Title: The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: Property of Roddenberry, Paramount, JJ Abrams, etc. Alas.
Summary: In some ways, she's been bracing herself for this call from the day Jimmy was born. Winona & Jim Kirk; 2500 words.
Spoilers: Star Trek XI (2009)
Notes: Because I can't believe in Winona Kirk as an abusive mother. Set immediately after "But Not Jim Kirk" in my sequence of STXI gapfillers.
When the Comm Officer pages her with a private transmission from the Acting First Officer of the USS Enterprise, Commander Winona Kirk knows exactly what to expect. In some ways, she's been bracing herself for this call from the day Jimmy was born; from the day George had gone out in a blaze of glory (this is the only way you'll survive) and left a hero's legacy that his surviving spouse couldn't ever live up to.
She'd tried. God knows, she'd tried. She and George had talked their options over several times after George Jr.'s birth, and especially during the months of her second pregnancy; they'd wanted at least one of them to be there personally to raise their children, and as a scientist rather than a command track officer, she'd known her skills would translate more easily to a civilian career on Earth. She'd been prepared for virtual single-motherhood, for midnight feedings and toddler tantrums and dealing with her in-laws (tiberius, are you kidding me?) without her husband there to buffer between them. For small-town Iowa life and tinkering with the yield potential of quadrotriticale rather than teasing out the secrets of plants no Federation botanist had ever touched before. For long-distance comm calls on birthdays and anniversaries and a few weeks of leave together a year if they were lucky, until he'd put in enough years to reach the Admiralty or retire.
She'd loved him (sweetheart, can you hear me?), and that had made every sacrifice worthwhile.
She had not been prepared to face a universe without him in it.
In some ways, she still isn't. Those first few years had been the hardest (I can't do this without you). Winona had begun calling her eldest son Sam to avoid hearing the echo of her husband's name, had cried as often as she smiled at her youngest to see George's eyes looking out of his tiny face, had endured the curiosity and pity of countless strangers as Starfleet appropriated her personal grief for 'worthy' Federation causes-- but the shadow of George's death had continued to follow her even after the sharp edges of memory dulled with the passage of time. She will never not be the tragic wife of the Kelvin's Acting Captain, no matter how many contract marriages and other titles she's tried on in the years since.
The echoes of fractured dreams had driven her out of the farmhouse by the time Jimmy was old enough to walk. The Federation crop research facilities housed near the Riverside shipyards had been happy enough to hire her on with her qualifications; the neighbors had been willing to take over the running of the farm itself in exchange for a significant percentage of any profits; and her mother had been willing to watch the children during the day, for as long as her health had held. The steady, painstaking work had kept Winona going when she'd still been too numb to think of the future, had forced her to get up every morning and do something rather than spending all of her time in their bed (listen to me, I'm not going to be there) curled around the memory of an absent body. But by the time she'd met Frank and started thinking of herself again, she'd known that something would have to give.
She wonders, sometimes, if a possible path existed where that something might have been anything other than her children. Frank had seen something in her weary, brittle self that she'd forgotten she used to possess; he'd given her back her ability to believe in herself again, to be the Winona Morrison who'd looked up at the stars and seen only endless possibility rather than echoing emptiness. But everything taken for herself had been something taken from Jimmy and Sam; had been a mark against the untarnished memory Sam kept of their father and endlessly repeated for his little brother's benefit. They remained civil enough to Frank when she was around to mediate between them, but when she began to take offworld assignments again-- just short ones at first, under civilian authority, going where her expertise was requested in cases of crop difficulties on nearby colonies-- the discord grew steadily worse.
Where was a mother supposed to draw the line between natural rebellion and criminal mischief? Between understandable resentment of a man who had displaced their hero-father's position and happened to arrive in their lives just before their mother began to spend less time with them at home, and sheer stubborn hatefulness? Should she have been more permissive, or more restrictive with them? Winona doesn't know the answers; she only knows that by the time Jimmy was twelve Sam had already run away from home several times, and Jimmy had nearly killed himself wrecking his father's antique car to keep Frank's hands away from it. The boys have both inherited George's looks and quick decision-making instincts, but they have their sheer smarts and willful intractability from her.
