutes, and Spock debated the merits of laying the Human out full length on the bench, as opposed to the production of moving him when he was already so comfortably settled. In the end he decided against it though he couldn’t have said for certain whether there was any defining argument that motivated him.
“Hey, Spock?” Jim muttered, groggy enough that Spock was unsure whether he was entirely cognizant of the situation.
“Keep me awake, ‘kay? Talk to me. Tell me bit about yur’self.”
Spock considered the plea with grave deliberation. “I am uncertain as to the cause of your curiosity, but I have no objection to fulfilling your request, in theory; however, I reserve the right to withdraw my acquiescence at any time. What do you wish to know?”
“Mmph,” Jim muttered unintelligibly, then spent so long in silence Spock was on the verge of prompting him when he finally stirred.
“Why’re you wandering around here alone?”
“Unlike some,” Spock said pointedly, “I do not require supervision in order to safely traverse a relatively risk-free environment.”
“Oh, haha,” Jim groaned, glancing up through the curtain of his dirty hair to glare with feigned anger. Spock noted the unusually large size of his pupils, which had expanded to the extent that they obscured the natural coloring of his eyes. Spock wondered with some detachment if this was an atypical response to the S’gagerat’s toxin, or if the Human’s immune system was the primary cause of his symptoms. He glanced toward the S’gagerat enclosure, considering the curious lack of safety measures standing between curious onlookers and the predator. One eyebrow inched upward in puzzlement.
“I do not understand why this area was not kept more securely,” he said, tilting his head upward to regard the security systems which were currently idling deactivated. Jim said nothing, shuffling until he could duck down more securely against Spock’s shoulder; the Vulcan secured him absently.
“There should have been a force field in place preventing you from approaching the S’gagerat so closely,” Spock continued, surveying the energy emitters for damage; there was none visible. “There was one present, in fact, when I first passed this display one-point-three ago, and there was no sign of similar malfunctions in any of the displays I examined prior to returning here. It is possible there is a defect in the equipment utilized solely for this display; however – “
Spock swung his eyes downward to take in the suspiciously silent boy currently utilizing his shoulder as a headrest. “ – it is more likely this indicates the work of a saboteur.”
Jim grumbled something unfathomable, and slid down Spock’s shoulder until he was lying with his head in the Vulcan’s lap, gazing up with dazed defiance. Spock experienced a shock at this presumptuous effrontery so sharp that he actually froze into immobility.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Jim said, shrugging, while Spock struggled to regain his scattered logic, currently subsumed in indignation. “If they wanted to keep the public out that badly, they should have picked a trickier pass code. It took me five minutes to crack that thing, and that was because I spent two of them reading the data display and another two disabling the alarm.”
Spock debated shoving the insolent Human away from his person entirely but restrained himself on the basis of the boy’s poor health. He could not countenance causing him further injury merely to satisfy his desire for personal space.
“Perhaps if you had taken more time reading the display and less time circumventing the Arboretum safety measures, you would not be in your current predicament,” Spock told him primly, holding his hands discretely aloft to prevent touching Jim accidentally.
The Human scowled mutinously, reaching upward to tug at Spock’s sleeve; he raised his hands higher to avoid this, noting their positions with some irony. It seemed Spock was now to take on the role of evader.
“I don’t have cooties, you know,” Jim informed him, allowing his arms to flop back to his sides crossly. “I’m not carrying any communicable diseases, and you won’t catch my humanity by touching me.”
“One does not catch humanity; one is either Human or not,” Spock told him, carefully not adding that it was also possible to occupy the middle ground of this distinction, seeing as he was a prime example; Jim did not need to know that.
The boy sighed, tipping his head backward to regard the ceiling far above them. “Mm, wish the climate controls in here were cooler.”
“They are designed to emulate the average temperature of Vulcan, which is a desert planet. There are very few places on the surface which experience lower temperatures at midday. If you find the current setting discomforting it would be wise to relocate to a more suitable venue.”
“Nah. Comfortable,” Jim muttered, sinking firmly into the bench beneath him. Spock debated the merits of continuing to allow his thigh to be used as a pillow.
“Assuming your timing is accurate, and taking into account the relatively minor exposure to the soporific, I estimate the toxin should complete its course through your system in approximately twenty-point-two minutes.”
“Mm,” Jim agreed, curling up on his side so that his collection of long blond hair scattered across Spock’s black pants haphazardly. After shoring up his mental shields with several meditative breaths, Spock pressed two fingers to the Human’s carotid artery, counting off ten healthy beats of the heart. No abnormal rhythms presented themselves and the pulse, while a trifle fast, was within norms. He determined there was no immediate cause for alarm.
