How do you grieve for a mother who resented you? Jim finds out about Winona's death. Post Into Darkness. Jim & Spock friendship. Winona's A+ parenting. T for language.
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Disclaimer: Star Trek doesn't belong to me. Obviously.
Jim's fingers clutched the padd as he stared out the window, his other hand pressed against the transparent aluminum. Space never failed to soothe him—each star set in its place, countless places to be explored, new discoveries to be made throughout the universe. And space. Space to be—something he'd never had as a child. His breath caught at the thought.
Word came an hour before his shift ended. He'd read the communique and then somehow managed to maintain an air of normalcy in front of his crew. Now he was alone, locked in the small observation lounge.
She was dead. The breath whooshed from his lungs.
A plasma relay had exploded. She'd died a hero's death saving five other crew members.
That was his mother all over—a hero to everyone but him. Even Sam had managed a reconciliation—of course, Sam's reconciliation had consisted of agreeing he'd been a horrible son and apologizing for being an awful person. Jim couldn't do that. Maybe it was the years of being compared to his father that made him so stubborn. No one should have to apologize for who they were.
Dead. His hand fisted on the cold aluminum. They hadn't spoken for more than a decade. After Tarsus, she'd come home and he'd thought they could be the family they'd never been. But even when she'd been physically present, she'd been elsewhere, and he'd realized things could never work between them as they were. He'd always thought someday . . . .
And now someday would never come.
The door slid open, and soundless feet entered.
"Captain?" Spock called.
Jim didn't think he could maintain his composure if he turned around, if he looked into his first's eyes. Spock, who loved his mother, whose mother had loved him, would be the last person to understand his odd relationship with the woman who had birthed him.
"Did you need something, Commander?" Jim asked.
"Were you intending to reschedule our chess game?" Spock asked.
Jim scrubbed a hand across his face. "Shit. I'm sorry, Spock. I didn't realize the time."
"Is something the matter?"
"No," Jim said, the pain in his chest intensifying.
"Your heart rate is elevated. Perhaps you should speak to Dr. McCoy."
Jim shook his head. "Just tired."
"Very well." Spock moved to stand next to Jim, his arms in their customary rest position behind his back and his gaze on the stars. They stayed that way for long minutes.
"Lieutenant Uhura informed me that you received a communication from Starfleet," Spock began. "Is it related to our next mission?"
"Yes." Jim sighed. He didn't have the energy to push Spock away graciously, and he doubted Spock realized he was encroaching on Jim's personal boundaries. He suppressed a bitter chuckle. A Vulcan encroaching on his personal boundaries. He was worse off than he'd realized.
"Lieutenant Uhura has explained that humans often find comfort in 'talking about their problems.' If it would prove beneficial, I am capable of listening to you."
Jim could feel his jaw tighten. "Thanks for the offer, Spock, but—"
"It is to the ship's benefit that you function at peak efficiency," Spock quickly added.
"Right." Jim rolled his eyes. Despite the tentative friendship they'd built over the past year, mothers had been a taboo subject. Plus, did he really want to talk about his mother's death with someone who suppressed their emotions 24/7? Although—Spock would listen without judging or getting emotional on his behalf. He'd ruled out going to Bones because he wasn't ready for such an emotional response. Maybe he should talk to Spock.
Jim sighed. "It was from Command. There was an accident on the Dauntless—an overloaded plasma relay. My mom didn't make it."
Spock hesitated for several moments. "I grieve with thee," he finally said.
"Thanks. I don't know why it's bothering me so much."
"She was your mother," Spock said, as though that would explain everything.
The corner of Jim's mouth quirked up. "She was. But we hadn't spoken in over a decade. The last time—well, I realized we couldn't work. George was always between us, always looking out at her through my eyes. And Frank," he said flatly.
"Are you sure you want to talk about this, Spock? I know you still—grieve for your mother."
Spock straightened his already ramrod stiff spine. "Indeed, Captain. However, I am still amenable to listening."
