Jim Kirk looks around. There’s nothing here, nothing all.
“Fuck.” He sighs, and starts walking. “If this is what eternity looks like, I’m really gonna be pissed.”
It doesn’t feel like long at all before he’s walking through an old wheat field, kicking up dust and dirt as he goes. He looks up to see a dark, cloudy sky. “Perfect. I finally find something, and it looks like rain’s coming.” With renewed interest, he keeps walking. There’s a building in the distance. If he can get to it, maybe the people there will let him in. No one wants to make someone walk around in a storm, right?
Just as the first crack of thunder sounds overhead, he breaches the edge of the field and dashes across the open area to the front steps. There’s a man standing on the porch, and he calls out, “Hey Mister! Think I could just stay dry for a while?”
The man chuckles as Jim sprints up the steps. “I’d be happy for the company, son.”
Jim freezes, eyes going wide. “No way.” He turns, chest heaving and heart pounding as he turns to look at the man. “You… you’re here.”
Christopher Pike smiles back at him, looking relaxed in an open flannel shirt, plain white t-shirt, and worn old jeans. “Yes Jim, despite my many complaints about Iowa in general,” he holds his arms out like a stage performer, “ta-da.”
Jim stares at him. “I’m not dead?”
Pike’s smile drops a little. “Oh you’re dead alright.”
Jim licks his lips. “Right. So…” He looks out over the fields. “This… this is my uncle’s house.”
“The house you grew up in, yeah.”
“And we’re here because?”
Pike looks out towards the horizon. “It seemed more appropriate than a bar.”
Jim swallows. “Oh.”
Pike smirks. “Still as eloquent as ever, I see.”
They stand there for several minutes, listening to the rain pelting the roof over their heads and hard, packed ground in front of them.
“So what happens next?” Jim asks.
“You make a choice.”
“Shut up and listen, James.” Jim closes his mouth and stands a little straighter. Pike nods. “Now that I have your undivided attention, I need you to understand something.” Pike pauses, taking a breath. “Where we are right now, it’s not heaven, not hell. It’s really not even purgatory. What it is is an in-between realm.”
Jim snorts. “Realm? Seriously?”
“Yes, seriously, and shut up until I’m done.” Jim rolls his eyes but doesn’t say anything. Pike stares him down, then continues. “This is the place where you learn you’re dead. Well and truly dead, with no hope of living again.”
Jim’s expression falls, just for a moment, as it sinks in. I’m dead, he thinks. I’m dead and I never told Bones, I never said…
“Hey.” A hand falls on his shoulder and squeezes, and he looks into Pike’s eyes. He sees sympathy, and it hurts. “It’s gonna be OK, son.”
Jim breaks. He falls forward into Pike’s arms, wrapping his own around him and clinging. “I didn’t wanna die,” he whispers. “There was so much I could have… I wasn’t ready.”
“We never are,” Pike tells him, arms warm and solid around his shoulders. “But you did an amazing thing, you know.”
Jim blinks, then pulls back. “Enterprise! Are they-”
“They’re being towed back to the space dock right now,” Pike tells him. “You should see them, Jim, they’re rallying together like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s complicated. But trust me, they’re alive, they’re safe, and they have you to thank for it.”
Jim nods. “And uh… is Bones… does he… know?”
Pike purses his lips. “He’s got you in a cryotube right now. He’s trying.”
“Trying?” Jim shakes his head. “Trying what?”
“To bring you back,” Pike says.
Jim’s eyes go wide. “You mean, I might… I could-”
“No.” Pike shakes his head. “I’m not psychic, I can’t see into the future, but I do know this: when one of us is dispatched, there’s no goin’ back.”
“One of… one of us, one of who?”
“Ferrymen. Messengers. Harbingers, even.”
“You do, you just don’t want to.”
Jim closes his eyes and swallows against a suddenly dry throat. “Ferrymen. Those who bring souls to the… other side?”
