The solution to saving Earth from the same fate as Vulcan was actually pretty easy to realize. It was from the moment he watched Spock’s devastated expression in the Enterprise’s transporter room because he might have failed to save all those lives, but he wasn’t about to fail the rest of the Federation as well.
Jim just wished everyone else could accept the solution as quickly as he had. It would have made the whole day just go a little better, but he didn’t have time to dwell on that when he woke up on Vulcan-that-was’ neighboring planet. (And wasn’t it ironic really, that the planet was cold and crusted with ice and snow when Vulcan-that-was had been searing deserts?)
When he made his way back on board, he hated every word that slipped past his lips, hated the way Spock’s eyes shuttered with unfathomable pain, grief and sorrow before he felt the Vulcan’s fingers tighten around his neck until he couldn’t breath.
And maybe the universe would be better off if he just -
But today was not the day James T. Kirk died. Or at least, not in this moment because air scrubbed at the inside of his lungs until his body remembered it was meant to breath and he coughed and struggled to stand on his feet as he watched Spock leave.
This was not how he wanted to earn the chair.
He gave the order to point the Enterprise towards Earth and now came the hard part, now came the moment he had to figure out how the fuck he was going to actually stop Nero. Bones, tired and stressed as he was, came up to the Bridge without hesitation when Jim asked. Is the only one who heard the slight tremble in his voice, because Bones knew without ever needing to see his face that he was fucking terrified.
Was this how his -
No. He couldn’t think of that now. Maybe not ever, because as their plan formed thanks to Spock’s sudden reappearance, the gentle awareness this was likely his last few moments hummed beneath the surface of his skin.
Nero’s ship was barely controlled chaos and Jim wondered how these Romulans even survived this long under the leadership of someone who was clearly batshit crazy, but as Spock took off in his older counterpart’s ship, he is suddenly faced with said madman.
And his thoughts began to spiral because shit, he really didn’t want to die today. Bones would never forgive him. Chris was still somewhere on board and that man deserved to live for purely selfish reasons. But his mind immediately stilled when Nero snarled, “Don’t you want to save your father? You can’t do that if you kill me and destroy this ship” as the Romulan stood over his body, boot pressed to his throat until all he could see was spots.
“Captain Pike isn’t my-” he managed to squeeze out before Nero’s boot cut off his voice.
And even though Romulans resemble Vulcans so damn much, Jim was certain even before the Reformation Vulcan’s never quite looked that evil. “I am not talking about Captain Pike. I speak of George Kirk.”
Before he could find out more, Spock followed the next step in their plan and destroyed the drill. Or at least, he assumed that is what happened based on the pure fury that consumed Nero’s face before he was gone and his lackey was there to pick up where he left off. And now Jim was desperate more than he’d ever had been in his life and that said something when Tarsus IV memories flashed quick and painful across his mind, but he had to know if Nero spoke the truth.
By the time he reached Chris, he knew there wasn’t much time left and his mind clawed at more of it so he could find, so he could -
Chris opened his mouth and reached for his phaser, but before either of them could react the Romulan that had snuck up on them both dropped to the ground and -
The word caught in Chris’ throat and Jim stared steadfast at the insignia that hung on the golden shirt his fingers currently curled into so tightly he almost ripped the fabric. Chris continued to stare over his shoulder as he quickly worked at the straps and -
he turned confronted with a man who had only been a ghost contained within pictures stuffed deep into boxes, only looked at once a year when his mother had half a bottle of whiskey in her system.
Yet, George Kirk was not that ghost.
He looked haunted, yes, but Jim realized that whatever man his father had been before Nero crashed into their time and fucked everything up was irrevocably gone, replaced with someone else entirely and he didn’t know either of them.
“Three to beam back, Scotty.”
He knew that was his voice, but he did not remember grabbing his communicator or his lips moving. Instead, it was as though they appeared from thin air and as the familiar sensation of being tugged through space he wondered what the fuck he did to deserve any of this.
Bones raced into the room and Spock stood to his side and the two of them faltered because George Kirk had not been apart of the plan, George Kirk was a man who was meant to be dead, body lost to the vast wreckage of space.
There was silence and it suffocated him until a strangled sound forced its way from his throat and -
alarms blared when the Enterprise, battered as she was, sensed the red matter explode and create a black hole at the center of Nero’s ship and -
he was on the Bridge, Spock at his side and Nero’s face on the viewscreen, angry, beaten and defiant as he denied their assistance and he was quick to give him the death he deserved. When the ship couldn’t break away from the black hole’s gravitational force, his mind flashed to an unwelcome thought that if George Kirk had still been on that ship and died he never would have known because he already believed him dead.
“Do it, do it, DO IT!”
The Enterprise heaved and groaned around him when they broke free and hours later as he made his way down to Medbay, he ran his hand over the walls of her corridors and whispered how sorry he was to have ejected her core, but how amazing she was to have survived everything thrown her way.
He swore he heard her sigh when the Medbay doors slowly opened.
Even though he possessed no telepathic abilities, the grief and pain and sorrow in the Medbay slammed into him until he nearly staggered, but Bones’ hand was on his elbow and steadied him an anchor in all of the chaos that the day contained. “Is he really my -?”
“Yeah, Jim, he is.”
His eyes searched each biobed until he found it. George Kirk looked frail and broken and the vacant expression in his eyes hit far too close to home and he approached the man who had hung over his life like a shadow on shaky legs. Bones’ hand never once strayed.
George didn’t look at him right away and Jim found he was unsure of what to say. This man was not the man his mother had told him stories of, that man had been scraped away until they were all left with this hollow husk of what George Kirk used to be and could never be again.
“Mr. Kirk?” Bones’ voice was gentle.
God, what was he going to tell his mom? What was he going to tell Sam?
George turned his head until familiar blue eyes caught his own and he understood then more than ever before why his mother could hardly look at him in the days that led up to his birthday every year. “Jim?”
This hadn’t been a good idea. He shouldn’t have come. He was never meant to hear his father actually say his name outside of the intimate conversation his parents had shared in the seconds that followed his birth. His mother had let him listen to the recording once, when he was fifteen and angry, fifteen and broken, fifteen and -
“Let’s call him Jim.”
