Welcome to the modern day AU you didn't know you wanted. Please join me for a lighthearted romp through Jim's trauma, featuring teenage Jim, college-student Spock, prairies, horses, and the summer that changed everything…again.
Seriously though, I've had a lot of fun working on this piece. It's not quite finished, but it's well on its way and writing it acts as a bit of a break from working on Palace Burning (don't worry I'm still working on that, too. It's just a bit more intensive), so it's definitely going to get worked on.
I'll keep the informational section short:
This is set modern day but I've kept technology relatively out of it because 1. I don't think that Spock and family would use technology excessively for pleasure – not so much a group for watching endless TV or getting absorbed into their phones, more for spending days working and nights reading, maybe some work on the laptop – and 2. Because I hate writing social media. Sorry. (The additional third reason is that I'm pretty Jim wouldn't have his phone with you).
I will also admit I've never been to Vulcan, AB, but I did grow up fairly close by and I have a lot of experience with nearby communities. On the note of Vulcan, I have removed all of the Star Trek experiences and paraphernalia from the town because, well, you know.
Alright. I think that's all for now, so if you've made it this far (or onto this story at all) thank you very much, and I hope you enjoy!
Jim didn't think they could send him anywhere that was more middle-of-nowhere than Riverside. His hometown was a speck in a golden terrain of wheat and corn fields, a miss-it-if-you-blink sort of place that was entirely forgettable other than the shipyard, which was completely out of place in the middle of rural Iowa. The boats had to be carted to one side of the continent or the other by massive semi-trailers so they could be shoved into the ocean. It wouldn't even have been there if not for the military need for secrecy, which lost its impact when massive ships were hauled across country with little more hiding them than a tarp. Yes. There was nowhere more off-the-map than Riverside.
Except, apparently, the dusty town – was it big enough to be a town? – in which he now stood, a single duffel bag tossed at his feet and an old guitar case covered in stickers placed carefully at his side. The sign on the side of the bus depot read Welcome to Vulcan. Beneath it was the date 23.12.12 and the motto longo vivas tempore et bene sit, typed boldly. He wasn't looking at it, though, he was turned the other way, facing nothing. There was nothing. Fields, like Iowa, except somehow more blank. It wasn't corn that covered the earth all the way to the horizon, or even wheat; it was canola. Fucking canola. And there wasn't even a misplaced shipyard – just a ridiculous unused grain elevator sitting outside of town, the only building on the entire horizon that was taller than two stories.
Jim slumped to the ground and sat in the dust. He could have strode the few metres to the benches of the bus station, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
So this was it. Rock bottom. Stuck in a village. In fucking Canada.
Fortis et Liber.
"Strong and free my ass." He muttered to himself from his spot on the ground.
The voice came from his left side and he had to torque his body at a weird angle to see other kid. Well, he assumed it was a kid. The sun shining from behind the other boy made it impossible to see his face.
The truth was too ridiculous to repeat.
"I said this hurts my ass." He said as loudly as he could without shouting.
The kid didn't react, didn't even move. He just waited for about a minute, during which Jim gave up trying to look at him and straightened back out and stared at the dumb bus station.
"You may find it of interest that I have been sent to retrieve a visitor from the bus station." The dark blob eventually said.
"Great. Enjoy waiting for them on the next bus." Jim said, lying down and closing his eyes against the sun.
A dark shape passed in front of him, hovered for a moment, and then moved on. Jim smiled to himself at the victory and didn't move, enjoying the sun on his face. It was almost like being back home, lying on one of the fences on the farm and waiting for the sun to set and the day to end so he could sneak into his room without being caught. That way no one would know he'd been skipping class again.
Well it worked for a while anyway. Until the teachers started calling. But that was relatively unavoidable.
"If you remain in that position I predict a 90% chance of being run over by the next bus."
"And I predict a 100% chance of you being the biggest nerd at the high school." Jim quipped back, eyes still closed.
A pause. And then "Your hypothesis is incorrect." His voice was steely.
