Riverside, Part 1 of 4
Captain James T. Kirk was coming out of the Botany lab, his eyes on the PADD that contained the final senior crew manifest with details on where they could be reached during the down time, when he noticed the discrepancy.
Half his mind was on his prolonged farewell to Sulu, which had taken far longer than it had any right to, only because the helmsman had seemed more disinclined to leave his Forgassia Pitcher Plant behind than Jim would've expected. The plant apparently needed not only continuous care but also a specialized gravitational environment as well which had been created for its survival in the Botany lab. The former was the reason why Sulu was sad to leave, even though the technicians left in charge of the lab had assured him of their vigilance towards not only the Forgassia but the hundreds of other plant species stored there, and the latter was why he could not take it with him.
Jim couldn't help but roll his eyes at the drama. It was the holiday season, for God's sake. Enterprise had returned home, and was docked at Earth Station McKinley for scheduled mid-season repairs and upgrades, which would take the next two weeks. Everyone who had their heads screwed on right should have been looking forward to getting off the ship for twelve days - which clearly meant Sulu was kind of crazy. But then Jim already knew that.
And, according to the latest schedule in his hand, Sulu wasn't the only one.
Bones had already departed earlier in the morning. He was staying with his folks in Jackson, and in an unexpected turn, his ex-wife, had allowed little Joanna to visit her daddy for Christmas. Jim knew how excited his best friend was, even if he tried not to show it. Chekov was off to his hometown of Zhukovsky, Uhura was leaving this evening to spend time with her family in Kenya, and Scotty was leaving tomorrow morning for home in Aberdeen.
That left just the last contenders on Jim's list: himself and Spock. And, until this morning, he'd thought his First Officer was going to spend the time off with his mother's family in Canada. That's what had shown in the senior crew manifest.
But not anymore. Now, the schedule had been changed to show Spock's location during the repairs to be aboard the Enterprise. It had to be a mistake.
Jim stepped up to a comm. panel and pressed his fingers to the screen. "Kirk to Commander Spock."
"Spock here, Captain."
"Where are you?"
"I am in Science Lab 2."
Jim looked down at the PADD. "Weren't you supposed to leave for Ontario half an hour ago? You're visiting your family there, aren't you?"
There was a small pause, and then Spock replied. "That had, indeed, been my initial plan. However, the family members I was planning on visiting there had to go off-planet yesterday and, hence, are not currently on Earth."
Jim frowned as he scrolled through the list. "There's no one else there you can visit?"
Another pause and now he could hear the hesitancy in Spock's voice. "No one who I am close enough to impose an impromptu visit on, no, Sir."
"Oh." Jim stared at the panel, his eyes squinting as he thought of what could be done. There was no way he was going to let anyone spend their down time tied to the ship - let alone Spock, who worked harder than most people he knew. He deserved a break; they all did. The pause was less than three seconds, and in those three seconds, a germ of an idea began to take seed in his mind - an idea he'd thought of earlier but hadn't had a chance to ponder on in detail. But it could be done. In fact, it was fantastic.
But the pause was enough to give Spock the chance to continue. "There is no need for concern, Jim," the First Officer said softly. "It will be more useful if I stayed here. The repair crews assigned by the station are scheduled to begin arriving in 2.3 hours." The furrow began to deepen between Jim's brows. "I can supervise their progress, and Lt. Commander Scott will be coordinating from the surface during the next twelve days. As such, it would be more efficient if..."
"Stop, Spock," Jim interrupted him. "Hold that thought."
"Hold. That. Thought. Spock," Jim insisted. "And don't move from your spot. I'm on my way."
And he was moving before Spock could reply. It took three minutes for him to get into the turbolift and onto Deck 6, and then to Science Lab 2. By that time, the doors were opening and he was walking inside to face his audience of one, his decision was made. All he had to do was get Spock on board.
Which he did, as he found his First sitting at one of the consoles with a PADD in hand, looking up at Jim expectantly. "Okay." Jim nodded at him. "You were already packed to go, right? Good. Grab your stuff."
Spock's left eyebrow rose. "Jim?"
"You're coming with me."
The other brow rose up as well. "Coming with you... where?"
"To my home in Iowa." Jim smiled. "In Riverside."
Spock's brows drew together as he stared at Jim's face. "Jim, there is no need for-"
"Spock!" Jim cut him off again. "Listen to me. The repair crews know their jobs. There's no need for our supervision until the last few days of reintegration, and that's more than twelve days from now. There's no point in any of us staying on the ship all this time." He cocked his head, smiling. "Besides, I'm going to be all by myself at the farmhouse. You can keep me company."
Spock looked at him closely. "I keep you company in your off-duty hours on the ship. I would think you would prefer a change during the holidays."
Jim laughed. "Yeah, that's what you think. The only reason I didn't ask you earlier is because I thought you were visiting your family."
Spock stared at him quietly for a few moments, his eyes probing. "You would be by yourself?"
"Yeah, it's a big place." Jim took a step forward as he looked down at his friend, his tone imploring. "I'd rather not spend the holidays alone, honestly."
He watched the corner of Spock's lips quirk as the half-Vulcan assimilated all the information, and Jim fought the smile he could feel begin to form on his face. After a moment, Spock straightened in his seat and nodded. "Then, if it would not be too inconvenient for you, Captain, I accept your invitation. It would be an honor for me to accompany you to your family home."
Jim allowed the smile to finally break on his face. "That's more like it, Mr. Spock. So, let me ask you again: are you packed?"
"Good. Meet me in transporter room 2 in half an hour."
With a nod, Jim turned to leave. As he was about to cross the threshold and step out, he paused and turned his head. "And Spock?" He watched the First Officer look back at him. "Your presence is never an inconvenience."
Spock's only response was to tilt his head.
Smiling, Jim let the door close behind him.
Jim made the necessary calls to accommodate the changes in his plans and threw in the last few items, including the PADDs containing reports he'd been reading, into his duffle bag. Their main luggage had already been beamed down to the Riverside base, and so, all things in order, he walked into the transporter room, wearing his dark green fleece. And abruptly stopped at the sight before him.
Spock was already in the transporter room and judging by the ensign at the control boards, Jim's attention wasn't the only one caught by his attire. A long, black, padded parka that came almost to his knees, made in what appeared to be the softest mix of leather, and some synthetic material that just begged to be stroked and caressed, it looked so amazingly soft. And Spock – cutting a tall, graceful figure, as he stood at attention, the strap of a holdall secure over his shoulder.
