He's not dumb. OK, maybe a little. He should have known – ok, ok, maybe he did know, kind of, or at least figured it might turn out this way – that there was no way Mrs. Treary was gonna like his science project. But it had worked, hadn't it? So maybe there was a little smoke, and maybe it flew a little faster than it was supposed to. And, ok, maybe it punched a hole in the ceiling. But it was a really small hole, and he'd told everybody to stand back and it totally wasn't fair. It had worked, and wasn't that proof enough that he'd tried hard enough for the stupid science fair? He hadn't cheated, he hadn't! Stupid Mrs. Treary, sending him home when all he's done was try to explain that of course he'd made it himself, because it would've worked right and it never would've shot through the roof like that if he'd bought it. Stupid Mrs. Treary. It's all her fault.
Except it isn't. It really, really isn't. It's all Frank, and that sucks because he'd suckered Jim into thinking he was an all right guy. He makes tater tots for dinner and taught Jim how to use the tools in the garage and let him take an old engine apart and never talks to Jim like he's stupid. Yeah, he seemed like an all-right guy and that made him EVEN WORSE than the parade of jerks that called him Jimbo and kept him mom crying in the middle of the night when she thought he couldn't hear.
And boy, was she ever going to cry now. He'd screwed up – even if it was fun, even if he still can't sit still because he can feel the car slipping out from underneath him – he'd screwed up real bad this time and he hasn't figured out how to get out of it just yet because he's in the police station and that lady is eying him like she's gonna start asking questions again. She's not dumb, either, and Jim can tell that she's not buying his story about running into town for medicine, which, ok, but it was the best he could come up with so fast. There's gotta be something he can tell her, and it won't be the truth no matter how times she says he can tell her in that soothing voice. Yeah, right. He's not gonna embarrass his mom like that. Any more than you already have, says an awful little voice in the back of his mind. He can see it already, the way her face gets tight, how she'll smile that scrunched little smile when Aunt Linda says something like at least her boy's never been in jail 'cuz he had a proper upbringing.
Stupid Frank. Stupid Frank and that stupid lady in her stupid underpants and stupid Mrs. Treary sending him home early. He didn't deserve it, he wasn't cheating, he wasn't and if he hadn't come home early he would never have seen them and maybe his mom could have gone right on laughing into the holophone at night. And stupid Jim, for making it even worse. Mom was always telling him to stop and think and he should have, he should have because even if Frank was a jerk, Mom didn't know it and maybe… But it was too late for that. Frank was never gonna stay now because Jim had gone and run the thing Frank loved most in the world off a cliff because he shouldn't love anything more than his mom – not even that car.
"Hey." The police lady's smiling at him again, like she can't decide whether to treat him like a big kid or not. "Your stepfather's coming for you, son," she says and he knows what she's doing but he can't stop himself from flinching anyway. "James," and at least there's that, at least they're calling him by his real name, "do you feel safe at home?"
"Yes," he says and that's the gospel truth, even if her mouth is pressed skinny.
"Does your stepfather…" A pause, as she looks down at her paper, and maybe she's stupider than he thought if she can't even remember a name like Frank. "Does Frank every hit you, or touch you?"
"No, ma'am." It's true, it is and they always believe you when you open your eyes extra wide. But she's not gonna let this go. "It's just, that was his car."
"Oh," she says, and Jim can hear the giggle in it. Maybe she's not so bad, this lady. At least until she gives him to Frank.
It's dark. He's sleepy and it's dark and oh no, the dogs are barking and that's the sound of crunching gravel. He's been dreading this for a week. It's no fair to sneak up on him at night.
Time to man up. This week was waaaaaay too easy. It was bad, for sure, hearing his mom cry over the holophone and ignoring Frank's stupid glares and I'm sorries and tater tots for three days before Grandma got there. Grandma's awesome. She tells great stories, even if Jim isn't sure they're all true - there's no way Grandpa Tiberius did all that stuff. Plus, she wasn't even mad about the car, at least not at Jim. You could hear her all the way from the attic when she yelled at Frank to be a man and just let that fool car go, served him right.
Even better, he got to go stay at the farm, which meant he totally didn't have to go to school and he got to eat Grandma's pie and Uncle John let him ride the horses and even let him drive the combine once. It was almost enough to make him forget.
Almost. But it's his fault that Mom has to drive the crappy old Buick again – he can hear its engine rattling from here. It's his fault she's pulled out of the sky.
She's pretty fast, his Mom, and she's already parked the car by the time he gets downstairs. He knows just when she sees him because she sucks in a breath, way too loud. He can't help it, he's slouching, it sucks to make her sad like this. "Mom…"
"Oh, Jimmy," she says, squeezing him so hard his ribs hurt, "what am I going to do with you?" Her face is in hair and maybe she's crying and this is all his fault. But then she pulls back and she's smiling. A real smile, too, even if it's a little sad. "Let's go sit on the roof."