It wasn’t until the Medbay doors shut behind him with a mournful hiss that he realized he had left at all. He should rest, he knew that much, knew Bones would tell him as much since it’d been just over twenty-four hours since he last slept. And god, had it really been that long ago when his biggest concern had been trying to keep himself from getting kicked out of Starfleet?
But he knew, better than anyone, that a single day could change everything.
Bones found him later and he fell a little more in love with the man when he looked out the viewscreen, right at the stars he feared, before he turned to look down at him. His whole body ached and -
familiar lips found his and both of them ignored the tears the slipped down his cheeks as he drank up Bones’ love like a drowning man.
“What do I do now?”
Steady hands cupped his face, “You take your next breath.”
They squeezed onto a bed that was far too small for men their size, let alone two, but his hand slipped under Bones’ shirts until it rested over the steady beat of his heart and he drifted off. Perhaps the peace of mind he found when he fell into unconsciousness was a reward for nearly dying in the name of the Federation that had failed him when he had needed it most.
Neither Spock or Bones dared to tell him he avoided the Medbay like it contained the goddamn plague within its very walls and when Earth appeared in the viewscreen, bright, blue, and brimming with life he could no longer ignore the chasm George Kirk created.
He knew what the next step was, knew what he had to do and as his mom’s face appeared on the screen in the Captain’s ready room he opened his mouth and -
“Jim,” she said. “You look like shit.”
Perhaps it was his laughter that gave it away because when he looked back up at the screen the wild, fierce, hurricane of a woman who was his mother was gone. In her place was a Winona Kirk that belonged to fuzzy, early memories of his life. “Mom. I found him. George is alive.”
She said nothing and they sat there until Uhura’s voice came through his communicator to tell him the spacedock was ready for them and -
they were on the second to last shuttle down because, of course, Starfleet had to make a whole fucking show out of everything that they could use to make themselves look strong. Bones wasn’t with him and he hated it, but he was only a shuttle behind with Chris and George on board because at least Starfleet had some tact when it came to injured men and one who was long thought dead.
Oh, Jim knew that they would make him and George into heros. George into an even bigger one for surviving twenty-five years on Nero’s ship as his prisoner and who refused to yield and himself for saving the Federation and killing the man who took Vulcan, who took his father, who -
strands of hair colored like honey spilled across his shoulder and it was like he was fifteen all over again, returned from hell that had nearly wrecked him but this time he was not the one ruined.
He hugged his mom back just as fiercely.
They didn’t have long before the last shuttle touched down and Bones stepped off first, his face calm and collected, but he knew better, could see the raging flood of emotions embedded into those hazel eyes as the hover-gurney followed behind him. It was hard to see Chris confined to a bed, not when the entire time Jim knew him the man had been energetic, expressive, and sure as hell never truly still even as he stood at attention.
His mom’s hitched breath was the only warning he got before he saw George Kirk stand at the top of the shuttle’s ramp. It didn’t take George long to find the pair of them and when he did, Jim wasn’t sure what the man would do.
In the end, he should have been more worried about his mom’s reaction.
“I told you I couldn’t do it without you,” she snarled when George walked closer. Bones had wanted his father to head straight over to Starfleet Medical to continue his treatment, but he remained silent as he watched the Kirk’s reunite.
George didn’t utter a word as his mom lurched forward and shoved him. “I told you,” and her voice was hard and angry despite the tears that spilled onto her cheeks. “Why did you have to be such a self-sacrificing asshole?”
He couldn’t help but watch the blank expression George wore the last several days morph into resignation. “Because you both needed to live.”
The words I didn’t ask for a life or your sacrifice died on his lips when he saw the way his mother’s face just shattered when she heard George’s voice. Her hand found his and she squeezed until he swore he felt and heard the bones pop. “You were - are many things George Kirk, but I never thought stupid would be one of them. I didn’t live, couldn’t even if I wanted.”
Bones was the only reason he stepped foot into Starfleet Medical. George was admitted, of course, for malnourishment, improperly healed injuries, and for a psych evaluation. The doctors and nurses turned to his mother for her opinion on nearly everything and he wanted to scream at all of them to make the damn decisions themselves didn’t they know -
“Go call Sam, Jim. He needs to know.”
Her voice was strained but he knew better than to argue when he heard the hints of firmness beneath all of it. Winona Kirk was never a mother he or Sam went to bat against unless they were glutton for punishment. Which, Jim’s adolescence after Tarsus was littered with those exactly moments, but they were past that know had been past it for years and -
Sam’s face was on the screen and now that he saw George in person he could see how his brother took more after their mother than anything but those eyes, George’s eyes, looked back at him. “Thank God you’re alright Jim,” his brother said as his shoulders sagged in relief.
He bit his bottom lip because how the hell was he supposed to tell Sam, the only one between both of them who remembered George Kirk as a father, that he’d been alive this whole time and none of them knew? “Jim?”
A door slammed shut down the hall and the sound snapped him from his thoughts and he focused on Sam again and took a deep breath. “He’s alive Sammy, been alive this whole time on Nero’s ship.”
He watched confusion spill across Sam’s expression for several moments before everything clicked into place. “Dad’s alive?”
All he could manage was a nod and he closed his eyes when he heard Sam’s strangled breath over the video. Four years was all Sam had with George as his father, four short years but Jim knew his brother remembered enough to know how to miss him, to know how to love and mourn him in ways that Jim never could. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Fuck, Aurelan! I gotta go back to Earth -”
The call cut out and all he could do was stare at the blank screen before it powered down completely.
Bones found him much later, beneath the tree on campus that had the best view of the bay. His medical uniform was rumpled and he wondered if Bones had been at Starfleet Med this whole time - probably because the man was just as stubborn as himself. “C’mon, Jimmy, let’s go home.”
As soon as their dorm’s door slid shut, Bones’ hands pulled at his clothes, and he stood there and let himself be taken care of because what else could he do right now? Plus, he was tired, so fucking tired of being James T. Kirk, hero to the Federation, George Kirk’s son - he just wanted to be Jim.
Those steady hands brought him back to the present and arousal hummed, low and hot in his stomach as those hands worked at his belt and pants until they pooled at his ankles. His own hands shook as his fingers curled around Bones’ hips, still covered with his stupid uniform. “I should be happier. I should want to -”
Bones cut off his words with a kiss, gentle and sweet as he led him over to their bed. “Jim, there’s no handbook on how you should feel or act when you find out your father hasn’t really been dead and shows up into your life twenty-five years later.”