He eyed the pale strands of hair decorating his trousers; blond was a color not generally seen on his home world, and to see it in such detail now made his fingers itch with resilient curiosity. He thought even the texture might prove different to his own; Vulcan hair was thin and uniform in nature, whereas this boy’s seemed thick and prone to interesting displays of disarray. He reminded himself that to touch uninvited would be no better, perhaps, than having one’s physical proximity invaded without prior permission.
Perhaps it was an unfair justification, but a justification nevertheless. Spock took up several strands of soft hair, rubbing them curiously between his index finger and thumb. He had been correct; the texture was much thicker than his own.
“S’nice,” Jim said, almost crooning, and turned to bury his flushed cheek into the haunch of Spock’s outer leg. Spock quirked an eyebrow, settling his hand over the Human’s forehead with concern. While Jim’s pulse was reassuring, his temperature still was not.
“I recommend that you remain as awake and alert as possible,” Spock said, attempting to jostle him just enough to provoke movement. There was none. “If you fall unconscious, I will be forced to contact my parents for assistance,” he added.
“M’awake,” Jim grumbled, one hand coming up to rub at his eyes. He opened them, gazing overtop Spock’s knee with an encouragingly aware countenance as he tucked his fingers beneath the Vulcan’s leg. Spock did not move, allowing him to situate himself.
“What brings you to the arboretum, Spock?” Jim asked after a moment.
“Personal interest and scheduling convenience; my father had business on Earth, and my mother and I chose to accompany him.”
“Business, hmm? Merchant, consultant, other?”
Jim rolled his gaze up to peer at him from the corner of his eyes. “Not a lot of Vulcan diplomats stationed outside the embassy. Your mom one too?”
“Negative. She was a teacher.”
“Was; not anymore?”
Spock hesitated to answer, knowing his mother’s reasons were both personal and unavoidable; while she harbored no desire to preoccupy herself when Spock was a child, he was also aware she had attempted to find gainful employment after his seventh birthday, when Vulcan children were integrated into the larger populace and began their formal education. She had been unsuccessful, largely due to the rigid views and stigmatisms which still surrounded her Human heritage, stigmatisms which Spock himself suffered through on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
“Not at present,” he prevaricated.
“My mom’s a microbiologist; she’s stationed with one of the research teams studying the M-class planets in the Laurentian system.” The smile Jim aimed at the far wall was disturbing, both for the grimace which preceded it and also for its bitterness. “I haven’t seen her for more than a few days at a time since I was eight.”
Spock did not know what to say to that. He attempted to imagine what his life would have been like without the calming and supportive influence of his own mother. She had often been an indirect cause of his many troubles with his peers, but without her constant warmth and encouragement he doubted he would have discovered the core of his resilience, which had seen him through difficult times.
“And your father?” he asked, attempting to politely divert the conversation to less emotionally fraught topics.
Apparently that was a poor attempt.
“I had not meant to stir uncomfortable memories,” he said quietly, believing honesty was his only recourse.
“He’s been dead all my life; no memories to stir.”
Spock regarded the Human with a questioning glance; it seemed to him that Jim’s manner of discussing his deceased or absent parents was unusually dismissive, almost uncaring; he would not have taken a Human for such casual disregard of their family structure.
“Though it’s interesting he should come up in conversation, since this is the day he died,” Jim continued with such incongruous carelessness that for a moment Spock was not quite certain of what he’d just been told.
“I – beg your pardon?” he said.
“Today is the anniversary of my father’s death,” Jim repeated. “And it’s also the day I was born.” He smiled, that deceptively mild, bitter smile again. “You could say he died in child birth – but that would be in bad taste, right?”
Spock was speechless.
Jim grimaced, the smile turning sincere and apologetic. He rolled over to regard Spock with regret. “Okay, yeah, that was in bad taste. Sorry. I have this foot in mouth thing going on.”
“Placing one’s foot in one’s mouth is both inadvisable and highly unhygienic,” Spock managed at last.
Jim burst out laughing, the sound echoing off the glass enclosures surrounding them. His eyes shone with merry humor, the pupils finally beginning to recede to their original size, and Spock listened to his mirth with a curious ear. It was the first time he had heard such joy given voice from anyone except his mother.
“Thanks, Spock,” Jim said eventually, when his hilarity had waned. He reached up, gently tapping his fist against the Vulcan’s shoulder. “I needed that.”
“Though I am unsure what I have done to deserve gratitude, you are welcome.”
“Funny guy,” Jim chuckled. “I didn’t know Vulcan’s came with a sense of humor.”
