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The Very Counterfeit of Death

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Jim was like 98% sure he’d prefer this situation to the alternative, which was the only reason he was going along with it.

That, and despite all his efforts to act towards the contrary, he was still just, so, so tired. He weighed into the 50th percentile, now, you could no longer see the shape of his skull through the skin on his face, and his eyes were no longer dull.

He was still as tired as he had been eight months ago, making 98% sure enough for him not to waste any energy on the nightmare of going back to live with Frank. After all, not even two years ago, he’d thought there was no situation worse than living with the bastard.

Jim knows now that wasn’t strictly true, but a dark side of him debates it in his head often enough that he also knows there’s no way he’s going to go back.

So that left option two, which Jim would have been a hell of a lot more confident in if it weren’t for the bizzarity of the idea of sending an emotionally compromised, PTSD stricken 13 year old to live with Vulcans.

 

The idea had been proposed around six months ago, when his attending physician aboard the U.S.S. Izlet Miru had asked if he was ready to speak to his legal guardian, and he had snarled out that he would rather die. He may have also added a colorful description of why, just to be petty.

Doctor Boyce’s eyes had turned dark and sad, and he’d stormed away, muttering under his breath about what he would do to someone named Chris if something wasn’t taken cared of.

Jim laughed about this a lot, now that he knew Doctor Boyce was talking about Commander Pike. The good doctor was a pacifist, and there was still no one he was less likely to harm than the ship’s young XO.

There was no need to test the theory though, because the Commander had been equally outraged.

With Pike’s help, they had been able to convince the Federation’s child care workers that George Kirk: Starfleet Hero's kid needed to find a new living arrangement. One that didn’t involve staying with the creep who was living in George Kirk: Starfleet Hero's house in Nowhere, Iowa, bruising up his kid and cheating on his widow. At least until said widow came back from the black, off on the edges of the unknown, where discovery happened and intergalactic calls didn’t.

The child care workers had already had to deal with Jim's stunning number of dilemmas that came with being George Kirk: Starfleet Hero's kid. They weren't as used to these dilemmas as Jim was, though he thought they were handling it admirably.

Striking the name of George Kirk: Starfleet Hero’s kid from the list of Tarsus survivors didn't result in any alcoholism, for example… at least until Jim had gotten tired of the proceedings and done it himself. Separating Jim from his kids, (the whole nine week process of it) had only involved two resignations.

Telling Jim that he couldn’t tell his mother about Tarsus until she had completed her tour of duty went slightly less smoothly. They told him Starfleet didn’t want their best engineer emotionally compromised. They had spent days justifying it to him. In the end, Jim had stared them down with a terrifying, piercing gaze from his sick bed. He'd said Winona Lawson was tougher than Starfleet’s entire broken, manipulative administration. If dealing with fifteen years of duty away from home and her kids forced upon her three years after her husband died didn’t prove that, they were idiots.

After two months of dealing with George Kirk: Starfleet Hero's kid, they seemed pretty content to let someone else take some responsibility for their least favorite patient and keep them from having to put George Kirk: Starfleet Hero’s kid into the foster care system. But maybe Jim was just projecting.

Jim very much appreciated that Commander Pike had offered seconds later to adopt him. He was still glad that Doctor Boyce had been present to call him “Chris, honey,” very platonically and tell him all the reasons that was a Very Bad Idea.

(Reason number one being no one could ground Pike for all the good in the galaxy, and space wasn’t an approved address listing for a trauma survivor.)

 

And that was when the Vulcan head botanist had the brilliant idea to send him off to the middle of the desert.

Jim had almost laughed, because he knew enough about Vulcans from Hoshi to know they wouldn’t think highly of Jim.

Remembering Hoshi was enough, though, for Jim to sober and sit up straight as he could in his seat to look the Vulcan in the eye.

The Vulcan, who Jim had recognized as Lieutenant Commander S'yekh Pi’hirat Senn, had stared back, not bothering even a passing glance over his hollow face, or the bandages that had at the time covered more of him than not. That, more than any of the cool, even assurances Senn had made, left Jim satisfied despite the lack of alternatives.

He didn’t like being backed into corners, but he was tired, and it was fine.

 

The six months necessary for Jim to be physically healthy and functional enough to leave his medical team for Vulcan’s harsh conditions went by like a whirlwind.

He finally managed to coerce the child support workers into getting him into contact with his kids, and every day Jim would sit in the medbay and listen to Angie and Matty regale the latest adventures in their more high profile recovery over the comm.

At least, every day until Beth accidentally mentioned catching up with JT on a live camera and had gossip mongers across the galaxy ready to fix their grimy claws into her for details. Starfleet released a press statement about an undisclosed 9th survivor who would appreciate privacy, (as if the eight other children wouldn’t), and forbade Jim from keeping in contact to maintain secrecy.

So now it was every night, through Amelia’s aunt’s comm while the guardians distracted the camera people with their tear stricken, if maybe slightly overdone accounts of harrowing moments they had experienced with the kids.

 

Miss Genevieve, Lisette’s old dance teacher and the only person willing to take in the traumatized eight year old, was Jim’s favorite to watch on screen.

Maybe it was because he knew them, because he had looked all of them in the eyes to see if they would actually do what was best for his kids before he left them together out of his line of sight, but the mourning and anguish the guardians showed on TV was so hilarious.

When Jim had watched an interview of Miss Genevieve, for example, he told Commander Pike those tears in her eyes were real good evidence of her performing arts degree. Pike had gotten all panicked about Jim’s emotional state for a minute, but eased up and jokingly called him a cynic when Jim smiled at him.

He didn’t think it was cynicism, though.

When Miss Genevieve had gotten through administration to see Lisette, she hadn’t been crying. She had been a little flushed and out of breath, but she took one look at the little girl sleeping and collapsed in relief. She caught Jim’s eye, shook her head, and told him that before Lisette had left, she had begged to stay and keep taking dance classes. She told him with a soft laugh that she was going to buy her a whole dance studio, the second they got back home.

Jim thought that offhand, honest promise of home meant a lot more than sobbing in front of a camera ever could, but maybe he just didn’t know any better.

Any time he escaped medical, Jim was exploring the ship and sticking his nose into top secret babble with the sheer power of his inquisitiveness.

After a couple days, he bonded with a Junior Lieutenant named Fitzwells down in Engineering over old terran cars, and she taught him how to fix a broken autofilter vac, and then every single member of the crew seemed to be fighting over Jim.

It was like a dam broke; Pike and Boyce were no longer the only people acting like Jim’s new best friend.

Betta Kroix, the Head Scientist, would all but drag Jim out of the medbay once his daily treatment was done to show him cool element formations they’d found on survey, after zhe found out that Jim could hold his own in a conversation on molecular exochemistry and made it zhir personal mission to never let any of Jim’s scientific curiousity to go unexplored.

Kroix’ second, Jerome Tuscond, told his helmsman boyfriend about the Science crew’s quest to teach Jim everything there was to know about everything worth knowing, and then suddenly Jim had a standing invitation from Captain Jenza (that felt an awful lot like a demand) to visit the bridge whenever. He started stopping by whenever the labs were full, or engineering was in its biweekly crisis mode.

Captain Jenza would chastise the crew for petty mistakes by saying they should just be replaced by Jim, who would nod solemnly and tell them how to fix their mistakes in ways ranging from practical to almost mythological until either Jim or Jenza cracked and started laughing.

Once Commander Pike walked onto the bridge half asleep for Gamma shift to find Jim conversing with the Communications officer in Tamarian and gaped for a few minutes before telling Jim to go to bed.

 

Jim’s least favorite part of the day was preparing for Vulcan. By this point he had made it out of the 5th percentile in weight, and was declared strong enough to start building a tolerance for the Vulcan atmosphere.

The first time Jim was put in the simulation room, with the oxygen too thin to breath and his body twice as heavy as it was meant to be, he seriously considered jumping ship the next time they docked. It felt like he was pulling himself through water, like a nightmare of a situation Jim had never been able to afford.

But because the other choice was giving up, he pushed on through the months, until he gained enough muscle to do more than trudge through the tasks set before him.  By the 5th month he was doing his circus gymnastics, to the utter shock and mild awe of his medical observation team.

Other than physically, preparing for Vulcan consisted mostly of studying at a level of difficulty Jim, for all his genius, struggled with keeping on top of at first.

The one and only time Jim complained, Lieutenant Senn had told him that he could elect to attend classes with Vulcan students a few years his prior, but if there was one thing Jim wouldn’t stand for, it was being underestimated. The only person allowed to point out his inadequacies was himself, damnit.

It took about a month from that point for Jim to reach the advanced level for his age group in exobiology, a few more weeks and he was ahead in subspace geometry, and within three months he was four years ahead of the Vulcan standard for xenolinguistics.

