News travels fast, and so Spock was unsurprised to find that their Chief Medical Officer was waiting for him outside their young captain’s cabin door.
“Doctor, I do not require your interference with disciplinary measures,” the Vulcan said stiffly, cutting off what looked to be a protest before the doctor could even open his mouth.
For once, the human nodded. McCoy wasn’t an idiot, and even though they didn’t see eye to eye very often, he and Spock had agreed at the inception of this de-aging mess that Spock would have final say over the child and his development, other than strictly medical issues. He had agreed to it more because he knew it was best for Jim to have a consistent disciplinary figure than that he was comfortable with letting a Vulcan practically raise a needy human child; but he had agreed, and he kept his word.
“I’m not fighting your decision to punish him for physical violence, Spock,” he replied, arms folded. He leaned against the wall of the corridor and sighed. “Lord knows he needs to think before he acts and there’s no better person to teach him about controlling his impulses than you. But I medically speaking need to question what you intend to do.”
Spock looked slightly mystified. “I had planned to leave him time alone to reflect upon his behavior, explain to him the proper method of dealing with such issues in future, and disallow him to leave the cabin for the duration of the evening.” At the physician’s slightly relieved look, he raised an inquiring eyebrow. “Surely you did not believe I would advocate physical pain as punishment, Doctor?”
“Well I didn’t think that would be your go-to, but everyone’s different, Spock, and your culture isn't exactly forthcoming about what your childrearing methods are. My grandmomma never had anything against a good spanking, but precious few humans do that properly nowadays without seriously hurting a kid, is the thing.” The physician reflected with a shrug. “And for another, Jim’s pain threshold is so high it wouldn’t mean a thing to him anyway. Besides, it would develop some awkwardness when he returns to his own age.”
“I concur completely with the latter, and would never think of performing such an action.”
“Good. We have no idea how your people discipline, Mr. Spock, so I just wanted to make sure.”
“I assure you, Doctor, that the idea of raising a hand to a child is abhorrent to Vulcan philosophy. However, I grant you the fact that human children are rarely as well-behaved from infancy as a Vulcan child, and I am not an expert in such matters. I can only state that I would never do such a thing.”
“I’m not debating morals regarding punishments, just trying to look out for Jim,” the doctor agreed. “Joanna only ever needed timeouts, but then she wasn't anywhere near the handful Jim has been, so we're both playing this by ear. But…look, Spock.” Blue eyes flickered worriedly toward the closed cabin door. “You’re going to have to be really careful with him.”
“Your idea of punishment is to leave him alone in his cabin, not allowed to leave it until tomorrow,” McCoy said gently. “Spock, the kid’s biggest fear is being alone and the next change he goes through could fling him straight into Tarsus IV post-traumatic stress disorder; you could destroy him tonight if you disallow any interaction with other people. No matter what he’s done, he needs you, or at least someone.”
Spock’s eyes, which had been darkened with worry, lightened suddenly, as his features relaxed. “Doctor, I assure you I have no intention of not permitting him company or recreation if he wishes it. In fact, I anticipate using the exact scenario you describe as a tool to teach him a valuable lesson.”
“Quite,” he answered. “Doctor, we are speaking of the man who invented the Corbomite Maneuver, which is a term now used in tactical classes at Starfleet Academy meaning a devious and unorthodox tactic. I believe you humans call it ‘thinking outside the box’.”
“Ohhhhhh.” The doctor grinned. “You’re going to tell him he can’t leave the cabin, but you’re not going to tell him that other people can come and go if he wants and that he can do anything he wants inside the cabin. He has to figure that loophole out for himself?”
“Precisely, Doctor.” Spock was slightly relieved to see that the CMO appeared to fully support his decision. “But for now, he must be made to understand that his most powerful weapon against a superior strength is not physical violence. If you will excuse me?”
Spock was not, as the saying went, looking forward to this confrontation. More so than ever before, it was an indication of child versus parent, a matter of parental discipline. The fact that this incorrigible child would (hopefully in a matter of days) become again his adult captain made the matter extremely awkward, and not a little volatile. Spock was considerably out of his depth; he refused to treat the child as a youngling, and yet some sort of discipline was merited for the young man’s actions. As the principal overseer of Jim’s care, that duty fell to him.
He was certainly never going to consider children of his own, even if he did eventually acquire another bond-mate; that would be discussed prior to any other factor in such a union. This was quite enough experience for even the most curious of scientific minds.
Unsure of his approach despite his apparent self-confidence in the face of Dr. McCoy’s questioning, he decided finally to approach the child as he would the adult, with a few minor adjustments. Jim was sitting on his bed when the Vulcan entered, half-heartedly flicking with care through the pages of an antique volume of literature. When the door opened to admit the austere figure waiting outside, the child hastily shoved the book under the nearest pillow, as if afraid of being caught doing something he should not.
