Chapter 1: Part One
A dark mutter of "Someone's been in my room" precedes the person lumbering sleepily into Detective Christopher Pike's kitchen. From bed head and wrinkled t-shirt to a pair of fuzzy blue slippers, the newcomer looks a lot less menacing than he sounds.
Chris drops a second slice of bread into his recently purchased toaster and turns it on. "Morning, son."
Jim falls into a half-slump against the kitchen counter to watch his father crack open eggs into a glass mixing bowl. When it becomes apparent Pike has nothing to say about his complaint, Jim's expression wavers between displeasure and disappointment. "Dad," he repeats, the sulkiness belying his words more befitting a pre-teen than an adult, "somebody's been in my room."
Chris raises an eyebrow and fishes an errant piece of eggshell out of the mixing bowl.
Jim scowls, steals the rest of the multigrain loaf of bread sitting on the counter and digs around in its plastic bag until he finds a slice that isn't an end piece. Then he crams the entire slice into his mouth.
Chris cannot hold back a chuckle. The boy's mutinous face closely resembles a chubby-cheeked chipmunk in a snit. He hands his son the glass of milk he had prepared in advance. Jim slinks to the kitchen island at Chris's back, draining the glass of milk as he goes.
"Feeling better?" Chris asks in a mild tone once his son has settled upon a stool to brood.
Jim scrubs a hand over his untidy hair. "Not really. Why'd you let him into my room?"
Jim's look turns sour. "You know who, Dad. He went in there and messed up everything."
"Don't accuse a man of a crime unless you have undisputable proof he committed it."
Jim's sour expression turns sourer. Chris doesn't have to strain to hear the grumbling about Archer. Then, with a theatrical sigh, Jim pushes his empty glass aside and drops his forehead onto his folded arms, the perfect picture of dejection.
Chris is long used to this kind of playacting from the boy to know when the depression is real and when it's a guise. He places a skillet on a pre-heated stove-eye and beats the eggs in the bowl with a touch of salt and pepper. "You didn't have to come home early. I'm not a damsel-in-distress."
Jim's head snaps up. "You're being stalked. Of course I had to come!"
"Jonathan is not stalking me."
"Uh, yeah, Dad, he is. And he's never going to leave you alone because you're too nice to tell him off. Well, I can do that for you. I really can."
For a moment, exasperation swamps Pike. "Jim, I've explained this to you. We're dating."
However Jim has put an auditory block on the word 'dating', not to mention on most nice things Chris has to say about Sheriff Jonathan Archer—but most especially the dating part.
"I knew the first time I met him, that guy was a few bricks shy of a load—"
Jim rolls his eyes and points to a corner of the kitchen. "That's your evidence, Dad."
Pike takes a moment to study the occupant there. As if sensing he is being talked about, the beagle lifts his head and blinks at them.
"Good morning, Porthos," he tells the dog kindly.
Porthos lets out a chuff of air before going back to the pursuit of his all-day nap, which must be his way of returning the sentiment (or telling Pike that he does not think the man is worth the effort of a real bark).
Jim is flexing his hands against the counter. Not a good sign, Chris thinks. He is beginning to fear Jim's issue with his change in relationship status will never go away.
"What kind of person moves his dog into your house two days after taking you out to lunch?"
Chris winces inwardly. He had told Jim they had had a meal together after Jon showed up on his doorstep with a bouquet of daisies (which was technically true) and purposefully sidestepped the details of what had happened thereafter; in particular he hadn't said a word about Archer spending the night. There are just some things a father is not comfortable telling his son.
But Jim did have a point about the oddity of it. Jon had left almost before dawn that Sunday morning, only to show up again at lunch time, Sheriff's hat at a rakish angle and grinning like a loon while an elderly, overweight beagle drooped from his arms. Porthos hadn't seemed particularly upset to be deposited in a new home. Almost immediately the dog had gone to sleep on Chris's favorite side of the couch.
At some point between moving Porthos' oversized, startlingly plush kennel from Archer's truck into his living room and listening to Jon go on about the kinds of food Porthos would and would not eat and how they had to find a local vet that met expectations, Christopher gave up trying to determine what the hell Archer thought he was doing. Of course, he was given a strong clue when Jon had gazed upon his snoring dog on Pike's couch and said, "He's the most precious thing I have." Then the man had looked up at Chris and clarified in a softer voice, "One of the most precious things."
Maybe Jim is a tiny bit right about him being unable to say no to Jonathan. The man affects him in strange ways.
Despite a lack of agreement from Chris about Archer's insanity, Jim continues to rant. "He's like one of those creeps you see on the Lifetime channel, pretending to be your cable guy so he can collect your underwear. Shit, Dad. We really have to call the police!"
"I am the police. So is Jon."
"Yeah, well, then we'll go to your Internal Affairs. At the very least we can get him on harassment charges."
Chris puts down the spatula he had been using to scramble the eggs in the frying pan as he rounds on his son. "Okay, enough with the histrionics. I get that you're not happy about Archer, but here are the facts: I am the one in a relationship with him; therefore I make the call about how, when, and where that relationship goes."
He gentles his steely tone at Jim's unhappy look. "How many times can I tell you this until you believe me, son? I know what I'm getting into."
"What if it doesn't work out?"
"Then it doesn't. I won't weep over that."
Jim looks dubious.
Feeling the initial pangs of a headache, Chris presses his fingertips to his temple and addresses what he believes to be the heart of the issue. "Jonathan becoming a part of my life does not put you second in my affection."
Jim refuses to stop eyeing him like he's lost his mind. "I'm not worried that you'll dump me, Dad."
"Then what's this about?"
"I don't..." Jim frowns. One of his fingernails picks at a crevice between the counter tiles. "I don't want to share."
"This is not kindergarten, and I'm not a piece of Play-dough you can hoard for yourself." Figuring if he doesn't let out some of his frustration, he will combust, Chris sighs heavily. "Really, Jim, I know I taught you better than this."
"Are you sure?" his son asks. "Because it's only ever been the two of us. How should I know what to feel when you never brought someone home, not even for a one-night stand?"
"Because you are an adult now, not a young boy who needs me."
Something flickers across Jim's face, there and gone before Pike can pinpoint what it is. "So I'm the reason you didn't have a social life?"
A hint of alarm zings through Chris. "Why would you say that?"
Jim abandons his stool, heading toward the kitchen cabinet containing the dishware. "Never mind. The eggs are burning."
With a heartfelt curse, Chris snatches up the spatula again and scrapes at the yolk-colored mess stuck to the bottom of the pan. It's a fact of life his cooking skills should be limited to toasting bread. The clump of partially scrambled eggs has a rubbery look to them.
Jim sets two plates down by the stove. "Need some help making them inedible?"
"Haha," Pike retorts. He dumps half of the eggs on a plate. "Eat it anyway."
Jim picks up a piece of steaming egg-white and chews on it for a second before making a face. "Salty, ugh." He reaches for the open milk carton but Chris doesn't let him have it.
"No," he warns. As Jim leans toward the kitchen sink, he adds, "And don't spit where we wash our dishes."
Jim slants a contemplative look at him before turning on the faucet. He takes longer than necessary to consume enough water to help him swallow the unfortunate attempt at breakfast, saying once he's done, "I vote we go to McDonald's."
"There's still the toast."
Jim looks past him. "...Which is kind of starting to smoke."
Chris whirls around to see that, indeed, curls of smoke are leaking out of the brand-new toaster. "Shit!"
A minute later, as Chris stares down at the hard, black things which were once slices of bread, Jim leans slightly against his back and digs his chin into Pike's shoulder.
"Remember that conversation we had about how kitchen appliances hate you, Dad?"
"The coffee pot doesn't hate me."
"Yeah but I can only survive on coffee and raw vegetables for so long. Seriously, Dad, let's go to McDonald's."
Disappointed he couldn't even manage proper toast, Chris crumples up his failure in a towel paper. "You wouldn't touch a piece of celery if I begged you, Jim."
"Not true. I had celery last week. Fresh out of the grocery aisle, too!"
Chris almost smiles as he reaches for the pan on the stove. "Were you being held at gun-point?"
"Bones made me."
That causes the smile to blossom on his face. Pleased, he thinks that it seems Leonard can live up to his word. That's definitely a good quality to have in a partner for Jim.
Jim steps away from him, giving his shoulder a pat. "Thanks anyway for making me breakfast."
"More like tried to."
"Yeah but I like it that you never stop trying." Jim turns for the archway that leads into the living room. "Give me five minutes. I just need to change my clothes."
"Put on shoes too," Pike reminds him. "No slippers outside the house."
Jim wrinkles his nose. "Dad, other people go to McD's in their slippers."
"You're not other people, boy. You're a Kirk."
"A Kirk-Pike," Jim calls back from the other room, voice fading. "It's a brand of awesomeness the likes of which this world has never seen!"
Chris grins to himself at that proclamation (maybe Jim does appreciate him as a parent after all) and begins to rid the kitchen counter of burnt bread crumbs and broken eggshells. "I'm glad he's home," he confesses to the quiet companion in the corner.
Porthos snorts in his sleep and flaps an ear. Pike takes that as agreement.
A cup of coffee is warm in his hands. "Is Leonard driving down tomorrow?"
"No, today," Jim says between mouthfuls of pancake and syrup. "He texted me while I was getting dressed. Gonna be heading our way after lunch. He wanted to cover at least half a shift at the hospital this morning before he hit the road."
"Leonard has a commendable work ethic," Chris comments, sipping at his coffee. "Speaking of..."
Jim groans and runs fingers through his hair. He hadn't brushed it before he left the house, so as punishment Chris had tried to tackle the boy's hair with a comb in the parking lot. The unexpected attack with the comb had left Jim flushed with embarrassment and a young mother with a five-year old on her hip giggling. Jim has stayed just out of his reach since then, eyeing the comb sticking out of Pike's jacket pocket with great distrust.
"I don't want to discuss work."
"I think we should," Chris presses. "I'm aware you were fired—"
"—from your last job, but that was before Christmas. So tell me, dear child of my heart: how did you afford a Valentine's Day gift for Leonard?"
Jim visibly squirms.
"Stuffing more food into your mouth won't get you out of answering, Jim," Chris reminds the young man in a dry tone.
"Don't worry, I can wait." Chris leans back in his seat and takes another sip of his coffee. "I'll even skip work today if that means I can hear it."
Jim chokes on his food, coughs and swallows somewhat laboriously before reaching for a cup of orange juice. When his mouth is no longer full, he shoots back, "But you have to go to work!"
That insistence, more than anything Jim has done or said since coming home, makes Pike inexplicably paranoid. He puts the coffee aside on the table and pulls out his cell phone. His boss's secretary answers on the second ring. "Hey, Doreen, it's Chris. Looks like I'm not going to make it in today. I'm a little under the weather."
Jim's eyes widen.
"No, no. I doubt it's the flu. We think it was some bad Chinese we had last night. Oh yeah, he is. Just got in a couple of days ago. Uh-huh. Through the weekend. I know, they grow up so fast! Do you want to talk to him?" Smiling, Chris holds out the phone to a Jim pantomiming no way, don't make me talk to her!
A tiny voice chirps through the phone speaker, "Jimmy?"
Looking pained, Jim takes the cell phone and raises it to his ear. "Hello, Ms. Doreen. ...Yes, ma'am, I've been good. Yeah. Yes, ma'am. I mean, no! It wasn't my fault!"
Chris chuckles. His son glares at him, mouthing "I hate you" before getting up from the table to walk to the restaurant exit, phone still pressed against his ear. They both know Doreen won't be satisfied until Jim has explained in detail why he is unemployed again.
Chris can just hear her now: Doesn't the boy know his unstable future is detrimental to his poor father's blood pressure? Why hasn't Jim decided on a career? How is he going to pay his rent in that big city?
She has four grown children, two toddler grandchildren and one grandbaby on the way. In other words, she is an expert at laying the guilt upon wayward offspring. By the time she allows Jim to hang up the phone, he will be more than ready to confess where he is making his extra pocket money, if only so Chris can pass along the information to Doreen to prevent her from finding a way to call Jim back to fuss at him some more.