Once, Jim corrected Lieutenant Senn’s Andorian grammar, and Jim could have sworn the look he got in return was down right pleased.

 

Chris and Phil, who Jim had stopped calling by their titles to annoy them and failed to revert back when they delighted in it, would often stop by when that was happening.  

Lieutenant Senn wasn’t walking on eggshells around him, which Jim was glad for. But on occasion, he would inquire into how he had obtained some knowledge not generally expected of a 13 year old Terran, and the answer was almost always Hoshi, or Kodos. For two very different reasons, Jim's throat closed up whenever he attempted to talk about either of them.

So Phil would laugh at the face Jim was making at whatever was giving him the most trouble that day, or ask Jim how one of his injuries were feeling with genuine concern in his voice along with his intentions to move away from the topic.

Or Chris would act even more bubbly than usual and ask Senn something that he had ‘just remembered he’d been wondering about and didn’t want to forget.’

They would otherwise wait patiently for the lesson to end before whisking Jim away to “supervise” him on a walk around the ship.

Sometimes Jim and Phil would go pester Chris on the bridge, trying to see who could get him to start the most ridiculous tangent.

Or Jim and Chris would go to the medbay on off hours and see who could get Phil to laugh first.

Jim had once asked Fitzwells if Chris and Phil were using him as an excuse to see each other more often. Fitzwells had told him with a long-suffering sigh that they needed no excuse. She worked as neither of their direct subordinates, or anywhere that may justify how often she saw the two together.

Reginald, an ensign whose surname was so pretentious he preferred to go by Reginald, informed Jim that Doctor Boyce and Commander Pike always came arm in arm to welcome new passengers aboard.

Lieutenant Commander Genna had piped up from around the corner that the senior bridge crew had a running tally on the number of times they’ve been caught platonically holding hands. Then Genna had pulled Jim over to a hydraulic pump and showed him how to fix it so the engine wouldn’t blow up, as if Jim would ever be put into a situation like that.

 

And so it had gone, until now, eight months after he first boarded the Izlet Miru, facing down the senior crew with a clear bill of health and a bag with more things than he’d had when he arrived.

“Unless you want to tell anyone, only Lieutenant Senn’s family and Vulcan High Command will know the exactly why you’re in Shi’Kar, okay? Otherwise, it’s just ‘extenuating circumstances your guardians wished not to disclose.’” Captain Jenza smiled, and Jim nodded.

“When do you guys leave dock?”

“Tomorrow,” Phil cut in, almost apologetic.

“So I guess I’d better get my goodbyes out of the way, huh?” Jim forced a smile, wishing not for the first time that he had just a little more time, wishing he hadn’t gotten so attached when it, like every other thing Jim had ever had in his life resembling stability, was going to drop him like a hot potato. Chris flicked his ear.

“Well say bye to the crew, but don’t make it sound like you’re going to leave us hanging. You’ve got all our comm numbers, kid, you’ve got no reason not to keep in touch.” Jim held back a sigh of relief and rolled his eyes.

“Whatever, old man.” Phil smiled indulgently while Chris pulled his ear in protest, and a strange sense of comfort washed over Jim. “I’m going to head out now, I guess. Thanks for having me aboard.” Jim made eye contact with Senn across the room, who nodded and led Jim out the door.

Chapter Text

4 years and a lifetime ago was the second time James Tiberius Kirk should have died. Far from the second near death experience, far from the first time it’d been because Frank was tired and repressed and felt the need to bruise Jim’s skin with it. Jim kept a lot of lists.  

But this time around, Frank had choked Jim unconscious and still hadn’t held back on his drunken rampage, and Jim had woken up skin bare and bleeding out in the backyard. Frank had finished taking out his regrets on Jim’s nine year old frame and left him out and untended to drink himself into further oblivion, and Jim shouldn’t have woken up in time to stop himself from losing too much blood.

Jim shouldn’t have been able to reasonably tape up his multiple lacerations with literal duct tape.

Jim shouldn’t have been able to get his skin broken so much and so deep without some serious organ or tissue damage.

Jim should have died.

 

5 hours later was the third time James Tiberius Kirk should have died, when he drove his Pop’s old car - the one with the original 20th century frame and a hover engine his Gram once said George and Winona had pulled together from scraps as kids - off a cliff, and didn’t remember jumping out.

He got his name wrote up in some fraud of a police report from the local cops who didn’t really care about George Kirk: Starfleet Hero’s kid being a fuckup.

“Listen, son,” Chief Charles had said, a condescending smile on his sweet old face, “I dunno what delusions of grandeur those bigshot Starfolks are putting into your head, but I definitely ain’t let Georgie and Nona’s boy go down in some juvenile system. ‘Specially not after that no good Junior fucked off and left poor Frankie deal with you alone.”

Jim knew well how much stock the local cops put in his word, and picked his way out of his cell and was halfway out of Riverside by the time poor Frankie marched into the precinct frothing at the mouth.

 


 

 

It’s important to note that Jim had not actually wanted to come to Vulcan.

It seemed that the crew had assumed that he did, and Jim hadn’t bothered to correct them because he knew there really wasn’t a better alternative. It wasn’t like he could just stay aboard, and even if he was pretty sure the crew themselves had, surprisingly, no ill will towards Jim Kirk, he didn’t really trust StarFleet. He never really had, and it hadn’t exactly gotten better given… recent events. Like it or not, it was better than any options, and that was enough. But Jim had not actually wanted to come to Vulcan.

He felt that in his bones now, getting stared down by a tall Vulcan woman and the smallest Vulcan Jim had ever seen.

“You will reside here for an indeterminate period under the guardianship of my bondmate, T’Samahr. She will also be an instructor at you school and will be well equipped to aid you with any acclimation struggles you may encounter.”

“Dif tor heh sumsa,” he greeted, somehow combining the ramrod straight posture requirement of the ta’al and the plain Vulcan tone with his sleaziest grin.

“Sochya eh dif,” responded Senn’s son in kind.

Senn’s bondmate looked Jim over with sharp grey eyes. “Sochya eh dif,” she said finally. “Kirk James Tiberius. You may call me T’Ker T’Samahr. We hope you feel welcomed in our home.”

Jim almost snorted. He’d thought Vulcans weren’t allowed to lie.

“I am S'yekh Pi’hirat Tekh-nat,” cuts in Senn’s son. “You may call me Tekh-nat. I am 10 years of age in correspondence with the Terran calendar. I have been asked to guide you through any confusion that may emerge due to cultural differences, as similarity in age is of import to young humans.”

“You talk real nice,” Jim drawled, with the thickest Iowan accent he’d used since he hitchhiked his way through the last cornfield and never looked back. It was a challenge, because Vulcan and Iowan accents don’t match - Vulcan and bad grammar even less so - but it was so very worth it for the fleeting panic and confusion that crossed Tekh-nat’s tiny baby Vulcan face. And hey, T’Ker T’Samahr might not be an exception in the Vulcan way of open disdain for humanity and their illogicality, but Jim was damn good with kids, regardless of species. By the time he got himself kicked out of this joint, he was gonna convince the tiny one that humanity as a whole, at least, wasn’t dreadful. Jim winked. Tekh-nat looked concerned.

As Senn and T’Samahr separated themselves to talk in low voices in a corner, Jim found himself wondering at the architecture. He’d never seen Vulcan architecture in person before, and he was one of those colossally boring people who found that sort of thing interesting. Sue him. He marveled at the high ceilings, at the geometric curvatures and twists in the structure of just the front foyer. Tekh-nat caught him looking, and offered to show Jim the rest of the house.

“I may be able also to show your room before Mother and Father end talking,” he said in rough Standard. Jim laughed.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” he replied in Vulcan as they walked. Tekh-nat’s eyebrows lifted into his hair, the way Senn’s did some time, but with his facial expressions less restricted.

“I was unaware you spoke Vulcan. You speak it well.”

“It was the second non-Terran language I ever learned.”

“Are you skilled with languages?”

“I speak many fluently, though it may be less to do with skill and more that I find it to be fun.”

Tekh-nat cocked his head in confusion, but opened a door in front of him rather than pursuing a line of questioning. “This is the room we have prepared for you.” Jim smiled and stepped through the arching doorframe, and his jaw dropped.

Jim had never had a big room. The time in between Frank and Tarsus had mostly been lived in trucks, caravans, and cheap, rotting motels. His room at the old Kirk estate had been pretty spacious, but by the time he was 5 he was sleeping in a nook above the tool shed to avoid confrontation. The only other contender was the room at his Aunt’s house on Tarsus, and aside from the fact that he was only there a few months before it all went to shit, it wasn’t a lot of space. It had room for a comfortable bed, which was new, and a bookshelf, which he loved, but not much else.