“More or less. I’m here to give you a choice.”
Jim leans against outer wall of the house. “What kind of choice?”
“Forwards or backwards.”
“You can move forwards - accept judgement and go to the afterlife. Or you can go backwards - spend the rest of eternity on earth as a ghost, unable to affect anything and powerless to help those around you.”
Jim frowns. “Yeah good, don’t sugarcoat it or anything.”
“It’s a big choice, and it’s a serious choice.” Pike shrugs. “I’d be doing you a disservice if I made light of any of this.”
Jim’s tongue flicks out over his lips again. “What would you choose?”
Pike raises an eyebrow at him. “My god, are you actually asking me for advice? If I’d known it would take the both of us being dead before it finally happened…” He smiles. “I can’t make your choice for you, and I can’t tell you what lies next for you. That’s something only you can find out.”
“If I go back, I can see Bones.”
Pike nods. “Yes, you can see him. You can see him every second of every day, if you want.”
Jim’s eyes go wide, mouth tilting up at the corners.
“You’ll see him as he drinks too much. As he cries himself to sleep. As he blames himself for being unable to save you. As he thinks about ending it all.”
“But he didn’t… it’s not his fault, I…”
“I know.” Pike’s hand is on his shoulder again.
“You don’t know that that’s what he’ll do. You said you can’t see the future.”
“That’s true. But I do know you, and I know McCoy.” Pike smiles at him, sad and resigned. “I know that where one of you goes the other won’t be far behind.”
Jim pulls away, hands clenched tight and tears pricking behind his eyes. “No! Don’t say that, don’t ever say that! He wouldn’t, he… he won’t, he can’t…” Jim cuts off, choking out a sob as he falls to his knees on the porch. “Are you… do you really think he’d…” He looks up at Pike, fighting back tears.
“I think he’s hurting right now. He’s just lost his best friend.” Pike squats down in front of him. “Jim, he’s just lost the love of his life.”
Jim shakes his head. “No, we weren’t… it wasn’t like that, we never-”
“If you think you can sit here and convince me that because you two weren’t sleeping together you didn’t love each other…” Pike’s eyes narrow, but a soft smile is pulling at the corners of his lips. “I wasn’t blind, all those years I knew you two.”
Jim closes his eyes. “Were we really that obvious?”
“To everyone except each other, it would seem.”
Jim sighs. “Terrific.” He clutches his head. “And now… now it’s too late.”
“Too late, for the time being.”
Jim groans. “What, against all odds we could find each other again, when his time is up? Choirs of angels, trumpets sound, and we run towards each other in slow motion?” He scoffs.
Pike gives him a flat look. “No, I’m saying that if you choose to go forwards, when his time comes due and he’s faced with his own choice, you’ll know.”
Pike laughs at that. “Same way anything like that gets handled. Paperwork.”
Jim stares at him, the laughs as well. “Wow. So far the afterlife sounds pretty tame. Wasn’t it supposed to be long robes and harps?”
“I’d have thought you’d be expecting a bit more fire and brimstone in your afterlife.”
Jim grins. “I might have been.”
Pike smiles, straightens and holds out his hand. After a moment, Jim takes it and lets Pike pull him to his feet. He tugs at the hem of his shirt, trying to straighten it.
“So lemme ask you. If you were in my position.” Jim walks over to the railing on the porch and leans against it. “What would you choose?”
Pike crosses his arms as he turns to look at Jim. “I’d have thought my choice was already pretty much evident.”
“Yeah, but… if you had someone like… like Bones.”
“What makes you think I didn’t?”
Jim opens his mouth, then closes it again. “Fair enough.”
Pike inclines his head. “But, if you’re asking what I think you should do so that you and McCoy end up in the same place… I’d say that you need to trust that you know how he’d think, and what he’d choose.”
