For the record?
None of this was Jim's fault.
Alright, Jim will admit that perhaps that isn't the most reassuring statement, coming from him especially when he's said it so many times and not meant it, but seriously.
None of this was Jim's fault.
And he means it.
(... this time).
Ironically, everything starts when Jim saves the Earth (and who knows, possibly the universe) from Nero. After that whole fiasco, Jim became Starfleet's golden boy. The popularity of the Enterprise's alpha shift too, rose in popularity especially when the bulk of the details had been declassified but since Jim was the captain, the press and Starfleet's public relations department laser–focused their attention onto him. This meant that Jim not only had the dubious honor of tabloids spending article after article speculating on who he was dating and who he liked – gender and species wise – but that he also was sent on many, many diplomatic missions. Earth (and many other planets besides) were hungry for more stories of Captain Kirk and his crew and with every successful mission, intergalactic approval rating for Starfleet rose and because Starfleet was eager to milk this for as long as possible, the cycle continued on and on.
So really, it's not Jim's fault at all.
It's ten standard Terran months after Jim kicked Nero's ass (though he only managed to do so with the help of his crew, something that he wished the tabloids understood) and things are going great.
He's managed to apologize and make amends with the people he's been sort of an ass to (meaning Spock and Uhura and even Pike). Even though he'd never gotten therapy for the mostly unrelated events that turned him into the mess he was when he entered Starfleet, he did look up how to properly and and sincerely apologize in a way that wasn't contrite, demeaning, sarcastic or mumbled – which is admittedly how most of his apologies usually went – so he's pretty sure it turned out alright. Well, he's not totally sure – but no one complained afterwards, so Jim put them firmly down as a win in his book.
More than that, being Captain definitely changed how Jim presented himself to the public – not because he was scared of what articles the tabloids might run if he got into bar fights or slept with, quite frankly, a massive amount of women, men, and aliens like he used to, because he wasn't, not after growing up in a small town in Iowa where everyone hated him, often just because of his reputation alone – but because he wanted to be more than what people thought of him.
Plus, Jim's nearly one–hundred percent positive that a good portion of Starfleet's admirals (re: all except Pike, who had the strangest fondness of Jim, probably because the man knew his father) hated him and would use any failure as a reason to demonize him even with Jim's beloved Golden Boy status, and he was nothing if not a petty person who loved to rub his success into the faces of all the people who wanted him to fail.
So Jim very carefully sets about becoming the very best Captain in the 'fleet.
In the beginning, still on an adrenaline high after that whole Nero business, there was only one small problem with that.
He has no idea how to do that.
Alright – so he sort of does. He's taken the mandatory courses for leadership and team–building that's required of every new Starfleet student, whether they're command gold or not, but there's a very big difference between book–work and the real world.
The thing is … Jim has no reasonable frame of reference for what a good leader looks like.
But really, who's he supposed to look up to? The teachers in Riverside who hated him? Frank, who got stuck raising an obnoxious, too–smart–for–his–own–good kid and took out that frustration on Jim?
Or maybe Kodos, who, in the short time Jim was on Taurus IV, killed thousands of people because their lives were deemed to be worth less than the thousands he thought could contribute more to society. Jim has no damn idea what Kodos saw in him that caused the man to spare him because at the time, Jim was just a stupid kid. A stupid, obnoxious kid who was sent to Taurus IV to live with distant family after Frank had enough of raising him and after the man nearly killed him over Jim driving his father's car off a cliff. There was nothing in Jim that was great or was more worthy than any of the kids that had died on the colony.
Sometimes, when Jim can't sleep he wonders if it was his father's legacy that saved him or maybe that Kodos saw greatness in him just like the older–from–the–future Spock did. And it's so paranoid and so ridiculous, but it makes him sick to his stomach to think that maybe Kodos knew that he'd eventually do something with his life and that's why he was spared. It taints every accomplishment he achieves because maybe this or this is what caused a murderer to save him, even though Jim knows it's irrational because Kodos was dead and Kodos did a lot but he couldn't see the future, but Jim was spared for a reason and he just wishes he knew what the fuck that was because sometimes it just tore him up inside and –
Okay, so that point is that Jim doesn't have any good role models in his life. Boo hoo, right? But it's true. And even though he is on good terms with Pike after his heartfelt apology he's only spoken to the man like, three times tops and he's sure that the admiral doesn't want a green captain pestering him for advice on running the ship he was supposed to have. But he makes it work, like he always does, playing it by ear and keeping what works and tossing what doesn't.
The only good thing that comes out of Jim's shitty life, is that now Jim knows what not to do once he has the power to make decisions that affect hundreds of people at any given time.
Don't belittle people based on what you think you know about them. Check.
Don't be an abusive ass. Check.
Don't murder thousands of people in some contrived plan to save half the populace, coldly picking and choosing who gets to live and who doesn't based on who supposedly has more worth than someone else. Check.