This room was something else entirely. Jim stood with his mouth open in the doorway for a moment, tentatively touching the wall as though checking it was real. This room was gorgeous. Not only was it so gigantic he had to step inside and do a 360 to see the whole thing, it was furnished and lit like it was straight out of a design magazine. On his left was the bed, larger than queen sized and low to the ground, with a backlit headboard and a tall, draping canopy. The high, twisted, arched ceilings from before came down to meet the walls at a braided crown support above wall-length windows. The windows themselves were opened out to a balcony, allowing a soft breeze to run through thick blue curtains. On one side was a lounge chair and a small coffee table, and on the other was another wall. It was split by a large archway leading to a study lined with fully stocked bookshelves, where a PADD and computer lay atop a beautiful wooden escritoire.

“Will this be suitable?” Tekh-nat asked. “We do not have any human luxuries in our home, but I am certain if there is something more you need, we could obtain it for you.”

Jim gave an incredulous huff. “If you could marry a room on Vulcan, this one and I would already be wed.” He flashed Tekh-nat a cheeky grin, and was too distracted to revel in his bewilderment. He flopped onto the bed, laughing. “This is incredible. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, of course. Shall I allow you to unpack before mealtime?”

Jim took that for what it was and let the tiny Vulcan dismiss himself. He took his comm out of his pocket and stared at it for a second and let himself click on a contact.

Commander Christopher Pike’s voice layered over top of a crowded spacedock, urgently muttering to someone about coils.
“Bad time?” Jim asks. There’s a brief pause at the other end before he’s being pulled into a holochat, and the Miru blinks into view behind Chris’ grinning face.

“Jimmy! Miss me already?”

“Dear god, no, you old man, I’m just reflecting on my escape from your clutches.” Chris’ grin widens.

“Guys. Guys! Jimmy’s on the line, come say hi!”

A chorus of voices call his name, and half the junior engineering crew is suddenly crowded in view.

“How’re you likin’ the Vulcans, kiddo?” Ensign Channel called from somewhere in the thrall.

“How’re the Vulcans likin’ you, eh?” teased Junior Lieutenant Singh before Jim could get a word in.

“Ya think I’d still be here if they’d gotten a chance to get to know me yet? Nah, I’m waitin’ till ya fuck off to the stars and they’re well and truly stuck with me.”

“Language, punk!” called an authoritative voice from the background.

“Sorry, Captain!” Jim let the crew tease him and check in until they went back to work, leaving him on the line alone with Chris, who stepped away from the crew to give them some room to talk.

Before he had to hang up, he let the grin slip off his face to offer Jim a very serious look. “Everything okay, Jimmy? Really?”

Jim thinks back to T’Samahr’s barely contained distaste, her asking him to call her ‘teacher’ in her own house. He thinks to how he’d gotten accustomed to people genuinely smiling when they see him over the past couple months, and how achingly comfortable it had felt to pretend he wasn’t noticing how much he wasn’t wanted in this house. He thought about the most comfortable bed he’d ever had and the small boy who could barely tamper his curiosity at the unfamiliar concept of the Jim Kirk factor.

“Yeah, really. Everything’s okay, Chris.”

“Call again soon, kiddo. Phil’ll be ticked he missed you,” he said, letting out a soft smile.

“Yeah, yeah. I gotta have someone to talk to before I set a secure line for my kids, I guess.”

“I guess.” Chris laughed and waved his goodbyes.

Jim fell back into the soft mattress and stared at the ceiling and thought about how when he’d told Chris everything was okay it almost hadn’t been a lie.

He lasted in peace for about a minute before pushing himself up to walk over to the study and turn on the computer. He was pleased to find that the ShiKar Preparatory Academy files were unlocked. Not that them being closed ever kept him out, but Jim was still unfamiliar with Vulcan code and often found himself with very little new information every time he’d tried before to get through. He couldn’t even find his year’s curriculum, or their course requirements. Vulcans were incredibly private about the strangest things.

The personnel directory listed S'yekh Pa’rau T’Samahr as a professor of Stellar Cartography. Further investigation found that her class was recommended to Class 23 students, and though Jim wasn’t quite sure what that meant, he took a glance at her syllabus and started scanning for the books on the shelves. He opened up a copy of The Ambiguity of Sector Definition in Three Dimensional Scale Models by Tchjen Kaa T’Saal and a some loose leaf he’d found in the escritoire and started to read.

Two hours later he’d gotten to fair point of understanding with some decent annotations and points for discussion, and looked up abruptly from a confusing section he’d had difficulty understanding how to translate when a knock came at the door. He turned, startled.

“Come in.” The door opened to T’Samahr, and Jim hastily tried to tidy the notes strewn across his lap and scrambled to his feet, snapping to attention like he’d seen the crew do when Chris or Jenza walked into a room.

“T’Kar! Hello! I wasn’t expecting…” He trailed off. He wasn’t expecting what? That she’d walk to a room in her own house?

“I came to inform you that dinner is ready in the dining room.” Jim nodded, hoping he hadn’t worsened T’Samahr’s impression of him with how he was sitting, all curled up in the chair by the window with a leg up on the table and how he worked with so little clear organization. He’d spent most of his life teaching himself things in attics and the backs of trucks, and could never really learned how to work with the whole sitting studiously in desks in rows thing. Senn hadn’t been too fond of that himself, and he was used to human eccentricity. Hell, even the few human teachers Jim had had over the years found it disrespectful.

T’Samahr stared at him analytically for a while before she spoke again. “That is by Tchjen Kaa T’Saal.”

Jim gaped a little, then nodded tentatively. “I saw it on your class syllabus and thought I ought to give it a try.”

T’Samahr stood silently for a moment. “The class I teach is rather difficult, and this tends to be one of the harder works to comprehend.”

Jim wondered if he’d insulted her somehow. “Right. Sorry,” he said, just in case.

She frowned. “I do not think I’ve given you any cause to apologize.” They stood like that for a moment more, unmoving and stoic, like an old Western standoff. “Did you have any thoughts?

Jim nodded slowly. “... a few…” T’Samahr said nothing, so he continued. “I found her perceived solutions to the incalculable angles tended to focus strongly on a traditional rectangular prismic projection model, when we could alter those projections for navigational purposes rather than vice versa?”

“An astute observation.” She stepped away from the door. “I would be interested in discussing this book further at supper if you find it agreeable.”

Jim waited until her back was turned and pinched his arm. He winced and pumped a fist in the air.

Jim hadn’t wanted to come to Vulcan, but he’d be damned if he didn’t do his level best to make the most of it.

Chapter Text

The fourth time James Tiberius Kirk should have died, he learned that you can stitch up knife wounds with dental floss, and that gas station attendees on the side of a road from nowhere to nowhere don’t bother to ask questions about visibly injured nine-year-olds with crumpled bills instead of credits.

It wasn’t like Jim wasn’t expecting it. The guy was willing to pick up a preadolescent hitchhiker, it doesn’t say much towards his ethical standards. Still, Jim found it in him to be annoyed when he got stabbed in the abdomen and tossed from the hovercar into a roadside ditch. He’d hoped to make it at least out of the state before he caught an actual murderer, but he hadn’t even crossed the Iowa River yet.

Jim was thinking a lot of things while he was walking, because it was hot outside and he was bleeding out and still objectively certain this was the better situation he could be inn right now. He was thinking about Sam, and about how things had gotten worse in the year since he’d left. He was thinking about Ms. Lettons, the librarian, whose sole purpose in life seemed to be reminding Jim that he was an embarrassment  for wanting to read about space, and starships, and all the things his family already left this town for. About how all 1,264 in Riverside seemed to know exactly who James Kirk was supposed to be except Jim. About how all of the people at the galas thrown in George Kirk’s honor looked him in the eye and saw 5 minutes of his dad’s life, and nothing else.

He was thinking about he wished he hadn’t crashed the car off a cliff before he’d gotten out of the town where everyone knows his face, when he stumbles upon the gas station at least an hour later, where he shouldn’t have realistically made it before passing out from exhaustion and blood loss. He definitely trails blood on the floor as he goes to the counter to buy rubbing alcohol, floss, and a pack of needles before locking himself in the bathroom in an attempt to stitch up the stab wound. He uses the rest of the cash he stole from the guy who stabbed him to buy up on food and get the hell out before the attendant noticed he pocketed his keys.

He did finally make it out of Riverside  before he considered breaking down. He’d ditched the car for a rental with the help of the first time Jim actually stole credits when he hacked into a bank and a voice modulating 2030’s telephone. He could barely pass for 10, let alone 16, but he followed traffic laws well enough that no one was about to pull him over in the traffic congestion of Des Moines. He wasn’t quite home free, but that was more for lack of a destination than anything else. He could totally break down about now, if need be.

