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A Mighty Fine Man

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Note: this story is based on the canon age difference between Pike and McCoy, not on the AOS actors. Pike is 37 and McCoy is 29.

"Cadet, you can't just go in, you don't have an appointment, cadet, no……"

Pike could hear the wail of his assistant as his office door slammed open and a red-uniformed man strode in. "So you're the bastard who's running those fucktard combat training sessions, are you?"

Pike was a trifle taken aback. It wasn't that he was very senior on a campus that included some of the brassiest of the brass, he was just a captain, and currently an instructor and Starfleet recruiter. But he was a captain with quite a reputation. He gazed levelly at the erring cadet and raised one eyebrow. That usually did the trick.

He might as well have raised an eyebrow at a raging bull.

"Do you have any fucking idea how many of your so-called trainees have ended up in my hospital with broken bones, torn ligaments and damaged joints?"

"Your hospital, cadet?" demanded Pike as he rose to his feet.

"My hospital," snapped the cadet. "Do y'all instructors really think there's a never-ending supply of naive youngsters panting to fill the shoes of those you've maimed with your ineptitude? I know just how desperate Starfleet is for recruits. I wouldn't be here if you weren't!"

Pike considered the man in front of him. He was tall and dark-haired, with a face etched in a deep scowl and powerful arms crossed over a broad chest. He was clearly older than the average cadet, possibly by more than a decade. But that wasn't the key difference. This man had the kind of tough confidence that only came with professional standing and years of experience.

Pike didn't put on airs; he prided himself on being accessible to his crew and his trainees. Nevertheless his name carried weight, the highest scores in the Academy command track in a decade, a dramatic start to his captaincy, and then a decade long career in deep space, a career garnished with public commendations and covert rumours of strange happenings with alien races. The fact that he was the only son of a now-retired Starfleet Admiral didn't hurt. Pike was accustomed to receiving a certain level of respect.

He wasn't receiving anything of the sort from this man who was glaring at him scornfully, as if he were the officer and Pike an erring student. "And who might you be, cadet?"

"Doctor," drawled the cadet. "Doctor Leonard H. McCoy, Captain. And a doctor sick to the fucking gills of patching up the disasters your maladroit instructors dump in our laps. Being injured in the line of duty is one thing, but getting fucked up in the damned classroom is a massive failure on behalf of your boneheaded staff."

Pike took a deep breath to try and contain his rising anger. "Space is a dangerous place, cadet. If these trainees need their hands held, they shouldn't have enlisted. They need to be able to look after themselves. Starfleet service is difficult and it's hazardous. Life is not going to be easy in the future, and there is no reason for them to expect it to be easy now."

"And that is classic command bullshit," the doctor replied disdainfully. "A pathetic excuse for your own failures in leadership. Do you know that there are 19 bones in the human hand? We've treated fractures of every single one of them, primarily metatarsal and phalangeal fractures accompanied by joint dislocation. Do you know how much that fucking hurts? Do you even care? As for knees, if it's not anterior cruciate ligament injury, it's articular cartilage damage. Or in the back it's acromioclavicular and sternoclavicular joint injuries, or iliolumbar ligament injury. Even with modern medicine, most of these need many hours of rehab. We don't have the resources and the trainees can't afford to lose the time from their courses. And don't get me started on Maisonneuve's fracture or Achilles rupture, which should not be happening in people this young. Both require weeks of treatment."

The doctor was striding across Pike's office as he ranted, waving his arms with rising anger. Now he spun round to face the captain once again.

"Or let me try a real damned simple one, one that even you might be able to understand. Skull fracture! I've had two come in in the last week. Both were facing significant risk of brain damage. These cadets did not enlist to suffer chronic injury in a combat course run by bungling amateurs. Your fucking practices are unsafe, old-fashioned, inefficient and just plain pig-headed wrong!"

"Oh, now you're a combat expert as well as a doctor," Pike snapped sarcastically.

The doctor strode around the desk and was right up in his face now, toe to toe, eye to eye. Pike noticed that he was not a small man. He was much the same height as Pike but broader in the chest and the shoulders. His uniform fitted snugly across muscled biceps.

"I might know a thing or two about combat, Captain. Yes, we don't train to take out enemy forces. But we do train to be able to restrain one of our own advanced combat specialists should he go fucking off his rocker and need to be taken down by his CMO. And we both know it happens."

The doctor bared his teeth, his eyes lighting up with a contemptuous smile. They were a rather beautiful green-flecked hazel, Pike noted in the part of his mind that was clinically monitoring this altercation. And they were sparkling with the challenge of the confrontation. The doctor was enjoying this, he thought incredulously.

"Starfleet Medical Protocols, Regulation 121 Section A. The one man who can stand down the captain is the CMO, Captain."

"You're light years away from being CMO material, cadet," Pike retorted.

"Right now I'm responsible medical officer material, Captain, and that's all you need to know." The doctor slapped down a dossier on the desk and stabbed at it with his finger as he ranted on. "These are the cadets who've been admitted with injuries. These are the injuries they've sustained. And these are the training exercises that caused the damage. I've written it all out in words of one syllable. I know y'all command types are so dumb, you could throw yourself on the ground and miss but even you should be able to follow."

The doctor leant forward and pressed a finger into the centre of Pike's chest. "I get any more of your fuck-ups in my hospital beds and I file a complaint."

And with that he spun on his heel and stalked out. Pike stared after him, speechless, trembling with anger. His hand hovered over his comm. He wanted nothing more than to call up Starfleet Medical, get the Surgeon General herself on the phone and deliver a complaint so blistering that the woman's comm would melt in her hand.

Taking a deep breath, he deliberately walked away from his desk, stopping in front of two holos that adorned his book shelves. Glowering at an adorable image of a young boy holding a model starship above his head, he continued to breathe slowly and evenly. Control. That was the thing. Never let anyone destroy your control. Never react until you are calm and clear headed about what you want to achieve. Never react until you have all the facts to hand.

He glared venomously back at the dossier that marred the pristine neatness of his desk. He'd see what drivel the doctor had filled it with while he waited to recover his equanimity. And then he'd file a complaint so precisely devastating that the doctor's career would be over before the day was out. He picked up the file and scanned through it quickly, before reading it through a second time with more concentration.

By the time he was done he was angrier than ever. He hated incompetence. He also hated being in the wrong and he had a sinking feeling about this. Still, procrastination had never been one of his weaknesses. He sat down at his monitor and grimly began to cross-check the allegations with the files on the database.

Finally he sat back, massaging his aching temples. Unfortunately the cadet appeared to have a point, although not one that justified such abysmal behaviour. He stared at the file, fingers tapping restlessly on the desktop, considering what to do next. At last he gave in to his curiosity and entered the doctor's name in the intranet search engine. The amount of material that came up took him some time to browse through… MD, PhD, ground-breaking research. He was young to have such an illustrious resume.

So the man was arrogant with reason. And yet medical specialists of his calibre usually chose to reign as king of their little domains in specialist hospitals. Pike wondered why the man had ever enlisted. If, as he suspected, McCoy got off on picking fights with superior officers he wasn't going to last long in a service as hierarchical as Starfleet.

Pike was still itching to file a complaint but the trouble was that the doctor was right about the poor standard of the training sessions. A complaint just made Pike look like a sore loser. As his temper cooled, he found himself torn between anger and admiration. The attitude was appalling and the insubordination unforgivable, but the doctor's unflinching defence of what he believed in was something Pike could admire. He knew a thing or two about standing up for what was right despite compelling pressure to keep quiet. He smiled to himself ruefully. That kind of confidence was really rather attractive.

McCoy was exactly the kind of man that Pike found the most compelling - capable, competent, confident. He let his mind wander a little as he contemplated the doctor. He'd always been attracted to men but mostly he chose not to act on it. He didn't want a man he could dominate but he certainly wasn't about to hand over his hard-won control to another male. Women were different, easier somehow. He loved being manhandled by a competent woman but he knew, deep in that place in his heart where he buried his flashes of ruthless self-honesty, that he didn't feel challenged by women in the same way, no matter how capable they were. Now a man like McCoy…. He would never act on the impulse but he might let himself dream, just a little.

He turned his attention back to the doctor's dossier. To get this far in a command career you had to know which fights to follow through on and which to walk away from. Maybe he'd have a word with some of the instructors taking the course, review a few practices. Not that he'd be telling that to McCoy any time soon.


The next time that Pike saw the doctor was about a week later as he was crossing the lawn outside the administration building. The man called across to Pike to stop and then jogged over to where he was waiting.

"You didn't report me!" The doctor sounded accusing.

Pike stared back at him bemused. "Why? Did you want me to?"

McCoy glared at him, his arms crossed defensively. Once again Pike idly noted the breadth of his shoulders, the power of his arms. "Dammit man! I've spent the last week in a state, waiting for your formal complaint to surface!"

"I can still file one, if it makes you feel better."

"Don't be idiotic, of course it damned well wouldn't." The doctor stopped abruptly, as if hearing himself for the first time. He ran a hand agitatedly through his hair. Deep brown, nice and thick, looked rather silky, Pike thought.

"Sorry, dammit, I need to start this again. This is meant to be an apology."

Pike raised an eyebrow. "In that case it's an astoundingly bad one."

McCoy snorted. "Yes, well, not my strong point, apologies." He stared at the grass, looking uncomfortable. "Look, I'm sorry for going off half-cocked at you. I know I said some pretty rough things. I've heard that changes have been made in the combat classes. Thank you for that. And for not reporting me. I'm already on one written warning for insubordination and I really don't need another."

"Colour me surprised," Pike remarked dryly. "So who had the courage to call you on your bullshit?"

McCoy looked vaguely embarrassed. "I tried a temper tantrum on a CMO instructor on the medical track and ended up in front of the Starfleet Surgeon General before I could blink. My god, that woman is frightening. Tritanium wrapped up in ruffled velvet."

He gave Pike a lopsided grin. "Sorry Captain, but you've some way to go in the sheer intimidation stakes."

Pike considered him for a moment. "You know doctor, you're not going to last in Starfleet if you can't control your temper. Whatever you may be thinking, you can't just let it spew out like that."

"Don't I know it," he replied with a hopeless shrug. "As stubborn as a mule, a temper like a wildfire and a massive chip on my shoulder about authority figures." He laughed at Pike's look of surprise. "I do have a doctorate in psychology, Captain. I'm capable of some self-analysis even if I don't do too well at acting on my own advice."

After a moment of silence he continued. "It's hard here, harder than I expected. Where I was before, in Atlanta, I could just tell myself that the vast majority of my superiors were fools. Here at Starfleet there's no such hiding place. There are some extraordinary medics here, people of galactic renown."

"They may be fools down in Atlanta, although you sound a trifle biased to my ear, but I'm amazed that even there they put up with you," Pike commented.

"Yes, well, having your father-in-law as chief administrator of the hospital helps," McCoy replied wryly. "I may have been granted more leeway than I realized at the time.

The crowds around them were thinning as cadets disappeared inside for their next class.

"Look, I've got to go, but I really am sorry. And thank you for not filing a complaint. I owe you one. You're a good man." McCoy stopped a few feet away from the captain and gave him one last lingering look, a leisurely perusal from head to toe and back up again. His handsome face lit up with that reluctant half-smile of his. "Actually, you're a mighty fine man, Captain. No wonder you're more used to people worshipping at your feet than yelling in your face." And with that the doctor was gone.

Pike stared after him, trying to decide if he'd just been chatted up or insulted. Given the temperament of the doctor, it had probably been both. He found himself more intrigued with the man than ever. He shook his head abruptly to clear it of his idle fantasies. Men like that did not fit in with Pike's tightly controlled professional plan. They could ruin a career in the time it took to say 'fuck you' to an Admiral. Still, he couldn't help his mind returning to the conundrum of the doctor as he walked away. Whatever was said of the man, you certainly couldn't call him boring.


Pike lay in the bio bed, fuming. He disliked hospitals, mostly because he disliked being at the mercy of technology he didn't understand. He knew enough about engineering and communications and navigation and flying to assess the information being given to him by his crew, and in certain cases he could do their job better than they did it themselves. He learnt early on that taking over and finishing a job faster, more efficiently and more effectively was a rapid shortcut to respect with deep space specialists.

However, medical was the one field where he couldn't easily judge the competence of the staff. He'd trusted his own CMO but only through years of enforced contact. That and the fact that Boyce wouldn't put up with his bullshit anyway. But this, this was making him edgy. His head was still spinning from the accident and the pain was making it difficult to think clearly.

The nurse seemed just a bit too interested in flirting. He wished she'd spend a little less time staring into his eyes and cooing about how brave he'd been and a little more looking at where she was jabbing the needle of the drip she was supposed to be inserting in his arm. And worse than that, the doctor appeared to be about 12 and so nervous that the sweat was dripping onto his tricorder. Pike glared at him malevolently.

"Well, are you going to do your job or not?" he demanded with all the authority of a decade as a captain in deep space. The tricorder slipped out of the sweaty hands of the beleaguered intern and hit the floor hard. They both stared down at the starburst across the shattered screen, winced at the protesting wail of beeps from the damaged unit.

"And what in the name of all that is holy is going on here?"

After that first encounter Pike had not expected to ever be relieved to see the abrasive doctor, but at least he looked like an adult and acted like a professional. "You!" McCoy pointed at the quivering intern. "Pick up that extremely expensive piece of equipment you've just ruined and go and explain yourself to supplies. You!" He turned on the nurse. "If you want the man's damned comm number, ask. Otherwise get the hell out so that the few of us who actually work around here can get on with it."

He rounded on Pike. "And you, stop intimidating my staff. Now, what damned fool stunt have you pulled to land yourself in my tender care?" He was rapidly pulling up information on his padd as he spoke. Pike explained briefly that he had received severe burns on his chest and arms while pulling cadets out of the line of fire of an explosion caused by a malfunctioning warp coil during an Enterprise site visit.

"Bless your heart, Captain, but you can be as dumb as a box of rocks. You're meant to run away from exploding objects, you know, not towards them," lectured McCoy as he began a fast visual scan of the tissue damage. "I thought cadets and red-shirts were there to take the hits while the brass headed for the hills."

"This will take time, Captain. A warp coil probably means verterium cortenide contamination in the wound. Once I've established the severity, we neutralize it with a localised bioregenerative field. Only then can we start on dermal repair." McCoy began a detailed scan with the tricorder. He worked with rapid and brutal efficiency and Pike felt himself relaxing. He recognized and appreciated competence when he saw it. The doctor seemed to realise that Pike was reassured by having the procedures described. He intermingled the explanation of what he was doing with a steady stream of invective insulting Pike's intelligence, ability and survival skills.

The argument was surprisingly effective in distracting Pike from the discomfort of the treatment. Even so, he eventually gave up on defending himself, too tired for the cut and thrust of the debate, too traumatized by the accident, although he wasn't admitting that any time soon. "Yes, doctor," he said meekly, in response to a sally by McCoy about colossal egos that had to be the hero of every damn fool occasion.

McCoy peered at his suspiciously. "Say that again. I like the sound of that!"

Pike gave him big eyes in a solemn face. "Yes doctor, whatever you say doctor."

That earned him a sharp laugh and a raised eyebrow. The doctor was exceedingly attractive when he allowed one of those rare smiles to show. "Now that's the way I like it," he replied in a soft southern drawl. "Maybe you aren't irredeemably stupid after all. Because I have to tell you, some people really are." He cancelled the bioregenerative field and reached for the vascular regenerator. "Now we let this run for a time to rebuild muscle and blood vessels in the full thickness burns. So while this does its thing let me tell you about a case from the early hours of this morning that proves my point."

The doctor leaned against the side of the bed, where he could keep an eye on the readings on the bedside monitor. "A patient was brought in around 0300, a ninety-something woman who had suddenly become unresponsive. She was having sex with her husband he noticed that she was no longer conscious. Unable to revive her, he called us.