Spock could have informed him that he was not entirely Vulcan, but he was reluctant to do so. The rapport he had developed with this boy was unlike anything he had previously experienced with anyone in his peer group. Reactions to his mixed heritage were not usually favorable, and he did not wish to injure the fragile connection that seemed to be developing here.
“I did not know Humans came with mouths big enough to insert one’s foot into,” he said instead.
“That’s not a Human thing; just a Jim thing.”
“I see,” Spock said again, though he once again did not. “You mentioned that today is your day of birth. May I inquire as to how old you are?”
“Thirteen,” Jim said, a crooked grin stamped onto his face. “I’m considering exploring my teenaged angst now that I’m officially of age for it, but there’s not really anyone around to appreciate it.”
Spock hesitated, debating asking about Jim’s living arrangements, as his curiosity urged him, but ultimately deciding that questions along that path were likely to be unwelcome.
“Is your presence at the arboretum at all connected with your coming of age?”
“Nah. School trip. I’m transferring soon, and I think they roped me into this as a sort of fond farewell.”
“Did you not enjoy the exhibitions on display?” Spock asked, his scientific mind already criticizing anyone who would willingly forego such a fascinating arrangement of flora.
The grin did not waver. “I liked at least one of them enough that I wanted to get up close and personal with it.”
Spock regarded him with disapproval. “An attempt which could have cost you your life.”
“That was sort of the point, Spock. It could have, but it didn’t.”
“Specify,” Spock commanded, nonplussed.
“Let’s just say that I have a standing bet with fate, and every year I put money on the fact that mine isn’t to die today. Man-eating plants are a new edition, but the principle’s the same.” He quirked a grin at Spock’s face, and the Vulcan took a moment to check that the horror shuffling rapidly through him was in no way visible in his expression.
“Last year I drove a car over a cliff,” Jim continued, looking unaccountably proud of himself for it. Spock had to force his vocal chords to work as he wished; they seemed sluggish to respond.
“Was it a very small cliff?” he asked, feeling it best to get all the facts before passing judgment.
“A quarry, actually, so no. But don’t worry: I jumped out of the car before it went over.”
“That fact is far from reassuring,” Spock informed him. “Unless you did so from a moderate distance, thus reducing the chance that your momentum would continue to carry you forward.”
A sheepish expression crossed the Human’s face, and Spock was aware of the answer even before it came. “Um. No. I wasn’t that smart.”
“I see,” Spock said again, and again he truly did not.
“I think I might try skydiving next year.”
“I advise bringing a parachute with you when attempting to do so, and perhaps consulting a professional service provider; it seems you require specific reminders in order to recall these basic safety provisions.”
Jim laughed and Spock could not decide whether this was reassuring or not.
“You know, maybe most Vulcans don’t come equipped with a sense of humor, Spock, but you do. I’m glad.”
It was one of the first times Spock could recall his differentiation from his peers being a positive and fully welcomed thing.
“I am gratified,” he said, and meant it.
The flush in Jim’s pale cheeks had begun to dissipate, leaving a faint pink stain as its only sign. His breathing continued unimpeded, and there seemed to be very little grogginess remaining. Technically, there was no reason to allow the Human to use him as physical support, but Spock found himself curiously reluctant to break contact between them.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever just listened to me vent about this stuff before,” Jim said, sounding equally as bewildered as Spock felt. “Usually they’re too busy trying to fix me to actually talk to me. Huh.”
“I am unsure how one would go about ‘fixing’ another, nor would I attempt to do so without proper training or frame of reference.”
“Try telling that to the six or seven well-meaning teachers who think they have all the answers for me.”
“If you provide me with their contact information, I shall do so.”
Jim laughed again, resonant and pure. “God, I’d love to see the looks on their faces. Maybe some other time.”
“Very well,” Spock said, almost – disappointed.
“Well, think I had my sharing moment; feel free to take the floor. Tell me something about you.”
“Think of it logically; similar input, similar output. Birthday, family matters, trials and tribulations, all that good stuff.”
Though his past, much like Jim’s, was riddled with many such ‘trials and tribulations’, Spock did not feel at all inclined to talk about them. Rather the opposite, really. He pondered the request for a moment, dithering.
“Vulcans do not celebrate birthdays,” he said.
Jim stared at him, a slow curl of amusement catching at the corner of his mouth. “And I thought it was only Human women you weren’t supposed to ask. Vulcan’s have ‘em beat.”
“I do not understand.”
“No need to; I was being a jerk. Well, what about your family? Any dirt on them?”