Instead, he pulled a cookie out of the pack he’d bought and kept driving until the hovercar died.

 


 

 

The thing about T’Samahr was that as soon as she got over the fact that Jim was an abrasive and emotional human child, she was as fond of him as Vulcans could be. Within a month of living under her roof, he’d been introduced to at least a couple dozen of her colleagues as her ward, and in turn had been essentially adopted by the teaching staff as a pet. He still, unfortunately, has no understanding of the school itself. He has asked five different people why he hasn’t been going to classes, and each has told him that he’s been exempt from the current practical application quarter, and told when the new quarter would start. No one will even tell him what grade he’ll be going into so that he can look into the curriculum on the school server. When he asks T’Samahr, she says to tell her if any elective courses are of interest to him, and that she’ll arrange for his placement tests before the next quarter begins. Jim has no idea what that means.

Listen, Jim’s been to school, okay? He got halfway through 3rd grade in Iowa, and when he was with the circus Amelda had made him take all kinds of standardized tests. He was in 6th grade for the first few months of Tarsus, before everything went to shit. He just doesn’t understand what the Vulcans think school systems are, and no one has bothered to try to explain them. He’s managed to parse that Class 23 curriculums are harder than Class 5 curriculums, but he doesn’t know what class his age group is meant to be, and he doesn’t know if it’s acceptable or not that he struggles with anything higher than Class 20, or that he can’t understand any of the material for most things marked Class 24 and higher.

He has a bit over a week before his placement tests, whatever those may be, and Jim is studying. Tekh-nat has placement tests too, so the two of them usually end up sitting by each other in the main library, which is more helpful than Jim would have expected. There’s the part of him that just misses being around his kids, especially now that their recovery is mostly done and they aren’t all in one place anymore. But Jim also just honestly likes Tekh-nat. The kid has no problem asking Jim for help when he doesn’t understand something, like how to solve math problems he hasn’t fully grasped, and how to translate Federation Standard. In turn, Jim asks Tekh-nat questions about Vulcan phrases he hasn’t seen, and how to navigate the ShiKar Preparatory Academy databases. When they take a moment to stretch and grab something to drink, Tekh-nat makes his favorite Vulcan teas, and Jim shows him the synthesizer codes for the best hot cocoa. At one point, with six days left before the exams, Jim buries his head in his arms and complains about how overwhelming it is to study for all the curriculums without knowing what classes he’s even going to have to take.

Tekh-nat looks at him strangely. “Of course you do not know what classes you are going to take. What did you assume placement tests were for?”

Jim shifts. “I don’t know, to see how advanced our understanding of topics is?”

“Yes? Exactly?” Jim and Tekh-nat look at each other in bewilderment for a moment before Tekh-nat jumps up suddenly and pushes himself in front Jim’s PADD. “These are the math classes. These are the science classes. These are the language classes, the history classes, and the elective classes. You understand this much?”

Jim hadn’t, before, because he hadn’t thought to categorize them anything beyond the number labels, but looking at how Tekh-nat pointed them out it seemed pretty clear. He nodded.

“Then out of the math classes, which one are you most interested in taking?”

“I… I think I understand them all up to class 20?”

“No, not the level, the class.”

Jim stares. Tekh-nat looks like he’s dawning on some kind of realization.

“What do you think this says?” Tekh-nat points to the number class next to one of the classes.

“Dah-leh rehkuh mohrn. Class 23,” he translated into Standard.

“And this one?” He points to the top of the page.

“Rivak la’ka-yehat, available classes.” Jim pauses. Tekh-nat looks to be almost vibrating with frustration.

“You think class and class to mean the same thing?”

Jim blinks.

“I think, James, that you should tell my mother if anything you see interests you, and take the tests that will lead you to take. Trust that they will place you into a class befitting yourself.”

“And would that be class or class?”

Tekh-nat shot him a patented Vulcan stare and before shoving a math problem in his direction.

Instead of asking T’Samahr to explain, six days later at the crack of dawn, Jim took all twenty of the placement tests. Four days after that, T’Samahr called him and Tekh-nat down to read their results and quarter schedules before dinner.

“I commend you on your ambition,” she commented offhand before handing him his file. It didn’t sound passive aggressive, so he just took it without asking what she meant. He saw all 20 classes listed on his schedule, and had a moment of confusion where he remembered having only 5 classes in school. But hey; Vulcans were all pretty academically capable, and farbeit from Jim to decide how school schedules should work.

 

When properly transliterated into Vuhlkansu, James Tiberius Kirk beomes Ka’rik Tah’be’ris Jaya’mes. This is the first thing Jim ever learned of the language, and it was possibly the most time Hoshi ever spent on a single lesson. When he’s dialing Chris that night, sprawled over the giant bed that still doesn’t feel quite like his own, it’s all that’s on his mind.

“My, that’s quite a unique looking name!” She had been looking over his shoulder as he tried to copy from a book she’d left out on her front table. In hindsight, she’d probably left it there for him, but in the moment he thought he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t have. “Do you mind if I help you clean it up?”

He’d shaken his head tentatively, and she’d sat down on the ground with him, bad back and all, to guide him through his mistakes in ways that made little sense to a 12 year old with no understanding in Vulcan and no formal language education.

“Your family identifier falls between your personal identifiers. First is the name a stranger would call you, then someone you respect, then a peer or child. A rather illogical custom altogether, don’t you agree?” She’d say.

“Careful with the angles there; it’s legible, but it should be rounder.”

“You’ve added a possession classifier. You can’t just add dashes because they’re pretty, darling.”

“Lovely penmanship. We’ll make a calligrapher out of you.”

“Would you like to learn it in Pre-Reformation?”

When Jim’s hand had hurt too much to keep writing, she’d taken the workbook from him with a pleased expression.

“Your name is rather formal looking in Vuhlkansu, you know.”

“So no different than Standard, then,” he’d grinned, and she’d smiled back, wide like he didn’t know adults were allowed to.

“Very different, actually. If we were to directly translate your name to Vulcan, it’d be far more average. Of the church, for Kirk, by the river Tiber, for Tiberius, follower, for James, o. Right?” Jim didn’t know this, but nodded. “That’d come out looking pretty normal. ‘T’Dva Mas’tiber Zahelsu,’ I think. All in all a very Vulcan sort of name.”

“So should I write that, then?”

“Don’t you dare,” she smiled. “We don’t translate our names like that. Your name would be said how you wrote it there; ‘Ka’rik Tah’be’ris Jaya’mes.’ It sounds like a name that should belong to a great man.”

“Definitely not for me then,” Jim joked. “Is it really all that great? It just sounds… clunkier. I think.”

“It is an honourable name for an honourable little boy, because it tells your story, not your home,” Hoshi had said, with an unyielding finality.

“What story?” Jim had huffed anyway, because he was precocious and proud of it. She’d smiled at him with an interesting light in her eye Jim would later attribute to her eagerness to dissect language.

“Literally it is roughly ‘Without equal, beside nothing unattainable, reverberating crossway.’” Jim had opened his mouth to make a snarky comment he’s forgotten, but Hoshi cut him off. “I know it sounds crude, but it follows a traditional name pattern of just Post Reformation Romantic Vulcan. It’s interpretive, you have to bring the story from the words, not the other way around. Your name says, ‘On the divergence of living paths, no choice leads to failure, for I am uncontested.’”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he’d whined, because the gravitas felt inapplicable.

“It does.” She’d looked him in the eye, then. “If you would like, I would be honoured to teach you to understand why, Tah’be’ris.”

“Jimmy?” called a voice from the present in Jim’s PADD. “Sorry I wasn’t picking up, the Captain needed to see me about something.”

“Oh, yeah, no problem.” Jim shook himself awake. “I just wanted to tell you I’m starting school tomorrow!” he excitedly shoved his schedule towards the display so Chris could read it.

He whistled. “Your name’s a bit long like that, huh?”

“My name’s stuffy as shit in Standard too, Chris.”

“Language. And it may be stuffy, but I gotta say, it looks awful pretty like that.” Chris laughs lightly, and moves on to talking about his class load.

Jim just thinks, yeah. That’s what Hoshi was trying to say, too.

Chapter Text

The fifth time Jim should have died, he joined the circus instead.

Jim hadn’t been to Des Moines in years. Until he was around 5 years old, the general public had been all over “The Kelvin Baby,” and Jim had been at the smiling poster boy of The Kelvin Memorial Hospital, and The George Samuel Kirk Center for Education, and the Kirk Juvenile Detention Facility, and, on Jim’s favorite occasion, The Winona Lawson Kirk Widow’s Foundation. Then Sam had skipped town after an evening with Frank stripped him of all sensation in his left leg, Frank had gotten tired of sharing Jim’s pretty little face, and Jim didn’t leave Riverside until he was running for his fucking life. Anyway, Des Moines has gotten bigger.

