Rating: PG-13 for violence, references to torture and captivity, and stab wounds
Summary: Two years after embarking on her maiden voyage, the Enterprise returns to Earth for some holiday-season shore leave after a typical mission-gone-wrong. Then things go wronger.
Author's note: I have no idea if "ship leave" is an actual term, but "shore leave" as a title didn't make any sense and also I'm pretty sure it was already taken. Due to severely limited and insanely expensive internet access, I won't be able to reply to comments or make changes, although of course concrit and/or pointing and laughing at silly typos are always appreciated, as is lavish praise. (For similar reasons, virtually no research went into this fic, so all the messed-up deck numbers are all my own fault.) Word count for this part: about 8,500.
Bones looks surprisingly apprehensive about leaving the Enterprise for somebody with aviophobia. "A skeleton crew's never enough, for this ship," he says sourly, even as Jim guides him towards the shuttle bay. "Just wait, somebody's going to fall and die and I'm not gonna be around to patch it up - "
"You've done enough patching," says Jim firmly. Another crewman, duffel bag slung over one shoulder, nearly runs into him, in her rush to get off the ship – she pulls back just barely in time, even managing a half-hearted salute and a murmured, "Sir," but the surprise still makes Jim stand up a bit straighter and the damage is done. It takes all his willpower not to put a hand to the still-tender line across his stomach, but he manages to keep his expression relatively clear, just a slight thinning of his lips. Bones catches it anyway.
"If you rip yourself open again - " he begins to threaten.
"I'm not going to rip myself open," says Jim, "for Christ's sake. And your shuttle's not going to fall out of the air – no more than it's designed to, anyway – and your daughter is definitely going to recognize you. Now get your ass off my ship and on the ground before I have to make it an order."
Bones gives him a look like he's just sucked on a lemon. "I can override you."
"When we're talking about medical reasoning, sure," Jim agrees. "When we're talking about you being a mother hen - "
Bones throws up his arms. "Fine, fine, I know a lost cause when I see one. If you're so damn determined to get yourself killed ignoring my sound medical advice - "
"Now you really do sound like my mother," says Jim, grimacing. He stops, and Bones with him, by the door to Shuttle Four. "Have a great shore leave, and give Joanna my love."
Bones takes the offered hand, albeit grudgingly. "You're still more than welcome to join me," he says. "You know how much Jo loves you, God knows why."
"I'll see her at the party," Jim reminds him, and Bones makes a face showing exactly how much he's looking forward to that particular social event.
"Goddamn waste of – yeah, I guess." Bones gives his hand one last squeeze, before hoisting his own bag up. "See you in a week, then."
Jim tosses off the sloppiest salute he can manage while still leaving it recognizable, and grins when Bones rolls his eyes. Then Bones is turning around, in the shuttle – gone.
Jim does his best not to sigh in – relief, maybe, at constantly having this latest wound rubbed raw (metaphorically speaking), or possibly melancholy at seeing his best friend go.
Well, one of his best friends. He checks his chrono, and turns to head back to the bridge.
"Jim!" He turns right back around again at the shout, careful not to twist. Bones is sticking his head out of the shuttle. "At least try to take care of yourself!"
Jim manages a twist of his lips that probably looks like a smile, from this distance, and waves back, pointedly. Bones looks dissatisfied, but disappears again, and this time Jim does put a hand to his stomach.
It stays there, hovering protectively, as he walks through the half-lit corridors of the ship. December, unsurprisingly, is a particularly requested time for shoreleave, and since the Enterprise's latest mission was disastrous in a way that for once did not involve actual damage to the ship, the orders came down to maintain orbit, to save the more sought-after gates at the spacedock. Jim doesn't mind – the power output is minimal, and since the ship was just retrofitted and inspected five months ago, it makes sense to leave the more valued space for the ships that need it.
And besides, it makes avoiding the brass that much easier.
He pauses outside of Stellar Cartography, accessing one of the comm-panels to check who's left. Sulu's already gone, having shipped out on the first shuttle to San Francisco; Scotty left earlier this morning, bound for Scotland via the Cardiff shuttleport. Uhura and Spock are still listed as on-board, just as Jim suspected they would be, although they're scheduled for the shuttle to the Cairo hub in half an hour.
"Computer," says Jim, "locate Commander Spock."
The computer chimes. "Commander Spock is on the bridge."
"Yeah, thought so. Thanks, Computer."
The computer gives a more confused chime this time, but Jim ignores it and heads towards the bridge.
Spock is at the Science Officer's station, at least, and not in what Jim jealously thinks of as his chair. He's got his comm badge on, though, and is speaking into it as Jim approaches him from behind.
" - top priority. Without replicators, the Winter Reception will be much more difficult to – Captain." Spock breaks off abruptly and nods at Jim.
"Spock," says Jim. He inclines his head pointedly at the comm badge, and Spock gets the message.
"We will continue this conversation later, Lieutenant," he says into it, before turning it off. "Captain?"
"Spock," Jim repeats. "Still working?"
"There is much to be done," Spock says. "There have been several anomalies reported in the replication system, and as the Enterprise has been selected to host the Starfleet Winter Reception this year, even a minor malfunction could prove severely problematic."
"And yet I have this strange recollection of a particular bit of paperwork darkening my desk," says Jim. "I think it said – no, I'm actually pretty sure – 'request for shore leave.' And I do believe I granted it. To you."
Spock's expression stays carefully measured. "I thought it might be more prudent for me to stay. Given your convalescence."
Jim narrows his eyes. "I think I can push papers just fine with a stab wound, Commander." He's aware of a sudden silence in the room, a shift of attention of every ensign at a station from what they should actually be paying attention to, to this vastly more interesting conversation.