He huffed a weak laugh as he flopped onto his back as he heard Bones shed his uniform. “I’ve lived my whole life without him, I’ve managed to do just fine. I -”
Bones sighed as he curled around Jim and pulled him close. “Don’t want him to take Chris’ place.”
Try as he might, he couldn’t stop the silent tears that leaked out of the corner of his eyes. If Bones noticed them, he didn’t breathe a word, just pulled him closer. “Is that wrong?”
It was a complicated question to ask Bones, he knew that much, but couldn’t help himself to ask it anyway. If anyone knew the complicated web of emotions that involved fathers and what it meant to be their son, it was Bones. “I don’t think so, no. But Jim, I think when the shock is gone, you need to ask yourself if you only have enough room in your heart for one man to be your dad or if you can find a way to have them both take that place in your life.”
It was all too much, he felt as if his emotions suffocated him, slowly and painfully, and he turned over so he faced Bones, not feeling one drop of shame at the tears on his face as he said, “Make me forget about all of this for a little while, please.”
Bones hesitated for only a second, but he had never been able to deny Jim Kirk anything, especially when those eyes held so much pain and sorrow. When Bones kissed him again, he could feel every ounce of love and affection the man held for him and his fingers gripped Bones’ shoulders tightly as he soaked it all up. Here in that very room, he was just Jim and Bones was just Bones and even though it hadn’t been an easy journey to get to where they were now, this was theirs . No fathers or crazy madmen could lay claim to it.
Each gasp and moan encouraged Bones and as those steady hands he loved so fucking much tore him apart piece by piece until he was left tangled in their sheets as Bones slowly and deliberately pushed into him. His body adjusted with practiced ease and the moment Bones was fully inside him, he swore all he could see was white.
“So goddamn beautiful,” Bones gasped. “Can’t believe you're mine,” he said as he snapped his hips forward.
Distantly, he heard him shout Bones’ name when the man’s cock hit his prostate. “All yours,” he managed to say. “Only yours.”
Those were the last words said before they both succumbed to pleasure that slowly consumed each of them. With each thrust, Jim swore it would be the last one before he lost total control but Bones managed to keep him just on the edge of oblivion until they were both ready to tumble over the edge.
Their rhythm became erratic and as Bones wrapped a hand around him and tried to stroke in tandem with his thrusts, Jim couldn’t stop himself for falling. With a strangled shout that could only have been Bones’ name, he came, seconds later Bones followed and they rode out their orgasms tangled together and when Bones pulled out and flopped down beside him, he realized then that he never wanted anything - or anyone - else. This was enough, Bones was more than he could have ever hoped for and maybe he really didn’t deserve a love like this but he’d rather die than fuck this up.
“I love you,” he said once he regained control of his breathing.
He watched as Bones’ lips curled into a smile, though the man didn’t open his eyes. “You better. Since I love you too, for some godforsaken reason.”
Laughter bubbled up his throat and he threw his head back and laughed and laughed and laughed until he couldn’t breath again. “Oh Bones, you big romantic. All those holomovies were true! Southern charm isn’t dead.”
A hand smacked his chest and he quickly clasped it between his own. “Go get us a washcloth, you infant,” Bones grumbled, but the smile never left his face and for Jim that was enough.
When the sun poked through the small window in their dorm the next morning, Jim didn’t feel like he wanted to punch something until his knuckles bled, though the tightness in his chest hadn’t completely left. Bones grumbled and held onto him tighter when he began to shift. “Stay,” he mumbled.
Jim laughed lightly as he kissed Bones’ temple. “I’ll go make us coffee. You have a shift that starts in an hour by the way.”
That got Bones’ attention and the blanket pooled at the man’s waist when he sat up abruptly. “Fucking hell, it’s barely morning.”
And this at least, felt almost normal. They could almost pretend it was just another day at the Academy, weeks away from their actual graduation, from their actual postings to the Enterprise, but the moment he opened up their closet and stared at the sea of red he was practically slapped in the face with everything that had changed. It felt wrong as he tugged on the cadet uniform, he felt like he had outgrown it in just one short, desperate mission, but he wasn’t a Captain, hell, he wasn’t even officially a Starfleet officer.
The trek over to Starfleet Med was bleak and even Bones wasn’t able to find a way to insert a little light into the air that hung between them. But, Jim knew that Bones wouldn’t want to even try, not when the paths that led them off Academy grounds and onto Command grounds were so bare.
He felt Bones’ fingers ghost across his wrist before he disappeared into the doctor’s lounge. At least Bones had a purpose, would always have a purpose in his life because it didn’t matter if they stripped away his rank until nothing was left - he would still remain a healer at his very core.
For the briefest of moments, Jim thought Chris was asleep but as the door hissed shut behind him, the older man looked over at him. “Jim,” he said with a tired smile at the corner of his lips. “C’mere, son.”
The word suddenly had a whole new meaning and he wasn’t sure what to make of it. When Christopher Pike first called him son, years ago now in his office something within him had shifted. His first instinct had been to scoff and roll his eyes because he was no man’s son, but when he looked into eyes that were so similar to his own, he faltered and allowed it.
As he sank into the chair beside Chris’ biobed, he wasn’t sure what to say, how to act but the man who had filled the space in Jim’s heart George Kirk had never been around to claim reached out to grab his hand. “How are you?”
Jim laughed. “I think I’m supposed to ask you that.”
Chris didn’t laugh but he did feel the man try to tighten his grip on his hand. “Jim,” his voice was firm despite how exhausted he appeared to be. “Your dad practically returned from the dead -”
“He’s not my dad.”
The words tumbled from his lips before any real thought was put behind them, but once they were out Jim found he didn’t have the desire to take them back. “He may be my father, but he isn’t my dad Chris. Hell, you deserve to have that place in my life out of anyone after all the shit I put you through.”
Chris’ breath stuttered and Jim looked frantically at the readings above his head. He was halfway to his comm to call Bones before -
“You are a son to me, Jim. In every sense of the word.”
He was certain his heart would give out if his emotional turmoil continued without any kind of reprieve. The emotions in Chris’ eyes killed the words on his lips, because really, how could words accurate convey to the man before him how fucking grateful he was to hear that? So, he did the only other thing he could think of through the haze of his racing heart and mind, he squeezed Chris’ hand tightly in his own.