[accompanying fanart by sleepwalkerfish on lj]
An uncontrollable grin breaking on his face, Jim wolf-whistled as he looked his First Officer up and down, causing the young ensign at the controls to smother her giggles behind her hand. "Wow. Looking chic, Mr. Spock."
The half-Vulcan's brows came together in puzzlement as he looked down at his outfit. "'Chic', captain?"
"Stylish." Jim smiled. "That's a very nice coat."
Spock straightened even more as he stared at him. "The garment is merely meant to be functional. Considering the extreme weather warnings in the part of Iowa we are beaming down to, I wished to be prepared."
"Of course, Mr. Spock." Jim nodded solemnly as he adjusted the strap of his duffel bag and climbed onto the transporter platform, waiting for Spock to join him. Once they were both in position, he nodded to the ensign at the controls, watched her smile at them as she clicked on the panel. He felt the corners of his own lips curl, as he murmured softly, "It's still very stylish."
He actually heard the deep breath Spock took before slowly exhaling. "If you say so, Captain."
"Oh, I insist, Commander."
Jim was still grinning as the whirl of the transporter beam captured the two of them and they were beamed down to the surface.
It was after dusk in Riverside by the time Jim and Spock collected their bags and walked out of the Starfleet building. The captain had chuckled when Spock had taken out his thick fur-lined gloves and woolen scarf to put them on, his eyes flashing with merriment.
But then, he himself had quietly taken out his own sets and wrapped himself carefully, mumbling about the cold, freezing windy weather, as he led Spock out to the waiting vehicle. It was a late model hovercar that Jim had booked for the duration of their visit, and Spock felt himself relax when they deposited their bags in the backseat and finally settled inside the heated interior.
Jim drove and kept a verbal commentary going as he led them out of the 'fleet premises and onto a long stretch of road that headed into the city. It was already dark outside and all Spock could see was the headlights of the hovercar lighting up the asphalt of the road ahead as they passed what appeared to be fields of vegetation on both sides of the road. He answered Jim's teasing remarks with short but appropriate rejoinders, not wanting to distract him too much while he was driving in the dark.
Spock had been to Riverside while the Enterprise was being constructed, but his visit then had been confined to staying at the Base. This was the first time he was going to see the actual city.
Spock did not think his decision to accept Jim's invitation to join him at his ancestral home would prove to be unwise. He trusted the easy camaraderie he shared with the captain. In fact, he would go so far so as to admit that Jim had become the one person in his life who he could trust with any part of himself. However, despite his Vulcan heritage, he was candid enough with his own feelings, private as they may have been, to not deny that, initially, he had been a little surprised to feel such ease with the revelations he had recently experienced.
When the realization had hit him, exactly 8.93 months ago, that the affection he felt for his comrade and captain had crossed the realm of simple friendship and become something more, he had expected things to become difficult. It had only been 2.6 months since that he and Nyota had ended their romantic affiliation, and Spock had still been cautiously navigating the emotional minefield that a 'post-breakup' scenario had the potential to be, when the understanding had dawned on him.
What had helped was the fact that he and Nyota had quickly found their rhythm back to the friendship which had been the cornerstone of their relationship, so when the realization about his feelings for Jim had come, Spock had managed to ride out the aftershocks without any outward signs. His emotional control had stayed firm, and Jim remained unaware of his one-sided feelings. Spock had no reason to believe that Jim would be interested in him in any way more than as a comrade, and found enough comfort in the generosity the captain showed him as a friend to not wish to cause a disturbance where none was necessary.
He had not been exaggerating when he had told Jim that they spent a majority of their free hours together. Whether it was sharing meals, or finishing reports, or socializing with other members of the crew, most of Jim's and Spock's off duty hours were spent in each other's company. Add to that the thrice-weekly chess nights, or the hours spent discussing their ship and crew-related issues, or talking about the political aspects of the Federation Council's latest decisions resulting in whichever debacle Enterprise or one of the other ships was ordered to take care of, and... well. They did not always agree on everything they talked about, but it was the passion behind their debates, and sometimes arguments, which Spock found so invigorating.
They had fallen into an easy amity within months of the start of their mission. That was over two years ago. The initial doubts and illogical resentment that had been leftover from the Narada incident, had slowly given way to hard-earned trust and companionship that Spock quietly but pointedly treasured.
So, it was not difficult to be Jim's friend. The captain was an intelligent, insightful, and compassionate being, and a strong and capable leader, as well as a truly good friend. And if, deep down inside, Spock's heart desired more than was possible from the situation, it was not worth disturbing what was a perfectly equitable and companionable, though platonic, relationship that had taken genuine effort to develop to this point. Over the last few months, Spock had mastered the act of taking everything Jim said or did in stride, and tried not to let the, dare he say, emotions his captain drew out in him affect his daily functions on the ship.
Still, there were moments when Spock found it hard to look away from Jim's face - moments when the captain was talking with great passion about one of his interests, his hands gesturing animatedly, the cadence of his voice vibrating with emotion; or when Spock caught him laughing at an unexpected joke, his eyes flashing in merriment, his mouth open wide with bright white teeth showing. Moments when even Spock's Vulcan resolve came close to being shaken. They were rare, but they existed.
However, they did not detract from the friendship the two of them had groomed and Spock intended to keep it that way. His Vulcan discipline ensured that he would keep his emotions at bay. That was all he had to do. He had decided some time ago that he would not disturb the status quo.
By the time they entered the city premises, it had started to snow. The atmospheric indicator on the car's computer confirmed that the temperature outside had dropped to -10 degrees Celcius, and Spock was indeed grateful for the car's modern heating system. He hoped the Kirk family home had adequate temperature controls. While his human side appreciated the opportunity to experience a traditionally 'wintery' holiday experience, his Vulcan half was not too fond of being subjected to extreme bouts of cold.
The captain navigated the streets easily, as they passed the city center, the neon lights in the commercial facilities blinking in the dark, the sidewalks occupied by individuals of all ages and colors as they went about their business of entering and leaving recreational facilities, dining establishments, and shopping venues. The crowds appeared mostly human, with an occasional alien face making an appearance—a single Andorian in Starfleet uniform going into a thrift shop; two Deltans walking together; even an Orion amidst a crowd of human males in dark suits. Before Spock could speculate on their presence, Jim had turned onto a street that appeared to be leading away from the commercial area.