While he watches Jim pace the sidewalk through the glass door of the McDonald's, he turns his mind from one nearly solved problem to the next.
Why is his son so anxious to have him out of the house today?
Chris is in the mood to humor him. Truth be told (or rather as he already told it to Jonathan's dog), he has missed his child. Is it normal, he muses, to wonder what his son is up to all of the time?
He tries hard not to make Jim feel like they are beholden to one another, but hearing the boy's voice at least every other day does set his mind at ease. Rationally he knows these are the most exciting years in a young man's life, and he wants Jim to see all the good the world has to offer; but in his heart, he just wishes to have Jim nearby, safe, where he can get to him if need be. Having Jim underfoot every single day would be a bit much of an expectation, and Chris isn't completely crazy, but he could never say he enjoys the long weeks of their separation. It doesn't matter he should be used to it since Jim has not been living with him for six years. Nor does it matter how proud he is that his child has taken well to being on his own.
It's this kind of thinking that worries Chris on and off. It must be easier, he supposes, for two parents to overcome separation anxiety. They can support each other through the transition. As a single parent, it's much more difficult to have a sense of what is normal when there is no one else with which to compare feelings.
He also blames the loneliness. With Jim gone, he's just one person, one man eating each meal alone, watching television in the company of an empty house. Having a bachelor's life suited him fine up until he made the decision to adopt; even then, in those initial days between making himself sick over Jim's aloofness and struggling to find the right balance of work and family life that suited them, there were days he fiercely missed the solitude and uncomplicatedness of living by himself.
Eventually he forgot what it was like. Then Jim left from college, and Chris had to relearn what that kind of aloneness meant. Years later he is still learning.
Maybe that is another reason he is okay with dating Jonathan. Archer has no intentions of leaving Christopher to himself.
Chris surfaces from his thoughts, guided by memory to turn into a neighborhood that has a park where he used to take Jim on the weekends. "Sorry, did you say something?"
"Not really. You just got quiet all of a sudden."
A Welcome sign flashes in the corner of his eye. "Just thinking," he replies. "Remember when we used to play catch here?"
Jim lets out a short, cheerful laugh. "How could I forget? How many weeks did you spend trying to make me do all those lame things your parenting books told you to?"
"Catch isn't lame."
Jim grins in his direction. "Maybe not, if your kid is five."
"Sometimes you have the mental aptitude of a five year-old."
"Whatever, man. I was cool at any age. The coolest of the cool."
"Only because you had a cool parent who let you take as many martial arts classes as you wanted."
"That's because you were afraid to let me have possession of a baseball bat."
Chris slants a look at his son. "What makes you say that?"
Jim gives a slight shrug. "We both know I wouldn't have won any awards for Most Non-Violent."
"Which is why," Chris explains as he pulls his truck into an empty parking space, "taking a class that taught you how to control your body's reactions seemed like a better choice than letting you join a baseball league. I knew you had a trigger-temper, Jim. I didn't seek to change that, just to make you aware of it. And if you knew you could defend yourself during a fight, I figured that was one step in the right direction to you learning to choose when to fight. Granted," he adds dryly, "that concept took longer to sink in than I anticipated, but you did get there."
Jim opens the passenger door but doesn't get out, still watching him. "What if I had turned into a bully instead?"
"It was a slim possibility," admits Chris, "but a risk I was willing to take. Besides..." He pockets his car keys and slips out of the Ford "There is one 'lame' thing those parenting books said that made sense: trust in your child."
Jim comes around the front of the truck to stand beside him, appearing unconcerned despite the odd note in his voice. "That's a lot of trusting."
Chris smiles at him. "Not as much as you think. I've always believed in you, Jim."
The young man ducks his head and turns away, hands shoved deep into his pants pockets. After a moment of silence, he asks, "Why here?"
"You had three orders of pancakes and syrup. You need to work off your sugar high before I let you back into my house."
"Annnd heartwarming moment over," quips his son with a roll of his eyes. "You make me sound like a puppy that runs headlong into things and smashes them."
"At least you're housebroken. It's the small miracles that get me through the day."
"I hate you."
Chris drops a hand to the back of Jim's neck and steers him in the direction of the park's trail. "Say it with a little more conviction next time, son. I have yet to believe you."
They match stride and start down the sidewalk that leads to the trail. Jim takes over the conversation by asking, "What're we having for lunch?"
"It's barely nine."
"I'm planning ahead!"
"No," Chris tells him, "you're jogging." He gives Jim a push from behind. "Go on. You know where the mile marker is. Once you've gotten that far, you can jog back too."
Jim takes off without much argument, calling over his shoulder in a teasing tone, "I could decide not to come back, you know!"
Chris says nothing, just keeps his steady pace and watches his son break into a sprint and quickly become a figure in the distance. He may worry over a lot of things, but not this. Jim always finds a way back to him.
Everything seems fine, maybe better than fine, until the moment they round the corner of the street they live on. Pike tries not to tense, minimizing his reaction to the flexing his fingers around the steering wheel, but beside him Jim has already gone stiff. Without a word, he pulls into the driveway and parks besides a dark-tinted window of an SUV with County Sheriff emblazoned on the side.
The engine is barely cooling before Jim is out of the passenger door and stalking around the Ford. He casts a black look at the empty interior of the SUV. Chris scrambles to catch up to him.
The front door opens before Jim can reach for the doorknob.
"Princess, you're home!" cries the houseguest, brushing past Jim as if he's invisible and heading down the brick steps straight for Pike.
It's a fight to keep a hold of Jon's wrists so Chris doesn't get grabbed in an embarrassing way in front of his son. He momentarily contemplates giving Archer a swift kick in the shin to calm the man down but decides the resulting madness wouldn't be worth the satisfaction. Jim would no doubt assume a kick or a half-hearted shove at Archer means it's a free-for-all and put his years' worth of karate training to good use. Then somebody would have to explain to the neighbors why there was a brawl in the front yard of the normally respectable Detective Pike.
With a suppressed sigh, Chris twists to the side and shakes Jon off. Oddly Jim's gaze is fixed upon a distant point on the horizon instead of them, but it is evident by the movement of his jaw that Kirk is grinding his back teeth.
"Jon," Pike says, unable to think of anything to do except begin an awkward introduction, "you remember Jim."
Jonathan turns to face Jim with a very polite croon of "Hello there, Mr. Kirk" and holds out his hand like a gentleman. It's such a shame there is at least ten feet between the two men. Maybe it's Jonathan's way of testing how willing Jim is to play nice.
Jim's gaze snaps to Archer and the proffered hand, which he momentarily eyes like it's a snake waiting to bite him. Then he rubs his nose with the back of the long sleeve of his shirt and pivots away in one smooth motion to stride silently through the open door and into the interior of the house.
Jon sticks his hand back into his jacket pocket with a faint quirk to the side of his mouth. "Well, I can tell this is gonna be a fun weekend."
Chris makes his displeasure known. "I told you to call me before you showed up, Jon. I wanted time to prepare him."
Archer snorts. "Make no mistake, Christopher. That kid's prepared for this better than either of us. The question is where does he plan to stash the dead body?"
"That's not funny."
"Do you see me laughing? It'll be my body that's dead." The man studies Chris for a short moment, until gradually the lines in his face soften. "Sorry I didn't call."
Chris nods, knowing that if he says anything it will be entirely too dopey for him to regain his image as the upset boyfriend. He walks into the house, Jon on his heels. Unsurprisingly Jim is nowhere to be seen. As Jonathan turns for the kitchen, he brushes a hand down Chris's arm, saying, "I had planned to take Porthos out for a walk."
"He would thank you for that," Chris agrees, grateful Jon understands he needs a minute alone to talk with Jim. Heaving a sigh and squaring his shoulders, Chris goes to find his son.
Jim is in his bedroom, sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by a pile of books. Why he's removed the books from the bookshelves, Chris cannot begin to guess. "Spring cleaning?" he inquiries from the doorway.
Jim doesn't glance up. He remains hunched over, back to Pike, very intent on whatever he is doing.
"Jim?" Chris says, concerned.
Jim's mutter sounds suspiciously like "Booby trap."
That is enough reason to enter the room, permission granted or not. Chris takes a seat on the edge of Jim's bed, positioning himself to have a clear line of sight of his son and the objects in front of him. Jim has a screwdriver in one hand and a length of wire he stripped from God-knows-where in the other. Combined with the packs of batteries, duck tape, hammer and thumb tacks, Chris wonders if he isn't underestimating his son's dislike of Archer.
"Jim, whatever you're doing, I need you to stop."
Jim ignores him, winding wire around one end of the hammer.
Chris reaches over and plucks the roll of wire out of his son's hands with an admonishment. "Your room is not a minefield."
"It's my room. Didn't you say I could do whatever I wanted in my room?"
Yes, he did—on the very first day he brought an eleven year-old Jim to his then-apartment (long before he ever considered mortgaging a house), with its small office converted into a bedroom for a young boy.
"I need you to act your age," he tells his son instead, because to do otherwise is to become embroiled in whatever verbal snare Jim has concocted to get him to say it's okay to electrocute a town sheriff.
Jim contemplatively turns the hammer over in his hands then stands up without warning to chuck the thing onto his cluttered desk. His hands form fists once they're empty. Chris grips his knees, not at all liking the way Jim is staring at a spot on the wall.
"He has a key to the house." Despite the flatness of Kirk's voice, it's still an accusation.
Chris can only answer with the truth. "He does."
"Does he live here?"
Chris draws in a deeper-than-normal breath. "It's likely he will be over often enough to warrant a house key."
"Does he live here?"
"Not yet," Jim corrects, twisting at the waist to meet his father's gaze.
Chris can't answer that, is afraid to on some level that has nothing to do with Jim.
Jim interprets his silence as agreement and heads for the door. "Then I guess I shouldn't bother coming home anymore."
Pike has his son's arm in hand before Jim has taken more than two steps. He starts to speak, feeling unsettled and upset, but sees something in the young man's expression that forces him to consider what his son is doing. With reluctance he releases Jim's arm.
"So it's this simple for you, is it, Jim? You wanted my promise I would never turn my back on you, and I gave it, but I don't deserve yours in return—especially when, right now, I need that assurance most of all?"
Jim opens his mouth, only to close it again.
Chris shakes his head slowly. With one hand, he motions at the mess on the floor. "You can stay and do what you intended to. Maybe you should make a trap for me, while you're at it, so I don't intrude where I'm not wanted."
"Dad." The name is forced out of Jim by shock.
But once Chris crosses the threshold of the bedroom he doesn't dare look back, just tells Kirk, "I'm disappointed." Something cold curls in the pit of his stomach, lending speed to his escape down the hallway.
Fresh air is what he needs. Air and distance.
Jon is in the backyard watching Porthos turn slow circles in the flowerbed by the fence. When Chris comes to stand beside him, trailing misery like an oppressive cloud, the man asks, "Any luck?"
"I think I made things worse."
Jon's arm slips across his shoulders, the solid weight of it comforting. "At least you tried, old son."
"I wish I'd known—" he begins to say, only to stop himself abruptly because that thought doesn't need repeating, not when it will hurt the man next to him who has done nothing to deserve the pain.
If the sad look in Jon's eyes is any indication, he guesses what Pike comes close to saying. Jon doesn't ask, however, if knowing Jim's reaction beforehand would have affected Chris's decision to try for something more than friendship. It would be pointless to ask when they both know that answer to be yes.
Close to heartsick, Chris apologizes. Jonathan's hand gives his shoulder a squeeze.
"Try not to worry so much. The kid's not being smart but it's not entirely like he can help it."
Chris bristles without meaning to. "Are you saying my son is stupid?"
Archer chuckles. "Ah, no. Is that how it sounded? I meant that he's had it good up until now because he has had you all to himself for years. I'd be pissed too if somebody came along and wanted to steal you away."
