When James T Kirk turns ten, he asks, or rather demands, that his father tattoo him, so that he can truly be part of the family.
Nero tells him in no uncertain terms that until he has lost almost everyone, and every thing, that he's ever loved or held dear, he'll get no such thing. His gaze softens at Jim's fury and hurt and betrayal, and he gently holds his chin and tilts his face back. "Perhaps you've lost enough, too."
"Perhaps," Jim says, and snaps his head away. "I've lost what you have."
Nero asks Ayel to do it, a small glyph across his back. Ayel presses his palm down on Jim's shoulder blades as Jim bites a pillow and murmurs, "For your mother."
"My mother is a whore and deserved to die," Jim says rotely.
"Sure, kid. Sure." Even back then, neither of them quite believed what they parroted back most of the time.
It hurts, but Ayel's hand never wavers, and when he's done he slides Jim's shirt back down and his fingers on the back of his neck are almost gentle. "There. Now you can say you're one of us. No future, and nothing left to lose."
Jim will remember most of his childhood as a planet orbiting around Nero's sun, as they all are. Subject to his whims and desires, and he's twelve when he finally realizes what the rest of the crew has always known: their captain is utterly insane. Nero teaches him to read, and write, and most importantly how to fight, and Jim's loyalty never wavers for the slightest of a Tiberian second, but there's something to be said about admitting the truth to oneself.
The bad days, he wanders down the corridors screaming his head off as crewmen duck into any available room to hide. Most of the time Jim times it so he ends up at Ayel's quarters, and after a while Ayel doesn't seem to mind the invasion of his privacy so much.
"You should spend more time training," Ayel tries once, and Jim waves his hand airily.
"Yeah, whatever. Infiltration tactics for idiots. How to pretend to fit in with the inferior, barbaric species that are the humans. A man could get a complex, let me tell you."
"No, Jim. You're special, you're chosen-"
But Jim's already rolling his eyes. "Stop it, okay? I'm aware of the propaganda. I know who I am, and who I'm not."
Ayel never lies to him after that, and it's a surprise, both that he doesn't, and how much he merely confirms what Jim's suspected all along.
"You're too smart," Ayel tells him ruefully. "Your father might not be aware of-"
"How proud he should be of his only son? I think he should." Jim cocks his head, but Ayel only shrugs, and aquieses quietly.
The Klingons are brutish, loud and smell like diseased Junti worms. They don't question him as Nero's son, but he's fifteen and he doesn't need Nero to glower protectively when one of the guards looks him up and down and grunts, eyes gleaming like a wild animal spotting his prey. They're separated, despite Nero's best efforts, and when the guard slams him against the brick wall of the prison he's ready. Klingon physiology is only one of the many species that he'd studied, and learnt how to kill.
The guard doesn't even get a chance to scream. When Jim finally staggers back to find his crew, Nero watches him appraisingly, and then clasps him to his chest. "Remember this," he whispers fiercely. "Remember how it feels."
Mostly Jim feels tired and empty, but that passes, soon enough. Word gets around, and no-one lays a finger on him again.
The first time:
They're back on the ship and he's in Ayel's quarters. Needling him about some thing or another, until Ayel finally snaps and snarls, "Get out. Out. You're driving me crazy."
"I'm bored," Jim says, and smiles his brightest smile.
"And I'm annoyed." But the fingers he wraps around Jim's arms aren't forceful enough to push him out, even though they both know Ayel could break him in two if he tried hard enough. And if Jim was having an off day. "Leave," he says, but when Jim kisses him he reacts as if he'd asked for that instead.
So he spends his days training and his nights trailing his fingers down the intricate lines of Ayel's body, mouthing ancient words silently, until he understands intimately the story they tell. Ayel had a wife and two children, twin boys, this he already knows, but there's always more to learn. Jim says once, leaning down to press his lips to Ayel's shoulder blade, "When I leave."
"Will you leave?"
"It's time, soon enough. But I'll come back. I promise I will."
"Of course you will." Ayel lies as easily as Jim does, but they both pretend that it's the truth.
The plan is simple, really. Infiltration, and then destruction of the human species. Nero grips Jim's jaw with his fingers and says, "It's poetic, really. He loved you so much."
"Who?" Jim asks, but he knows the answer to that one already. It's always Spock. Always has been, always will be. The man that this version of James T. Kirk will kill, has been training to kill, his entire life. Jim understands alternate timelines and futures past and what didn't come to pass, but mostly he understands that all that is meaningless, that he's his father's son, and he'll do as he's told.
Ayel puts his hands on Jim's shoulders and says, "Be strong. Live," but then he lowers his voice and he says, "It is never too late to start over," and Jim starts, but he doesn't pull away. Doesn't say: oh, but it is.
Deep down, Ayel understands this as well.
They drop him off on a planet awaiting the arrival of a Federation Vessel. The one Federation Vessel with a captain whose eyes widen when the young human serving him his drinks says, "My name is James. James T Kirk." He's practised this, a million times, but never once did he anticipate quite the reaction. The way Pike shakes his head, and how his eyes get moist. The story he tells is simple enough, and close enough to the truth: mother killed, dumped on a dead end planet with the barest of Federation presence. Waiting, patiently, to go home.
"I knew your father, kid. He was my friend." The DNA test is quick enough to confirm it, and everything else just clicks into place. Whisked onto the Enterprise and then to Earth, into the arms of Captain Pike's beguiling wife, who hugs him and says, "We're your family now."
Poor little orphan Jim. His skin crawls at their touch, but he widens his eyes and smiles gratefully, says, "I'm glad to be home."