They moved out of the city center, the snow coming down harder now, and onto another long stretch of road, this one dotted with farmhouses, most of them built in the style of late century designs and distanced by a few dozen meters of land. The buildings passing by became less frequent, the farmlands in between more diverse and widespread and soon they were only coming across an occasional farmhouse on either side every minute.
After approximately 15.2 minutes of driving in this state, with the vista before them covered entirely in snow, they finally reached their destination.
As Jim directed the vehicle up the curving driveway, Spock allowed himself the chance to survey the edifice looming up before him. The house appeared to be of a fairly large size, double-storied, and built in a fashion that had undoubtedly been in style in this part of America since the last four hundred years. The building was surrounded by tall trees covered in snow, as well as several smaller structures built around the land that no doubt served some function which Spock could not decipher at this point.
The windows on both the levels of the house were lit, and, as the vehicle came to a stop a few meters away from the small flight of stairs leading up to the entrance, the front door was flung open and a human male came charging out of the house. Before Spock could react, Jim had turned off the ignition, thrown open his door, and was out of the car.
"Walter!" he greeted loudly as Spock opened his door and slowly got down and closed the car door.
"James!" the human, whom Spock could now see was middle-aged with graying hair, had wrapped the captain in an embrace, which was being enthusiastically returned by the younger man. "It's been too long, kid!"
"Definitely." Jim was grinning, his happiness apparent. Spock felt a little awkward standing to the side, watching the warm reunion, but there was a frisson of contentment in his chest at his friend's apparent joy. "Man, it's so good to see you," Jim murmured as he squeezed the other human in his arms affectionately, before pulling away and turning to face the half-Vulcan with a big smile.
"Spock, this is Walter McLean, the Kirks' long time caretaker, administrator, miracle worker, manager, and over all custodian for our... estates." He moved to stand next to Spock and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Walter, this is my friend Spock. He's the one who keeps me sane in space and makes sure everything's rearing to go. He's in Starfleet too."
"Yes, of course." McLean smiled kindly at him, his eyes warm, but did not offer a handshake, instead, giving a nod in greeting. "Hello, Mr. Spock, how are you?"
Spock nodded politely, grateful for the human's consideration. He absently noted that the warmth of Jim's hand on his shoulder provided a curious comfort. "I am well. How do you do?"
"Very well, thank you." He smiled. "Doing much better now since I have the resident genius finally returned to the family." He turned to Jim and shook his head. "This guy hasn't been back in... what has it been? Four years?"
"Yeah," Jim sighed, and Spock found his brow rising in his forehead at the words as Jim dropped his hand, his voice turning wistful. "It's good to be back."
"It's wonderful to have you back." McLean moved to open the car's backdoors. "Come on, give me your bags, both of you."
Jim immediately sprang into action. "Hey, we can manage, it's no big deal."
"Hush," the human said, grabbing two cases as Spock attempted to take his bags from his hands. "No, I've got it, Spock. I've got to make sure you kids get settled in nicely; I'm only here till tomorrow."
The three of them bantered back and forth, shifting bags in hands as they climbed the four stairs and entered the house. Jim finally manhandled his bags out of Walter's hands but stopped Spock with a raised hand when he attempted to do the same, and, with an imperceptible sigh, Spock acquiesced. Apparently, it was considered a gesture of human hospitality to carry the guests' luggage.
"Hey, how's Laura doing? Still the heartbreaker, I bet?" Jim asked his friend as they entered what appeared to be the foyer, with a door to the right which seemed to open into a hall closet, and a larger door which made way to a wide and open living space, furnished with couches and chairs, with a dining area visible from behind a glass partition. An old-fashioned fireplace was set aflame with burning coal and pieces of wood, making the interior of the house comfortably warm. A flight of stairs leading to the upper level was right in front of the main door.
"Of course, she is; breathtaking as ever." McLean replied, his voice light with laughter. "She misses you so much; Shaun and Mel too, though they tell me you've been in touch with them."
"As much as subspace communications can let me be," Jim replied. "I miss them too. I miss all of you." Again the wistfulness was apparent in Jim's voice, and Spock again felt curiosity at the discussion between the two humans. Four years had indeed been a long time in between home visits. He wondered why Jim had not made the time more often, if he missed his friends so much.
"I know, kid." Walter was quiet for a moment, his eyes strangely sympathetic as he looked at Jim's face. Then he smiled brightly and patted Jim's arm as he turned and lead them towards the stairs. "C'mon, I've got your rooms ready. I made up the main guest bedroom upstairs for Spock, the one right next to yours."
"Thanks, Walter." Jim smiled back at him as they followed him. "We appreciate it."
By the time they got settled into their rooms, it was well past nine.
Jim checked on Spock to make sure he found everything to his comfort, which the half-Vulcan affirmed, and the two made their way downstairs. Jim went out to get the hovercar parked inside the covered carport, then came back.
Dinner consisted of sandwiches, juice from the fridge, and fresh salad made from produce grown in the kitchen garden. Walter informed them he had stocked the freezer with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods, both uncooked and ready-to-eat, for their stay, with just a few more things left that he intended to get the next day before he took off for the holidays.
After dinner was finished and the table was cleared, everyone moved to the living room with the fireplace roaring, and continued talking late into the night. Walter had many questions about their life in space that Jim and Spock were happy to answer, and Jim watched with a sense of warmth as Walter drew Spock into a discussion about the cultural impact of the Starfleet Riverside base on the local town life. Jim let the warmth of the food and the conversation settle into his bones as he listened to the conversation, adding his own point of view from time to time.
God, he'd missed this. He'd missed coming home, and Walter and all his other friends.
There were still too many memories associated with this house. A haze of recollections, both good and bad. But maybe enough time had now passed between those events and the present that the good memories could finally outweigh the bad ones. He certainly hoped so. He'd missed this place.
The house was in his name, given to him by old man Tiberius himself. Of course, Jim had never really had any use for the lands. He wasn't cut out to live the farm life - he was too technically savvy, too involved with mathematics and equations and computer programming and the wonders of space exploration to ever have been satisfied by a life confined to the farms. He'd loved San Francisco when he'd gone to the academy. He loved the city life. And now he loved his life on a starship. He loved doing what he did - meeting new civilizations and species around the galaxy, and making a difference the best way he knew how.