"It was bizarre. She was semi-coherent, but with no asymmetry to her neurologic exam. Just profoundly hypotensive. I had her bed inverted and was pumping her full of IV fluids but was barely able to bring her blood pressure to acceptable levels. In desperation I put her on inotropes to support her circulatory status.

"But there was no clue as to why – no chest pain, no fever, no bleeding. Just unexplained, severe, persistent hypotension. And then the husband showed up, a frisky 105-year-old. And he sheepishly admits to erectile dysfunction, but he can't take one of the sildenafil citrate products because he has heart trouble and is on nitroglycerin. So he does some research on the 'net and decides to try wrapping one of his nitroglycerin patches around the shaft of his penis. And up it pops and he and wife are at it like rabbits once again. They've been doing it like this for months apparently.

"You should have seen my face while he was telling me this. Anyway, so he is tidying himself up after the paramedics left and realises that the nitroglycerin patch is missing. Of course you can guess where it had gotten to."

"You are kidding, right?"

"God's own truth, I swear. I put on my most consoling face and thanked him for this very important information and went and fished it out of her vagina. She started recovering almost immediately."

"Don't make me laugh, McCoy, the pain is bad enough already. At least our cadets aren't that bad."

"Not that bad? They're worse. I don't know how so-called geniuses can be so pig-ass dumb. They've got the technical know-how to come up with some ludicrous schemes and none of the common sense that might tell them it's a god-awful idea."

As McCoy layered biosynthetic plastiskin over the recovering burns and ran the dermal regenerator over it, he told Pike some of the stories about idiotic accidents that landed cadets in hospital. By the end of the treatment, Pike had quite some sympathy for his attitude.

"You're done," declared McCoy. "I'll give you a sedative that will let you sleep through most of the next 24 hours. Then there will be another round with the regenerator to promote the final surface healing and you'll be discharged. All fine and fit to rush off for another fool stunt."

"Yes doctor. Thank you doctor." Pike gave him his meekest look. McCoy snorted. Once again those full lips curled up just at the edges.

"You know, Captain, I think I like you like this. Following doctor's orders… all sweet and obedient, all yes doctor, whatever you say doctor. I could get used to this!"

Pike had to blame the drugs and the trauma for the fact that he appeared to be flirting with a cadet, and a hopelessly insubordinate cadet at that. Still, Starfleet Medical was in fact a separate institution from the Academy, for all the cadets wore the same uniforms. This didn't break the letter of the fraternization rules. What it did for his own personal determination to avoid sexual entanglements with powerful men was a matter he was ignoring just at the moment.

He raised an eyebrow. "You think you've got what it takes to dominate me, McCoy?"

McCoy stared back at him steadily. "Yes, I do. I think you'd like being dominated, Captain. Take a break from all your own importance and authority."

The easy camaraderie between them had vanished. In its place was an edgy electricity. Pike felt a prickle of nervous excitement in his gut, a feeling he usually associated with deep space missions. "And why would I do what you wanted, doctor?"

"Because it's what you want. Just let go for once, let someone else look after you. You're so fucking controlled all the time, you're rigid with it. Trust someone else to be good to you for once."

Pike's mouth was dry, his palms sweating. He'd long since learnt to truly only trust in himself. This conversation was making him shiveringly uncomfortable and yet somehow he could not let it go.

"And what do you know about being good to someone?"

McCoy suddenly looked unaccountably sad. "I could be, if I was ever given the chance."

They were abruptly interrupted by a page on McCoy's comm. Yet another emergency. The doctor quickly administered the final hypo. He stood for a long moment watching Pike as the haziness of the sedative slowly overtook him. As he was sinking into unconsciousness McCoy gently stroked the back of a single finger across his cheek.

"I'd like to be given a chance," he said very softly.

Pike lay trapped in a fitful sleep plagued by the voice of his father. You've got to do it on your own, boy. There is no one that you can trust out there. Only yourself…. always alone…


"You officers certainly do live well here," Boyce teased as he and Pike settled down to lunch in the officers' club. Pike's erstwhile CMO was briefly back on earth to attend a conference being held at the medical school.

"Oh yes, god forbid that the admirals should be in any way uncomfortable," Pike replied laconically.

Boyce looked at him curiously. "And how are you doing, Chris?"

"Just fine. The work's interesting, I keep busy." Pike's face was carefully buried in the wine list.

Boyce gently pushed the list to one side. "Maybe I should order us both martinis instead. Chris, this is me you're talking to, remember? I've been your doctor. I've been your bartender. And you know that I will always be your friend. Tell me honestly, how are you?"

Pike looked across at the older man who had supported him through some of his worst experiences in the black, who had continued to believe in him when he had been battling to believe in himself. Maybe this was the one man that he could talk to about this. "It's bad Phil," he said carefully. "I thought I'd adjust once I got over the initial shock of being grounded. I've always been good at just getting on with it. But it's getting worse. I'd bored, and I'm going to end up doing something stupid."

Pike was carefully not thinking about that bizarre conversation with the doctor at the hospital.

"Chris, you haven't been grounded, you know that."

"What do you call a four-year earth assignment in the middle of my career?" Pike demanded.

"You needed a break," Boyce replied patiently. "And it wasn't just about Rigel VII and Talos IV. You'd served continuously in deep space from '46 through to '54. It was too long, it doesn't matter how good you are. There is a reason why there is supposed to be a 12 month home leave after every five year rotation. And if I had my way, the rotations would be even shorter than that."

The two men were interrupted as a waiter came to take their order. Once he had departed, Boyce continued.

"At the end of this you get command of the brand new flagship and a five-year deep space assignment. That is hardly a demotion, Chris."

Pike stared glumly at his hands and quietly confessed to one of his greatest fears. "I know. I just don't always believe it. Sometimes I wonder if they aren't just moving me sideways in stages." He grimaced at Boyce's look of incredulity.

"You know that it happens, Phil. It's how you get rid of someone too powerful or too unstable to challenge directly. Move them sideways, promise them something else and then let that promise fade away with time."

"You're being ridiculous. You're a highly decorated captain, with more experience than many at deep space exploration. You have talent par excellence for getting mixed up with bizarre alien races."

"So why am I trapped down here teaching snotty cadets how to wipe their noses? Dammit Phil, they think I'm potentially mentally unstable. I've had not one but two run-ins with alien mind control, with the Talosians and with the Ngultor. And then there was my quasi-breakdown after Rigel."

"You didn't break down, Chris," Boyce replied steadily. "You considered resigning your command. It was a perfectly reasonable reaction. You'd been ambushed and had three dead and seven injured. I always thought the real damage was the way the Talosians made you relive it all when you hadn't yet had the chance to process it the first time round."

Boyce leaned across the table to gently touch the back of Pike's hand.

"Chris, you are an extraordinary commander. Your achievements are already legendary in several sectors. Keeping peace with the Vestians at the risk of a court martial, acting as bait for the Ngultor and destroying their mothership, saving Starbase 13, defeating Kaaj despite your ship being nearly crippled. And I know we're not supposed to ever talk about that place but the strength of mind that let you resist on Talos and engineer an escape with no lives lost, that alone is a career-defining achievement."

Chris was glaring mutinously at his chilli prawn linguine. "Then why am I finding it so hard to adjust here? Maybe I genuinely am mentally compromised."

"No, you damned well aren't. I've seen your psych profiles. You're exhausted and you're suffering from low grade PTSD. All the medics expected a far higher level of mental trauma given both your experiences and your lack of recovery time. You are tough as old boot leather, mentally and physically.

"Listen to me Chris. And stop stabbing at that poor linguine. I assure you that it is dead already. It is like rehab for certain types of injuries. It just takes time. Your depression is probably due to your mind working through so much stress and exhaustion. You can't control your recovery by plotting it out on a spreadsheet or some such. You have to let it take its own time. I bet you're working obsessively as usual. For god's sake, take a break, make a friend, do something different. Just relax once in a while."

The image of the mouthy doctor floated into his head, the odd quirk of those full lips as he'd looked Pike up and down, the brush of his finger on Pike's cheek. He took a deep breath. Maybe Boyce was the one person that he could approach this topic with.

"I think maybe the hardest lesson from that run in space was the vulnerability of it. My father was always whipping the idea of control into me, often literally. And command training does the same. Lives depend on your decisions. And then I got out there and lives were lost because I made mistakes."

"Chris, you didn't…."

"I did, Phil. It does no good to pretend otherwise. I should have seen that fortress on Rigel for the trap that it was. But the mind control was the worst. To discover, not once but twice, that I couldn't even protect my innermost being. That was hard."

"I can see that it must have been awful, Chris. But both times you overcame. With the Ngultor you managed to use the mental connection against them and then break it when you were done. And with the Talosians you were able to analyze what they were doing to you and resist it right to the end.

"I know it must be a shock to discover that you're only human," Boyce said gently, "but that doesn't mean that you aren't an exceptional human. It's alright to fail occasionally or even just to choose not to lead once in a while. Control is not just about being able to exclude others, Chris, whatever your experiences with your old man may have drilled into you. It is also about letting others in when appropriate, about recognising your own vulnerability while trusting in your ability to cope with that."

And that idea was getting a little too close to things that Pike was currently choosing not think about. It was time to change the subject.

"Enough about me. Tell me what it's like to run the medical facilities on a starbase."

Boyce accepted the new topic with grace. They discussed his present work and then began a general reminiscence of past assignments, successes, failures, who was now serving where. Pike found it a relief to talk to someone who really knew what it was like to live up there in the black.

He was explaining to Boyce that he was increasingly concerned about how theoretical much of the Academy teaching seemed to be and how little off-planet exploratory experience the instructors seemed to have when a petite blonde woman stopped by their table and kissed Boyce on both cheeks. Boyce introduced her to Pike as Branch Admiral Dr Victoria Turnbull, the Starfleet Surgeon General. As she greeted him with a sunny smile and a clipped English accent, he had to wonder what McCoy of all people had been so cowed by.

Pike, now mellow from the wine and the pleasure of Boyce's company, let his mischievous side loose. "A pleasure to meet you, ma'am. I've heard of you. You are exceedingly intimidating, according to an acquaintance of mine. Tritanium wrapped in velvet, I think he said."

"And who the hell did you hear that from?" Turnbull asked, amused.

"A certain Dr McCoy. I believe you were engaged in slapping his wrists."

Turnbull shook her head. "I swear that man will put me in the grave before my time. He's potentially brilliant, but only if he manages to bloody well graduate. He's either going to get a dishonourable discharge for insubordination or someone is simply going to punch his lights out."

"McCoy. Why does that sound familiar?" Boyce wondered.

"He developed that nifty procedure for grafting neural tissue to the cerebral cortex," Turnbull replied.

"My god, yes, that was ground-breaking stuff," Boyce said, "figuring out how to create an axonal pathway between the tissue graft and the basal ganglia. Remarkable. How on earth did you lure him to Starfleet? Wasn't he based at Emory in Atlanta?"

"It was more like he washed up here," Turnbull replied. "Washed up on a spring tide of alcohol actually. Something went badly wrong at Emory. Not surprising, they're a bunch of sharks down there. And on top of whatever it was, there was a bitter divorce and the death of his father from pyrrhoneuritis. A death that happened just weeks before the cure was finally found."

"That's awful. Maybe he needed a new start," Boyce suggested.

"Maybe he was running away," Turnbull retorted. "Either way we're glad to have him but I've warned him to keep his bloody temper in check. I've made it crystal clear that his past achievements are acknowledged but they now simply set the baseline for what we expect in the future. And we expect him to achieve with grace, with consistency and with respect for his superior officers!"

Pike had to laugh at that. "And you of course are a shining example of grace and respect, Victoria," teased Boyce.

"Too bloody right. Do as I say, not as I do – official motto of the Admiralty," Turnbull replied with a grin. "I know it's a tall order, but I really hope he can. Medical is as confoundedly stodgy as every other department in these hopelessly moribund headquarters. Starfleet needs men of his calibre. The entire Federation does."

As the conversation turned to medical matters, Pike continued to ponder the mystery of the mouthy doctor. He rather hoped the man would stay the course at Starfleet. He certainly made life on campus more colourful.


"Of course I'm damned well meant to be here, I'm the supervising medic. Look at your confounded briefing notes if you don't believe me. No, I've no idea why Hudson was replaced, ask him your damned self. Now where's Pike? Of course I mean Captain Pike, how many Pikes do you know? Running an aquarium are you?"

Pike stuck his head out of the observation room. He'd suspected that he recognised that voice.

"In here, doctor, and stop browbeating my staff. Now what in hell are you doing here?"

"I'm the supervising medic," McCoy replied looking smug. "Check your brief!"

Pike looked down at his padd where Hudson's name had indeed disappeared and McCoy's had mysteriously replaced it.

"Very well doctor, let's agree that I won't ask and you won't tell. But why would you want to supervise a sim? It is long, slow stuff, especially this one, and in all likelihood you won't be needed."

McCoy looked through the observation window to the floor below where cadets were busy taking their places on the bridge and the associated units. "Maybe I wanted to see you." He flicked a quick sideways glance at Pike. Before the captain could work out if he was serious he continued. "Actually it's Jim's first major sim. He knows you're supervising and he's desperate to impress you. I'm here to pick up the pieces as and when he does something appallingly stupid."

"Me? Kirk?" Pike stared at him in surprise. "Kirk never does anything except see how cheeky he can be with me."

McCoy gave him that scathingly raised eyebrow that suggested so effortlessly that the recipient was a complete idiot. "He worships the ground you walk on. He's always damned well talking about you, it gets really old, I have to say. If I had a credit for every time he's retold the story of how you recruited him, I'd be drinking a much finer brand of bourbon." The doctor patted the hip flask concealed in the pocket of his pants.

Pike rolled his eyes. Alcohol was of course banned on the premises but he figured he'd best save his energies to call McCoy on his more important infractions.

"All that stuff about challenging him to do better than his dad? My god, how clichéd can you get? He rips the piss out of you every time he retells the story but deep down he believes every god-damned word and he's desperate to prove to you that he can do it."

Pike winced inwardly at that little reminder. Considering how he'd come to feel about living in the shadow of his own father he'd had some balls to challenge Kirk like that. It had been a spur of the moment utterance, a final shout of frustration at the waste of talent and intelligence he'd seen lying in that filthy bar. Still, if it worked, it worked.

"Ready to go, sir," called an aide. Pike gave the nod. He was serving a dual purpose here, both as overall supervisor of the sim but also as assessor of the instructors who were doing the hands-on management. It meant that he had little to do besides stand back and watch, noting any problems. This set of instructors was particularly good and he expected little to go wrong.

That at least was his justification for bringing the doctor into his private observation room. It was going to be a long afternoon and McCoy certainly made for entertaining company, as long as his invective was directed at someone other than Pike. And surrounded as they were by instructors, McCoy could hardly do anything too inappropriate.

Below them the cadets were in position, beginning the launch procedures of the ship. It was a mixed year test with third-year students in the command positions and second-years as the ensigns. It was the first major full event sim that the second-years would have taken part in. Up to now they had just done short simulations based around a single event. This sim was programmed to last for up to five hours and the students had no idea what they could expect to happen.

"What's all the fuss with this particular sim, anyway?" McCoy asked. "Some people were saying that it's really easy, others that it's a monster."

"It's both," Pike replied, watching as the cadets powered up the ship, somewhat awkwardly but with no major errors. "And that's why it's so challenging. There is no major event, no clash with Klingons or sudden catastrophic systems failure. Nothing will go wrong at all for the first 30 minutes by which time you'll see various cadets getting bored and beginning to fool around." He glanced at McCoy. "Particularly the likes of Kirk, young, cocky and stuck as an ensign in engineering with nothing to do.

"And then things start to go wrong, small things. A glitch in the communications system, and then confusing orders from HQ that can't be verified. A bug in the navigation system that can't easily be fixed. That's assuming they notice it. Some crews just fly round in circles for hours quite unaware. Then some random inexplicable power outages in engineering. And so it goes. Each problem minor but they pile one on top of another. And each of the various possible solutions is programmed to set off another cascade of errors.