“I fail to see how the presence of soil in relation to my family could be of any interest to you.”
“No, look, you’ve – nevermind. I meant to say: is there anything interesting about your family?”
There were many things Spock found interesting about his family but he doubted the Human would share his fascination, or perhaps it was more that Jim’s interests likely ran to subjects Spock could not share for reasons of privacy.
“We have already discussed my parents’ well-being and occupations. Reiteration is unnecessary.” He considered a moment, weighing what a Human might deem family, and then admitted, “I once had a pet Sehlat with which I had a close association.”
“A moderately sized domesticated animal with unkempt brown fur and six-inch fangs. They are often kept as pets by Vulcan children.”
Jim’s eyes had widened slightly at the description. “What happened to it?”
“I-Chaya died defending my life when I was young; I had erroneously chosen to participate in a Vulcan endurance ritual before I was truly prepared and he intervened on my behalf when I was attacked by a le-matya, another predator found in Vulcan’s Forge.”
“Sounds dangerous,” Jim said, and Spock could not tell if he meant the le-matya, or the kahs-wan ritual. Irrelevant, perhaps, as both were indeed dangerous. He pointedly glanced toward the S’gagerat’s glass enclosure, which was now silent but had teemed with deadly intent not long ago. Jim shrugged, unrepentant, if a trifle sheepish.
“Any other pets?”
“No,” Spock said. For a long time after I-Chaya had perished Spock had not wanted another creature to take his place. After a time, the desire for a loyal animal companion had faded until it was no longer noticeable. He considered the benefits of getting one now; the idea seemed oddly and unexpectedly attractive.
“Hmm,” Jim commented, brow furrowed in thought. “Well, what about – “
But Spock was not to hear what else he may have inquired about. At that moment his communicator, which had lain dormant, sprang to life, beeping in a recognizable pattern.
“It is my parents,” he commented, beginning to rise but hesitating as the weight of the Human’s head held him immobile. Though necessity demanded he rise to retrieve the device, still he hesitated to disturb Jim’s resting position.
The Human moved without comment, shifting further down the bench to lay flat along it.
Spock retrieved the communicator from where it had lain on the floor all this time. “Spock here.”
“Spock,” his father’s voice sounded over the open channel, calm and unruffled. “Our business with the arboretum personnel is nearly concluded. What is your status and position?”
“I am well, father, and currently reside within the restricted Vulcan exhibitions. I can return to the arboretum entranceway if my presence is required.”
“No. Your mother prefers that we travel to you to begin our exploration. Remain in your current position and we will arrive shortly.”
“Very well,” Spock said, reviewing the exhibitions he had originally decided would be of interest to his mother. Looking at Jim, who had thrown one arm over his eyes so that they were no longer visible, Spock also considered the possibility of extending his illogical but fascinating time with the Human, and continued with, “I am currently engaged in discussion with a young Human male also exploring the arboretum. If his presence is acceptable to you and mother, I believe he would benefit from a group exploration.”
Jim twitched in a curious sign of tension; Spock eyed him questioningly. More curious still was the minute pause over the communicator as his father, who was never lost for words, apparently found this development noteworthy enough to temporarily rid him of speech.
“A young Human male?” Sarek asked at last, slowly.
“Yes,” Spock confirmed, puzzled.
“May I inquire as to the boy’s name?”
Jim sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bench so he was facing Spock, staring at him. Spock waited to see if he would confirm his permission with either a nod or smile but he did not. Nor did he indicate disagreement in any fashion. After a further four seconds of silence, Spock concluded he did not care either way.
“He introduced himself as Jim.”
Another extended silence, in which Spock began to suspect that this information somehow had greater meaning for his father than it did for him, a supposition which was confirmed a moment later when Sarek asked, “Is he still there?”
Spock glanced at Jim, who was stiff with tension, a faint, challenging grin hovering around his mouth. Spock was given the impression that, while he may indeed he here at this point in time, that could change at any moment.
“Please ask him to remain, Spock,” Sarek said. “If possible, convince him not to leave his immediate location.”
Puzzled, Spock raised an eyebrow quizzically, but Jim only shook his head, silent. “May I inquire as to why?”
“I am unable to share specifics at this time. However, the arboretum staff have been searching for this boy for some time. They will be pleased to know he has been found, or at least seen.”
Spock was quiet a moment, considering. His father had made it clear he was to ask Jim to stay rather than force his compliance. Obviously this was not a case of criminal concern, though this then put Jim’s actions with the safety field in a different light. Curiosity burned in Spock like a candle, lit and blazing.
“I will ask him,” Spock said.