Jim suppressed a wince. Now he had to talk about it or Spock would think he was upset with him. "I wasn't trying to say—never mind." He took a deep breath. "Frank was my step-father. He was an asshole, but when I tried to talk to Mom about it, she would never believe me… except for the first time. The first time she lit into him—not enough for him to quit with me. Guess she must have been more worried about what he'd been doing to Sam," he said bitterly. "But after that first time, she stopped listening. She thought I was criticizing her for choosing Frank, but I wasn't. I just wanted—I wanted things to be better." Jim closed his eyes against the pain, willing himself to be somewhere else.
"That is not an unreasonable desire," Spock said, shifting a couple inches closer.
Jim's eyes flew open at the Vulcan's movement. Though Spock was trying to comfort him, he had no desire to radiate his raging emotions on the Vulcan. "Yeah, well, she thought it was." He threw the padd onto a nearby couch and strode over to the replicator, ordering a beer. Beer was the strongest drink the replicator would dispense—at least in here—and, as Scotty would have said, he needed lubricant. "Want something?" he asked Spock. "Your usual?"
"Tea would be most welcome," Spock said after a moment's deliberation.
Jim punched in the code for Spock's preferred tea and gestured toward the couch where his padd lay. He handed Spock his tea and waited for Spock to sit, then sat down where he could face Spock but still keep some distance. They drank in silence, both still watching the stars, for several more minutes.
"I finally realized things between us couldn't get better," Jim said, setting down the empty beer. "It's like in those old stories where knowing a person's name—a person's true essence—allowed you to perform magic on them and the only way to escape was to become someone else. We couldn't—have a relationship, not until we'd both become different people. I was a mess back then, and I needed time to get my shit together. I couldn't do that while we were hurting each other. I tried talking to her about it a couple times. She never understood—or maybe she just didn't want to." He gave a bitter chuckle. "Doesn't matter now."
"It does," Spock said.
"Spock, she's dead. Nothing can change that," Jim said flatly.
"That is accurate, however, you can change how you"—Spock hesitated infinitesimally—"feel about her."
Jim's eyebrows shot up. "Are you lecturing me on emotions?"
"Despite what some may believe, I am not an unfeeling robot."
Jim winced, recalling when he'd told Spock he wasn't going to take ethics lessons from a robot. "You know, Spock, I—I didn't really mean that. I was upset." He took a deep breath. "But I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I'm sorry."
Spock inclined his head. "I accept your apology, Captain. As I was saying, emotions run deep in the Vulcan race. That is why we have learned to categorize and control them. Nor am I unaware of the human tendency for increased stress caused by unresolved emotions."
"I never said you were." Jim sighed again. "I don't know how I feel about her." He moved to stand at the window again. Choose how he felt about his mother? She had always been able to make him feel: shame for being unworthy of his father's sacrifice, shame for being the one person she couldn't love, rage that she refused to understand, rage and hurt every time she chose her career over him, loss every time she left him… Choosing to feel something about her seemed almost impossible. She was an angry ocean he could only try to keep from drowning in.
"You cannot control emotion without first categorizing it," Spock said.
Jim's eyes screwed shut. Was he really going to do this? He cleared his throat. "I suppose, if I were to categorize my emotions… I'd say I'm angry at her for never being willing to change. I'm angry she was willing to sacrifice her life to rescue crewmembers, but not willing to grow past her issues so we could have a relationship. She thought I was still angry with her for my childhood. I guess I am, but not for the reasons she kept saying I was—I actually do understand why she made the choices she did; I'm angry she never tried to move past George's death." He slumped. "I don't know. Maybe she couldn't change—but she didn't even try."
"Perhaps she simply did not want her children to see her metamorphosing."
Jim's eyes flew open. "You're saying maybe she did try to change? I don't think so. If you change the conditions of an experiment, it'll alter the results, right?" He turned to face Spock, pressing his back into the cold anchor of the window. "Her actions never changed. She never stopped running away into space." He looked down at his boots. "It doesn't matter. She did the best she could." His face hardened. "Unfortunately, her best never got any better."
"Captain, though you seem to possess the drive to push yourself, perhaps in excess, not everyone has such a drive."
"Y'know, I'd almost believe that if I didn't know what she was like with other people." He gestured to the padd. "Her captain forwarded several condolence letters. She was genuinely good to other people. Just not family. The kids in school used to talk about how cool my mom was and how they wished she was their mom. 'S why no one ever believed what an asshole Frank was. They were sure I was just focusing on the bad things."
