Despite Jim's certainty that there would be time for chess in the near future, there turned out to be very little. With the Enterprise's departure close at hand, Jim had his hands full with sending notifications, making appointments... and thanks to Scotty's obsession with the ship - at some point he'd really have to remind the guy that the Enterprise was his ship, not Scotty's - running performance tests just to make sure the other Starfleet mechanics, who didn't know "the ol' girl" so well, hadn't botched anything. As far as Jim could tell, everything seemed to be more or less normal, but Scotty still found things to mutter about. Jim didn't understand most of what he was muttering, but if Scotty wanted to stay holed up in the engine room for his last week of leave, that was his prerogative.
Not that Jim was relaxing on his last week of leave either. There were new crew coming aboard, and he made a point of meeting each of them, at least trying to remember as many names as possible as he appointed guides and orientation schedules. A couple people had wound up with the wrong transcriptions in their personnel files, and Jim had to contact the Academy to confirm the corrections. There was paperwork to sign off on, complaints about interactions among the crew or dissatisfaction with assigned quarters that he had to address... Aside from the fact that the Enterprise was still docked and the corridors were still empty most of the time, it was like being back out in deep space already - he was completely swamped.
Jim was loving every second of it.
The evening before launch, things were more relaxed; the significant outstanding issues had been resolved, everyone knew where they were supposed to be, and they were mostly content with it. Even Scotty had taken off, saying he had a date with a bottle of good Scotch whiskey. He was willing to share, but as much as Jim might have liked to take him up on it, he had to decline; there had already been special guests and dignitaries arriving for the occasion, which meant his presence was required. After takeoff, however, he was fully intending to celebrate by getting totally smashed with Bones in sickbay - as long as they sobered up by the time they were out of secure Federation space, it'd be okay. Especially since Spock was around. He sure wasn't going to join them.
In the meantime, Jim was occupied with showing people around the ship, with Spock's assistance. That had included a few admirals, Pike among them, a couple Federation governors, and some of his crew's relatives - as well as his own mother. He couldn't decide whether it was funny or amazing to see her reaction to being back on board a starship after so long. Everything seemed so exciting, everything had changed so much. Maybe there was something to be said for Spock's suggestion that she might like to return to Starfleet... but Jim wasn't going to say a thing until they were ready to go. Even if everything was mostly okay between the two of them these days, the last thing he needed was his mom on board during a mission.
They'd just finished showing her the bridge when his communicator chirped at him. "Captain?" It was one of the ensigns who'd volunteered for the pre-launch shifts - new guy in engineering, seemed to know what he was doing according to Scotty. "A Vulcan ship has arrived, with two ambassadors who would like to come aboard."
He'd seen the ship's arrival from the bridge, and figured that's who it was. "Great - get ready to bring 'em over," Jim told him. "I'll be there in just a second. Kirk out." He grinned at his mom, and then at Spock. "So I guess it's about time our parents are introduced, huh?"
Spock was abruptly paying a great deal of attention to one of the access panels. "...I have not yet informed my father as to the nature of our relationship."
"Ahhhh." Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Okay, then - once Mom charms him with her amazing knowledge of Vulcan etiquette, we can be sure he'll take the news well. Right, Mom?"
"I'll do my best," his mother agreed, playing along.
"Although you are indeed familiar with Vulcan customs," Spock told her, "I do not believe that my father requires... 'charming'."
"He's teasing you," she informed him. "I won't say a word unless you say it's all right."
Spock nodded, though he still looked wary. No wonder, perhaps, when it was the two of them. "...Very well."
The new ensign already had the transporter set when they arrived. "Ready to beam two aboard, captain. On your word."
"Energize," Jim told him.
The transporters began to hum, and two glowing figures appeared on the platform, gradually resolving into someone familiar and someone slightly less familiar, at least to Jim. "Welcome aboard, gentlemen," he greeted them, approaching as they stepped off the platform. "It's an honor to have you visiting with us."
"Likewise, it is an honor to be aboard the Enterprise once more," said Sarek, "under far less dire circumstances than the last."