She doesn't blame Frank for calling off their contract after the convertible incident. She does blame herself for re-enlisting in Starfleet afterward, and taking the boys along on her next mission in hopes of spending some more intensive time with them on the way to dropping them with her cousins on Tarsus IV. She'd hoped a little hard work, and a glimpse at the frontiers her job and their father's had protected, would finally give them some idea of what it all was for. Instead, she'd arrived just in time to be locked up with the other visitors as Kodos took over the colony and executed half its inhabitants in the wake of a food shortage no one had known about in time to provide relief for. Her sons had been swept up in the whole mess, and though they'd eventually returned to her safe and sound in body, she'd never been able to reach them again in mind. They hadn't been children anymore, not in the truest sense.
What would George have said to her then? she wonders. What would he say to her now? She'd daydreamed about their elder son following him into the command track and their next child following in her scientific footsteps-- and feared it later, alone after George's death-- but she'd known since Tarsus, since Sam threw himself into finding ways to stop such crop failures from ever occurring again and Jimmy threw himself into the riskiest methods of forgetting that he could find, that if either son ever followed her husband's path it would be the younger. And time had proven her right. Sam eventually got his degrees, married a young botanist named Aurelan, and settled down on Deneb to provide her with grandchildren; but Jimmy spent the better part of a decade escaping the house as often as he could, drinking and carousing and working mysterious part-time jobs, only to drop everything for the first recruiter to challenge him in his father's name.
She remembers young, earnest Cadet Pike and his dissertation; remembers shutting the door in his face, and it stings to know that he had reached her son where she had not. Winona hadn't known whether to thank him or slap him, and had ended up avoiding him like the plague the few times she'd visited the Academy to exchange awkward conversation with her son. She wishes now that she'd had the satisfaction of striking him at least once, even though he outranks her. He'd brought Jim into this life-- and Jim had been scheduled for assignment to the Farragut.
The Farragut-- whose compressed atoms, according to the latest devastating news, are now a permanent part of the 40 Eridani system.
She takes a deep breath, setting her jaw and willing herself not to cry, and signals Communications that she'll take the call there in the lab. She won't hide from this; she's never hidden from anything in her life.
"Enterprise, this is Commander Kirk," she says, as the screen clears.
The breath she takes as she realizes who's staring back at her freezes in her lungs.
"Hi, Mom," Jim says, smiling gently, vivid blue eyes as serious as she's ever seen them.
"Jimmy," she breathes, eyes stinging as she reaches out to touch the screen. It's almost a shock when her fingertips encounter the smooth, slick surface of the console rather than warm, lividly bruised flesh; she's half-convinced she must be dreaming. "You're alive."
"Yeah." He chuckles self-consciously. "It's a long story, but I ended up on Enterprise when we launched, and things sort of snowballed from there."
Winona realizes then just what title the Comm Officer had used when he announced the call, and her jaw drops further open. "As Acting First Officer?" she says, incredulously.
"That came later," he says, shrugging almost dismissively. "The, uh, Acting Captain thing, too-- I guess you haven't heard about that yet?"
"Acting Captain?" she echoes in disbelief. She feels the blood draining out of her face; remembers another Lieutenant Kirk, First Officer aboard his ship, taking up the mantle of leadership in the face of the enemy, and can't stop the chill of horror welling up in her. Not only had she almost just lost her son, she'd nearly lost him in the same exact circumstances that had taken his father from her. "What? How?" she asks, hoarsely.
"I was in the right place at the right time?" he jokes, feebly, but his eyes are still as anxiously intent on her as hers are on him.
"You mean the wrong place at the wrong time," she manages to return, through the thickness of tears clogging her throat.
"That, too," he says. "I just-- I thought you should know, Mom. I'm okay. And we got him."
"Who are you--?" she starts to ask-- but then she knows. The fragmentary rumors circling through the fleet in advance of the official casualty lists mention the Black Ship; the ship she still sees in her nightmares.