Spock chose for the moment to ignore the misconception, and merely took a seat on the bed beside the downcast child, purposely moving closer than he normally would seat himself to another being. Jim’s sandy hair had flopped over his face, partially concealing his eyes, and the whole little body drooped with shame as he peeked hesitantly upward.
“Why you here?” he asked sadly. “I wasn’t gonna go anywhere when you said not to.”
Spock settled into a more comfortable position; they might as well take this slowly and with as little mental and emotional strain on the other as possible. The child after a moment’s hesitation wriggled into the same position, mirroring him, legs curled under him on the bedspread.
“I came for several reasons, Jim,” he began, watching the child’s face for a reaction. “The first, being to…apologize, to you.”
That got a reaction, certainly; the young one’s head jerked up in surprise, eyes wide. “Huh? What for?”
“I discredited you in front of your crew,” Spock replied, and with sincerity; this was a vice he had sworn never to permit, from the moment he gave this man his loyalty four years ago. The fact that his captain was a ten-year-old child did not negate his responsibility to that promise. “That is unacceptable. I was at a loss to control the situation and did not handle your emotion properly.”
The incredulous look he received stirred the very human and ridiculous urge to smile, for the child had instantly forgotten his own embarrassment in the face of the completely unexpected.
“That’s a load of bull.“
“Well, it is,” the child snickered, for the first time smiling up at him. “I think I got off lucky, myself. You’re awful scary for somebody who says he don’t feel emotions and all that stuff.”
Spock overlooked the grammatical error in favor of moving on. “Be that as it may, I am not above apologizing for precipitous actions. Despite circumstances, you are still the captain of this crew, and as such my public censure of you was unwarranted.”
The child’s eyes crossed slightly. “Uh…”
A silent sigh, and a resolve to increase the child’s lessons in vocabulary. “Jim, I am sorry for embarrassing you.”
“Oh.” Hazel eyes blinked in surprise, and then the boy smiled. “That’s okay; I guess I deserved to get chewed out. Ma would’ve had a cow if I’d done that to somebody at home.”
Spock was assailed by yet another unpleasant mental image conjured up from unfamiliar human metaphors; he did not wish to know where that one had originated and so did not even consider asking. “You deserved a reprimand, but not to be publicly embarrassed, Jim. Now, regarding your treatment of Doctor Bannerman.”
Anger flared again in the child’s eyes. “I’m not gonna say I’m sorry to him, if that’s what you’re holdin’ out for me to do, Spock.”
“I had no intention of requiring it of you; apologies should be both given in sincerity, and deserved by the offended party. Neither of those is true in this case.”
The boy smirked.
“Nonetheless,” he continued sternly, and Jim quailed under his look, “such behavior was and is unacceptable. You must learn, and learn well, that there are more effective methods of defense than doing physical harm to others.”
“Like what?” the child snorted. “I’m ten! What, I should’ve asked him nicely to not say something like that again?”
“Not necessarily, though it would have been a preferable beginning,” Spock said severely. “While your intentions were honorable, your method of defending the Lieutenant’s honor was not acceptable behavior for the level of offense given.”
The child folded his arms, obviously unconvinced. “What would you’ve done, then, if you know so much?” he grumbled plaintively.
Spock paused, considering. Then, “I would have locked him and his cohorts in the brig,” he replied at length.
Jim’s eyes bugged. “Put ‘em in ship’s jail just for telling a dirty joke? You wouldn’t get away with that!”
“And there, Jim, you have the difference between the child you are and the adult you will become,” Spock replied quietly.
The boy picked at a ball of fuzz stuck to the bedspread. “I don’t understand, Spock.”
“Had I given that order, what do you suppose would have happened?”
“Mr. Giotto would’ve locked ‘em up.”
“And why would he, when we both know the offense was not severe enough to warrant a night’s imprisonment?”
“Because…because you’re the captain, and you’re in charge?”
“Partially, Jim.” He watched as the child began to think, frowning in concentration. “But the captain of a starship cannot make up his own rules. Lieutenant-Commander Giotto knows this. Why then would he perform a duty he knows is not technically valid, even if I gave the order?”
“Because…” sandy brows contracted in thought. “Because he…”
“Yes?” Spock leaned forward slightly. “Because he does what regarding myself, Jim?”
“Because he trusts you?”
His lips quirked. “Precisely, Jim. This crew is renowned across the galaxy for trusting, and thereby being completely loyal to, her captain. I would not have needed to justify the order for it to be followed.”
Jim pondered this for a few minutes, and then looked slyly back up at him. “Sure that’s all you would’ve done, if you’d heard what he said about Lieutenant Uhura or anybody else aboard?” the child asked shrewdly.
Spock hesitated. Ah, but he was only a child and, more importantly, a child Jim Kirk. It would not matter overmuch, then, and the adult would later appreciate the humor.
“While I would never have participated in the active reminder which you administered to the doctor, I nonetheless…would not have objected had someone else done so,” he admitted, mentally cringing as a wide-eyed look of mirth began creeping across this perceptive child’s face.
