Notes: The tense changing is quite deliberate.
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.
Barefoot in the Grasslands
She remembers their first meeting. A sticky summer; she'd been nearly nine (it was always nearly back then) and she'd heard the car pulling up outside. She'd been hiding in the roof again; nobody knew her hidey-hole up there, right in the rafters, under the tiles where the sunlight would creak through and splay patterns on the floor. She'd peeked out through the cracks, seen the silver car peeling up the dusty drive, and she'd known. New kid.
New kids always came in silver cars. Old kids went away in black ones.
They always came in the middle of the day. The place'd be quiet then – the older kids, in the summer, snuck off down the creek or into town; the younger kids would get taken off to the end of the garden by Kelly or Darren and they'd play games.
She'd dropped down from her hidey-hole and gone to watch this new kid. New kids were either good news or bad news. New targets were good news when you were only nearly nine. And for a little bit, new bullies would be too because all the bullies would focus around them and you'd be left alone, but eventually someone'd win and you'd become a target again.
When you were the black kid, you were always the target.
She remembers she'd been barefoot. She doesn't know why she remembers that bit, but she does. She'd been in her threadbare denim shorts and that big red shirt she'd loved, and she'd been silent on the stairs. Nobody coulda heard her, not even Amy Fellon with the bat ears. She'd snuck right down and gone slipping through the office like those ninjas on the telly, and she'd slithered around Kelly's door like a...like a...like another ninja.
And Kelly hadn't noticed, and the man in the boring blue suit hadn't noticed, but the new kid had noticed.
She remembers thinking he really did have bat ears.
She doesn't remember much else.
Windfield – that home, where they met – wasn't the worst. It wasn't the best, either, but it wasn't the worst. It was this big old house, with all these shadows and hiding places. In the winter, the roof seemed to shiver. In the summer, the grasses spread for miles and rasped to themselves, fat with crickets. She once said, "I've never been to Africa, but I bet it sounds like this." He'd said, "Vulcan had no grasslands." She'd thought that was sad. She still does.
The new kid was an alien. He had bat ears and big frowny eyebrows and he wore three jumpers even in the summer. He didn't say anything either, and he had to take these big fat yellow pills every morning, and Tall Johnny said they were to stop him reading their brains because he was an alien. But that was stupid, because brains weren't books; you couldn't read them.
She didn't speak to him for a whole month. He didn't speak to her either; he didn't speak to anybody. He didn't come out of his room unless Kelly made him, and when he did, he avoided them all. He bled green, not red like normal people; she noticed when he'd sit in the corner of the room, scratching at his own fingers. He always scratched – scritscritscritscrit.
Aliens were crazies, Tall Johnny said.
Some kids – some kids, nobody picked on. Nobody picked on the crazies, because crazies would do things. And the way the new kid would sit and stare and scratch – he was a crazy. And he bled green, and then Kelly would sigh and take him back to his room.
Now, she remembers thinking she could hear him scratching through the walls.
They'd run out into the grasslands once, when she was nearly ten. They'd held hands, though it hadn't meant anything back then but keep up, keep up. They ran until they couldn't hear the littlies in the garden, and then they'd fallen into the earth and listened to the crickets rasping. She'd been too hot, and she'd taken off her favourite red shirt. She'd had the very first puckers of breasts, and she hadn't liked them yet. He'd said, "It's cold." She'd hugged him for the first time, and offered him her red shirt.
He'd been there a whole month and a half before he said a word, and she never worked out why he did it – not then, not since, and not now. Maybe she'll never know, but he did it. When Tall Johnny tripped her up on the front porch and sent her sprawling down the steps, and said, "What you got money for? Niggers don't get money!" and stole it, and she'd seen him – her ninja-senses, she says so even now – just unfold from the bench where Kelly'd left him that morning.
"Give it back," he'd said, all raspy like he wasn't used to it.
"And what are you gonna do, greenstick?" Tall Johnny'd jeered. "You gonna scratch me like a fuckin' girl?"
"I'll make you give it back. And I'll make you apologise."
Tall Johnny'd just laughed at him. She'd seen it coming; she'd moved outta the way by the time the crazy's boot smashed into the side of Tall Johnny's face and sent him sprawling off the porch and into the dust, all bloody and spitting.
