Note: After seeing Beyond, I went back and edited the previous two chapters so that they would be canon compliant.
Another Note: Lots of talking and mom-angst in this chapter. I promise the whole story won't be like this. This is kind of a filler leading up to what's next.
Chapter Three: Phone Calls to the Dead
"Did you call your mom?"
They were drinking. Something that, as he aged, Jim liked less and less, just because keeping his mind sharp became more and more important to him. And there were more people who didn't– they wouldn't– they thought of him as the great James T. Kirk and then they saw him nursing a bottle and would turn their nose up. Which, he supposed, was appropriate. It was no fun, ruining hero worship, but even when he went grey and wrinkled around the eyes, he never understood why he was the hero. Why did they think he was so wonderful? Didn't they know that all of the wonderfulness, all the acts they admired him for, came from the dirt? They thought it was because he was son of George Kirk, but the truth was that he was the son of no one, and that was why he was Captain James Kirk, the Hero. But nobody wanted to think that. Heroes of the Federation were supposed to be polished and inspiring from beginning to end, like George, but Jim wasn't. He couldn't be.
Bones had stolen from Chekov's stash, again (why was that kid drinking, anyway? And Pavel was a kid, he would always be a kid, even when he got old and wrinkled, he would be a kid), and this time, it was actually vodka. Jim didn't like it.
"Well?" Bones pressed ever on, never letting go, not then and not in the past and not for one single day of all the years of their lives. "Did you?"
Suddenly, Kirk couldn't remember how many birthdays he had spent with Bones. The number just locked itself up tight, out of reach even though it should've been obvious. But the number didn't matter; only that, on every single birthday, Bones asked him if he called his mother. And it was a really, really stupid question.
"Nah, I'll call her tomorrow."
Sometimes he did it. Hey mom happy birthday thanks glad you called jimmy yeah goodbye mom by jimmy love you you too. But a lot of the time, he couldn't make himself call her.
It was Day One. Day One of this freaky time traveling save-the-universe-from-all-the-bad-things event, and there were no emergencies. Nothing. Not even an essay due (and Jim was sure that there was no homework he had to worry about because he found, in his chaotically organized but immaculately tidy folders, finished essays and projects that weren't even due for another month). It was almost too convenient. But, of course, he wouldn't complain.
There was something he wanted to do, now that he had calmed down. Well, there were a lot of things that he wanted to do, and even more things that he had to buckle down and get done whether he wanted to or not, but for an emergency-free Day One… there was something he knew he could cross of his wish list without ruffling anybody's feathers (except for, most likely, his own).
The sad thing was that Jim had to look it up. Forgive him for not remembering which stupid ship his mother had been serving on during his Academy days.
He wanted to call her. He couldn't really remember the last time he had talked to her. It was hazy in his brain, too far back for him to get a hold of in his consciousness, and he couldn't recall how the conversation had went. Only that… after she died, he wished that he had said something other than whatever he said, because it wasn't good enough, of course. Nothing ever quite was, between them. Not that things had never been good, because there had been good between them. Just not good enough. Not as good as either of them deserved, anyway.
So. If this all turned out to be a crazy dream (it wouldn't, he knew, but keeping that option in the back of his brain was good for… his sanity, maybe), at least it would be a dream in which he got to do something he had been dying to do (ha-ha, dying, right [Don't freak out again, Jim, don't freak out]).
Just an audio comm.. He didn't want a visual, oh no. It would be bad enough like this, because like this… Spock would call it being emotionally compromised. Jim would call it stupid. But he was going to cry, maybe. Possibly. Most likely. And he couldn't cry in front of his mom. Not to mention that he was still… mostly undressed. He had a really fluffy towel (Scotty would be a fan of these towels; did they have these awesome towels while Scotty was in the Academy?), but that was it.
He found his mother's contact information, not in his personal files, but in Starfleet's public records. Heck, why hadn't he had that himself?
Mom wasn't a great mom, Jim admitted to himself, but maybe I could've tried harder.
You shouldn't have to. That was Uhura's voice in the back of his mind.
Thanks, Uhura, but you wouldn't know.
He sent the call through. Thankfully, his mom's ship was close enough for a live call. If it wasn't, Jim might have put this off. He wasn't sure if he had the fortitude to send a message and then wait for who knows how long to know if his mother was even willing to talk to her son. No, that was silly. She would be willing. She was always willing to talk. She just didn't have much to say, or, like him, had so much to say and didn't know how to say it all.
The comm. panel buzzed for a few moments too long, and Jim could imagine what his mother looked like. She had to be so… young, now. A few wrinkles around her eyes and deepening her dimples. A few streaks of dignified grey in her loose curls, accentuating the pale shade of her natural blonde. A few scars that never really healed, not all the way. And, right now, she was probably hesitating in confusion at the sight of a Starfleet Academy ID on her comm. screen, fingers poised over the accept call option displayed to her.
And then the line crackled to life.
"Lieutenant Commander Winona Kirk, speaking."
Holy – that was his mom. That was his mom.
"Hey…" Jim grinned at nothing, taking measured breaths. "Mom."