Jim shook his head. Dwelling on the past wasn't going to help anything.
"Is there anything else?" Spock asked.
"Spock, I'm not sure this is—" Jim stopped with an internal sigh. He was trying not to hurt Spock's feelings, ridiculous as that might sound to someone else. After the mind meld with the old man, he was well aware of Spock's feelings. And maybe he still wanted that friendship to define them the old man had promised, a friendship that had lasted beyond death. "Are you sure categorizing my emotions will help?"
"It has always assisted my own mental state."
"Fine," Jim said. "Grief. We'll never get a chance to have the relationship I always wanted. It was—impossible between us but I'd always thought someday…" He turned back to the stars. "We're similar in a lot of ways. When I joined Starfleet, I thought I'd hear something from her—even if it was just a chewing out for 'putting George's sacrifice at risk'—but no dice."
Spock moved to stand next to Jim.
Jim straightened his tunic, trying to loosen the constraints on his chest, but it was pointless—the band around his heart wasn't physical.
"Captain, it is logical that you feel grief. She was your mother even if you did not experience an ideal mother-son relationship with her. You have only one mother."
Jim barked a laugh. "Right." Then he remembered Spock's mother. "You're right," he said more gently. "It is logical to feel grief over the loss of your one mother." He hesitated for a moment. "Spock, how about you? If you want to talk about your mom, I'll listen."
Spock hesitated, but Jim remained silent.
"My mother was—a remarkable person. I had not realized how difficult it was for her to live on Vulcan until I came to Starfleet. Living among humans gave me an appreciation for what she endured as a foreigner. She clearly loved my father very much to live with him despite the disparate environment."
Jim put a hand on Spock's arm, giving it a gentle squeeze. "I would have liked to meet her. She must have loved you a lot."
"Indeed. Regret is illogical, however, I find that I—regret not telling her that I loved her."
"I'm sure she knew, Spock."
"Spock, trust me: she knew." He traced constellations in the sky. What would it have been like to be so loved by his mother? Love for her husband had driven her to the stars, away from the son who reminded her of what she'd lost. He couldn't imagine her loving him enough to stay. Frankly, he couldn't imagine her loving him at all. On one of his birthdays, she'd been drunk and had told him George wouldn't have died if it hadn't been for him. Or at least she could have died with him. That it was Jim's fault she was a widow.
Jim hadn't known what to say. He'd been young enough that he'd believed her—hell, a part of him still believed her. She'd brushed aside insinuations that she blamed him from countless reporters, however, for Jim, her accusation had been the piece of the puzzle that allowed him to recognize the picture on it. Suddenly, every interaction they'd ever had had made so much sense.
He'd mostly come to terms with the fact that it was her dissatisfaction with life speaking. She hadn't been willing or able to move past George and she blamed him but her blame didn't make it true. Sometimes, he thought his mother would have been able to grieve if she'd let herself get angry at George and his choice instead of putting all that rage into her relationship with Jim. Regardless, she'd lived her life the way she'd wanted to. Just like he'd lived his life the way he'd wanted to.
A thought whispered through his mind—a breeze coming through the windows on a spring day: it was his choice. He regretted they'd never reconciled, but reconciliation wasn't possible until they'd both changed. He hoped he'd changed enough that he could have held up his end of the relationship, but he couldn't control the fact that she hadn't. And he couldn't live his life waiting for her to change, especially not now. In a way, her death set him free. He could stop hoping, stop feeling, stop being in the odd limbo that was their failed relationship and grieve her loss.
He turned to Spock. "How"—he cleared his throat—"how did you grieve your mother?"
Spock's face seemed to grow even more impassive.
"I'm sorry," Jim said. "That was out of line. You don't have to answer."
"You misunderstand," Spock said in crisp tones. "I am not unwilling to answer; I am unable to do so. You speak of grief as though it were an event in the past. I do not think I will ever stop grieving her. I will always desire her presence."
"Yeah." Jim shivered. "That feeling's almost always there in the back of my mind. Even more since I learned about the other reality. My dad lived, and the other me was close with him. I keep wondering if I was close with my mom too."
"It is difficult not to wish for something else when one is aware it existed elsewhere."
"Do you think about that much?"