Jim barked out a laugh – victory! – and tugged his hat down over his eyes, reducing the glare of the sun to a soft red glow.
The universe lapsed into silence again, except for the familiar sound of the field on the other side of the fence. The longer he lay there, the more he though he picked up subtle differences in the sound from what he was used to. He wondered briefly what made the difference, if it was the length of the stalks or the weight on the end, then decided he wasn't curious enough to investigate.
Instead he took a deep breath that smelled of dirt and tires and the specific smell that comes with towns that exist in the middle of the nowhere and hummed an old country tune. It was one of Winona's favourites, and he felt a little closer to home singing it, even if he wasn't in the living room with his guitar in his lap and his mom swing dancing with his brother.
Not that that had happened for a lot of years now, what with Sam gone, and his mom distant, and he himself…well, not home enough to sit in the den and play old country songs.
Still it was a good tune.
"Are you planning on lying there until you cause a vehicular accident?" Came the cool voice again.
"Yup!" He called back cheerily, wondering who the fuck he was dealing with anyway. Why wouldn't he just take off?
"Are you aware that the bus schedule is regularly inaccurate, and therefore a bus could show up at any minute? Cars, though irregular on this road, are not unheard of either."
The dark shape came back into view and he attempted to wave it away. It didn't move.
"I suppose you are also aware that Amanda will certainly come looking for us both if we remain here much longer."
That caught Jim's attention. He sat up and looked at the boy again, only to once again be blocked by the son.
The boy just stared at him.
Jim scrambled to his feet, the other boy keeping his arms behind his back. Jim grunted and tried not to be offended that the kid didn't offer a hand.
"If I must repeat myself," the boy said coolly, coming into view. "I said that my mother will be looking for us."
Ah, so this was Spock then. He'd been warned about him in the letters, though Jim hadn't expected him to come collecting.
He was older than Jim had originally thought, probably nineteen or twenty, and tall. Jim wasn't short, but at full height the kid had half a head on him. He stood with a sort of stature that small towns are generally unaccustomed to, with every hair in place and his dark eyes veiled. It spoke of a time spent at an out-of-town college, likely one that wasn't as prestigious as he thought it was.
"Spock." He half said and half asked.
The dark boy inclined his head, apparently more in acknowledgement than agreement. For some reason this made Jim want to punch him square in the jaw.
"Come, James, we can walk from here."
"My name's Jim." He corrected, perhaps more sharply than necessary.
"Jim is a shortened form of James, is it not?" Spock asked, not bothering to throw it over his shoulder as he began walking.
"Ye-es." Jim grumbled, jogging to catch up.
"It is logical to use your given name."
"It is logical to use someone's chosen name." Jim fired back, immediately furious.
The strange boy looked at him, blinking. "I didn't mean to offend you."
"You didn't." Jim lied, his gaze directed straight ahead. He began widening his gate until he was ahead of the dark haired boy.
Spock made a noise that implied he might not believe him, but Jim ignored it. He knew that if he even looked at him, he would punch his lights out, maybe break a nose, and as satisfying as that would be, he didn't think it would be the best first impression to make on his last chance.
They walked for a long while in silence down the dusty road. Spock didn't veer right into the inner town – Jim was careful to watch him out of the corner of his eye – so neither did he. He found himself staring at the grain elevator in the distance, walking towards it like it was where he was going. What was inside there? Certainly not grain anymore. It must hold secrets, he decided.
"There used to be nine."
"Sorry?" Asked Jim, spinning around and walking backwards. The horizon looked different that way, with nothing in the way of it, nothing to block the glaring sun.
"Grain elevators." Spock said carefully, as if tasting each word, testing the water. "There were once nine elevators, making us the largest grain shipping point West of Winnipeg."
"What happened?" Jim asked, curious despite himself. He spun back around though, like it would make it clear he was not offering an olive branch by engaging.
"Changes in agricultural economics exterminated the need for the grain elevators. The one you see was only recently constructed, as a symbol of our history."
