Jim dropped into a seat at the bar and downed the whiskey in front of him without so much as a 'hello' to the drink's original owner.

"You're lucky that was my second one," Winona said. "I would've had to kick your ass otherwise."

"And I would've let you," the young man told his mother before ordering another drink for them both.

"How's the ship?"

"You know Scotty. The Enterprise lives to fight another day. Crew too… mostly."

The pair watched each other carefully, both fully aware that the last few weeks had taken their toll in various ways. Jim noted the signs of stress and lack of sleep in his mother's familiar features. While Winona observed that the few cuts and bruises that had marred her son's beautiful face were almost completely gone. Though he was given a clean bill of health from his best friend, there was a weariness about him that she hadn't seen in a long time.

"Long day?" Jim finally asked, breaking the silence. "Week? Month?"

"I'd say something like 'you have no idea' but…" the older woman let the sentence drop with a shrug.

"I'm a trouble magnet?"

"You said it."

"This time." Jim chuckled. "I have so much… I don't even know what to unpack first. Pike. The crazy admiral who tried to start a war. The massive amount of damage to the Enterprise. The giant hole in the skyline. The warp core." He let out a heavy sigh. "Why does the universe hate me?"

"Oh, sweetie. The universe doesn't hate you." Winona reached over and took Jim's hand. "As your father liked to say 'you get what you can handle. No more, no less'. Yes, you got your ass handed to you, but you're still here."

"Not for lack of trying. But Chris..." Jim sighed. "It should've been me, mom."

"Ohh, that…" Winona gave her son a look, a mix of frustration and amusement. "God, that's the Kirk hubris, right there. You do realize that Marcus was the only reason you were even here on Earth in the first place. And without you, more people would be dead. A couple more hours and it could've been me in that room instead of you."

"Don't even joke about that," Jim said quietly, giving his mother's hand a squeeze, as much for her reassurance as his own.

Something happening to her has topped Jim's list of nightmares since he was a kid; only slightly higher than his ship falling out of the sky. Since one of those things actually happened in the last few weeks, he was rightly terrified of the other. And, unlike most things, he was not afraid to admit it.

"I would never." Winona smiled. "I could tell you that everything is going to be okay."

"But you aren't a liar and I'm not a child."

The older Kirk nodded. "No, you are a Starfleet captain. Despite your well-placed animosity towards the fleet growing up, you value service and sacrifice. You did everything you could to prevent as much loss of life as possible. This isn't your cross to bear. No matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise."

"You sound like Chris."

"I will take that as a compliment, thank you very much."

Jim chuckled. "You do that."

"You know he knew that you cared about him, right?"

"Yeah. He always had this way of seeing right through me."

Despite the fact that neither of them would ever outright say it, their friendship was much deeper than it appeared, and it was obvious that they loved either other. When Jim was in the academy, they formed a bond over being fleet kids and losing a parent each. Most of the time, Chris was like a cool uncle and, other times, he was a badass big brother who didn't mind cooking up a little trouble, but only a little.

Winona chuckled. "That's what family does. And make no mistake, that man was as much your family as I am, if not more. I will forever be grateful for it, and for him. He pushed you, forced you to be who you've always meant to be, forced you to show everyone the Jim that I've always known was there, and loved you in a way that I couldn't."

"Mom…"

"It's okay. It's what's you needed, and something that I couldn't give you. I'm just glad he was able to, especially before you had a chance to ruin your life for good. Who knows where we'd all be if the Savior of Earth had never joined the fleet?" The last part was offered with a teasing tone and Jim couldn't help but chuckle.

"You're ridiculous."

"And just where do you think your crazy came from? Sure as hell wasn't Georgie."

"Yeah, I know," he said with a smile.

Jim has always been more like his mother than most people cared to see, especially since they were usually focused on his similarities to his dad. It was a running joke between him and Bones, who met Winona on a training cruise, spent five minutes with her, and has been equal parts awed, terrified, and amused ever since.

"I wish I got the chance to tell him." Jim downed his drink. "Just five minutes to thank him. Both of them, really."

Winona chuckled. "Oh, sweetie, George knew what he was doing. And Pike… Pike knew you better than you thought. You think that if you put on a good show, nobody will see that big, beautiful heart you wear on your sleeve. That you're protecting yourself. But he saw you. Your friends on the Enterprise, they see you too. And I know you don't feel like it, but there are plenty of people who trust you and love you. None of them more than me, just saying."

"Getting soft on me, Mom?"

"Well," she smiled, "you did die. You're lucky I don't have you strapped to a bio-bed and locked in a room somewhere. I'm sure Leonard would help me if I asked. You damn gave him a heart attack."

"Yea, well, Bones might be a little bit in love with you," he admitted.

"Of course he is, I'm awesome. And I birthed greatness. During an attack on my ship, no less."

Jim let out a laugh, what seemed like the first real one since Nibiru. "God, I love you."

"I love you too, Jimmy. I always have, I always will. Don't you ever forget it."

"Wouldn't dream of it."