The buildings have been growing taller for centuries, trying to house the growing populations that for some reason refused to seek outer space. Des Moines was 90 square miles and 600,000 people, overcrowded, and without the magnetism of better known, larger cities.

Jim loved it.

Or, at least until he’d wandered into a mall to replace his bloody clothes and he bumped into the screaming man with an old pistol phaser and no stun safety.

 

“Watch where you’re going, kid,” the man hissed, when Jim tripped over his feet into the muzzle of the same make and model as he’d been facing down for years and called the 5th time the charm as the familiar buzz of a phaser charging shook his lips. At the last moment, the guy cusses and shoves Jim off the platform down to a lower floor, and Jim watches as the phaser fire meant for the inside of his head sends a sunglasses kiosk flying. “Shit, there she fuckin’ goes, that fuckin’ bitch, I’ll kill her.

“You thieving whore! Give me my credits or I’ll take your fucking neck and hand you over!”

Jim turned from where he was crumpled on the ground to see a young brunette woman sprinting in his direction in a ballgown with intimidatingly high pumps, grabbing a coffee out of someone’s hand as she passed them. Jim forgot to panic in his confusion; this was not a classy enough joint to justify designer. He was shaken out his daze when the woman reached him and looked him down with a disapproving frown.

“We need to fix this,” she muttered, then started running again as the yelling man rounded the corner from the stairway. She slowed for a minute to run backwards. “Well? Aren’t you coming?”

Jim was not sure why he would risk the wrath of the yelling man for some crazy lady who took some kind of issue with him, but he was running after her before his mind caught up with his actions. She grinned and pulled him into the storage room of a clothes store, and he found himself cackling softy with her from a pile of blue sundresses as the yelling man passed them.

 

“Yes, yes, this’ll do,” she muttered, facedown in the pile. When Jim shot her a quizzical look, she lifted up one of the dresses.

“I think that’s a touch too small for you,” Jim joked, because it was an extra small and the lady was a solid 5’9.

“Not for me, you fool child, I told you we need to fix... This!” She gestured to all of Jim. “As much as you may be rocking it, the bloody grunge look won’t do at all!”

Jim had forgotten about his original reason for being at the mall in all the excitement. He looked down at his bloodstained clothes, looked up at the woman, back down at his clothes, and flushed. “Oh, right… that.”

The woman nodded in understanding. “It’s just like that sometimes, I get it. Go on, put on the dress, I’ll worry about accessories,” she said, and disappeared into a pile of hats. Jim left the storeroom to ask the very bored teenaged store attendant for a dressing room.

When Jim had changed, which took an inconveniently long amount of time taking the cleaning of dried blood into consideration, the woman was waiting for him. Before he could say a word, she’d pinned him up with a large straw sunhat and circular glasses that messed with his depth perception.

 

“I look like the 21st century rose from the grave to slap me in the face.” Jim did a spin in the mirror, fixing his hair, and posing. “But in a good way, I guess.”

“Obviously in a good way, you have an audition to get to.”

Jim nods absently, before double taking and shooting the lady with an incredulous look. “The fuck? For what?”

“An illegal circus.”

“How can a circus be illegal?”

“Pretty easily, actually. We never pay for performance permits, and most of us are hookers and thieves.” She grinned, then turned a bit serious.

“Look, kid, if you want I can just head you off to the local CPS office and have you taken back home or whatever…”

(Jim had tried reaching out to CPS twice before. Both times, he’d categorically refused to say anything other than he couldn’t go back home to Frank. Both times, he’d been sat alone in a room with a crinkly shock blanket while a crowd of suit-wearing professionals pretended he couldn’t hear through the wall.

“We have 12 different sapient species trafficking cases open just in the county,” growled one. “We don’t have the resources to deal with the controversy this kid would spark just because he misses his mom.”

Jim didn’t go in a 3rd time.)

“You wouldn’t be the first of us to be runnin’ bloody from their pops, and you’re sure as fuck not the first kid we’ve raised,” the lady offered when Jim had been silent too long.

“You’re not gonna convince me to run away and join the circus like a romantic orphan, ma’am. I don’t even know your name.” Jim grumbled.

“Amelda.” She said. “So how ‘bout it, kid?”

“Fuckin’....” Jim sighed. “Fine. My name’s JT, take me to the fucking circus.”

 


 

On Jim’s first day at Shi’Kar Preparatory Academy, he learns that he was meant to choose between the classes he was offered to decide what he wanted to study for the next year. He was one of only 12 students in the entire school who had chosen to take all 20 courses. On a scale where the average 13 year old Vulcan took level 16 classes, the lowest class he had tested into was an 18 for Inter-stellar Ethnology, and the highest was a 27 in Communications. Before even reaching his first class of the day, several instructors, some that he knew and some that he didn’t, had commended him in the Vulcan way Jim had learned was code for ‘fuck you, really.’

Jim was starting off the year against passive adversity for his humanity, and higher expectations than could be justified pushing onto any 13 year old.

He couldn’t have made it more ideal if he’d engineered the situation himself.

 

The first of his classes for the day was Class 25 Temporal Mechanics, one of Jim’s better subjects. It was lecture based course by one of Jim’s favorite of T’Samahr's colleagues, a crotchety old Vulcan who thought humanity had no right being anywhere near the foundations of space travel. Jim arrived early as a show of dominance.

A young Vulcan arrived only minutes after Jim, which was strange because Jim had come very early. Obnoxiously early, even. An hour early. Anyway, T’Kar Nakaratik shot the Vulcan boy the same look of not-disdain he had been hitting Jim with, so. Kinship, or whatever.

(Years and years later, Jim would dramatically reference this moment as fate, the moment when all the winds were still, etc. Spock would act resigned and exhausted, but wouldn’t point out the illogicalities of fate, and everyone on the bridge would sigh at hearing the story for the nth time but listen anyway because Jim is a damn good storyteller.)

“Your pelal is tied far too tight around the waist, you look... unkempt,” says the Vulcan, sitting stiffly in the seat beside Jim. More specifically, he says kitork-guv, which might as well mean promiscuous, because no matter where in the universe you go, someone will think your body is their business. It is the most direct insult Jim has received all day, and he wants to both punch the boy in the face, and also maybe kiss him. Direct confrontation is an incredible and familiar affair.

“How else am I gonna show off my curves?” Jim jokes, putting his hip onto the desk in front of him for maximum dramatic effect. “Come now, you can’t just put in a snide aside about my debauchery and not introduce yourself.

“I am S’kha-lan T’sgzhai Spock,” said the Vulcan. “You may call me S’kha-lan. Or S’chn, should the Standard transliteration suit you better.” The boy paused, and said with barely a change in expression at all, “I apologize for the way you interpreted my words. I admit to harboring a slight prejudice upon having heard word of a human classmate. I shall meditate upon it later.”

“Wow, that is the most intentionally rude apology I’ve ever heard, I’m impressed” laughs Jim, “You and I are gonna get along great, S’kha-lan . The name’s-”

“Ka’rik Tah’be’ris Jaya’mes, I am aware. You’re rather infamous.”

“Awe, thanks doll,” Jim says, pleasuring in the way the language fractured around his words. “You can call me Jaya’mes.”

 

“I see you’ve found the only way to consort downwards, Ri’etwel,” came a nasally voice from behind.

“I implore you do not lower the name of your family to this illogical name-calling, L’shai-fan.

“Dude, you just called me a hoe like 10 seconds ago,” Jim muttered under his breath in Standard. Judging from S’kha-lan grinding his heel into his foot, (very illogically if you ask Jim) he’d understood anyway.

“I say as I see,” continues L’shai-fan, not having heard James. “And you are not one to speak of lowering the name of family, Ri’etwel.”

Jim’s mouth curved into an ‘o.’ “Oh, it’s xenophobia,” he says like a revelation. He took a better look at L’shai-fan then. He was taller than Jim, clearly at least a few years older, reaching the plateau of puberty where his skin wasn’t clear but he had settled into his height. He looked back at S’kha-lan, who was a much more intriguing subject for some reason. “Were you born off of the planet, S’kha-lan?”

“I was born in the hospital ward of my father’s estate,” sniffs S’kha-lan with the air of indifference Jim had admired from all the older Vulcans he’d met.

“To his mother, ” says L’shai-fan without it.

S’kha-lan’s fingers briefly tighten around the seams of his pelal. “To my human mother, he means.”

L’shai-fan sneers, and Jim can’t help but think that S’kha-lan seems to be acting far more Vulcan than he was, half-human or not.

