A/N: This is my first attempt at a Star Trek fic. I have written a couple one shots for HP, but not for a couple years now. I will completely and shamelessly admit my absolute ignorance when it comes to the wonderful world of TOS. I'm a baby of the mid-eighties, and grew up on the periphery of Next Generation but was an avid watcher of Voyager… so I'll write what I know, and that's human relations. I'll leave the sci-fi and scientific things to the experts. :) If you have any suggestions, comments or criticisms, I readily welcome them and hope you will share them with me! Otherwise, thanks for clicking on my little fic. I hope you enjoy it.
Five Easy Steps
"All hands, this is bridge. Attention on deck, the Captain is coming abroad."
It was a tradition as old as the seas. The return of the commanding officer of a vessel, whether she be seafaring or crossing the galaxies, required a certain pageantry. An all-hands call announced his approach; crewmembers from the lowly ensign to the first officer prepared for his arrival. Uniforms were straightened, stations manned and excitement spread through the decks. A ship isn't a ship without her captain.
Captain James Kirk has been away from the USS Enterprise for two weeks on bereavement leave. Word had come through official channels that his mother, Winona Kirk, had died while on leave from her post as a science officer with Starfleet. No word on the cause of death, but the Admiralty had granted the Captain of her flagship immediate leave. The Enterprise was to continue her ferrying mission bringing supplies and basic infrastructure to the developing colony of New Vulcan. Command of the bridge and the vessel had been temporarily transferred to Lieutenant Commander Spock.
Jim left the ship with very little fanfare. Friends and detractors alike – although there were very few of the latter on broad – agreed that the subdued departure of the captain was unusual. Normally, Captain Kirk trembled with boundless energy; he drew people to him effortlessly. A natural born leader, he was captivating, charismatic, and inspiring. As such, when the Captain quietly ordered a shuttle prepared, the crew, unaware of the nature of the message from Starfleet, were apprehensive until word spread of Kirk's loss.
Most greatly anticipated his return. Commander Spock, while an effective leader, lacked Kirk's panache. Jim involved himself in the day-to-day operations of the ship in away Spock simply did not. Spock issued orders from the bridge and expected them carried out. Kirk liked to see them carried out in person. Never interfering, just curious. The engineers missed hearing the bad jokes traded between their Captain and Chief Engineer. The nurses missed hearing embarrassing stories of the CMO's time at the Academy. The bridge officers missed the banter between Spock, Kirk and Uhura.
Commander Spock anticipated Captain Kirk's return. While he hadn't missed his CO – that would imply a much closer relationship than the one they currently had – he had quickly discovered that the mantle of command did not rest as comfortably on his shoulders as it did on Jim's. Spock preferred his first officer's role as devil's advocate to that of decision maker. It was logical to return command to Kirk so that he could assume the position for which he was most skilled: science officer and voice of reason. A Captain of a starship required a great deal more impulsiveness and adaptability than was possible for a Vulcan. Spock needed to assess a situation from all angles before coming to the most logical conclusion. He recognised the essential human skill of trusting one's gut, even if he thought it nonsensical.
Seated in the Captain's chair, Spock was entering the last figures and statistics into his acting captain's log when the turbolift doors swished open and Lieutenant Sulu called the bridge staff to attention: "Captain on the bridge!"
All hands on deck came to attention, turning from their console to face their captain who waved them back into position with an "As you were." Most of the crew turned back to their posts, but a small number stood still and stared at the captain. Jim looked haggard- his cheeks were drawn and he carried heavy bags under his eyes. All told, he looked as though he had neither slept nor eaten since having left the ship fourteen days before. Wearing his dress uniform, it was clear to Sulu, Ensign Chekov and Spock – those who had not turned back to their stations – that the Captain had come directly from his mother's funeral.
"The bridge is yours, Captain."
"Thank you, Mr Spock. You've taken good care of her while I was gone." Jim moved from the doors towards the captain's chair. Gradually, work on the bridge resumed, though without the normal interplay between the officers. Some wondered why the captain had not changed into his service uniform before returning to duty; others just assumed he couldn't wait to get back in command, and back into the routine of the Enterprise.