"The pressure mounts hour by hour as they are trapped in an ever more suffocating maze of failures. Some cadets find it extremely stressful. A few have walked out mid sim and dropped out of the command programme. Personally I think it's too tough for the first sim, but this is what the brass want, so here we are."

"Well shut my mouth! So you are capable of criticizing the brass. I thought you worshipped at the feet of authority," said McCoy sardonically. "You seem so fucking proper all the time."

"Proper gets me places, McCoy. It keeps my career on track. It gets me the authority that then lets me make a difference. There is a lot to be said for going with the flow rather than fighting your way upstream all the time, as you seem to do."

McCoy ignored him ostentatiously. "So is there a solution to this sim?"

"Yes, there is but you'd be surprised how few crews manage to find it. They need to solve each problem patiently and thoroughly as it arises and revisit their solutions when they appear to cause more problems. The programme is designed to offer several seductive ways out that appear to offer one grand gesture that will solve everything. Those will of course lead to disaster. But so few cadets can resist the drama of it. We'll see how these ones do."

Below them the cadet captain seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly, issuing all sorts of orders in a deep voice that he presumably thought suited his importance. Several of the cadets in security were starting a surreptitious card game, while in engineering various boys were clearly trying to chat up two pretty girls. Jim meanwhile was toggling restlessly between views to look at different readouts and systems.

"Nothing will happen for another 10 minutes. So, amuse me, doctor. That's the only reason I allowed you in here."

McCoy snorted with laughter. "Well, that's a sure way to kill the conversation. What do you want to know?"

"And that's a dangerous question." Pike looked levelly at him. Oh hell, why not? The doctor was hardly given to being tactful himself. "I want to know why, with your medical resume, you went down in flames at Emory and washed up here, as it was memorably described to me, on a spring tide of alcohol."

"Christ, you don't pull your punches, do you?" McCoy turned away from him and stared down at the engineering unit, where Jim had called up a 360 degree holo projection of the lithium matrix and was slowly rotating it with a puzzled frown on his face.

Then he looked back at Pike, the challenge of confrontation once again in his eyes.

"My father-in-law, who was chief administrator at Emory, found me in a supply cupboard, fooling around."

"Not with your wife, I take it."

"No, not with his daughter. With his son."

Pike burst out laughing. McCoy cast him a venomous look. "It wasn't funny."

"I'm sure it wasn't, not at the time, but it damned well is now. Come on McCoy, you have to admit that it is."

McCoy managed a sardonic smile. "One day it will probably be hilarious, about a century from now."

Below them Jim was trying to get his superior officer interested in an anomaly that he had detected, trying to persuade him that the read-out for the micron alignment was not accurately reflecting what could be seen on the system holo. "That's impressive," Pike commented. "I've never seen the first engineering error picked up so fast. On the bridge both comms and navigation are showing errors but no one's noticed yet."

They watched Jim argue vigorously with his boss, who was clearly sceptical. McCoy had expected him to simply try and out-shout the man, but instead he set about patiently persuading the others one by one that his analysis had merit. Some clearly followed his arguments, others apparently just gave in to his charm. Within five minutes he had them all working together to test possible solutions.

"Impressive," Pike murmured to himself. "That boy will go far."

On the bridge someone had finally noticed that they were flying around in circles. Unlike Jim's engineering department, there was a whirl of contradictory orders and energetic disagreements. A sudden malfunction of the stabilizers had the entire bridge shaking. The glitch vanished almost as soon as it had manifested but left a notably panicked senior crew in its wake.

Pike glanced across at the doctor. "You're not off the hook, McCoy. I've not forgotten your little bombshell. Why did you marry the daughter if you wanted the son?"

McCoy glared down at the escalating chaos below them. "It's a long story."

"We have a long time, doctor. There are hours more of things to go wrong down there. Feel free to tell me at your leisure."

McCoy was silent for so long that Pike had assumed that he was refusing to take the bait, but at last he spoke.

"The Darnells, my wife's family, are old family friends of the McCoys. Both families have been providing some of Georgia's top doctors for generations. I grew up with Jocelyn, friends in the playground, rivals in the classroom. And both of us hero-worshipped her older brother, Andrew. He was extremely intelligent, athletic too, and kind to two younger kids who trailed after him endlessly.

"My father was a doctor and a very good one, a brilliant researcher but always happy to devote time to the most trivial ailments of his patients. A man who was really good with people. Quite unlike me." McCoy sighed.

Below them order had been restored on the bridge by the captain who had called up the vertical holo display and was justifying an overarching solution to several acolytes. Those officers that he had shouted down had slunk back to their stations and were whispering among themselves about the inconsistent readouts they were seeing. "And so begins the slide into hell," Pike remarked.

"Indeed, and so began the slide into hell," McCoy said softly, his mind clearly somewhere else entirely. "My father contracted pyrrhoneuritis. The media write about it as if it flares up suddenly and kills within months. But in fact patients battle with the symptoms for years, fatigue, memory loss, irrational anger, withdrawal. It may be in the system for a decade, even two, before it finally overwhelms the immune system and enters the death spiral. Daddy almost certainly had it by the time I entered my teens. He knew there was something wrong with him, we all knew it, but no amount of tests could uncover what it was.

"He so wanted me to be a doctor. And it was what I wanted too; he didn't force me into it. I spent most of my teenage years dreaming about how I would discover what was wrong with him and then find the cure for it. Save his life, win all sorts of prizes, marry Jocelyn, live happily ever after.

"And he wanted me to marry Jocelyn, both families did. They'd been encouraging it ever since we were knee high to a bullfrog. They thought we were perfect together and so did I - until I turned sixteen. Andrew had been away for a summer vacation. He was at medical school by then. When he came back, taller, broader in the shoulder, hair bleached blond by a summer of surfing in Mexico, my stomach flipped in quite a different way. Jocelyn was my friend. But he was my fantasy."

Below them the sim chamber was abruptly plunged into darkness, the shocked silence broken by the slowly rising wail of one warming alarm after another flipping on. The emergency lighting flickered on to reveal that the fixes that had been found in both engineering and on the bridge with navigation and comms had all malfunctioned, throwing up a new round of even more perplexing errors. Jim was now effectively running engineering and his crew began patiently, systematically retesting each solution and observing how and where the errors were being produced.

"So why stick with Jocelyn then?" Pike asked. "Even if Andrew didn't want you, you can't have been the only gay man in Georgia."

"You have to understand. My people didn't do that. Oh, we weren't intolerant or bigoted, we certainly weren't homophobic." McCoy pronounced the word with bitter emphasis. "We understood that homosexuality was biological. But we were good Christian people. Not bible-thumping fundamentalists. We knew that the bible was a metaphor. And we certainly weren't evangelicals. Nothing so tacky.

"When I first got an inkling of my tastes, I tried asking my Grammy, my father's mother, what we thought of gays. She was very much the matriarch, the arbiter of what we all believed in. She explained to me, while standing at the stove baking cookies for me and all the cousins, that we distinguished between being attracted to the same sex which was a state of being and acting on that attraction which was a choice. To declare a state of being to be morally abhorrent is clearly ludicrous. But we are all responsible for the choices we make."

McCoy stared morosely at the chaos below them. A full-on shouting match had broken out between the captain and the first officer. The comms officer was frantically trying a random selection of solutions without keeping track of the effects and the navigator was in tears.

"So acting on homosexual attraction is morally abhorrent," Pike said softly.

"Exactly. Andrew left shortly afterwards. There was some kind of row with his father and he took himself to Paris to continue his medical studies. It was a terrible scandal. That was another thing that we didn't do. Go out of state to study. With some of the best hospitals in the world in Atlanta, why would we? Everyone around me was so fucking sure that they had all the answers.

"And then my mother was killed just as I finished high school. The entire family was devastated. I was in pieces although I couldn't show it. Men didn't do that. I'd been trying to pluck up the courage to talk to her; I thought she was the one person who might understand. But she was gone and my father was so distant, trapped in his grief and his illness. My Grammy came to live with us to look after him. Who was I to put my selfish, evil longings ahead of the good of the family?"

In the observation next to theirs the instructors were frantically tapping away on their padds. The navigator had stormed off the bridge and the pilot was calling in security to break up the fight between the captain and the first.

"A real bunch of drama queens, this crew," said Pike." They are going to fail spectacularly." He glanced sideways at the doctor who was fiddling obsessively with the catch on his hip flask. Pike wasn't even sure that he was aware that he was doing it. "You don't actually have to tell me all this, you know. Not if you don't want to."

McCoy shrugged. "In some ways it's easier to talk to someone I barely know than to tell this to a friend. I've never told anyone the entire story."

"Not even Jim?" Pike asked, curious.

"God no. Jim and I have a very happy understanding, I don't ask about his past and he doesn't ask about mine. We both pretend that we emerged from a chrysalis, fully formed, on that shuttle to Starfleet and we get on with moving forward with our lives."

McCoy hesitated and then fixed Pike with that curiously calculating stare of his that the captain didn't quite understand. "Besides, I may have ulterior motives for sharing my sordid past with you."

"Alright then, what happened next?"

McCoy sighed. "I buckled down to my studies. I set out to find a solution to my father's ever-worsening symptoms. I set out to be the man that Daddy, that Jocelyn, that my Grammy could be proud of.

"With that in mind, I asked Jocelyn to marry me on her nineteenth birthday. Both families were delighted! We settled into a long engagement not seeing that much of each other. I was away at Ole Miss, trying to cram a four year bachelor's degree into three. Joss was just as intelligent as I was but her parents persuaded her to study pharmacology instead. The Darnells own a small, specialized pharma company. And her mother said it would leave her more time to spend with the children."

"You have children?" Pike asked with surprise.

"No, thank fuck. That was the only disaster that we missed out in the whole sorry affair." McCoy paused for a moment, as if thinking it over. "I think she liked the long engagement. She had all the romance and the respectability of being a fiancée but saw so little of me that she was free to party as she liked, with whomever she liked. I didn't care. I was glad of anything that kept her from trying to distract me from my studies."

Below them the navigator had found her way to the engineering unit where she was dumping her frustration on the head of the unit who was presumably her boyfriend, sharing the tale of the chaos on the bridge. Jim was bouncing with energy, clearly dying to try and sort it out. The head of the engineering finally gave him the nod to accompany the navigator back to her post.

McCoy stared down at the cadets, unseeing. "Anyway, to cut a long story short, we married when I returned to Atlanta to do my MD at Emory. I'd rather have waited. I'd probably have waited for ever, frankly, but Daddy was getting worse and Joss's mother was after us to start on having kids as soon as possible.

"The marriage was rough from the beginning. We were barely in our twenties and we were turning into her parents! And I never got a break from her. She wanted a man like her father but then she also wanted me around to escort her to all the social events. When her father missed family events right through her childhood it was because he was a terribly important man. When I did it, it was because I was a selfish bastard. I wasn't above playing the 'my father's dying and you want me to go a party' line in retaliation."

McCoy ran a hand impatiently through his hair. "Christ, I'm beginning to whine. So whatever, it was bad. She took up with an old boyfriend from school, I was finding stress release," his fingers made crooked quote marks, "in alleys behind certain kinds of clubs. And I was working my butt off. I had free reign to pursue my research and I was obsessed with it. I was the heir apparent at Emory. People may claim it's all based on ability and results, but it's bullshit. The place is feudal. With the administrator's son out of the way, the son-in-law got the fast track."

He gave Pike a sad smile. "I wasn't a total bastard. Or rather I was, but I kept telling myself that once I'd managed to save my father, then I'd sort the rest of it out. Take a break, spend some time with Joss, have enough sex with her to give her a fair shot at getting pregnant. By then we were pretty sure that it was pyrrhoneuritis, although it still wasn't confirmed. My neural grafting research was coming together and it really seemed to offer possibilities.

"And then it all went to hell. Pyrrhoneuritis in the advanced stage was confirmed, which gave us a terminal deadline to work against. My research worked perfectly, it was hailed as a breakthrough in its field, but it didn't do what I had hoped for in terms of the pyrrhoneuritis. Everyone was calling me a genius and I was devastated.

"And in the middle of all of that Andrew came home. He'd been working in Singapore but something went wrong, I don't know what. He was greeted like the prodigal son. I was just so glad to see an old friend. He wasn't happy to be back, I sensed it immediately. We looked each other over and we just knew.

"I've no excuse, other than that I was so exhausted by then, so stressed and disheartened. So sick of anonymous back-alley encounters or my wife's nagging. He and I embarked on a tempestuous affair, mostly conducted in corners of the hospital. The risk was part of the excitement. It lasted all of five weeks before his father found us. Clearly he wasn't pleased to find that his son-in-law was light in the loafers but to find that out about his only son…. He was apoplectic. The Darnells closed ranks, my wife believed what her Daddy told her. And it was true, I had deceived her about myself all along, I had no grounds to call on her loyalty."

McCoy pulled out his hip flask and took a long swallow. Pike, staring down at the sim chamber, chose not to notice. Jim had slipped discreetly under the console of the navigator where he had pried off several panels and was elbows deep in the wiring, trying to dodge small showers of sparks. She was whispering down to him the results she saw on her monitor as he tried various alterations. Between them they were slowly coaxing the ship back onto its designated course. The captain and the first remained in a bitter stand-off and the rest of the bridge were milling about aimlessly, in various stages of panic.

"As soon as the divorce was through and my Daddy had died, I left the state, plunged headfirst into a sea of alcohol and emerged in time to take the last option that seemed to remain to me, enlisting in Starfleet."

Pike suspected that this rather abrupt end to the doctor's sorry tale was hiding rather more than it revealed. Still, he felt that he'd pried enough for one day. "Nice to know that you think so highly of us!" he teased.

"You accepted me. What can I say? The evidence speaks for itself," snapped McCoy, clearly still tense from his excursion into his past. "A half-assed doctor, an adulterous husband, a failed son, a self-hating gay, a borderline alcoholic. Starfleet must be desperate."

He defiantly took a long swig from his hip flask and stared challengingly at Pike.

Although Pike often felt out of his depth with the doctor, at this moment he thought he knew what was going on. "Don't try and play me, McCoy. If you want a disapproving authority figure to hurl yourself against in a storm of self-loathing, pick someone else. I've had enough of a messy home life of my own as well as past command decisions that I regret that I will not act as your judge and jury.

"And stop pinning me to the wall as some kind of stereotypical stuffed-shirt commander. I've made my share of tough calls. I took my first command by standing down my captain and seizing control of his ship. Got court-martialled for it too."

"Do go on! You took over a ship?" McCoy looked impressed. Pike thought that it might be the first time that he had ever managed to impress the man.

"I did, sometimes it's what needs to be done. Look at what's happening below us. It's what Jim should do right now." With the ship now back on course, Jim had emerged from the depths of the navigator's console to explain to the captain that the same approach should be tried with the other anomalies. The captain appeared unimpressed.

"He's worked out the right procedure," continued Pike, "but the captain won't listen to him. The bridge crew seem divided. So will Jim back down or will he try and relieve the captain of duty?"

"Will it be a pass or a fail if he does?" McCoy asked.

"As long as he can justify it, he can do it. In my case, I was first officer of the USS Aldrin and I forcibly relieved Captain Kamnach of duty when he launched an unprovoked attack on a Vestian ship. Vestian rebels were attacking Federation ships, apparently hoping to get us involved in their civil war. Kamnach lost his perspective completely and wanted to fire on an official military vessel. We'd taken losses that he wanted to revenge but the result would have been an interstellar war. That was something that I just couldn't allow. I was charged with mutiny, but I stood my ground and all charges were dismissed following the court-martial. And I was promoted to captain and given command of the USS York."

Below them Jim was arguing vociferously that the captain's latest orders were likely to cause the failure of the life-support systems on the vessel and so kill the entire crew. He was trying to persuade the first officer to stand the captain down.