"You fuckin' little...!" he began, but then the crazy kicked him in the ribs, all vicious like, and he choked over and puked in the dirt like a baby and she'd snatched up her credits before he could get his sick all over them.
"C'mon!" she'd snapped, and she'd grabbed his hand and held tight even though he'd jumped like she'd shot him, and then they ran. Ran right out into the dustlands out front of the old house, out where the cars kicked up the dust off the roads, until she plunged them through her favourite hedge and down to the little creek that all the bigger kids ignored.
She dropped there, bare feet in the water, and she'd laughed, all ex-exhi – all happy, and she grinned up at him. After a bit, she tugged at his pants until he sat too, all cross-legged and stiff and scratching at his wrists again, and she said, "I'm Uhura."
"S'my last name. Nobody gets to use my first name."
She doesn't remember being asked why before then. She's tried, but she can't. She's certain he's the first one, though she can't say how she was nearly nine before anybody asked. But then, kids in care don't – didn't – ask too many questions.
"'Cause they don't," she'd said. "It's my name. What's yours?"
He scratched a groove and said, "Spock."
It was a crazy name. For a crazy. "Tall Johnny's gonna beat you up."
Spock shook his head.
"You're an alien," she'd said.
"You're black," he'd replied.
They didn't go back until dusk; aliens could see real good in the dark.
Those were the best days, in a way. Sitting there with him, her feet in the water. Half the time, they'd just ignored each other. She'd dozed in the sunlight; sometimes, he brought his strange books, and sometimes he'd just sit there and scratch and the water'd go a bit green sometimes. "Why do you do that?" she'd asked once. "It hurts," he'd said, but that didn't make any sense. It does now, but she'd just been a kid then.
Spock got put in the darkroom for what he did to Tall Johnny. She'd never been put there herself – ninjas didn't get caught! – but they all knew it. She still remembers the fear of it; the littlies would cry at just the threat, and all the bigger kids acted tough but they hated it too.
It was this lone bedroom at the end of the east corridor, without any windows and the door only locked from the outside. It had no light. Kelly'd lock you in there for the night; it was lonely, and all you'd ever hear was your own breathing. It was so dark everything pressed in on your eyeballs, and Amy Fellon swore there were spiders big as your hands that would lay eggs in your ears if you went to sleep in there.
Spock liked it. He said it was peaceful. He didn't even scratch.
Sometimes, she walks barefoot in the fountain, or opens all the windows in the apartment and makes him sit with her, their feet side-by-side in the bath. But it doesn't feel right, and one day – one day – she'll have enough credits to go to Africa, and they'll find an oasis in the grasslands, and it'll be just like then. Only better.
She turned nine, and Kelly threw her a party with a proper cake and everything. Kelly was always nice on people's birthdays; she'd always make sure you got a real present that was just for you, and you'd actually get a slice of your cake, and you'd get first turn in the bathroom before bedtime. And anyway, Uhura liked her birthday. Her birthday was a real birthday. Nobody made up her birthday just so she could have one; she had a real birthday. And her very first birthday – when she was born – would have been with her parents, and maybe her grandparents, and maybe she'd had brothers and sisters once, and maybe they'd had a dog. She thought they'd be dog people. Any good Mom and Dad would let her have a dog.
(Ironic, now, that she hates dogs.)
Spock didn't come to her birthday party. He'd scratched a big hole in his arm in the night, and Darren had taken him off to the doctor and then to the counsellor, and then he'd come home and shut himself up in his room and wouldn't come down, even when Kelly knocked on his door and offered him cake. (Crazy-crazy, to avoid free cake.)
But in the middle of the night, she remembered the ghost of him in her room, and she'd woken up in the morning to a handmade bracelet from leather strips and cotton, all woven in bright red and pretty orange and burnt yellow, tied around her bedpost.
He never admitted it, but she knew, even then.
She still wears it now.
The stitches left this big scar on his right arm. You can't see it anymore, but when he shivers in the winter, she can feel it through his jumpers. It's all uneven, and she kisses it sometimes, and he looks at her like he can't remember who she is, or who he is, or why he has a scar to kiss at all. Always, she wishes that she could just kiss it away.