The prickly feeling fades, replaced by an amusement that lifts the corners of Chris's mouth. "You're not stealing me, Jon."
Jon smirks. "If I could, I would, doll face."
The arm lying across his shoulders seems to have a sudden possessive heaviness to it. Chris shrugs it off. "'Doll face' is a no."
"Aw. Sugar muffin?"
"Only if you want me to punch you."
Archer's gaze becomes heavy-lidded, his voice silky. "How about Man Who Makes Me Hot in the Pants? Or just Hotpants?"
"I wasn't kidding, Jon. I. Will. Punch. You," Chris enunciates carefully. Damn, that tickle in his throat can't be a laugh.
"Before or after we kiss?"
Recognizing an opportunity for he can't pass up, he informs Archer in a mournful tone, "Sadly, there will be no kissing this weekend."
At Jon's open-mouthed surprise, Chris bursts into a peel of laughter. Porthos stops sniffing at a marigold to peer in their direction.
"That's not fair!"
"I read an article that said the healthy acclimation of a child to an altered family environment is often the result of gradual change. In particular, PDA between the parental figures should be friendly but not overtly sexual."
"Yeah, if the kid was in toddler pants!"
"You're a toddler in adult-sized pants, Jon. So, I suspect, is Jim." Chris pats the man's shoulder before climbing the steps to the back door of his house. "I'm counting on you to keep your hands above both our waists for the next forty-eight hours. I know you won't disappoint me."
"Shit," Chris hears the colorful mutter at his back. "Not even a damned week on the way to marital bliss, and I'm already cockblocked by the Kirk. Fuck my life, Porthos."
At least Jonathan has a knack for improving his mood. But the real question is: who can improve Jim's?
Chris stills in the act of turning the doorknob. Of course! How could he have forgotten his secret weapon?
"Are you going in or what?" puffs a voice from behind him.
Chris looks over his shoulder at Archer and the dog settled in Jon's arms. "You realize Porthos has four functioning legs, don't you?"
Jon shifts his bundle of boneless dog and narrows his eyes in suspicion. "Why are you grinning like that?"
"No particular reason." He enters the kitchen, moving aside to allow Jonathan entrance as well.
"Bullshit," grunts the sheriff, gently sitting Porthos upon the floor. "I know a look of trouble when I see it. Damn it, Pike, you're supposed to be the smart one in this relationship. What are you up to?"
"I am the smart one," Chris counters. "Also, I won't need to do anything. Jim's new boyfriend is going to do it for me."
Archer straightens and looks at him with interest. "The McCoy kid? Well, what's he got that you don't?"
"It's more like what he does that I don't."
"Beat on your son?"
"I meant the fact that they are intimate, Jon."
The other man makes a face. "If I walk in on them having sex in the shower, I'm gonna rip my eyeballs out."
"Shouldn't that be my line?"
"Nah, you're a cool bastard. You'd probably just quirk one of your eyebrows at them and tell 'em dinner will be ready at five."
He likes that thought but it isn't egotistical enough to believe it. "I thank you for your confidence in my ability to intimidate during a high-stress situation, but honestly I doubt I would be able to look Jim in the eyes for at least the remainder of the day. You have to remember, I have been raising him since he was eleven."
Archer crosses his arms. "Are you telling me you didn't once give him the talk about where not to stick his dick or walked on in him jerking off?"
"Like other sensible parents, those periods of my memory have been carved out of my brain."
"Damn. There goes my leverage."
Chris's sigh is a poor attempt to disguise another laugh. Jonathan does have an uncanny ability to ease his mind. But why can't Jim see that?
He sobers following that thought. "Listen, Jim and I were planning to go to lunch about noon. You're welcome to—"
Jon interrupts quickly, "He won't want me around."
But Chris shakes his head. "You're part of my life now. Jim's going to have to accept you sooner or later. I can't—I can't give in to him on this, Jon. I won't." He hates how anxious he sounds but a question is nettling him to death. "Does that make me a bad parent?"
Jon approaches him, a hesitation in his face that is rare but honest. "You know I'm no judge of parenting skills, Chris... but I'd say, from the perspective of somebody who knows how much you adore your kid, it makes you human." His hands land on Chris's shoulders, their grip warm and light. "Can I apologize upfront for putting you in this situation?"
"Only if you tell me you would do it again."
"Why?" Jonathan asks, studying him with serious eyes. "What is it that you need?"
"You," he answers. "I need you."
With the exception of the unconcerned Porthos, they're alone in the kitchen. Chris feels no need to penalize Jonathan for kissing him, not when he kisses back.
The cloud of misery is back and suffocating Chris more than ever. If it weren't for years of practice at tamping down on his emotions in order to do his job, he thinks he would be leaking tears all over Jonathan's shoulder. And how embarrassing would that be?
It makes no sense that Jim's unwillingness to talk through the matter with him should upset him this badly. They've had their share of clashes in the past. He has had to deal with a Jim Kirk who knew how to do plenty of emotional damage with a single cutting remark. He has even had to wrestle a golf club away from an enraged teen intent on breaking a next-door neighbor's kneecaps. (Then again, that idiot should have never accused Pike of the kind of sick things he did, as if there had to be something perverse about a single man adopting a teenage boy.) They've argued until the walls rang with their shouting, and endured the days where it felt like one couldn't possibly understand how the other felt, and the world might be ending because of it.
Yet somehow over the course of a decade the turmoil had strengthened their relationship as father and son. How can this be what wedges them apart?
Jim said he wouldn't care who Chris chose to fancy, but that isn't true. Jim was also the first person to point out that Archer seemed more like an old flame than a friend, but having that observation come true has changed his reaction.
It shouldn't be like this. Chris knows in his heart it simply shouldn't.
His thumb is holding down the Dial button before he is aware of what he is doing. The call is picked up almost immediately.
Chris closes his eyes, amused and immensely relieved, though he can't say why. "You sound like me."
There is a pause on the other end of the line. "Okay. But just to clear up any confusion, can you maybe go out on a limb here and tell me nothing's wrong with Jim?"
"Nothing's wrong with Jim, Leonard."
"Thank god" comes the mutter. Then, more clearly, "I know you might think me stupid for being so paranoid, especially since Jim and I've only been apart for a couple of days—"
"A lot can happen in a couple of days when Jim is involved," Chris finishes for McCoy. "Believe me, I know."
"You're going to be the really good kind of father-in-law, Mr. Pike. I can tell."
Chris's eyebrows lift of their own violation. "Thank you, Leonard. But now I have to ask: are you planning to marry my son anytime soon?"
The resulting "No!" is nearly a squeak of sound.
"I... think I should probably let this topic of discussion slide. For now."
Leonard sounds relieved. "Much obliged, sir. My nerves are already feeling strained over this weekend, and I haven't left the damn city yet."
Chris sits up on the couch. His "Why?" is slightly too sharp.
There is a second of silence over the line before Leonard answers. "Jim called me—about Archer."
"What about him?" Chris takes a deep breath and modulates his tone. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you, Leonard. Things are just... tense over here."
"Understood, sir. And don't worry, I'm on my way."
Chris doesn't know what else to say besides thank you, which he repeats twice. "Any idea when you'll arrive?"
Leonard is kind enough not to call him out on the desperation in his voice. "It's gonna be later than 2 o'clock, I think. I have an errand to run I didn't count on beforehand."
"All right. Again, thanks. I look forward to seeing you."
"Don't thank me yet, Mr. Pike. The last time I tried to help it sort of blew up in my face. That love letter just made him think Sheriff Archer is a stalker with nothing to lose and access to a gun."
"It's not your fault," Chris says. "Besides, once Jim sets his mind on something, it's difficult to persuade him otherwise."
"Unless he is in danger of losing something or someone he loves."
Chris closes his eyes. "No. The one thing I won't ask you to do, Leonard, is jeopardize your relationship with my son. You have my word on that."
Leonard's answer is slow but honest. "It wasn't me I was talking about."
Chris is confused. "Then I don't understand—"
The sigh is heartfelt enough to cause static over the line, stopping Chris short of asking his question.
"Damn. Looks like I have my work cut out for me."
"Never mind, Mr. Pike. See you soon."
"Bye," Chris manages to reply before he hears the dial tone. He frowns down at the Call Ended on the screen of the cell phone.
Archer nudges Chris's side with his elbow and draws out an inquiring "Sooo?"
"Leonard's on his way."
"Well, hell. We knew that!"
"Then what are you pestering me about, Jon?"
The man closes one eye and peers at him through the other. "Did he say anything about me?"
Chris suppresses his amusement. "Not this time."
"Oh." Jon reaches for the remote, only to blink and round on Chris again. "Wait. What did he say the other times?"
Chris leans back against the couch cushion, a smirk finally blossoming. "You really don't want to know."
"Fuck yes I do! What did that wiseass say about me? That I'm about to bust a liver from my drinking?" He runs a hand across his hair. "That I'm balding? Goddamn it."
Archer's complaining is music to his ears. Chris closes his eyes, a smirk still lingering on his face, and props his feet on the coffee table. For the first time in hours, he feels utterly relaxed.
Chapter 2: Part Two
Lunch isn't precisely a strained affair but it is enlightening for Pike in quite an unfortunate way.
Jim finally relocates his state of rebellion from his bedroom to the kitchen, where he hunkers at the kitchen table like a bird of prey and bores a hole into Archer's back every time Jon comes into the kitchen to refill a glass of water, rummage through the refrigerator, or check on his beagle. Admittedly, Chris thinks, Jon shouldn't need to make so many trips to the kitchen in a span of fifteen minutes. The man is either trying to heighten Jim's paranoia, or he simply can't stop himself from wandering into Pike's vicinity. Chris figures it might be a little of both.
He pushes the last take-out menu across the table at his glowering son.
Jim doesn't bother to glance at it, too busy watching the archway leading to the living room. "We had Chinese yesterday."
Chris discards the menu into a pile of other menus with an air of long-suffering. "Then we're out of options, Jim—unless you want to reconsider going to an actual restaurant."
"You go," his son says. "I'm staying here."
"You need to eat."
Jim looks sidelong at him then. "Do you enjoy the mother-hen routine, Dad?"
There are so many ways he could answer that. Every one of those answers will result in a fight which ends with them not speaking to each other, so Chris grits his teeth instead of replying.
Jim twitches his shoulders and looks down at the table. "I want to wait for Bones."
Immediately Chris knows how he can turn that admission to his advantage. "Leonard might be hungry by the time he gets here. Why don't we order from a place you know he would eat at and we can get extra of whatever he likes?"
Jim's hand sneaks out, extricates one of the menus from the pile and flips it open. "On Fridays, we have Mexican."
Chris feels as relieved as if he just walked off a battlefield. "Great!"
Jim gives him a disbelieving look. "Great? You don't like Mexican food."
"It doesn't matter. Find something I can stomach," Chris tells him. He retrieves a pad of paper and pen from the kitchen junk drawer and puts it by Jim's elbow. "Here, write down the order. I'll call it in." He murmurs that he will be right back and exits the kitchen.
Jonathan is in the room designated as a home office, sitting at Chris's desk and squinting at a computer screen.
"We're ordering Mexican," he informs the man.
"You don't like Mexican."
"I don't care. It was like pulling teeth to get him to decide."
"That's because he's too busy with his stakeout."
Chris lifts his eyebrows. "In my kitchen?"
"The location gives him a tactical advantage. He's near a phone, a knife, and my dog in case he needs a hostage to bargain with."
"...I'm not certain I like how much thought you've put into this, Jon."
Archer types something out slowly on the keyboard. "No more thought than your boy has. Huh. Does you think this AsianBeauties.com is legitimate?"
Chris stares at the back of Jonathan's head. "Are you searching for porn on your significant other's computer?"
"Why would I do that when I can just watch you shower? Of course, you don't have big breasts. These girls have REALLY big breasts."
Chris steals the computer mouse and puts it out of easy reach. "Sometimes I don't know why I agreed to date you."
Jon catches Chris's hand and runs his thumb over the knuckles. "You agreed because I pretty much said I'd do anything for you. And because it's hard not to take pity on a guy who's so hopeless without you."