“So you’re saying part of being captain is letting your minions do the dirty work so you don’t get in trouble yourself?” Jim asked, with obvious glee.
“Minions is not a term I would apply to a capable and professional starship crew,” the Vulcan replied primly.
Jim dissolved into a fit of giggles, reminding Spock that this was still only a child and not the adult (though the adult Jim giggled too when provoked, much to his ego’s dismay and his crew’s fond amusement). He fell over onto the nearest pillow, smiling and waving a hand up in the air to punctuate his amusement.
“I am gratified to see we understand each other,” Spock said dryly. “However, Jim, there is still the matter of your punishment for your actions today. You are not yet a starship captain; you are a child, and your behavior was childish.”
The boy sighed, flinging an arm over his eyes. “Lemme guess, I can’t have any sugar for a week?”
“Negative,” Spock said, somewhat mystified that Jim would immediately latch onto that as being the worst conceivable punishment, but noting it for possibilities later. “You will simply remain in this cabin until you are relieved for your daily educational period tomorrow.”
One eye cracked open, peering over the side of the gold-clad arm. “You’re grounding me?”
“I am not familiar with the term, but if it means disallowing you egress from this room then that is correct.”
“You’re familiar with the word egress and not grounding,” the child snorted, grinning lopsidedly up at him. “You’re like, amazing, you know that?”
Spock was beyond out of his depth now, drowning in a sea of chaos; for he could not comprehend the complexity of human emotions in the form of this unique ten-year-old being. Also, the number of instances in which he could clearly see glimpses of the adult shining through the child were becoming more frequent, and more unsettling.
He stood to leave. “See that you do not leave this room until tomorrow, Jim. I trust you will use a portion of that time to reflect upon our conversations, and to decide for yourself if I am correct in indicating that there are better methods of solving disputes than with physical altercations. Am I understood?”
“Can I read while I’m in here?” the child asked hesitantly.
Spock nodded, not clarifying any further.
“Will you…will you be back? Sometime?”
His heart clenched a little at the small plea, but he had a lesson in mind to teach the child and this was part of it. “I cannot promise that,” he replied impassively, and resolutely steeled himself against the resulting droop of small shoulders. “You must use the power of your own mind, young one, to find methods of passing the time yourself. My only ‘rule,’ as you would put it, is that you must remain inside this cabin.”
”Yes, sir,” the child whispered, fidgeting with the ball of lint he’d finally plucked off the bedspread.
Spock nodded, and walked out before he became the latest in an onslaught of victims who had fallen before the power of Jim Kirk ‘puppy eyes.’
“You’re not going to lock the door?”
Spock turned, to see that McCoy had waited and was lounging against the wall halfway down the corridor. He would not have been at all surprised to learn that the physician had been eavesdropping.
“Negative; I see no reason to do so. The computer will alert me if he moves outside his parameters, and he is also aware of that fact.”
“Want to make a little wager, Spock?”
“Regarding what, Doctor, that he will remain inside to accept his punishment?”
“Oh, I believe he won’t get out, just because he worships the ground you walk on and you told him to. I’m more worried about what he’s going to coax into that room in the next twelve hours.”
Spock glanced ruefully back toward the door. “Were I so foolish as to indulge in the appalling vice known as ‘gambling,’ Doctor, I believe I would be more likely to wager that he will find a way to wreak havoc aboard without either leaving or enticing others to join him.”
The doctor shuffled uneasily, looking over his shoulder as they entered the turbolift together. “Sickbay.” The doors shut and lights began to flicker past the lift windows. “Spock, if he creates a warp bubble and traps himself inside it, technically he can move about the ship without leaving that room…look, I’m joking, d’you really think he could without Alpha-level Clearance?!”
The lift slowed to stop on a corridor and let Engineer Rupert Bryce on, who had transferred aboard only recently, just before the captainal de-aging crisis. Somewhat nervous at sharing the lift with two iconic superiors, he made himself as invisible as possible and spoke not a word.
“Doctor, his next age jump will most likely put him past the usual age for puberty; should he change tonight, the computer will then be able to recognize his adult voice for override purposes. Creating a warp bubble is certainly not outside his capabilities.”
McCoy’s eyes widened in genuine alarm, until he caught the telltale minute twitch at the corner of the Vulcan’s lips and eyes.
“Oh, you are a dead Vulcan as soon as I can dig out that culture of choriocytosis from Experimental’s cryo-storage,” McCoy growled, petulantly folding his arms and leaning against the wall of the lift. “I will let you die in agony, you hear me?”
“In that case, I remind you that you have full custody of the child in the event of my death; I believe you would say, right in time for the teen years?”
“Ohhhhh, no! Nonono! I am not giving the it-is-a-matter-of-biology talk to that particular kid! I’m his doctor, not his father!”
The new engineer covered his ears and decided he really, really didn’t want to know.