Spock, having never been one to hold back his opinion just because of an audience, raises an eyebrow. "Perhaps it is not only your physical well-being I am worried for."
Jim can feel a muscle working in his jaw as he considers the situation and weighs the advantages of bitching Spock out against the disadvantages, which honestly aren't coming to mind. "If you think I'm not fit for duty," he says tightly, "then by all means tell Starfleet Command and let them decide."
"You misunderstand me," says Spock. "My concerns are not as your First Officer, but as your friend."
That deflates Jim pretty well. "Admit it," he says, much more lightly, "you just want to get out of meeting Uhura's family."
The general feel of the room's interest immediately changes from concern to hunger. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim can see Chekov, one of the ship's most notorious gossips, give up on pretense and turn to listen better.
Spock's nostrils flare, a blaring sign of disapproval – from him, anyway – but he seems to recognize the tonal shift as the peace offering it is. "I have to admit, the stories I've heard of her sisters make them seem...formidable."
Intimidating, thinks Jim. Ha. "Then shouldn't you use this time to prepare yourself?"
"Quite possibly." Spock stands, and takes off his comm badge, carefully placing it at his station. "Permission to disembark?"
"Granted," says Jim, half-smiling crookedly. "Have fun, and tell Lieutenant Uhura's sisters that her ruggedly handsome, dashingly brave, and very available superior says hello."
Spock raises an eyebrow. "I," he says, "am off-duty. You can forward whatever messages you wish – yourself." He gets an ever-so-slightly pained expression on his face, and adds, "I hope you will at least try to keep the ship in one piece, in my absence."
Two years of captaincy have been more than enough to teach Jim to never ask certain rhetorical questions, tempting though they may be, so the phrases "what could possibly go wrong?" and "what's the worst that could happen?" don't pass his lips. Instead he says, "Well, no promises, but I'll do my best to make sure that our stable orbit around a known, friendly planet doesn't go horribly wrong."
Chekov turns back to his station, and mutters something in Russian beneath his breath. Judging by the tone, it probably translates to, "We're doomed."
"Very well," says Spock, clearly thinking along the same lines as Chekov. "Our return shuttle is scheduled for a week from today. If any complications arise..."
"Sorry, Spock," says Jim. "You're stuck with the sisters for your whole stay. Anything comes up, we'll call Starfleet Command."
Spock nods his assent, and, with only one hesitant backwards glance, leaves the bridge. Jim does sigh this time, and settles himself in the captain's chair. "Chekov," he says. "When do the last shuttles of off-duty personnel leave?"
"The Cairo shuttle is the last, sir," says Chekov.
Jim peers at the back of his head, thinking back to the leave-requests. "You're not going downside?" he asks.
"No, sir," says Chekov. "My parents relocated to Gliesse during my sophomore year at the Academy."
"No cousins? Aunts, or uncles?"
Chekov looks displeased. "Many, sir. None within ten years of my age, in either direction. I would rather stay up here. Is quieter. And warmer," he adds, before hesitating. "What about you, sir? You're not taking any leave?"
Jim shrugs. "No. My brother and his wife emigrated years ago, and my mother should be halfway across the galaxy right about now. She's Starfleet, too." He lets out a breath. "Our leaves don't coincide, much."
"Ah," says Chekov, before falling silent.
Jim looks around the rest of the bridge. Half of the stations are empty; most of the ones that aren't have been repurposed for party planning. Chekov gets to play science officer, communications officer, navigator, and pilot today, it seems, although at least he's been spared the debate on what constitutes "festive" colors for bunting versus "fraught with religious implications" colors.
Jim kicks his heels up, wistfully wishing for a footrest or ottoman, and threads his fingers behind his head, careful not to stretch his torso too much. The painkillers he's been on since the latest mission reassert themselves, forcefully, and he yawns.
"Any orders, sir?" asks Chekov.
"Nah," says Jim. "Just keep the orbit stable. Maybe play a game of solitaire. I myself can see a nap on my horizon."
Chekov grins at him. "Understood, sir. Yes, sir."
Jim didn't actually intend to make good on the napping threat, but he wakes up some time – his chrono says an hour and a half – later, having drooled on his own shoulder. He feels muzzy-headed and sleepier than he had been upon falling asleep, and scrubs his face with his hand.
The lights on the bridge have been dimmed to half-power, and Chekov's the only one still working. Well, 'working' – from the illumination from his console, Jim can tell he's playing some kind of card game.
"Solitaire, Ensign?" he asks, his voice raspy with sleep.
Chekov jumps a bit, but answers. "Poker, sir."
"Well, then. Carry on." Jim stands up carefully, slowly unhunching himself. "I'll be in my quarters if anything comes up."
Jim hesitates at the door to his quarters, but opens the door anyway. It's exactly as he left it – eight days? - ago, before the mission to Jallidar IV, his dress uniform laid out carelessly over one chairback in anticipation of the diplomatic reception that never happened.
He checks the timeline in his mind, just to make sure, but it fits: three days in captivity, three more out of commission, and another two confined to sickbay for observation – and only Bones's absence keeping him out of there, now.
Just three days. It felt longer.
The dull ache left over from surgery reminds him that it's time to take another painkiller, and he does so before crawling into bed, mindful of his scar and other assorted fading bruises.
This time Jim feels much more refreshed when he wakes up, and a glance at the time shows him why – he's been sleeping for eight hours. It's officially the next day.