"You don't give yourself enough credit, Jon." Chris smiles. "I did it because you're so tenacious. I didn't want my living room to turn into a greenhouse."
"If I'd known bouquets were the secret to getting a heart's desire, I would have serenaded half the Town Council with Flowers of the Month. Do you know," Jon says, a twinkle in his eyes, "they still won't pass my proposition to turn the Chamber of Commerce into a fun park?"
"I bet they hate to see you coming."
Jon gives him a shit-eating grin. "Yeah, they do. It's kind of ironic, and hilarious, since they contributed to my campaign for re-election."
The thought, amusing as it is, leads to another. He turns his hand over in Jon's, giving Jon's hand a brief squeeze, before separating them. "Why aren't you working today?"
Jonathan sits back in his chair. "Before you go busting my chops for playing hooky, why didn't you go to work?"
Chris doesn't consider lying. Here is a man who would understand his reasoning. "Because Jim wanted me to."
Jon crosses his arms, looking interested at that bit of news. "Have you figured out why yet?"
"Hm. I would say don't worry about it but this is Kirk, not some average punk off the street..."
"Wait, when did Jim become more than an average punk to you?"
Jon gives him a look. "Average and Kirk don't belong in the same sentence."
Chris agrees wholeheartedly but he doubts he and Jon mean the sentiment in quite the same way.
Something lights up Archer's eyes. "Did he tell you about the time he gave the statue of the founding member of the town college a makeover?"
"It wasn't enough to make the news because he used silly string—a hell of a lot of glow-in-the-dark silly string—instead of paint. Otherwise I could have gotten somebody on a charge of vandalism."
Chris gropes for the back of a chair, suddenly certain he needs to be sitting down. "I don't—what are you talking about?"
Jon doesn't seem concerned. "I couldn't prove it was Kirk, of course, but I knew at the time he was leading the prank war."
"Wait, wait, wait. What prank war?"
"Ah, Christopher. How, exactly, do you think your kid entertained himself for four years? By studying?" The sheriff shakes his head in mock disappointment. "You parents and your rose-tinted glasses." Jon crosses his arms behind his head, oblivious to how flabbergasted Chris is. "James Tiberius Kirk—I wasted a lot of Saturdays in pursuit of your boy. Never could catch him in the act, not even when he tee-peed the mayor's house, and nobody would rat on him. That kid inspires loyalty in the oddest people, you know? Not even those old cafeteria biddies said anything other than what a darling he was." Jon's mouth quirks at some memory. "Things calmed down once he graduated, though I kind of expected him to join a street gang afterward—or make one. But I guess higher education has its advantages."
"Are you saying Jim has been on your radar for six years?"
"Nah, five and a half. Took me six months to pinpoint the source of the pranks, and I think that's only because the little shit got tired of waiting on me to figure it out."
Chris cradles his face in his hands, feeling like he has just been disillusioned with life itself. "How could I not have known this?" he mumbles through his fingers.
"If it makes you feel any better, I figure if he had come close to getting arrested, he would have quit monkeying around."
"I don't feel better."
They sit in silence for a while, until Chris can face the man who knows more about his son than he realized. He runs a hand through his hair, wondering idly if it has just turned grayer in the last five minutes.
"I'd offer an apology on Jim's behalf but you don't sound like you want one."
Jon smiles, saying nothing.
Chris clears his throat. "So... Mexican food?"
"You bet, Princess. Go grab me that menu, will you?"
It's entirely Jim's fault, Chris decides, he doesn't dare say no to Archer. Damn and blast, why hadn't the boy stayed out of trouble?
He leaves Jonathan at the computer desk, intent on giving Jim a piece of his mind, but when Chris arrives in the kitchen, it's missing a Kirk. At the table there is a long list of food to be ordered from the Mexican restaurant and Porthos, who is sitting in the chair in Jim's stead. The dog lays his head upon the tabletop and blinks at Pike.
Not for the first time in thirteen years, Chris curses his son's sixth sense for knowing the perfectly wrong time (or right time, depending on the point of view) to become scarce. He should go in search of his errant son, but there is a matter of a hungry officer of the law in his study in the possession of nearly six years of intel on Jim. Somehow Chris is going to have to convince Archer never to use that intel.
"The things I do, Jim," he mutters under his breath, collecting the menu, the list, and the dog. He hugs Porthos to his chest. "C'mon, buddy. Let's go be nice to Jon."
Chris told Jim he was being ridiculous. Jim said it wasn't ridiculous when the enemy had already infiltrated the house. When he reminded his son he knew how to defend himself, Jim pretended not to hear him by cranking up the volume on his IPOD.
Chris is actively considering dragging the boy out to the yard by the back of his shirt collar and forcing him to do some kind of hard labor. He's at his wit's end.
Maybe there is some higher power in the universe because Jim's cell phone buzzes just as Pike is about to spring from his recliner. Jim snatches it up from the coffee table with too much enthusiasm. Moments later the tense lines in Kirk's face melt away. "He's almost here."
"How long?" Chris asks, hoping the question doesn't sound as desperate as it does to his own ears.
"Hold on, let me text him directions."
Chris has to stop himself from going to the window to peer between the curtains. "I can meet Leonard somewhere if he thinks he won't be able to find the house."
"No, we're cool. He says he's got a map reader."
Jim shrugs. "Not that I know of."
After Jim is done messaging McCoy, he and Chris stare at each other. Jim rubs at the side of his head, something close to an apology in his eyes.
Chris releases a breath and tries tentatively for a teasing tone. "I want you on your best behavior while he's here, Jim. Try not to scare him off."
Jim grins down at his sneakers. "Bones doesn't scare easily. That's why it's been awesome rooming with him."
He would stop himself if he didn't want the contact so much. The way Jim doesn't resist the hug and leans into him tells Chris his son needs the reassurance too.
"You're driving me crazy, son," he says into Jim's hair.
"I wish you understood," Jim whispers back.
Chris looks him in the eyes. "I guess I'm not the only one who wants a translator."
"Don't you mean a therapist?"
"I don't think we're that bad off yet."
Jim gives him a thin smile. "We'll see, Dad."
Jim pulls away at the sound of Archer's voice.
"Oh, sorry, bad timing?" apologizes Jon as he enters the living room and spies Pike and Kirk standing so close together.
Yes, Chris thinks, and then feels bad. "It's all right. What's up?"
"I think I broke your toilet."
"Well, I was trying to—"
Pike waves a hand to stall a mental image he knows he could live without. "Jim, the toolbox is into the hall closet. Can you—"
"Oh, gross, Dad!" interrupts his son, looking disgusted. "No way am I going near his shit!"
"Hey, a little respect here!" Archer snaps, seeming more annoyed than embarrassed as he crosses his arms. Before Jim can retort, Jon adds pointedly, "It's not like you shit any different, kid, unless you got diamonds coming out of your ass." He looks at Pike. "Besides, if your dad had let me finish explaining, you would know I wasn't actually on the toilet when it broke. It was making a funny noise. I tried to fix it. Then a hose popped loose or something. Cue fun times at the water park."
"Watch what you say about my dad," Jim says darkly, ignoring the majority of Jon's sarcastic clarification. He takes an almost menacing step toward Archer.
Pike drops a hand to his son's shoulder. "Enough, Jim. Go make sure my bathroom isn't really flooded, will you?" At Jim's reluctance to get moving, Chris puts a little pleading into his voice. "I would really appreciate it, Jim. Please?"
Jim gives him a short nod. "Okay, but only for you." That reply seems to have nothing to do with the broken toilet and everything to do with not breaking Jonathan's face. Jim shoots Archer a searing look on his way out of the living room.
Chris exhales a breath he didn't realize he was holding and closes his eyes briefly in gratitude. McCoy is almost to the house, he repeats in his mind at least three times, trying to turn it into a magical charm. He turns to tell Archer that semi-good news, wanting to share the margin of hope, but Jon is already out of sight. Heart sinking, Pike goes to the window to open the curtains and prays for the intervention to come more swiftly.
"Leonard," he calls slowly to the second man who is busy unfolding long legs for the driver-side of the small car, "I didn't realize you would be bringing... a friend."
Leonard McCoy snorts and jerks a thumb at his travel companion. "He and I aren't friends, Mr. Pike."
The expressionless companion lets his dark gaze bore into Pike. "Indeed. Mr. McCoy is quite correct in his assessment. We are acquaintances only."
Hearing that voice has the effect of snapping Chris from his shock. His legs move of their own accord, carrying him the rest of the distance of the car, and his hand lifts in a traditional handshake.
Mr. Spock returns the handshake without delay then places his hands behind his back. He looks like a preacher preparing to give a sermon. "I realize that my presence at your home is unexpected. I myself had not anticipated today's journey, until..." Spock glances sidelong at McCoy. "...I was entreated to alter my weekend plans by Mr. McCoy. The invitation was unusual enough that I decided to accept."
Leonard returns Spock's stare with a sour look. "Why can't you just talk like a normal person?"
"What constitutes normal speech to you, Mr. McCoy?" questions Spock.
"Somebody who doesn't sound like an antiquated windbag!"
Spock's eyebrows lower like a thundercloud.
Chris feels the need to intervene. "All right, gentlemen. If I am understanding this correctly, you are invited, Mr. Spock. So, um, welcome to my home?"
Spock inclines his head slightly then turns to watch a curtain move against one of the windows of the house. "Accepted. Is Jim present?"
"Yes, you will find him inside. I am certain Jim will be excited to see you."
"I will precede you then," Spock replies, already moving to the entrance of the house as if a response from Pike or McCoy is unnecessary.
Chris turns to McCoy for an explanation once Spock is gone. Leonard crosses his arms and presses his mouth into a thin line. After a long moment, he tells Pike, "They're buddies now."
Two months ago, Spock had labeled Jim as a pest who needed to stay out of his business. Now, apparently, Spock is interested in Jim's business, so much so that he willingly made a trip with a man he does dislike for the sake of visiting his new friend.
Chris is almost morbidly curious to know how this came about but now is not the time to ask. He gestures at the front door. Leonard shoulders a duffle bag, and they begin to walk towards the door at a snail's pace.
"Understood. But now I need the real explanation, Mr. McCoy."
"You're not Leonard while I am re-evaluating my impression of your sanity."
Leonard's face falls slightly. "I'm sorry, sir."
Chris caves a little and gives the young man's arm an encouraging squeeze. "Tell me about Spock."
"I figured we needed a buffer, somebody Jim or Ar—I mean, just Jim—couldn't play off either of us. An unknown factor in the equation, as the kid would say. Unfortunately, most everybody Jim considers 'okay' to hang out with already had plans for the weekend. Except Spock. Spock's the only one who keeps the same damn schedule every day of every week—and believe me when I say he came in very last on my list of people to ask. Man's so repressed, it's a new kind of weird."
Chris is impressed by McCoy's foresight and amused by the complaint. "How did you manage to convince him to come out here?"
Suddenly Leonard looks like he swallowed something unpleasant. "Didn't take much convincing. As soon as I said Jim's name, he was packing a suitcase."
It finally occurs to Pike then that Spock will be staying with them for the weekend. "...Shit. Does he know that Jon and I are—t-that—" He's too old to stutter like this!
"Sorry, Mr. Pike. I tried to give the nosy bastard as few details as I could manage without outright lying. He knows Jim doesn't approve of your friendship with the sheriff. I told him things were gonna seem uncomfortable all around."
Leonard shrugs. "There's not much else. If Spock manages to do something useful, like stop Jim from killing somebody, I'll consider this weekend a win. Otherwise I'm not sure what the hell I was thinking." Leonard pauses to sigh and his shoulders slump. "I guess I feel bad about how I botched talking to Jim about this Archer thing the first time 'round," he admits. "So if I still can't get through to Jim, maybe Spock can rationalize with him better. Jim sure as hell listens to everything the guy says these days."