Chris, of course, knew exactly what he said in the silence that followed his confession.
The rest of their visit was spent talking about the Enterprise and the shape she was in until Bones barged into the room with Phil Boyce on his heels. “Alright, Jim, you gotta leave. It’s time for his next surgery.”
He shot an alarmed look at Chris because what the fuck, why didn’t he say something earlier? Chris just rolled his eyes as Bones and Phil fussed over him. “It’s no big deal, Jim. Your boyfriend here is gonna be the one fixing me up.”
Phil laughed and brushed back some of Chris’ hair from his forehead. “I see I’ve been replaced.”
He watched as the man who had become so incredibly important to him shoot his husband a sly grin. “You always knew I was going to trade you in for a younger model one day.”
Bones crossed his arms and huffed. “I’m hardly young, Chris.”
This time it was his turn to roll his eyes. “Bones, please, you’re only thirty-one. Quit acting like you’re sixty.” Before Bones could respond, he squeezed Chris’ hand one more time and threw him a wink as he stood. “Have fun with him.”
His mind didn’t seem to register until it was too late that he stood outside George’s room. How he managed to get into a lift and go up two floors without even realizing it was a little concerning, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now.
All he could do was follow Bones’ advice. So he took his next breath and stepped inside.
His mother was asleep at the end of George’s bed, her hair pulled up into a hasty bun and he sighed at the sight of her. George seemed to be asleep as well, so he crouched next to his mom and gently shook her shoulder until she woke. “Mom,” he whispered but it was loud enough to get her to open her eyes. “When was the last time you left this room?”
Her smile was sad as she reached out and cupped his cheek in one of her hands. “Sweetheart, I don’t plan on leaving this room until your father does.”
He sighed as he leaned into her touch, still familiar even though she stopped her affections when he came back home from Tarsus. He reached up and pried her hand away from his face, but kept a firm hold on her hand with both of his own. “You need to take care of yourself too. Take a shower, sleep in an actual bed for a few hours.”
She looked like she was about to refuse when -
“He’s right, Win. You can’t sit by my bedside the whole time. I’m gonna be here a while.”
Jim didn’t look away from his mom, couldn’t bring himself to do it as he pleaded with her to take a break for a while even though the panic he felt desperately wanted her to stay. “Me and Bones’ place has its own shower, a real one, and we have a pretty comfortable bed if I say so myself. Go, mom. He isn’t going to disappear on you if you do.”
She laughed and even though it was tired, Jim could hear that it was genuine. “Am I that transparent?”
A smile tugged at the corner of his lips as he shook his head. “No, but I know I’d be afraid of the same thing if I thought Bones had died and he really didn’t,” he said. As he stood, he kissed the top of her head and let go of her hand. “I’ll comm you the code for the door and which building it's in, you know, in case you forgot your way around.”
His mom laughed again as she picked up the duffle bag from the corner. “I’m not that old, boy, mind your tongue.”
He averted his gaze as his mom said goodbye to George and then left with the promise she’d be back in three hours. Jim didn’t try to argue she sleep longer than that knowing it’d be pointless. Three hours was better than none, at least.
“I’m glad to see you boys took care of her,” George said after the silence almost became unbearable after her departure. Jim couldn’t pick up on whether or not that made George sad or proud or a mixture of the two and the fact he couldn’t really read the notes in the man’s voice unsettled him as he stood at the foot of the biobed.
“We had to,” he settled on saying. Because it was the truth. A dumbed down version of it, but the truth all the same. “But she didn’t have much of anyone to take care of her until we were old enough to understand we had to do it ourselves.”
George flinched. And Jim thought that the man’s guilt would satisfy him but it didn’t. It just left a bitter taste on his tongue. “Look, Jim, I -”
He held up his hand and George, to his credit, stopped talking immediately. “I just came here to check on mom. And the only reason I haven’t left yet is because I know she wouldn’t want you to be alone right now. So I’m going to stay until the brass finally calls me in for a debriefing, but I don’t want to talk.”
Jim watched as a flash of pain flickered across George’s face, and for the briefest of moments, he felt guilty for being the cause of that hurt. “I understand.”
He could tell George didn’t really understand, but decided to respect his wishes. It was a start at least, for...whatever their relationship would shape up to be. “Thank you,” he said as he pulled his PADD out of his bag and settled into the chair his mom just left.
As the tension settled into every line of his body, he wished hopelessly that Sam was already back on Earth and here so that he could leave the reunions to the Kirks who actually knew George. But his brother was still days away depending on what transport he decided to take and his mom would kick his ass if he left George alone for three hours. And so he sat and he repressed the urge to scream until his throat was raw. Two hours later, his communicator beeped and he opened the message from the brass. He wasn’t sure who he wanted to face more - the man who was his father, the one he never got to meet, or a bunch of stiff Admirals who were mostly assholes about everything.
As he stood up, George spoke, “You saved billions of lives, Jim, don’t let them forget that.”
He hesitated at the door, before he turned and looked at George, actually looked at him. “Starfleet prefers their heroes dead, they can’t talk back that way.”
Before he could let George try to give him advice, he left. If there was anyone he would listen to when it came to how to deal with the brass, that man would be Christopher Pike. While he had no doubt in his mind that George had his fair share of run-ins with Admirals before Nero, before everything, that didn’t change the fact most of those men were retired or gone now.
The debriefing didn’t go nearly as bad as he had imagined it would. Of course, they weren’t exactly pleased with how he wound up on board and he was sure Bones got his head chewed off for breaking some medical code of conduct, but there wasn’t much they could do because he had saved Earth and the rest of the Federation. It helped that Spock dropped the charges against him.
He was patted on the back, told he would have to deal with the press sooner rather than later, and had his probation lifted. Not that there were any classes to go to.
At least the brass realized that the surviving cadets, officers, and instructors needed time to just...grieve.
“Plus, I’m sure you want to get to know your father.”
That sentence had been said more times than he could count (though he was certain if he asked Spock later, the man would be able to tell him the exact number) and he barely managed to plaster a smile on his face as he nodded. They didn’t need to know that he had no idea if he wanted to actually do such a thing.