"Should've known better than to expect an interesting story." Jim muttered just loud enough to let Spock hear, kicking a rock up the path. It was hard and heavy and rolled a little to the right. He headed towards it and kicked it again.
"You are incorrect in assuming the town has no interesting history. In fact, I find it rather fascinating."
Jim flushed, surprised that the boy had chosen to engage. Nevertheless he turned to look over his shoulder. "Prove it."
Spock's spine seemed to straighten even further, and he raised an eyebrow, emanating something close to anger. He immediately began rattling off facts at an almost alarming speed. "In July of 1927, only fifteen years after Vulcan was officially incorporated into a village, and six years after the village became a town, a tornado decimated the town, including residences, store fronts, and even the new curling rink. One resident claimed it felt like the world was ending."
"How long did it take you to recover?" Jim asked, softening. He knew about tornados, just as he knew that it was only luck that had protected Riverside for so long.
"Years." Spock's voice was low, almost hushed.
They fell into step side by side and walked in silence for a moment as Jim deliberated. On the one hand, the kid seemed like a real pain in the ass. On the other, he was probably the only one around who would have to spend time with him, and besides they'd be living in the same house.
"One more question." He announced finally, glancing at the boy to his right the way one glances at a train wreck.
Spock nodded once, watching him carefully.
The other boy didn't laugh, didn't even crack a smile. If it was possible, he seemed to grow more sullen, as though offended. Granted, it had been meant as a joke, but Jim really didn't know the answer. An irritating, overly factual explanation would have been better than this, this…this…condescension, this looking at him like he had the power to destroy everything but didn't deserve it – like a slug with a nuke. It was the same look he'd been getting for years in Riverside, from everyone from his teachers to the mailman, and even, more recently, his mother. But somehow it cut worse here. Maybe because nobody knew him here he had expected a clean slate – that had been something to look forward too, the slight silver lining on a black cloud – but no, no of course not. Spock knew who he was. So did his parents. Especially Amanda.
That thought was the last proverbial straw on the last proverbial horse. He took off at a sprint, straight down the road between the town and the open fields, duffel bag and guitar case banging against his legs with every step. Whether it was to get away from Spock or his thoughts he didn't know, and he wasn't going to go exploring down that road. Not if he could help it.
In following with the way prairie roads work, he never passed out of Spock's sight. He did, however, give himself a solid two and a half minutes to sit on the side of the road, looking alternatively up at the sky and back down the road to where Spock was striding towards him at an ever-even pace, never speeding up or slowing down. Jim couldn't help but wonder why the boy was wearing a jacket over his jeans like it was casual Friday in the office, like he wasn't walking the dusty streets of a shithole town.
Stupid dumbass tall kid thinking he was so much better than everyone else.
Stupid fucking town in the middle of nowhere with even less to do than Iowa. And no cliffs to throw himself off of.
Shitty-ass mother doing nothing for him his whole entire life except pile all of her shit on him and then think that she had the right to tell him what he could and couldn't do, where he could and couldn't go, forcing him out here, sending him away just like she always did when something happened she didn't like. Should you confront something? Should you actually deal with the problem before you? No, no, that's not the Winona way! Why deal with anything when you can just push it out of the farm and out of your life for good!
He was so thoroughly engrossed in his internal monologue that he only just caught sight of Spock's foot as he disappeared up a side street a hundred yards back up the road. Jim swore, loudly, and took off again, this time back the way he came. He turned the corner and realized that it led to three streets, each heading a different direction. He looked down each of them, spinning in place, but couldn't see the jackass in the jacket anywhere. He swore again, hissed it to himself, and was halfway to picking a random street (the right one, he thought) when a voice came out of the woodwork.
"I trust you are past your emotional outburst."
It wasn't really a question, and either way Jim wouldn't have answered it. Instead he stood there, furiously glaring at the dark-haired boy who was standing next to – not leaning against – the first house on the left side of the street. No, he wouldn't respond. Instead he settled for. "What the hell man?"