So he says, “You know, L’shai-fan, S’kha-lan here seems to be acting far more Vulcan than you are, half-human or not.” Before the other boy could get a word in, he continued, “Also I bet his mom is cool as shit.” There is no Vulcan translation for that phrase.

L’shai-fan was struck, and S’kha-lan picked up the slack. “She is rather ‘cool’ as you say, but please spare L’shai-fan. He doesn’t quite understand Standard yet.”

Jim cackled, and stared L’shai-fan up and down. “I said you’re a dirty fiend,” Jim smiles. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go assert my human dominance as per the complex and intricate traditions of my people.”

S’kha-lan looks almost as perplexed as L’shai-fan and this is the moment Jim makes it his lifelong mission to teach S’kha-lan his human culture.

But for now, he strides across the room to talk up the students filtering in and seats himself firmly in the middle of the crowd. It parts around him, but Jim is confident the Kirk Factor will kick in eventually. It’s worked on people who’ve been tasked with bringing him in dead or alive, (preferably dead) and it can’t be that much harder with Vulcans.

 

Spoiler Alert: It is.

The class starts and Jim knows all the answers to all the challenge questions because he learned Temporal Mechanics from the Chief Engineer of a Starfleet ARS.

While the practical application quarter that had been going on since before he’d came to Vulcan was a chance for older Vulcan youths to work temporarily in higher than entry level positions that may pertain to the classes or fields of study they wish to pursue, (Tekh-nat’s words, after he finished Vulcan not-laughing at Jim for accidentally taking 20 classes) that still left Jim with comparably privileged experience.

Because while he may have obtained most of the knowledge his classmates had been formally studying on the subject in musty attics with cheap hijacked internet while on the road (or the run, if you were a pessimist who hated joy and circuses), when T’Kar Nakaratik asked the class the quickest short-term measure against exacerbated internal damage to transporters, for instance, Jim had first-hand experience from tagging along with Genna when an ion storm happened to fall into their path.

All in all it was a productive day. In less than an hour Jim learned the one thing humanity would probably be best served to know about Vulcans; they get jealous.

Chapter Text

“Amelda, why the fuck do you have a well-dressed gremlin on your arm?”  

“We needed a new acrobat,” Amelda said, pushing Jim in through a door to a warehouse.

“I’m just now realizing how stranger danger-ish this is,” Jim muttered, not particularly bothered by this revelation.

“Oh, yes, I’m here to eat your soul, little gremlin. Run if you dare,” came the equally despondent response. A lithe body flipped down from the rafters to hang upside-down in Jim’s face. “Have you studied gymnastics at all, little gremlin?”

Jim shook his head.

“Any dance?”

“I can waltz?”

The figure laughed and drops to the ground. “You’re sure you’ve brought me an acrobat then, Amelda?”

“Absolutely,” Amelda responded, straight-faced.

“You’re certain?”

“Uh-huh.”

“So I can have him audition for me right now?”

“Sure.” Jim choked on a breath, trying to will Amelda to explain her reasoning there. He adjusts, trying to find a stance that doesn’t jostle his dental floss stitching.

She whispered, “You fell down like 20 feet and kept walking. I promise you’ll be fine,” as they walked towards the center of the suspicious warehouse.

“Alright, little gremlin, I’m Des. I am the premiere acrobat here. It is nice to meet you.” In the light of the makeshift stage, covered sequins, Des seemed to be glowing. “Jump for me, please.”

Jim blinked. “...Excuse me?”

“Good. Question authority. But jump for me now, please. High as you can.”

Jim shrugged. “Alright. Fair warning, I’ve was stabbed this morning.” Then he jumped.

“Wait, stop, what? Isa, bring the lights up!”

By the time Jim’s eyes adjusted, Amelda and Des were both wearing concerned expressions and a few newer faces were making their way over. “You were fuckin’ stabbed and you didn’t wanna tell me that?” Amelda almost cried out.

“I mean, you saw me covered in blood. I figured it’d crossed your mind?”

“I figured it was old! Let’s get you to the infirmary, yeah?” she pressed, leaning down for Jim to get on her back. He did, confused.

“I thought I was supposed to do your audition thing?”

“Tell you what, little gremlin,” Des said, before walking off, “Once Andrew clears you for action, I’ll teach you how to do a backflip and you can call the job yours.”

“I already know how to do a backflip,” Jim grumbled into Amelda’s shoulder. Either something about her was comforting or the popped stitches and blood loss were finally hitting, but the exhaustion of the day was catching up to him.

“Oh?” Amelda hummed, and Jim felt the reverberations against his chest.

“Mixed Martial Arts, club, bitches.” He was falling asleep, and he’s not as concerned as he should probably have been about being left completely vulnerable in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. “Frank put me inta wrestling with ‘is drinkin’ buddy, but ‘e said I was too…” he trailed off into a yawn. “Was too small. ‘S really cos I kicked the captain’s ass, though. Fucker’s never played dirty in ‘is life.”

 

Jim woke up in an infirmary and his first instinct was to run like hell.

“Woah, hold your horses, kiddo, you’ve got a needle in your arm,” interrupted a kindly voice to his side. Jim panicked and ignored him, and winces as the hypodermic is pulled out of his skin..

“That was a dumbass move, kid,” said the voice, which appeared to belong to an equally kindly looking man with dark silken hair tied in a braid down to his waist. He put an arm behind Jim’s shoulders and eased him back into the bed. “I’ll grab Amelda for you, okay? I’m sorry you had to wake up in an infirmary with a stranger, I thought you’d be out for a little longer so I made her get some food.”

“Why’s she so worried? Don’t this kinda thing happen all the time?” It certainly did with Jim.

“I’m gonna hug you now,” came a trembling voice from the doorway. Jim barely finished nodding before Amelda’s arms fell gently around him, careful not to disturb any of the just-healed scar tissue.

“... sorry I got blood all over the dress,” Jim said, when she’d been silent for a strange amount of time. Amelda choked out a laugh.

“You never gotta tell me how you were hurtin’ before if you don’t want to,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “But we’ve got your back now, okay? You gotta tell me when you’ve been fuckin’ stabbed, okay? Andrew says you should have died the way it was lookin’.”

Jim doesn’t really understand what the big deal was, seeing as he’d met Amelda on the run from a man with a phaser set to kill, but he hums acquiescence, makes a mental note of number 6, and then bumps his shoulder to hers.

“This is awful touching and all, lady, but all I remember from yesterday is you thinkin’ I couldn’t do a backflip, so I have to prove you wrong, now.”

“You just got healed from bein’ stabbed, and you wanna prove you can do a backflip ?”

“Hey, Mr. Nice-medical-professional, sir, am I allowed to do a backflip?”

“You can call me Andrew, kiddo.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Nice-Medical-Professional-Andrew, sir,” says Jim. “Now can I defend my honor and do a backflip please?”

Andrew sighs. “There shouldn’t be any problems. You might ache for a little while, though, I couldn’t give you pain meds.”

“Yeah, that’s probably good, I’m allergic to all of them.”

“All of-?”

“All of them,” Jim confirmed pleasantly. “Give me 20 minutes and a PADD and I can procure a list of my allergies for ya.”

Andrew narrowed his eyes and Jim did a backflip before he could be questioned further about his definitely illegal methods. He feels like these people would probably be fine with it, though. Maybe even impressed; it’d taken him a ridiculously long time to learn enough about programming to hack into the hospital databases, even if it was just Riverside. He kinda wanted to show off.

(He’d had to learn so he could check in on Frank’s terrible Doctor friend, make sure he was on the up-and-up save for the… experiments he did on Sam and Jim in exchange for keeping hush about Frank. He was, actually, went above and beyond as a pillar of Riverside community. Frank knew a lot of pillars of Riverside community, which meant Sam and Jim knew a lot of pillars of Riverside community. They could probably go into politics, if they ever got the bastards to look them in the eyes in public.)

 

Jim did another backflip.

“Amelda, one day you’re gonna have to tell me if all Iowans are as crazy as you, or if you just pick up the madhouse everytime we visit.”

“Little bit ‘o both,” Jim and Amelda say simultaneously. They high five.

“Anyway, kid,” came an intrigued voice from the doorway, “The job’s yours if you still want it. Though given, was a really, really shitty backflip.” Des didn’t appear to be joking, and Jim huffed.

“No really,” Des mused, ignoring Jim’s righteous frustration, “There is no logical way you should have been able to complete that flip. Do you make a habit of screwing with the fundamentals of physics? Or is the spectacular shittines logic defying in its own right? Things to ponder.”

“No insulting stabbing victims in my infirmary, please and thank you, get the fuck outta here you crazy people. Except JT, who needs to hack into a rural Iowan hospital now.” Andrew shooed Amelda and Des, handing off a PADD to Jim.

“My backflip was fine,” Jim grumbled, pulling up the Riverside Local home page.