Spock hesitated. "I do not dwell on the fact, however, I am confronted with it whenever I speak with my counterpart."
Jim's lips quirked up. "That's got to be weird."
"Indeed. It is unsettling."
Jim turned back to the window. "They had such different lives. Are you ever jealous? Or whatever the non-emotional equivalent is?" he quickly added.
"Perhaps. At times, I find myself—curious to know what my life could have been. My counterpart appears to be at ease with himself. I have wondered if that is due to the continuing influence of my mother on his life."
Jim shook his head. "I don't think so—or at least, not entirely. He was estranged from your parents for a long time because Sarek didn't approve of his Starfleet career."
Spock's eyes widened fractionally. "You have spoken of this?"
Jim sighed. "Not exactly. He did a mind meld when I was on Delta Vega. Some things slipped through. I think it was us—the Enterprise and her crew—and what happened on our missions that made him the way he was."
Spock straightened. "He performed a mind meld without your consent?"
Jim shook his head. "It wasn't—it was the fastest way for me to get information I needed. I didn't believe him when he said we were friends—I mean, you had just marooned me there for mutiny." He held up a hand as Spock opened his mouth. "Not that I blame you given the circumstances. And it all worked out in the end. We don't need to rehash it." At least not tonight—not when he lacked the emotional energy to handle the dance that was trying to get Spock to talk about his emotions.
Spock hesitated, then pressed his lips closed and nodded. "It is a grave offense to force a mind meld on one who is unwilling," he said, disapproval ringing through his tone.
"Spock, he wasn't forcing me. He'd done mind melds with his Jim, and, to him, he was simply doing something he'd done before. He told me what he was going to do, and I didn't object."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "A lack of objection is not consent."
Jim waved a hand, brushing the distinction away. "I didn't mind." A thought surfaced. "If you—want to look, you can. See what he passed on to me."
Spock turned green. "Mind melds are not to be used lightly."
Jim grimaced. "I wasn't trying to—forget it. I just thought you might want to see for yourself."
"You would be unable to prevent other things from 'slipping through.' I would see more than the mind meld."
"Spock, it's not like I haven't been trained to deal with telepaths," Jim said with fond exasperation. After Tarsus, he'd been determined never to be that vulnerable and his quest for safety had gone beyond protecting himself physically from the likes of Frank. If Old Spock had been trying to take memories rather than give them, the situation would have been far different. And Jim had since rectified that chink in his armor, recognizing that emotional transference left him vulnerable.
"The Starfleet curriculum on this subject is—"
"I didn't learn from Starfleet," Jim said darkly. Their curriculum was shit. You'd think they'd want to teach their officers to protect their own minds. Unfortunately, it was predominantly geared towards not offending telepathic races.
Spock stared at him, appearing to consider the idea.
"You don't have to if you don't want to," Jim said.
"I am simply attempting to ascertain if you understand what you are offering."
Jim held Spock's gaze. "I do." Old Spock had given Jim a crash course. Besides, this was different. This Spock hadn't just lost his planet and his universe—he wasn't seeing his dead best friend for the first time in years. Many things would be different this time. Besides, if their counterparts' missions were any indication, it would come in handy for Spock to be familiar with Jim's mind.
"Very well," Spock said. He gestured to the couch. "It will be more comfortable for you if we sit."
Jim moved to the couch and settled himself. He took a deep breath, strengthening his mental shields.
"My mind to yours. My thoughts to your thoughts," Spock said, placing his fingers on Jim's psi points.
Instantly, they were in the meld. It was a place outside their shields. Jim could feel Spock's curiosity and concern that he was overstepping the bounds of their friendship. Jim sent reassurance and fondness to Spock, then created a door in his shields and began feeding the memories he'd gotten from Old Spock into the meld.