He pulls himself out of bed and, on a hunch, checks the list of the skeleton crew. Christine Chapel's name is on it, listed as Acting Head of Sickbay, and Jim debates whether to put her on his list of People To Avoid or People To Just Get It Over With And Find. He compares what he knows about Nurse Chapel to how much his scar itches, and puts her on the latter, though he takes the time to at least shower and shave, first.
The first person he sees in Sickbay when he walks in half an hour later is actually not Nurse Chapel, but Lieutenant Gaila, sitting cross-legged in front of one of the cabinets and surrounded by equipment, a PADD leaning carelessly against her knee.
"Gaila!" says Jim, grinning at her. "You didn't request leave?"
Gaila twists herself around to match Jim's grin with a blinding one of her own. "Captain! No, I've already seen Earth - I thought I'd save my leave for something that's actually exciting."
Jim puts a hand above his heart. "I'm wounded," he says. "Still – inventory?"
"It's due by the end of January, but I thought I'd get a head start on it while we weren't in the middle of a crisis," says Gaila. Jim nods – Gaila's the most senior engineer assigned to Sickbay, to keep all the various medical equipment functioning in top-form. If she wants to work overtime, Jim of all people – a frequent patient – is not going to complain.
That doesn't mean he can keep an inviting smirk off his face. "And here I thought you just wanted to play doctors and nurses."
She smiles back at him, sweetly. "We're not cadets any more, Captain. I'm saving up all my leave for somewhere that I don't have to worry about the chain of command."
Jim barely bites his tongue in time to stop himself from making a joke about chains of an entirely different sort.
"What about you?" she asks. "You getting any?"
Really, Jim reflects, that's what he loves about Gaila – her frankness.
He points to his stomach. "No vigorous activity for a while," he says. "Doctor's orders."
"Oh, there's plenty of ways to get around that," says Gaila matter-of-factly. "As long as she doesn't mind giving you a free ride." She smiles again, impishly. "So to speak."
God, her dimples are gorgeous. Jim returns his attention to the conversation, and shrugs. "Like you said – chain of command. It complicates things."
Gaila nods, her red curls tumbling around her face. "We should make our leaves line up sometime, then. Blow off some steam."
"Have I mentioned I love the way you think?" asks Jim.
"Frequently, and often in the throes of passion," Gaila says matter-of-factly. "Now are you going to let me get back to work, or keep distracting me with sex talk?"
"Right," says Jim, snapping back into Captain-mode. "Have you seen Nurse Chapel? I think I owe her an appointment."
"She should be back any minute now," says Gaila. Jim carefully levers himself onto one of the beds, and Gaila keeps talking over her shoulder, inventorying as she does. "I hear Nyota took Spock to meet her family."
Jim snorts, then grimaces – bad idea. "Yeah. I've heard stories about her sisters, too – they're downright legendary." He frowns. "Hey, did you ever meet them?"
"Oh, yes," says Gaila, holding up a distinctly gynecological instrument to inspect it for wear and tear. "The stories are all true. Of course, they think I'm a horrible influence on her – that's why I didn't go back to visit, too." It's her turn to laugh. "I wish I could see the look on her mother's face when she finds out about pon farr."
Nurse Chapel arrives soon after that, although she looks surprised to see Jim in sickbay of his own volition.
"Captain!" she says. "Doctor McCoy gave me the impression I'd have to hunt you down and sedate you to get you back in here."
Jim shrugs. "I thought I'd save you the sedative."
"I appreciate the effort," says Nurse Chapel. "Lie down, if you would."
Jim sits through – well, lies through – the examination with nary a complaint. Nurse Chapel is nothing if not brisk and efficient, and considerably less prone to cursing than Bones, and eventually she pats him on the shoulder.
"You're healing nicely," she tells him. "Sleeping a lot?"
"Enough," hedges Jim.
"Good," says Chapel. "In this case, there's no such thing as too much, understood? You got sliced open – your body's expending a lot of energy to knit you back up again."
"So doctor's orders are to be as lazy as possible?" asks Jim.
"If you want me to put it in writing, then so be it," says Chapel primly. "In the meantime – I...read the mission reports filed for the latest mission, and if you feel the need to speak to a Starfleet counselor, I can make it happen. Sir."
Jim stares at her, his mouth suddenly dry. "I haven't written any mission report yet," he says.
"No, sir, but everyone else involved didn't spend five days in the infirmary," says Chapel. "The offer stands, for – for as long as you'd like. It is procedure, sir."
"It's also voluntary, if I recall correctly."
"You do, sir." Jim can see Gaila watching the conversation with unashamed curiosity, out of the corner of his eye. Chapel's sudden use of 'sir' hasn't gotten past him, either. "But it's procedure to offer."
"Well, you can mark it off your checklist, then," says Jim, pushing himself up into a sitting position. "I decline. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get some actual work done."
He ends up back in the captain's chair, looking at his PADD. There are all sorts of arrangements for the Winter Reception to be approved, but the idea of actually reading through report upon report of the endless bunting-color debates is daunting at best. Chekov is at the conn, at least, once again playing poker against the computer; Jim checks on a whim to see if he's playing the network-wide game. He is, and Jim smiles as he hacks the system just enough to hide that he isn't a computer-generated opponent.
The best part is that he can watch Chekov's frustration grow from behind him, to say nothing of all the tiny little tells that Chekov isn't bothering to hide since the computer can't see them. It's possibly cruel, but Jim prefers to think of it as a test of Chekov's situational awareness, and begins timing how long this can go on.
They're bother interrupted in their game by the computer chiming.
"Uh," says Chekov, frantically switching away from the game, "sir, we...apparently have a request to come aboard."
