Notes: The tense changing is quite deliberate.
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.
Windfield didn't keep kids forever. They only kept the little kids; when you turned fourteen, you'd be shunted off to Leopold House, across the town. Spock waited it out longer than most, because nobody knew when his Terran birthday should have been, and then one day Kelly worked it out and they took him away in the big black car.
Uhura didn't mind too much. She was a grand old eleven before they took him away, old enough to skip school and go down to the creek with him and ignore the world. They played truant more than either of them attended school; Spock got his alien hands on more Vulcan books somehow, and they'd read out under the sun. When it got cold, they'd sneak back into Windfield and hide in the attic. They barely fit anymore; she had to sit in his lap and listen to him breathe as they practised.
They never got caught. She got shouted at plenty for skipping, but the world didn't care about diplomas anymore. Vulcan was gone; the idyll that her Mom and Dad probably knew had long since gone. There was always work for people who could turn a screw and make weapons. Even then, Uhura knew you couldn't fight Klingons and Romulans with talking.
So the years passed, and then the car was coming for Uhura too, and she had a new room – a narrow, chilly little thing – in a new building, that she didn't have to share with anybody, and a bathroom door that locked properly. She discovered privacy, and fantasy, and masturbation, and Spock was once more just down the hall, and in her head when she touched herself for the first time.
Something had changed. He had these wide shoulders and narrow hips and a gravity to his face; he looked stern and fierce and when he clenched his fists, she could see him smashing Tall Johnny in the head again, only this time doing a lot more damage. His eyebrows were deep grooves under overgrown hair, and his ears were no longer pinched, but tightened into a sharp point. And when she touched them, just the once, he jerked away and flushed.
Somewhere – she didn't quite know where, but somewhere – he'd become a man. He was nearly seventeen years old, and he'd quite suddenly become a man. In the testosterone stench of Leopold House, with the feuding boys and the sharp-tongued girls that the system had abandoned, his wild danger was suddenly obvious.
She doesn't remember when she stopped thinking of him as her best friend; she does remember the first time she really looked at him.
Spock has been hers so long that she forgets, sometimes, what other people see. She forgets that he's alien, and she forgets that he was born on a world that no longer exists, and she forgets that his brain was wired differently to hers and that over years of a human upbringing, and a messy one at that, the wires have gotten tangled.
She remembers again sometimes, when he crushes a door handle in a fit of rage, or quite literally tears off her dress like it's made of tissue paper, but she doesn't mind. He's fierce and furious, but he's never out of control. Not with her. She keeps him under control, and when he loses that and becomes that primal, snarling animal...she isn't afraid.
She's never been afraid of him. Maybe that's what everyone missed all along.
Spock put his fist through a wall at Leopold House, when Andy Snow tried to put his hand up her skirt, and they sent him to a counsellor. He hated the counsellor; he would return on those Tuesday afternoons raging, and she would grip his hands and say, "He's an idiot," and, "Calm down." If she held his hands, he calmed down. If she didn't, he would rage and destroy things and one time one of the care workers, David, came into the room to stop him and ended up with a fractured cheekbone.
"He's dangerous," the other kids whispered. "He's going to kill someone."
He wasn't the first kid to lash out; they left him alone. And the boys left Uhura alone, and she held his hands when he raged, and everything was fine.
She wonders what Spock would be like if he'd been raised Vulcan. Would she like him? More to the point, would he like her?
They started to change his medication. The yellow pills became orange capsules twice a day, and – Uhura hated them. She hated them. When Spock took those, his eyes would glaze over and he'd be still and quiet and calm, but not good calm, like when she held his hands. Absent calm, like he wasn't even there, like he was disappearing and just didn't care.
"You have to stop taking them," she told him once.
"I can't," he said numbly. "It's only quiet when I take them."
Uhura liked language and voices and speech. She didn't like quiet.
She wakes in the night sometimes, and he's in her head, quiet and asleep. But it's not the same kind of quiet. He sleeps in the back of her mind, where she keeps pictures of Africa, buried in the sand dunes and the scrublands. He's warm and heavy and she's only human and can't do it, but if she could hug him with her mind, she would. She sleeps – and wakes – best when he's inside.
