I believe in the refusal to take part.
I believe in the ruined career.
I believe in the wasted years of work.
I believe in the secret taken to the grave.
These words soar for me beyond all rules
without seeking support from actual examples.
My faith is strong, blind, and without foundation.
- Wislawa Szymborska, "Discovery"
Chris doesn’t say much. Una doesn’t need him to. They set up the chessboard in tandem, from left to right, unconsciously mirroring each other the way they often do on the bridge.
He opens. Bishop to D4 Neutral. Interesting. Una quirks an eyebrow and peers at him from the other end of the couch. Boyce cleared Chris for duty earlier, but after twenty years, she can discern that something is deeply, viscerally wrong—he looks like shit warmed over, his skin is greyish against the bright yellow of his uniform, his eyes are dull...and he's spoiling for a fight, if the Aldorian Gambit is anything by which to judge.
Una waits for Chris to speak, but he keeps his silence into the middlegame, steepling his hands the way he does when he’s either deep in thought or wants people to think he is. She pours them generous shots of Risan tequila while he tries to unfuck the King's Level attack board, where her queen has cornered one of his knights. Una downs hers first, grimacing at the aftertaste but savoring the burn; she holds on to the other glass.
“Boreth,” she says, succinctly. Chris winces, sacrifices a rook, and regains footing on the attack board.
“Could have sworn I sent you the report.”
Una doesn’t deign that with a reply—Chris knows she read it. And Una knows Discovery beamed him down to a Klingon planet, alone and unarmed, at 1014; that his lifesigns remained stable until he entered the monastery and abruptly disappeared; and that he was beamed back on board at 1637 on the same day, without a mark on him, in possession of one of the rarest elements in the universe. Una also knows he showed up at her door looking like his own ghost.
She hands him his drink, but takes his knight and two pawns after a prolonged scuffle on the Queen’s Level, during which nothing is said.
“I can't help you if you won't talk to me, asshole,” Una points out as she neatly lines up the pieces she's captured right where he can see them. Then: “Check.”
“There's nothing to say.” Chris looks balefully at the board and starts moves his dwindling ranks to the King's Level.
Una advances. Loses a bishop, a rook, her last knight. There's no set point when a middlegame transitions to an endgame, but the air between them becomes charged. Una watches Chris brush his bangs out of his face and has to fold her hands over her knees to keep from reaching for him, as she has countless times in the past.
The shitty thing is that Chris can absolutely tell her all about the phenomenally ill-advised but unequivocally noble fuck up that he talked himself into for that time crystal; and there are better than even odds that Una can cash in a few favors and fix it before the check arrives, with Starfleet brass none the wiser. Instead, she's awake at ass o'clock in the morning chasing his king across the board, waiting for him to work up the nerve to speak.
“Chris, this shit is getting old," Una reasons, moving her queen forward, implacable. "I'm gonna checkmate you in like four moves. Stop jerking me around and tell me how you got that magic space rock, so we can fuck and then maybe try to catch some shuteye before alpha shift."
After a moment's thought, she adds, “No fancy stuff. Check.”
Una can hear Chris breathing, jagged, quiet. His mouth twists into an unhappy line, and his hand is unsteady when he reaches out and tips the white king on his side. It rolls off the board, bounces off the coffee table, patters to a stop somewhere underneath her couch. Neither of them make a move to get it.
“Una, I’m tired,” Chris whispers bleakly. “I’m—”
Una swipes at her face; she can usually read his body language like a well-loved book—shock, delight, rage, sadness, she can identify at a hundred paces, but the hunch of his shoulders isn’t any of those.
“God, what the fuck did you do, Chris?” Una asks quietly, feeling an unnamed dread uncurl in the pit of her stomach.
“I don’t know.”
“Okay,” she says. “Did Boyce—”
"I don’t know," he says again, and then it comes, wrenching, ugly sobs that sound more like a panic attack than weeping. She'd seen Chris cry once before, scrolling the casualty list Starfleet sent over after the Battle of the Binaries. He'd swiped angrily at the droplets on the PADD, letting it clatter to the desk, and put his head in his hands; when Una touched his shoulder, he’d lifted his face up with a watery, self-deprecating smile and waved her away while he composed himself.
This is different, it is fucking terrifying . When Una moves to him, Chris clings to her, grasping blindly at the fabric of her shirt, mashes his face into the crook of her neck, and shakes apart, the way a starship captain must never allow himself to do. She unfastens the collar of his command gold so he can breathe, murmurs nonsense into his disheveled hair, keeping one hand firmly on the back of his neck.
Una doesn't let go. His sobbing grows quiet and exhausted, tapering off into miserable hiccups. Una still doesn't let go.
“You really can't tell me,” she says, at long last. It isn't a question.
“No,” he croaks. He gingerly unplasters himself from her collarbone and looks at her, face wet and pink and raw, like an open wound. “God, Una, I didn't—”
“Hey, no, none of that.”
A rattling sigh. Chris looks down at his hands, angry and diminished. “Listen, can I—could we just lie down?"
Una nods, and they help each other up from the couch, making their way to her sleeping quarters like they are a hundred years old, with twisted spines, brittle and pained.