That did not mean he didn't sometimes miss the simplicity of life in rural Iowa.
Perhaps, this visit was going to be better than the one he'd made during his first year at the academy. It ought to be, since Spock was with him. For some reason, Jim felt as if simply having Spock by his side could make anything easy to handle. He smiled to himself as he looked at his two friends talking.
Historical data surely confirmed that there was no hurdle he couldn't bypass if only he had his First Officer's help. Spock was intelligent, well-read and kind, he had a supremely analytical intellect which anyone with a modicum of intelligence would want to know; and he was one of the best scientific minds Jim had ever come across. Jim had no doubt that Spock was the best First Officer in the 'fleet. Jim realized more and more how lucky he'd been that Spock had accepted his offer to join the Enterprise.
There had been a point about a year or so back when Jim had been a little concerned for his friend, when, after a year of a seemingly amiable relationship, Spock and Uhura had suddenly called it quits. Jim was worried that things might prove difficult for his friends, especially Spock, for whom he felt very protective. There was just something about the half-Vulcan that brought out a defensive streak in Jim, even though he knew his First was fully capable of handling just about any situation. Maybe it was the emotional impact of a relationship lost that he wanted to spare the half-Vulcan, since he remembered how crappy that could be. Thankfully, both Uhura and Spock had bounced back from that dissolution, and remained friends, for which Jim was grateful.
Strangely, in the aftermath of all that, there had been a newfound gentleness in Spock that had previously been missing. It was as if he'd learned a lesson through the breakup, and, somehow, his life had been made the better for it.
Spock had always been a foil to Jim's more volatile emotions. But now, there was a new sense of calmness in him, which made the brashness in Jim's own heart feel somehow tempered. He knew he could toss any problem at his First Officer, and a solution would be found. Aside from Bones, who was a whole other story, there was no one he trusted more on the ship than Spock. Bones was like an older brother who berated him and drank and joked with him and called him out on his shit. Spock, on the other hand, reined Jim in when he was feeling unsettled, brought him back from the precipice whenever Jim was about to do something rash and dangerous.
Jim knew he could trust the half-Vulcan to always have his back, and that made him feel invincible. Perhaps that would be the difference on this visit. He had Spock to help keep the bad memories at bay. It was time he made some new, good memories to remember this place by.
It was almost eleven by the time their talks wound down. By then, Jim had begun to feel his eyelids drooping; it'd been a long day. Walter saw him yawning and promptly got up and started shutting down everything as Jim and Spock helped lock things up. Walter finally left with a promise to return the next day with more provisions, and both Jim and Spock made their way upstairs. Jim once again made sure Spock would be comfortable in his room and was reassured by his friend that everything was more than adequate.
Behind his own closed door, it took Jim three minutes to get out of his clothes and crawl under the warm duvets and blankets. Within minutes, he was fast asleep.
Spock reviewed the astrobiology reports he'd been working on in the light of the bedside lamp. There was a fireplace in this room, but it was not in use at the moment, as the computerized temperature controls in the house had been activated. From his discussion with Walter McLean, he had ascertained that this house was over two hundred years old and had been in the Kirk family for the past four generations. However, in spite of its age, it had been modified and refitted with mostly modern amenities to generally bring things up to a somewhat contemporary level, if not to the latest technological level a Starfleet officer would be used to.
For example, aside from the water shower in the bathroom, there was also a sonic facility, for which Spock was grateful. There was also a data access point available at the work desk with which he could connect his PADD to access the Federation server, and, from there, login to the Enterprise's computer if required. There was also a replicator fitted in the kitchen, which was programmed with an adequate variety of Earth cuisines and had the option to download more options from a portable device. He was informed that all this made the Kirk farmhouse fairly modern in comparison to some of the other nearby residences.
That is, as long as the weather remained conciliatory. McLean had said that since they were so far away from the city center, sometimes, during heavy snow storms, if the power was cut off, they could be stranded with no data access and no automatic temperature controls. That was why they had kept the old-fashioned kitchen amenities and the fireplaces with the house. Spock could see the logic in keeping them as a backup.
He had been intrigued by the discussion with Jim and his friend. It was obvious that the bond between the two humans was strong and familial in nature. Curiously, he had noticed that while Jim's older brother George Samuel Kirk, who was a research biologist working at the Denobulan Exobiology Institute, had been mentioned, no other member of the family was brought up. Spock had also gotten the sense that McLean was somehow cautiously choosing his words around the younger human, and, at several points had noticed him begin to say something and then stop, before giving the captain that strangely sympathetic look again.
No mention of the reasons why Jim had not visited his ancestral home had been made during the evening, which still puzzled Spock. Even when relations had been strained between his father and himself after he had declined his admission in the VSA, Spock had still visited home every year. His relationship had always been strong with his mother, and even though he was living his life as a Vulcan, his emotional connection with her had overridden any logical reasoning that might have precluded the need for regular visits home. In hindsight, considering how quickly his planet and everyone inhabiting it had been taken from him, he was grateful he had made the effort and spent that time with his mother.
Hence, he was curious about why Jim had taken so long to come back to his home. The look that came over his friend's face, every time Walter said something about the house or mentioned any of his acquaintances or talked about how much everyone had missed him, was also unusually enigmatic.
Spock wondered what mysteries his usually frank and open superior officer was hiding in his heart.
It was the moment right before the first ray of sunlight pierced the darkness of the horizon that Jim had missed the most.
In the silence and darkness of the snow-covered surroundings, all living creatures having either migrated to warmer climates or gone underground for hibernation, it was the strange stillness of the moment that almost reminded him of the silence of space. Jim remembered sitting in this exact same spot many times in the past, when he was eight, ten, fourteen years old, bundled up in multiple layers and holding a mug of hot chocolate, and watching the sunrise, and imagine himself to be onboard a starship, moving through space, the silence surrounding him as it was surrounding the freezing snow-covered firs and bushes and the buildings around him.
But there was nothing still about space. Every moment, he was in motion, moving through charted space, exploring places no one had seen before, watching stars streak by the periphery of his vision as he stood at the Observation lounge viewport to see their progress. Space was always moving, with stars aflame, nebulae expanding, planets in motion - and him on the Enterprise, moving right along with everything else that could not be still.
