Title: War Memorial

Author: Gixxer Pilot

Summary: It took 25 years, a few near-death experiences, and saving the world, but Jim Kirk finally understood what it was like to be the man of the hour. He also, at long last, found a way to forgive his father, because George only did what he knew was right.

Author's Notes: This was originally supposed to be part of another fic, but it got a little long for the original work. Plus, it was way more poignant (at least to me) to be sandwiched in the middle of a bunch of crack. So, I pulled it out, expanded it a little, and here you have it. It's also my first foray into Kirk/Bones slash, light as it is. Squint, or you'll miss it. So, epic fail as it may be, comments are loved, even if it's simply to tell me that I suck. Really, this is for no other reason than to prove myself wrong in that I shouldn't do any type of relationship-based fics.

This fic takes place a few days after the Enterprise has managed to limp herself back to Earth after Nero.

Disclaimer: I wish I owned them, but I don't. Please don't sue.

When he was eleven, Jim's class took a weekend field trip from Iowa to Washington, D.C. as part of the class' continuing history education. While he was there, one of the first places the class visited was the nearly ancient Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Hardly anyone remembered the Vietnam War anymore, and even fewer were interested in the subject. But as the majority of the class fidgeted impatiently while the historical society speaker droned on about the construction and preservation of the memorial, Jim couldn't help but think that each of the 58,267 names on the Wall had been someone's father, brother, son, mother, daughter, or sister. And because their names were carved so meticulously into the black granite, it meant they weren't coming home.

James Tiberius Kirk knew firsthand what it felt like to know he'd never see his father again.

In his case, Jim never even got the opportunity to miss him. George Kirk died so his son could simply be born. In the years after, George's memory became something of an untouchable force, a bit of history filled with intrigue and mystery. Winona rarely spoke of him, and Jim learned to stop asking when his mother burst into tears every time her son would broach the subject. Part of that may have had to do with Frank, Jim thought, but that observation stayed safely locked away in his head. But Jim knew; he'd always known his mother still loved his father. Winona had put her first husband up on a pedestal, something to be nearly worshipped and called sacred. Personally, Jim would have simply settled for a father.

At eleven, Jim was more accustomed to the feelings of death and loss than most his classmates would ever care to know. That fact was likely why he felt a particular pull toward the Wall. It represented everything he understood on a different, tangible level. Even though it came from a nearly ancient time of a forgotten era, the meaning behind the Wall was the same. For his classmates, visiting the history that was Washington, D.C. was a way out of class for a couple of days, and out of Riverside. For Jim, it was a pilgrimage of the mind.

Back when he was eleven, Jim let his eyes run over the smooth, black granite. The speaker was non-existent now; it was just he and his thoughts. He stepped forward, toes edging the meeting point of the memorial and the concrete. Kirk reached one small hand up and gently traced the names at his shoulder's height. He was able to grasp the concept of finality, of loss, and of bitterness of being left behind. While his fingers ran over the names, he wondered if the families of the men and women on the Vietnam War Memorial felt as betrayed as he did by their loved ones for dying in a foreign land, fighting a ruthless and savage enemy.

Years later, Kirk was still bitter. It wasn't fair. His father left him and his mom with that thing Jim refused to call a stepfather, with no hope, and no way out. He was trapped in his own home, and no one understood him. No one cared to listen or to look at him, not even his own mother. He ran away when a couple years later, doing what he had to do to survive. Tarsus was a memory Jim completely wiped from his mind, something he refused to acknowledge. To him, his life only began for real when he met Christopher Pike in that bar in Riverside, after he'd gotten his ass handed to him by Cupcake and slew of others.

Kirk never realized that it would take fifteen years, several near-death experiences, and a confrontation with his father's murderer for him to finally understand why George Kirk put the lives of others above the life he could have had with his family.

It was simply the right thing to do.