As he left HQ, he wondered what the hell Starfleet was going to look like now. While it was clear from Nero and Romulus that the madman had acted alone, the fact remained he literally destroyed a whole planet and killed billions of Vulcans in the process.
Somehow, Jim doubted Starfleet would completely remain a peacekeeping armada.
The days seemed to drag on, especially with Bones wrapped up in double shifts without an end in sight thanks to the fact Starfleet Med lost almost half of its staff. His mother hovered between soul-crushing relief and bone shattering fury at George’s return and each time he walked into George’s hospital room, he wondered just which Winona Kirk he would encounter.
George tried to talk to him, really talk to him, every time he sat in the room he made his mom vacate for a few hours, but he still couldn’t find it in himself to meet the man halfway. Though, the more time he spent in George’s presence, the more similarities he noticed they shared. For some reason, his revelation had surprised him and when he told Bones as such one night he was actually fucking home, he was reminded that George Kirk contributed to half of his genetic makeup.
It wasn’t what he really meant and Bones seemed to know that, but was too tired to really dive into a conversation that required more than two hours of sleep and several stim shots to really follow.
So, he let his...what exactly, he didn’t know, curl around him and drift off with his face pressed to the back of his neck. Boyfriend always seemed too inadequate of a word for what they were to each other. Lover just felt wrong on his tongue and maybe there just wasn’t a word in any of the known Federation languages to describe this.
Bones sighed in his sleep as if he knew that Jim was wrapped up in thoughts. He smiled and carded his hands through Bones’ hair until he drifted -
Sam had sent over the transport’s information when he booked it shortly after their call and Jim realized halfway through the morning that his brother was supposed to dock at Earth that afternoon and once he did, well, it would only be minutes before he was in San Francisco.
“Bones,” he said and caught the man’s elbow to draw his attention away from the PADD in his hands. “You think George is strong enough to leave his room for a little while?”
It took Bones a few moments before he remembered as well that Sam was set to arrive. “Yeah, he’ll be fine for that. I was actually on my way to tell your mom we’ll likely release him by the end of the week.”
The smile felt tight and Bones saw straight through it of course but didn’t say a word. “I’ll let her know, Jim,” he answered Jim’s unspoken question. And once again, he was hit with the realization that he and Bones just fucking fit together in a way he had never with anyone else or even dreamed of finding once he got off Tarsus. “Which hub is his shuttle goin’ to?”
“The same one ours did after Nero.”
Bones snorted and muttered an “Of course,” under his breath but he reached out and squeezed his arm. “I’m sure Sam will appreciate the fact he won’t have to wait until he gets here to see George.”
He shrugged. “Seemed only right, George is his dad so I can imagine he’s out of his mind anxious right now. No need to prolong that.”
While he tried to sound nonchalant, Bones shot him a pointed look that told him he wasn’t fooled. “I’ll see you there?”
“If you want me to be, Jim.”
For a brief moment, he wanted to tell Bones that he always wanted him to be around, but felt like Bones wouldn’t appreciate the words being said in the middle of Starfleet Med with his colleagues rushing about. They didn’t necessarily hide what they were to each other and if anyone asked if they were in a relationship, they never hesitated to say yes. But, he understood their relationship had become a sacred bubble they could be themselves in while the rest of their lives changed dramatically around them.
So he settled and said, “Of course I do,” instead because it was still the truth.
The tension in the air was enough to vibrate through his skin until his bones clattered with it and all he could hear was the steady inhale and exhale of Bones’ breath next to him and -
the shuttle’s door opened with a loud hiss and passengers calmly walked off as if this was just another, normal day for them. The familiar mop of dirty blonde hair finally appeared at the very end and he watched as Sam froze, eyes wide as he drank in the sight of his dad, of George Kirk alive and -
God, he has never heard Sam sound like that, like he had just discovered the oasis he believed to be a mirage was actually real and water touched his throat for the first time in days. It was hope and love and relief and -
there’s a thud and a blur and the warning died on his lips about how Sam needed to be gentle with George because Sam was already there, arms finding purchase on the soft cotton shirt that their father had donned to come see his other son. There was no hesitation from George as he wrapped Sam up into an equally desperate hug and his heart seemed to shred apart in his chest at the sight.
He watched as his mom drew both Sam and George into her arms and for the first time in his life, he was witness to what the Kirks had looked like before Kelvin, before him and -
Bones fingers ghosted across the back of his neck as he was pulled into arms that had always wanted him from the moment their eyes met on that godforsaken shuttle. He couldn’t stay there though, couldn’t breathe through the tattered remains of his heart when he realized he was what he always feared - an outsider amongst those who should have been home.
The words died on his tongue but Bones seemed to know exactly what he had intended to say. “It’s alright Jim, go.”
And he did, let his feet carry him into the room that should have felt suffocating considering the building it was inside of but didn’t. Christopher Pike wasn’t in his bed and for a wild moment he thought the man had left, asked to be moved somewhere Jim couldn’t find him because he couldn’t keep pretending he cared for Jim anymore.
Just as those thoughts began to strangle him the door opened and -
The familiar cadence of Chris’ voice soothed the frayed edges of his panic, kept it at bay until the next moment caused it to flare to life again. The nurse wheeled Chris further into the room and helped him into his bed as Jim stood rooted in his spot. Once settled, Chris turned and pat the bed. “Son, what’s wrong?”
The word allowed him to rip up to roots and step towards the biobed. His usual chair was on the other side of the room and he was afraid if he moved to get it the panic would take its hold again, so he sunk down and sat near Chris’ feet. “Sam just got here. We took George down to the shuttle bay to surprise him and -” he trailed off, afraid the lump in his throat would reveal itself through a hitched breath.
It didn’t matter because Chris seemed to know the tattered emotional landscape of his mind anyway. “C’mere,” his voice was gentle, but Jim knew it also was more of an order than a suggestion.
He scooted until Chris could manage to grab the nape of his neck and tug him down until his forehead pressed against a hospital gown clad shoulder. “I just didn’t exist for them,” he said. “And...I can’t be mad about it because for years that was true. I can’t blame them for -”
“No, Jim, you deserved to be apart of whatever happened down there. And I sure as hell will be mad at them for you if you won’t.”
The laugh that tumbled from his lips lacked any kind of true mirth and moved until his face pressed against Chris’ neck. “I’m pretty sure Bones is giving them a piece of his mind right about now.”
