Sometimes Jim feels like grief hasn't taught him anything. He imagines he's the same person now as before he met Spock, after he kissed Spock, when he was married to Spock. Sometimes Jim feels like so much time has passed within two summers that he's a stone—exactly the same. There has been no change except for the physical presence of Spock, one moment there, the next moment gone. Jim finds old habits he'd forgotten reasserting themselves. He can be cruel, he sometimes is. He can be uncaring. The grief that burned so long and torturously hot in him now can't even produce the embers of empathy. He's sometimes strangely callous towards the suffering of others, forgets funerals and distances himself from people who are hurting. He can feel old walls going back up. He can't remember who he was when Spock was alive. Everything is confused. He's tired of thinking about grief, feeling about grief, defining the entirety of his existence through the death of a single person who used to mean the world to him and still does, but the world doesn't mean so much to him anymore now that he's gone. Spock would enjoy that twisted logic. Bones definitely does.
Sometimes Jim feels like if anything, grief taught him a few lessons, he passed with flying colors—that doesn't mean he'll live by them any more than people live by the laws of relativity. Warp doesn't count, it's like a fucking afterthought. He gets it. Grief is brutal, he was a neophyte, can we move on now? Because there's a ship to fly, missions to run, never mind that every meal tastes like nutritional ash and he feels himself sink further into apathy. He's falling. He doesn't know how to stop, doesn't know if he wants to stop, doesn't know if this is a part of mourning or if it's particular to James Tiberius Kirk. There's a point when you get fucked over by the universe enough times that you seize the horns of fate and defy it just to feel high, bring your own brand of justice, inflict revenge. There's a point beyond when you get fucked over by the universe so many times that you abdicate all responsibility for your actions and everything is guided by the immutable laws of physics. Spock dying? Beyond the fucking pale. He thought he could emerge from this a better person, more empathetic and more human, but what if it just makes him worse? What if he doesn't care? What if Spock's death is the thing that breaks him to the point he doesn't care if he's fixed, doesn't remember if he's broken? Everything feels the same. Everything is the same. What difference does it make?
He can't be bothered to produce feelings anymore. The galaxy that used to thrum with life is stagnating, slowing, disintegrating into meaninglessness that he can't remember why it was important in the first place. The change that used to inspire him now only seems to go in circles, neither forward nor backward, only in sameness disguised as evolution. Grief changes people, but most people Jim encounters seem to remain the same. Retain their defining faults and characteristics with such dizzying tenacity that he feels he's in the Twilight Zone watching reruns of a past life. Bones is still irascible, slightly unstable, fanatical. Nyota—comes off as smug, distant, condescending. Christine—emotional. Chekov—neurotic. Scotty is crazy. Sulu is smarmy. Jim—has faults like everyone else, doesn't want to hear about them, shut up and go back to your station. He has no idea when he stopped being generous and when everyone around him started to annoy him. Has grief given him clearer vision, the ability to see things for what they are and name them? Or has grief simply made him a miser?
Maybe nothing's changed. Maybe grief's like a tidal wave—after that initial shock of water and force bearing down over you, everything returns to the way it was. A few rearrangements in sand, but the water's the same. Maybe grief, after the dust settles, has only disillusioned him more deeply than all the other shit that came before, stripped him of all his pretensions and in doing so made him cling to those pretensions harder. What good is his life, his power as captain, if he can't even protect the person he loved most? What good is anything he tries to do if in the end, he wasn't there when Spock died and couldn't save him? What does it matter that they escaped death a thousand times when all it took was the one time to split Spock's head open and leave his brains splattered on the ground? Or this fucking missile to the Vulcan colony. What good is his power if it can't prevent atrocities that should never happen? What's the point of it all? Why bother trying? There was a time he thought he could change the universe and move galaxies by the force of his will. What is the point of it all if he can't bring Spock back from the dead, couldn't be there with him to die in his stead? What is the point?
Because this grief has settled into his body, it's become a fact of his life. He doesn't struggle with it anymore, he's already gotten used to it and has learned to live with it and it feels like it's always been true—Spock has always been dead, Jim has always felt this dead. It's a terrible thing, this new state of grey that's descended, because it's frictionless and deep as a mine shaft and he can't bring himself to get up on his elbows and dig out of it. He's stuck at the bottom of a pit of sand. No matter how he tries to climb the sand gives way under his feet and he's swept to the bottom again, buried in the cascade. He'll drown in sand before he even sees the top of the dune. The only way anyone can get out is with the help of another person offering a ladder down. But even if there were a ladder, what would he do when he got out? It's a fucking desert for miles around and the only thing Jim sees about the emotional landscapes of fucked up people is that they're buried in sand too. Nothing grows here.
With apathy comes tired happiness, tired anger, tired sleep. Not exhaustion that drains bodies and knocks people into coma-like trances, but a functional tiredness that allows existence to slip by, day after day, without wanting anything more than more of the same. Jim is tired of being tired, but not tired enough to do anything about it. Jim is tired of missing Spock, but not tired enough to move from half memory, half forget. Tired of the Enterprise but not tired enough to leave, tired of the company he keeps but not tired enough to tell them about it. He's slipping away, he knows, and he doesn't know what to do because it feels inevitable. If he's honest, he'll admit that he lost meaning when he lost Spock and he tried, for a while, to soldier through it and create meaning again in the hole that it left. But why did this have to happen, why did everything have to change, why can everything go back to the way it was before when he was unspeakably happy and unspeakably lucky? Everything is the same. He's not more human, he's the same human. He's not braver, or stronger, or deeper, or better for this. He might be worse. This isn't who he is, but who's to say who he was before he met Spock? That seems like an eternity ago. Who's to say he's not more who he is now than he was before? Saying he's not who he is implies there was some idea of who he should be, but the only person who ever had a complete picture of that idea was Spock. Spock is dead, Spock is not who he should be because who he should be is alive. Jim is hurting, knows he's hurting, doesn't know what to do about it anymore because he's been hurting for so long it seems he's always been hurting. Jim Kirk isn't supposed to throw in the towel, Jim Kirk's supposed be a superhuman captain. Jim Kirk is the same person he was and that person is spinning with pain so old and deep, it's no longer a hypothetical of his existence.
They never told him this about grief. They never told him that grief as an emotion is so ancient and long that it wears you down until you can't recognize yourself, until the image of who you are seems to be the image of who you've always been. Grief has had much more time to perfect its strategies and ensure the people it touches come out catatonic, crushed, demoralized to the point they're more dead than living. Jim thinks that Nero, if he'd stayed to ride his feelings, after having sacrificed the Federation would have descended into a stupor so fucking inert, he'd probably have turned into stone. Jim knows because that's what's happening to him right now. He hopes Spock would forgive him, but he's not sure he actually cares.