Spock stepped forward, and for the first time his face came properly into the light. His features were sharp and angular in a way Jim hadn't noticed before. They also darkened slightly at his outburst. He clasped his hands behind his back and held his head high. "I was requested to lead you home, nothing else. As I have not lost you, I think you will find I am performing my job adequately."
Jim bristled. "Ach. Fuck you." He spat at the other boy and turned to storm away to…
Right. He didn't know where he was going. He looked back and forth between the other two roads before just setting off down the center road.
"You may find it helpful to know that the family home is this way." Spock barely raised his voice, but Jim wasn't far enough away yet to miss it. "Perhaps you will deign to join me there after you have finished examining the other streets."
Jim turned to bite at the kid – who the fuck did he think he was? – but Spock had already begun to walk down the left road.
He felt like he was letting steam leak out the top of his head, deflating like a broken hot air balloon, but he swallowed his pride and followed the boy anyway, dragging the back edge of his duffel bag behind him. He couldn't stop the thoughts, though.
Night one, Jim. Don't fight anyone yet. You can't afford to get thrown out this time. Don't punch him. Wait until there's a bug on his face and then tell him you were just squishing it. Yup. Yup that's what needs to happen.
The house was only the fifth from the end and easily the biggest one they had passed the whole length of the street. Spock let himself into the door, leaving it open for Jim behind him. Once he climbed the steps to the front porch, however, he paused.
In his misery, he had apparently forgotten to be nervous, but it hit him all at once. Part of him wanted to sit down on the wicker bench beside him and refuse to step through the door – hell, part of him wanted to run screaming through the (fucking) canola fields until he died out there. The last thing he wanted to do was continue on into that house. Nevertheless, he stepped forward and up.
He almost considered walking back out again, but then the smell hit him; fresh pie, and probably mashed potatoes, and something else, some spices he wasn't used to. They smelled hot. He breathed in deeply, closing his eyes. For a moment the anger ebbed a little. Then he opened his eyes and saw a woman striding towards him. She was small and dainty, with kind hands and dark eyes that matched Spock's, but her face sent a fury made of ice through him until he felt he couldn't move.
"Hello! It is so nice to have you with us! We have been looking forward to having you since Winona called. I'm so sorry the whole family couldn't come and collect you but Sarek couldn't get away from work early, and I had a bit of a run in with the oven and our meal took longer than expected."
"A regular occurrence." Came Spock's voice. He appeared from behind the woman and stopped to allow her to kiss his forehead. "I will be preparing my bedroom for our guest. May I take your bags?"
Jim, startled out of his numbness, handed over his duffel bag but kept a tight grip on his guitar.
The look Spock gave him could have been called a glare if it hadn't been so apathetic.
Jim managed to spare the two brain cells it took to wonder what had happened to the boy to make him so emotionless and cold, even to his own mother.
And it had to be Amanda. There was no way she could look like that and not be Amanda.
"Come in!" She ordered kindly, relieving him of his guitar and handing it to Spock. She gestured for him to take them off upstairs, which he did, before she returned her attention to Jim, who hadn't moved.
"Jim, are you quite alright? Should I fetch someone? Perhaps I should call your mother."
Those were the magic words. Jim sprung to life, shaking his head. "No, ma'am. I'm alright ma'am. Just surprised ma'am."
Amanda frowned at him, apparently concerned. Jim couldn't quite repress a shudder at the look.
Despite her confusion (his words, now he could think semi-clearly, were less than perfectly chosen) she didn't ask another question. Instead she just smiled at him and gestured for him to enter.
"Take off your shoes and come in dear. And do close the door. If you want to freshen up you'll find your things upstairs. It's the second door on the right."
"Thank you ma'am." Jim managed to say.
"Such manners." Amanda smiled and reached out her hand as if to tousle his hair, but apparently reading the horror on his face, she withdrew, offering instead a small smile before turning and striding back to the kitchen.