Jim makes a frustrated sound and pushes off the railing, pacing along the short porch. “He wouldn’t want to stay.” Jim shakes his head. “He’d never be able to do it. Watching people suffer, and being helpless? Hell, he could barely let me suffer a headache after a night of drinking.” Jim stops and looks at Pike. “He’ll choose forwards.”
Pike smiles. “That what you’re choosin’ too, then?”
“Well alright then.” Pike walks to the door of the house and opens it, holding it for Jim. “After you, Captain.”
Jim grins, and steps through the doorway. “Thank you, Admiral.”
The inside is the same as Jim remembers. He looks at the small hallway that leads off to the kitchen on the right, living room on the left. Directly ahead are the stairs that would lead to his and Sam’s rooms, worn blue carpet covering wood that creaked and made him hide under his blankets, and he swallows as he steps into the living room.
“It’s just us,” Pike says. Jim nods, staring at one of the chairs as Pike moves past him.
“Good,” he says.
“You think I’d do that to you?” Pike steps in front of the chair, hands on his hips. “You think I’d be that person?”
Jim closes his eyes. “No.” When he opens them again, Pike nods.
“OK then.” Pike steps forward, hands coming to rest on Jim’s shoulders. “Ready?”
Jim lets out a breath, then says, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready.”
Pike smiles. “I want you to know.” Jim looks up into his eyes. “I’ve never been more proud of any cadet or officer.” His hands squeeze, and he blinks a few times. “You are a great man, James. And I’m privileged to have been a part of your life, however brief.”
Jim leans in and wraps his arms around Pike, burying his face against his chest and shoulder. “Thank you,” he says quietly. They stand there for a few moments, then pull away with smiles and red-rimmed eyes.
“Alright.” Pike snaps his fingers, and when Jim looks past him, two doors have appeared in the wall. Pike holds out his hand, and Jim shakes it. “I’ll see ya around.” He smiles brightly.
“Yeah,” Jim says, grinning. “See ya soon, old man.”
Pike raises one brow. “You remember you said that when I get you back for it.”
Jim laughs, then looks back at the doors. “Forwards or backwards,” he murmurs. “Hey, which one-” He turns.
Pike is gone.
“Goddammit.” Jim looks back at the doors, and grabs the one to his right.
It feels… cold, is all he can think. It feels cold and lonely, somehow, and he lets go, looking at the door to his left. He shakes out his hand, then grabs the handle.
“Whoa.” He looks down at his hand, eyes wide. “That’s weird.”
The door feels… right, like it’s the one he should be choosing, the one that will lead him home. He takes a deep breath, lets it out, and opens the door. Light floods his vision, and he squeezes his eyes shut, turning his head away. Just as quickly, it subsides, and he blinks a few times, squinting at the figure in front of him.
“No fuckin’ way,” he says to himself. The man in front of him smiles. “…Dad?”
George Kirk steps forward, holding out his hand. Jim can see so much of Sam in him, but also a lot of himself as well, and he just stares for a moment before launching himself into George’s arms. George huffs a bit as the breath is knocked out of him, and then his arms are holding Jim tight. “My baby boy,” he whispers. “My god, you look just like I thought you would.”
Jim pulls back, blinking and staring wide-eyed at him. “You… you’re…”
George nods. “Yeah, I’m here.”
“Dad.” Jim hugs him again, swallowing against the overwhelming emotions swirling throughout every inch of him.
“I’m so sorry, Jimmy. I’m so, so sorry.”
“I forgive you.” Jim finds it’s easy to say this, to mean it, after the circumstances surrounding his own death. “I…” He takes a breath. “I understand, now.”
When they part, George nods. “And how I wish to God you didn’t.” His smile is tinged with sadness as he claps a hand on the side of Jim’s neck. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s get you settled in.”
Jim looks around then, and the world suddenly focuses. “We’re… is this San Francisco?”
George nods. “Yep.”
“Why? I mean, I was in Riverside a minute ago.”
“Pike met you in Riverside?”