"That's for certain. Allow me to make introductions," Jim suggested, stepping between the two arriving Vulcans and his own company. "Of course you know Commander Spock. This is my mother, Winona Kirk, formerly of Starfleet. Mom, this is Ambassador Sarek - Spock's father, and one of the elders we brought from Vulcan after the planet's destruction. And this is Ambassador Selek, who we also met during the incident." By now, Jim had concocted a little story to explain how they'd met, because he couldn't exactly tell the real story about how he got to be close with a random elderly Vulcan to most people. "He provided me with valuable intelligence regarding the Narada, and was instrumental to our victory."
"It's a pleasure to meet both of you," said his mom, raising her hand in the Vulcan salute. "So you had a hand in the Narada's downfall as well? I have to thank you, then - my husband and I served aboard the Kelvin."
"You honor us, madam," said the elder Spock, with a respectful nod.
"We have heard the tale of the Kelvin," Sarek replied. "Your husband's actions saved many lives. Your son's saved many more."
"With your son's help," she pointed out with a smile. "I think it's safe to say the two of them are going to accomplish more great things, now that they're working together again."
As for 'Ambassador Selek', he appeared to be paying attention to the conversation, but Jim could see his eyes wandering now and then, taking in the transporter platform, the console, the door that led out to the corridor... Jim knew where his mind was, and it wasn't on pleasantries.
"Spock," Jim suggested. "Why don't you show our parents around, give them the grand tour? Maybe start with the bridge - we only just finished up in there. Ambassador Selek and I have something we need to discuss, just the two of us."
Spock's eyebrow twitched, betraying his unease. "Do you?"
Of course Spock still wasn't too comfortable with his older counterpart. Actually, Jim supposed he had a whole other set of reasons to be suspicious nowadays, given certain similarities... but Jim didn't actually expect the older Spock to suggest a roll in the sack for nostalgia's sake or anything. "Nothing too important," Jim said, nonchalant. "Just want to go over a few of the changes we've made around here. I don't think he'll disapprove."
"I very much doubt it," said the older Spock, nodding to his younger self.
The younger Spock gave him a terse nod as well. "Very well, captain - it would be my privilege to escort our guests."
"We'll meet up in a little while," Jim assured him, and refrained from touching his elbow or anything in front of his dad. While it might not mean anything to humans, Sarek would probably notice something odd.
The older Spock, however, lingered after the others had gone, looking over the equipment curiously. Jim grinned - he was still such a giant geek. "Take a break, Ensign," Jim told the guy. "Get a bite to eat, whatever you feel like. Just make sure you take the communicator with you so we can get in touch. And make sure the console's locked down, too," Jim added. There had been a couple of mishaps during his first mission that had been manageable in the end, but which he really didn't want to see repeated.
"Yes, sir," the ensign said, already beginning the process.
Spock watched with interest, first the young man's hands on the controls, then glancing up to his face. "Your skillful work is appreciated, Ensign Lemli," he remarked.
"Thank you, sir," replied the ensign, though it was clear from his slightly puzzled expression that he had no idea how a Vulcan ambassador would have known his name. Jim made a mental note - this probably meant that this particular ensign was worth keeping around.
Once Spock had finished examining the transporter room, he seemed to find the corridors outside just as interesting. "Bring back memories?" Jim asked, watching him take it all in as they walked.
"This Enterprise is quite different from the Enterprise upon which I first served," Spock murmured. "It was remodeled and rebuilt multiple times throughout my time in Starfleet, however, and regardless of the appearance and functionality, it has always retained a certain..." He hesitated as they came to the turbolift, shaking his head in wonder. "It feels like the Enterprise I knew."
Jim could have watched Spock explore the Enterprise all day - if he'd known Spock would react like this, he'd have offered five years ago. He'd always thought of this incarnation as old, but his fascination with the ship made him seem twenty years younger, or whatever the Vulcan equivalent would have been. Engineering was apparently completely different, a strange blend of the old starship technology that Spock had been familiar with in this era, and technology that had only recently been developed in his own timeline. In the sickbay, Spock seemed especially taken with a skull - Jim didn't know what the creature had been, it was just this thing Bones had picked up - and his lips twitched upon finding one particular cabinet completely devoid of medical equipment, which seemed to suggest that Bones had used it for the same thing on his Enterprise as he did on Jim's Enterprise. Bones was planning to smuggle its usual contents on board later that night, once he knew any inspectors were long gone.