As Pike watched the drama play out he thought back to those long lonely days as he had waited for his court-martial. He had been sustained by his absolute conviction that he had done the right thing, that his actions had saved innocent lives. He wondered what it had been like for McCoy at Emory, with little belief in himself to fall back on, with death at the end of the road rather than life. Really, it was a wonder that the doctor wasn't even more fucked up than he appeared to be.

In the sim a hesitant first had taken over and a very nervous security detail were standing guard over the erstwhile captain. Jim was running a systematic analysis of all errors uncovered, all solutions applied and all results obtained.

"I think he may yet solve this," Pike said thoughtfully. "The situation is bad but not yet irredeemable. It's an impressive display on his part."

"Don't tell me that," McCoy snapped. "Tell him. He really is good, Pike, despite all his acting out. But he needs people who believe in him, not just in the ghost of his father. Tell him about how you took command. Tell him about what it's really like to lead. His academic supervisor is well-meaning but Jim is running circles around the man. Jim respects real experience. Share yours with him."

"You really care about him, don't you?" Pike said, staring speculatively at the doctor. "Are you in love with him?"

"Fuck off, I've told you quite enough embarrassing stuff for one day. But no, I'm not. He's an irritating younger brother whom I'm always bailing out of trouble."

"Younger brother, is he? Is he in love with you?"

"No he's not, I've got too many bits below the waist and too few above it for his tastes. And you fucking owe me some time with him, for having put up with your bullshit all afternoon!"

Below them Jim was now effectively running the bridge, rapidly and systematically implementing solutions. The sim was drawing to a successful close.

"I owe you nothing. You imposed yourself on me. But you're right about this at least. Jim Kirk is worth extra effort." Pike considered the doctor for a moment and then reached over and grabbed his hip flask. "And so are you. You've got this far, for god's sake don't fuck it up now. Keep off the alcohol."

Pike laughed at the expression on McCoy's face. "And don't pout at me, man. You are at least 20 years too old for that look."

McCoy glared mutinously at his confiscated hip flask. "You confuse me Pike. Every time I think I have you all worked out you do something unexpected."

As the doctor moved past him to go and join Kirk who was now exiting the sim, he brushed his fingers over the hand that held his hip flask. "That's my baby you've got there, Captain. I expect you to look after her well."

And when it comes to being confused, that makes two of us, Pike thought as he watched McCoy walk away. As he went to join the assessors for the instructor debriefing he felt the weight of the hip flask in his pocket with every step. Despite the trauma of McCoy's story, it had been an oddly enjoyable afternoon.



Pike strode restlessly across his office and stopped to peer out of his window at the immaculate Academy lawns, watching the flocks of cadets crossing the courtyard in swirls and eddies, on their way from one class to another. So young and carefree. So naïve and so cocky. So little idea of what it would really be like to serve on a ship, to live your life trapped on a vessel in the black, no sun, no fresh air, yet a universe of infinite possibilities stretching out ahead of you.

Chris shook his head as if he could shake loose the melancholy and turned back to his desk. Everything of immediate urgency was done. There were dozens of things of importance that he could commence but he felt unmoved by all of them. He wandered across his office, wondering if he could conceivably justify abandoning his work day and going running instead. He felt as if ants were crawling under his skin. He knew the feeling and disliked it. Intense exercise would reduce it, although even that would not stop his mind wandering. What he really needed was a crisis. Hardly the sort of request he could dial through to his assistant.

What he really needed was to be back at the helm of a ship, moving at warp speed through deep space, headed for destinations unknown. Not that being on a ship was not just as bedevilled with paperwork as being a trainer and recruiter at the Academy. And it many ways it was far more boring. Long weeks of travelling where nothing happened. Restricted recreational facilities, a limited pool of people, and no way to get a complete change of scene until the next shore leave. Much of the work was surprisingly mundane, even in deep space exploration: mapping, cataloguing, routine diplomacy, uneventful neutral zone patrols.

But there was always a sense of possibility to it. The knowledge that the next planet, the next day, the next encounter might produce something extraordinary. As one day stretched after another, as months stretched into years before his new ship would be ready, he felt as if he was being slowly buried alive by Academy routine.

As he often did when he was restless, he turned to stare at the two holos stood on a shelf. One showed two teenage boys on skis on the slopes of Mount Shasta. He picked up the other and gazed sombrely at a young blond boy whose eyes were alight with wonder as he raised a model starship over his head. People often commented on it, the boy an adorable younger version of himself, already in love with the idea of space travel. The ship was a model of his father's vessel, given to him during a brief shore leave. He'd always been determined to follow in his father's footsteps. Every heart-warming Starfleet cliché summed up in a single image.

Pike had worshipped the father that he so rarely saw. Long lonely months had been spent rereading the last comm, rewatching the last vid, acting out what he knew of his father's adventures, telling everyone he met that he was the son of Captain Josh Pike. The shore leaves had been intense, joyous periods, always too short, spent trailing his father everywhere, on his absolute best behaviour, trying to impress him, lapping up his occasional praise, wishing he would stay for longer. And then one day he did.

Pike hated the holo. His mother had sent it to him when he'd returned to earth to await the building of the Enterprise, as subtle a bit of blackmail as he'd ever seen from her. Remember the good times, forgive and forget… He'd finally put up the image to remind himself that it was all in the past. He'd forget nothing and forgive who he chose to. His life was under his own control.

Pike's messaging system beeped urgently. He glanced at his monitor, where a message had flashed up: mad doctor alert!!!!! Clearly Pike's assistant had given up on trying to stop the doctor bursting in without an appointment. Since that afternoon in the sim, they'd had the occasional cup of coffee together when Pike had reason to visit the medical school and every so often McCoy would stick a head around his office door to regale him with tales of the latest idiocy that had landed cadets (or officers) in the hospital. They weren't quite friends and they weren't quite flirting. But then again they weren't quite not flirting either.

McCoy strode in, slammed the door behind him and leaned heavily against it.

"Fuck Starfleet! Fuck the hospital! Fuck the fucking rules! Fuck individual's rights! Fuck sanctimonious, superstitious, irrational, gullible idiots! I hate this place! And fuck IDIC. Fuck it to everlasting fucking hell."

The doctor was dressed in surgical scrubs although they seemed unused. His hair was a riotous mess as if he had dragged his hands through it several times too many. He was now pacing furiously back and forth across the room, waving his clenched fists about.

"I'm a doctor, a trauma surgeon, with a decade's worth of the best training money can buy but does that matter, oh does it hell! They've got a book written for goat-herders so they know better. I'm a doctor. I took a fucking oath. To give aid. To do no harm!" He turned abruptly on Pike, his face mottled red with anger, almost yelling now. "How do I fulfil that fucking oath if they won't even let me do anything?"

Pike typed a quick message to his assistant to block all callers and then locked his office door. He had dealt with plenty of traumatized crew in his time and he recognized the messy aftermath of some disaster.

He took the doctor firmly by the shoulders and looked him in the eye. "What happened?"

McCoy glared back at him, arms now crossed defensively over his chest. "She died. She fucking died! That's what fucking happened. She was only twelve, pretty as a speckled pup, all freckles and wild red curls. All she needed was a god-damned blood transfusion, nothing complicated, nothing fancy. I'd have had her right as rain in a few hours and I wasn't allowed to do it. I stood there and watched her die."

Pike stared at him in horror. "Why were you stopped?"

"Fucking Jehovah's Witnesses. That beautiful girl lay there and looked me in the eye and told me that a transfusion would make her," Bones curled his fingers in derisive quote marks, "unclean and unworthy. And her parents stood at her side and quoted fucking biblical texts at me: Genesis, Leviticus, Acts. Some shit about how the flesh is the life and the blood thereof you shall not eat. And what the hell has that to do with blood transfusions and saving the life of your own daughter!"

"People are entitled to their beliefs, doctor, you know that," ventured Pike.

"Stone-age superstitions, more like," ranted McCoy. "The father told me that loving God means obeying commandments. What kind of god commands you to let your child die? Why would you follow such a god? And the fucking rights of these lunatic fanatics are protected in law. They knew their law, of course they did, they knew their rights!

"The father quoted all the precedents at me. A child who supposedly understands the consequences of the decision to refuse medical treatment is a 'mature minor' and can make their own decision. And the state may not compel a legally competent individual to submit to medical treatment which would violate their religious beliefs. It doesn't matter how fucking foolish, or ridiculous those beliefs may be!"

"It is the basis of individual dignity in our society," Pike said gently.

"Dignity! That girl is lying in a body bag. Where's the dignity in that?" McCoy was pacing around the office once more.

"Besides, that's not the point, Pike, and you know it. She was a child. Everyone she'd ever loved and respected had taught her that this crap was true, this unclean and unworthy bullshit. It's not a choice. What is the girl going to say? I love my life more than each and every one of you? She's too young to manage that. Hell, many adults can't pull it off. So she's going to choose to die rather than disappoint those she loves."

Pike glanced back at the holo of himself as a boy. He knew what it was like to be told what to think, year after year, and how hard it was to break free of that. He knew that McCoy knew it too. He wondered what he could do to help the man. The doctor was leaning against the wall, his hands clenched at his side. Pike noticed that the fists were trembling slightly.

"I'm guessing this didn't play out well at the hospital?"

McCoy grimaced. "Not really. I had to be physically restrained from assaulting the asshole of a father. I've been taken off duty until I calm down." The doctor spat out the last words as if they disgusted him.

Pike thought it best to keep him talking but try and get him off the topic of the death while hopefully he would indeed begin to calm down.

"Right, so why am I the one who gets the honour of your company in this situation?"

The doctor looked vaguely sheepish. "Well, Jim's away on a survival course."

"And that's it? I come second in your selection of useful acquaintances? You're not exactly awash with friends, are you?"

McCoy shrugged defensively. "I do okay. I've been busy. Besides, most of them wilt in the face of my…." He seemed to be searching for a word.

"Your appalling temper tantrums? Your raging petulance? Your galactic-sized hissy fits?"

McCoy reluctantly began to laugh.

"Right, yeah. Sorry for bursting in on you like this. It just makes me feel so fucking helpless. I know I'm a disaster in so many ways, but being a doctor? That's the one thing I can do, and do it damned well. The one fucking thing that I can actually do and I'm not allowed to do it." McCoy glared at him mutinously. "Besides, you're the one who took my hip flask away. You don't want me to drink, then you get to deal with my shit instead."

"You need to find a way to burn off some of that angry energy of yours, preferably a way that does not involve insulting your superiors or getting stinking drunk. I would advocate going for a run."

"Exercise? What an appalling idea," scoffed McCoy. He hesitated, and then looked at Pike challengingly. "Of course if Jim was here he'd tell me that the best form of stress release is sex."

"I thought his idea of stress release was picking a fight with three big brutes in a bar," Pike retorted to cover his surprise. This conversation was definitely taking a turn for the ill-advised, and he should put a stop to it immediately. Flirting during office hours was seldom a good idea, and flirting with a cadet a decade younger than him who was currently traumatized and frankly less than stable at the best of times was asking for disaster. But damn, he was tired of being careful.

Sometimes the Academy drove him up the wall. It was a political minefield, too many people with too much seniority but too little real responsibility, forever taking offence at nothing. The fact that he could navigate such a minefield with skill did not mean that he enjoyed having to do so. Some days he longed for the black, where the captain's word was law, where the unanticipated event called for the creative solution, where the ability to take a risk was an asset, not a liability.

He knew it was a bad idea even as he opened his mouth but still he did not stop himself. "So, if you chose sex as your solution right now, what would you choose?"

McCoy was leaning against the wall, his hands now crossed behind his coccyx in a way that thrust his groin forward less than subtly. He stared straight at Pike, a hard, level look. "I'd choose you, right here, right now. On your knees in front of me, your hands behind your back, and my cock in your mouth."

The two men stared at one another. Pike should throw him out, he knew he should. He suspected McCoy was in fact picking his own version of the Jim Kirk bar brawl solution, once again trying to engineer a confrontation.

Despite his attraction to men, his actual experience wasn't all that extensive. He'd licked a cock or two over the years, getting a partner warmed up, but he'd never let a man come in his mouth, and he had never gone down on his knees for anyone. It had always felt too submissive for his comfort.

His eyes unconsciously strayed back to the holo. At nine years of age young Chris had had his life-long wish fulfilled. His father, newly promoted to Admiral, had come home for extended leave, to recover from unspecified injury. Chris had been delirious with happiness, although somewhat puzzled when his father didn't show much sign of being injured.

Josh Pike, bereft of a crew to lead, took to ordering his wife and son around instead. He soon decided that his wife had been far too soft on the boy and that he needed to make up the slack, teach the boy the facts of life. Chris would come to hear a lot about what a dangerous, treacherous place the universe was, about how he needed to toughen up if he was to survive.

He would hear all about it as Pike senior sent his son to fetch the belt that he ritually used when the boy had yet again disappointed him with some unexplained show of weakness. He would hear all about it as he was bent over a table, held down with a hand on the small of his back, his failings listed for him in between each lash of the belt. The first few times he had cried, he had begged for his father to stop. It had made no difference. The first few times he had called for his mother, the woman who had cared for him for all these years and had seen her shrink away from both of them. He had learnt the lesson alright, the lesson that he was on his own now, that he had to look about for himself, that hoping for help just made it worse. He learnt many things at his father's hand but primarily that to love someone was not enough to stop you learning to despise them.

No explanation was ever offered for Pike senior's invisible 'injuries' or for the reason that despite being an Admiral he spent long periods at home, making his son the target of his unpredictable anger. Chris listened with growing disdain to his stories from the black, stories where no one could be trusted, not from Starfleet, not from their allies, not from the enemies. Always, you were on your own.

Chris escaped whenever he could, roaming through the desert of the Mojave on horseback, disappearing into the backcountry on skis and training relentlessly in the local gym. He was days short of his fifteenth birthday when Josh Pike last picked up the belt. Chris slammed him against the wall with one hand squeezed tight around his father's throat. With the other he pushed his fist hard into the other man's solar plexus. He explained in curt, cold tones that his father was never, ever to touch him again. Both men were surprised to realize that Chris was now taller than his father.

The beatings stopped but the daily admonitions didn't. Less than best in class was never good enough, less than full marks was never smart enough, less than an Admiral in Starfleet was not ambitious enough. And anything less than rough, tough and utterly self-reliant was not manly enough. Chris studied with relentless intensity, finished school a year early and entered the Starfleet Academy immediately, just as his father expected. And there he took his revenge, coldly and deliberately, cutting his father out of his life completely, never speaking to Admiral Pike again except in formal Starfleet situations.

He had deliberately antagonized all his father's allies in the brass, determined to make his own way. Fortunately for him Josh Pike had made more than enough enemies to provide Chris with a whole new circle of friends and he had found a sympathetic and liberal mentor in Richard Barnett. He finished the command track at the top of his class and headed straight into deep space without a backward glance.

Pike followed orders within Starfleet because that was the cause to which he had chosen to give his life. But outside of that he bent his knee for no man, and certainly not for mouthy cadet doctors a decade younger than him.

He waited for the doctor to open that big mouth of his, say something cheeky or angry or provocative, something to break this spell, something to let Pike find his way back to his persona of authority. McCoy didn't. He simply leant against the wall, in silence, pinning Pike with that stare of challenge.

Accepting a dare had always been a weakness of his. There had been a reason that he'd thought that a dare might get through to Kirk. He'd had to learn to control that impulse during his Academy years, had it pointed out to him as the biggest flaw in his psychological command profile. He'd learnt to take his dares in the form of his official orders from Starfleet.

Pike felt a familiar tightening in his stomach, a clenching in his core that he knew and loved. It was the feeling that came just as he was about to rematerialise onto a new planet, the feeling that came at the start of a dog-fight with enemy ships, the feeling that came as everything went fubar around him and only his ingenuity stood between him and catastrophe.