She stole books from the school library – fat, ancient textbooks from when knowing anything about Vulcans was important – and devoured them, absorbing anything and everything she could find. The history, the politics, the planet itself and the people on it, culture and art and science and language and even pictures, hundreds of pictures of a stern-faced, dark-eyed people with arching eyebrows and pointed ears and long, long fingers, just like him.
And they were telepaths, the books said. They could touch people and read their minds – but sometimes they didn't need to touch, and they didn't have any emotions, and they were all logical and meditated everywhere and had these principles from some ancient prophet (or something like that) called Surak.
Spock had that book; she had learned to read from it. The Vulcan Bible.
She'd taken him the book, and told him to try the meditating stuff, and stop taking the orange pills. He had looked at her and said, "If I don't, I can hear everything."
"So tell me their secrets."
She'd held his hands; he'd folded up small on the floor of her room and gone still and quiet, and she'd thought about the grasslands. He had smiled, for the very first time, and the scratches up his arms began to heal.
She has words for it now, what she is to him when he folds up in the corners of the world and stills for a while. It hasn't changed much; in her, he finds that calm that makes him suddenly Vulcan as opposed to a merely volatile man. Sometimes he can do it alone; sometimes not. She doesn't mind; he is as natural to her as breathing by now.
He began to calm a little after that, though he was still volatile in the hour or so before his next pill. She still hated them – with a passion, hated them – but she kept quiet in exchange for being allowed to hold his hand when he shied away from everyone else, refusing to touch or be touched.
She turned fifteen. Leopold House didn't do birthdays; they weren't kids naive enough to think they'd ever find homes anymore. But Spock did her birthday: they went to the creek in the grasslands that they hadn't visited since they were children, and he gave her a cheap stone on a black string. The stone glittered deep red; it was cool against her chest when she looped the string on over her head.
They stayed out until the stars began to blink, and the bright haze of a shuttle cruising in the upper atmosphere streamed across the sky. He looked exotic in the grass and the dull moonlight, and she held his hand and dreamed of more.
She thinks, now, that she wants to see the African grasslands not because of some vague identity of that having been – or that it should have been – home, but to see Spock under that sky, too.
She had always envied the pretty girls. She was a plain child, always passed over when people came to Windfield; the Millers were the only ones who'd ever commented. But she was fifteen, and not a little girl anymore - as much as Spock was changing, she was as well. Her cheekbones had made themselves known, and her eyes had followed them; her hair had slowly lost its curls over the years, her legs had taken over from the rest of her body, and her hips mirrored her small, pert breasts.
Somewhere along the line, she had become pretty.
When Spock looked at her, she felt beautiful, and wondered if her breasts would not fit perfectly into his long-fingered hands.
She can say now that they do.
She was fifteen years old and eighteen days when Spock smashed the doorframe to the study room. She can't remember what set him off – probably Andy Snow again – but she remembers seizing his arm and dragging him outside into the sunlight. They ran, before anyone could catch up, and disappeared through the hedges to the emptiness north of the town. It wasn't the grasslands, but it was lonely and bare and they hunkered down a mile from Leopold House against lonely, rotting fenceposts, breathless and – her, anyway – feeling a little like runaway children.
She had laughed, and said something like, "You're going to have your allowance cut again," and his hands had suddenly been cool on her shoulders and he'd kissed her, sharp and surprising and just that little bit strange. She had stared at him, bitten her lip, and kissed him back. His hands, when they slid up under her shirt and lightly touched her bra, had none of their youthful innocence. Hers, when she undid it, were certain.
That was their first kiss, their first fumbling beginning, the first time she thought of him and knew the ideas that were taking shape. It was not the last.
She lost her virginity three days later, to him, in the darkness of the early morning in her room. It had hurt a little, and he had murmured in Vulcan to her, and his hand was a pale splash of colour against her breast. She had held it there through the night, feeling a pulse fast as a hummingbird in the wrist, and nowhere near as delicate.
She still remembers what it is to be a girl in love.
She is still in love.
It was easy. Perhaps it always had been. She still snuck into his room in the dead of night, but they no longer slept much. Sometimes they walked the six miles back from school together; if she kissed him, there would be a moment when she could have sworn she felt him reach for her even if he didn't physically move.
She felt powerful, with him. She felt as though if she only held on, she controlled not just him, but the world. She controlled the both of them, and the universe around them. If she wanted to drive away the Romulan threat, then she could. If she wanted to fix things, then she could. If she wanted to fix him...