Jim frowns, and puts aside the PADD. "From who? And why?"
Chekov checks the request, frowning. "Encryption is Class One, sir – an Admiral. Reason is listed as a tour of the ship."
Jim rolls his eyes. "What the hell are we, here, a pleasure-cruise? Don't answer that. Permission granted." He stands up, groaning. "Send the message to all decks to make everything as pretty as possible – we've got tourists."
Only bunting as an alternative could make Jim willingly present himself to the Starfleet admiralty, but as bunting is the alternative, Jim heads down to the shuttle bay to greet the guests, leaving the conn with Lieutenant Otero; Chekov, apparently bored with being beaten, follows him to the bay.
"You don't think this is a surprise inspection, sir?" he asks. "I believe Mister Scott has been making some adjustments that could be - "
"If it were a surprise inspection, we wouldn't know about it until it was already over," says Jim. "And besides, Scotty's 'adjustments' have all gone through me."
Chekov raises a skeptical eyebrow. "Really, sir?"
"If anyone asks, yes." They arrive at the shuttle bay, but the admittance light is red, signifying vacuum; a few minutes later, as the bay repressurizes, it changes to green, and the door opens.
Jim leads, and Chekov follows him in, straightening his uniform as he does. The shuttle is from the spacedock, giving no clues to which admiral it contains. Just in case, Jim waits with his hands clasped behind his bag, his feet together – a pose that should be just formal enough for one of the tightasses, but casual enough for one of the very few admirals without an active grudge against him.
The shuttle's ramp slowly lowers, and Admiral Pike floats out, still in his hoverchair. There's an assistant with him, trailing closely behind, but Pike is smiling.
"Captain Kirk," he says, taking in Jim's pose. "At ease, if that's what that's supposed to be. I thought I might come take a look at the old girl, see how she's doing."
"Admiral Pike," says Jim, returning the smile and moving forward to shake his hand. "You're always welcome on this ship, you know that."
"Good," says Pike, keeping his grip on Jim's hand. "Because I brought a personal guest."
"I suppose that's my cue," says another voice from the shuttle – warm, dry, and distinctly female. A woman steps out onto the ramp, wearing civilian clothes and a grin that threatens to burst off her face. "Hello, Jim."
Jim just stares. His mother always did know how to make an entrance.
Winona Kirk comes to stand next to Pike, putting her hands on Jim's shoulders – his hand slips from Pike's numbly as she takes him in. "God, let me look at you. How long has it been?"
"A...while, I guess," says Jim, once he's able to talk again. "What are you doing here? I thought you were out at Chiron Beta Prime - "
"I requested leave for the holidays as soon as I heard you were going to be back planetside," says Winona.
"How?" asks Jim. "We didn't know until a few weeks ago – there wasn't enough time - "
"I had an inside source," Winona admits, turning her smile on Pike, who nods graciously.
Chekov shifts uncomfortably behind Jim, and he's brought back to himself. He clears his throat. "Ensign Chekov, you already know Admiral Pike," he says, and Chekov stands at attention for him. "I'd like to introduce you to my mother, Commander Winona Kirk, Science Officer aboard the Eddington." He glances at her. "Or so I thought."
Winona frowns. "I'd hoped for a warmer introduction."
"I would've hoped for some warning," says Jim, without thinking. "Like, any."
Winona stiffens. "If this is a problem - "
"No – it's – no problem," says Jim, backpedaling. "It's just – currently my entire senior staff with the exception of myself and Ensign Chekov here are Earthside, and we weren't exactly planning on taking visitors. The guest quarters - "
"Jim," says Winona, "I came God-knows-how-many lightyears to see you and your ship. I don't care about guest quarters or party planning - I care about you. If you need to stick us in the engine room with sleeping bags, then so be it."
"I would highly discourage it, sir," says Pike's aide quickly, and Pike hides a smile behind one hand.
"I'd certainly like a tour, though. The way Christopher's been talking about this ship," adds Winona, "I half-expect to see the Fountain of Youth installed next to the warp drive, tended to by the Virgin Mary and a sentient rainbow."
That, at least, gets a smile out of Jim. "Scotty can make some miracles, all right, but I don't think a sentient spectrum is one of them."
"At least, not one that could pass the Turing test," mutters Chekov, under his breath. "A unicorn, perhaps, if it was cybernetic and powered by warp."
Winona began her career in Stellar Cartography, so Jim makes the observation deck the first stop. It turns out to be a good choice, since Earth's moon is just floating into view, scarcely bigger than it would be on Earth. The sight is breathtaking, even for Jim – maybe especially for Jim, since his mother's been doing this literally since before he was born.
He feels something in him relax as he gazes out the window, his eyes tracing the thick band of the Milky Way.
"It never gets old," says Winona, quietly.
"The day it does is the day I retire," says Pike in return. "It's good to know that day's not here yet."
Jim thinks of all the other admirals, and their opinions of him. "I hope it never comes, sir," he says fervently.
Pike glances at him, and Jim can tell he knows his reasoning. "Your concern is touching," Pike murmurs.
Jim gives him a shit-eating grin in return.
He takes them to Stellar Cartography next, not even bothering to pretend this little tour is for Pike – Pike commanded the damn ship, after all, however briefly. Winona is appropriately impressed with the level of tech, and Jim can't help feeling like he's five years old again and bringing back the latest crafts from kindergarten - Look, look what I did, Mom! On the whole, Jim supposes it's better than his inner moody teenager, who would no doubt try to drive the Enterprise off a cliff, if there existed one large enough.