Chris hugged him closer as he said, “Good.”
They stayed like that until Phil walked in, took one look at them and sighed dramatically. “No one believes me when I say my two boys are the biggest softies in the damn galaxy.”
This time his laugh was more genuine because he could practically feel Chris roll his eyes before he pulled away enough to shoot the older man a cheeky grin. He turned to Phil and softened his expression because honestly, the man was just as important to him as Chris, had been there when Jim stumbled to their apartment wild and raw in those early days at the Academy and accepted him. “We have a reputation to uphold, Phil. Can’t have you go around ruining that,” he said.
Familiar conversation took over Jim’s mind until he was relaxed against his chair in a way he couldn’t have been when he first showed up. It was comforting to know that even in a hospital room, the three of them could act as though they were seated around Phil and Chris’ dinning room table.
“So, when is Bones gonna spring you?”
Chris shrugged and looked to Phil, who in turned shrugged as well. “Don’t look at me. Leo is treating me as a patient's husband rather than a fellow doctor right now. I can only make an educated guess.”
Jim continued to stare and Chris snorted behind him. “And that would be…?”
“Three more days. Max. All that’s really left is PT which he doesn’t need to necessarily stay for. I’m more than capable of hauling his ass over here.”
Chris made an offended noise while he smirked. “And how many times have you yelled at Bones for keeping you out of the loop?”
Silence, then -
“At least twice a day since you got back.”
The door to his dorm chimed incessantly in the middle of his shower and he cursed because honestly, could their timing be any fucking worse? Whoever it was would just have to deal with the fact he was answering with only a towel wrapped around his hips and hair dripping wet.
He shouldn’t have been as surprised as he was that Sam stood on the other side.
Sam pushed his way in and Jim sighed before he shut the door and turned to find some clothes to yank on in the small bathroom. Clearly, this would be one of those times that Sam wouldn’t say what was on his mind until he was right where he wanted to be before he lashed out.
When he emerged, clothed and mostly dried off, Sam made his way back out into the hallway and all Jim could do was follow. He learned a long time ago that brushing off his brother when he got like this only made the inevitable verbal battle that much worse.
Hastily, he sent a message off to Bones to let him know he would be...somewhere and would be back hopefully early enough they could actually spend some quality time together today.
As they made their way off campus, Jim was a little surprised to realize it was already near dark and couples and families rushed about to restaurants for dinner or begin their night out bar hopping. He really needed to get some actual fucking sleep if he was that out of it after his visit with Chris that he didn’t even register the sun was setting.
Sam abruptly yanked him into a bar and he said, “The fuck, Sam?” because honest what the fuck?
Sometimes Jim forgot just how strong his brother could be when he wanted. They were built practically the same way and while he was more physically active than Sam, it was clear that the eldest Kirk hit the gym enough to still be able to manhandle his little brother at twenty-nine.
“Find us a booth, I’ll grab us beers.”
It didn’t take too long for either of tasks to be accomplished, it was still on the earlier side for most bars so neither of them had to shove their way through a ton of people. For once though, Jim wasn’t really in the mood to drink and fiddled with the label on the bottle in his hands. He sure as hell wasn’t going to be the first one to break the silence, not when Sam clearly wanted to chew him out about something.
It felt like they were teenagers all over again before he was sent off to Tarsus, and he did something incredibly dumb that Sam had to clean up so he didn’t get his ass handed to him.
Except, this time, well, this time Jim had no idea what the hell he did.
“Care to tell me why you ran off earlier?”
And there it was, except...Sam didn’t sound angry. Which was not what he had been expected. He narrowed his eyes as he looked, properly looked, at Sam. He knew if Uhura was here, she’d probably be able to pick up on his brother’s body language faster, but eventually, he realized that Sam looked...uneasy and tense. As if he was the one afraid that Jim would go off on him and not the other way around.
Oh fuck, he was not properly drunk enough to talk about his feelings with Sam right now. “If we’re really going to have this conversation, I need something harder than beer.”
Sam shook his head, though he flagged down a waitress and within minutes he had two shots in front of him. There was only a slight hesitation before he downed them both. “Well?” Sam asked.
“I didn’t want to intrude.”
It wasn’t the whole truth, not by a long shot, but he prayed the answer would be enough for Sam to just drop this whole conversation. “What the fuck does that mean, Jim?”
He sighed and chugged half of his untouched beer because yeah, he definitely wasn’t drunk enough for this conversation. Hell, he hadn’t even had this conversation about his fucked up feelings related to his family’s reunion with Bones yet. And he was emotionally exhausted as it was from just talking to Chris. “Look, Sam. You actually remember George. You guys were this happy family until Kelvin and me. I never got to be apart of that -”
“Why do you keep doing that?”
He started. “Do what?”
“Call him George instead of dad.” Sam looked genuinely confused and upset by Jim’s use of their father’s given name. It made the knife in his heart twist sharper.
Jim wasn’t sure what the right thing to say to that was. So, eventually, he just settled on the truth. “Because he’s not my dad. He’s your dad. I never got to meet him before everyone thought he died and -”
Frustration flickered across Sam’s face and his voice died at the sight of it. “And what, Jim? Did you find someone to replace him or something?”
His mouth suddenly was far too dry and the beer didn’t do anything to help as he finished off the last of it. “Would it be that wrong of me if I did? But no, I didn’t ‘replace’ him like you seem to think. You can’t replace someone that was never there in the first place.”
Sam opened his mouth, but promptly shut it as he clearly processed Jim’s words. The silence that settled over them didn’t entail its usual comfort. He couldn’t handle the expression on Sam’s face anymore, didn’t want to process the flurry of feelings that shot through Sam as he tried to wrap his head around Jim’s question. So, he tipped his head back and closed his eyes so he didn’t completely lose it.
After a few minutes, it sounded like Sam got up and he squeezed his eyes shut tighter as the knife twisted deeper in his heart. He knew he shouldn’t have said -
A familiar weight pressed against his side and an arm was thrown around his shoulders. “I’m sorry, Jim, it doesn’t seem like any of us are really giving any thought about how all of this must be fore you.”
Well, he certainly hadn’t been expecting that. “I spent my whole life trying to get out from under his shadow, Sam. Spent it with stories of how great and amazing he was, but none of them really made him feel like he could be my dad. And now -”
“Now that he’s back, you’re afraid you’ll be compared to him even more.”