It's really hard to wake Grandma up but they're quiet anyway, sneaking up the stairs and out the hatch. He thinks maybe Mom will start pointing out constellations and satellites she's worked on, like usual, but she just sits there quietly and stares at the stars. Her mouth is pinched and Jim's suddenly afraid that's he's screwed this up, too. Maybe he's stolen space, the only thing she ever talks about in that tone. Well. Except for Dad.
"Mom?" She's slow to turn her face to him. Her eyes have gone all tired. "Frank said you lost your job."
"Frank doesn't know what he's talking about," she says, but her voice is too sharp.
"I'm sorry." He's not sure what's worse, that he kind of is or kind of isn't. There's all kinds of stuff for her to do here – Joey told him that they're going to build a new landing pad or something, and soon it's going to be the school play and besides, she always loves the parades in the summer.
"Oh, honey," is all she says. "Oh, honey."
He's smart enough to know when to shut up and now is one of those times. Mom's never like this. She just lays there for a while, staring up in to the sky. Eventually, her hand creeps over to fuss with his hair. And now Jim knows that it's really bad. Like, nuclear bad. "I didn't lose my job, Jimmy."
She sounds so sad. "That's good, right?"
"I did..." She laughs, harsh and high and fake. "It wasn't easy to get here so quick, hon. Cost more credits than I make in a month of Sundays."
"I'm sorry." Ohgodohgodohgod he never thought of that. He's not stupid; he knows they're in trouble. Frank doesn't exactly keep his voice down when he's hollering about how the farm's a money drain and engineers don't get paid like they used to, and Grandma kept sighing about the price of gas. "I didn't…"
"I know you didn't, honey." She presses a kiss to the top of his head. "You've just got to learn to think."
It's awful when she goes all quiet. He's trying not to squirm but it's hard to sit still when he can feel the worry rolling off her like this. "Mom." He's going to ask, he's got to. Even if her already knows the answer. "You're not going to work here, are you."
"No, honey," she says, still staring at the stars. "I'm going back to the station." That doesn't seem so bad. Totally not enough to make her sound like this, like she's about to burst into tears again.
"For a long time."
"How long, Mom?"
Another strangled little laugh. "Till we're caught up a little, baby. Not long at all."
Everybody thinks he's so dumb. He knows she's gonna be gone for a long, long time, as long as the silence as they stare out as the stars.
"Jimmy, what am I going to do with you?"
He smirks, just like he's been practicing, and Mom flinches a little. "Hopefully, you're gonna bail me out."
The patrolman he's been playing cards with all night – Peterson, right, that's his name - snickers and gropes around for his keys. Mom tries to glare at him but there's nothing intimidating in it – she's pure sunshine, everybody knows it just from looking at her.
"You're lucky we were back in the quadrant." Snarly sunshine, maybe. Oh, she's pissed this time. "Hell and damnation, Jimmy, what were you thinking? Jill Christenson told me that you dragged her boy into this damn mess of yours, and two of the Murphy brothers, too."
Peterson grins, a real shit-eater. "Respectfully, ma'am, those are the only ones we caught. Musta been fifteen of 'em running away."
"Jesus, Jimmy." She sputters for a minute, clenching her hands on nothingness. "Jesus. Where the hell do a bunch of fifteen year olds get hold of that kind of off-world booze? And a bonfire? What did you think would happen? Jesus H., use your head." She sighs. "You're damn lucky you won't go to juvee."
He winks at Peterson as he fumbles with the locks. There we go. Knew that sonofagun has another chuckle in him. "Damn lucky I have a mom who'll come bail me out, you mean."
"Don't think you can charm your way out of this," she says, but the edge is out of her voice. "And get a move on. Your grandma's waiting in the truck."
Peterson waves and returns Jim's wink as Mom half-shoves Jim down the hall. "And here I was looking forward to my reunion with Bucky."
There we go. He knew that stupid nickname his five-year-old self had for the Buick would get a real smile out of her.
But it's gone just like that. "I sold him."
"Oh." Oh. Geez, he doesn't want to think about how the hell she got out here from the spaceport. "How, um, how long do you get to stick around?"
"Lucky for you, there's a new guy at the station and the big boss okayed two weeks of vacation." Her voice slips back to pissy. "And believe you me, you'll be in the house for every minute of it."
"Aw, Mom, I wouldn't miss a minute." He grins and she ruffles his hair, a little roughly. Fair enough - he's not off the hook so easy.
"You're the devil's own child," she grumbles, but her voice is warm.
3. Stop loss
"Aw, c'mon, baby, it's only 200…" Shit. She hung up on him. That was cold. Sure, they weren't exactly quote unquote dating, but you think she'd give him the benefit of the doubt after Thursday.
