When he was a kid, all he ever wanted was to fly. To go up in a spaceship and never touch back down. It's not that he had a bad childhood; he didn't. But he grew up in San Francisco watching the shuttles leave and touring Starfleet on vacations…and all he ever wanted was to wear the red of a cadet. He was good at physics, but he loved reading war theory- mostly battle tactics. He went for his doctorate in physics in the end, and, at his mother's pressing, got certified as a pilot.
It was just chance that he subbed in for McKenna and wound up as helmsman. He could just as easily have been assigned as a science officer to another ship.
He's grateful, though- he wouldn't change anything. He likes the bridge. He likes the crew. It's like having a front row seat to an old TV show: he gets to watch the insanity unfold right before his eyes.
The thing about being on the Enterprise is- you're either in it or you're not.
The bridge crew- him, Uhura, Pavel, Spock and the Captain? They're the bridge crew.
They're the best at what they do, and they all of them learned a long time ago that apologizing for it was pointless.
It's not like they told him it would be. They told him that the captain wouldn't socialize with the crew, that the first officer would be the go-to. That the chain of command would be followed at all times.
Kirk socializes with them all the time- probably because they all knew each other before Kirk even got dragged to the Academy. There's too much history there for them not to get along.
And that's why it's not just a job, it's- it's their way of life.
The thing is, they're fucking family. No, really. He and Pavel figured it out on Gamma shift.
Spock and the captain are obviously the parents. Uhura is like, the long-suffering aunt, Scotty is the crazy uncle. And McCoy is their crotchety old grandfather.
And because they're all family, they're all hypersensitive to any shifts in the relationships of the "adults."
Okay, mostly, they just all watch the captain and Spock.
And they're very, very sure that they're all going to die every time they disagree.
Okay, the other thing is? They're all really fucking young.
Their captain is 25, their first officer is 26. McCoy is 31- and he's one of the oldest people on board. Pavel is fucking 17.
They could have asked for transfers to more experienced ships.
Instead (and he knows this because before Spock agreed to come aboard, Kirk was really bad at not just exploding about random things in the middle of non-related meetings) they had requests for transfers on. Vulcans, a lot of Vulcans wanted to be on the ship that destroyed the ship that killed their home planet. Almost a quarter of their crew is Vulcan.
So the thing is, they're all young, straight out of the academy. And sometimes he thinks that they're all waiting for an adult to walk through the room and tell them to behave.
But no one does, and for the first time he gets to be a part of a group of people who are all just as smart as he is, if not smarter. It's… kind of amazing.
They get all these accolades. The Starfleet hierarchy love them- because Kirk is… it's not that he's suicidal. It's not. It's just that he's… fearless. Indestructible. High-functioning under pressure, willing to sacrifice himself for a greater good.
Spock does a lot of quiet, logical conferencing with the higher-ups about the degree to which their missions always end up with Kirk in sickbay. McCoy does a lot of shouting. Hikaru puts it in his acting-captain supplementals on the oh-too-frequent occasions he is acting captain because Spock has gone down to rescue the captain, Scotty is too busy fixing the ship, and Uhura has to keep on hailing whomever it is they're fighting at the moment.
Pike seems to get it, but there's only so much they can do, especially with the Romulans so antsy and the Klingons ready to attack the Romulans and- it's a mess, and Jim Kirk has become this symbol for… he doesn't even know.
He's like their figurehead. Golden boy. Something.
"They hate blue-eyed people," he repeats slowly. "And they duel."
Spock nods. "And they have the captain, who has called you to be his second."
Hikaru wishes, fervidly, that this was unusual. But it's not.
And when he gets down there they have the captain and Chapel, who is cradled in the captain's arms carefully even though he's bleeding through his uniform.
"Sulu," Kirk says mildly. "Tell me you remember how to do this."
"I think so, sir."
Kirk grins at him, and he grins back because what else is he going to do? He lunges and parries, takes down opponent after opponent, but it doesn't seem to end. He wipes sweat off his forehead.
"One last competitor have ye have needs to defeat," the chieftess says in a disgruntling deep voice.
He's tired and sore. And this guy is all wiry muscle and faster than he is, and fuck. They're all going to die.
And then the captain lunges and grabs the guy around the middle, and the guy wrenches and drives his rapier through the captain's side, but it's enough time for Hikaru to turn around and hit the jamming device with the pommel of his own rapier.
"Get us out now! Have Doctor McCoy standing by to treat the captain!" he shouts into his comm, but by the time he finishes the sentence they're already in the transporter room.
He marks another line on the chart he's keeping: he's mapping the galaxy with planets that take an inherent, unjustified dislike to the captain. There are far too many: they don't like how straight his teeth are, they don't like the color of his eyes, they don't like that he smiles, he's too good-looking, he's too- there's always something and it makes him crazy.
Pavel knocks and sticks his head in. "Ready for dinner?" he asks.
"Yeah, I'm coming."
If it was any other group- if he was hearing these stories, he'd be impressed. It'd be a joke, kind of- the amazing surviving Kirk. Except Hikaru knows just as well as the rest of them that if they didn't have Doctor McCoy to beat back death; Spock to be the voice of reason; Uhura to smooth over as many misunderstandings as she does- he'd be dead.
And they'd be dead with him.
It's the reason he has to make jokes of it- has to lay bets, pretend like every time it's nothing more than a game.
Because if he, for just a second, lets himself think of this as reality? Lets himself actually consider the implications of what it all means- of how close they come to disaster every time… he'd go insane.
"So. I am giving you excellent odds that the next planet? There will be a weird marriage ceremony and Spock and the captain will get married for the eighth time," he tells Pavel, wrapping an arm around his shoulder.
"I believe I will agree with you," Pavel decides. "We are due for one."
"See?" Hikaru nods. He has blood under his fingernails. "Exactly. Things have been too quiet."