It was nearly cathartic to hear the words said outside the confinement of his own mind, but Jim doubted anything would ever truly be enough to erase the fears that were seared into his bones from the moment the Kelvin crashed into the Narada. “Mom’s talking about all of us going back to Riverside,” Sam continued. “Somewhere that’s familiar. I hope you’ll decide to come. I’m sure mom and dad wouldn’t mind Leo coming too.”
Emotionally spent, Jim sighed and sagged against Sam. “Is it that obvious?” he asked.
Sam laughed as he finally relaxed too. “Jimmy, I’ve never seen you look so damn lovestruck and he seems to be really good for you. You seem more settled. Which is something I never thought I’d be able to say about you.”
He snorted. “Yeah well, Bones helped with that definitely, but to be honest nearly dying twice while trying to save Earth and the Federation kind of has that effect too.”
And fuck, that was not the right thing to say after they were finally starting to enjoy their night out because Sam tensed up immediately. “You almost died twice?”
“Er, yeah,” he said with a flinch.
“Jim,” Sam’s voice is soft which only made him feel worse. “I really don’t want to wind up at your funeral anytime soon so please try to not find yourself in situations where there’s a madman hell bent on destroying everything.”
Really, Jim should have been more prepared for the absolute spectacle the memorial for all those lost in the Battle for Vulcan turned out to be. Frankly, before it even began, he wanted to punch half the brass in their faces for downright refusing to acknowledge Spock’s grief and force his former First Officer to stand by his side while speech after speech was given about the tragedy.
From his position, he swore Uhura looked like she would murder someone and he nodded ever so slightly to her when he caught her eye.
Hours stretched on and Jim did his best to run interference between Spock and hungry journalists and Admirals. He was spent by the time he and Spock could steal themselves away for a breather. “You doing alright, Spock?”
If Jim hadn’t been watching so closely, he wouldn’t have noticed the way the man’s shoulders sank barely even an inch. The grand friendship promised to him by Spock’s counterpart flashed before his eyes and affection swelled in his chest. Even though they would never be what their counterparts were to each other, Jim couldn’t deny that he actually liked Spock. When he wasn’t being a prickly Vulcan who was annoyed Jim outsmarted his precious logic. And just the fact Spock showed his exhaustion told Jim the whole spectacle of a day was wearing him out. “I’m sure you already know this down to the exact second, but we’re almost done. Then Uhura can sweep you off your feet and do...whatever you two do to relax.”
Spock’s eyebrow rose slightly and Jim grinned. “There he is, you ready to deal with illogical and emotional Humans for another…”
“One point three five hours.”
Jim moved to head back into the mass of people who waited like damn vultures when Spock stepped closer to him. “Captain?”
It was a little strange Spock continued to call him Captain, but he waved his hand in the air and hoped Spock would understand that meant he could say whatever he clearly wanted to.
“You seem troubled. I had presumed the return of your father would in Human vernacular ‘lift your spirits’.” The genuine concern in Spock’s voice made Jim wonder if he was that damn obvious about how conflicted and confused he was about all of this. Before he could answer, Spock seemed to pick up on his train of thoughts, “While we have not known each other for long, Captain, I believe our shared experiences the day my planet was lost has allowed a tentative friendship to form between us and as such I believe I can tell when you are ‘faking it’.”
This time, when Jim smiled, it was genuine. “I thought Vulcans were too logical for friendships,” he teased.
Spock’s eyebrow just lifted higher. “It is beneficial then that I am only half-Vulcan.”
He shook his head as he threw an arm around Spock’s shoulders. “Why, Mr. Spock, you flatter me. What would Uhura say about this?”
A brief flicker of confusion flashed in Spock’s eyes. “It was Nyota who suggested I inquire about your well being. We are equally concerned.”
Just two weeks ago, Jim would have never believed to hear the word concerned leave Spock’s mouth, let alone admit to feeling such an emotion regarding him. God, too many things have changed. He frowned and leaned into Spock’s side. “It’s complicated, Spock. And I keep feeling like it shouldn’t be complicated.”
There was a pause before Spock answered, “My mother often told me Human emotions, while not always felt with the same depth a Vulcan would, are equally complex. I do not believe that what you are meant to feel upon your father’s return should be simple.”
He laughed softly as he stepped away, knowing Spock likely only tolerated the friendly touch because he was upset. “You know,” he said. “Bones pretty much said the same thing. But I’m doing alright, Spock, I swear. I just haven’t been able to distract myself properly with Bones working crazy shifts at Starfleet Med -”
“If all you require is a distraction at this time, we may play chess as often as my schedule may permit. You were apart of the Chess Club during your first year as a Cadet, correct?”
Jim blinked. “Uh,” he said. “I was. But they kicked me out after that because they were total wusses and hated getting beat which was not my problem they were sore losers.”
Spock nodded. “Very well, I am available at 1400 tomorrow if you find yourself in need of a distraction from your current situation. I believe we must return to the ceremony now.”
As Spock walked away, Jim couldn’t help remain behind because what the hell just happened. Did he and Spock just become friends? Did Uhura stop hating his guts? What even was his fucking life anymore? Silently, he hoped his life would settle since he wasn’t too sure how much more he could take before he snapped and threw Bones over his shoulder and ran way to live in the woods.
God. There was a thought. Bones. In the woods.
Maybe he will go to Iowa after all.
Riverside looked exactly like it did when he left it three years ago, which really didn’t surprise him. Or Bones for that matter. “I grew up in a small ass town just like this back in Georgia, Jim. I bet if we went there instead, I could say the same thing. These places never change.”
Jim hummed in response as he drove their rented hovercar through the familiar streets. Hell, he was sure he could drive them safely to the Kirk farmhouse with his eyes closed. He didn’t. Because Bones would absolutely lose it if he did and frankly, he was just grateful that Bones managed to get his leave approved and wanted to be here. His parents and Sam were a couple hours behind them. George had been declared KIA but never officially discharged from Starfleet, apparently a ton of paperwork was required to be declared a POW instead and properly discharged with full honors. Sam had grumbled about why this hadn’t been done when George first arrived two weeks ago, but a pointed look from Bones had promptly shut his brother up.
It was actually pretty damn hilarious to watch.