Here, on solid ground, away from the movement of space, the stillness seemed to pervade every molecule in the air surrounding him. He watched as the vista before him slowly filled with the muted, reluctant brightness of the winter sun coming alive. It had snowed heavily during the night, and there was at least four inches of new snow covering the ground, which had frozen with the dropping temperatures. Jim wrapped his arms around his body and sipped his hot coffee.
Damn, he loved winters. He loved snowfall, loved when the temperatures dropped and you were forced to wear the endless layers and the jackets to keep as much of the chill out as possible, forced to turn the heating up, forced to stay indoors, even. Loved it because he loved the sight of snow falling, starting with the first few flakes falling on the ground and melting in the grass or on the sidewalk, and then the whole horizon filling up with beautiful whiteness everywhere. That's the way Christmas was supposed to be. Not like he'd celebrated them the past four years, two of them in space and the two before that in San Francisco—serving a self-imposed sentence.
But it'd been inevitable, right? Things had never been easy for the Kirks. Those events in the past, those memories that had inundated him with a sense of misplaced self-loathing at first. All the effort and time it had taken for him to get past all the shit, to make something positive out of his life, regardless of how bad things had been at one point. Some of those things were too hurtful to even remember, filling him with a piercing ache full of indignant anger every time he'd thought about them. Memories of shouts and yells and shoves filling his brain, yanking up chaos in his mind. Filling him with confusion and fury and an incomprehensible sense of inadequacy, of betrayal.
For so long, Jim had lived with those feelings. All his bravado, all his arrogant swagger and smart-alecky bluster that had gotten him into so much trouble in his teens and before he joined Starfleet, had been a front he'd built to survive those years; to get through that sense of never being enough that had been ingrained into him from a young age - that had been a part of those memories.
But there were other memories, too - hanging out with friends and going dancing at Solo on Red Oak Avenue. Checking out the old-fashioned arcades in the ancient Township Park; playing in the corn fields; picnics along the river. Being the crazy genius in class who could solve the hardest math problems faster than anyone else, even on little sleep and underwhelming preparation.
All of it juxtaposed with other memories - being shunned for being different, too smart, never letting up, never bowing to opposition. Both good and bad mixed in the fray, making a strange amalgamation of recollections. There was always a price one had to pay for genius.
But here was a new day beginning. As Jim watched the muted light slowly roll across the horizon, the orange redness of the sunlight blinking off the frozen treetops, he wished for the peace and calmness of his surroundings to fill his being.
A brave bird suddenly called out from the frozen branch of a snow-covered fir, breaking the stillness, as Jim felt a smile begin at the corners of his lips. Movement even on solid ground. Nothing remained still forever. The universe was always expanding. That was the only constant.
He heard the creak of the stairs as his houseguest made his way downstairs and felt his smile widen. After a moment, the back door opened.
He laughed as he turned around to face his friend. "It's Jim, Spock. We're on vacation."
Spock inclined his head. "Very well. Jim. How did you sleep?"
"Perfectly." Jim smiled at Spock as he looked at his attire, appreciating how even bundling up in four layers of clothes didn't take away from the aristocratic elegance of his First Officer's posture. "How about you?"
"My sleep was adequate," Spock replied. "The room was quite comfortable."
"I'm glad to hear that." Jim looked at him. "I know you're not the biggest fan of cold weather, Spock, but I'm still thrilled to have you here."
Spock looked at him closely for a second, his eyes inscrutable, before tilting his head. "The feeling is mutual, Jim."
"Excellent." Jim grinned. "There's fresh coffee and tea in the kitchen. I was about to make some breakfast." He looked up at Spock with a mischievous twist to his lips. "What do you think of French toast, waffles, and juice?"
He watched an austere eyebrow rise on Spock's forehead, but there was something almost amused in those brown eyes. "Such a meal is not very nutritional... but, as you just stated, we are on vacation."
"That's the spirit." Jim chuckled as he got up from his crouch, and herded his First Officer inside. "Come on. Let's go hog on some high-calorie breakfast food."
Walter returned before lunch with even more food and groceries for storage, along with other provisions they might need when the storms that were forecast to hit finally came around. There was no sight of anything threatening on the horizon at the moment, though. The day had been snowless so far, with even the sun coming out for a few minutes in the afternoon.
The whole atmosphere filled Jim with a strange giddiness. After lunch had been had and they'd said goodbye to Walter, Jim took Spock for a short tour around the grounds. He suddenly wanted to show his friend the place he'd grown up at. He'd called and made reservations at the Italian place on the old Vine Street for dinner, knowing Spock would enjoy their vegetarian selections.
Then he took Spock to see the ancient silo that had been built as part of the property in the year 2011, but which had been converted into a swimming pool in his grandfather's time, and then later on had been covered up by concrete and turned into a barn.
Some of the centuries old fixtures inside were still there. They were rusting and mostly falling apart, but to lay eyes on something that had been installed over two hundred years ago was fascinating, and seeing the interesting glint in Spock's eyes as the half Vulcan ran his tricorder over every piece of rusting metal and made notes on his PADD about the structural dimensionality of the engineering plan of the silo was a treat in itself. Though, Jim always got a phantom ache in his finger joints every time he saw Spock busy with his PADDs for hours at a go - those devices were notorious for their non-ergonomic-friendly designs, especially for Vulcan bone structure. Still, Jim knew it was like an archeological study for his crewmate, and he told Spock to feel free to come there anytime and explore anything he wanted, as he led him back outside.
Jim showed Spock the newer, covered swimming pool that was built when he was a kid, and which was obviously off-limits in this weather, cleanly swerving past the old garages—that was a tour for another day; he simply didn't have the stomach to go near that place at the moment—and instead taking his friend to the stables where his grandfather had reared and trained prized stallions for decades until his death. There were no livestock or animals now on the farm, as there was no one here to take care of them fulltime. Walter only came over once a week to get things cleaned up and to make sure everything was in order. His family now lived in Iowa City, more used to urban life than toiling on the farmlands.
Spock's interest for all things new and exotic was very catching - something Jim knew he shared with the half-Vulcan. The truth was, when he'd invited Spock over, he'd only been thinking about not allowing his First Officer to spend his down time babysitting the repair crews when everyone else was enjoying holidays planetside. In his mind, leaving Spock on the ship during holidays was just not on, so he'd brought him here. He'd never really expected a city person like Spock, who'd spent his entire life amidst modern technologies, to actually enjoy his time on a rural farm. The fact that Spock had taken this chance as a challenge to learn about the simple rural life on Earth was amazing to Jim, and he told Spock so.