“It was kinda shitty,” admitted Andrew, who Jim had yet to learn was also an acrobat.

“Fuck off,” muttered Jim, dismissing the Federation Security alarm file long enough to pull his medical records without raising any flags. He punches the air. “Got it!”

“That was not nearly 20 minutes,” Andrew said, plucking the PADD out of Jim’s hands after he deletes his name and personal identifications from the records.

“Oh, I know,” Jim grinned. “The remaining 19 minutes are how long it’ll take for you to get through my allergy list.”

Andrew looked to the ceiling and throws a minty green bundle into Jim’s lap. “Amelda bought you some new clothes. Go make Des teach you how to be less bad at backflips while I sanitize this whole joint so you don’t die from contact with...” He looks down to the PADD “Fucking pectin? Have you never had lemonade before?”

“I’ve had unreplicated lemonade once and only once.” Jim did not elaborate. Andrew shivered.

 

 

Jim has two other classes on his morning schedule for his first day, (S’kha-lan is in both of them, an unexpected brightside to an otherwise exhausting day. There was just… something about that boy. Jim has decided they’re going to be friends.) which go more or less like Temporal Mechanics did, save for the light enemy making that had taken place first thing in the morning.

The Kirk factor is infallible, Jim is more sure of this than ever. While Vulcans had put it to the test harder than literal genocidal maniacs, by the end of each class he had definitely noted some lessened tensions, and a couple of the younger students seemed vaguely charmed.

That didn’t change the fact that each and every single one of them looked at Jim like they wanted to tear out his throat for daring to claim he may deserve a seat at their school, of course. They just also seemed to find him interesting.

No matter how sober a planet’s people were, if they had intergalactic trade there was a portside bar. Jim had a break of 2 v’hral before his next section of classes for the day, Chris and Phil and the Miru were in crisis mode and unavailable, and he was determined to find a fucking bartender to spill his guts to.

He slammed open the door of the first bar he found - an Orion establishment - with as much drama as he could muster, stomped over to the counter, and glared.

“One glass of code seven replicated lemonade, please,” he demanded in Low Orion. He was met with a resounding silence, and also a glass of code seven replicated lemonade.

“That’s 2 credits kid, you got ‘em?”

“I’m good for it,” Jim says “Don’t even gotta steal it nowadays,” he takes a swig from his bottle, choking on the sour of it before tossing his credit chip across the counter. The barkeep catches it and raises a brow.

“You can’t be older than what, nine? The fuck is ‘nowadays’ for a nine year old Terran?”

“I’m thirteen!” Jim scowls, his indignation breaking whatever character it was he’d adopted when he walked in. “I was stealin’ well before nine, anyways. I’m an old soul, you fucker. I’ve lived more life than most people live in a century!”

“Yes, yes, I’m sure you were.” The barkeep’s gold lips settle into a grin. “ I’m Ga’al, Gal if you’re Federation and Ka’l if you’re Vulcan. Pick one, I’ll grab you some popcorn.”

“Ga’al works,” Jim says, because Orion pronunciation is not as hard as the Federation seems to think it is, and calling someone by their name is the respectful thing to do when you’re drinking their code seven replicated lemonade.

Ga’al disappears into the back, presumably to get some popcorn, and someone slides into the seat next to Jim. He feels a familiar proposition coming on and he’s down, really, he is, but he’s a bit busy right now.

“Listen, I’ve got class in a few hours and I’m definitely not open for business until the evening,” Jim says. Turning his head he continues, “But prices could go pretty low for you-oh. Hello.”

The person was an Andorian, dressed in standard issue Operation reds, with her Lieutenant stripes facing him. She coughed.

“I was kidding about the prostitution?” Jim tries, switching languages again, hoping it might make her look upon him more favorably.

“No you weren’t. But you are now, the only bars on Vulcan are ‘Fleet haunts and anyone who may take you up on your offer will be summarily arrested.”  She smiles pleasantly. “Your Andorian is very good, kid.”

Jim blushes. “Thanks.”

“And was that Orion I heard when you walked in?”

“Low Orion,” he corrects in said language, the familiar fire of an argument building in his belly. “Common mistake, but generalized Orion is actually a very flattened attempt at combining Low and High Orion, and oftentimes native speakers of either language can’t understand it. It’s a galactic pressure, imposed on the people of Orion by the Federation and its citizens in order to undermine a cruel class structure, that neglects to account for the complexity of that structure’s ties to the entire culture of the planet. It focuses on abolishing diversity instead of dismantling any of the legitimately harmful institutions put in place by the Grays and their elitism.”

She blinks.

“Insightful,” says Ga’al with a laugh, returning with a bowl of warm popcorn, “But Ibyhr doesn’t speak Low Orion.”

“Oh,” Jim blinks. “That makes sense, in hindsight.”

“I came over here because I was very impressed with how familiarly you were speaking with Gal. I wanted to ask you how you feel about languages.”

“...And you’re sure you’re rejecting me, correct?

” You’ve attracted the Starfleet Youth Recruitment Pitch, congrats,” Ga’al smiles.

Jim wrinkles his nose. “Starfleet as a whole can die in a fiery pit of garbage, thanks.”

“Hey,” protests at least 10 different voices around the bar. Jim lifts his head to get a proper look at the bar patrons.

“Fuck,” he says, because only one of them isn’t in reds, and it’s because they’re in Medical blues. He raises his fists and everyone blanches in unison. Jim is consistently weirded out by how coordinated Starfleet is, but he’s had like 5 months of preparation so he’ll be fine. They’re probably too upstanding to do anything more than smack him around a little for the insult. He eyes the door, rolls his shoulders back, and gets ready to fight until he can make a run for it.

“All right, let’s make this quick,” Jim says, trying to make himself seem dumber than he already is. He’s gonna take every goddamn advantage; somehow turning up to afternoon classes with a black eye doesn’t seem like the sort of thing Vulcans approve of.

“What the fuck, kid,” someone whispers softly.

 

Five hours into his first day at a Vulcan Prep School, Jim gets three glasses of code seven replicated lemonade, the best popcorn he’s ever tasted, and adopted by a Starfleet pit crew and an Orion bar. It’s like the 3rd time he’s been pseudo adopted in less than a year. He should really break the habit.

(Spoiler alert: He doesn’t.)

(He doesn’t really question the Kirk Factor anymore.)

Chapter Text

Jim wasn’t used to being given so much time to do nothing but heal. He didn’t know much about this illegal circus yet, aside from what he was able to glean from a cursory glance at police records and conversation. They fed him three whole meals a day, kept him in the most comfortable spot in the hovercraft whenever they were moving, and in the nearly-a-week he’d been with them, no one had asked him for a single thing. No “favors,” no performances, no assists on side jobs he knew they were picking up from the surplus of stuff and/or injuries they tended to roll back in with after a night out. 

Privately Jim thought this was a dumb as fuck business model, feeding and clothing him and the gaggle of siblings and children they were carrying along without any expectation of a return. He was, however, no fool, and if they wanted to waste this much time healing him up before getting what they want out of him, he had no complaints. He probably wouldn’t even mind if they needed him before he was fully back to function, though. 

For one, Jim honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so close to injury-free. His extremities all functioned with barely any ache, and his cracked ribs had healed to the point of just bruising. Andrew used modern medicine, not the rudimentary, centuries old, jury-rigged doctoring he was used to. 

(Sam used to do what he could to improve those standards whenever they went to see the good doctor, but the old creep’s whole precision kink meant there was very little anyone aside from himself could do to undo the work he did, even with access to the - probably illegal - hospital-grade medkits left lying around. Jim stumbled out of the “operating room” once after a particularly intense hour with a great slice down his bicep sewed down with wound compression thread, the kind that heats to over 600 degrees fahrenheit, meant for cauterizing internal bleeding in emergency surgery.  

Jim had teared up and fallen to his knees at Sam’s feet, babbling incoherently as his arm burned and burned and burned, unable to tell his brother what was wrong. When Sam finally realized, he’d nearly knocked over a shelf searching for a laser scalpel, eyes wide and frantic, falling over himself to pull the stitches out as quickly as he could. But as soon as the first stitch got trimmed - a painful and slow and messy enough process on its own by Sam’s untrained hand, cutting slightly into Jim’s flesh along with the slowly heating thread - the entire length of the stitching had snapped and pulled itself along, coiling and twisting itself subdermally with only the barest hint of thread peeking out. It had been over half heated at that point, and Jim’s eyes had rolled into the back of his head and he’d passed out. 

And then they’d gone home to Frank.)