Chekov and Pike's aide trail behind them, chatting about whatever it is subordinates chat about, as Jim takes his mother and superior officer through the ship. He doesn't realize his mistake until they're already approaching sickbay, and there's no way to avoid it.
"Ah, yes, the illustrious sickbay," sighs Pike as they pass it. "Somehow it doesn't surprise me that you were smuggled onto the ship through it – you certainly spend enough time there now."
"Yes, I heard you were injured on your latest mission," says Winona, taking her cue. "I take it there's a story there?"
This, at least, Jim is expecting. The question takes him wrong-footed somehow anyway. "Most of my missions end that way," he says, avoiding the question. "I prefer to think of it as my command style. Hands-on."
"Clearly some things never change," murmurs Winona.
Pike's frowning. "How long were you in sickbay? Commander Spock's report implied it would be a while."
"Nurse Chapel cleared me already," says Jim defensively.
"And Doctor McCoy?" asks Pike. "Isn't he still your Chief of Medicine? I like his style."
"You mean, his tendency to sedate me at the drop of a hat?" asks Jim.
"I can't count the times I wished I'd adopted that as my childcare policy," says Winona. Behind her, Chekov chokes back a laugh. As it would be too obvious to turn around and glare at him outright, Jim glares at the wall until he's satisfied that the gist of it will somehow be passed along to Chekov.
"Doctor McCoy is my Chief of Medicine," he agrees begrudgingly. "He's also got a nine-year-old daughter on the planet – he was one of the first crewmembers to request leave, and of everyone, he's earned it."
"Especially recently, I'd been given to understand," says Pike. "How many hours were you in surgery, after the Jallidar mission?"
Jim grits his teeth. "Honestly, I don't know. I was anesthetized at the time."
"Surgery?" Winona raises an eyebrow.
"It was supposed to be a courier mission," says Pike. "Not even diplomatic – not really, just a semi-formal reception." He looks pointedly at Jim, and waves his hand as though bequeathing the rest of the story to him.
Jim reminds himself that cursing out a superior would probably be a bad career move, and he keeps his eyes away from Pike or his mother as he speaks. "It turns out that Jallidarians have – well, had – a small but, uh, enthusiastic isolationist faction. Militant isolationist faction, I should say. They got the drop on us right after we'd delivered the paperwork – me, Bones, and Spock. The rest of the away team got away, at least." He clears his throat to cover his hesitancy – he's still not entirely sure how far he's going to go with this story. "They had us for three days, before Sulu and everyone else managed to track us down and extract us, but the extraction was – messy. I got a little stabbed." There – everything he said, completely true. Honest? No. But true, at least, and peripheral details shouldn't matter too much.
He glances at Pike. Spock's report, no doubt, was perfectly clear and precise, without a minute unaccounted for. But Pike says nothing about Jim's omissions, just purses his lips thoughtfully, and Jim decides it's time to change the subject.
"Here's the hydroponics lab - "
They don't linger too long, there – the lab is full of technicians, some sent from the spacedock to help prepare the massive quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables for the Winter Reception, all of whom look overworked and underpaid.
The bridge ends up being the last stop, and Jim, in an unusual display of tact, manages to make their destination perfectly clear in advance, in case former-Captain Pike should want to avoid it. Pike makes no move to do so, however, and they all pack into the turbolift together.
Lieutenant Otero stands at attention when they enter, but stops short of a salute – until she sees Admiral Pike.
"Sir," she says, before the corner of her mouth twitches anxiously. "Sirs," she corrects herself.
"At ease, Ensign," say Jim, Winona, and Pike simultaneously. Winona and Pike smile at each other, while Jim resists the temptation to roll his eyes.
He considers pointing out the areas of interest on the bridge - that's where my First Officer tried to strangle me, and that's where he knocked me out before having me thrown overboard, and that's the panel that exploded when we got into that scuffle with the Klingons six months back, here, let me show you the scar...
Upon reflection, he decides that's probably a bad idea. Not only because Chekov's half-finished game of poker is still visible on the console.
"Welcome to the bridge," he says eventually. "It's...the bridge. Like most other bridges, I guess, except better."
"Is this the Science Officer's station?" asks Winona, from Spock's usual chair. "May I?"
"Why not?" Jim shrugs, and Winona sits in Spock's chair, looking over the consoles and the tech.
"Nicer than the Eddington's," she mutters.
"Newer than the Eddington's," Pike points out. "Enterprise was just brand-new when she was taken out on her maiden journey two years ago – almost exactly two years ago, isn't that right?"
"Two years come February," Jim agrees. "But some Starfleet offices list the official maiden voyage as March – the first voyage it wasn't staffed by trainees."
"No, just fresh-faced recent graduates," says Pike's assistant enviously. Jim looks at her, and she smiles sadly. "I was a year too late. I tried to petition for an assignment on the grounds of academic qualification, but there wasn't enough time before the fleet left - I had to wait and graduate with my class anyway."
Jim, who graduated from Starfleet Academy in three years, decides that in this case the best thing to say is nothing.
"Are these planetary atmospheric spectrometers?" asks Winona, still prodding around Spock's station. "They come standard now?" She shakes her head disgustedly. "I have got to requisition a retrofit."
"How do you determine if a planet is habitable, if not through spectroscopy?" asks Lieutenant Otero from her station, frowning.
Winona and Pike both look over at her with identically-raised eyebrows. "Back in my day," says Pike, "we went and looked."
"Asking politely usually works," Winona adds.
Lieutenant Otero looks surprised, but wisely chooses to keep her criticisms of such barbaric practices to herself.
Winona stands up again. "Well, this has been most educational. And jealousy-inducing." She smiles at Jim. "I don't suppose we could see your quarters?"