Flashes of their counterparts' missions flowed through the meld: the first time they had met, Jim almost dying, Sarek's illness and reconciliation with Spock, Amanda's love, Spock almost dying from pon farr, Old Spock's obsession with logic and his time at Gol, a vague sense of encountering pure logic and finding it wanting…
And then Spock's death in the warp core and Old Spock going through fal-tor-pan—that hadn't surfaced until after Jim had died in the warp core during the fiasco with Khan and Marcus. Even in the midst of Jim's pain and mixed feelings about Bones' revival techniques, knowing that Spock could have died had been an anchor, a reminder that what he had done had been worthwhile and that he would do it all over again. Genesis didn't exist yet. Spock had caught Khan. With Spock dead, the odds were he would have stayed dead. And Jim needed Spock—he needed all of them: Bones, Spock, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov. Without them, he had no chance of becoming that better self he had seen in Old Spock's mind. But more importantly, he needed Spock to balance him out as a Captain—to be cool logic to his more spontaneous, gut-driven approach. A hundred times over their partnership had saved the mission and their lives.
The memories continued reeling through, a jumble of impressions and bits of events. Countless new worlds explored, new adventures around every turn, and through it all their crew—a family that remained strong even as they were thrown to the four corners of the universe, a family that came together again and again to help each other.
Once they reached the end, Spock's hesitation filled the meld.
"What is it?" Jim asked.
"My counterpart has said my destiny lies with Starfleet, but I had not realized it was more than a platitude."
"Yeah. We need you. We're a family—we all need each other."
Maybe that was the key: his mother had been family when he was a child, but he had built a new family—one that chose him and accepted him for who he was. It had been her decision to remain trapped in the past, and he refused to follow in her footsteps.
"Jim, may I show you my mother?" Spock said.
"I'd love to see her," Jim said.
Less than a heartbeat later, Spock began sharing memories of his mother. Jim could feel Spock's love for his mother and the conflict between that love and the need to be even more Vulcan than the full-Vulcans. He saw the unconditional support Amanda offered Spock. It was like nothing he'd experienced in his own family.
Spock's anguish at losing her was almost as sharp as it had been the day of her death.
The memories stopped, and they were left on a facsimile of Vulcan-that-was, the sun beating down. Jim turned to Spock, mindful of the Vulcan's still fresh grief. "There was nothing you could have done," he said.
"I knew the planet was unstable. I knew she was human, and yet I did not ensure her safety," Spock said in a monotone.
"Humans say hindsight is 20/20. It's an old saying that means we can see our mistakes after we've made them, but when we're in the middle of them they're less clear. After Khan, I did the same thing—tried to figure out what I could have done differently. I shouldn't have trusted Marcus. Heck, I should have done things differently with Nabiru. But I can't change the past. And I can't predict the future—maybe things would have been worse in the long run if we hadn't fought Khan the way we did.
"If you had done things differently with your mother, you might have been pulled into the planet too. If you're going to blame someone, you should blame Nero."
Deep regret lanced through the meld as though it had broken free from Spock's shields.
"That's not your fault either," Jim said firmly. "Old Spock did the best he could to save Romulus. Nero didn't have to destroy Vulcan. He could have devoted himself to saving Romulus in this reality. He chose destruction."
Spock's head tilted to one side as he considered Jim's words. "You are correct. Logic dictates that each being is responsible for their own actions."
"Yeah. I know it doesn't feel that way though. I think—" Jim hesitated. Tarsus was something he didn't think he could ever forgive himself for even though it was Kodos' fault—the fungus, and Kodos, and all the people who had gone along with his insane eugenics. But if he couldn't forgive himself, how could he tell Spock that he wasn't responsible for Vulcan's destruction? "I think it just takes practice. Maybe you can't believe it today, but if you work on it, you'll be able to believe the truth someday." Jim hesitated. Believe the truth. It was true. He was no more responsible for the deaths on Tarsus than the Spocks were for the deaths on Vulcan and Romulus. A conglomeration of events and decisions had created the result. Maybe it could have been different, but it hadn't been. And maybe, if he worked at it, he could stop blaming himself for Tarsus—someday.
"Hundreds of things could have been different—but they weren't," Jim continued, shielding the surge of emotion thoughts of Tarsus always produced. "We're here, and we have to deal with this reality. We don't live in that other reality.
"Yes, we've both lost our mothers"—he allowed a portion of his own grief to leak out of his shields—"but we still have our crew and our ship. More is the same than it's different."
Spock's head bowed.
"And Spock, she knew you loved her. Watching you with her, you might not have said it out loud but it was in your actions every day. She knew."
Spock looked up, searching his eyes. Jim held his gaze squarely, letting his sincerity and care bleed into the meld.
