Pairing/Character(s): Jim, Pike
Word Count: ~1,800
Warnings/Spoilers: Language; mentions of self-harm, genocide, and suicide.
Disclaimer: All characters, situations, quotes et al are properties of their respective owners and I am merely using them under Title 17 of the US Code, § 107, aka the Fair Use Doctrine, without intents to infringe upon or defame anyone's legal rights. It wouldn't be worth the cost to sue me anyway.
Summery: Kirk's thoughts upon being placed on academic suspension, sneaking aboard Enterprise, and learning of the Narada's return
"It was not only that I could not become spiteful, I did not know how to become anything; neither spiteful nor kind, neither a rascal nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect."
Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground
It's not worth trying. It never is. When you can surpass them all on just the barest of efforts, it doesn't take a genius to know it's not worth the effort to try harder.
But he is a genius. An honest-to-god genius. He tried – once, when he was young, before everything went pear shaped and he learned that it wasn't worth the effort. All the trying in the world wouldn't bring Dad back, or Mom, or Sam, or his aunt and cousins, or anyone else. He'd learned long ago that you try for other people, that success is never for yourself, at least not the success he wanted.
It had all be so simple – once, when he was young. If he tried hard enough and worked hard enough and did everything just right, Mom wouldn't want to go into the space anymore and Sam wouldn't be so sad and even his step-dad would see him as something special. It was a perfect plan, genius in its simplicity. He skipped two grades, outshone everyone in the class they placed him in – but it wasn't enough (it was never enough, in the end, no matter what he did, or who, or why; his best was never good enough, so there was no reason to give his best, no reason to even try when he would, inevitably, be shot down), 'cause by the time Mom stopped going to the stars Sam had already left and she was too sick from the rad poisoning to do more than say, "That's nice Jimmy. Why don't you go and play outside for a while? Mommy needs to rest."
He was young enough when Mom died – only twelve – that he was still thought trying would mean something. He liked his step-dad well enough, but not enough to say no when Mom's sister invited him to live with her and her family on the new colony on Tarsus IV. And, for a while, trying was enough there. His aunt loved him, his little cousins adored him, and no one really minded that he liked reading or chess or math.
And then the famine came, and his best wasn't good enough (it was never good enough, not when he couldn't keep his little cousins or his neighbours or any of the others he found alive; not when his best meant they still died). He did everything – stole from the soldiers, stole from the families that Kodos deemed "fit" to survive, starved himself so the younger ones could eat; did terrible things, stupid things, suicidal things to get food – but, after everything, only eight lived long enough for the Federation to get to them.
He was thirteen then, nearly fourteen. Spent almost a year in the hospitals, being poked and prodded and patched back together by practically every doctor in the 'Fleet. He finished his classes, 'cause there was nothing else to do lying in bed all day 'cept think about everything that he could've done better, and working was easier than thinking. He only started on the college classes because they were harder, though not by much, and let him not-think for longer...
But, by the time fifteen came, it was just too much. He did the work, saw the doctors, and talked to the social workers and everyone else the state wanted him to because he was an emancipated minor after Tarsus, but, by that point, he's learned it's pointless. There's nothing – no one – to try for. There's just no point to it.
The first time he hears it, he's sixteen, spending his birthday in a jail somewhere near Chicago 'cause one of the barkeeps didn't care what his fake id said and made a scene ("It's such a waste. You see his file? Kid's a genius; degree in astrophysics from Oxford and can't even drive yet, not legally anyway. Just sulks about in every bar between here and New Orleans, it seems. Isn't even the first time he's been picked up for drinking. His dad was a hero – the guy from the Kelvin a few years back. Don't know why he doesn't try. He could be great if he tried..." But they don't know there's no point to trying, because he's resigned himself to being unhappy. If the universe meant for him to be happy, they wouldn't have taken Mom – Dad – Sam – everyone – away. And being the guy who travelled up and down old Interstate 55 on a cobbled together motorbike was a much more effective way of being miserable than being gainfully employed, 'specially when he'd be just as unhappy doing that). The jail isn't anywhere near as bad as the one on Tarsus and he just can't bring himself to care when they look at him all disappointed and offer well-meaning bits of advice he's heard from a dozen others before.