Captain Kirk said very little over the four remaining hours of his shift. He directed as needed, answered all questions asked, but didn't engage any of his friends. At the end of shift, as replacements came to relieve the primary crew, Captain Kirk departed quietly. Sulu and Chekov exchanged confused glances, as normally Jim waited to see if anyone was headed to the recreation deck, to the mess for a meal. Instead, he had left without a backwards glance.
That evening, Doctor Leonard McCoy went to the captain's quarters to drag his best friend out for a drink. The communications pad at his door was blocked with a request not to disturb the captain.
Over the course of the week following the captain's return, the crew noticed three things: the first being that the captain spoke only when spoken to, which was a substantial change as far as Lieutenant Uhura was concerned as she had spent the better part of four years trying to shut the captain up. The second thing noticed was that the captain seemed to neither eat – as he was never seen in the mess and his face became even more drawn – nor sleep – as the bags under his eyes grew larger as the days passed. The final thing they noticed was that he was ignoring even his best friend on board.
Kirk and Bones were the infamous duo from the Academy. Inseparable, irreverent- one could hardly go a day without the other. The fact that not even Doctor McCoy had spoken to the captain since his return caused whispering among the junior officers, which quickly spread throughout the crew. Bones tried the engage the captain as often as possible. He had taken to loitering in the bridge at the change of shift in order to catch the captain either just before or after. However, Kirk managed to avoid him every time. Kirk spent all his off hours in his room with a Do Not Disturb engaged. Satisfying all his command duties to the letter, and perfectly healthy, Bones could not override the captain's wish for privacy, as much as wished to. Bones wondered how he could possibly get his friend back when nothing seemed to get passed the wall Jim had built while on leave.
Six days after his return from Iowa, the captain was found outside his room while off duty. Jim had taken to spending a part of each night on the recreation deck. It was the perfect place for an insomniac. By 0200 hours, no crewmembers were using the deck. The day shift was long in bed, and the night shift hard at work. The recreation deck boasted the mess, the gymnasiums and work out rooms and an informal lounge. The lounged had large windows affording clear views into space. Jim came up here every night since his return for the silence and the stars. If one cannot sleep, at least the lounge offers a better view than the walls and ceilings of crew quarters.
When Commander Spock entered the lounge at 0400 hours, he was unsurprised to find the captain seated on one of the many tables holding a steaming mug in his hand. Only the day before, Spock had requested a twenty-four hour read-out of the captain's location for everyday since his return. He had discovered that Jim inevitably made his way to the recreation deck every night by 0300 hours.
Spock paused in the entrance to the lounge and took stock of his commanding officer. Kirk looked exhausted and defeated. He held his mug like a lifelong, gripping it and turning it, staring into it before finally drinking from it. Spock approached Jim who startled at the scuff of the commander's shoe on the lounge's carpet – purposeful as Commander Spock was not clumsy or heavy footed.
"Captain. Are you unwell?"
"I beg your pardon, Mr Spock?" The captain asked with a slight bite to his voice caused by his first officer's bluntness.
"Sir, I am enquiring as to whether you are ill. It is evident that you are not sleeping. I am curious to know whether you have contracted a malady while on Earth that has made you unable to sleep."
"No, Mr Spock. I'm not sick. I'm just… restless."
Jim returned his attention to his mug. He stared into its depths, totally ignoring the presence of Spock. The commander, meanwhile, shifted slightly on his feet, unused to being ignored by Captain Kirk who had a tendency of speaking with anyone and everyone interested in a conversation. In this case, Spock was very much interested in conversing with his captain. Finally, Spock concluded he would be required to carry the conversation for the first time in his acquaintance with Kirk. However not knowing how to ease into a delicate topic, Spock spoke directly to his concern:
"The crew, particularly Doctor McCoy, is concerned that perhaps two weeks time was not sufficient for your period of mourning. As you are no doubt aware, you are entitled to additional time should you request it from Starfleet."
"I'm not sure that a lifetime would be long enough for me to…" The captain paused. "Better I'm here. It's not a matter of time."
"In order for you to overcome your grief?
"Hardly. You can't grieve for someone who was never really there to begin with." Kirk stopped again, and then, with what seemed like disgust to Spock, he snorted. "Forgive her, I suppose."
"Are you angry with your mother, Captain?"
Jim turned briefly towards his first officer with a slightly upturned brow before once again scoffing under his breath. He then turned back to look into the cold, infinite space. No response.
"If I may speak freely, Captain," offered Spock. "It is not unnatural for one to feel anger while grieving."