All right, fine. He was getting a little desperate. Three days, he'd been stuck in here. Most educational three days of his life, at least until "Shania" over there fell asleep.
Well, well, well. Finally, a lady police officer. "Present."
There we go. A little smile, or at least a hint of one. Maybe she's his ticket out of here. "Come with me, Mr. Kirk. We got your mom on the holophone."
What on Earth… Maybe something's gone wrong with her transport. Maybe she's stuck for another couple of days, so she's just calling ahead to check in. Jim grins at the lady once more, just for luck. "Lead on. Miss…"
"Officer Robins." Me-ow. But at least she's grinning at him. Is that… Yes, she's dropped her eyes, smile going slow. He's got this.
"Lead on, Officer."
She snaps her fingers playfully. "Damn skippy."
It's not far to the holophone at the front of the hall. There's Mom, drumming her fingers. She must've been waiting all this time. "James Tiberius Kirk. What the hell did you think you were doing?"
Wait. There's clanging in the back. Is that… Is Mom in her garage greys? "Where are you?"
"Don't take that tone with me."
"Mom, are you…" It can't be. "Are you still at the station?"
"Honey," she says, and there's something robotic about it, like she's rehearsed. "You're twenty-two years old, Jimmy. You can't keep solving problems with your fists. You've got such a brain on you, and you've got to learn to use it."
"You thought what? That I would just drop everything and come bail you out of jail?"
Her eyes are closed, fingers at the bridge of her nose. "Honey, no. I can't. I just… can't."
Well, huh. Who knew it was possible to leave him speechless. But here it is, like all the air's been knocked out of him. "Didn't they tell you…"
"Grandma told me." She sighs. "You'll be happy to know that they transferred her to a new facility in Minnesota. At our expense."
"I am happy to hear that. Those bastards…"
Unbelievable. "Mom, she was covered in bruises."
"She fell out of bed."
"That's not what she told me!"
"Before or after she thought you were Tiberius?" She's yelling, loud enough that she's checking behind her to make sure that nobody's paying attention. "You just can't go off half-cocked like that."
"Mom, I couldn't just…"
"Don't you think I had them check?"
"Like we could trust those doctors…"
"I'm not stupid, Jim." Ouch. Her voice is cold, snapping like a fucking whip. "I called the VFW, and they sent someone right over." Oh. Oh. But she'd said… The look on her face, so scared, and the smell of that awful antiseptic place… She'd had tears in her eyes…
Some of that must be showing on his face. Mom's gentled back down again. "Jimmy, honey, she just fell out of bed."
She'd been so scared. "I'm sorry, Mom." He doesn't really mean it, and it shows. His voice sounds numb to his own ears.
But it's enough. "I had the doctors who examined your grandmother call the judge. He's agreed to expedite your hearing, and I think he's gonna go easy on you, under the circumstances." A sigh. What in the hell… She's avoiding his eyes. "Assault is serious, Jim. If you mouth off, they can put you away for years."
"I'll be good." He's smirking, but his heart's not in it. "Really. I promise."
"Good. Ok. Good."
They're both just sitting there, silent. God, he can't leave it like this. "So, um, how's the station?"
"It's good, it's good. Some very exciting research." Worry tightens the corner of her eyes. He knows this look. "Listen, Jimmy…"
"I know, Mom, I know. 5 credits a minute."
"Right." Her sigh, the way she shakes her head… She seems so much older than she ever has before. "Use your head, Jimmy. Just…"
"Yeah, I know." The silence lasts approximately forever, credits ticking away with every second. "I love you too, Mom."
She smiles another one of those horrible, drawn smiles. "I'll see you at Christmas."
"Yeah, ok." Click. Jesus. That's it?
He sits there for a couple of minutes just staring at the screen. Fuck. She's really not going to come for him.
He almost jumps when a gentle hand lands on his shoulder. Oh. He'd forgotten all about the lovely Officer Robins. "Back this way, Mr. Kirk."
Her voice is gentle. He takes a deep breath, works up a little smile for her. "I'd follow you anywhere."
She chuckles, but he can tell it's more or less out of obligation. What's this? She's squaring her shoulders, suddenly avoiding eye contact… This can't be good. "I shouldn't tell you this, but…" Another deep breath. "Now, I wasn't your arresting officer, so I can't promise anything but I'll talk to the prosecutor, see if I can't get him to drop the charges or at least plead you out."
Geez, he's good, but he's not that good. "Thanks, officer, but…"
"I'm a Starfleet brat." She grins, but there's something hollow in it. "I was raised by my nana, too." She clears her throat, suddenly brusque. "Well. Here we are."
"Thanks," he says, and she just nods, practically fleeing to her post at the end of the hallway. Next door, "Shania" lets out a phlegmy snore.
Suddenly, violently, he hates this place. No, he's not dumb – he's never coming back here again. If nothing else, they'll never catch him.