The exact circumstances. Winona's never believed in fate-- refuses to believe in any kind of higher design that would take George from her side so cruelly-- but her skin crawls with the weight of uncanny coincidence. "Jimmy," she whispers, stricken.
"I got him," Jim repeats, smiling fit to break her heart. "He'll never hurt anyone again."
She catalogues the necklace of overlapping bruises in her mind, the blackening eye, the circular scab curling around onto his cheekbone, the stiff way he sits in front of the console, and wonders if that Romulan bastard had personally inflicted any of his wounds. Protective anger and retroactive dread and long-stifled hatred curdle together in her stomach; but relief washes in to quench them, anchoring her to her seat. He's dead. The vicious son-of-a-bitch who killed her husband is dead-- and Jimmy is alive. She clings to the arms of her chair for a moment, riding the crest of her turbulent emotions, and stares into her son's face.
"I love you, you know," is the first adequate thing she can think of to say.
He swallows at that, then blurts, "I'm so sorry, Mom. I've said a lot of harsh things over the years. About Dad, about what happened, about Frank, about your career. I just wanted you to know--"
This is her son; her grown-up son, not a boy any longer. Winona sees so much of George in him now, in his earnest voice and his blue eyes and the squaring of his shoulders, that it hurts, but it's a hurt like the stretch of healing scar tissue, not the abrasion of a raw wound. "It's okay," she says. "I'm your mother, remember? No matter what happens, that's never going to change."
"Sure, you say that now," Jim chuckles, half-heartedly.
"But if you ever scare me like that again, mister--" she contines the old refrain, a wavering smile tugging at her mouth.
"I'll try not to," he says, smiling back. It's been so long since she saw him look at her like that, without any resentment or wary anticipation in his gaze, that she hardly knows how to react.
"It might be a little difficult, though," he continues. "Pike says he's going to try to make sure the promotion sticks. Not on Enterprise, and I'm sure Admiral Barnett's going to scream bloody murder, but I figure there's a pretty good chance we might end up with two Commander Kirks in the family."
So Pike had survived it all, too; had survived to see Jim do his job, the way Captain Robau hadn't. Maybe it was a good thing she'd never slapped him, after all.
She still doesn't think she'll ever be able to thank him.
"You'll have to tell me the whole story later, when there's time," she says. "When will you be back on Earth? The Lake was scheduled to return before your graduation date, but that's still a few months out."
"It'll be a few days," he shrugs. "We blew out the warp engines, and we're limping back on impulse. Pike says they want us ex-cadets to finish out the usual requirements while they repair the battle damage in spacedock, and then the ship will probably go out again in a month or so on a shakedown cruise. I don't know where I'll be assigned yet; I'll have to debrief first, and deal with that academic suspension I bailed out of, and--"
"Academic suspension?" Winona raises her eyebrows and watches a sheepish expression steal some of the newfound maturity from her son's face. A little of the surreality of the afternoon dissipates; if she'd feared at all that she might still be dreaming, that fear has gone. No matter how much her son grows, he's still her Jim; still the young man who's never met a limitation he didn't want to challenge.
"It's--" he begins to say.
"--a long story," she finishes for him, smiling warmly. "I'll see you soon, then. Tell your friend Dr. McCoy to keep you out of trouble until I get there."
It doesn't occur to her until after she says the name that Jim's friend might have been among those lost at Vulcan; but her momentary stab of worry turns out to be unnecessary; his smile doesn't dim as he replies. "You have no idea, Mom," he says, then turns serious again.
"I love you," he says.
(i love you. i love...)
"I never doubted it," Winona replies, not sure who she's reassuring, but offering anyway.
He reaches to touch his own screen, where her fingers still press against it from her side. Then he closes the connection, with a hoarse, "Kirk, out."
Her son; Acting Captain James T. Kirk.
"George, you should be here," she whispers to the darkened console. Then she smiles, leans forward to kiss the place where her fingertips rested, and gets up from the chair.
She'll just have to be there for both of them. Until then, she has a job to do.