Spock looked at him closely for a long moment. "You realize there were farms on Vulcan, do you not, Jim?"
Jim blinked at the query. "Um, I guess."
"And that being the son of an ambassador did not preclude me from having to learn all aspects of life on our planet?" Spock continued. "This included not only the life filled with modern technology and the discipline that was part of the diplomatic lifestyle my parents were used to, but also the simple life of a common Vulcan." The corners of his mouth twitched. "A farmer, even."
Jim stared at him incredulously. "You've lived on a farm? You, Spock?"
One brow rose elegantly. "Indeed. During my formative years, I spent six months on a rural farm in T'Paal, as part of my training."
Jim's eyes widened. "You're kidding."
"I am not," Spock replied, his eyes twinkling. "I have even milked the Gobalish Sotor, a mammalian species similar to Terran cows."
This revelation caused Jim to burst out laughing. "Now that's a sight I would've loved to see." He chuckled. "Man, I wish there was a holovid of it somewhere."
Spock glared at him imperiously, though there was laughter in his eyes. "Then I am glad that no holographic evidence was collected."
Jim grinned. "Just my luck."
In the early evening, an hour before the sunlight would have gone and after they had had tea and Jim went upstairs to make a few calls, Spock went out for another stroll.
He spent sometime in the kitchen garden, where several birdhouses had been erected and which now were sheltering several species of Terran birds that had undoubtedly arrived to seek protection from the extreme weather. He found several specimens of Cyanocitta cristata, the blue jay, resting in the square wooden structures, as well as a pair of Bombycilla cedrorum, the cedar waxwing and a lone Baeolophus bicolor, the Tufted titmouse. He made notations of each discovery in his PADD, taking notice of their resting habits and social behavior.
Spock then moved past a building which Jim had curiously—and quite deliberately—avoided taking him to earlier, and moved to the edge of the woodlands, where a line of butternut trees, the Juglans cinerea were growing next to tall red cedars, the Juniperus virginiana. He was taken out of his musings by the sound of an approaching vehicle.
He turned to see what appeared to be a yellow Terran hovercab approaching the house. After Walter had left that afternoon, he had not expected anyone else to come by the house, and as Jim had not mentioned any change in plans. He quickly made his way through the snow-covered ground, towards the front entrance of the house.
By the time he arrived, the hovercab had stopped, and a human female in Starfleet blues had disembarked from the vehicle. Spock watched as she made payment with credit chips to the cab driver, who got down to help her take the two bags out of the trunk. He noticed she was middle-aged, perhaps in her mid-fifties, with long, gray-blond hair that curled around her face. She was of a tall, slim build, and quite serious-looking for a human.
He moved into view as the hovercab turned around and left, and the female approached the front steps. She halted when she noticed him standing next to the stairs.
"Greetings." Spock inclined his head, noticing the Commander's stripes on her sleeves.
"Oh." She looked surprised. "Who are you?"
Before Spock could answer, the front door opened and Jim came out. He appeared even more shocked to see the female. "Mom!"
Spock felt his brows rise in his forehead. This was Commander Winona Kirk. Jim's mother.
"Jim." Winona Kirk looked just as shocked to see her son. She put down her luggage on the ground and looked up at him in what appeared to be wonder. Apparently, her visit had been quite unexpected and she had not been expecting Jim's presence here.
"What are you doing here?" The captain smiled as he stepped down to take her in his arms. "I thought the St. Laurence was in the Pandaren System."
Spock watched as she returned the embrace somewhat stiffly. "Our mission got cut short." Her voice was cool. "Diplomatic incident at the Annual Communion on Vellic III. I'm sure you'll find out soon." She pulled back. "What are you doing here?"
It took only a split second, but something shifted in her eyes, and, right at that moment Spock felt the change in his captain's countenance. It was as if a light switch had suddenly been turned off.
Jim stayed quiet for a second, as he stared at his mother, his face carefully blank and then shrugged. "Mid-mission upgrade," he replied. "We're here for the next twelve days." He added after a moment, "Walter knew I was coming."
"Well, of course you would tell him." Commander Kirk picked up her bags. "Unfortunately, Walter didn't know I was coming." She looked into her son's eyes, a strangely brittle look on her face. "But then, I don't have to tell him when I'm coming to my own home, do I?"
Spock suddenly felt the urge to shiver and realized, belatedly, it had nothing to do with the weather. A strange chill had settled in the air, and he did not know how to melt the frozen ice that appeared to have formed between his friend and his mother within a few moments.
"Right," Jim said, his voice cool. Then he straightened up and gestured towards him. "Mom, this is my friend Spock. He's spending the holidays with me."
Spock inclined his head in polite greeting. "Mrs. Kirk."
She looked at him coolly. "I prefer to be addressed by my rank."
Ignoring the quite visible blustering reaction her words caused from Jim, Spock straightened up and nodded. "My apologies. Commander."
"Unnecessary." She smiled at him, but somehow the expression did not reach her eyes. "Welcome to Riverside, Commander."
Winona Kirk moved up the stairs, bypassing Jim who appeared to have frozen into place. "Now, where is that old bastard?"
Jim took a deep breath and turned to watch her. "Walter's spending the holidays with his family, Mom."
"Oh, how nice." She turned to look at him. "Just as we are."
Then she turned and walked inside the house, letting the door close behind her.
Jim's mind felt caught in a swirling haze of confused hurt and anger.
So it was her home, was it, and not his? Had she forgotten Grandpa Kirk had given this house to 'the little orphan Kirk boy'? The one who only had a father for less than two minutes of his existence? But old man Tiberius had loved him as long as he'd lived - the little one who was born in space. He loved Jim, even if his life came into existence just as his son's life had been taken from him.
Jim simply didn't know which part of the whole interaction he was to react to. Where to start - her cutting words, her cool demeanor, or the dismissive way she'd looked at him? Was it to be the rude way she'd spoken to Spock - the way she'd thrown out that she preferred to be addressed by her rank and not her dead husband's name? What exactly was he supposed to focus on here? He didn't know. There were too many things suddenly inundating his senses - an amalgam of pain and suffocating anger that made it hard to think.