Chris stays silent for a second, hearing an undercurrent threading through McCoy's voice that is unsettlingly reminiscent of something he heard during Christmas when Leonard first spoke of Spock. "Are you okay with him being here, Leonard?"
Leonard's mouth presses back into a flat line. "I brought him. I ought to be."
Chris waits for the rest.
Jim's boyfriend glances away. "Things are different now. I have Jim, don't I?"
"Then I'll manage."
Chris has the distinct feeling he won't get a better answer than that, so he lets it go.
Inside the house, Jim is smug and bright-eyed, Spock's expression is difficult to read per usual, and Jon is standing apart from the duo, eyeing them with a wariness that means he is wondering if they are planning his demise.
"Who invited the elf?"
Given that Christopher is right next to him, Archer voices that question more loudly than necessary.
Spock's chin inches upward. "I am not in costume. Therefore your remark is not only insulting but grossly inaccurate."
"At least he knows when he's being made fun of," Leonard quips dryly as he enters the living room and drops the duffle bag by the couch.
Spock transfers his inscrutable gaze to McCoy, who stares right back.
Jim skirts the side of the couch to pick up the duffle bag and, Chris notices, to brush arms with Leonard. "Hey, Bones, wanna see my room?"
Leonard's mouth twitches. "Is it clean?"
Jim freezes in the act of straightening up, his eyes widening. Chris can only assume from his son's reaction the bedroom is, in fact, still strewn with the makings of a booby trap for Archer.
"Uh...wait just a minute!" Jim calls over his shoulder, already en route to his bedroom to probably shove things under his bed.
"Mr. Spock," Chris begins after an awkward moment of silence, turning to address the man directly, "I'm afraid the only spare room has no bed, but I do have a fold-out mattress in the couch."
"Spock's taking my room," Jim announces upon re-entry into the living room.
Surely it hadn't taken Jim less than a minute to set his room straight? If Jim was younger, Chris would feel the need to check behind him. Sadly, those days are behind them.
Leonard has recoiled at this news. "Then where the hell are we sleeping, Jim?"
"Well," Jim says in a thoughtful tone, though his eyes are bright with mischief, "you could share the bed with Spock—"
"I will not sleep with Leonard," Spock insists at the same time Leonard cries, "When hell freezes over and pigs fly!"
"—or you can share the couch with me."
"Why can't Spock take the damn couch?"
"Because it's bigger than my bed, and my bed won't fit us both."
Leonard closes his mouth at that revelation, but he has not given up frowning.
Chris turns a chuckle into a cough at Jim's pleased expression. He is glad to see that his son's good mood has returned. "Jim, why don't you show your guests the house?" he suggests.
"Sure, Dad. Follow me, Bones, Spock. I need to brief you anyway."
Brief them? On what? Chris thinks with a touch of concern. It's not like this weekend is a top-secret mission of some kind.
...Or is it?
An arm falls across Pike's shoulders and draws him to Archer's side.
"You're starting to look panicked again, Christopher."
"Did you not hear what he said? I might have reason to panic."
"I'll protect you."
Chris turns his head to meet Jon's gaze. "I doubt I'll be the one who needs protection."
"Trust me. It will take more than Kirk and his cronies to budge me from this house."
Chris guesses he is used to feeling amused and anxious at the same time. "Don't let my son hear that, please. Personal challenges are his sustenance."
"And here I thought he lived off of vanity and pride like the rest of us."
Chuckling, Chris crosses his arms and leans his hip against Archer's. "If only. So... do you think we're prepared?"
Jon's arm tightens around his shoulders. "I don't know about you, but I find I survive better when I'm least prepared."
Chris gives that some thought before nodding slowly. "I suppose that's the way I have felt with Jim all these years. Sometimes it's far simpler to accept that which defies convention than to try to make it conform."
"That's deep, Pike."
Chris lifts a corner of his mouth. "How would you know? All of your sayings come from fortune cookies."
They are grinning at each other when Jim leans around the corner of the hallway, calling insistently, "Dad. Hey, Dad!"
"You want anything from the grocery store? Spock, Bones, and I are gonna make a run down to the 'mart."
"I want beer," Jon says.
"Buy Jon some beer." Before Jim can protest, he adds, "Remind me again whose name is on the credit card in your wallet."
Jim retreats around the corner with a roll of his eyes and the concession, "Yeah, yeah. Bones! Put beer on the list!"
Chris sighs, but his eyes are twinkling as he quotes in the wake of his departed offspring, "You are young, Grasshopper, but you will learn."
Archer bursts out laughing, and though it's silly for men past their prime, sharing a high-five is also fun.
"I hope they don't get arrested," he says, turning a page of a thriller novel that his attention isn't very invested in.
"Why do you keep repeating that?" Jon asks. "Do you want them to get busted before dinner?"
"Depends. I have most of the law enforcement in this town trained when it comes to Jim. Once, he called our cell block his second home."
"Lovely," mutters Chris's companion as he lifts the television remote to change the channel from sports to weather.
Chris caresses the leg beneath his palm. Jon automatically stills his hand with the warning, "Don't do that, Princess."
"Sorry, does it bother you?"
"Only in that I'm gonna be bothered all night and not allowed to relieve myself."
Chris notices for the first time Jonathan's bottom lip is slightly swollen, as if teeth had sunk into it repeatedly. He has the sudden urge to lean over and soothe that redness with his mouth. The urge does not go away even after he swallows. "I didn't say anything about above the waist, did I?"
Jon drops the remote, turning to look at him with pupils blown wide. "No, you definitely did not."
There is really no need to read a book that doesn't entertain him, Chris decides. He discards it with a flick of his wrist, not caring where it lands. Jon makes a choked noise and immediately goes pliant when Chris brings their mouths together.
"Shit," the man beneath him says once they break apart for air. "Can't I touch—"
"No," Chris orders then seals his mouth over Jonathan's again to smother the rest of the request.
It's kind of a miracle, he will realize later, that either of them had the presence of mind to hear the key scraping against the lock of the front door. Chris drags himself clear of Archer with a groan and healthy string of curses just in the nick of time. Jonathan, being rather unlucky and discombobulated, tumbles off the couch at the sudden shift of bodies and hits the floor with a thump and a pained oof.
Jim is smiling at something or someone as he comes through the door. That smile dies when he spies his disheveled father, who scrambles off the couch with a breathless "Son!"
It's only as Jim continues to stare at him that Chris realizes his reading glasses are askew. Setting them straight doesn't seem to alleviate the situation.
"Move it, kid!" comes the grumble at Kirk's back. Leonard manages to push past Jim, oblivious to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and visibly weighed down by several plastic bags of groceries. Spock is close on McCoy's heels, carrying what has to be a fifty-pound sack of dog food over one shoulder like it weighs nothing.
Jonathan's complaint drifts over the back of the couch. "Damn it, I think you broke my tailbone, Chris."
"Let me help with that!" Chris leaps for the groceries because any excuse to get out of this room before he dies of embarrassment will do.
He doesn't manage to lay a hand on anything because Jim intercepts him, shifting casually but deftly enough to turn his father aside and block his access to McCoy and Spock. In a flat tone, Kirk informs his two friends, "The kitchen is on your left."
Leonard and Spock go in that direction, none-the-wiser of Chris's plight.
Chris straightens, not liking the sudden change in authority. "Jim..." he begins, but in that moment Jon limps around the end of the couch, rubbing at one of his hips. The man's shirt is partly unbuttoned.
Jim pockets his house keys with a slowness that signals trouble.
Jonathan seems to sense this because he freezes mid-limp and blinks at Kirk. After several seconds pass, the older man's spine snaps straight, and he looks more like a sheriff than a man caught in the act of making out with someone's father. Archer walks to Pike's side with a nonchalant stride, holding Jim's intense gaze as he does so; then with a slowness imitative of Jim's, he smirks.
Jonathan's right hand settles on Chris's shoulder. Jim's already tense stance becomes tenser; his eyes narrow. Chris doesn't have to turn his head to know what Jon's expression looks like. The man radiates smugness.
Chris could remove Jon's hand (and probably would under other circumstances since it isn't a sign of affection so much as a way to taunt Jim) but he argues with himself this is something Jim needs to get used sooner rather than later, especially because, knowing the man as well as he does, Archer is going to put his hands on Christopher whenever he has the opportunity. And though he is embarrassed, he knows he shouldn't be apologetic for what he's done.
In that moment while Chris vacillates over what is best for Jim, Leonard wanders into the too-still atmosphere of the living room, paying more attention to the screen of his cell phone than the standoff between Kirk and Archer. He stops just abreast of Jon, saying, "Were we supposed to get milk, Jim?"
The sense of smugness from Archer intensifies.
From the corner of his eye, as if in slow motion, Chris sees Archer's free hand lift in the air and his stomach jerks with the instinctive knowledge of this is not going to end well. Then that hand drops to McCoy's shoulder, the gesture careless yet mockingly possessive, thereby causing to Leonard look up with a confused "Huh?"
All hell breaks loose.
"Jim, no!" Chris bursts out at the same time his son looses an unintelligible cry of rage.
There is no shock in Archer's eyes, just an insane kind of glee, when Kirk's body slams into his and they go down in a tangle of limbs on the carpeted floor. Chris doesn't think, flings himself after them, and tries to wedge a hand between Kirk and Archer to lift the former off the latter, who is choking under Kirk's hands between cackles.
He manages to pry Jim off of Archer only for a second until Jim bucks and twists out of his arms to lunge for the man on the floor again. Chris has never felt more grateful than when, in that moment, Leonard steps into his boyfriend's path and snaps, "Jim, calm down!"
That gives Jim pause, though his body is literally vibrating with his rage.
Chris slips around Jim to stand at Leonard's shoulder, effectively turning a one-man wall into a two-man wall. He spies Spock from the corner of his eye, looking like he only needs a word from someone to intervene.
Some intense emotion churns through Kirk's eyes when his gaze lands on Pike.
Chris straightens, letting his voice slip into a hard, clipped tone. "The only way you'll get to him is by going through me."
The line has been drawn, and he waits, alongside a tense Leonard, to see what Jim will do. It seems too long before his son moves, takes one step back.
Tears sting Pike's eyes.
Jim continues to move backwards, eyes fixed on them, his silence deadly, until the distance between them is wide enough it can't be easily breached. Then he pivots in one jerk of a turn and stalks from the living room, the set of his shoulders still stiff with anger.
Next to Chris, Leonard releases a breath. His voice is not quite steady when he says, succinctly, "Shit."
Leonard looks at him, gaze uncertain, then turns toward Archer. Chris turns too, suddenly aware of the silence behind him, fear delivering a punch to his gut.
But Jon is conscious for all that he is quiet, one hand against his jaw and his other arm tucked under his head, gaze cast ceiling-ward. Even in his loose-boned sprawl, he might be Rodin's Thinker contemplating the universe.
Chris touches Leonard's shoulder enough to draw his attention. "Go after him," he orders quietly. Then he drops to one knee at Archer's side, not waiting to see if McCoy obeys him, and asks, "Jon, are you all right?" At some point Spock passes by him in pursuit of Kirk and McCoy, but Chris is too preoccupied to notice.
Jonathan's gaze transfers to him. But he doesn't answer right away, just lifts his hand from his face (and there's blood beneath, which scares Pike a little) and catches a hold of Chris's arm to leverage himself into a sitting position. Then the man sighs. "I've had better ideas."
That admission has the effect of both relieving and pissing Pike off. He hauls Jon the rest of the way to his feet with the terse command "Come with me."
They walk to the master bedroom; Archer's gait is not quite slowed by a limp but it's clear he is mindful of how his body moves nonetheless. The moment the bedroom door is shut, Chris turns on the man who went from friend to lover less than a week ago and snarls.
Archer grimaces as he staggers slightly at the edge of the bed and lowers himself so he can sit down.
"What the hell was that?"
Jon licks at his bloody bottom lip, expression wavering between a fake innocence and apprehension. At Chris's second growl, the man confesses with a wince, "Aw, shucks, darlin'... I was just trying to help Kirk out."
Chris makes a noise that can't decide if it's supposed to be disbelieving or angry.