“Very well. Your mother and I will arrive in approximately three-point-two minutes; arboretum staff will likely follow in due course.”
The communication channel fell silent.
“I think that’s my cue to leave,” Jim said, hopping to his feet with a casual smile. Spock blinked, taken aback.
“I have been instructed to ask that you not do so.”
“Sorry, Spock. I really don’t feel like facing the music just yet. I like my freedom, you know?”
“Freedom is a worthy pursuit,” Spock agreed. “May I ask in what way you will lose it by remaining?”
“When I said this was a fond farewell, I meant that literally. It’s back to the dorms and then to the transport afterward, and I’m not ready to leave Earth just yet. I think I’ll keep them chasing their tails until tomorrow, at least.”
“That would seem an inefficient waste of your instructor’s time.”
“Once again, you somehow miss the point while also hitting it right on the head.”
Spock did not think he had ever met another person so contradictory and unfathomable. “I do not understand.”
“You don’t have to. Suffice it to say this transfer wasn’t my idea, and this is my version of the non-violent political protest.”
Spock eyed him in concern, taking a step in his direction. “You are being moved against your will? If that is the case, surely there are authorities you could appeal to, to have this decision overturned.”
“I could, but that’d take months, if not longer. The transfer itself shouldn’t last more than a year, so it’s not the end of the world. I’ll live. But I figure they owe me at least a day or two of mad scrambling before I give in gracefully.”
“Perhaps I could be of some assistance,” Spock said, already thinking ahead to the legal ramifications of a Vulcan citizen providing counsel for an Earth youth, and the logistics of providing said counsel.
“Nah. Thanks, but unless you have an admiral in your pocket I don’t see how you could move things along much.”
“I fail to see how one’s pocket could be utilized to house a humanoid. Nevertheless, while I am unaware of any admiral who might be willing to assist, my father is the Vulcan ambassador to Earth and likely holds a significant amount of political sway, assuming that is what you require to state your case to the proper authorities.”
“Your father is the Vulcan ambassador?” Jim asked incredulously, staring at him. “To Earth?”
“I am certain he would be willing to provide you with whatever you require, should you need anything the embassy can give you. Do you wish me to contact him with the request?”
The Human hesitated, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling again in deep thought. After a few moments he sighed deeply, shaking his head with regret as a small smile curled his right cheek into a dimple. Bitterness edged this smile, and Spock was surprised to realize that he missed the more sincere, joyous ones that had graced Jim’s face last.
“No, Spock, but thanks. While your dad’s name might get me my way, he can’t always be there for me. Sometimes you have to figure out things your own way.”
“Not to take advantage of assistance when it is at your disposal is illogical.”
“I guess we’re safe then, cuz no one’s ever accused me of being logical before.”
Spock was about to reply when he detected the faint sound of approaching footsteps; two pairs: Sarek and Amanda.
“They’re coming, aren’t they?” Jim asked. When Spock nodded he shrugged, laughing.
“Definitely my cue to disappear, then. Do me a favor and reactivate the safety shields in here – wouldn’t want anyone to say I willfully put someone else at risk.”
“I urge you to stay,” Spock said, reaching for any reason that might appeal to the Human. He found himself more than reluctant to let him leave. Their curious and unusual time together had been oddly rejuvenating, invigorating, and fascinating. Spock would certainly not object to more time with this Human, and further opportunities to know him.
“Sorry,” Jim said, sincere and regretful. “Can’t. But maybe we’ll meet again one day,” he continued, slipping agilely to his feet, all grace and easy motion, completely at odds with all Spock knew about the awkward transition from youth to young adult. “I hope we do. It’s been – enlightening. Thanks for being my pillow and my sounding board.” He darted down the circular corridor, striding in the opposite direction of raised voices and footfalls.
“Jim,” Spock called, as he heard his parents rapidly approaching from around the corner. “In future, were you ever desirous of – enlightenment – perhaps we could converse again?”
“I’d like that, Spock!” Jim said, turning once more to flash him a charming, sincere smile. “I’ll be out of easy communications range as of tomorrow, but it won’t be forever. I’ll look you up when I get back, if I can!”
“Where?” Spock asked, taking a step toward him almost without his own volition. “Where will you be?”
“In hell,” Jim called, “or whatever the equivalent is on Tarsus.” And then he was gone.
Spock turned to face his parents as they rounded the corner, already oddly sorrowful for Jim’s absence, already eagerly anticipating the possibility that they might one day meet again.
A/N: I feel like this needs a sequel (or possibly a series?) but this worked as a natural stopping point! Thanks for reading!