I know. I'm mean, leaving you guys hanging. I put a lot of thought into where I was going with this story since the last chapter. So here it is: Jim's first official time back in the captain's seat since his world more or less blew up in his face.
"This is a mock run, Kirk. You're going to take the Enterprise out to New Vulcan, nice and slow, test out that redesigned warp core, and bring her back. I don't want any word of you or your crew taking her past that point. I don't want to hear about pirates, distress signals, malfunctions. I don't want to hear about so much as a paper cut that happens on that ship. Do you understand?"
Admiral Barnett's words rang in Jim's ears. He wondered if any of the admirals had ever had anything close to fun, or if they'd forgotten the thrill of doing more than sitting behind desks and handling Starfleet bureaucracy bullshit. God spare him from ever doing that.
Of course, he didn't have any choice but to acquiesce to Barnett's rules. Not if he wanted to get the hell off the planet for a while. A smile curved his lips. A good long while.
"Would you care to enlighten me on the joke, Captain?" Spock asked.
"No joke. Just glad to be back on the ship."
"Although this is a mere test, I too am raring for the chance to stretch her legs in space."
"Spock? You're raring?" Jim stopped in his tracks. "Are you sick?"
Then he smiled. The pointy-eared bastard didn't quite manage a grin, but he was close. "It has been far too long since we gathered on the ship as a full crew. This is an occasion for emotions that reflect happiness, excitement, and joy, wouldn't you say?"
Jim shook his head. "You know, you're a little frightening when you smile."
They stepped into the turbolift, riding it down to engineering. It stopped once and a trio of new recruits in red shirts joined them. After snapping to attention and saluting, they looked at one another nervously until Jim smiled.
"Welcome aboard. I hope you're all making yourselves comfortable inside our girl here." Jim patted the turbolift wall and winked at the recruit in the middle. She was a pretty brunette, clearly on her way down to rendezvous with Scotty.
"I think I'm going to like it here, Captain." She looked away, watching the lights on the panel flash as they sank deeper into the ship.
Spock sighed, the noise loud in the nervous silence. The door opened and Jim let the new crew out first. He heard Scotty yelling over the hum of machinery. He stopped mid-sentence when he saw them.
He stalked over, PADD in and waving wildly. "Bloody hell, who hired these-these children? Who put them in uniforms and told them tae come aboard our ship?"
"I believe you had a hand in that, Mr. Scott," Spock said, his face deadpan, all traces of his earlier humor vanished.
"Aye, well, I thought I got the cream of the crop, but it's more like babysitting than supervising adults who have schooling to back up their impressive resumes." He glared over his shoulder. "Oi! Keenser! Get down from there, now!"
He sighed. "Remind me why I came back tae this madhouse?"
Frustration was to be expected when the ship hadn't left the space dock in months. Jim slapped Scotty's shoulder. "Because you love it. Same as the rest of us. New recruits and miscreant climbers aside, we're ready to roll, aren't we?"
"Aye. Ready as she'll ever be, Jim." Scotty wiped his brow. Behind him, something slammed and someone swore. Scotty groaned. "I reckon that means we're headed tae med bay. An hour before launch. For the love of... What are the pair of ye doin' down here anyway?"
The young red shirt slinked across the catwalk, clutching his hand, which already looked swollen.
"Good God, man. Have ye no sense? Slammin' yer hand in a panel on a day like today?" Scotty waved his PADD again. "I donnae have time for this."
"We'll take him," Jim said. "We're taking one more tour of the ship before we're released. Engineering looks good. Med bay's our next stop."
"Thank you, Captain," the petty officer muttered. "It's just a bruise, Mr. Scott. I'll be back before you know it."
"Get out of here. Go with the captain and commander. Don't come back till ye're sure ye can keep track of yer fingers down here." Scotty jabbed his PADD in the direction of the turbo lift. "A moment more of yer time, Captain."
"Sure. Take Petty Officer Todd to med bay, Mr. Spock. I'll be right behind you." He waited until they boarded the turbolift. "You're sure everything's fine? Maybe you need a minute away from the Enterprise's guts to breathe."
"That's nae the problem. Or, I should say, it's nae a problem at all."
Relief eased some of Jim's tension. "Okay."
"I just wanted tae say thank ye for letting me back on the ship. We parted with some harsh words last time you left Earth and I wouldnae repeat that for anything. Ye're my friend, Jim."
Touched, Jim had to look away. He cleared his throat. "Thanks, Scotty. That means a lot. Your friendship is important to me. Your support over the winter was a big help."
"Handshake?" Scotty asked. "Lest any of these daft bastards think we're unmanly."
Jim laughed and extended his hand. "Can't them saying their officers are going soft."
He left engineering with his heart lighter than it had been the moment he set foot on the Enterprise this morning. Damn, his crew was something.
Med bay was quiet, orderly, and smelled faintly of cleaning chemicals. One of the nurses tended Petty Officer Todd's smashed finger while Spock watched with mild interest. Bones was nowhere in sight.
"Bonesy! You locked in the restroom again?" He grinned at the nurses who looked his way. "I saved my favorite person for last on my walk-through."