Jim let himself have a moment of stillness, forced his breathing back into an even pattern, and then he began to move.
Bending down to undo the laces on his boots gave him his first chance to observe the house. Now that Amanda was gone, he could really see how large the foyer was.
It was huge. Bigger than anything anyone had in Iowa. It wasn't mansion size, surely, but it was big enough to have a chandelier and a shelf full of vases full of different coloured sand, and one sweeping staircase leading up to the second story. This was a nice house. And here he was, dressed all in black, dragging in dust and a beat up guitar and a patched up duffel bag, not to mention his baggage. No one in Riverside would have the bravery – or more likely idiocy – to let him into anywhere that looked like this.
He didn't want to smash it, though. He just wanted a closer look.
A glance towards the kitchen to make sure he wasn't going to get busted – for what it he wasn't sure – and then he was examining the sand vases. They varied in colour from light tan to red, even to black, and each one had a location etched into the glass of its vase. Tofino (rocky), Big Sur (purple and tan), the Sahara Desert (orange), Uluru (red), the Bahamas (pink), several with Hawai'ian names in beige and green and black…had they really been to all of these places?
He investigated them until footsteps threatened from the kitchen, and he scampered guiltily up the stairs, guitar in hand. He didn't know where to put it, but he did know that he needed the washroom and that door was open, so he left it in the hallway and walked into the bathroom. After washing his hands he splashed water into his face a few times, trying to remove the stain of travel. He dried it with the hand towel left on the counter and then levelled with his reflection.
The circles under his eyes were deep and dark, but the bruise on his cheekbone was gone except for a phantom tenderness. His hair was out of place, but that wasn't unusual. He might argue at this point that there was no place his hair was supposed to be in. His eyes were still blue. Shocking.
All in all, not the worst he'd looked in the past week.
Certain that he'd done all he could do to look and feel like a human again, he left the washroom to find his guitar gone.
"The fuck?" He muttered to himself.
"I would appreciate it if you could reduce your use of curse words."
Jim rolled his eyes hard, ignoring the sinking feeling in his gut. He turned around slowly to look Spock in the eye evenly. He regarded the taller boy carefully before replying. "Fat fucking chance."
Spock's eyes, already dark, grew perceptibly closer to black. Jim took this as a victory, and he had to repress a smile. Before Spock could notice, he began to talk again. "Where'd my guitar go?"
"I placed it on your bed." Spock replied evenly.
Spock pointed and Jim set off without another word, enjoying the victory. At least, until he opened the door Spock pointed out and saw the bed. Then he swore again.
He could feel the disapproving stare coming from behind him but he couldn't even bring himself to enjoy it. Not when he was looking at a trundle bed. A trundle bed.
He'd be sleeping in the same room as Spock. Not only that but he'd be sleeping under Spock.
Fuck. No. Not like that, but…height is a classic military advantage. There was something distinctly in line with that that made up the reason he felt such a hopeless pit of dread forming like a stone in the bottom of his stomach. It didn't help that the room was spotless, without a single shirt on the ground or picture hanging a degree of an inch off. It could have been cleaned for his arrival, but he doubted that. Spock seemed like the kind of jackass who would leave his room this clean all the time. It made Jim's skin itch.
Unable to think of anything else to do, he unlatched the guitar case, fished the guitar stand out of the duffel bag, and then set up the guitar neatly in the space between the edge of his bed and the desk beside it.
Jim looked at his handiwork, and then the desk. It was, unsurprisingly, meticulously organized. Jim glanced out the door and then back at the desk. Ah, fuck it.
He was halfway through moving everything on top of the desk an inch to the right when the door opened and closed, evidently letting Sarek into the house.
That meant dinner would be soon.
He finished up as quickly as he could and then exited the room and descended the steps quickly, flowing down them and around and into the kitchen.
It was as nice as the rest of the house, with cooking equipment even he could see was high quality. Amanda saw him the moment he walked in, and her face lit up.
His heart stopped and dropped through his stomach, but he did his best to smile back.