"Ironic advice, coming from you," the Captain interjected not cruelly, then stood and moved closer to the windows.
"I am not unfamiliar with the stages of grief, Captain—"
"—I merely internalise them so as not to be overwhelmed."
"We should all be so lucky."
"You are experiencing a natural stage in the process of grief that will give way to another before passing with time," Spock remarked in his most even ton.
Jim laughed incredulously, "I can't believe you're quoting Kübler-Ross to me."
Spock paused momentarily and stared at his captain's profile, reassessing his commander, just as James Kirk's crew found themselves doing often. It was well known on the Entreprise that James Kirk was intelligent, resourceful and fully capable of commanding a flagship vessel. Highest intelligence quotient of his graduating class. Visual acuity unmatched by his human peers. Reasoning and recall skills off the charts. Kirk's impressive stats were legendary at the Academy and whispered through the halls of the ship. And yet, he was often underestimated. Kirk was self-deprecating and came across as rather unassuming. His brash demeanour and quick wit were an excellent defence mechanism. Most people assumed he was a little dense.
Spock often found himself needing to readjust his preconceived notions. Jim seemed to draw his knowledge from a seemingly endless pool of trivial and practical information. He could adequately serve as navigator; very competently as a pilot. He had a solid base in engineering skills and a grasp of astrometics. He spoke French in a time when knowing a foreign language was regarded as waste of one's time when one could learn an extraterrestrial language and find better employment. So Spock should not have been surprised that Jim was familiar with popular psychology.
"Besides," Jim continued. "She was disproved towards the end of the twentieth century, or at least varying schools of thought suggested that… this is a ridiculous conversation. You can't honestly tell me that your grief at the loss of your mother followed five easy steps."
"No, Jim. Of course not."
"But it's save to assume that us mere humans take five bounding leaps to healing? Forgive me," he stated snidely and bitterly, "but I have a feeling we're a little more complicated than that."
"Sir, if I have learned anything in my time with humans, it is that you are all invariably complicated." At Spock's dry tones, Jim laughed. Turning away from the window and the vast expanse of space, Jim shook his head at his first officer but did not reply. "Jim, you remarked that you needed to forgive your mother. What offence had she committed?"
Again, shaking his head, Jim walked away from the windows and sat on one of the long couches that lined the outer walls of the recreation deck. He ran a hand through his already dishevelled hair before covering his face with both his hands. He sat in that position as the minutes stretched by. Spock approached the couches and sat down beside his captain. He remained silent; humans often found courage in the silences. Illogical, perhaps, but typical of the species.
Finally, under his breath and through his hands, so low Spock could hardly hear him, "Why do you care, Spock?"
Spock paused thoughtfully before answering. He was surprised at what came to mind while seriously considering the captain's question, "Are we not friends?"
"Are we not friends, Jim?"
Jim had dropped his hands at the first question. Disbelieving, he repeated, "Are we not friends?" Looking away, he roughly passed both hands through his hair. "Are we not friends? ... I don't know… I like you, Spock, God knows, I do. But… I don't get the impression that you're that big a fan of mine."
"On the contrary, sir. I have a great deal of respect for you."
"Yeah, the thing is, that's not the same as liking someone", Jim replied laughing slightly.
Spock shifted in his seat. Drawing a breath, he replied, "I have a growing… affection for you, Jim."
Jim stared and laughed again. "Once more with spirit. That sounded a little painful."
"Yes, I imagine all your friends have experienced this same sensation." It took Jim a moment to realise Spock was being sarcastic, but when he did, he burst into laughter. Not the patronising laughter, the disbelieving laughter, or the self-deprecating laughter of before. Jim burst into a real belly laugh.
Still chuckling, Jim said, "Yeah, I guess we are friends." Settling back into a comfortable silence, Jim's eyes stared across the room unfocused. Spock, the picture of patience, waited him out.
After a long pause, Jim broke the silence. "She wasn't much of a mother."
"Explain," Spock responded bluntly.
Rubbing his eyes with both hands, the captain sighed, "She couldn't be much of a mother. At least to me." He stopped to collect his thoughts. Looking at Spock, Jim saw a neutral sounding board. No judgements. Just someone who could listen impartially. "How can you love someone who reminds you constantly of someone who died?"