Spock's eyes softened. "Thank you, Jim."
"Anytime." Jim's mind churned as he considered returning the favor. Family. They were family, and they needed each other if they were ever to become even half as good as their counterparts had been. "Would you like to see my mother?"
Spock nodded. "I would be pleased to view anything you wish to share."
Jim swallowed. He took a moment to gather the memories of his mother and pulled them into the meld.
His mother leaving. That was the constant—she never stayed, never chose her sons over her career. The sorrow in her eyes when she looked at Jim, which she rarely did. The year when she blamed him for his father's death. Birthday after birthday where she was drunk and her sobbing filled the house, making Jim wish to be anywhere else. Jim skipped over Tarsus, not sure he was ready to share that with Spock—and even if he were, he preferred to use words rather than a meld full of the awful realities. That last conversation he'd had where she hadn't understood.
Jim sometimes felt his life was a series of no-win scenarios that he refused to let define him. He had run countless simulations after Khan—trying to figure out a way to save Pike, the only father he'd ever known, and all those who died when Khan crashed into San Francisco. At the Academy, he had run similar simulations trying to prove to himself that George Kirk's death hadn't been Jim's fault. It was why he couldn't accept the Kobayashi Maru—the last thing Starfleet needed to teach was to roll over and accept death. He'd discovered mistakes George had made—not calling for an evacuation sooner among other things—mistakes that had come from being too passive. Passivity was the last thing Starfleet needed to teach.
And he couldn't help doing the same thing with that last conversation with his mother—running it over and over in his mind, changing the variables until he could create a favorable outcome. If he'd found the right words, maybe she would have understood.
The memories ebbed, leaving them in an Iowan cornfield this time.
"I grieve with thee," Spock said.
"Thanks," Jim said.
"It is clear why you contemplate the nature of your counterpart's relationship with his mother."
"Yeah. From what I've heard and seen, she's a different person with everyone but Sam and me. I just wish I'd gotten a chance to meet that person. Maybe the other Jim did."
Spock nodded. "I am curious as to whether my counterpart's childhood was similar to my own. However, we have never spoken of it. After the Kelvin's encounter with Nero and the revelation of the common ancestry between Romulans and Vulcans, tensions between humans and Vulcans grew. I have wondered how those increased tensions affected my own life."
Jim stuck his hands in his pockets, kicking at the Iowa dirt. "Yeah." He looked out at the horizon. "But we don't live there. We're our own people. And, honestly, I find that comforting." He transferred his gaze to Spock. "Neither of us is a copy of someone else. We're ourselves."
Jim took a deep breath, returning his attention to the horizon and trying to remind himself that there were no right words—it took two people to make a relationship and, with his mother unwilling to listen, nothing would have helped.
"You are correct," Spock said.
"Huh?" Jim turned back to him.
"No words are sufficient to change a person who refuses to be changed. If she were a different person, a relationship between the two of you might have been possible. In this reality, however, I do not see how it could have been different."
Jim nodded, his throat too tight to say anything even in the meld. He sent a flash of gratitude at Spock.
Spock eased them out of the meld and they sat on the couch, both assimilating this newest information.
"Perhaps you are right," Spock said.
"We do not live in that other reality—we can only make the best of this reality."
Simultaneously, they turned back to the window. Maybe neither of them would ever move past their grief for their mothers but they could choose to let go, to be here and now, rather than keeping a bit of themselves always waiting. More importantly, they weren't alone—they would do it together, much as they had ever since they'd taken down Nero.
The door to the observation lounge whooshed open, and Jim and Spock shifted to see who the newcomer was.
Bones poked his head in. Seeing the two of them, Bones stepped in far enough for the door to close but no closer. "What in tarnation are you doin' in here, Jim? I've been waitin' for ya in the med bay for more than an hour. When Spock called lookin' for your 'whereabouts,' I figured it was only a matter of time before ya showed up at my doorstep." He crossed his arms, his eyes flitting back and forth between the window and Jim. "Wanna tell me what's goin' on, or am I gonna have to hypo it out of ya?"
Jim's lips quirked into a smile. It was a measure of Bones' concern that he would come to his least favorite place on the ship, not to mention how thick his accent always got when he was truly worried. No, he wasn't alone at all.