He's nineteen the first time he actually tries to kill himself. He might've done it earlier – he certainly thought about it at times, when he was completely sober and laying on a bed in a motel somewhere, trying to remember why he bothered to go on, 'cause what he was doing now certainly wasn't working but couldn't think of anything better that might be worth trying – but then he'd think about Tarsus and all the effort he spent to stay alive, and most the time that was enough to keep him from doing anything stupid, and, when that wasn't enough, he'd think about the Kelvin and, usually, that would work. By the time he turned nineteen, though, he just couldn't see the point any longer. When he woke up in the hospital, disgusted with himself for not even being good enough to successfully kill himself, he could hear the doctors ("It's such a waste. You see his file...?") talking about him like everyone else talked about him, and he couldn't even bring himself to care because he just didn't have it in him any more. He could do, oh, so many things, but there's no more point in living then there is in dying and trying's just another word for the dream that anything could actually make the pain go away.
He's twenty-two the first time someone actually takes an interest. Everyone else would have left him drooling on the floor, 'cause that's where he belongs ('cause his best is never good enough; 'cause he's just not good enough and accepts that; if he's lucky, one day he'll be numb enough that he'll be able to sleep without seeing the faces of all those he failed on Tarsus, all those soldiers he killed to keep his kids alive...). But Pike... ("Look, so your dad dies. You can settle for less than an ordinary life. Or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special? Enlist in Starfleet.") It's the first time someone does more than tell him what a failure he is, what a disappointment. And there's something about that his words that Jim can't brush off.
He enlists. The classes are easy; he doesn't need to try here any more than he did anywhere else, and it would be so easy to fall into his old habits. But Pike has offered him a challenge ("You could be an officer in four years. You could have your own ship in eight.") and takes him on as advisee ("It's such a waste," the other cadets say. "Pike never takes on advisees and Kirk doesn't even try. I don't know what he sees in him...") and forces him to come to dinner every Sunday night ("I want you to succeed, kid, even if it kills me. You've the makings to be the best damn officer in the 'Fleet if you want it badly enough...") every week the captain was planet-side.
And so, against his better judgement, he starts trying. Not a lot, but enough. He wants to make Pike proud. He's set to finish the command-track at the Academy in three years, which everyone said was impossible, and managed to beat the fucking Kobayashi Maru because it was a no-win scenario ("Something I admired about your dad, he didn't believe in no-win scenarios.") and he didn't believe in no-win scenarios ("Your argument precludes the possibility of a no-win scenario."). He should've have survived the Kelvin. Or Tarsus. Or the bar fights. Or the collective three hundred eighty-seven days he spent in various prisons. Or the three suicide attempts. ("You know, that instinct to leap without looking, that was his nature too, and in my opinion, it's something Starfleet's lost.") But he did and, somehow, that proves something.
But it's just like before. He's given his best and, once again, it's not good enough. ("He didn't call my name.")It's never good enough. He should have learned by now it's not worth trying. It never is. When you can surpass them all on just the barest of efforts, failure is so much more bitter. He's still in shock ("What are you doing?") and images of his life before Starfleet keep running through his mind ("Where are we?") and the very thought of returning to that makes him sick in a way he's never felt before. ("Captain Pike, we have to stop the ship!") He doesn't want to be that guy any more – ever again. He wants- God, he fucking wants to make Pike proud ("Kirk, how the hell did you get on board the Enterprise!") but, more than that, he's been waiting all his life for this ("That same anomaly, a lightning storm in space that we saw today, also occurred on the day of my birth. Before a Romulan ship attacked the USS Kelvin.") and, if he tries his best, he just might...
Because, for the first time, he has something to fight – to try – for.