Jim's shoes crunched on the gravel pathway, the sound bouncing hollowly in his ears. He'd specifically chosen to come late at night, as he'd have less chance of being interrupted at 0200 by a well-meaning passerby. Pulling his jacket tighter around his body, Jim shivered slightly as the chill coming off San Francisco Bay fluttered with the wind. He was a born and bred Midwestern kid, but the past few years in California had thinned his blood more than he would have liked. Kirk stopped before the ominous statue in the courtyard outside Starfleet headquarters. He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets, looked up at the statue looming over him, and sighed.

The memorial to the USS Kelvin was, in a word, grand. Never in the Federation's short history had an event of that magnitude changed the way the Fleet operated, and the brass felt the men and women who gave their lives during the fight should be properly recognized. In memoriam, Starfleet commissioned an artist to hand-sculpt what would become something Jim grew to both love and hate: a living reminder that his father died a hero, a shadow that loomed long and large over his younger son.

Despite his mixed feeling about the statue, Jim still reached out and touched it on the rare occasions he came. Kirk was far from sentimental; in fact, he was probably best described as the very opposite. But the statute was the last memory aid he had of his father, something tangible for him to hold onto. It served as a stark reminder that George's last act had been a desperate one; that George had to give his life to save that of his wife and his unborn son. It was just a selfish part of him that wished it could have been someone else's father who was the one to stay behind that day, who would have been the one in the tribute cut from bronze and granite.

Jim scoffed bitterly. Now Starfleet had an entirely different, and much more grotesquely grandiose event to remember. After all, it wasn't every day that one Romulan ship wiped out ninety percent of the senior class, and most of the training officers along with it. The irony wasn't lost on Kirk that he went from third year cadet to seasoned veteran in about seventy-two hours. It was a hell of an initiation.

Kirk plunked down on the bench, shifting with a grimace when he felt his comm jab his hip with an unnecessary amount of pressure to his still-sore frame. Without taking the device from his pocket, Jim moved it so it was at a more comfortable angle in his pocket. Because he couldn't see it, he didn't realize it was sending a signal to the number previously called, and he certainly didn't realize that the person on the other end had answered.

Sighing for the second time that night, Jim ran his hand through his hair and stifled a small groan when his sore ribs protested the action. Bones had done his best to chase Jim down and force him to sit still long enough to patch him up, but the doctor had Pike to worry about, along with a sickbay full of other causalities from Vulcan and from the attack on the ship. Since Jim wasn't dying on him at that moment, McCoy had to prioritize and had passed Jim's care off to M'Benga, the other doctor in charge of the less serious injuries. It didn't make Bones comfortable, but in a crisis, efficiency was the goal.

It was a good thing Jim was a skilled liar, because he knew Bones would have poked and prodded, quite possibly literally, until he knew both the location and the extent of each and every injury on Jim's body. It was a habit Jim hated and adored at the same time, but it made him love McCoy that much more.

Kirk and McCoy had a rather, for lack of a better term, interesting relationship. They weren't quite lovers, but they were certainly more than friends. Bones had no expectation of monogamy; nor did Jim give it. They respected each other enough to know the boundaries of the relationship, though both had a feeling that the parameters may be changing after returning alive and relatively unscathed from Nero and his plan to obliterate Earth.

Both men, understandably, had experienced significant trouble sleeping since the Enterprise's return to Earth. Despite being utterly exhausted every waking minute, sleep was elusive every time either tried to lie down. The only time rest was forthcoming, it came when they were together. But those moments were fleeting, and often times frustrating. Being the sole surgeon on a starship had its disadvantages as McCoy had discovered. Apparently, for Bones, seeing his friends and instructors on his table nearly non-stop for five days triggered some seriously intense nightmares, enough that Chapel had eventually sedated him on Jim's orders.