"Stop taking the pills," she whispered in the dark once, and he paused.
"Nyota," she corrected, for the first time. "Stop taking them. Be you. You're alright when you're with me."
He started flushing the pills the next morning. She still does not regret it.
"...made a formal declaration of war with the Romulan Star Empire at six o'clock this morning after the latest in a series of attacks against Tellarite ships along the borders of the Neutral Zone. Upon receiving news of the declaration, the Andorian Empire also declared war, meaning that all former Federation members, with the obvious exception of Vulcan, have declared themselves at odds with the Romulans. The decision of the Andorians to join a conflict sparked by the destruction of Vulcan is one that..."
She still remembers every word.
Spock was nearly eighteen when war was declared, and in times of conflict or open war, everybody knew what happened to the unwanted kids, ever since Vulcan and the collapse of the Federation.
They were recruited.
When Vulcan had been destroyed, it had taken the Federation with it. But the destroyer, Emperor Nero, had returned to Romulus and bolstered the Empire's power, and the former Federation members had never been allowed to sit back and count their losses. Starfleet was a shattered shadow of its former self, staffed with the useless and the unwanted, the kids churned out by prisons and juvenile courts and care homes with nowhere else to go but space, to the deaths that awaited.
"You can't go," she told him that night.
"I can't stay," he replied.
"Run," she said. "You'll find work, easily. The ammunitions factories and the shipyards always want strong people. You won't need your bioID."
"They will resort to conscription."
"Not for a while. If you find work in the shipyards, then they won't conscript you at all," she insisted.
His fingers curled at her back. "The Vulcan way is one of accepting one's responsibilities..."
"You're not Vulcan," she said. "You're Human."
She felt that odd burst of warmth in the back of her mind when they lay close. "Like you."
"Like me," she agreed. "You have to go."
"Then you have to come with me."
"What?" she still remembers that cold jar of shock down her back, and the way the warm feeling popped.
"They will not stop at the men. They will take everyone; war with the Romulans will be long," he spoke slowly, as if in memory. "They may even drop the age of conscription. If they do not recruit you now, then they will before it's over. If I am going, then you are as well."
She doesn't quite remember saying yes; she does remember, before the dawn broke, slipping from Leopold House hand-in-hand, with stolen credits and a single bag each. She remembers picking a destination off the list at the domestic terminal at random, stabbing her finger into a map and making Spock read the name before opening her eyes.
She remembers being fifteen, in sneakers on concrete, and feeling simultaneously absolutely trapped, and absolutely free.
She still has her citizenship card stolen from the office at Leopold House. Her bioID was burned somewhere along the line. Her citizenship card is green and faded, the chip for the iris scan almost completely worn away. Spock's is a dual card, striped green and white. There is no chip; Vulcan privacy, long since rendered useless, meant he'd never had an iris scan at all.
Domestic shuttles were cheap, nasty hoverbuses with souped-up engines back then. The government had had better places to shuffle the money. They crushed together in a pair of narrow seats, and an old man clucked and said, "Been called up? Headin' to the bases?"
"Yes," she'd said.
"Kinda young, aintcha?" he squinted at her.
"They aren't being picky," she said tartly, and the old guy left it. Spock curled his hand around her waist and dropped his head back. He hadn't cut his hair in weeks; the points of his ears were completely hidden. They were headed north; she wondered if he had warm enough clothes for this.
When they stopped at the first station to recharge the shuttle batteries, she slipped out to the bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror. She remembers thinking, What are you doing? You're only fifteen. They won't come for you yet!
She doesn't remember ever answering herself.
Spock got rid of their bioIDs, and the tracer chips inside them, on that first shuttle journey. At the time, she didn't think to ask what he'd done with them. Now, she daren't. Vulcans are a lot trickier and a lot more cunning than Spock ever led her to believe back then, and apparently it's nature, not nurture.
Looking back, she was still a child. Running away in sneakers and jeans with her hair still in those beaded braids she'd loved in her teenage years, and two hundred credits in her pocket like it would ever last outside of a small town, hand-in-hand with a Vulcan she still referred to as 'my boyfriend' in her head with the silly, childish love hearts and everything. She'd been a kid. She didn't know anything of the real world.
That first night away from Leopold House, shivering in a chilly Detroit homeless shelter and trying to wrap around Spock's tense, sleepless shoulders as much as she could, she began to be an adult.