"This is James, Sarek." Amanda said.
"Jim." He corrected thoughtlessly.
"Jim." She smiled and then glanced further into the kitchen.
That was when Jim noticed the man in the suit standing over the stove. He turned around and looked at Jim with a piercing gaze. It was obvious just from looking at him where Spock's angled features had come from, and his disapproving looks.
Ah. So Sarek had definitely heard of Jim's exploits. Excellent.
"Pleased to meet you." Jim said, though the look on Sarek's face made him want to get into his space and see if he could make the older man swing at him. "Sir." He threw in for good measure.
"I trust you will behave yourself while you are with us." He said, making no effort at subtlety.
"Sarek!" Amanda chastised.
"That is the plan, sir." Jim answered. It wasn't a lie. And he wouldn't make it one unless the man kept pushing him.
He didn't though. In fact, he seemed pleased with the answer. "Very well. I am pleased to be making your acquaintance, Jim Kirk." He turned back to the pot on the stove, giving it a stir.
In spite of himself, he kind of liked the man. There was no bullshit with him. And he said Jim's name with no taste of his father's on his tongue.
He was pulled out of his thoughts when Amanda put a stack of plates into his arms. Almost automatically, he moved to set the table, only wondering for a moment where Spock had disappeared to, before getting on with the job.
Amanda's family said grace. Actually, they asked Jim if he wanted to say grace. Jim had to dig deep into the recesses of his mind for the grace they said at preschool, or maybe it was one his mother had taught him when he was two or three. Regardless, he managed to pull out enough fragments of a grace to not completely embarrass himself. Amanda followed his grace with a few words of what he assumed were Hebrew, and then they dove in.
Conversation wafted around him, but he sat silently, picking at the salad and chicken on his plate. He had nothing to contribute. They were all talking about neighbours and Sarek's work for the week, and people they knew. It was just as well – he didn't feel like talking.
Amanda tried to draw him into the conversation a few times, to talk about home or what he thought of about Vulcan so far, or even what he was studying at school, but he carefully answered the questions so that they turned off any opportunity for further conversation.
He was doing well until Amanda turned to Spock and informed him that he would be taking Jim with him to work in the morning.
"What?" Jim exclaimed, more loudly than he needed to.
"Pardon?" Spock asked after carefully placing his fork on the table next to his perfectly clean plate.
"Oh don't give me that, Spock." Amanda chastised, ignoring Jim completely. "You know you're always in need of more hands. You're taking him and that's that."
Spock's eyes flared with a fire Jim hadn't seen yet and he turned to fix Jim with an intense look. "Have you ever worked with horses before?"
Jim blinked. "I've been riding since I could sit up in a saddle." He answered honestly.
"Very well." He told his mother, before standing to clean his plate.
Jim weighed his options – he could kick up a fuss and fight his way out of it, or get dragged to whatever backwater ranch Spock worked at, or he could just go and spend some time with horses and escape this backwater shit hole for the days. He could always go and disappear into whatever field was next to the stable as easily as he could the field next to the house.
"Fine. But I'm sleeping in the car." He said before standing too.
Spock didn't answer but Amanda laughed. The sound sent another shudder through him. He flashed her a semi-grateful smile and then began clearing the table. After all, he was a delinquent, not lacking manners.
After the table was clear, he thanked his hosts and excused himself. When he got to the room, Spock was already lying in his (higher) bed, reading. Jim grabbed a pair of sweatpants and an old t-shirt and went to the bathroom to change and brush his teeth, and then he climbed into his new bed, ignoring the way it creaked every time he moved.
Spock's light was still on, casting shadows over the room, but he didn't say anything – he was pretty sure that even if he asked him to turn it off, he would just ignore him. Or worse, turn it up. No better to leave it.
Instead he just watched the shadows dance a little bit and listened to the sound of pages turning. His last thought before drifting off to sleep was how his mother could rest easy that night knowing that he was just as miserable as she hoped he would be.