The five-year-old in Jim, who never quite went away, freezes in terror at the unanticipated room-inspection. The rest of him does the same.
Winona laughs. "Sorry, I just wanted to see the look on your face." She crosses back over to Jim and lays a hand on his cheek. "I'm perfectly certain your room is clean."
Thank God Spock isn't here. He'd never hear the end of it.
"That was needlessly cruel," says Pike, although he's also clearly stifling a smile. So is Chekov, now that Jim's looking. Damn, this might get back to Spock after all. Pike's aide is studiously blank-faced, though, and very pretty now that Jim notices.
"Sorry," he says to her. "I didn't catch your name - " he looks at her insignia, and adds, "Ensign...?"
"Ensign Rao, sir," she says, still poker-faced. Jim wonders if he can get her in on his and Chekov's game.
"If you try to steal one of my hand-picked personnel," says Pike casually, "I'll bust you down to Ensign before you can blink."
"I thought the Admiralty was supposed to be above such base threats," says Winona.
"'The Admiralty' is made up of men who are nothing if not flawed," says Pike.
"Well, clearly at least some of them have taste, if they made Jim a captain," says Winona. Jim stares at her.
"You know, most of the time when that gets brought up, it's a point in favor of the flaws," Pike points out idly. "Although I have to admit, the Enterprise's record this past two years is rather astounding, if only in repair bills."
Jim gets a hold of himself, and clears his throat. "Starfleet ships aren't meant to stay in mint-condition," he says. "If they're not getting dirty, they're not doing anything, and I'm pretty sure that's not what we get paid to do."
"Or not do," says Rao quietly.
"Ah, Captain," says Chekov quietly. "Would you like me to call ahead to the officer's mess for them to prepare dinner?"
Jim checks his chrono, surprised, but it is indeed that time. "Yeah, sure. Thanks, Ensign."
Chekov smiles rather smugly at Rao, and rushes off to contact the officer's mess. Jim frowns after him, but if the past two years have taught him anything – well, other than to not antagonize irritable Klingons – it's to not try to figure out what the hell his crew's doing.
"Ah, ship food," says Pike wistfully. "I have to admit, of all the things I thought I'd miss when I got promoted, ship food wasn't one of them."
"You do miss it?" asks Winona, surprised.
"Sometimes," admits Pike. "There's something very freeing about knowing that no matter what you order, it's all going to taste the same."
Jim smirks. Pike has a point.
"What's the Eddington been up to these days?" Jim asks Winona, as they begin the slow walk to the officer's mess.
Winona shrugs. "We're mostly a survey ship, as I'm sure you know. We spent a few months parked by a variable star that was being, shall we say, excessively variable - "
"Variable stars are predictable, though," Rao puts in. "I mean, they're supposed to be, anyway – aren't they a standard candle?"
"Not this one," says Winona. "That's why we were studying it. We got it figured out eventually, of course – it was just a unique property of its hydrogen shells. One of my lieutenants got a very nice paper out of it."
"Good," says Rao, sounding jealous.
"Definitely," agrees Winona. "Can you imagine the uproar if Cepheids were disproved as a standard candle?"
"I shudder to think," says Rao. "We wouldn't be able to trust any distance estimates outside the galaxy."
Jim leans closer to Pike. "And you've got her playing desk-jockey?" he asks quietly.
"We can't pick our first assignments, Captain," says Pike mildly, before glancing back at him. "Well, most of us can't, anyway."
Jim staunchly refuses to be ashamed of his initiative.
Chekov is waiting in the officer's mess, which is surprisingly empty – the crew may be skeleton, but there's no way they aren't hungry. Jim frowns at him, and Chekov just smiles disarmingly at him, then gives Rao a look that clearly says: Bring it.
Jim glances over at Rao, who's glaring poisonously back at Chekov. There's a brief scramble at the table – there isn't a space for Pike's hoverchair, and Rao and Chekov both try to get Pike to sit at the spot they cleared. The tussle attracts Winona's attention as well as Pike's, and Jim narrows his eyes at both subordinates.
"Chekov," he says, and pulls the Ensign aside. "What the hell's going on?"
Chekov glances over at Rao, but just for a second. "What do you mean, sir?"
"Don't try that I-have-no-idea-what-you're-talking-about bullshit on me," says Jim. "I practically invented it."
"Ensign Rao took Commander Kirk's suggestion of sleeping arrangements more seriously than anticipated, sir," says Chekov, staring carefully ahead. "She suggested that the Enterprise would not be a suitable place for the Admiral to stay."
Jim raises his eyebrows. "She insulted the Enterprise."
Chekov hesitates. "Not...quite so bad as that, sir. But she implied it!"
"Right," says Jim. "In that case..." He grins. "Carry on, Ensign."
Chekov smiles, fiercely competitive, just for a second. "Aye, sir."
Jim goes back to the table, where Winona and Pike are already seated, and sits. Chekov hovers just behind him, standing at attention.
"May I get your meals, sirs? Ma'am?" he says formally.
Pike raises his eyebrows, and glances at Jim, who just shrugs. "Ah..." he says. "Surprise me."
"Me too," says Winona, frowning slightly. Chekov nods, and heads over to the replicator, Rao close on his tail.
"Do I want to know?" asks Pike, eyebrows still raised.
"I believe," says Jim, "that my Ensign and your Ensign are trying to out-useful each other. And my Ensign is very competitive."
Pike grins. "Ah. Well, then."
A vaguely uncomfortable silence falls. Sitting down, Jim is beginning to realize, was a mistake; his last painkillers were hours ago, and the dull ache in his abdomen is reasserting himself. He's losing his forward momentum, and a Jim Kirk at rest tends to stay at rest...