Also, Jim kind of figured he wouldn’t mind anything the people he’d met at the circus wanted from him. They seemed nice enough, but more than that they seemed to respect Jim as a person. Like, not as an accessory or a saleable commodity that would be devalued if damaged? He’s used to looking into people’s eyes and seeing the Kelvin Baby, like a disappointing mascot for the most fucked up amusement park ever reflected back, and that’s if they aren’t involved in Frank’s Super Secret Social Ladder Project.

He sees nothing in the eyes of the Traveling Criminal Circus but his own battered, bruised, ugly ass. 

So when, on day 6, Andrew patted him on the head, said he really should have died from infection by now and declared his treatment officially through, Jim didn’t run. Or, well, he did, but he ran in the direction of where Des was stood upside down from the ceiling. 

“What the fuck is wrong with my backflip?” Jim demands.

 

Jim takes well to performing.

It’s not really a surprise, per say. He thinks, sometimes, that his whole life has been about performance and subterfuge, that it has all led up to hanging upside down from the rafters to fall limp to the ground before flipping through the air into a flashy pose. The audience loves him, with his sparkly blue mask and his big, toothy grin and the flowy, formless clothes that only add to the impossibility of his movements. The Ring Master is a guy named Jason - which is the most old fashioned name he’s ever heard outside Riverside - who loves the effect Jim has on a crowd, and within a week of Jim’s first show, he’s being dragged into the more personality-focused acts, getting mic’d up and acting twice as cheeky for the crowd.

He kind of loves it, how the anonymity lends him real confidence. He cracks jokes with the little boy who was terrified, a moment ago, that Jim was falling to his death. He fake flirts with harrowed looking middle aged women with children on their hips and an empty seat by their side until he can pull a smile out of them. He makes silly faces at the children tagging alongside bored fathers whose eyes haven’t left the aerial team once in the past hour except to take a hit of something one of the knife throwers sold them in line.

It becomes part of his ongoing study into human nature.

But what really cinches the deal for Jim is Amelda. She bought him a whole wardrobe, set up a pirated secondary schooling program, and cleared out a whole bed for him in the hovercar she shared with her younger sister, in the single week Jim was confined to the infirmary. 

“Are you sure you should be training on the trapeeze so soon?” she’d fret. Jim hadn’t had anyone fret over him since Sam. 

“Andrew told me your backflips are no longer logic-resistent. Even Des has started giving you approving looks when you’re in the air!” she’d boast. Jim hadn’t had anyone boast his achievements since Sam.

But it’s not like he was replacing Sam or anything. 

For one, Amelda was 24. She had a younger sister the same age Sam would be if he somehow managed not to get killed in an alley somewhere in Iowa City. Abria was 12 years old and Jim’s idol. She was savvy, knew Standard, and let Jim hang out with her older friends. Jim wasn’t a popular guy back in Riverside, and spending time with Abria and her people was something of a revelation. Jimmy Kirk got bullied, and picked on, and taunted, and ostracised, by kids picking up cues their parents and teachers dropped, and Jim thought that was the norm. JT was just another person and Jim was slowly learning that meant something much different than he had assumed.

One day, weeks into Jim’s stay with the girls, Amelda calls him up to the roof and offers him a lemonade.

“I’m allergic,” Jim reminds her, settling down and watching the landscape fly past.

“Code seven replicated,” she says, which doesn’t make any sense to him. “Pectin won’t be a problem.”

She must see the skepticism on his face, because she laughs and nudges his ear with the bottle. The condensation drips into his shirtcollar, and he makes a face. He takes the offered drink and sips cautiously. When he doesn’t immediately go into anaphalactic shock, he throws the bottle back.

“I was a chemistry student,” Amelda says. Jim freezes. “So I know what I’m talking about. Thanks for trusting me.” She tugs her legs to her chest. 

“You don’t have to tell me anything,” Jim says. He is nine years old and has only a couple months experience as a human, but he knows Amelda doesn’t owe him anything, least of all honesty.

“I don’t have to, I want to. I’m not expecting your story in return or anything, I just… You’re going to be here for a while, I hope, and I need you to know there is more to this place than adrenaline and petty theft.”

“There’s the view,” Jim offers. Some tension leaves her shoulders, and Jim settles in next to her. She’s an excellent storyteller, Amelda is. Jim knows this is going to be a good one.

 


 

“Chris, I’m going to fail ex-bio, I swear to fuck get Phil on line so he can tell me how digestive acid varries between terran and extra-terrestrial humans or so-help-me I will-”

“Please don’t threaten the XO of a Starfleet on a Starfleet channel, Jimmy, I’m here,” Phil mumbles, sleep-rumpled and drowsy. Jim raises a brow but doesn’t say anything. He has bigger problems.

“Phiiiiiiil, school is weird here and terms are over soon for some reason even though it’s been like three months and I’m going to fail xenobiology because the exam is soon and if I fail a class L’shai-fan is gonna be so fucking smug and then I’ll have to punch him in his smug little brat face and then I’ll get kicked out of school and I’ll have to start working for chump change at Ga’al’s place.”

“Hey,” Ga’al says, “I’m not hiring any underage workers. Ibyhr would return to dock early just to kill me.”

“See!” Jim cries, “If you don’t help me I’ll be left with no prospect whatsoever!”

Ga’al laughs and slides a plate of flat red noodles across the bar at Jim. “Ai’Laih, for your studying convenience.” He ruffles Jim’s hair. “Do your best for me, kiddo.”

Jim flushes and mumbles a thank you as Ga’al heads into the back for inventory. Phil makes an interested noise through the PADD.

“So what’s that all a-”

“Xenobiology!” Jim exclaims, the back of his hand to his forehead. It is all appropriately dramatic for the situation.

“Jim-”

“Taxonomy! Genes!

“Jim!” Jim shut up. Phil was smiling, wrapped up in a blanket and blinking through sleep. “Is this new?”

“He’s just so gentle, ” Jim whispers, tucking his face into his arms. 

“...gentle.” Phil’s smile falls slightly, and Jim doesn’t know why, wonders if he should stop talking. But Phil doesn’t say to stop, so he doesn’t. 

Jim gestures wildly at the bowl of Ai’Laih in front of him, waving his arms like one of those old plastic noodle men, trying to get what he means to say out in words but he’s just shrinking in on himself and turning red as a tomato. “He feeds me,” he says weakly, and hopes Phil will get it.

Phil’s face had gone soft again when Jim wasn’t looking. “I guess he’s pretty cute, huh?”

Jim splutters. “You guess?” He flushes bright and groans. “That’s not what I meant to say.”

Phil tilts his head back and cackles. 

“Shut your bouche and explain the purpose of intussusception during digestion in non-mammilion vulcanoid species.”

“Vulcanoid?”

“Four limbs and upright. When talking sapient species in general I got Pragais as a pretty dependable reference, but-”

“But it’s different when you’ve got to circulate to four limbs keeping you upright. What grade did you say you’re in?”

Jim shoots him a haunted expression. “I don’t know,” he hisses.

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I mean I don’t fucking-”

“Language.”

“-know, I’ve been in classes here what, four months, and I can’t get a read on what age my classmates are meant to be. There’s this one kid in over half of them who-” he pauses. “Did you just say language? What the fuck?”

“I know, I know, I don’t know what came over me, I just-”

“Chris is that you? Have you finally merged into a whole person?”

“Listen shithead, I-”

Jim gasps with exagerated flair, throwing a scandalized hand over his heart. “Phil! Language!”

Phil sighs, longsuffering. A smile twitches at his lips. Jim Kirk’ll do that to you.

So Jim really doesn’t know what grade he’s in. To be fair the concept of grades is rather distant to him. Riverside public ed was rural and underfunded, for anyone who’s parents weren’t willing to let them take the shuttle fifteen minutes for free to get to the local ‘fleet school. But Riverside wasn’t ‘fleet company, and despite who he married, Frank wasn’t a ‘fleet man.

Jim had always learned more than he was taught.

Still, he’s apparently finishing a school year (semester? trimester? quarter?) in a matter of weeks, and he still has no idea what his graduation year is supposed to be. This isn’t the school holovids had prepared him for. The only general constant was S’kha-lan, in about half of his classes, who definitely hates him. It’s a comfort.

Jim’s asked Tekh-nat, but the kid only ever laughs in response. Or, well, not laughs, but asks Jim how his classes are going, which is the Vulcan Snarky Teenager version of laughing. Jim’s pretty sure.

Anyway, he’s got tests coming up allegedley, and he’s got 20 classes to study for. That’s 6 classes more than the average Vulcan student, 8 classes more than the average 10 year old Tekh-nat, and 0 classes more than the average S’kha-lan of unspecified age. He thinks he’s ready for them, but he’s never taken a test in an actual classroom before. Or well, other than the placement tests. He wonders what those were for.

He shakes his head and stops trying to solve the mystery of Vulcan grade divisions. He’s got studying to do.