He knew he needed to calm himself down. He needed to get a hold of his emotions. He needed to focus, to get himself under control.
He stood in the middle of the living room with the temperature controls turned on full, and still felt himself shiver. Maybe they needed to get the chimney going, too.
He looked at the stairs that she had climbed a moment ago, her bags in hands, her posture ramrod straight as always. He heard the sound of her movement upstairs, heard the door to her bedroom at the end of the hallway open and slam shut. Then more sounds, muted, less defined, as she moved around her room, opening closets, closing doors. And in between all that was the haze. That swirl of emotions and things he did not want to think about. Not right now, at least.
He felt movement at the periphery of his vision and it was Spock, moving to stand next to him. He turned and looked at his friend and noticed a carefully neutral expression on his face. The legendary Vulcan coolness - always present, always on hand. Spock's eyes, though, were warm and showed a modicum of concern, which, Jim realized, was only for his benefit.
But he needed that Vulcan composure right now. He needed to calm down quickly and stay calm. So he focused on his friend's presence, and imagined himself on an away mission where a wrench had suddenly been thrown in their plans. The natives were not friendly. Or, they were friendly, but a warring faction had decided to surprise them with an attack in the middle of negotiations. Spock's presence had always been able to calm him down in those situations. So he focused on that. He stopped thinking of why his mother was here and why she was acting like this, and focused instead on standing next to his First Officer and breathing. Just breathing. He could do this. He could draw strength from his friend. He didn't have to say anything. Spock wouldn't ask for any explanations - he never did. Jim could tackle all those other emotions later. Much later. Right now, he just needed his friend's presence to soothe his nerves.
After a moment, when his breathing had returned to near normal, he turned to face Spock fully and gave him a grateful smile. Spock asked him if he required anything, and Jim shook his head. The plans they'd made for dinner were no longer viable. No matter how much he didn't want to stick around and endure his mother's presence when she was in one of her moods, he wasn't sure if going out tonight would be a good idea. When he asked Spock for his thoughts, the half-Vulcan agreed.
So it was to be one of those away missions, one where you had to stay on and fight till the end instead of calling for an emergency beam out. Fine. He could do this.
His mind made, he moved towards the kitchen. "Okay. Let's try out some of those ready-to-serve items Walter stocked in the freezer."
It took him and Spock only a few minutes to take all the needed items out and get the oven going, and soon, they had a quick dinner of packaged veggie casserole, sweet corn fritters, cream chowder, and veggie burgers heating in the oven. All these dishes were traditionally Midwestern and therefore very much Terran—Jim imagined them not to be quite up to Spock's usual preferences—so he was determined to stick to non-meat varieties only. He knew Spock didn't mind him eating meat in his presence, but the man had already had enough human tradition and cuisine foisted upon him. The least Jim could do was avoid meat in the one meal Spock was helping him prepare.
By the time his mother came down, it was past seven, and dinner was ready to be laid out. She'd changed into civvies and her demeanor seemed to have thawed out slightly - enough to engage her son and his friend into idle chitchat. Jim kept his emotions in check, not wanting to think of her earlier words. He could do this. He could focus on the present. He could focus on now.
It all worked perfectly, until the conversation turned to Starfleet.
"So how's the mission going?" His mother looked at the two of them, her eyebrow quirked in question. "You kids playing by the rules? I haven't heard anything bad from the Starfleet Command grapevine lately, so you must be doing all right."
Jim froze and willed himself to breathe out slowly. So this was how it was going to go. He turned to look at her, clutching the fork in his hand. "Yeah, we're doing all right. You don't have to worry about us."
"I'll always worry, Jim." There was something in her eyes that he couldn't quite recognize. "I'm your mother."
So she remembered now what she was supposed to be. Jim grit his teeth and swallowed heavily. "Yeah." He pressed his lips together and looked at her. "How's Captain Watson doing? Still getting on your case?"
He saw something flash in her eyes and knew he'd hit right on the spot. He remembered how she'd always butted heads with Watson - how they'd always squabbled, and argued and caused a ruckus, even though they'd been the command pair of the St. Laurence for over six years now. Theirs was like an old, dysfunctional marriage: utterly unhappy but somehow managing.
"Oh, you know Matthew," she replied, her mouth tight. "He never really changes." Which seemed to be answer enough. She turned to Spock. "Commander, how are things going on at the Vulcan colony?"
"Quite well," Spock replied, his voice calm. "The rehabilitation process will continue for many years. However, the colony has had reason to mark smaller successes recently."
Her eyes seemed to be assessing his First Officer, but her tone was at least polite. "Yes. I heard they're opening the new Science Academy."
Spock inclined his head. "It has been functional in a rudimentary sense for the past 7.5 months, but the official opening ceremony of the new academy building is in 1.3 months."
"Marvelous." She turned to Jim again. "And how is command treating you, Jim?"
"Those old boys aren't stepping on your feet too much, I hope."
He stared at her and found that annoyingly knowing look on her face. This one, he remembered all too well. This was the one that told him he'd disappointed her. That he wasn't doing what was expected of him. He was wasting his potential. It was reminiscent of a look someone else had worn on his face, many years ago. And that memory never failed to get his hackles up, every single time.
"Oh, you know how the admiralty works, right, mom?" He chewed out his words as he licked his suddenly dry lips, feeling a reckless sizzle of anger settling in his veins. "They always tend to question the younger command teams with a little disdain." He stared at her hard. "They think we're all kids, don't know shit."
She looked at him contemplatively and then slowly exhaled. "Oh, I don't know, Jim. It's not always about age. And they're not always wrong."
Jim stayed silent.
Spock realized that a part of the puzzle that was his enigmatic captain had suddenly fallen into place.
He could now perhaps see why Jim had not been back home in four years. He and his mother clearly shared an uneasy relationship, and Spock found he could somewhat relate to what his friend might be going through. For the first three years of his time in the academy, his relations with Sarek, too, had been strained. It was only in the last year at the academy, and with no little effort on his mother's part to push her husband and son to work out their differences, that they had finally come to a kind of truce.
Since his mother's death and the loss of Vulcan, that truce had evolved into a much deeper level of interaction. There were so few Vulcans left, and it was logical to let go of petty differences and allow their more positive focal points to come into alignment so that they could better help their race to survive.