Winter came, that first winter with him, and they'd tuck themselves up in her attic hidey-hole under the snow, with the blankets from her bed, and they'd spy on the world through the slate tiles and he'd shiver against her and if she tucked his hands under her armpit, he couldn't scratch. She'd tell him secrets about the other kids, and if they stayed up until after dark, he'd show her where Vulcan used to be.
School was lonely. Spock was a whole twelve years old, and she wasn't even nearly ten yet, and anyway she didn't have many friends at school. Nobody liked the care kids, and they'd giggle about her behind her hands and ask her what Africa was like and if she could speak American. But he'd be on the bus home, and she'd sit next to him and try to read his big Vulcan books over his shoulder. Eventually, he began to point out the individual letters – whorls and swirls and twists of ink – and she learned to read Standardised Vulcan (East) in the cold winter sunlight through grimy bus windows.
Somewhere before the spring, he started to say he was thirteen, but he never had a birthday. In January, when the first snow came, she stole out of Kelly's tin in her office and snuck off to buy him some gloves, red like her bracelet.
"One day," she started to say, when she'd sneak out of her room and into his in the night, to curl up under the blankets with him and practise her reading. "One day, we're gonna go to Africa. It's warm in Africa."
She remembers that winter and the feeling like it would never end, like this would be the rest of their lives, freezing to death together in Spock's narrow bed and trying to read Vulcan by torchlight. Every year, she feels the same; every year, she remembers the other feeling, that it wouldn't be so bad.
She was nearly ten when Kelly took her to buy her first bra, and told her about periods (like she didn't already know from the older girls) and that she was going to be a young lady soon. She didn't feel like a young lady, but Kelly was real adamant about it.
"And you need to stop sneaking into Spock's room," she said. "You're a young girl, and he's a growing young man, and...well. You'll be adults soon. You're not kids anymore."
"Spock's not a man, he's an alien," she'd said.
Kelly's mouth had done that weird frowny thing, and she'd shaken her a bit by the shoulders, and said: "Don't ever say that again."
"But you are," Uhura'd said, when they got home and she and Spock went and hid in his room and barricaded the door and she'd shown him her new bra and the vaguest, slightest bumps of breasts beginning to form. She hadn't wanted any breasts! "You are an alien."
"I'm Vulcan," he'd said.
"Human is alien to me," he'd replied, and she'd put her shirt back on.
"Huh. Can I read more?"
She remembers, in a very detached way, being young enough that showing someone her breasts meant nothing, when it was as unimportant as showing someone your face or your wrists or the nails on your toes. She remembers going to Spock's bed and not noticing where her breasts pressed into his arm or his chest. She thinks she can remember Spock being young to touch them sometimes, but she isn't quite sure of that.
Just after she was ten, Jacob and Mary Miller came to Windfield. They were all big toothy smiles and he smelled of wood and grass in the spring, and she smelled of baking and flowers, and she'd patted Uhura's braids and said, "Oh aren't you a pretty thing?" She said 'thing' more like 'thang.'
Uhura hadn't been anywhere but kids' homes since she was four and the Mwases decided they didn't want her anymore, but the Millers just beamed at her bare feet and her braids and then a week later, Kelly was filling out forms and packing Uhura's bag.
"But," she'd said, pulling on Mary's skirt. "Spock can come visit, right?"
"Of course he can, sugar," and she ducked out of the next pat on the hair to go and find him.
He was in her hiding place in the attic, just sitting. He'd started doing that a lot, and he didn't move when she crunched in next to him and squeezed up tight.
"Mary says you can come and visit," she said. "You can come over after school."
He didn't say anything, and she tried to cuddle up proper. He still wasn't all that receptive to hugs. (She knows now that she's never going to change that one.)
"We'll still be us," she promised. "You'll see."
He said nothing, and when Uhura finally went down again to get packed into the back of a bright red car (an old-fashioned one, not a hovercar, but she didn't like hovercars anyway) he didn't come down.
He never tells her what happened in those months. She's asked and pushed and poked over the years, but he never tells her. She can do enough math to work it out for herself – the way nobody ever bullied him again at Windfield after, the way he'd walk into a room and empty it, the way those thick lines of scarred tissue at his wrists spread right up to his elbows, the way when he got into that fight with that city idiot years later, he knew exactly what to do with his fists...