He breaks the silence after about a minute.
"So," he says. "I hadn't realized you two knew each other."
"We served on the Kelvin together," says Winona, idly inspecting the surface of the table.
"Your father and I worked together quite a bit," Pike adds. "And the Kelvin was not an excessively large ship – eight hundred people that you saw every day - "
"Especially given...what happened. We all sort of banded together, after that," says Winona. "United in the face of tragedy, and whatnot. Though I have to admit, Christopher wasn't one of my former shipmates who babysat you."
Jim glances at Pike, in a mixture of alarm and relief. "That's...good."
"Mm," says Winona, as Chekov returns with three trays of food. He sets one down in front of each of his superior officers, and stands at attention again.
"Chekov - " says Jim. "Aren't you going to eat with us?"
Chekov shakes his head. "The guest quarters are not prepared, sir," he says. "I thought I would take care of that."
Jim stares at him. "You do realize that food's not optional, Ensign."
"I know that, sir."
"Where's Ensign Rao?"
Chekov twitches, just a little. "In the guest quarters, sir."
Jim ducks his head a bit to hide his smile. "Right. Dismissed, Ensign."
Chekov stands at attention, briefly, before leaving.
"He's very..." says Winona, looking after Chekov.
"Young?" suggests Pike. "How old is he now, Captain? Twenty?"
"Nineteen, for another couple months," says Jim. All three dinners are identical – spaghetti with meat sauce, garlic bread, and a side salad with – Jim has no idea how Chekov managed this - lettuce that's actually crispy. Jim momentarily toys with the idea of reassigning Chekov to work on the replicators full-time. "He's also one of the damn smartest kids I've ever met. He's got transporting moving targets out of gravity wells down to an art, by now."
"I remember hearing he was the one who caught you and Sulu when you took that tumble off the Romulan drill," says Pike.
Jim nods. "We're lucky to have him," he says honestly.
"Didn't you give him a citation a few months ago? For brawling?" asks Pike.
"Well, yeah," Jim admits. "Klingons. It was on K7, right on the border – we had a little trouble with...well, it doesn't matter now. Chekov's a good kid, and loyal – one of the Klingons started badmouthing, the usual, and he took it a little too seriously."
"I think he rather imprinted on you, like a baby duck," says Pike. "You were his first commanding officer, after all."
"Technically, sir, I believe that would be you," Jim points out. "I was just...a close second."
"He was part of the original trainee crew?" asks Winona.
Jim nods. "Most of the crew is," he explains. "It worked just fine on the first mission, after all."
"Almost the entirety of the senior staff, too," Pike adds. "Something which the Admiralty has worried over endlessly, I might add."
"Good," says Jim. "That means we're doing our jobs."
"Who's your Science Officer?" asks Winona, curious.
"Commander Spock," says Jim. "He's also my First Officer. Lieutenant Uhura is Communications Officer, Ensign Chekov is the Navigator, Lieutenant Sulu the Helmsman – they're the senior bridge staff. Then Bones is in Sickbay, and Scotty in Engineering."
"Scotty as in Montgomery Scott?" asks Winona, eyes wide and amused.
"Well – yeah – how do you...?"
"Montgomery Scott as in Admiral Archer's beagle Montgomery Scott?" Winona repeats, now on the verge of laughter.
Jim breaks into a grin. "I didn't realize he had such a reputation."
"I didn't realize he'd finally gotten off Delta Vega," says Winona, shaking her head.
"That was just one of the many rabbits your son pulled out of his hat two years ago," says Pike. "Despite the fact that most of us at Starfleet weren't even aware there was going to be a magic show."
"About that," says Winona, focusing her attention on Jim again. "I'm sorry I couldn't come to your graduation, or your promotion ceremony. With the delays and lags, we didn't even hear about it until it was all over, and by then you'd shipped out again."
Jim shrugs, trying to keep the sudden, gnawing bitterness at bay. "It doesn't matter," he says. "I'm used to you not being there."
Winona sits back in her chair, stung. Even Pike looks surprised, and Jim belatedly bites his tongue. God, his stomach hurts again.
Winona is the first to recover, although she clearly is still feeling maternal. "How are you doing, here?" she asks. "Do you like the Enterprise?"
Jim pointedly does not think, If you actually ever wrote me letters or tried in any way to communicate, you wouldn't have to ask. Instead, he says, "Yeah. She's – she's a good ship. I couldn't ask for better."
Winona's eyes soften, and Pike relaxes again.
Jim even smirks a little bit – an odd sort of smirk, half-genuine. "It's weird," he admits. "Technically, I outrank you."
Winona returns it with a crooked smile of her own. "Oh, you've always thought you outranked us – all adults, really. It's just that now your internal worldview reflects reality – or rather, reality reflects your internal worldview. Greg could never get his head around that."
"Ah," says Jim, his smile twisting. "And how is – Greg?"
"I wouldn't know," says Winona coolly. "I haven't spoken to him since the divorce."
"Good," says Jim. "He was an ass."
"Is," says Winona. "He's not dead." She sighs. "Of course, he wasn't an ass, either, when I married him."
"I disagree," says Jim. "He just hid it better, when you were around."
"Maybe I should let you two - " begins Pike, just as Chekov enters again, Rao right behind him.
"Sir, sir, ma'am," he says breathlessly, "the guest rooms are prepared."
"Well," says Jim, standing up, "you two must be tired after such a long day - "
"I was hoping we could talk for a little bit," Winona tells him pointedly.
