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. 98% sure was 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 Frank. He 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 what he would say to Frank and why. Doctor Boyce’s eyes had turned dark and sad. He had 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. Because 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 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, 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.) Jim is pretty sure he would have just laughed until his ribs, that were still unbelievably brittle at that point, cracked. 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 T’Kanen Pir 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. Jim 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 it wasn't unlikely he just didn’t know any better.
Any time he escaped medical, Jim was exploring the ship and befriending the ship’s crew with the sheer power of his inquisitiveness. 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. After that 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 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. The Lieutenant 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, sounding 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.