She knows, but he won't tell her.
She stayed with the Millers a whole eight months. She had to move schools, and there were more black kids at her new school, and Mary signed her up for ballet lessons which had been her dream forever, and Jacob would sing in Arabic when he was working in the garage so she started to learn a whole new language. She got her very own bedroom, with a double bed and pillows as thick as the mattress, and she could go downstairs for a glass of milk whenever she wanted.
There were the bad things too. Mary didn't like her walking around barefoot – "Honey, you gotta wear shoes outside and slippers inside, those are the rules!" – and they both used her first name when they weren't allowed, and they kept trying to persuade her to give up Uhura.
"You got a new family now, kiddo," Jacob said, and Uhura'd scowled and pulled away.
"It's my Dad's name," she said. She couldn't remember Dad, but she had a picture of him and Mom, and they were her Mom and Dad. She had some. She didn't need new ones. "It's my name."
They didn't like that, but she never got locked in her room, so she didn't care.
She didn't like her new school, though. The other kids all expected her to hang around with the black kids, and she didn't like any of them. They spoke funny and they listened to all the wrong music and they'd pull her braids and tell her to cut them short. The brown kids and the white kids did the same: hung around in colour-cliques and refused to cross boundaries, and the odd time she tried to talk to the only alien in her grade, she'd be regarded with suspicion and told to go away. At least in her old school, the care kids had hung out together even if they didn't like each other very much ordinarily. Here, there was nobody – nobody she even knew, never mind anyone to keep her company in class and at lunch break.
Still it was worth it, she figured. She didn't have to share her things, or protect them from marauding bullies in the house. Mary Miller's cooking was way better than Darren's at Windfield, and she could have seconds any time she liked. And ballet was – well. She used to think everyone should have ballet lessons.
On Fridays, Mary would pick her up from school and take her all the way over to her old school to pick up Spock too. Uhura knew, even back then, that Mary didn't really like Spock, but she hadn't cared, too happy to be able to pull him into the back seat with her and stutter out the broken Vulcan greetings he'd taught her in the night in Windfield. He was unfailingly polite to her foster parents, but she'd always drag him off upstairs the moment they got home. The Millers didn't have an attic, but her bedroom had this big walk-in closet and she'd cleared a space in the corner for their new hiding place. They were getting too big for it, really, but they crushed up close and would whisper to each other like they were little kids again.
Sometimes he'd just stay until Saturday, and sometimes the whole weekend. Mary would always make up the spare room, but Uhura would extract him again some time in the night after the Millers went to bed, and they'd curl up in the middle of her double bed and whisper in Vulcan. Spock always sounded so much fiercer in his own language, so much more alive. Sometimes, she wondered if she'd sound more alive in her parents' language, but back then she didn't even know which one they'd spoken. Sometimes she wished she could remember everything, like Spock, but sometimes she didn't. Maybe it hurt more, to really remember dead people. At least she couldn't remember losing her Mom and Dad; even then, she thought Spock could.
Mary didn't like it. Jacob probably hadn't liked it either, but he never really said much. But Mary didn't like it – she'd get this pinched expression whenever Uhura talked about Spock, and she'd try to insist that they slept in separate beds, and she started planning things for the 'family' to do on weekends that Spock couldn't come to. Uhura had hated that. That had been the first fight, and she'd run off to the park by herself, barefoot and alone, like she was back in the home.
Seven and a half months after she left Windfield, she overheard Mary's, "If we just keep her busy, she'll forget all about that Vulcan boy. She likes her ballet classes; maybe we should sign her up for singing lessons. She's got a good voice."
Uhura had snuck away, packed a bag, and slipped out. It was the first time she'd run away, and she only stayed out until nine in the evening, when a police car with a blonde policewoman with a nice smile picked her up. But she kept it up, every night, on and on and on and on and on and on and on...
The Millers returned her to Windfield ready for the spring. She had dropped her bag back in her old room, crept up to the attic, and squeezed in beside Spock.
"I'm home," she said.
It was the last time she'd get fostered.
At the time, it wasn't a divider, but she remembers it that way now. That was the moment they stopped being kids playing at friendship, and began to grow up. That was the first time she held his hand and thought home.
They hadn't quite been kids anymore.