Jonathan prods at his jawbone. "I thought the boy would feel better if he got to hit me at least once."
Chris's temper explodes. "What? What the fuck—that doesn't even make sense, you stupid son of a bitch!"
"Why not?" Jon asks, both of his hands dropping to his lap as he meets Pike's eyes. "The kid wasn't just gonna take me out back and beat me, not on your property anyway. I had to goad him a little." The man shrugs. "So what?"
Chris's temples throb with the effort to contain his yelling. Otherwise Jim and Leonard are going to overhear his first fight with Jon—and that's just another battle with Jim Pike is too tired to deal with right now. "Don't move," he orders and strides for the bathroom. He takes a minute longer than necessary to wet a washcloth because his temper refuses to cool.
Even as he goes back into the bedroom to give Archer the washcloth, words of anger bubble and burst forth: "You cannot go around provoking my only child into fits of violence."
Jon looks unrepentant. "Repression is bad for the soul."
"Not when it prevents murder!" It's a damn shame he can't go against his own declaration and give Archer a matching bruise on the other side of his jaw.
Jonathan's mouth curls. "Were you worried for me, Princess?"
"I was afraid I might have to arrest my own son."
"So, no teensy bit of worry on my behalf? At all?"
"Just... shut up, Jon." Chris turns away, thinking it's probably best if he occupies himself in the bathroom for at least five minutes, only to have his plan cut short by a solid rap on the closed bedroom door. Before he can ask who it is, the doorknob turns and someone enters without invitation.
"McCoy," Chris says, the name sounding brusquer than he intends. But with his clenched teeth, everything sounds sharp and angry.
Leonard doesn't seem to notice. "I'm here to check on Archer."
"Hey, that's me!" Jon says, sitting up, the cold washcloth held against his face. As Leonard gives him a critical once-over, Jon begins to look uneasy. "Shit, is there gonna be an exam? Because no. Just no. I ain't being examined." The man grunts as he tries to scoot over to the far side of the bed.
Chris looks questioningly at McCoy.
"This is part of Jim's punishment," Leonard explains, "knowing I'm here to offer my services to patch him up."
"And he can't stop you because he's the reason you have to do this in the first place," Chris finishes. "I have to say, I approve of the way you think, Leonard."
"Thanks," the young man responds dryly. He pulls out a pair of latex gloves from his pants pocket.
Jonathan looks at the gloves and makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a whimper. "Oh fuck. Chris, why does he need those?"
Leonard seems to take great relish in snapping on one glove, then its partner. Watching the way Jon pales, Chris's appreciation of Leonard McCoy doubles.
The hint of panic in Jon's voice becomes as clear as a bell. "Nuh-uh, no unlicensed medical student is touching me!"
"Don't be a baby, Jon," Chris chides, striding to the open door. "I'll be in the kitchen if you need me, Leonard."
A wicked gleam fills McCoy's eyes. "Don't worry, sir. I won't need you."
"Chris!" Jon scrambles for the edge of the bed but can't seem to figure out how to get around McCoy. "Chris, don't go! I'm not hurt, see? I don't need—"
Chris shuts the bedroom door on that plea, feeling a bit meanly glad somebody can deliver just retribution to an old, ornery sheriff when he can't.
The door to Jim's room is ajar and he pauses there to catch a glimpse of Jim in the chair by his desk, Spock hovering just beyond his shoulder. Even though Jim's hard jaw line softens like he might speak when their eyes meet, Chris says nothing to his son and quietly resumes his trek down the hallway.
In the kitchen, Porthos is sitting by his water bowl with an expectant look. Chris tosses the old water out of it and replaces it with fresh water but the dog doesn't stoop down to drink from the bowl. He just continues to stare at Pike.
"This house is crazy," Chris tells him. "I think I'm going crazy."
Porthos blinks placidly, gets up and pads to the back door of the kitchen. There he sits down, once again facing Pike.
A tension uncoils in Christopher. "If you're suggesting we leave for a while, that's a brilliant idea." He unhooks a red leash hanging from one of the key pegs by the door and clips it on to Porthos' collar.
The fresh air never felt more needed than the moment he steps onto the patio in his backyard. Porthos, seemingly not interested in the yard itself, heads for the small gate in the chain-link fence. Chris does not protest, for the time being content to let the dog take the lead.
Chapter 3: Part Three
"What should I do? Try to talk to Jim again? But Jon hasn't been on his best behavior either. The last thing I want is to seem like I'm blaming one of them more than the other. That's just fuel for the fire. Damn. I just don't know what to do, Porthos. Maybe I should beg for a weekend shift at work. Criminals are, by far, easier to understand."
Exactly six blocks from the house, as if he has had enough of listening to this one-sided conversation, Porthos lies down on the sidewalk. For a moment, Chris fears the dog has expired.
He kneels beside the beagle, asking, "Are you okay, buddy?"
Porthos rolls an eye in his direction.
"Are you feeling bad? Where does it hurt?"
The dog blinks.
After running a hand along Porthos' flank and checking his paws for something painful like cuts or burrs (Porthos gives no signs of discomfort at being touched), Chris gently lifts the dog to his feet. The beagle looks nonplussed at this change in his position and sits on his haunches so he can give Pike his droopiest expression.
"Better?" Chris says kindly, picking up the leash.
With a sigh that is eerily close to human, Porthos goes limp again in a graceful fold of limbs onto his side upon the sidewalk. Frowning, Chris picks him up and puts him back on his feet. Porthos lies down again. They repeat this exercise twice more until Pike gives up and just scoops the dog into his arms, valiantly ignoring the twinge in his back as he stands up.
"So this is why Jon carries you everywhere. You're a spoiled dog, Porthos."
Porthos' grumble-grunt might mean so what? or this is what you get for making me walk farther than one-third of a mile. He clearly has no intention of easing Pike's burden of his full body weight. If anything, the dog seems to be able to wield gravity to make himself heavier.
Chris tries for stern. "You're going on a doggy diet."
At that point he is fairly certain Porthos starts drooling on his arm on purpose.
The trip back to the house takes a lot longer than it would have if they had kept to a brisk walk. But Chris is slowly beginning to learn there is nothing brisk about Porthos: not his personality, not his habits, and most assuredly not his idea of the perfect pace.
Oh, to be a beloved pet, Pike thinks as he tries to lever open his fence's gate with his foot and balance Porthos at the same time. Then he wouldn't have to deal with all of this insanity that is his life. It would no longer be his problem, and his needs and his care a responsibility left up to someone else.
Before he can fall over, he sets Porthos down on the ground in the backyard. The dog wags his tail once and trots over to the flowerbed he has apparently designated as his favorite spot in the yard and relieves himself.
Chris hears the kitchen door open, followed by its screen door, and slowly rises from his crouch, mindful of his back muscles. He watches Porthos for a moment longer before glancing over at the young man lingering on the top step of the stairs.
At first it seems like McCoy might not answer. When he does, it's not in the way Chris expects.
"You said you'd be in the kitchen. You left."
That's an accusation if Chris ever heard one. However, it isn't Leonard's business where he goes or what he does. "How's Jon?" he repeats, brushing his hands on his pants to dislodge any dirt.
"I figure the idiot's fine since he demanded a lollipop as a reward for good behavior like I'm his damned family pediatrician."
That sounds like Jim, not Archer. Then again, Chris often wonders if age is the only difference between the two. "Porthos," he calls to the dog inspecting a patch of mulch, "c'mon, let's go in."
Porthos steps out of the flowerbed and contemplates this order. Then he collapses onto his side.
Leonard starts to come down the stairs. "What's wrong with him? Does he need a vet?"
Chris sighs as he stoops to pick up the limp beagle. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing—except for the fact that Jonathan raised him."
"Point taken." Leonard graciously holds open the screen door for Pike and Porthos. Only the twitch of the young man's jaw hints that he is still upset with Chris.
Porthos pinwheels his legs when Chris tries to put him down in the kitchen, so it's with a grim expression that Pike carries the dog with him through the house, intent on dumping him on his owner.
Luckily Jonathan is not far, sitting in the recliner in the living room, looking like he would rather be anywhere else. Chris starts to complain about Porthos but stops short, doing a double-take because opposite Jon is Jim sitting on the couch and also looking like he wants to be somewhere completely different. Both men have their arms crossed; both are frowning deeply.
Chris eases Porthos onto the carpet, afraid he has truly lost his mind and begun to hallucinate. Have they been... talking?
"What's going on?" he asks, finally taking note of the third occupant of the living room.
Spock's gaze remains fixed on Kirk and Archer. "Leonard and I have decided to implement one of the contingency plans we outlined during our car trip."
Jim turns his frown in Spock's direction. "Why would you be planning with Bones? I thought you begged to come along this weekend because you wanted to get out of the city?"
"Is that what he told you? I see," Spock intones but doesn't deign to speak further. At Pike's back, Leonard doggedly keeps his silence.
Jon draws Chris's attention by un-crossing his arms. "I think this is supposed to be some kind of calm-inspiring therapy but Cujo over there is killing the vibe."
"How about you try and touch me, and we can find out whether or not I bite?"
"See what I mean?" Archer groans, giving Chris the distinct impression he is choking down a laugh. "I vote we initiate containment protocol. Clearly he's turned rabid."
"Jim," Spock says, his tone soft but implacable, "you must calm your mind."
Leonard slips out of Pike's periphery vision to circle the back of the couch. "Yeah, kid. If you continue to respond, he's gonna keep taunting you." To Archer, he scolds, "Stop making things worse."
Though Jim visibly makes an effort to restrain his response, he doesn't look any less pissed.
Leonard reaches out to brush his hand against Kirk's shoulder. "Pike's back. Isn't that enough?"
Startled, Chris wonders if they had been looking for him.
"Where was he?" Jim almost demands, sparing a sharp glance in his father's direction.
"Just out walking the dog." Leonard pauses. "...But if he had taken off into the wild blue yonder, could you blame the man?"
Some of Jim's anger retreats as he shrinks slightly into the couch.
Worried that his son looks so unhappy, Chris takes a seat on the unoccupied side of the couch, suspecting his presence could make a world of difference to Jim. But unfortunately he knows he has to keep some distance between them or he might give the impression he's siding with the boy. And he simply can't support Jim's animosity toward Archer.
With an aggressive sigh, Leonard sits down between Jim and the couch arm, announcing to the room at large, "All right, I call this session to order."
"Not funny, Bones."
"You know what's not funny, Jim? You beating up on somebody because you think your dad isn't capable of handling his own problems."
Jon raises his hand to interject. "I'd like to protest that statement. I am not a problem."
Leonard isn't amused. "You're arguing against your own defense."
Jonathan shrugs. "Hey, if the facts are wrong, they're wrong."
"You're an idiot, Archer."
Jon's eyes narrow. "You seem to have forgotten I still have the authority to arrest people who annoy me, Sour Patch. And you're moving up on that list pretty quick."
Jim sounds fierce enough to cause a shiver down Pike's spine when he says, "Don't touch him."
Leonard puts a hand to his face. "Here we go again. For fuck's sake, Jim.... I don't need protection from the likes of that mongoose, and neither does anybody else."
Jim's "Bones?" is uncertain, almost hurt.
"Actually," Spock joins in, "I believe Leonard speaks correctly in this situation, Jim. Your hostility is disproportionate to the level of Archer's enmity."
"In English, Spock," Leonard complains.
Spock studies McCoy for a moment, then returns his gaze to Jim. "Sheriff Archer is, as some would say, a 'small fish'."
Jon looks pained. "I think I've just been insulted."
Chris tamps down on the urge to laugh. "Jon, be quiet."
"And, being quiet now." The man mimes zipping his mouth shut and tossing the key to Pike.
"You don't understand, Spock," Jim rolls over Jon's joking tone as if he hadn't spoken. After dragging a hand through his short hair, Jim gives the strands at his scalp a vicious tug. "Shit, can we just get this over with?"