Spock just cocked his head, encouraging his captain to continue.
"If my father hadn't died, she probably would have been a great mother." Jim's voice crackled slightly at this statement. Eyes glistening, he cleared his throat. "But… he did. She… sometimes, I think… sometimes, I realise that she went with him that day." Jim stood and walked back to the windows. He stared, fixated on one star. Spock couldn't tell which one – it was lost among the many.
Resting his head against the cool panel. "I went back to Riverside for the first time in four years, since I got the hell out of Dodge." Jim turned back to face Spock but stayed leaning against the window. "I didn't miss her once in all that time. I never sent a single message home. I didn't even tell her about my promotion, but she must have known. Either way, I never called and she sure as hell never called me." Taking a deep breath, he went on, "I went back there… and these people, these neighbours and friends were all crying and weeping. … And I couldn't. The whole time I spent down there, I couldn't cry for her. Two weeks settling her affairs, meeting her friends, hearing all these great things, putting her in the ground… I couldn't cry."
"And yet you have mourned."
"What?" Jim responded rudely.
"Your weight loss, insomnia. These are all typical symptoms of human grief. I logically concluded that you have been mourning."
"Yeah, but not my mother. Can you believe that? More than one girl has called me a cold-hearted son of a bitch. They must be right."
"As your friend –" Jim chuckled, appreciating Spock's attempt at humour – "I must say in your defence that I do not believe you are unfeeling."
"I couldn't cry for her because… she didn't really mean much to me in the end. I never had a mother, so how could I mourn her."
The silence stretched again. Tears suddenly started welling in the captain's eyes, slowly running over and down his face. Sensing the time was right, Spock stated, "Then one must logically deduce that you mourn the absence of a mother."
Swiping ineffectively at his eyes, Jim nodded. "I was orphaned the day I was born, you know? But I had to live everyday with my dead mother." Rubbing his face again, Jim continued. "I shouldn't speak badly of the dead, but… that was selfish … and cruel of her. Took me twenty-five years to figure out that I never really had a mother. That means no family, no connections."
"I must correct you, Jim. A family is, in its essence, defined as a group of people connected by intimacy or loyalty." Spock paused to ensure that the captain was listening. "I would therefore conclude that you belong to a rather large family by human standards. Do you not agree?"
Jim regarded Spock for a long moment, eyes red from his tears, before joining him back on the couches. "It's not the same."
"Perhaps it could be better. There is no replacement to be found for your useless mother. But there are other bonds to be found amongst your friends here, among others." Realising that Jim was listening attentively, Spock continued, "Doctor McCoy has been most anxious. Perhaps it would do you well to consider the relationships you have successfully built with those around you. I would posit it is indeed impossible to avoid a friendship with you, regardless of one's best intentions."
Spock and Jim sat in a companionable silence, Spock meditating lightly while Jim's mind turned over their conversation. Gradually, around 0600 hours, crewmembers began trickling their way onto the recreation deck for breakfast, relaxing over coffee in the lounge. Jim and Spock remained where they were seated until Bones entered the room. He quickly scanned the room until he caught sight of his best friend seated with Commander Spock. The concern - which had pinched the corners of his eyes - eased slightly at seeing his friend in the company of something other than his own thoughts for the first time since he had seen Jim off the ship almost three weeks before. He had a feeling he had the Vulcan to thank for it, much to his chagrin, but nodded discreetly in thanks, a gesture he received in return.
"Morning," Seeing the situation required a little levity, Bones said, "Pullin' an all-nighter, Jim? You're already that far behind in your paperwork that you had to cram it in before shift? I thought we'd given those up in first year at the Academy."
"I never pulled an all-nighter, that was all you."
"Right, because we can't all be genius command-track cadets."
"No. We can't."
At the captain's teasing response, Spock rose, satisfied that Jim was back on the right path. He paused, however, at the captain's simple but poignant words, "Spock? Thank you."
Spock made eye contact with his friend. While seeing that some sadness still remained in Jim's eyes – and would undoubtedly remain for some time – a great of tension seemed to have been removed from the captain's shoulders. Spock nodded, acknowledging the captain's gratitude, before stepping away in search of his own breakfast, but not before he heard McCoy's grousing question: "Don't thank him, we'll never get rid of him now."
- thanks for reading!! If you have a moment, I would appreciate a review. best, Ava :)