As for Kirk, he dealt with his grief the only way he knew how: he worked, and internalized his anger. Like McCoy, it was easier to focus on the mountain of work that needed to be done in order to put the ship back in order, the endless debriefings that would have to be scheduled and performed, and the refitting and repairs of the Enterprise herself. But, unlike McCoy, Jim never let the mask slip, not even once. Bones wore his heart on his sleeve, and despite his cranky, jagged exterior, it was plain to see he was a good man. He was a bit jaded, but he was still a good man. Kirk was more of an enigma wrapped in a riddle, and few got to see the true person that lay underneath.

Leonard McCoy was one of the exceptions to that rule. He saw Jim at his best, and at his worst.

So, it came as no surprise to McCoy that Jim would be calling him at 0200 in the morning. Kirk was a chronic insomniac, something Bones blamed on that, "Goddamned annoying genius brain," of his. Kirk was one of the only people who would warrant an answer to a comm at this ungodly of an hour, and the only one who Bones wouldn't instantly curse out. Sitting uncomfortably in a chair next to a sleeping Captain Pike, Bones dug around for the offending comm and fished it out of the pocked of his white lab coat. Checking the caller ID, he snapped it open as he moved toward the door. Chapel's nursing staff would have his ass if he woke anyone.

"Jim, haven't I told you not to call at this hour of the night unless you're dying?" McCoy barked into the unit once he was in the confines of the hallway. The words lacked their usual stinging barb, clearly the doctor's version of an early morning or late night joke. When no answer came from Jim's end of the connection, McCoy's dark eyebrows furrowed.

"Now really, Jim. I don't have time for this. I was enjoying a nice nap in a very uncomfortable chair next to your mentor, and I'd really like to get back to monitoring him. So, whatever's on your mind, speak!"

Still no answer was forthcoming from Kirk's end.

McCoy was getting frustrated. "Dammit man, I'm a doctor, not a recording service! What is it?" he barked, pressing the comm flush against his left ear. He was just about to hang up when he heard Jim's voice. It stopped him cold, and for a moment, Bones forgot how to breathe. As soon as Bones heard Jim say, 'Hi, Dad,' the doctor spun on his heel and walked straight back into the ICU unit. He handed his comm to the blonde woman sitting opposite Captain Pike's bed and said, "Don't talk, Mrs. Kirk. Just listen."

Winona Kirk fixed McCoy with a quizzical expression but chose to trust him. Bones had just saved one her closest friends and Jim's personal mentor, so the least she could do was humor him. She shook her head and cleared her hair away from her ear. With trepidation, she placed the comm to her ear.

Bones watched Winona's eyes light up as she recognized her son's voice. Though he'd love to know what Jim was saying, McCoy had a feeling this was conversation that wasn't for his ears. It wasn't really for Winona, either, but it was intensely private family moment. As close as they were, Bones knew his place and was careful not to overstep his bounds. He stood silently and headed for the door, effectively giving Winona some privacy.

Winona barely registered McCoy's shadow as he walked out the door. All her concentration was focused on her son and what she was hearing from him.

Out in the courtyard of Starfleet headquarters, Jim was completely unaware his comm was transmitting, and even more oblivious to the fact that someone was listening. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the tops of his thighs, eyes fixed downward on the memorial's massive base. "Hey, Dad. It's been a while, I think. Probably too long."

He paused, unsure. Kirk looked around, hoping there was no one watching him from any of the darkened rooms of headquarters. He'd hate to think how ridiculous it would look for an acting captain to be talking to an inanimate piece of metal the night before a board of inquiry hearing.

"So, I don't know if you've heard, but it's been a crazy few days. I, uh-I met the guy who killed you, you know." Kirk twiddled with the hem of his shirtsleeve. "I killed him."

The statue remained silent. Kirk knew he wasn't going to get the approval he was seeking, but it didn't he imagined George smiling at his son, knowing justice, even a brutal one, had been exacted on his behalf.

"You know, for so many years, I hated you. I hated…this," Jim said, waving one hand toward the monument. "I hated that my last name was Kirk, and that I was your son, the famous Kelvin baby. For the longest time, I wanted to be anyone but me. You left us, mom, Sam and me, to live with that thing Frank, and I always hated you for that. I never understood why you would choose death over your family. Mom always seemed so sad, and I could never ask her why. I never needed to, but it would have been nice to be able to anyway."