So Jim makes a point to try and know everyone on the ship by name (it takes him forever and like, three PADDS dedicated to memory games to get it, but eventually he does), to listen when they come to him with problems or small talk or whatever, and above all, remain professional – to be someone that, three years ago he doesn't know if he could've been.
Because it meant that Jim couldn't just flirt with anybody that came up to him or sleep with anyone that caught his eye, because by virtue of him being Captain there was a huge power imbalance between him and every officer aboard the Enterprise. He'd be taking advantage of that if he were to approach anyone on the ship for sex and more importantly, it'd disrupt the delicate balance on the Enterprise that Jim had strived so hard for.
And if he was being perfectly honest, that balance was worth a hell of a lot more than his sex drive. Besides, he was much too busy being captain to even entertain the idea of even one dalliance with a crew member, let alone multiple one night stands.
It was just … the other thing that was a little harder to manage.
The 'other' thing being that part of Jim, sometimes big, sometimes small, that thought that he didn't deserve happiness or that he was going to mess up shit anyway so why shouldn't it be on his terms or the part of Jim that thought that maybe, just maybe, it shouldn't have been Jim that walked off of Taurus IV alive.
That maybe it should've been someone else.
And it wasn't that this part of himself actively pushed for him to harm himself, but sometimes it got to the point where Jim didn't care if he got hurt or not. This was the part of Jim that pushed him into picking bar fights he couldn't win, picking up people in seedy bars that Jim knew weren't safe, pushed him into goading Frank until the man would raise a hand to Jim.
Jim hated a lot about himself. But this was the part of him that he hated the most. Sex helped to dull that part of him, but now that he was Captain, sex wasn't really an option.
Luckily, he had Bones.
Which, ew. Not in the sexual way, but more like – whenever Jim felt like shit, he'd go pester Bones until the other man broke out the alcohol he'd brought with him. This was the good stuff, the kind that couldn't be replicated, and luckily, since Bones was a saint and his best friend in the entire known universe, the kind that got Jim super drunk, super fast.
Jim's never really been an angry drunk or a sad drunk. If anything, he's more of an impulsive drunk, but there's not much Jim can really do to hurt himself or others when Mother Hen Leonard McCoy is clucking around him.
So, things aren't great. At this point in his life, Jim doubts that things for him will ever really be great, regardless of how successful he is or will be.
But it's okay. Things are looking up.
That's all Jim can really ask for.
And the months pass – somehow he's still Starfleet's Golden Boy, somehow he manages his crew and ship without any major incidents, somehow manages to stay on Uhura's good side.
Things start to tip from alright to pretty damn good.
Then everything goes to hell.
Here's where it really starts:
After almost a year of kicking ass and taking names (except not really, there's a disappointing lack of ass–kicking. It's really ass–kissing that there's an abundance of), the brass decides that maybe it's time for the Enterprise crew to be given shore leave. With so many officers dead and many of the rest not qualified to be officers and still at the Academy, the crew of the Enterprise had been going almost non–stop since the whole Nero fiasco.
So, yeah, shore leave was way overdue.
They get sent to Risa, which is almost enough to make up for the shit that Jim's put up with for the past ten months, although he's sort of dreading the idea of going back to work after vacation. As much as it's fucking exhausting, working non–stop is really the only thing that's kept him from spiraling and Jim's not really sure if he has enough self–control to be responsible on Risa. Doesn't know if he wants to be responsible on Risa.
So as the scheduled shore leave comes closer and closer, Jim's stuck in this limbo–hell of being super freaking excited and a little bit scared, though the latter only really comes out when Jim's laying in his bed, alone with his dumb brain.
But when he actually beams down, Jim's not sure why he'd ever been even the slightest bit scared of Risa, because this place is paradise.
Or what Jim imagines paradise to be anyway. Bars – and classy ones too, or at least classier than the ones Jim remembers from Iowa. Pretty men, women, and beings of all genders who were very much interested in Jim, though for some odd reason he wasn't really interested in them.
Which probably had more to do with the fact that Jim had promised Bones he'd meet up with him later rather than any lack of sex drive on Jim's part. He knows from past experience that if he's more than fifteen minutes late, Bones gets worried and mean.
So, raincheck on what's bound to be the athletic (and if he's being totally honest, probably weird) sex with any number of Risans, but since Bones can't beam down for at least another thirty minutes – Jim figures he may as well check out the closest bar.
It's a small little building with a sign brighter than the stars above them, in a pink that Jim thinks would probably look great on him, but there's not much that doesn't.
He doesn't bother reading the name written on the sign outside of the bar – it's unlikely he would even remember it when it wakes up tomorrow, anyway.
The inside of the bar is dimly lit and less populated than Jim would think, being on Risa. In fact, there's only one patron in the entire establishment, sitting on a barstool and sipping some vaguely purple drink. The bartender is cleaning out a glass behind the bar and it must be the angle, because for a moment the patron and the employee look eerily similar.
When he blinks, the moment is gone.