“Jesus, I was too drunk last time I was here to realize that there really are cornfields everywhere,” Bones grumbled, eyes glued to the scenery that flew by them.
He laughed because, honestly, he loved how Bones managed to find a way to bitch and moan about practically everything. “Riverside isn’t only cornfields. We have trees too,” he said as he reached over and squeezed Bones’ thigh.
Bones shot him a half-hearted glare at his sarcasm. “Yeah, yeah. Smartass.”
His chest twisted tight when the farmhouse came into view, a little more weathered than he remembered and in clear need of a new paint job, but it still remained largely the same. Golden cornfields went on endlessly to their left, but the horses milled about to the right where the farmhands went about their normal routines. “Huh,” he murmured as he pulled up into the driveway. “Mom was serious when she said she was gonna get this place back into shape.”
They climbed out of the car and watched the activity that buzzed around them. “We’ll have to go ridin’ Jim,” Bones whispered next to him.
He smiled and threw an arm around Bones’ shoulders. “Yeah, it’s been too long since I’ve been.”
Not even the prospect of a saddle sore bottom could sour the idea, he’d always felt like the world wasn’t totally against him whenever he rode and let all the bullshit fall behind him.
They made their way inside and stopped before the stairs. “Please tell me we’re staying in your childhood bedroom,” Bones said breathless and light and he couldn’t help the groan that left his lips. Of course, Bones would be entirely too excited about the notion of peeking into Jim’s speckled past. “I hope your old bed isn’t too loud because I plan on doing a lot of things to you in it while we’re here.”
Jim’s breath stuttered and the husky tone of Bones’ voice went straight to his crotch. “Well, the only way to find out is to test it out. Right now.”
Bones didn’t need to be told twice and Jim yanked the man up the stairs before their things properly hit the hardwood floors. It was a little strange when he pulled Bones into a room he hadn’t be inside in nearly ten years, but as Bones’ lips trailed down his neck and nipped at that one spot all that was forgotten.
The bed did creak, but as he laid there sated and content, he knew the two of them could manage to avoid being too obvious about their sex life while here. Bones kissed his chest languidly as he stretched until his feet hung off the edge of the bed. “They’ll be here soon, darlin’, we should probably get dressed.”
Jim didn’t want to do that. He just wanted to spend the rest of the day curled up with Bones in his stupid, too small childhood bed, naked and happy, but as the sound of car door slamming shut vibrated through the house he knew it was a luxury he couldn’t afford. With only minutes left, he kissed Bones with an almost desperate need. “I love you,” he whispered as he pulled away.
The smile that pulled at Bones’ lips left his breath hitched in his throat because it was a smile meant only for him. And he seared it into his memory, slotted neatly into place next to the precious few others.
They emerged from his bedroom just as the front door opened and the other Kirks spilled inside. George looked up the stairs first, caught them standing just outside his old bedroom door, and smiled that knowing kind of smile that Jim recognized as one Chris shot his way several times already.
“Holy shit, mom, you have literally changed nothing inside here since I left,” Sam said as he pushed his way inside behind their parents.
His mom rolled her eyes. “I have spent most of the last ten years in space. I haven’t had the time to redecorate.” Her eyes flashed up, caught his, and Jim knew the real reason she couldn’t bring herself to change the home. Too many painful memories stacked upon one another until the thought of destroying them left a bitter taste on your tongue and a gash on your heart.
George’s expression was torn as he and Bones made their way down the stairs. “That stupid fifth stair still creaks? Win, please tell me you at least fixed up some things since I was last here.”
Winona Kirk just shrugged. “Didn’t have the heart to.”
It was easy to forget how beautiful the stars looked when your feet were planted on solid ground. Jim’s gaze flickered across familiar constellations that would always be seared into his memories despite the way he recently fell in love with different stars as they caressed the Enterprise.
“There’s nothing quite like the stars you first fell in love with,” George said quietly as the screen door swung shut behind him. The porch creaked under the weight of his steps as his father sat beside him on the front steps.
Jim couldn’t find it in himself to put distance between them.
“Your grandfather used to tease me about how I would never be able to love anything as much as I loved these stars.”
A small, but genuine smile pulled at Jim’s lips. “That sounds like him,” he said. “He used to tell me I loved them from the moment I was born. That I belonged to them.”
George remained silent.
“He used to say, even though I had every reason to hate them growing up, it just wasn’t possible because they were one of the first things I saw. I think if he was still alive when I joined Starfleet, he would have laughed and told me it was about damn time.”
That got a laugh out of George and Jim felt as though a weight lifted off his chest at the sound of it. There was a gentleness about it that he hadn’t expected, especially since he hadn’t exactly opened his heart or arms in the wake of George’s return. And for the first time since he caught sight of his father in the Enterprise’s Medbay, he acknowledged how much it must hurt that the son he gave up everything for couldn’t stand the sight of him longer than was necessary.
Guilt sank its claws deep and painful into his bones.
It was strange, to see his eyes reflected back at him from someone that wasn’t Sam, but at the same time, it also felt like he had grown up looking into George’s eyes anyway. In a way, he supposed he had. Sam wasn’t George, but the longer he spent around the man, the more he realized he took after George Kirk in more ways than just appearance.
“I hope one day you’ll let me get to know you and that one day you’ll want to get to know me outside whatever stories you were told.”
“If that day never comes though, well, that’s okay. You will always be my son and I will always love you, but I was never your dad. I gave up that right when I ran the Kelvin into Nero’s ship. Whatever you end up deciding, I hope you’ll know I’m happy for you, Jim. Happy that you found a dad in Chris and happy that you found someone who will love you, faults and all.”
Tears stung his eyes as George’s words washed over him. Eventually, they became too much and he tore his gaze away from the man beside him and back up at the stars.
They stayed on the steps until the sun began to break over the horizon and blink away the stars that littered its slumber. His life would never be the same and as he glanced at George out of the corner of his eye, he wondered if it would be so terrible to get to know the man that gave him the chance to experience all of this, to live so he could find Bones and give the man his heart. And as the sun completely rose into sky, he realized he had been mourning the time when he knew where George Kirk stood in his life, mourned the years spent trying to accept what he would never have. Because all of that had a hand in making him the man he was today.
George stood and rested a warm, gentle hand on his shoulder. “I’ll go make us some coffee.”
A pause. Then -