The bridge seemed to hold a special appeal to Spock, unsurprisingly, and Jim had no problem at all with it when Spock asked if he might be permitted to turn on the console at the science station, as they were currently alone. He assumed Spock knew what he was doing for the most part, they were docked above a Federation world, and there wasn't too much damage even a little kid could have done from the science station. Jim just stood back by his chair in the center, giving Spock some distance as he experimented with the controls and brought up the displays, with the occasional murmur of "Fascinating" under his breath.
Finally, Spock turned back to Jim. "I cannot thank you enough," he began, his voice almost trembling in his sincerity, "for this opportunity."
"Hey," Jim told him, coming closer to rest a hand on his shoulder. Vulcan or not, he didn't think Spock would mind. "It's an honor having you aboard."
Spock nodded his acknowledgment, not flinching in the slightest from the contact, and just looked at Jim. Jim could only imagine what he was thinking. Spock was older than he'd ever live to be, he must have seen every stupid, crazy thing he had done in that other life, and he still looked at him like that.
"Although I still maintain that you are possessed of your own free will," Spock said finally, "I confess that I cannot imagine you standing anywhere else at this point in your life, besides the bridge of this ship."
"At this point, neither can I." Jim shrugged slightly and dropped his hand. The mood was getting just a little serious for his liking - he wanted to see Spock happy, and that meant any Spock. "So... anywhere else you want to see?" he offered.
"There is no particular place I wish to see that I have not," Spock replied. "But if you would indulge me, I would like to simply spend some more time aboard."
"Sure, not a problem. Want to just walk around for awhile?"
"That would be quite acceptable."
So they wandered the decks, Spock occasionally remarking upon the differences, and Jim explaining them when he could. "Yeah, I guess the layout's different," he noted, after Spock had observed that the crew's quarters were in a different area than they used to be. "I don't really know why it would be... different engineers with different tastes, maybe. So over here we've got ops' housing, next section up is tactical, and science is over on the other side. Except commanding officers - we're on the next deck."
"And do we still have adjacent rooms?" Spock inquired.
Jim scratched his head. "...Funny story about that. First officer's quarters are still next to the captain's, yeah... but HQ didn't want the other you as my first officer. He's been out of the service for five years, after all. Of course no one's more qualified for science officer, no one would argue that, but they'd rather have someone as second-in-command who's been in active service consistently."
"So I am not your first officer in this universe," Spock concluded.
"Nope. Which kind of threw a wrench in things." Jim turned down the next corridor, where there was a turbolift. "Scotty's the highest in rank, but he doesn't want command - he just wants to work on his engines and transporters and whatever the hell else he's got going on in his free time."
"That sounds like Mr. Scott," Spock agreed.
"He was always like that during the first mission too. So usually if there was something going down, and both Number One and I had to leave the bridge, I'd give the conn to Sulu." Jim pressed the button for the next deck up. "He's got a cool head under pressure, at least a passing familiarity with pretty much every department's protocol, can take over most bridge positions if necessary. So Sulu's my chief helmsman and first officer now, like Number One was."
Spock nodded thoughtfully as the turbolift rose. "Mr. Sulu should function well in the position."
"But he was my chief science officer," Jim explained as the door slid open. "So his quarters were in that area, and... well, he's got some stuff in there that's a pain to move around. I dunno if your Sulu had this thing for creepy alien plants..."
"Alien plants, yes," Spock confirmed, following Jim down the corridor. "I cannot accurately judge whether or not they were 'creepy', however some were rather large, as I recall."
"He didn't take them all back to Earth when we docked - just set the environmental controls and gave strict orders for no one to mess with anything in there," said Jim. "So when I called him up to ask if he wanted the first officer position, one of the first things he asked was, 'Can I keep my old room?' He's got it all set up like he wants it already."
"Which leaves the quarters next to yours available."
Jim grinned, and gestured down the hall. "I just had to move my things back to the ship, but we've been picking him up some things here and there, getting him set up. He's got creds again, now that he's on Starfleet's payroll."
"It must be a great relief for both of you."
"Honestly, he wasn't any sort of a burden. But he's glad to be independent again, and despite starting more or less from scratch, his room's looking pretty good. Like someone's actual living space instead-"
Jim stopped short all of a sudden, as the door they were passing slid open. "So this must be your..." Spock began, then trailed off as he read the digital nameplate on the wall beside the door. "...Ah."