Leonard shifts to face Kirk, the look in his eyes suddenly sober. "Contrary to how it seems, kid, this isn't a therapy session or a court trial. It's an intervention."
Jim's impatience melts back into anger. "I don't need an intervention."
Leonard lays a hand on Jim's right knee. "No, your father does—because of you."
Chris cannot help but stiffen. "Leonard, that's a little harsh."
"Even if it is, Mr. Pike, he needs to hear the truth. Otherwise you'll spend the rest of your days miserable and alone until Jim wises up and realizes what he's done."
"I am not ruining my dad's life!"
"I didn't say that, Jim. I meant you're putting him in a difficult position, and it's not your right to do that."
"So what, Bones... my opinion doesn't count here?"
Chris leans forward in his earnestness. "Jim, of course your opinion counts."
Jon breaks his silence to throw in, "It counts more than you know."
"Then why are you still here?" Jim snaps at the man.
"Because the reasoning behind your actions is unclear." When Jim whips his head around, startled, Spock meets Jim's look with an even stare. "Why are you against any affiliation between your father and Sheriff Archer?"
"What Spock asked," Leonard agrees.
A muscle jumps in Jim's cheek but he says nothing.
Allowing his son to stay stubbornly silent will place them back at square one. It's easier than Chris expected to slip into the role of a detective trying to grasp a perp's motive, despite the personal nature of the discussion. "What is it you think is going on, Jim, that you have to be against us?" He feels Archer's eyes land on him, his approval almost palpable.
"C'mon, you can say it," Jim's boyfriend encourages.
Jim lowers his elbows to his thighs and leans his weight forward. "You won't believe me."
So close. All Jim needs now is the right kind of push. Chris knows just how to do that. "When has that stopped you before?"
Jim twists at the waist in order to look at his father. "If he hurts you, he hurts me—and Archer's got a lot of reasons to want revenge. We have a history. Did he tell you that?"
Jim seems surprised to have the confirmation but that surprise quickly fades. "Then you know it's too late to change things."
Chris looks at Archer, understanding for the first time he can't speak on Jon's behalf.
But Jonathan is already way ahead of him. The older man leans forward, intent on Kirk, his posture an unconscious mimicry of Jim's. "Does that mean you're sorry?"
Jim says, "Yeah," then seems to hear himself and changes that admission to a challenge of "Maybe. Not because of you."
Jon snorts softly and relaxes. "Good enough for me."
Jim is silent for a moment then looks suspicious. "That can't be it. I don't believe you."
"This is your chance, man. What happened to 'I'll get you, Kirk, even if I have crawl over fire-hot coals from Hell to do it'?"
Jon looks sheepishly at Pike. "I... might've said that."
Somehow Chris is not shocked. "Do I want to know why?"
"Let's just say there's a good reason I'm so obsessed with checking my uniform before I put it on." Jonathan shudders.
Chris turns to his son, eyebrows raised. "What did I tell you about tormenting law enforcement?"
Jim scoots closer to McCoy. "It wasn't my fault."
"We're going to have a long talk when this is over, Jim. A very long talk."
For some reason, Jim turns to his boyfriend.
Leonard rolls his eyes. "Don't look at me, doll face. I'm not the one with the disreputable past."
Jon leaps from his chair with a shout of triumph and does a fist pump. He points emphatically at McCoy then says gleefully to Pike, "See???"
Chris warns him, "I'll still punch you." To the confused Spock, Kirk, and McCoy, he signals that they should ignore Jonathan's childish antics and carry on.
Jon drops back into the recliner with a gusty sigh. "So we're good? I can't believe this is all it was, Kirk. Though admittedly, I am passing up a golden opportunity here. Who knows, maybe this very conversation is part of my master plan."
Chris covers his face with his hands. "Oh my god. Jon."
Jim asks his father, "Why are you dating this douche bag?"
"Good question, son. I might have to reconsider that."
Jim's entire countenance brightens. "Really?"
Chris winces. "Honestly? No. I like him. Well, sometimes."
Leonard drapes an arm across Jim's shoulders. "Sorry, kid. Not everybody has good taste."
"Yeah," Jim gripes, "but I thought at least my dad would. Archer—man, that's just wrong."
Jon tilts his head up to observe the ceiling.
"Just so we're clear, I still don't trust you," Jim tells the grinning sheriff.
"Not shit, Sherlock. I don't trust you either, but we both trust Pike. I guess that has to be enough."
Jim doesn't respond but that's probably because he can't imagine agreeing with Archer.
"Are we done here?" Chris asks, daring to believe it might so.
Leonard begins to moan, "God, we'd better be, or—" only to be interrupted.
"I have a question."
Everyone turns to look at Spock.
"I find this exchange remarkably fascinating," Spock states, tilting his head slightly. "May I ask: are all of you homosexual?"
Leonard puts a hand to his face and grumbles something under his breath, but overall no one in the room seems particularly upset by the question.
Jim answers with a wave of his hand, indicating first himself then Leonard. "I'm bisexual. Bones might be but he's never been with a girl."
"TMI! Goddamn it, Jim!" Leonard cries, flustered.
"My dad is bi, I think," Jim finishes.
Chris imagines his blush is as noticeable as Leonard's.
Tone lazy, Jim points at Archer in the recliner. "He's just desperate, though."
Jon bares his teeth at Kirk before giving Spock a long look. "Why do you ask? Does it bother you to be in a room full of fags?"
Chris chokes on his own spit.
A line of confusion appears between Jon's eyebrows as his expression turns thoughtful. "Or is it queers? What are we getting called these days? I don't keep up." The man shrugs. "Truth be told, if I meet a narrow-minded dickbag in my county, I have a tendency to shoot first, ask questions later."
Chris grimaces. "Jon, you can't shoot someone for being homophobic."
Jim and Jon blink, startled by the chorus of their voices, and for once contemplate each other with something besides dislike.
"Violence is not the answer," Pike tells both of them firmly.
"Seconded," Leonard echoes. "Especially because that kind of stupidity means the dickbag ends up on an operating table, or worse yet dead."
"Uh-oh," Jim says, sinking into his place on the couch. "Here we go."
Leonard's tone intensifies as he glares down at the top of his boyfriend's head. "If people were more civilized, doctors wouldn't have to waste precious time and resources on treating fools who don't know better than settling their prejudices with bullets. Isn't it bad enough that the human body can be a man's own worst enemy?"
"Bones, weapons are for defense, not just offense."
"Well, what's the point if nobody pays attention to the difference these days? You shoot me, I shoot you back. If you want my opinion, we humans are as barbaric as the day we stepped out of caves!"
"That is a commendable sentiment, Leonard."
"See?" Leonard says, poking at Jim's shoulder. "Even Spock agrees with me!"
Jim gives Spock his best hurt expression, which doesn't seem to affect the man in the least. Chris is beginning to recognize how Spock, like Leonard, might be a good influence on his son.
He clears his throat, hoping to steer the conversation back on topic. "I am sorry for the obfuscation, Mr. Spock."
"I understand, Detective, and rest assured I am not offended. This matter is private, of course—" Spock pauses only momentarily, his gaze touching upon McCoy for some odd reason. "—intended for family only. I give you my word I will not discuss what I have learned here with others."
Jim beams at Spock, his eyes warm. "I told you he could be trusted, Bones."
Leonard's eyes drop to his hands as he mutters, "Whatever."
Chris is immensely relieved. "Your discretion is appreciated," he thanks Jim's friend.
Spock nods ever-so-slightly. "I offer my appreciation in return. It is not often I find myself in a position wherein I am so readily trusted."
Leonard's head comes up, and his expression is stormy, as if that comment had been meant as a personal jab at him. "People aren't comfortable telling you anything, Spock, because you're so damned insensitive!"
"Bones," Jim says, sitting up from his slouch with a frown.
"I'm just calling like it is! Just like I called it back at Christmas… but you didn't want to listen to me then either, did you?" Leonard's agitation seems to intensify with every passing second.
Jon stage-whispers across the coffee table to Chris, "I think this is about to get more interesting than TV."
Spock's gaze darkens. "If you are referring to the events which prevented an act of terrorism, I had a right to be informed, Mr. McCoy. The device which would have taken lives was given into my care; the individual embroiled in the plot, an employee under my direct supervision. It is a matter of course that I extended a margin of trust to Mr. Kirk in thwarting disaster."
Leonard leaps off the couch. "You son of a—!"
Chris rises too, prepared to intervene, but Jim catches a hold of Leonard's arm in a tight grip and forces McCoy to sit again.
Spock watches Leonard closely, eyes no less furious but a measure of calm restored to his tone of voice. "If trust is given, should it not be reciprocated?"
"Then Jim should've only given you a 'margin of trust', not tell you his whole goddamn life story."
Jonathan is the only one who finds the explosion of tempers amusing; Jim's expression is bordering distressed and Chris doesn't have the energy to endure another fight. "Leonard, I don't think this is the best time or place to—" he tries to reason, only to be cut off.
"What business is this of yours?" Leonard snaps at him. "If I've got a bone to pick with your son, you should stay out of it."
Chris doesn't know what his face looks like just then, but Archer makes a sound like a meep and Jim bites down hard on his bottom lip, as though he can't decide if he should shield his boyfriend with his body or cover his eyes.
Chris lowers his hands to rest them on his knees with exaggerated care and forces himself to take a deep breath. "I should pretend I didn't hear that, Leonard. If I were a forgiving man, I would. You're upset that Jim has taken a personal interest in Spock—but I don't give a damn. Don't ever tell me Jim is not my business again." He needn't be explicit in his threat; his cold tone is explicit enough.
Despite the tight press of his mouth, McCoy's face loses color.
"Bones apologizes," his son offers.
"Then he can tell me that himself," Pike doesn't quite snap.
"I—I'm sorry," Leonard says after a moment. He doesn't sound like he feels begrudged for having to apologize, only that he is embarrassed.
But Chris doesn't trust himself to be polite in return so he just nods.
Jon breaks the silence with a nervous laugh. "Can we, uh, put this show on pause? It was entertaining up until I wet my pants."
Spock agrees, "I have no desire to continue the disagreement."
"Great!" Jon says, jumping up from his chair. "I'll just be on my way to the bathroom now."
Jim leans into Leonard's shoulder. "Do you think he really peed himself?"
Leonard scrubs a hand over his face. "I came close to it." Then he peeks around Jim at Pike with the hesitation of a scolded child.
Chris is suddenly, achingly tired. And his head hurts. He rises from the couch, at first not certain where he will go but knowing he needs some time to himself. A hand on his arm stalls his leave-taking. Chris glances down at his son.
"Just... going to my room."
Some of the concern fades from the boy's eyes.
Leonard hugs Jim's waist comfortingly with one arm. "Let him go, Jim. He knows better 'n to run away again."
Chris's eyebrows furrow. "I didn't run away last time."
"You left the property and told no one where you were going," counters Spock.
Chris can only stare at the expressionless, dark-haired man. Why is Spock lecturing him?
Spock doesn't even blink. "You should be more aware than any of us that Jim requires assurance of the whereabouts of those individuals for whom he cares deeply."
"Spock," Leonard begins, sounding disturbed that Spock is so knowledgeable about his boyfriend, but Jim's "He's right, Bones" has the odd effect of quieting McCoy.
"I..." Chris has no idea what to say. Yes, he knows how sensitive Jim can be but haven't they addressed those issues long ago?
Then again, isn't Jim the one who calls him so often? He had assumed at some point Jim figured out how much his father needed to hear his voice and obliged him; it had not occurred to Chris that Jim was the one checking up on him.
Oh, Jimmy. "I'm sorry," he tells his son.
Jim nods, a slight flush to the skin of his neck, and mumbles, "'S all right. I wasn't that worried."
Leonard's mouth twitches. "He kinda was."
"I believe the term is 'distraught'."
"In the real world, Spock, and not your fantasy version of some Jane Austen novel, we say freaked out."
"Some of us do not see a purpose in altering the English language to accommodate crass colloquiums."
"It's called evolution, you—you—" sputters McCoy, seeming extra pissed that he can't think up a properly rude nickname.