Jim blinks. “You know Pike?”
George chuckles. “I was in my fourth year at the academy when he joined up. Marcus, he was…” George sighs. “Marcus got us both into it.” George shakes his head. “Anyway, he and I met when I was TA for one of the first year classes. Hit it off pretty well. He had a hell of a crush on your mother.”
“Oh good, I was hoping this would get awkward,” Jim says as they turn down another street.
George laughs. “As I was saying,” he continues, “Pike and I were friends, of a sort. When he got here, I knew about what he’d done for you. What he’d been for you.” George looks down at the ground. “When your name popped up, he jumped at the chance to be your ferryman. Called me as soon as he got the assignment, asked if I wanted to take his place.”
Jim frowns. “So why didn’t you?”
George looks pained. “I wanted to, Jimmy. You have no idea how much I wanted to.” He sighs. “But the fact is, if I’d been let into the in-between… I don’t know how I’d have ever been able to tell you what you needed to know without trying to influence your choice. So I declined.”
“But if I’d chosen backwards, you never would have met me at all.”
“I know,” George says softly. “But the truth is, I trust Pike. And he told me he knew you well enough to believe that you’d choose this.”
Jim hums. “Ah.”
“Plus, this way I get a few days off.”
George stops in front of a building and smirks. “To get to know the son I never met before.”
Jim swallows, then looks at the building. “Hey…”
“There’s an apartment on the seventh floor. Great view of the academy grounds, two bedrooms as I recall,” George says.
Jim stares. “My… this was my apartment. With Bones.” He looks over at his father. “Uh, that is, Leonard McCoy. My best friend and CMO.”
George nods. “Yeah.” He smirks again. “I know.”
Jim’s face flushes, and he looks away. “Damn, were we even obvious to my dead father?” George’s laughter was loud. Jim covers his face with his hands and counts to ten. “Alright,” he says, dropping his hands and levelling a serious expression at George. “Is my old key-code gonna work?”
“Try it and find out.”
Jim does. The door slides open, and they step inside. “This is really fuckin’ weird, just so you know,” he says. Another laugh from George makes him smile. “So what happens now?” They step into the lift, and Jim hits the button for the seventh floor.
“Now? You get some time to acclimatise, adjust, and then you meet your case worker.”
George nods. “Yep. They only come to check on you a few times at first, make sure you’re alright, settling in, etc. They help you find a job-”
“You mean I don’t get to frolic through open meadows in the sunshine for the rest of eternity?”
“God, how boring would that be?” George asks, snickering. “Not even a chance to stop for a drink?”
Jim chuckles. “Scratch that idea, then.” The lift stops and the door opens. Jim looks out, licking his lips.
“Go on,” George says. “Show your old man where he can find you for dinner.”
With a deep, steadying breath, Jim steps out of the lift and walks up to the apartment labelled 7-167. He punches in the code again, and the door swishes open.
It’s just as he remembers it. The couch they’d immediately agreed upon, the two chairs they’d argued over, the coffee table Jim didn’t care about when Leonard brought it home. The glasses in the kitchen were the ones he’d bought, and the plates and silverware were ones that Leonard had gotten as a gift from his mother. Jim’s fingertips ran over everything, remembering dinners shared and time spent watching terrible movies and afternoons they lazed about reading, content just to be near each other.
“I didn’t think I’d miss this place so much,” he says.
“Funny what home can feel like, isn’t it?”
Jim turns to see George looking out the window at the Starfleet Academy grounds.
“Where’s home for you?”
George turns and smiles. “Iowa, mostly, though I have a place out here too when I need it.”
Jim nods. “So what do I do now? Right now, this very moment?”
“Well.” George shoves his hands in his pockets. “I’m hoping you’ll give me the chance to get to know you.”
Jim licks his lips. “I don’t even know where to begin on that.”
“I was hoping we could start with lunch.”
Jim smiles. “Lunch is a good place to start.”