There was static-filled silence on the other end of the line, a harsh intake of air, and then:
"Yeah." Scrubbing his hands through his hair, down the side of his face, Jim tried not to… anything. Tried not to scream or cry or cut the transmission off. "Hi."
"Jimmy, why is this comm. being made on a Starfleet wave?" She sounded confused. And displeased, but mostly confused, which was a bonus for her, Jim supposed. At least she didn't sound angry, but he hadn't expected that, either. She wasn't that bad. He was just projecting a bad past onto her, most of which hadn't even happened yet, so that was majorly unfair of him, if he thought about it (why was he thinking about it?). "Are you in trouble?"
Jim snorted a little bit, trying not to laugh, because he knew that if he laughed, he would get hysterical, and he had already had enough of that for one morning. "Always, Mom, always. But, uh, no, not this time. I'm in the Academy." Which you'd know, if you ever bothered to check on the prodigal son. It's okay that you didn't talk to me very often. I get it. It was hard. But didn't you ever check on me? "Have been for three years."
Click-click-click. That sounded like a timer in the background. Maybe an antique clock. "I… Jimmy, I didn't know."
"I know you didn't." It's okay. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay. "It's fine. I don't wanna fight. At all. I don't wanna fight, Mom."
His voice cracked, spectacularly. Damn.
"Jimmy, baby, what's wrong?" She suddenly sounded concerned. Motherly. Oh, why couldn't they have done this before? If he had known, then, so many years ago, that he could have just called her and said whatever he needed to say, would his young, stupid self have done it?
You were dead, Mom. You've been dead for years. And I'm old, even older than you, and we hardly ever talked, and you never would have known I was a captain if my face wasn't all over the news feeds and that hasn't even happened yet so how do I explain it?
"Nothin'." You called me baby. I can't remember the last time you did that, Mom. "Not really. Just some, uh… we're doing a project on… Tarsus. The, uh… yeah."
He hadn't meant to say that. He hadn't meant to say anything about Tarsus. He had wanted a bland, neutral excuse, but Tarsus just… fell out of his mouth.
They had never talked about Tarsus. Not directly, anyway. Winona might not have been a good mom, but she wasn't a bad person, so when Jim came home with more scars than skin and his eyes were too big for his face and the hollows under them were dark and his skin was clinging to him like some sort of macabre, ill-made doll, Winona came to Earth for him. But they never talked about it. Kodos was 'him' and Tarsus was 'back on… there, when' and the massacre was 'when it happened' and that was the best they managed before neither of them could take it anymore. Winona went back to the cold shelter of space, the closest she could get to her husband (and, if not to him, then to the moment before her life went wrong, because that was out there, too), and Jim took the trauma of Tarsus IV like a bit between his teeth and pulled.
To his mom, Jim supposed, all of that wasn't very long ago. To him, it seemed like a lifetime.
"Oh," Winona said, sounding hollow, but not in the absent way that Jim remembered hearing from her on some occasions. It was a shock. Jim had surprised her to the point that she didn't know how to react. "Is it hard to…?"
"A little bit," Jim admitted.
It was true. In this upcoming term (he had checked his schedule, neatly folded into his filing system, exactly where he expected it to be), there would be a survival course based off of the conditions of Tarsus. It was worth a mountain of credits, but people rarely signed up, and those who did barely passed, if they passed at all. It was difficult, mostly because it was very accurate to the conditions of Tarsus IV (minus the actual killing of people, of course). The first time around, Jim had been too disgusted and freaked out by the course's existence to sign up. This time, he was pretty sure that he would do it. Just because the credits would get him out of some classes that he would rather not be bored through for a second time, and because he knew, without a doubt, that he could pass. Pass with flying colors, for that matter. Impress the all the right people and gain some respect from the ones who still thought he was Captain Pike's weird little pet project.
"But, uh… it's not so bad," Jim continued. "Weirdly therapeutic, actually. But it's, uh, that's not what I wanted to talk to you about."
"Whatcha need, baby?"
That was it. That was it. He had her. He had his mom, even if it was just for one audio comm..
"Are you gonna be Earth-side for Christmas?" he asked, hope clinging to his voice even though he didn't want it to. He hadn't planned to ask her that.
"I wasn't planning on it," Winona answered in a light tone, but Jim wasn't fooled. He could hear it, on her voice; the same tenuous hope and disbelief that he was feeling, as though she expected him to hang up on her at any moment. "But it would be easy. Would you… want to come home? To Riverside? We still own the house there."
Of course they did. It was George's house first. They would never give up that house.
"Yes," Jim blurts out before doing any of the math, before knowing if that will even be an option. "Yes, please, we can… have Christmas at home." Like a real family. "That would be perfect."
"Maybe I can get Sammy to come," his mom said, falsely casual. He could hear how close she was to sounding just about as hysterical as he felt. "Have you met the kids?"
"The–" His nephews. Right. He had met them, yes, but, not yet. Technically speaking, that is. "No. I haven't seen Sammy since the wedding."
Again, that was only by the point of view of time travel. Jim had seen his brother quite a few times. But in this timeline, no. Not since the wedding.