It was the feeling of stepping into the unknown, having to believe that his own abilities would be enough to carry him through whatever lay ahead. It was not a feeling that he had felt since returning to earth. Now it caught his breath like the ghostly hand of a long-missed friend. He swallowed hard. The door was locked. His assistant was under orders not to disturb them.

There was a moment at the start of every mission when the time came to stop planning, to stop thinking, to stop second-guessing. It was the moment at the top of a sweep of untracked powder when you finally let go of all the calculations of angle and aspect and snow stability and committed yourself to dropping over the edge, letting your skis carry you into your future for good or for ill.

Pike walked right up to McCoy, looking him dead-straight in the eye for a moment. Then he dropped gracefully down to his knees and pulled down the elasticised waist of the pants. The man stared at him in open shock and the resulting rush of satisfaction that he had called McCoy's bluff gave him the courage to push down the navy-blue boxers and fish out the cock that lay within them. He was not a procrastinator and he let the momentum of his action carry the half-hard penis up to his mouth and between his lips.

It occurred to him in a moment of doubt that he himself took quite some time to come from just a blow-job and McCoy wasn't even fully hard yet and he wasn't exactly experienced and there really wasn't a graceful way out of this and he might be on his knees for a long while yet.

Still his move had hardened the doctor up nice and quickly and the texture and heft of the cock were quite interesting in his mouth. He ignored the instruction to keep his hands behind his back. This situation was awkward enough without overbalancing with a man's cock between his teeth. He had his hands steady on the doctor's thighs and the combat instructor at the back of his mind noted that the man was in good condition.

McCoy was eerily silent above him and Pike had a surge of panic that he was doing this really badly. He had never liked being a beginner at anything. In his experience intensive study and repeated practise solved the problem but he wasn't sure how that applied in this context.

He went for what worked on him and tongued the sensitive spot just below the head. That earned him a heartfelt groan and fingers pushed into his hair. The weight of that large heavy hand on the back of his head was both erotic and unnerving.

"Oh yes, darlin', that's so good." McCoy's accent was showing through, all soft and honey-sweet and it was surprisingly sexy. Pike was hardening himself and it began to feel good. The velvet texture rubbed sensuously against his tongue and the combination of soft skin and hard core was intriguing. McCoy moaned softly above him. He felt a glimpse of the power of the giver that he'd always thought men talked about just to make women feel better about getting on their knees.

"So pretty, Captain, down on your knees." McCoy tightened the hand in his hair and began to actively fuck his mouth. Pike's gag reflex kicked in as the glans hit hard against the back of his throat. Struggling not to retch he became tangled in the problem of the saliva flooding his mouth that he didn't seem to have the space to swallow down. His lips were rubbing dry around the doctor's cock and he couldn't get his tongue out to lick them. And his jaw was beginning to ache. McCoy was not small and Pike really wanted to give his mouth a rest.

The doctor seemed lost in a world of his own, fucking his mouth aggressively, or so it felt to him, keeping up a growling litany of soft moans and muttered curses. Pike's erection had long since wilted and he really wanted to end this. Pride would not let him back down though. He hung on grimly, wondering why on earth women ever agreed to do this for men, wondering how long one man could possibly take.

"Gonna come!" Pike was too surprised by the sudden growl above him to immediately process what it was supposed to mean. As he realised and thought to pull away, he found his head being held rigid with that damned cock rammed against the back of his throat and his mouth was being swamped with salty, slimy fluid that was spilling out over his open lips. Shocked and surprised, Pike pulled back violently and spat onto the office floor. God, the stuff was disgusting.

"Hey, I wasn't done yet," came from above him.

Pike rose to his feet, turning his back on McCoy, scrubbing hard at his mouth with the back of hand. He'd caught a glimpse of the damp semi-flaccid flesh hanging over the elastic of the cadet's pants. It looked both pathetic and sleazy. What in hell had he been thinking?

"Get out!"

"That's not very friendly." McCoy's hand came down on his shoulder. He swung around, brushing it violently away.

"You've had your temper tantrum. You've had your fun. Now fuck off!"

McCoy stared at him incredulously. "For fuck's sake, if you didn't want to do it, why didn't you just say so? You're worse than my ex-wife. I mean, you knew what you were letting yourself in for, right?"

Pike's eyes skated away from McCoy's.

"Wait, what? But then why did you… Don't tell me you hadn't ever done…."

Pike's humiliation overflowed. "I'm not telling you anything except to get the hell out, cadet. I have better things to do than listen to the whining of men who can't cope with the demands of their own job. Maybe you should've just stayed at the bottom of the hip flask of yours!"

"Fine. Just fine. Well fuck you too, sir!"

McCoy slammed the door hard on the way out. Pike stormed after him a few minutes later, telling his bemused assistant that he was done for the day. Once he had brushed his teeth and swilled his mouth out repeatedly he pulled on his running clothes and grabbed his bike. He headed for the Ohlone Wilderness to run the punishing 10 mile 3400 foot ascent of Rose Peak. It was one of the highest points in the Bay Area and offered a breathtaking panorama over the entire bay to the west, and the Sierras to the east.

Pike saw none of it. What the hell had he been thinking, trying to assuage his unhappiness with some spectacularly ill-advised sex? With every step words his father's voice echoed through his mind: rule or be ruled, boy. There is no other way. You're on your own.


Pike stared grimly at his monitor. He'd give anything for a distraction right now, a call to take, a problem to solve. The last five days had been awful. He'd run until his knees hurt so badly he could barely get up the stairs to his office. He'd worked until he'd marked every sim assessment, reviewed every student report and revised the curricula for all his courses. He was an efficient man at the best of times. Now he was so far ahead of himself he had no idea what to do next.

His comm buzzed and he glanced at it before typing a rapid reply and then pushing it away from him in frustration. Another message from the doctor. He'd been ignoring them for days now. They'd started with the normal things about 48 hours after their ill-conceived encounter. 'I need to talk to you', 'I'd like to apologise', 'we need to discuss this'. He'd ignored them, unable to think of a single thing to say that would explain his behaviour without further unwanted humiliation. Of course, McCoy being who he was the message then escalated to: 'if you don't fucking answer this, I will storm into your office and raise hell, don't think I won't, answer me dammit!' Pike had given in and now sent back 'go away' in reply to each message.

So now he got a random selection on any given day of 'I'm sorry', 'you're an idiot', and 'I'll go away when you say it like you mean it'. He had no answer to that one. Instead he'd gone to a party at the Barnetts' house and picked up a sweet young thing, all generous curves and soft curls. He'd been bored with her before they'd even left the party but had seen it through like a gentleman. Apart from nearly dislocating her arm when he pulled her off as she prepared to go down on him he thought he'd managed to play his part fairly well. By the next morning he could barely remember what she'd looked like.

He'd made a second attempt, going to the officers' club and picking up a feisty XO in the city on a brief shore leave. She was brash and confident, with a filthy funny mouth, and he'd let her tie his hands to the headboard and then do as she wanted with him. She'd made a stunning picture riding him like a bronco but he'd kept wondering what the doctor would look like in the same position. It was all a farce anyway; she had neither the strength to genuinely threaten him nor the brutal wit to genuinely disparage him. He'd tried his damnedest to think of something else, anything else, but when he came with his eyes closed it was to the image of McCoy's scowling face with just one corner of those full lips lifted in the smallest of smiles.

Both women had called him since, leaving hints in the first case and demands in the second that he contact them. He was ignoring both of them. He put his head in his hands, feeling abruptly overwhelmingly tired. He had moments when he resented McCoy and moments when he missed him. Sometimes felt that he was owed an apology by the damned man and sometimes that he ought to offer one of his own. Both were difficult given that he couldn't imagine looking him in the eye ever again.

Pike looked up in relief at the incoming call from his assistant.

"I'm sorry to disturb you sir, but it's the Starfleet Surgeon General."

Pike recalled that he'd met the woman once while having lunch with Phil Boyce. "Admiral Turnbull. How can I help you, ma'am?"

A lilting voice echoed briskly across the line. "Captain Pike. I seem to recall that you are a friend of our difficult doctor, Leonard McCoy."

"Not exactly a friend..."

Turnbull ploughed on without pause. "And you are aware that all cadets, medical included, have to pass those confounded compulsory flight tests. I looked at your Academy scores, Captain. Most impressive! You'd have qualified as a pilot if you hadn't chosen command."

"Thank you..."

"So the thing is that McCoy is about to crash out. As you know you get five chances to pass the solo flight sim and he's failed four of them. If he blows the last one, we lose him for good. It's all unmitigated bullshit to me, mind, complete waste of time for our medical specialists. These people are meant to save lives, not fly ships, but we live with the regulations."

"But those tests are easy…."

"And so they are, but it turns out that McCoy's bloody petrified of flying."

"And he enlisted?"

"Yes, brave man, or mad, whichever. Look Pike, we need him, you like him and you're a top class pilot. Sort it out. Do whatever it takes. That'll be fine, won't it? Good man, knew I could rely on you!" And Turnbull was gone.

Pike stared at his comm in consternation. He had just been expertly railroaded by the Surgeon General. Whether he liked the doctor was immaterial. Ignoring his inexplicable fascination with the man, the two of them got on like oil and water. They would just end up having a stand-up row in the flight centre. He had to find a way out of this.

He was staring blankly at his desk when a reminder chimed on his diary. Kirk was about to arrive for their weekly chess game. Now there was a possibility. Kirk was friends with the doctor, why wasn't he sorting this mess out? He'd pass the whole thing over and solve the matter that way.

The weekly meetings with Kirk were the one good thing to come out of his acquaintance with McCoy. Ostensibly they weren't meetings at all, Pike was simply teaching Kirk to play three-dimensional chess every Friday afternoon. The first few times had been awkward with Kirk radiating that unattractive brash cockiness that Pike had finally realised was a cover for nervousness. Once the boy gained confidence, the sessions had become fascinating, their conversation covering topics as varied as diplomacy, battle tactics, motorbikes and San Francisco bars. Jim's quickness of mind was startling and his thirst for knowledge, particularly real first-hand experience, was unquenchable. Once he had dropped his defences he was also awkwardly grateful for Pike's ongoing interest in him.

"I hear McCoy is having problems with his flight sims."

Kirk, who was gazing in perplexity at a trap that Pike had slowly been manoeuvring him into for the last 10 minutes, answered distractedly. "Yes, I got him through the crew sims, mostly by acting as his co-pilot and doing most of his job as well as mine. But the solo sims are a disaster. And I nearly had it all fixed for him, too!" Kirk moved a piece which, while not getting him out of trouble, weakened Pike's trap. Kirk wasn't yet good enough to always spot the snares early on but he was damned good at wriggling out of them in the end stages. Pike stared at the board in frustration. The man would be an extraordinary player in time.

"Nearly had it fixed?" Pike prompted. Any easy way out of this mess had to be encouraged.

"Yes, well, you know how he gets five tries at the solo? The first one was truly, epically awful. So on the second I did all I could to distract him and he really did well, except for the panic at the end and the crash landing. But if you looked at the bigger picture he'd just about passed. So while he was throwing up in the john, I was sweet-talking the TA who was supervising the sims. And I nearly had her too, had her comm number and had nearly persuaded her to massage Bones' numbers when he came back and realised what I was doing and pitched a fit. Man, he can be loud when he's pissed! Anyway, he absolutely refused to let me help him any further with any sims. All I could do was get him to promise not to take the test for a while, give himself time to calm down."

Pike stared at him incredulously. "Cadet, have you just admitted in front of an instructor to attempting to cheat test results?"

Kirk offered his most charming smile. "Did I? I'm sure that's not what I meant. I was just trying to help. Just like I shouldn't be doing brain surgery, Bones shouldn't be trying to fly shuttles. Each to our own, that's all I'm saying."

"Hmmm." Pike regarded him levelly as Kirk did his utmost to appear absorbed in the game while radiating innocence. He suspected that Kirk would get himself in serious trouble one day with his flexible attitude to rules but right now that wasn't Pike's problem.

So Kirk probably didn't know that McCoy had tried the test twice since and tanked both times. While the man considered his next move, Pike called up McCoy's test results on his padd. They truly were abysmal.

"Is he really that afraid of flying?"

"God yes, he's terrified. Have I ever told you how I first met him?" Kirk settled back into what Pike thought of as his story pose, as he prepared to spin a tale that probably wasn't entirely true but was guaranteed to be funny. Pike sighed inwardly. He really didn't want to hear yet more about the damned man that he'd been obsessing about all day, but Kirk's distraction might allow him to rebuild his trap on the board.

"So I staggered on to that shuttle of yours the morning after the fight. I'd stayed awake all night, was in the same clothes from the bar. In honour of Starfleet I had at least washed the blood off my face! I figured there couldn't possibly a putative cadet in a worse state that I was. I was quite proud of that fact!"

"I bet you were," Pike muttered as he carefully placed a seemingly minor piece in a seemingly unimportant position and waited to see what Kirk would make of the move.

"So I take my seat and there's this dude being hauled out of the bathroom by a lieutenant. And she's asking him if he needs a doctor and he's cursing at them: I don't need a doctor, dammit! I am a doctor! You can imagine!"

Pike couldn't help the smile. Yes, he could imagine.

"Anyway, he gets pushed down into the last empty seat which is next to me. And he's bitching that he doesn't need a seat, he had a perfectly good seat, in the bathroom, with no windows. And then he turns to me and announces: I might throw up on you. Which is a hell of an introduction.

"He's out of uniform with three day scruff on his face and he's looking pretty manic. So I'm trying to calm him down a bit, spinning him some soothing bullshit about how Fleet shuttles are pretty safe. And he just goes off on this spectacular rant about all the ways you can die in space. I can't remember all of it but it ended with this killer line about how space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence."

"Dear god," Pike muttered, now thoroughly distracted from the chess board. "Why did the man ever enlist?"

"That's exactly what I wondered. I told him: dude, I hate to break this to you but Starfleet operates in space. And he said that his ex-wife took the whole damned planet in the divorce, and all he had left was his bones. And then he offered me some god-awful bourbon that he had in a hip flask and we've been bosom buddies ever since. He's awesome!"

Kirk suddenly jumped up and headed over to Pike's monitor. "Wait, this you've gotta see."

Pike abandoned the game with relief. Kirk had wormed his way out of the trap, although Pike wasn't sure if he'd realised it yet. Best to give up while he was still ahead.

"Cadet, are you busy hacking into the admittance records? You don't have clearance for that!"

Kirk looked briefly sheepish. "Yeah, well, just look in the other direction for two minutes, won't you. This is worth it." Pike stared out of the window, shaking his head at himself. The number of rules that he bent for these two men was extraordinary.

"Look! This is gold! They took the enlistment ID photos when we landed. Bones got himself cleaned up later and had his redone to provide the utterly anodyne one that he now has on his cadet card, but this is the original."

Both men looked down at a photograph of the doctor. His hair was a riotous mess across his forehead. His lips were full and pink against the dark scruff of a days old beard. He was glowering suspiciously at the camera, small worry lines pulling his eyebrows together. Pike thought that he looked tired and beaten down, yet oddly determined.

Once Kirk had left, Pike continued to stare at the photo. This was a man who'd lost everything to his ex-wife's family and yet had found the strength to start over. This was a man who was terrified of space yet had the courage to enlist in Starfleet. This was a man who could not afford to fail yet refused to let Kirk cheat on his behalf.

Damn the doctor for getting to him like this. Pike quickly called the sim centre and booked a test for the following morning. He then sent McCoy a curt message telling him to be at the centre by 10.00. With luck the doctor wouldn't bother to come and Pike could write the whole thing off while still being able to say that he tried.