Kirk stopped again and repositioned himself. The bruises on his torso and neck didn't like being stationary for an extended period of time, but standing was hard work when he was so tired. Jim forced himself to look up at the statue.

"When I was kid, Mom always asked me why I was in trouble all the time. I told her I never knew why, but the truth was that I was so mad at you for so long. I hated that you were Starfleet's golden boy, the man who died to save the company of the ship. You couldn't do any wrong, and no one would dare deface your honor by ever insulting you. I couldn't live up to that image, and I didn't know if I wanted to. So, I took the easy way out. I rebelled, and it was fun." A humorless chuckle escaped Jim's lips. "Mom didn't think it was so great, though."

At the hospital, Winona snorted a watery laugh.

Jim continued. "Everyone says I have a death wish, but I don't. At least, I don't think I do anymore. I think I did what I did - then and now, because I was looking to prove something to you, to show you that I could live up to your image. But, I went over to that ship of Nero's expecting to die. I didn't think there was a chance in hell that I would make it back. Never. I told Spock that he'd get to tell Uhura himself what he thought, but I'm surprised he didn't see through the lie."

Kirk stopped briefly as a janitor made his way past. Jim nodded and watched over his shoulder as the man turned the corner next to the hospital. "But, I think I understand now, Dad. It sounds really cheesy, but I think I had to face nearly the same situation you did to know what you felt. I know why you did it, why you stayed behind. You had to, not only because it was your duty as an officer, but as a person. It's selfish, but I understand now that you would have felt so guilty the rest of your life for living when so many others didn't. And, you probably would have resented us for being the reason you made that choice."

Jim patted his thighs and stood, grimacing when his sore back protested. Being dropped by a dead Romulan, and smashing chest first into a solid platform did not bode well for his back or his chest. "So, I think I owe you a thank you, Dad. I know I haven't been the greatest son in the world. Well, let's face it: I've been a shitty son. But I'm going to try now. I'm going to try and make up for the time I wasted, for the time you could have had with her. I did, and didn't do anything with it. And I'm going to help her see that what you did made sense, and that you were doing the best you could for us. I owe you that much, I think."

Kirk took one last look at the memorial and nodded to it. He turned on his heel and started walking back toward the hospital. But as he reached the edge of the gardens, he stopped short. McCoy, the typical Southern gentleman, was walking Jim's mother out the door toward the courtyard. Both halted when the saw Kirk. Wordlessly, Winona approached her son and held up McCoy's still transmitting comm.

Kirk took the instrument from her hands and studied it briefly. Confused for a split second, he quickly dug his comm from his pocket and checked it. Sure enough, Kirk saw the active transmission in the status window.

"How much of it did you hear?" Jim raised one eyebrow, slightly embarrassed at the prospect of having just poured his heart out in a very private conversation with his father, only to find that his mother had been eavesdropping.

"All of it. Did you mean it, Jim?" she asked, her voice shaking with unshed tears.

Kirk looked his mother directly in the eye. "All of it. I'm gonna try, Mom. I told Dad I owed that to you, and I do. You deserve better."

Her hand covering her mouth, Winona took two steps forward. She grabbed Jim's hands in hers. "No," she started. "I deserve my son."

McCoy slinked back as silently as he could. He'd make it up to Jim later for giving his comm to Winona, but for now, he knew it would be wiser to back off and let Jim and his mother have some time alone. Bones smiled to himself as he opened the faculty door. All the pain of the last twenty-five years seemed to be dissipating, the crevice that seemed to always separate son from mother hopefully beginning to shrink. They still had a long ways to go, and Bones was no optimist. He knew there would be bumps along the way, but it was a start. The irony of the situation was that Jim's origins had almost come full circle.

George Kirk would definitely be proud.