Title: No Compromises
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: Property of Roddenberry, Paramount, JJ Abrams, etc. Alas.
Summary: There was nothing in what Pike had said to Jim that night that a hundred other people hadn't said, cursed, shouted, or sighed at him before. 1000 words.
Spoilers: Star Trek XI (2009)
Notes: For the Drabble on the Edge of Forever challenge at LJ: #5 - Kirk - pride. Tarsus IV references mainly from TOS episode 1.13, "The Conscience of the King".
Jim had been half-expecting Captain Pike to ambush him again when he finally walked out of the bar, but there was no-one waiting outside; just the cool night air, the muzziness of the alcohol blunting the edges of his thoughts, and the miniature starship model biting into his clenched fist. The crowd of cadets had gone, herded away by their senior officer, leaving the dirt roads and cornfields behind them.
He rubbed absently at the drying blood on his upper lip; it itched, and he grimaced as his knuckles bumped sore flesh. He was going to be a sight in the morning. He'd had worse, though, and he was sure at least two of the cadets he'd taken on would turn up uglier.
There was nothing in what Pike had said to Jim that night that a hundred other people hadn't said, cursed, shouted, or sighed at him before. Mostly his mother; but she hadn't been the first, or the last, to look him over and find him wanting. Something about the way Pike had said it was still prodding at him, though, like a burr caught under his skin.
I dare you to do better. Not live up to. Not fail to disappoint-- to do better.
I dare you.
Who was Pike to show up and quote his dissertation at Jim like it actually meant something?
The way he'd phrased it, too. That bullshit about leaping without looking. That was what Pike admired? The good people of Riverside would surely beg to differ.
And yet, for all that, there was something about the conversation that Jim just couldn't get out of his mind. He rubbed at his face again, sniffed carefully to clear his sinuses, then strolled over to his bike. He wasn't that drunk, and maybe a little wind in his face would clear things up.
He made it about halfway back to the farmhouse before he spotted the sign for the old quarry, then turned down the access road, nudged by contrary impulse. He parked several paces away from the familiar ledge, then strolled up to it and stared down into the dark, rocky void; a long moment later, he turned his face up to the stars instead. His hand found the little starship model in his pocket, and he rolled it over and over between his fingers as he thought.
That impulsiveness Pike had praised, that instinct to follow his own compass needle come hell or high water, had nearly led Jim right off that cliff when he was eleven; it felt like it was pointing him off another cliff now. One that had maybe been a long time in coming.
Starfleet, though? He had a hard enough time dealing with the ghost of his father's legacy in Riverside; in San Francisco it would be all but unavoidable. He'd have to shake off the shadow of George Kirk all over again, reestablish himself as James Tiberius, a larger-than-life entity in his own right. Just the prospect of it already filled him with exhaustion.
Jim knew what his mother would say about it. Or Sam. Not that he'd be asking either of them. Winona was off-planet yet again, and his brother had married and settled down about as far from Iowa as it was possible to get. It had been the better part of a decade since things had been any different; since Winona had rushed back, ditched Frank, and tried to play happy families with them for a while. That had led to their unfortunately timed visit to Tarsus IV, though, and a whole host of other memories Jim tried not to ever think about.
Idly, Jim wondered if Pike had read that part of his record, too. He'd hacked it once himself, under the theory that maybe if he got the whole picture it would calm his nightmares. It hadn't.
Humanitarian and peacekeeping armada, he scoffed to himself. That might be what the 'Fleet was intended to be, but Jim had seen what happened when the Federation's member worlds failed to live up to their own standard: "Interstellar union of advanced civilizations ensuring mutual prosperity based on the principles of universal freedom, rights, and equality for all types of life."
Somewhere out there was the star that had shone down on Kodos the Executioner as he put four thousand starving colonists to death. Somewhere else, shards of wreckage tumbled near a fiery nebula, marking the spot in the void where one James T. Kirk had drawn his first breath. Countless other worlds spun between those two points, with countless other people on them: living and dying, flying and falling, reaching hands out to help or to harm or just discover.
No, the question wasn't whether he was wasting his life here. The question was, did he want that 'more than ordinary' life? Devoting his future to the service of others-- to doing better?
Making a name for himself that didn't depend on anyone else's reputation.
Jim stood there, going over the pros and cons in his mind, until his bruises stiffened up and the stars began to fade. Then he pulled the tiny replica from his pocket, turned it over in his hand one last time, and reached out to drop it over the lip of the quarry.
He was gone before it struck bottom, back to the homestead to lock up what needed locking, send a message to the service Winona used when no one was going to be living there awhile, and wash the rest of the blood from his face. He thought about changing his shirt, too, then thought better of it, staring at his battered features in the mirror.
Starfleet was going to get Jim Kirk exactly as he was, no compromises. If he was going to do this, then it would be his way, or not at all.
Four years to graduate? He'd do it in three.
He shut the front door firmly behind him, and did not look back.