The bartender grabs another glass to clean, just as Jim seats himself at the bar. At first, he doesn't even deign to greet Jim and Jim watches as the frayed hem of the torn rag the bartender was using dips into a sink full of soapy water as he moves.
And it's so retro, Jim thinks, the whole cleaning glasses by hand while wearing a striped white shirt and weird armband and vest – but he'd really, really like something to drink.
"What'll it be?" The bartender asks, as if he had read Jim's mind.
"Uh." Jim says, somehow put on the spot. "Whatever he's having." Jim gestures to the man sitting next to him and his friendly grin falls when the other man doesn't even acknowledge him.
The dull thud of a glass hitting wood jolts him out of his thoughts and surprised, Jim looks down to see a purple drink sitting in front of him. He hadn't even noticed the bartender preparing the drink – or even move.
"That was fast …" Jim says under his breath, but smiles at the bartender nodding his thanks. The bartender gives him a weird sort of grin–grimace before disappearing in the back without a word.
Leaving him with the weird guy next to him.
But Jim's nothing if not stubborn.
He will have a conversation with the weirdo and they will both enjoy it, or Jim's name isn't James Tiberius Kirk.
"So …" Jim says, lifting up his matching drink to foster some sort of camaraderie. He takes a sip but almost spits it back out, only managing to swallow due to sheer willpower. "This is ... uh – this is pretty strong, huh?"
"I have to say," the stranger starts, glancing at Jim from the corner of the eye. "I expected more from the man who singlehandedly saved Earth from Nero."
"Well, I mean – it wasn't singlehandedly, but I'm sorry to disappoint you, I guess." And while this isn't exactly the direction Jim wanted to take this conversation, he will definitely take it.
The stranger now swivels on the barstool to face Jim head–on and there's something almost weirdly otherworldly in his gaze that makes Jim shift uncomfortably before the other man begins to talk.
"Ah … yes. I forgot your crew. I'm surprised you choose to mention them." The stranger seems amused now, but Jim gets the feeling it's aimed at him and not with him. "Isn't that a bit out of character for you?"
Jim sets his glass down with all the righteous fury he can manage, which is actually quite a bit, thank you very much. "Look, buddy. I don't know what kind of gossip mags you've been reading, but I'm actually not a self–centered asshole." Well, Jim amends in his head, not all the time. "They risked their life just like I did –" And lost more than I could ever fathom. "So they deserve just a little bit of respect, okay?"
"You're not at all what I expected," the stranger says, echoing the words he'd said not two minutes before.
"Thanks," Jim says to his glass of purple alcohol. He takes another sip, but it just tastes like ash now. Well, it's still strong as hell and obviously still sweet – but disgusting because now all Jim can think about is that day. Everything had happened so fast. So fast. But there must've been something that Jim could've done.
Sometimes, when Jim can't sleep he runs through The Day. The days leading up to The Day. Thinking about what could have gone differently. What he should have done instead.
Sometimes, he thinks he would trade places with Spock's mom if he could. Not because he knew her. Not because he was suicidal.
Maybe because he never really had a mom. Maybe because he saw how broken up Spock was about her dying – about his planet dying. Maybe because he knew that if he was gone the universe would still move forward.
Jim takes another sip of his drink. It's still disgusting.
When he glances at the man beside him, the stranger is staring at him. Jim tries for a smile. The stranger doesn't try for anything.
"You really are one–of–a–kind, aren't you?" The stranger says, dragging his weirdo gaze from Jim's feet to his head.
"Uh … thanks?" Jim swirls his drink in his glass and if he didn't know better, he would think that a star or something had gotten stuck in it, with the way it was glittering.
"You have regrets," he continues and ignores Jim's muttered don't we all. "You would give up your happiness for those around you."
Jim shrugs, leaning fully on the bar counter now – shoulders around his ears. He had definitely made the wrong decision making small talk with the stranger sat beside him.
"You could change so much," the stranger muses, almost wistfully. Jim's not really paying much attention at this point.
"Maybe I should give you the chance to try."
The statement grabs Jim's attention from wherever it'd been wandering and he scrambles off of the barstool because those words coupled with the weird tone the stranger is using can mean only very bad things for him. In his haste to get the fuck away, he accidentally spills the purple drink on the counter and on his sleeve.
"Wait, what –" He begins, sputtering and feeling like an idiot in the face of the stranger calmly sipping at his drink.
The stranger doesn't answer, but maybe that's because he doesn't get a chance to.
The moment after the last syllable leaves Jim's mouth, the world goes black around the edges. The stranger smiles, raises the glass held in his hand as if to toast Jim – then Jim is falling and he can't see a damn thing.
It's peaceful almost, like going to bed exhausted after a long day. It's quiet and the darkness is heavy, but comforting. Nothing bad can touch Jim here. He thinks he repeats that to himself over and over again, but it's true.
Nothing bad can touch him here. Not even the shit inside his own head.
But then the lights are turned on.
And Jim is punched in the fucking face.