"Yeah. Mine's that one there," Jim said, gesturing to the door just a little further on. "Biometrics are already calibrated. I guess I should have expected you'd be able to open that one."
"Very interesting," Spock mused, peering at the open door. "And I must admit to some curiosity."
Jim thought about it for a second. "You know what? As long as you don't mess with anything, or tell the other you what you'd do differently, I don't think he'd care if you just had a look."
"I will most certainly not 'mess with' anything," Spock said, so seriously that Jim had to stifle a snicker as Spock stepped cautiously through the door. "Nor will I make suggestions. In this timeline, I am aboard the Enterprise as no more than an observer."
Jim was an observer for the moment too, following Spock inside to just take in his reaction. He'd already been in Spock's quarters, helping him bring things in, hang up the red draperies that Spock was now examining. Spock moved on to the incense burner, then turned to leave the bedroom portion of the quarters again. His eyes passed over the desk, to the objects on the shelf behind, and he raised an eyebrow. "...Fascinating," he murmured.
"Really close?" Jim asked. "Don't worry - I won't tell."
"In some ways, as near to identical as is possible, accounting for the differing size and shape of the room," Spock replied, his expression bemused as he surveyed the area. "And then, too, there are differences both minor and more significant. Some which seem, to me, rather bizarre."
Spock looked to Jim, shaking his head. "This is his room, Jim - not my own. I am certain that he has his reasons."
"Yeah, you're both pretty big on having reasons." Jim was a little surprised when Spock started for the door without prompting. "Seen enough?"
"I am satisfied," Spock agreed quietly. "Quite satisfied."
The whims of cultural and design trends had prompted a change from the more definitive buttons and switches to touchscreens. Technology derived from Nero's incursion had led to more complex programs and mechanisms throughout the ship. The differing political environment had caused the ship's design to become larger, heavier. Other factors had changed the locations of the crew's quarters, the font used to inscribe the ship's designation upon the hull, the layout of the transporter room. Though in some cases the changes were quite small and inconsequential, they were, by and large, logical.
It was logical, too, that Jim would enjoy time spent sparring in the physical training center, that Mr. Scott preferred the engine room over the captain's chair, that Dr. McCoy had been keeping his most potent alcoholic beverages locked in a cabinet that was meant for prescription medication. There was no reason for these things to change. Likewise, it was logical that this Spock would, as the other had, furnish his room with Vulcan drapery and burn incense designed to aid in meditation; it was not quite the same incense, but it was as close as one could achieve when the unique ecology of their homeworld had been destroyed. It would have been quite surprising indeed if he had not retained the very same lyre - and there it was, on a shelf behind his desk, just as it had been in another lifetime. Though the newer version lacked the majority of the artifacts that had been acquired over years of interstellar travel, the two rooms were nearly identical in content.
However, this simply made the few changes stand out more, most obviously in the two items on the shelf beside the lyre. Both of them had kept a chess set - but rather than fine metal and glass, this board was small, made of plastic, and the posts that held the levels aloft were not quite straight; it appeared that they were jointed to fold in upon themselves.
Most peculiar of all - next to the chess set, rather than a complex molecular model given as a gift by an associate at the Academy, there sat a large cloth toy in the shape of a penguin.
Author's notes: Thank you again, so much, for reviewing or even just reading. If even one person's day is brightened by something I write, I count it as worth it, and it seems this was definitely worth the six months I spent writing and editing. =) (And yes, I also appreciate the occasional "nitpick" comments I've gotten - I'm incredibly picky myself, and it's been interesting learning some things I wasn't aware of.)
As I've mentioned in a couple places, I'm not sure how possible it is to do a sequel to this story that is obviously set in this universe - after all, at the end of the story, everyone is where they should be, and there aren't too many obvious differences between this universe, the reboot universe six years on, or (aside from characterization) even TOSverse. Writing this did make me want to write some more about Winona (I hadn't thought of her in depth before I had to think about Jim's childhood), and the ideas I've had so far of potential sequelling would make it Kirk/Spock/McCoy (I can't ship any two of them for long without feeling bad for excluding the third), but as for strict Kirk/Spock... well, if I get any ideas, I probably will just go ahead.
So again, thank you all... and till next time, LLAP. ;)