It's a testament to how thoroughly this has dismantled him that Chris doesn't fight Una when she makes him drink two glasses of water, doesn't say anything, just lets her efficiently strip him down to his Starfleet-issue boxers and manhandle his pale, shivering body into her bed. Una peels off her own uniform and crawls in behind Chris, pulling him close, and winds a steadying arm around his stomach. He sniffles once then falls asleep instantly, like a candle being extinguished.
She wakes up two hours later with Chris practically sprawled on top of her. An arm across her chest, a leg bent across her thighs, his forehead pressing against the side of her neck. Una inhales, breathes in the sharp, warm scent of him. Chris is hard, his erection angled along her thigh and hip. She squirms experimentally, and feels a hot gust of breath against her carotid artery. Grins. This, at least, is familiar.
Chris murmurs something too loud to be nonsense and too slurred to be intelligible, slides a hand, clumsy from sleep, underneath her shirt. Her nipples pebble sweetly against the calloused tips of his fingers; he circles the areolas, pinches a very little, and draws out a shaky, urgent moan that ricochets off the bulkheads and makes his hips stutter against Una’s flank.
Una lets him tease her for a while longer, before waking up enough to palm Chris’s cock through his shorts, which earns her a sharp gasp and a surge of wet heat. Chris huffs, impatient, and knocks away her hand, hitching his thumb under the waistband to peel back the damp fabric. No fancy stuff, Una thinks gleefully, shoving down her panties and kissing him, pulling him on top of her, cradling his hips between her thighs and grabbing two good handfuls of his ass. Slowing down is more-or-less impossible.
Chris pulls back, his slate blue eyes dark and astonished, when she bears down and guides his cock into the slick heat and constriction of her body—the first thrust nails her at an excruciatingly good angle, and Una tips her head back. Lets her mouth fall open, her spine arcing and inverting off the mattress in counterpoint. Above her, Chris goes still, hisses, and pulls out.
“Um,” Chris explains, breathlessly, his hand curled around the base of his dick.
“I got you. J'adoube. Here, just—” Una squirms out from under him. “Sit up.”
Chris obediently plants his back against the headboard and Una clambers onto his lap, straddles him while he holds her hips steady so that she hovers just over his straining cock. She grabs his broad shoulders with both hands and lowers herself down, taking him inside again, inch by rigid inch, until she's fully seated.
“Yeah,” he wheezes, his hands plucking fitfully at her waist. "I'm—you feel so good, sweetheart."
“Easy, Killer,” she says, and Chris buries a smile in her clavicle.
Una rides Chris slowly, moving back and forth, swiveling a bit, grinding, rolling her hips until she feels those first delicate frissons of orgasm beginning to untwine in her groin; she plants a frenzied, suspenseful kiss on his temple, grabbing the wet tufts of silver hair with both hands and pulling hard, harder. It undoes him. Chris squeezes his eyes shut, comes with a plaintive, bitten-back cry.
“Sorry, sorry,” Chris gasps, sheepish and exhilarated, still pulsing inside her.
“Oh, real nice, Pike,” Una manages.
“I am nice, actually,” Chris protests, and lips at her neck like a baby goat in a petting zoo, brings one hand to her throbbing clit and rubs her in deliberate, slick little circles. Una laughs, but ends up coming around his softening cock inside sixty seconds, so hard she can only grit her teeth against the pleasure of it and whimper.
She gingerly lifts herself up off of Chis, flopping onto her belly like a fish, and exhales a shivery sigh as his cum trickles lazily out of her body and seeps into the sheets.
“I'm still going to sit on your face before alpha shift,” Una informs him.
“D'you ever think about cashing in?” Chris says to her, running a hand over Una's back, fingers tripping over the bumps of her spine. His inflection is casual, drowsy, but something in his tone makes her uneasy. “Living dirtside, raising a family, no incident reports, no training exercises, no warp core malfunctions, no brass. Don't you ever want to walk away?”
“No,” Una says, honestly.
“Me neither,” Chris says. His eyes are searching her face, not entirely happy—but so, so hopeful. “I'd miss you.”
It's as close as they ever get to stating the obvious.
Una is suddenly certain that if she were to ask Chris now what happened on Boreth, he would tell her. Instead, she kisses him on a surge of heartbroken yearning.
This is how Una will remember him for as long as she lives—not Christopher grinning insouciantly at her during their graduation; not Pike perched in the captain's chair like a king regent; not the milky cataracts staring out from the sad, hurt remains of his face; but Chris lying in her arms, afraid and exhausted, in love, alight with a courage that defies his ruination.
All around them, the bulkheads hum with a barely perceptible vibration—the ship's engines cycling, as they do several times a day—and for the first time ever, it unnerves her, makes her feel untethered. Una abruptly wishes they really were dirtside instead of trapped in a ninety thousand metric ton tin can traveling light years in a bubble of extra-dimensional subspace.
She drifts in and out of sleep, remembering Chris roughhousing with her brother's kids last year, laughing and letting the baby smear pureed rhubarb on his face. Una dreams about the white king, bloodless and cold underneath her couch, people shuffling by, unmindful of his dissolution.
Starfleet is a promise, she thinks blearily, unprompted; it's never felt more like a threat than it does now. Una curls tighter around Chris’s body and hooks a leg around his thighs to cage him in, trying to make as many points of contact as possible.