The corners of Jim's eyes crinkle as he catches his father's look. "They don't always get along."
"I can see that," Chris responds in a dry tone.
"It's my job to mediate."
"I know the feeling. Don't I do the same between you and Jon?"
Immediately he knows that was the wrong thing to say. Bringing Archer into the conversation has never won him any points.
But Jim just looks away. "I guess so."
Swallowing hard, Chris suddenly feels less confident that they have reached the kind of resolution he hoped for. Maybe right now it's better to give Jim the time and space he needs. Edging around the coffee table, he seeks to leave the room as quickly as possible.
But Chris isn't alone in facing this problem. He had forgotten that.
The curiosity in Spock's gaze is only tempered by his intelligence. "Jim, we made progress today, but you have not promised you will continue to improve relations with the sheriff. I advise you do so now while your father is still present to hear it."
"I don't make promises I can't keep."
"But you can promise to try," Leonard points out.
Jim is caught, and he knows it. Still, Pike is glad to hear him say, even sarcastically, "Fine. I promise to try."
The words do make him feel better. "Thank you, Jim," he says with sincerity.
Jim glances over at him and smiles a little; but that tentative smile dies too quickly. "Dad, I didn't mean to—to bring you into the crossfire with Archer. But if he does anything..."
"At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can handle it, Jim."
"But if he does..."
"I will personally hold the bastard down while you beat the shit out of him, Jim," Leonard intercedes. "And Pike won't stop us."
Jim's mouth curves slowly. "Deal."
How is it his participation can be volunteered so freely, and by someone who isn't a son?
But seeing the satisfaction in Kirk's face prompts Chris to let his urge to protest go.
"This is great," Jim says, jumping up from the couch. "Let's make a plan!"
Spock lifts an eyebrow and directs his inquiry to Leonard. "Jim has an unusual fondness for plans."
"All ego-bloated maniacs do."
"Most interesting. I feel that I should anticipate another arrest."
"Never a bad thing to be prepared for," Leonard agrees, suddenly friendly, "especially when none of us have been arrested since Christmas. Maybe that's some kind of record?"
"Perhaps the sheriff wished to grant us a kindness."
"Or Mr. Pike. I really thought that time we tailed him to—"
Chris chokes and almost trips on his own feet in his haste to get away from this conversation. He can't hear another word or he'll be an accessory to something. Maybe he should plug his ears with his fingers?
But the moment he steps foot out of the living room, the conversation isn't the same one he was hearing, as if it was specifically designed to remove him from the room. In a gentle tone Pike has never heard from Spock, the man asks, "Jim, have you considered that Sheriff Archer is more afraid of you than you are of him?"
"Spock's got a point. You can pretty much ruin his life if you convince your dad to ditch him—not that I'm saying you would succeed, bright eyes, because it's obvious Mr. Pike has legitimate feelings for the guy."
Jim replies but his voice is too low to be intelligible to Pike's ears.
McCoy's voice isn't. "Well, yeah, he's crazy, darlin', but it's the same brand of crazy as yours. Maybe Pike just likes his family loonier than a sack of baboons. Makes him seem sane by comparison."
"Leonard, I do not believe insulting Jim's father is the most appropriate tactic."
The subsequent laughter is Jim's, and Chris finds himself slumping against the wall in relief.
If he had been paying more attention to his surroundings instead of what Spock and McCoy were saying, he would have realized he isn't alone. Jonathan is leaning against the wall, too, half-in and half-out of shadow on the opposite side of the hallway. His stance says he's been there a while.
Chris doesn't think. He pushes away from the wall, catches a hold of the man's arm and tugs him toward the end of the hall. He lets go of Jon once they are safely hidden in his bedroom. He leaves the door partially open out of habit.
Chris goes over to his dresser, taking off his watch. "I assume you didn't have to pee after all." When Archer doesn't reply or move, Chris feels a smidgen of alarm. "Jon?"
Jonathan's hands are tucked in his pants pocket; his head, bowed. "They're right, you know. I'm scared down to the marrow of my bones."
Jon's voice turns husky with worry. "How long until you realize I am crazy, Chris?"
"You're not crazy," he counters.
"Hell yes, I am!" Jonathan snaps back. "Do you think all of this is really about Kirk being paranoid that I'm out to use you? He knows me, Chris. He knows... I get obsessed about things. Seen it firsthand—seen how, how messed up I am—" Jonathan's voice cracks and he curses, shoving his fingers through his hair.
"Listen," Chris says, finally able to find his footing, "not one of us is perfect—not you, Jim, or myself. Do you think I expect that from you, Jon? Because I'd be crazy myself if I did. You could never be the perfect boyfriend."
For a brief moment, amusement supersedes the pain in Jon's eyes. "Well, thanks."
"You know what I mean. There is no perfect boyfriend. Or lover, or parent. We just do the best we can with the roles we want to play."
"Christopher," and why does Archer sound so annoyed? "I don't think you get how perfect you are."
Chris is taken aback. "Says who?"
"Probably everyone who has ever met you. You're an amazing person. You're smart as a whip, and generous, and really fucking kind. You go above and beyond what the rest of us are willing to do. You took a kid that was broken and you fixed him."
"Oh, Jon," Chris says, dropping to the edge of his bed, unable to decide between laughing or crying. "I'm... flattered you think so highly of me. I am. But none of that is true." Before Archer can open his mouth to argue, Chris continues. "First, not everyone thinks I'm perfect. Ask McCoy sometime how he feels about my 'love letter' idea. Secondly, I don't always use my brain when it counts. And third, which is the most important thing I need you to understand, I didn't fix Jim. He helped himself. I only supported him through the process." He sighs, and it's a sad sound. "You can't fix other people, Jon. You just can't."
Something lodges in Chris's throat when Jon comes to him and drops on his knees. He reaches for Jon without thinking and cups the man's jaw with one hand. Jonathan's hand covers his.
"Christopher, I can't—" The plea stops, starts, finally falls into a whisper. "I need you to help me, too."
"There's nothing wrong with you," he argues gently.
But Jon doesn't answer; instead he leans forward to lay his forehead against Christopher's knee. Chris slides a hand into the man's hair, begins to massage the back of his scalp. Normally he would choose to speak quietly, privately, between them but a shadow moves just beyond the door of the bedroom. Something inside Pike tells him this is a chance he won't have again; and more than that, Jonathan needs to hear the truth.
"I don't know why you think there's something wrong. You're a strong man, Jon, and a brave one. Back at the Academy, you would be the first one through the simulation to stop the bad guy. People called you crazy for it back then, I know, but that was what set you apart from them, what made you special enough to make others jealous. And because you are who you are, people will always trust you to lead them and to keep them safe. That's why I trust you with my life—why I trust you with my son, who is more precious than my life."
Jon makes a noise against his knees, like a half-hearted laugh or a sob.
Chris shushes him, saying, "So there's nothing wrong with you, Jonathan, except maybe you're a little lonely right now. Well I am too. Why don't we help each other?"
Jon lifts his face. "If I mess this—us—up..."
"How can you know that?"
"I can't, but I do know that men like us fight for what we have because we understand how lucky we are to have it. You won't let yourself ruin a good thing."
"We're a good thing?"
"The best," Chris says, and draws his lover forward to seal his promise with a kiss.
"What's this?" Chris queries.
"Spock makes edible food," Jim answers, busy watching his friend.
"Apparently," Leonard adds, "Jim is trying to convince me this is a valid reason to keep Spock around."
Or it's Jim's not-so-subtle prod at his father, who can't cook to save his life. Not that Pike intends to admit this to anyone. It's unfortunate enough that Archer already knows.
Spock is not too pre-occupied with his task to talk, it seems. "I do not like your insinuation that I am bad company, Mr. McCoy."
"Well I don't like your hair."
"And I find your childish responses annoying."
"Hey!" Leonard retorts. "Who's the one responding to whom?"
Jim's shoulders begin to tremble. Chris touches his shoulder. "Do you have a minute?"
Jim nods but quickly corrects, "Hold on a sec, Dad. I'll be right back."
Leonard offers once Jim is gone, "I think we did make some headway with him."
"Truly?" Chris dares to hope as he takes Jim's vacated seat next to McCoy. "What did you say to him?"
Leonard eyes the man at the stove with something bordering respect. "Wasn't me. Spock came back after excusing himself to use the bathroom and said something to Jim. Damned if I know what it was."
"I explained to Jim," Spock remarks without turning away from the cutting board and array of vegetables, "that the sheriff has something in common with him. Both are afraid of jeopardizing their relationship with their significant other. Jim knows I strive to speak only the truth."
Leonard's mouth thins. "Jim's not—"
Spock turns to give Jim's boyfriend a long look. "What do you think Jim discusses with me during our visits, Leonard?"
"You play chess."
"Yes—and while we play chess, he talks about you."
Leonard's mouth opens but it's clear when nothing comes out he can think of nothing to say.
Chris decides this is a perfect opportunity to side with Spock. "That doesn't surprise me. Jim loves Leonard deeply, but he has always been afraid he is too much, well, himself to make a good partner for someone."
"Such an assumption is illogical."
"I know," Chris agrees. "I had to coach the boy through several no-win scenarios before he believed Leonard wasn't going to turn him down if he admitted his feelings."
"What!" the word bursts out of McCoy. "I wouldn't have dreamed of doing that!"
Chris pats Leonard's shoulder, saying kindly, "Don't worry, Leonard. Jim knows that now."
Leonard slumps into his chair. "I can't believe it. And you're saying Archer's the same way?"
"It would seem so."
Leonard blows out a breath, then another. "I don't know if I should be grateful or terrified."
A rueful smile tugs at Chris's mouth. "Ditto."
"Hey, Bones, where are my—oh, are we talking about me?"
Jim, who has poked his head into the kitchen, looks terribly interested in the answer.
"No," Leonard and Chris chorus. But Jim ignores them, staring at the back of an incongruously silent Spock's head. He steps into the kitchen with the look of a man who has set himself on a mission. If anything, Spock's posture becomes more rigid, as if he can sense Jim is coming to shake the truth out of him.
Leonard calls hurriedly, "What is it you were looking for, Jim?"
Jim's gaze moves from Leonard to Spock and back again.
"Jim?" his boyfriend prompts.
Jim sniffs lightly. "Twinkies," he says.
"No Twinkies this weekend," Chris warns his son at the same time Leonard says, "I told you I wasn't bringing any."
Jim looks aghast at them both.
Jon appears in the archway with the greeting "Hey." After scrutizing everyone's faces, he asks, "Oh, were you talking about me?"
Leonard rolls his eyes. Spock goes back to cooking. Chris escorts his son through the back door of the kitchen, who tries to instigate a new argument with Jon by replying, "Nope, we're talking about me."
Jim pulls out of his grip once they are in the yard and eyes Pike, wary. "What is it?"
Chris thinks about his options as he considers his son's tense stance. He could fuss about a myriad of things; he could try to gain some idea of Jim's future intentions. He could even try for closure because it feels like they're still a long way off from understanding each other.
But none of that matters, not really. Words don't even matter.
Chris opens his arms.
Jim freezes for a split second; then, eyes tear-bright, steps into the embrace. They hold each other for a long time.
When Jim finally pulls away, he runs a sleeve across his face and says, snuffling, "We're being watched."
Chris starts and turns around to catch the culprit. At his feet, Porthos blinks innocuously back at him and seems to appreciate it when Jim squats down to rub the top of his head. In return, Porthos slobbers on Jim's hand.
"He's a good dog. Can we keep him?" Jim asks.
"I suppose if it came down to it, I can vy for custody," Chris responds, amused.
Porthos lies down on his side. Jim apparently knows what the dog wants, because he immediately picks the dog up and hugs him against his chest. Porthos looks content.
First steps are always small, Chris thinks, watching Jim climb the stairs to the house with Porthos in his arms. If Jim understands what Jonathan sees in a very spoiled, old beagle, even without knowing that he understands, then maybe...
Christopher Pike smiles.
There is hope yet.