Pike arrived the next morning dressed casually in jeans and a sweater. He'd give the doctor ten minutes and then take his bike for a spin around the bay. To his surprise the doctor stomped in at one minute to ten and planted himself in front of him, arms crossed defensively, glowering. Pike took in the unshaven face and the red eyes. The man hadn't made much of an effort. He hadn't even bothered to put on his uniform. Pike grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him close, letting the man's warm scent fill his nostrils.

McCoy froze and then pulled away roughly. "I'm not drunk! I haven't touched a drop since getting your comm. Thanks for bothering to check whether I was actually available this morning and all. I had to swap shifts at the last minute which didn't make me popular at the hospital."

"I doubt that you're popular there anyway," Pike snapped. Everything the doctor did seemed to be rubbing him up the wrong way. "Now why are your flights results so appalling?"

"I suffer from aviophobia. In case you don't understand big words that means fear of dying in something that flies!"

Pike clenched his fists by his side. How had this gone so wrong so fast? He'd put up with exactly 30 seconds more of this before telling the man where to get off. Starfleet would just have to live with one doctor less. "And why do you suffer from aviophobia?"

There was a long silence. The doctor was staring fixedly at the floor. Although his anger continued to simmer, Pike's curiosity was aroused. There was a story here. He waited silently.

"The Spirit of St Louis," McCoy said softly.

Pike could place the reference easily. The crash was notorious, even though it had happened over a decade earlier. The vids were still found on the networks. The pilot had done an illegal fly-by past the spectacular viewing windows of the newly renovated Atlanta shuttle port. He'd lost control and the shuttle had crashed and gone up in a giant fireball right in front of the spectators. Pike had been in deep space, near the end of his service on the USS Olympus but the images of the crash had reached them even out there.

"Did you see it happen or was someone you knew on it?" Pike asked.

"Both," the doctor replied shortly.

Pike made the connection almost immediately. His mother. Fuck. Now he really was going to have to make an effort to help.

"Let's get started." Pike escorted the doctor to the pilot's seat of the shuttle. As a solo sim McCoy could not have a co-pilot and no one was supposed to be standing by the shuttle either. But as Pike was running the session without an audience and under his personal authorization, he decided to ignore that fact.

The doctor was already rigid with tension, his hands fisted white-knuckled on his thighs. "Don't start yet," Pike ordered. "Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and talk me through the procedures."

He was taken aback when McCoy gave him a word perfect recitation of the manoeuvres needed to launch, fly and land the craft. "I damned well know my stuff," McCoy snapped in the face of Pike's surprise. "I'm not a fool and I've studied this to the point of exhaustion. It's just that when I'm supposedly up there and the visual and sound effects come into play the panic descends like a red mist."

"Do it again," Pike ordered, "eyes closed, talk through it, put your hands where they need to go to do the various procedures. That got him a weak smile from McCoy. "I really don't think Starfleet will let me get away with flying a shuttle with my eyes closed!"

Once again McCoy proved that he knew what to do. Pike made his repeat the entire procedure three more times in quick succession, talking through the actions, this time with his eyes open and focused on the controls. Each time he did the procedures perfectly. And then Pike ordered him to do it yet again as he switched the sim on. "Just repeat exactly what you've done the last five times. Talk the procedures as you do them. Focus on the instruments, focus on my voice."

McCoy tensed up immediately but not as badly as at the beginning. He got the shuttle started, down the runway and into launch. It was shaky but at least he was in the air. He followed the required flight path with some dips and wobbles but nothing that would result in failure. And then he brought the shuttle into the landing trajectory. Pike could see the sweat trickling down his forehead, smell the stench of fear.

"Keep on talking," Pike ordered. "Tell me what you're doing."

"I can't," McCoy croaked in a desperate whisper, "I can't control it!"

"Doctor! You can. Ease back on the throttle, watch your horizon line. Tell me what comes next!" McCoy seemed to respond to the bark of authority. He pulled the shuttle back into line and continued to whisper the landing procedures. At every pause, Pike filled with the silence with his own voice. "And now? What comes next? Talk to me, doctor!"

The shuttle touched down unevenly, bounced madly and began to swerve. McCoy covered his face with his hands. Pike grabbed the controls and brought the vessel to a standstill. It was entirely illegal but the doctor had done it all himself right up to touchdown. In the captain's opinion it was enough.

McCoy was hunched forward, his face buried in his hands, as Pike called up the final result. He really hoped that the vomiting thing wasn't about to happen.

"Doctor. McCoy! Look at me, dammit!" Pike was battling to get his attention. "Look at the results. You've passed!"

"I passed?" McCoy stared incredulously at the screen. He hadn't passed by much. Pike personally would rather face up to a battalion of Klingons than trust the other man to pilot to him anywhere. But he would stay on as a Starfleet doctor and that was all that mattered.

"I passed! I fucking passed!" McCoy turned to Pike, grabbed the captain's face with both his hands and kissed him.

The captain's first disjointed thought was that those hands really were large. They cupped his face from chin to temple, holding it warmly and securely as soft broad lips mashed against his own and the tip of a wet tongue licked along the seam of his mouth. Pike felt his own surge of panic. It's just a kiss, he told himself. It's just a mouth, no different from doing something with a woman.

It was a lie. It was utterly different. Everything was bigger, the hands, the mouth, the hot tongue that was pushing irresistibly between his lips. Most of all the sheer authority of it was different. McCoy knew what he wanted and he intended to take it. Pike's senses swum as he surrendered to the moment and focused exclusively on the plush agile tongue that was plundering his mouth.

McCoy started to explore after a while, trailing wet kisses across his cheek and nibbling his way down the cords of his neck. Pike let his head fall back, shivering. The brush of the doctor's stubble across his own skin was electrifying, reminding him with every movement that this was a man and a powerful one at that. He pushed the other man away. "Christ McCoy, this is really not the place for this."

McCoy regarded him curiously. "So does that mean that there is a place for this? Now that's interesting. I'll be getting back to you on that. But right now I've got things to do."

He grabbed Pike by the hand and began to tow him to the door. "I've got the rest of the weekend off, now that I've swapped shifts. I'm going to have a drink or thirty to celebrate and you're coming with me. By tonight I intend to be as drunk as a three eyed spider on a blue tick dog."

Pike knew he shouldn't be encouraging the doctor's drinking but dammit all, he felt in need of a stiff one himself. "I'm not getting drunk with a cadet in San Francisco," he protested.

McCoy eyed the bike that was parked outside the flight centre. "Fair enough. That monster's yours? And you do actually know how to drive it, right? The parents of a nurse at the hospital have a beach house on the Big Sur coast. The keys are under the mat, I've an open invitation to make use of it, and there is a beachfront bar just down the way. Power up that bike and let's go watch the sun set down there. We've got comms and credits with us. Let's just go!"

Pike stared at him, wondering how long it was since he had done something so utterly impulsive. That was of course not including that afternoon that he wasn't thinking about. Well over a decade probably. And didn't that thought make him feel old. Maybe it was time to take Boyce's advice.

"Fine," he said straddling the bike. "Let's go. Although I'm sure that nurse was hoping that you'd take her down there, not me!"

"Whatever," McCoy said dismissively as he settled in behind Pike. "She should get her gaydar repaired. I'm done pretending to be something that I'm not." He moulded his chest against the other man's back, pressing his thighs tightly around him, wrapping his arms about his waist and pushing his hands in under Pike's shirt to rest against warm skin. "I hope the damned shields on this thing work. D'you know how many ways you can die riding a bike?"

Pike laughed and deliberately dipped the bike round a bend. Force shields had eliminated the need for helmets on bikes and he loved the feel of the wind whistling around him as he pushed the bike towards its limits. It was years since he'd had a friend ride with him on a trip like this.

The doctor had his face buried against the back of Pike's neck. "Are you OK back there?" he shouted. "I've got my eyes very tightly shut," mumbled McCoy against his ear. "Tell me when we get there you speed freak!"


They lounged on the deck of the bar, watching the sun descend slowly towards the Pacific, a glimmering red ball sinking through bands of rose-edged cloud. Pike was reminded yet again why he had missed the doctor over the last week. He made for wickedly scurrilous company. And even when he was insulting Pike, as he did on a regular basis, there was a deeply buried tease in his warm hazel eyes that made it impossible to take offence.

Pike was already tipsy and McCoy was out-drinking him by two to one and was only eating at Pike's insistence. He hated to think what that lost year between the death of McCoy's father and his enlistment in Starfleet must have been like. But Pike wasn't going to go there today. Tonight was about celebration and oddly enough about friendship, although the captain couldn't quite work out how on earth they'd managed to become friends.

Abruptly McCoy changed the topic from his default one of the incompetence of anyone who wasn't himself. "So about that afternoon in your office…"

"We're not talking about that," growled Pike.

"Yes we are. I was madder than a mule chewing on bumblebees after that hospital fiasco and I was trying to pick a fight with you, as I think you know. And then you just…. Jesus, Pike, what in hell's name did you think you were doing?"

"Oh for god's sake, call me Chris. And did I mention that we're not talking about that?"

That got McCoy smiling and frowning at him at the same time, an interesting effect. "Right. Leonard. But you know that. And I need to know how to get it to happen again without ending so badly!"

"It's not happening again," snapped Pike, draining his drink and gesturing for another.

"Why not?" demanded McCoy, for whom tactfulness was clearly a lost art. "I know you're attracted to me, I'm pretty sure you liked kissing me earlier today. What're you so afraid of?"

Pike directed a poisonous glare at him and wondered if there was any way to get on his bike and head back to the city without looking as if he was flouncing off.

McCoy was staring at him as if he was some lab specimen that was very much not doing what was expected of it. "You know, Pike – dammit, Chris – you really confuse me. I only ever started flirting with you because I thought it would piss you off!"

"And only you would think of pissing off superior officers as some kind of leisure activity," muttered Pike into his drink.

"A man has to have a hobby," McCoy retorted. "Anyway, you went with it. For all your prim and proper act, you proved to have a sense of humour and just sometimes, you flirted back! That really threw me, I can tell you. So then of course I had to keep going to find out how much I could get away with. I never expected it to come to anything."

McCoy left a meaningful pause. Pike stared into his drink as if the answer to the meaning of life was floating in it. Dammit, he wasn't ready for this. He wasn't sure if he wanted to move forward but he didn't want to kill the possibility either.

"OK, if you won't talk then I will. Finish the full disclosure. If you're going to turn me down you may as well have a reason for it."

Pike waited warily, glad of a possible change of subject.

"Remember how I told you that my father-in-law found me in the storeroom with his son? His hot and willing son? Well, Andrew, the fucker, pinned the blame on me. Told his Daddy, and I quote, that I had tempted him from the paths of righteousness. Abandoned me to the wolves and went grovelling back to his family."

Pike topped up their glasses and waited. McCoy was staring morosely out at the slowly darkening sea.

"Then it all went into the death spiral, in more ways than one. My Daddy was getting rapidly worse. My family and the Darnells were sharing the burden of sitting with him through his last months. Father-in-law summoned me into his office and told me that despite my ongoing sojourn in the valley of evil, he was prepared to do me a favour, for my Daddy's sake. If I agreed to an immediate divorce, with all our joint assets going to Jocelyn, and my losing my job and leaving the state, they wouldn't tell my Daddy the truth about me before he died.

Pike stared at him, appalled. "The fucker! And you put up with that? With your temper? I can't see you rolling over so easily."

McCoy shrugged. "I said yes to everything. I just wanted to get on with my research, try to find a cure. It was hopeless of course, by then I'd totally lost perspective, but no one stepped forward to try and help.

"The divorce went through weeks before his death. I sat by his bedside, in the company of my ex-wife and her father and we played happy families for my Daddy. He never knew. The pain became so bad at the end that he begged me to turn off his life support. I so badly wanted him to hang on, to give me more time with my research. But in the end he was pleading with me and none of my work was leading anywhere and I had failed him in every single way, even if he didn't know the whole truth. So maybe in this one final thing I could do right by him."

McCoy lapsed into silence, staring unseeing out to sea, his eyes a glassy shimmer. Pike ran through the story in his head. There was still a piece missing, he could feel it, a final nail that had the doctor entombed in his coffin of misery. Something that Turnbull had said all those weeks ago echoed in the back of his mind. "Wasn't a cure found for pyrrhoneuritis sometime soon after?"

McCoy drained the rest of his drink as Pike watched him. "Full marks, Captain. You are well informed," he replied bitterly. "Yeah, that was the final straw. If only I'd resisted his pleas a little longer… It was found by the Chinese following a parallel research path to my own. If I'd known, if we'd collaborated, we might have found it sooner. But everyone at Emory was so secretive about their research, patent rights and all that crap. And the Chinese? No one at Emory kept up with Chinese research. All that alternative medicine stuff, duck entrails and powdered rhino horn, don't you know?"

McCoy waved to the bartender for more alcohol. "And my Daddy's body was hardly in the grave before my ex-father-in-law started claiming that financial irregularities had been uncovered relating to my research work. That was bullshit. Something else was going on but by then I cared about nothing. I just wanted to escape. I told the fucker that I had nothing left to lose. If he started trying to pin something on me, I'd tell the world about his faggot of a son. If he left me alone, I'd go. So he did, and I did."

The doctor continued to stare moodily at the sea. All his happiness and confidence from earlier in the day had leached away and Pike felt a pang at the loss. "Yeah, not much of a catch, am I?" he said softly. "All I do is fail those I try to love."

"At least you try," Pike replied, surprising himself. "The coward's way out is not to love at all. You're braver than I am."

McCoy had turned to stare at him incredulously. "Braver than you? What the hell does that mean?"

Pike wasn't entirely sure what he meant. This was certainly not the sort of thing he ever talked about, not even to someone as important to him as Boyce. He fumbled on, trying to make sense of his own jumble of thoughts by speaking them out aloud.

"My father was a Captain and he lived for the job. I'm not really sure why he married at all, maybe he felt it was expected of him, I don't know. But my mother loved him dearly and I adored him, even if I barely knew him. When I was nine he was injured on duty and came home to us, newly promoted to Admiral, to recover from the trauma. But he never did, really. It puzzled me that I couldn't see these injuries. It puzzled my mother that the brass made little use of him following his promotion. But of course he knew the truth. The damage was mental and he'd been booted upstairs and then put out to pasture. He didn't take it well. Mostly he took it out on me."

Pike paused. He couldn't bring himself to show quite the brutal honesty that the doctor managed. Still a sideways glance at McCoy suggested that the man was capable of guessing what he was hinting at.

"The last time that I ever spoke to him was on the day I left home for the Academy. But I did get curious, once I was studying psychology on the command track, once I began to realise what effects trauma could have on a man. I tried to hack into his records but couldn't break the code. I tried again once I'd been made a Captain and found that whatever the events that had caused the injuries, it was all hidden behind a level of classified clearance that I still didn't have.

"I only found out a few things by accident, after I'd been captured by the Ngultor and Phil Boyce was able to access certain medical records as part of researching how you help a man recover from alien mind control."

"Alien mind control?" McCoy sounded torn between fascination and disgust.

"Long story, for another time. The first of two times that it has happened to me." Pike took a deep breath and soldiered on. He had talked before about what had happened to him, he wouldn't have been cleared to continue his command if he hadn't opened up to the Starfleet psychologists. But he'd never told anyone about what he knew of his father's experience.

"My father experienced something similar, taken captive by a newly discovered race, kept in solitary confinement while they probed his mind in an attempt to understand this alien being. He'd left his crew with orders to retreat if the situation became too dangerous. The aliens were playing with his perceptions and he convinced himself that he'd been abandoned, that he'd have to survive alone forever. Obviously they rescued him eventually but it seems that the damage was done. He couldn't regain his capacity to command, he couldn't bring himself to trust his crew.

"And he brought that trauma back to earth with him. Didn't trust my mother any longer, suspected her of illicit affairs. It nearly broke her heart, all she had to offer him was her love and he'd sealed himself off from everybody. He decided I was too weak to survive in such a harsh world, too trusting. He took it on himself to toughen me up, open my eyes to the realities of the world, teach me that there was no one I could rely on except myself. He beat it into me, literally, that I was all on my own, that I could only trust myself, that I must never give up control to anyone else."