"Dammit, Jim, this is a medical bay, not a preschool nursery. It's supposed to be quiet." Bones threw open the lab door. "Just because you're the captain does not mean you can run around yelling for me if it's not an emergency."
Jim fought a grin, striving for a professional tone. "Sorry, Dr. McCoy. Commander Spock and I are doing a final walk-through of the ship. I assume everything here is under control and up to Starfleet standards. Just in case we run afoul of a dangerous situation."
"Go kiss a Gorn, Captain." Bones glared. "You are a dangerous situation."
"Can't argue that."
Bones tipped his head, listening to Petty Officer Todd talk tell the nurse about his injury.
"Then the captain came into engineering and when I saw him, I forgot I was holding the panel open. It just slipped and smashed my finger."
"Ugh. You're all anyone on this ship talks about. We'll be treating strained necks for days because those impressionable new crew members who don't know what a pain in the ass you are have hero worship." Bones rubbed his forehead. "Perfect."
"What can I say? I'm admirable." He turned his palms up and smiled, but behind the smile he felt like crap. Didn't those people know he could get them killed just as easily as their predecessors? They were replacements, for crying out loud.
Just like him.
"Are you gonna get out of my med bay and go do something captain-y, or are you gonna stand there all day? Someone might have an actual emergency instead of being an annoying pest."
"Right. Lookin' good in here, Bones. Keep it up." He tugged at the collar of his gold shirt. "You want to join us on the bridge for the launch?"
"Yeah?" He forced a smile.
Bones leaned closer, lowering his voice. "You okay, kid?"
"They'll figure it out." He nodded at Todd. "It might take a while, but they'll get it."
"Get what?" Bones narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
"That I'm just as human and fallible as the rest of them. Give them a couple of weeks on the ship. Can you tolerate new recruit injuries that long?"
Bones balled his fists. "Jesus, man. I was joking. Don't start that pity party shit again. I don't think any of us can take another round."
Jim rolled his eyes. "I'm not. I was thinking about the last dressing down I got from Pike. He was right. I thought it didn't matter how stupid I acted. If my actions put people in danger, because I could get them out again. No harm, no foul. I just don't want anyone on this ship putting me on a pedestal. They all looked so professional during the interviews. Now they turned into starry-eyed puppies?"
Bones shook his head. "Don't worry. I'm here with the sledgehammer to turn your pedestal into little plaster chunks anytime you want. Me or any of the bridge crew. You got that?"
"Thanks, Bones. I'll keep that in mind. Gotta run. We have bridge officer stuff to do." The weight lifted off his chest. "Spock, let's go. Take care of that finger, Petty Officer."
Todd nodded at him and grin. Jim smiled in return.
"Hey, Jim. I'll be up for launch."
Bones didn't look happy, but it was gesture of friendship Jim appreciated as much as Scotty's words.
"See you then."
"Shall we return to the bridge, Captain?" Spock asked.
"Actually, I was thinking we could kick back for fifteen, have a cup of coffee-tea, in your case-just savor the mess hall for a while."
Spock gave him a puzzled look. "You're sure?"
"Yeah, we have plenty of time before the launch. Actually, I have a better idea. Let's go push all the buttons in the turbolift, make the newbies stop on every floor. Or lock a few of them in it and let them ride up and down for a while. Take some of the tension out of the air, huh, Spock."
"I'm not sure that the best way to impress upon our crew that you're the captain they wish to follow into space on a mission such as the one we're about to undertake."
"We'll weed out the weak, make sure they can handle deep space. It'll be fun."
Spock sighed, but he didn't protest or offer any reason why that would be illogical.
"Keptin on the bridge."
Chekov's cheerful announcement ensured the entire bridge crew looked away from their tasks to greet Jim.
"At ease. Or at least, stop staring. You guys have work to do." He approached the chair, wishing this was another of those times when Pike was there to see him off. Wishing that nothing had changed. On the edge of his excitement, that fragile scrap of grief clung with sharp claws, waving its dark tail, waiting to be noticed. He didn't have time for that. There was a mock voyage to complete.
Scotty's voice came over the intercom. "Warp core online. The ship's yers, Captain."
"Very good. Thank you, Mr. Scott. Mr. Sulu?"
Jim settled into the leather chair. It was comfortable, ergonomic, and designed for long periods of sitting. He'd done some of his quickest thinking here. Some of his deepest. That was probably why he'd spent so much time on the leather couch in the apartment. Similar scents, but different worlds.
He scanned the bridge, turning the chair so he could take in the crew. One good test run, that's all they needed. A few more weeks, a tweak here and there, and they'd be exploring again. The turbolift door slid open and Bones stepped out, folding his arms over his blue shirt, making his grumpy doctor face.
"Now it's a party." Jim nodded at his friend. "Mr. Sulu, take us out."
And they all lived happily ever after. Erm, well, you know what I mean. Okay, wrapping her up before the closing scenes of the movie. I hope you all enjoyed the ride. Writing fanfic is pretty much new to me and using someone else's characters was a challenge, but definitely worth every follow, favorite, and review. You guys are awesome and your great comments kept me writing this. Have a huge pat on the back, a super fluffy puppy, kitten, bunny, or chick, and an all-you-can-eat ice cream buffet as your reward.