"I'll see if I can get Sam to bring them."
"Yeah. I'll, uh – I'll see if I can get down to the house during my break and get everything cleaned up before you get there, okay?" Jim thinks that he can smell the familiar scent of home, but that's states away and absolutely impossible. Just a mind trick. "How about a real Christmas tree, huh?"
His mom made a muffled hiccupping sound and – oh, crap, she's crying, I didn't mean to make her cry – "That's great, Jimmy, really! That'll be great. I can't wait."
"I might bring a friend or two," he added, because he wasn't sure. Maybe Bones would want… or… if he could get to know some of the others, that would be great. He knew Chekov had been so lonely at the Academy, and Sulu never made many friends because he struggled through his studies, and Spock was... um…. Well, Spock was Spock. And, currently, Spock was probably unaware of his existence, which was better than how they had originally started off (mutually raging dislike bordering on hate but not quite but yeah, really close to hate), but not better by enough to justify inviting the half-Vulcan to a family event.
"That's fine, Jim." She kept saying his name and it sounded wonderful. "If we can get this together, bring– bring– bring the whole Academy with you. I don't care. Just– be there, okay?"
Jim swallowed thickly. "Yeah. Yeah. Listen, I gotta go, but… Mom?"
"I love you. I love you so much."
Too much for one call?
"… I love you too, baby."
Jim was being weird. Which, if you knew Jim, meant nothing really out of the usual. Jim was usually a little bit odd, if one was willing to observe him. He swung through highs and lows, pretending to be perfect the whole time but simultaneously being painfully honest about his imperfections (an impossible contradiction, but that was Jim all over). Jim Kirk was unusual and for him to be acting strangely was not strange at all.
But it sure as hell did bother Bones.
Usually –usually– Bones had some idea of what was going on in Jim Kirk's head. Jim was weird, no doubt about it, and he had enough emotional baggage to bring down a Klingon, but he was a surprisingly straightforward person despite all of that. After spending enough time with him, Bones almost found Jim predictable. If there was trouble, Jim got involved. If there was a bully, Jim made sure they got what was coming to them. If there was a hare-brained scheme to be pulled off, Jim was the one who usually managed to make it succeed. If there was a fight, Jim threw punches.
Weird, but predictable, if you knew him as well as Leonard McCoy did.
That was why he felt twitchy. All through his morning class, his knees bounced under his desk and his fingers fumbled over simple tasks. He was distracted, replaying Jim's odd behavior over and over in his mind. Jim, typically a chatterbox, hadn't said much. What he had said, or didn't say, seemed wrong. Jim had acted shocked to see Bones, as if he hadn't spent the whole day before at his side. Not to mention that big red welt on his just, which looked exactly like a phaser burn, which wasn't allowed in combat training, which meant that Jim was lying about how he got it. Which meant, clearly, that Jim was hiding.
And Jim wasn't even in combat training!
"Dammit, kid," he muttered to – well, to Jim, but Jim wasn't there, so maybe he was talking to himself. Bad sign. But, then again, Bones was prone to that sort of… thing.
He just had to get through one more hour of this lecture, and then he could go check on Jim. Just one more hour…
But Jim could get himself killed in an hour, or worse.
Kid, if you die, I'm gonna kill you.
I should actually make some sort of plan, Jim thought, because, despite the misconception that he flew into everything by the seat of his pants, good planning was key to having lived for so long in the disease-ridden darkness and silence of space (Bones, stop it).
Of course he should make a plan. He needed a plan. That was a given. He couldn't afford to screw this up; he didn't dare take the chance of screwing this up. But, immediately? He didn't think so. He could relax for a few days before he got down to business. He could enjoy being young a careless for a little while and leave the fate of the galaxy to itself until he adjusted. So, for the first time in his eighty-nine years, he decided that he wouldn't fight McCoy's advice on his health.
"Catch some rays, get some exercise, and eat some fruit, for Pete's sake."
That was what Bones said, and Jim honestly wanted to do it. In fact, that was all he wanted to do. He hadn't been able to stretch without hurting his joints for years. He wanted to run and see if he was as fast and as strong as he remembered being. He wanted to laze about under the sunshine. He wanted to talk to people without being the famous Admiral Kirk.
Food first, though. He had sort of vomited what very little was in his stomach (and then proceeded to dry-heave, which was painful, wow), and now he felt very, very empty, and an empty stomach did not a happy Jim Kirk make.
He had that feeling, though. That tingly, Bones-is-going-to-find-me-and-yell-at-me-in-southern-even-though-I-don't-know-what-I-did-wrong feeling. He had started getting them about a year into their five-year mission and he never forgot that feeling, even years after Bones died. But Bones was alive, know, and that meant that the feeling was legit. Somewhere on the Academy campus, Bones was on the prowl to find and lecture and maybe even hypospray James T. Kirk.
Food and escape, Jim decided, and made a run for the cafeteria.
He missed getting Southern Sass™ from Bones, but he didn't miss it enough to subject himself to an Angry Doctor Lecture.
I had to rework how I thought this story would turn out after watching Beyond, but I actually think that I like my new plan even better now.