"But you don't believe all of this?" McCoy queried. "You come across as very controlled but in all other respects as good with people and with plenty of friendships."

"Friendships, yes," Pike replied slowly, "but people really close to me? Not so much." He drummed his fingers on the table, trying to think through what he was really trying to say. "I rebelled against everything my father told me, except his expectation that I would enter Starfleet. I actively sought mentors and alliances, and found two particularly important ones, in Richard Barnett and in Phil Boyce. Both times that I came under alien mind control myself, I tried to empathise with my captors in order to attempt to outwit them, and right through it all I believed fiercely that my crew would come for me in the end. And they did."

"Very clever, you allowed yourself to bend, and as a result you didn't break." McCoy was clearly fascinated, leaning forward intently, his eyes alight with curiosity.

"I'll tell you the details… another day. It wasn't without consequences. That is why I'm currently grounded, rehab time for multiple mental trauma. But I've made use of all the help Starfleet can offer. And I'm getting another ship. Unlike my father, I'm still fit for command. And finally, knowing that, I can feel sorry for him, rather than angry."

Pike sighed heavily. His parents. Now there was another messy relationship that he hadn't faced up to yet. But right now that wasn't his concern. Right now he was trying to find a way out to the man across the table from him, a way through the walls he had built around himself.

"I thought I'd rebelled against all he tried to teach me, but I'm starting to realise that in some ways I just ended up learning warped versions of his lessons."

"What do you mean?" McCoy asked.

"He told me to trust no one. I just learnt to distrust those who claimed to love me, to distrust my father for hurting me and my mother for failing to stop him. He told me I had to learn control. And I did, the control to hide my tears from him, to hide my despair from everyone around me. I'm his son, by both nature and nurture. I live behind iron walls of control and choose not to love because it only leads to disillusionment."

He looked across at McCoy, the doctor's features now soft in the fading light of dusk. Somehow the gathering darkness made it easier to offer some basic truths. "I've always been attracted to powerful men. Hell, I had the most inappropriate crush on Richard Barnett right through the Academy, although I hid it ruthlessly." That confession startled a laugh out of McCoy and his pleasure touched Pike, reinforcing his determination to finish this confession.

"I've never acted on it, not beyond friendly fumblings, a man helping out a friend, nothing with any emotional connotations. I've generally gone with women. Without meaning to sound patronising, I don't feel threatened by women, no matter how capable they are. They are just too different. And I've never been attracted to effeminate or submissive men. But powerful men, strong, capable men… That challenges me."

"And you're telling this to me because…?" McCoy queried, puzzled.

"For god's sake, doctor, you're supposed to be some kind of genius. Try putting two and two together."

McCoy stared at him for a moment and then gave him that half-smile that Pike liked so much, just the corners of his mouth curving up, as if they had escaped briefly from the iron control of his usual grumpiness. "Huh. Not exactly how I see myself, but I think I'll take it as a compliment. We should drink to that!"

By now they were both thoroughly drunk and the light was fading fast. With what common sense remained to him, Pike decided that they had better find the beach house while they could still walk straight. And so he found himself some time later lying on the sand just down from the porch of the house, wrapped up in a couple of old quilts that they had found, watching the waves rolling in and drinking bourbon straight from the bottle.

Although McCoy's ability to hold his alcohol was truly impressive, the man was finally losing control. Pike would have staked a month's salary on the doctor being a morose, bitter drunk but he could not have been more wrong. It turned out that McCoy became sweetly affectionate and handsy. It made Pike wonder what the man might have been like without the death of his parents, the failure of his marriage and the stress of his sexuality.

He was now lying with his head on Pike's chest while patting distractedly at his arm, examining him with squiff-eyed concentration.

"Such a pretty captain," McCoy informed his earnestly. "Of course, Jim will be a pretty captain too. Do they choose you for the pretty, I wonder? But Jim's always up to something, always on the edge of trouble. And you are so very proper. Pretty proper captain. Such a poker up your ass. It's a nice ass, you know. I should know. I looked!" He whispered this confidingly to Pike.

"I looked more than once. Such a pretty ass. But the poker's a problem. I could take it out for you. I could! I'm a doctor, did you know? I could take it out for you and replace it with something much better. Like my cock! I'd like that. I bet I could get you to like that! My cock buried balls deep in your pretty ass. I've got big hands, have you seen?"

McCoy helpfully patted Pike's arm with a hand. "You know what they say about big hands on a man. And it's true. I've got a big cock too. I could fill you up so very nicely."

Pike considered the large hand currently wrapped around his bicep and thanked his lucky stars that the darkness hid his blush. Although the doctor seemed to have forgotten, Pike remembered exactly how big that damned cock had been. Fortunately their mutual advanced drunkenness left them both with little hope of getting it up, so he didn't have to decide right away how he felt about this generous offer. The doctor was still murmuring quietly to himself about the pretty as he finally drifted off to sleep on Pike's chest.

Pike lay staring at the stars that were slowly appearing above them. He had travelled so very far through the universe, encountered places and beings and cultures beyond the imagination of most Terrans. But he had never let anyone explore that particular territory, not with cocks, not with fingers, not with toys. It had always seemed too submissive, too vulnerable, to give his body over to another man to use.

Yet he could not tear his mind away from McCoy's offer. What would it feel like to have those thick fingers squirming up into his ass? Just how much could that tight ring of muscle stretch? And was there any truth in all that stuff about the prostate? Considered objectively he wasn't quite sure about the idea of the doctor pushing that cock into his anus. The thing had made his jaw ache. How much worse would it be squeezed into his ass? And yet just thinking about it gave him a curious shivery feeling inside.

Ever since he had walked out of his father's house for the very last time, he had determined that he would control his destiny. Could he bring himself to put his pleasure in another man's hands? Could he bring himself to trust another man that far? Hell, not just some other man. Could he trust himself to Leonard? Did he want to try? He fell asleep wondering whether he had the courage to do it.


Pike woke to the insistent summons of his comm. He had different rings for different calls and this was the most urgent of them all, top security, top priority. He tried to wriggle free from the tight cocoon of doctor and quilt, tried to bring his fuzzy eyes into focus to read the text of the message.

"Dear god in the mornin', it's way too early for this. What's up?"

He was surprised that the doctor could talk coherently after that much alcohol but then he realised that McCoy must have at least as much experience with inconvenient summonses as he did. "I have to get back. Some sort of emergency intelligence briefing."

"Back by when?" The doctor was peering over his shoulder and seemed to be thinking rather more clearly than he was. "You could be back by 10.00 on the bike. Or we can go down the coast to the nearest beaming pad. It's some way though."

"I'm not sober enough to ride the bike."

"You can be! I have a single hypo of one hellacious hangover cure here. It's available for medical emergencies only, for patients with alcohol poisoning. It'll make death seem like the better option for about 10 minutes but after that you'll be good to go."

"And you have one with you why?"

"I expected to fail that sim of course. Was going to drink myself into oblivion."

"What about you?"

"I'll find my way back later today. I'm going back to bed to sleep off my celebration the way god intended!"

After five minutes of voiding from both ends and five minutes of grasping a head he was sure was about to split open, Pike was propped up on his bike by an evilly amused McCoy and sent on his way. By the time he was 20 miles into the ride he was feeling fully recovered, the wind in his face blowing away the last of the headache. With a quick shower and a fresh uniform, he arrived at the briefing looking as if he'd had a sober evening of work followed by a good night of sleep, rather than a reckless drinking session with a crazy doctor, followed by sleeping on the beach tangled up in the arms of said doctor. He hadn't done something so unanticipated in years.

By the end of the session he was buzzing. Disturbing reports were being received from Klingon space about the sighting of a strange ship. Reports were unclear whether it was a tool of the Klingons or an enemy of theirs. For once he had something useful to contribute, drawing on his experience with Kaaj to analyse what the intelligence might mean and what steps could be taken. As usual the prevailing mood was far more conservative than he would have liked but if he could just plant some seeds of ideas, then at least something had been achieved.

"Glad to see you back, Chris," Admiral Barnett commented as they exited the briefing.

"Back, sir? I don't understand."

"You've been a shadow of yourself since you joined us here at the Academy. Don't look alarmed, all your work has been of the highest quality but you just haven't had the same enthusiasm, the same sparkle that has made you stand out since your earliest cadet days."

Barnett slapped him on the shoulder. "I don't know what you've been up to, Captain, but whatever it is, you should do more of it!"

More bunking out of Starfleet, more getting drunk with cadets or more waking up curled around unhinged doctors who thought him pretty, Pike wondered.


The next few days were busy ones, trickles of news kept coming through from Klingon space and endless meetings were convened to review the information yet again and reach yet the same conclusion which was that they had no idea what it meant. Pike found himself regularly in demand on top of his normal work and he had not had the time to do more that send a few comms to the doctor to check that he had got himself back to San Francisco in one piece.

The following Friday Pike found himself once again looking at the holos he kept on his bookshelf. This time his attention was not on the blond boy with his starship but on the two teenagers, standing on skis, gesturing back at the turns they had carved on the long descent of Mount Shasta's Hotlum-Wintun ridge. It was the biggest, boldest descent that he and Doug had done and although they did not know it at the time, was to be their last great adventure together.

Doug, like Chris, was a Starfleet brat, his family neighbours of the Pikes in Mojave. But unlike Chris he had rebelled openly and vociferously against the expectation that he would enlist as his father and elder brother had done. His father had been injured on duty and reassigned to a desk job that he hated. And his brother had died in an engineering accident on the USS Kelvin, some years before the famous sacrifice by George Kirk. Doug was having none of it.

The boys frequently escaped the pressure of their heritage together, heading out on horseback or in the winter hunting out powder snow in Doug's dad's pick-up. The snow was where Doug's heart lay and he had been filling out 'ski bum' on his school career plan for years. Pike stared sadly at the holo. He remembered both the extraordinary descent where luck and a rapid ascent had given them first tracks and the bitter argument they had had on the way home in the pick-up.

Doug had been furious when Chris confirmed that he had sent off his enlistment papers to Starfleet. Though the boys never spoke of it directly, Doug knew what Chris lived with at home. He knew that Chris longed for the freedom to make his own choices just as much as Doug did.

Chris had tried to explain that Starfleet was what he wanted, that he believed in the mission, he just wanted to do it on his own terms, not his father's. "Dude, it doesn't matter how noble the mission may be," Doug had ranted, "there will always be some fuck-wit asshole above you, shitting on your head, promoted on age or connections, and you stuck having to follow crappy orders because of the chain of command. I'm gonna work when I want in the summer, ski where I want in the winter, answer to nobody for nothing!"

Chris had received various notes and holos over the years, secret powder holes, first descents, face shots in champagne powder. He'd sent back his own, other planets visited, alien races discovered. And now he had this one last note from Doug's mother.

Doug had died 10 days earlier in an avalanche in the backcountry near Bariloche. Chris had clicked the news link that came with the note, read about the 'giant avalanche that came out of nowhere'. He grimaced at that, both he and Doug knew better. Digging through the resort reports from Bariloche confirmed what he had expected. Doug had triggered the slide that killed him with his own body weight. The avalanche risk had been high following a storm. Doug was seeking fresh tracks on a steep south face.

Pike noted sadly that Doug had just got back on skis after a knee injury had kept him resort-bound for several weeks. Too keen, too confident…. He knew now what he had been unable to articulate to Doug all those years ago. Doug's freedom was also limited. He skied not when he wanted but when snow safety and weather allowed. And he paid for it with long summer months washing dishes and waiting tables. His life was circumscribed just as Pike's was. But he put up with shabby lodgings and boring work and bad weather because when it all came together, it was the best feeling in the world.

And that was what Starfleet was like for Pike. He could list a hundred things he hated about the organisation but when it all came together, there was nowhere he'd rather be, nothing he'd rather do. His eyes strayed across to the boy and the starship. At different times in his life he had hated that boy for his vulnerability and pitied him for his pain. Now at last he simply felt proud of him, for surviving and thriving and finding a way to reach the world that he wanted on his own terms.

Life was both short and uncertain. He had chosen not to let his father dictate what he would do. It was time to stop letting his father dictate what he wouldn't do. He walked back to his monitor and called up the picture that he had saved from the enlistment form. McCoy's scowling, scruffy face peered suspiciously back at him. There was no doubt that the damned doctor put a shiver in his stomach in a way that only deep space exploration ever had before. It was time to stop prevaricating.

Pike leant against his desk wondering what exactly to say to McCoy, staring unseeing at the news headlines scrolling along the bottom of his monitor as he pondered. Suddenly 'Emory' jumped out at him. He pulled up the article. He was punching in McCoy's comm number before he'd got beyond the second paragraph.

"Whadaya want?" came growling out of the speaker.

"I fairly sure that should be whadaya want, Captain, sir!" Pike teased.

"Hear me rolling my eyes at you! Busy here, Pike, some of us actually work for a living. What's up?"

"Have you heard about your father-in-law at Emory?"

"Ex-father-in-law, thank fuck. No, what?"

"It's just hit the news headlines. He's been suspended as administrator at Emory pending a fraud investigation. It seems that he's been appropriating funds from the hospital to prop up Darnell Pharma. Apparently it's been going on for years. And the other family members are all on the board of Darnell. They are also under investigation to see if they were complicit in the fraud."

He could hear McCoy's sharp intake of breath. "The bastard! The pompous, pious, patronising asshole! All those lectures that he gave me about morality, about principles and decency. And he was stealing from his own hospital!"

"I suspect it's worse than that. From what you told me, I think he might have been trying to set you up as a scapegoat for the losses at Emory. You're well out of the whole mess."

And suddenly it was easy. "Do you want to come out to dinner with me tonight? I know a little place in Sausalito, right on the water, that does the most amazing seafood.

He could hear the suspicion in McCoy's voice. "Why would you want to do that?"

Pike took a deep breath. "Why not? To talk, to eat, and beside I do seem to remember a promise about a poker and something to replace it with."

And that got him a shocked silence and then a deep laugh. "Dammit man, don't say things like that when I'm at work. I need to keep my blood available to think with."

"I'll pick you up outside your dorm at 20.00 on the bike. Dress to look good!"

And Pike found himself smiling fatuously at the photograph of McCoy on his monitor as the doctor swore cheerfully at him and rung off.

It turned out that the doctor cleaned up very nicely indeed, in tailored chinos that showed off his firm thighs and a black collared shirt that he had apparently run out of interest in buttoning halfway up. The black set off both his dark skin tones and the hazel of his eyes. Pike let himself really look in a way that he hasn't done before and he found what he saw to be surprisingly attractive. The effect was enhanced by the fact that the doctor was both clearly happy and curiously shy.

The shyness wore off in the course of a relaxed evening. They ate outside on the terrace overlooking the water. A full moon was shining across the bay in a quite ridiculously romantic way and McCoy teased him relentlessly about it. To anyone looking on it was a companionable dinner between two old friends. But McCoy was the master of the double entendre. Just a twitch of those expressive eyebrows and a certain softening of his accent could give the most innocuous statement a filthy undertone. That plus the press of the doctor's leg against his own under the long tablecloth kept Pike deliciously on edge all evening.

As Pike drove the bike back round the bay to his apartment, he relished the feel of those large hands wrapped firmly around his waist, tucked in under his shirt, and that broad chest pressed up against him. Attempting to keep his focus on the road, he tried not to speculate about where else those hands might go, about other ways that that chest could be pressed against his back.


Once standing in the hallway of Pike's apartment the two men looked at each other awkwardly. Alcohol was the obvious gap filler but Pike really didn't want either of them too drunk to participate seriously in this. Generally he would've choreographed a sexual encounter to fit his own desires but that wasn't what he was hoping for this time. If he was genuinely going to let this take him into unknown territory, physically and emotionally, it was no good reverting to his customary habits.