Right now, however, his thoughts were with his captain, and Commander Winona Kirk. The commander appeared to be a most intriguing individual, though, what Spock had been most acutely aware of during that entire encounter was the frustration Jim was exhibiting. It was coming off him in waves, which was unsurprising, considering the tension his mother seemed to be under as well. They both appeared to display different manners of coping with that stress. Winona Kirk's verbal rejoinders became snappish and overly acerbic, as the evening progressed, whereas Jim appeared to fall deeper into himself with every passing minute. Towards the end of dinner, their body languages were showing signs of barely suppressed frustration.
All this made Spock more than curious about the woman who had raised his captain and his friend, who had been a part of his life for so many years. The woman who had no doubt helped mould the child Kirk into the man he now knew as Jim. The story of George Kirk was part of Starfleet legend but there was not much known about his widow. However, she had to have a public file on record.
Spock took out his PADD and sat down on the work desk, attaching the device with the data access port. After the connection was through, he logged into the Starfleet server, noticed the weather prompt giving an update on the snowstorm that was forecasted to hit the Midwest sometime in the next twenty four hours, and moved onto the fleet officers database. With his level of clearance, it only took him a few seconds to click through the introductory screens before he opened the relevant file.
Kirk, Winona, Commander. Main Focus: Engineering, Secondary Focus: Command and Tactics. Age 52 standard years. Currently serving as First Officer on the USS St. Laurence, under the command of Captain Matthew Paul Watson.
Spock processed this information as he parsed through the file. Captain Watson was a most complicated individual. He'd had a colorful career, and in Starfleet circles, was known as one of the more volatile and rigidly obstinate personalities one ever encountered. Spock remembered Captain Pike mentioning him a few times - how Watson had a problem with authority and often needed to be reeled in during diplomatic missions. He wondered if the incident at the Annual Communion on Vellic III that Commander Kirk had mentioned had anything to do with Watson.
As for the commander herself, there were citations of notable missions, services rendered; the time she had served on the USS Jackson as Chief Engineer. Spock read through everything in detail. This was mostly information he had already collected two years ago when he had worked on the disciplinary case against Jim after the Kobiyashi Maru debacle. But his focus then had been on Lt. George Kirk's actions during the Kelvin incident. While he had gone through Winona Kirk's records, the process had been completed with considerably less detail.
It was a fairly ordinary career. Nothing unusual had occurred in Kirk's career since the Kelvin incident, aside from her serving under Watson. She was undoubtedly an exemplary officer, her record impeccable. He moved through the screens, making notes of anything he found interesting, downloading the relevant information as he went, clicking panels one after another. Finally, thinking he had gleaned all the information he could get, he moved to log out of the connection, when he noticed a link at the bottom of the screen.
His eyebrows came together as he clicked on the link and paused at the display.
Federation Diplomatic Corps.
As an extrafleet activity.
That night, as Jim lay down on his bed, he found no rest at all.
It was no fucking use. Nothing ever changed, no matter how much time had passed - no matter how much he wished certain things to disappear, they never did. They stayed there, right under the surface, scratching to break through the thin membrane that hid a deluge of ugly memories. Always there, never totally gone.
That taint of never being good enough; of failing to make good on the Kirk name. That sense of worthlessness and inadequacy that had been forced upon him; that mantle of weakness and imperfection that he'd fought against all his life - had been fighting against ever since he'd left this town to join the academy, in order to prove his worthiness to the bigwigs at Starfleet who determined the fate of so many people. Proving it to the universe at large.
And, within a few minutes, all of that had come crumbling down. His mother's words, that it was her house, had brought all those feelings crashing back into him.
The insinuation that he wasn't good enough, that he'd never been good enough, was there in every breath she took. She didn't have to say it in so many words, but he could see it clearly in her eyes. The legacy of Frank Andrew Harrison still lived on. Jim had thought she didn't agree with Frank. He'd thought that was the reason why she'd gotten rid of him. But her sharp jibes and icy demeanor told a different story. It told him that, ever since he'd gotten the Enterprise, the reason she had never made the first move to call him was because she thought his command was nothing but a fluke.
That he was nothing but a fluke.
The admiralty was wrong when it was treating Winona Kirk neé Peterson as the lunatic fringe for her passionate causes, but absolutely right when it treated young Jim Kirk and his team as the wet-behind-the-ears command pair? Why did it always feel like she was judging him and finding him short of her expectations? Why?
His mind caught in a whirlwind, Jim stayed awake long into the night.
Christ, this was a disaster. This was not what she had been expecting. Jim always threw her off her game.
Winona closed her eyes and sighed. This was pathetic. What kind of a mother had to be 'on her game' in front of her own son? Still, this was not how she'd expected to react on seeing her boy. She had too much on her mind; that was her only excuse.
This was how she turned when she had to clean up a disaster of galactic proportions - a situation which could easily have been avoided if only that bumbling old fool had listened to her. Yep; she turned into a bitter old harpy who bit people's heads off for daring to breathe in front of her when things didn't go her way.
Dammit. What would Jim's friend be thinking? She knew who he was - that Vulcan who'd been on the Narada mission with Jim. The one who... he'd been so integral to everything the Enterprise had accomplished under Jim's command, when they'd saved Earth.
What had prompted her to act the way she did with him? And with her own son? Getting off a horrible mission didn't mean she had to make life miserable for Jim - the same son she hadn't seen in far too long. It'd been over two years since he was commissioned and had gotten the Enterprise. Their last meeting had been at Starfleet Headquarters after the award ceremony, when Jim had received the commendation and the rank of Captain. The atmosphere there had been very subdued in the aftermath of Vulcan's destruction. They had barely exchanged a few words and an awkward hug before she'd been called off to rejoin the St. Laurence. Since then, there had been the occasional comm link every now and then. Nothing satisfactory.
She really had to play nice here. Truth be told, she was happy to see Jim. But she bet he didn't think so after her performance tonight. It was just... Jim's words about the admiralty making life difficult for command pairs only reminded her of the problems she herself was facing with Watson's ineptitude. She wanted out, but it was some sections of the same admiralty that was making things hard for her. She knew Watson had lots of connections, but she wished the higher ups could get their heads out of their asses and look beyond the stupid politics and see what the man was doing.
But she had to do better, as far as Jim was concerned. She was going to do better. She'd missed Jim very much. She wanted this time to go better than their last few ones had gone.
She was going to work this thing out.
Continued in Riverside Part 2 of 4