"I don't want to keep you from your beauty sleep - "
"Jim," says his mother.
Jim hesitates, then turns to Pike. "Admiral," he says. "I suppose I'll see you in the morning." He turns to Chekov. "Ensign, can you take Admiral - "
"Yes, sir," Chekov says instantly.
"I can do that, sir," says Rao.
"I know how to get there faster," says Chekov.
"I was paying attention when we came back," says Rao. "I know how to get there just fine."
"I took you the long way," says Chekov. "Ha!"
"Are you sure he's nineteen?" Winona murmurs to Pike, barely audible to Jim.
"Cheater," Rao shoots back venomously.
"And theoretically, Ensign Rao is twenty-three," Pike mutters back. "Competition seems to bring out their inner children."
"You can both take him back," says Jim tiredly. "Just as long as he makes it there."
Rao and Chekov continue arguing, and as the door to the officer's mess closes, their petty jibes echo down the hallway.
Leaving Jim alone with his mother.
Winona's still seated, so Jim sits across from her, warily.
"So," he says. "What do you want to talk about?"
Winona just looks at him for a long minute, before shaking her head as if to clear it. "Whatever you'd like. Tell me about your senior officers – your friends?"
Jim hesitates at this – it sounds so very playground-politics, when she puts it like that, then shrugs. "Yeah, I guess. Bones and I knew each other at the Academy. Spock and I met...also at the Academy, but under different circumstances." He hesitates. "Did you ever take the Kobayashi Maru?"
Winona frowns. "No, but your father did. Why?"
"I took it three times," says Jim. "And the third time, I won."
Her face clears. "Ah. Yes. I heard about that."
"I bet you did," says Jim. "Spock programmed it that year. Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura were all assigned to the Enterprise as trainees for the first mission, and then Scotty I met on Delta Vega – it's...kind of a long story."
"When Spock threw you off the ship for mutiny?"
Jim stares at her. "How did you - "
"I've been keeping tabs on you, obviously," says Winona. "You're my son, Jim. Of course I've been watching, reading the mission reports."
"You could've sent a letter," says Jim. "Or a vid, or – anything."
"You could have, too," says Winona, fiddling with her napkin. "I'm not – I'm not saying I haven't made mistakes."
"Bit of an understatement," mutter Jim, not meeting her eyes.
"I'm saying that I want to make up for it," continues Winona forcefully. "I'd hoped you could understand, now. Space is..." She waves a hand, as though trying to encompass the entire universe. "It's impossible to give up. You're Starfleet now – can't you understand?"
"Then why the hell did you have kids if you were just going to dump them on the nearest planet?" demands Jim. "What the hell was the point?"
"That was never the plan," says Winona sharply. "Your father and I – we were going to stay in Starfleet as long as we could, until you and Sam were too old to be allowed on the ships, and then get civilian work somewhere more stable – a space station, or civilian survey ship. But then George died, and it all just seemed impossible – do you know how many civilian jobs offer extended family healthcare, like Starfleet? Or provide childcare?" She shakes her head. "I did the best I could. It wasn't much, but – but look at you, Jim!" Her eyes are teary, now, but glittering with pride as well. "I never dreamed - I always knew you could do anything you wanted if you just applied yourself - "
"Spare me the 'you have such potential' talk," says Jim, through gritted teeth. "I've heard it so many damn times, I can recite it from memory."
"That's surprising, since you never seemed to listen," snaps Winona, before taking a deep breath. "Sorry, that was uncalled for."
Jim doesn't disagree, even though he knows he should. "So, what. Now that I'm a Starfleet captain you want to be a part of my life again, is that it?"
"I've always wanted to be a part of your life. You're just too good at pushing people away."
"I don't push people away!" protests Jim.
Winona raises an eyebrow at him. "When you were eleven, you had a sleepover every weekend and friends from school over every day. By the time you were twelve, your social life was nonexistent."
"That's because everybody thought I was the weird kid who drove his dad's car off a cliff."
"That might have something to do with how you drove your father's car off a cliff," says Winona. "Or did that never occur to you?"
"I didn't realize this was going to be an interrogation," says Jim tightly.
"I'm not trying to interrogate you, I'm trying to talk to you," says Winona, exasperated. "You're not exactly the easiest person to – Hell, to be in the same room as! But I'm trying, here, because you're my son and I love you."
Jim doesn't say anything, just deliberately doesn't meet her eyes. There's another lengthy silence.
"If we're clearing the air," says Winona eventually, "then I should admit something. I had been planning to surprise you at the Winter Reception, not here, but then Christopher got the mission reports from Jallidar IV - "
Jim stiffens immediately, and the motion, though slight, makes his wound twinge painfully. "What the hell does this have to do with that?"
"From what he told me, 'messy extraction' is an understatement. I just want to – to talk to you, to make sure you're okay." She looks at him for a moment. "And you're not doing a very good job of pretending you're dealing with it."
"I'm fine," Jim bites out, standing up. "It's late."
Winona doesn't stand immediately, but keeps looking at Jim, her brow furrowed. She looks – well, 'concerned' doesn't cover half of it. Eventually she rises to her feet, and comes around the table – Jim doesn't see the hug coming, but she's got her arms around him before he can move away, and his habits from childhood override his habits from any Starfleet Advanced Combat training. He just stands there and lets himself be hugged.
"I'm very glad - " begins Winona, before hesitating. "I'm very glad you came back from Jallidar," she finishes, and steps away from him. "I'll find my own way back to the guest quarters," she tells him. "You should sleep. You look - " She stumbles over her word choice again. "You look beat."
She leaves before he can come up with an answer to that.