He'd expected McCoy to seize the initiative as he often had before but the man seemed oddly unsure. It occurred to him abruptly that the other man possibly had almost no experience with this – not the sex but the dating, that his experience was made up of anonymous back-alley encounters and hospital storeroom quickies with the unlamented Andrew.

"Second thoughts?" demanded McCoy abruptly, arms crossed defensively, as ever going on the attack when he felt uncomfortable. Pike grinned to himself; he was learning to read the awkward fucker. He grabbed the doctor and pushed him towards the nearest wall, before spinning them round so that McCoy's weight pinned him against the vertical surface. They were almost exactly the same height but McCoy was broader in the shoulders and chest. The weight and power of the man's body, his sheer physicality, sent a fine shiver down Pike's spine.

He took a deep breath and spoke. "You're in charge, Leonard. Whatever you want, however you want it."

"Really?" McCoy stared at him, incredulity warring with delight on his expressive face.

"Anything you want," Pike breathed deeply, letting his body relax against the wall, letting his voice become deliberately deeper. "Whether I've done it before or not. It's all yours."

"Dammit Chris, have you any idea what an offer like that does to me?" McCoy had his hands on the wall on either side of Pike's shoulders and was pressing up against him, a firm thigh pushing between his legs. The substantial bulge in his pants did indeed give Pike some idea.

And then the doctor was kissing him with the same firm authority as in the shuttle sim centre. Pike shut his eyes and let the sensations wash over him – the silky smoothness of the underside of an agile tongue, the subtle rasp of the topside, the sticky slide of salvia, the rough burn of Leonard's apparently ever-present stubble.

The man was opening his shirt as they kissed, nimble fingers making short work of the buttons.

"Good lord in the mornin', look what you've been hiding away!" McCoy pulled back to stare at Pike's chest, where he now had long fingers buried in the captain's luxuriant chest hair. "Oh darlin', I do love a man with some soft and furry to cuddle up to." He looked around wildly. "We need a bed, we need to be horizontal, I need to investigate this at leisure."

Pike grabbed him by the hand and pulled him towards the bedroom. McCoy pushed him suddenly so that he fell backwards onto the soft mattress and then immediately crawled up over him, pinning him between arms and legs. "Oh darlin', ain't you a sight for sore eyes, all laid out just for my delectation.

Pike surged up to try and catch that garrulous mouth with his own, but McCoy shifted his hands onto the captain's biceps, pinning him with his full body weight. Pike tensed, his fight reactions suddenly kicking in. McCoy froze and for a long moment they simply stared at each other.

Pike took a deep breath and deliberately relaxed.

"Anything, any time, just tell me no and I'll stop. Do something else. I'm not risking losing you again, Chris." McCoy was staring down at him in the utmost seriousness.

"I'm not a fragile flower, Leonard, and I don't need to be handled with care," Pike snapped, regretting the words even as they were leaving his mouth. McCoy released him and sat back on his heels, his expressive face shutting down into its normal suspicious scowl. Pike felt a pang at the loss of happy enthusiasm that had been lighting up the other man from within all evening.

Pike did not enjoy having to explain himself but for both their sakes he knew he needed to try. He propped himself up on his elbows. "Leonard, I'm sorry, that was uncalled for. I want you, I want this and I want this this way. But it's not easy for me to simply let go of a lifetime of conditioning."

He was bracing himself for a prolonged and embarrassing discussion but as usual the doctor surprised him. McCoy's scowl was gone as quickly as a summer thunderstorm. "Darlin', you're a class act. I could learn a few things from you about apologizing. Given that I'm never more than five minutes away from saying something utterly inappropriate, I'm hardly going to hold it against you."

He placed a big hand in the centre of Pike's chest and pushed him back down onto the bed, following him down to lay between his thighs. "But I swear, honey, if you let me push you into something that you don't want to do, because you're trying to prove some pig-headed point to yourself, I'll…. I'll…" He seemed at a loss for an appropriately appalling threat. "…I'll camp out in your assistant's office pleading for forgiveness to the utter embarrassment of all concerned."

"Please don't," muttered Pike, "John's already terrified of you." He had to laugh at McCoy's smug reaction to that news.

"I've never had a man call me honey," he continued, keen to move the conversation on from his own idiocy.

"Oh sugar, darlin', sweetpea, there are a hundred things I'd like to call you."

"Well I damned well draw the line at sweetpea," retorted Pike.

McCoy smiled down at him, his eyes alight with mischief. "But honey, I'm a southern boy and my momma brought me up right, brought me up to show respect and care and love… I can't help myself."

No, you can't, can you, thought Pike. Underneath that gruff exterior you are desperate to be allowed to love someone and because you're a contrary bastard, instead of picking any one of many normal people who'd be delighted to receive your attentions, you've fixated on a cold, controlled bastard like me.

McCoy's hot plush mouth snuffling around in his chest hair in search of his nipples distracted him rather effectively from his inner musings. The man took his time in undressing both of them. It turned out that he had something of an oral fixation, either filling his mobile mouth with whatever came to hand – nipples, earlobes, fingers, soft flesh sucked on almost hard enough to bruise but not quite – or he was continuing his muttered monologue, his accent thickening and slowing with his rising arousal, as lazy as the wide Mississippi on a sizzling summer's day.

It was beginning to feel to Pike as if the man was being damned lazy about getting to the point too. McCoy was currently rubbing his rough cheeks against Pike's tender inner thighs while running curious fingers down his long legs. "So sensitive, darlin', who would ever have guessed? Do the enemies of the Federation know that the illustrious Captain Pike can be reduced to a squirming puddle by tickling the soles of his feet?"

Pike rose up, grabbed him and flipped them over so that he had the doctor pinned below him, unabashedly rubbing his inflamed groin against the other man like a randy dog. "God in heaven man, will you get on with it? I know good sex is supposed to be worth the wait but I'll die of old age at this rate."

McCoy fought back immediately, more effectively than Pike would have expected. He suspected that combat lessons from Jim might be part of it, combined with the doctor's complete lack of shame at fighting dirty. They rolled across the bed and down onto the carpet in a tightly held and thoroughly erotic wrestle. Neither man was using their full strength, and Pike knew he would win out if he had too, but the knowledge that McCoy was this close to him in strength and power was bizarrely arousing.

"Enough, Chris," panted McCoy. "We're not adding carpet burn into the mix. And you, darlin', are a thoroughly disobedient captain. I'm supposed to be running the show, remember? Up on the bed, on your stomach, legs spread. I'm going to show you what happens to insubordinate officers!" McCoy's steady gaze was offering a very deliberate dare. Dammit all, Pike couldn't resist a dare. He followed the instructions, the shiver in his stomach strengthening as the doctor pushed a pillow in under his hips and further spread his legs.

"Dear god Chris, look at you. I can't believe I get to do this with you!" McCoy knelt between his legs and pulled his buttocks apart with two large strong hands – and then just stopped. Pike knew he had to be staring down at that most private part of him and it was humiliating and exciting and so dirty-wrong and such an utter turn-on. He jumped as a broad wet tongue licked a wide stripe from his balls up through the cleft of his ass.

Pike had been rimmed before by women, delicate tentative touches from slender tongues. He'd never really seen the attraction of the act, to be honest. But neither delicate nor tentative was in McCoy's vocabulary. That large mouth owned his ass completely. Ample lips sucked strongly at the edge of the little pucker while a thick, supple tongue pushed confidently into the tight ring of muscle. This was fucking all right, hot, messy, dirty tongue-fucking with his thighs pinned down by McCoy's broad arms and his ass being plundered without hesitation or mercy. Pike bit down on the pillow to contain his own moans but he just couldn't suck in enough air through his nose, not with his body being ravished this way, and he settled for clutching the pillow and panting hard, letting his soft moans be lost in the sound of the doctor's obscene slurping

It took him a moment to realise that the added fullness in his over-sensitized ass was a spit-slick finger pushed deep into his anus. "Lube, Chris," panted McCoy. "We need lube, like now, like yesterday."

"Bedside drawer," Pike managed to say, embarrassed by how hoarse his voice had become.

"Kinky bastard," McCoy said affectionately as he sprawled over Pike's body to reach the drawer, a fine sweat prickling up under the wealth of warm skin. "You lie all sprawled out and naked on this big bed, do you, taking care of yourself? Now that I'd pay to see."

He wriggled back down between Pike's legs, warming the neglected little hole back up again with long, lascivious licks. A sloppily slick finger wormed its way back in. Pike tensed involuntarily and got bitten hard on the buttock for his trouble. "Relax sugar, push against it if you need to. I'm going to be down here for some time yet."

One finger became two and Pike's body was easing to the intrusion but he still wasn't entirely convinced of the pleasure of the act until teasing fingertips swept over something that sent a shower of sparkles racing through his body.

"And look what I found, darlin'," purred McCoy, sounding exceedingly pleased with himself as he brushed gently time and again over the same spot. Shimmering streams of pleasure were spiralling through him, and he was pushing his ass back and up towards those teasing fingers and he knew he must look like a bitch in heat but, dear god, he was well past caring.

McCoy pulled out his fingers and replaced them once again with his tongue, the agile muscle now able to push right into his distended anus, rubbing against a million tiny nerve-endings that had never had it so good. Pike had no control over what was happening to him and he knew it and finally he found that he really didn't care. He closed his eyes, relaxed into the mattress and gave himself up the whims of his wayward lover.

Finally, after three fingers and more tongue and a lot of obscene slurping and a detour to suck on his heavy balls and run a sweat-saliva-lube slick hand up his aching cock, McCoy crawled back up his body and pressed sticky lips against the back of his neck.

"Darlin', please, I can't bear another minute of this. Tell me that I can take you, tell me that I can fuck you and fill you and stuff my cock up into your beautiful ass and make you feel so very, very good."

"Jesus Christ, Leonard, just shut up and do it already!" demanded Pike.

McCoy lay over him huffing with laughter. "Damn you are a bossy bastard, even when you're about to be thoroughly fucked. I love that about you."

He pulled Pike over to one side, pushing his other leg up towards his stomach, and then spooned in behind him. "Push out, darlin'," he breathed as he began to push in with a warm solid object that could only be that substantial cock of his. And Pike has spent so long worrying about this that the easy inevitability with which it finally happened took him entirely by surprise.

McCoy pushed in gently, but with a clear authority that brooked no refusal, each push burying him just a little deeper until he was finally tucked up tight against Pike's distended asshole. The hand that had been holding the captain's thigh firmly in place now went exploring, over the flat stomach, brushing through the forest of chest hair, teasing a nipple in passing and finally tracing Pike's lips, parted with panting. Pike sucked them in hungrily, despite knowing where they'd been and let McCoy set up a slow sweet rhythm, fucking ass and mouth with cock and fingers. The acres of hot silky skin rocking against his back and legs provided a soft undertone of pleasure to the hot ache of his packed ass and the sparks of white-hot pleasure that erupted with each pass over his newly awakened prostate.

McCoy's mouth was pressed against his neck, alternating between messy licks of heated skin and his usual running commentary: "Christ Chris, you should feel yourself, heated velvet but so much better, soft warm silk, dear god man, I didn't know it could feel like this. What you do to me! You're a fucking god, I've never had anything like this…"

Pike had to laugh at this sudden outpouring of dazzled enthusiasm and his shaking body seemed to do good things for the doctor, who began to push in harder and deeper.

"Bastard," McCoy panted, "laughing at me at a moment like this. I'm taking you for the ride of my life…. I mean your life… god, whatever…."

Pike reached back with a long arm to pull the doctor into a headlock, his face pressed cheek to cheek with McCoy's. "Enough damned talk, Leonard. I'm a man, fuck me like a man. Fuck me like you mean it!"

"Yeah, yeah. Not a fragile fucking flower. I've got it." McCoy pulled back and pushed him down into the mattress, holding himself up on his arms as he pulled out and slammed back in hard and purposefully, the force sending shudders up Pike's spine. It was hot and hard and rough and Chris had never been more turned on in his life. Leonard was moaning incoherently above him and he'd done that to this amazing man, reduced that scathingly articulate mouth to gasping groans of pleasure.

His cock was being rubbed tantalizingly against the sheets by the rough fucking but he wanted more and reached out blindly, pulling one of McCoy's hands round under his belly. "Lube," panted McCoy. "Bossy," retorted Pike, flailing around for the tube. It was worth the hiatus, as sticky-slick fingers curled around his throbbing cock, pulling and twisting in a rough, commanding rhythm. The wealth of sensory input from between his legs was overwhelming, his thoughts reduced to stuttering fragments afloat in an ocean of feeling.

And the ocean was rising in a tsunami of sensation, flooding through him, searing and wild, an overwhelming surge into shuddering orgasm. McCoy's voice carried him right through it, an inarticulate stream of obscenities and endearments, climaxing soon afterwards in a surprised exclamation of "Chris, darlin'…. oh dear god…" and a set of final stuttering thrusts. Pike revelled in the wet heat filling his ass. It was hot and dirty and utterly out of his control and he'd never felt better.

McCoy collapsed on top of him, a warm heavy weight pinning him to the bed, and still the damned man wouldn't shut up. "Dear god in the mornin', sugar. If I'd had the faintest idea it'd be that good, I'd not have wasted my breath complaining to you about those damned combat lessons that very first time, remember that? I'd have just draped you over that ostentatious desk of yours and had my wicked way with you."

"And that really would have ended badly," replied Pike dryly. "Get off me, you lump of a man, I'm not sleeping in the damned wet spot. You're heavy! You could do with more exercise and less high-sugar pick-me-ups in the hospital canteen."

McCoy rolled off him and sprawled out on his back across the bed. "Coffee is my sin, not sugar. I'm a fine figure of a man and you know it!"

Pike let his eyes roam over the broad chest and lightly furred thighs. He was indeed a fine figure of a man and Pike was mildly awed that the two of them had somehow, despite everything, managed to find their way to this place. Maybe there was hope for them after all.

McCoy grinned at him. "I know you think of yourself as cold and controlled, but honey – you are so wrong! I wish you could see yourself now."


Pike woke early as he was wont to do. The two men had separated during the night, it was too hot to sleep curled up. Beside Pike liked to stretch out and it turned out that McCoy tossed and kicked in his sleep. Now he was curled up around his pillow, that small scowl apparently permanently etched between his eyebrows.

Pike went into the bathroom and showered quickly. His ass felt strange, stretched and sore, a constant presence in his mind in a way that it had never been before. He looked at himself levelly in the mirror. He looked the same as ever, older than he'd like to be but otherwise a capable respectable man. How could something so deeply significant to him leave no outward sign?

"Chris?" The doctor's voice was soft and uncertain.

Pike walked back into the bedroom, towel around his waist, to find Leonard half out of the bed, holding his shirt.

"There you are. I wasn't sure if you wanted me to..." He hesitated.

Pike frowned at him in surprise. And then he recalled that McCoy, for all he was nearly 30 years old and so confident in bed, had never been in a public relationship of his choosing. There had been his doomed marriage, the brief hidden affair with Andrew and a long string of casual encounters. This relationship was an earth-shaking for him as it was for Chris.

"Come here, you idiot." Pike dropped the towel, flopped down on the bed and pulled McCoy into his arms. The musty scent of sleep and sex still clung to his warm skin. He rubbed his freshly shaven face against the scruff on the doctor's cheek.

"I thought we could have a leisurely wake-up session in bed and then go and get some breakfast together. Bon Día down the road does a mean cup of coffee and fresh croissants."

The way that McCoy's eyes lit up confirmed his suspicions. He traced a thumb tenderly across the shy smile that was quirking those full lips.

"Leonard, I don't know where this going. And obviously our orders will send us in different directions eventually. But up until then, it's you and me and we're in this together."

McCoy was grinning at him now, his face warm with happiness. "You, Chris darlin', are a mighty fine man," he declared.

Only because you are here to make me into one, Chris thought, as he returned the doctor's enthusiastic kiss.


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