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Climbing Trees

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It was 0500 hours when Jim was woken up by the sound of his personal Comm Link chirping incessantly.

With a groan and much inner strength, he managed to roll himself out of bed and squint at the chronometer. Sitting up was a slow process, but necessary in order to pull out the Comm screen next to his bed.

Yawning he took a look at the caller ID and cursed.

It wasn't a call he could ignore.

So, he took a breathe, filling his cheeks with air and pressed the 'accept call' button as he slowly released the air he'd stored.

Instantly Captain Pike's face filled the screen. The older man seemed bright eyes and was sipping a mug of coffee. Since there was a chart that displayed a map of the federation behind him, Jim figured he must be inside his office at the Academy.

"Do you know what time it is?" Jim groaned balefully. Something he would have felt a bit bad about, but if it was official business, Pike wouldn't have called him with a priority flag attached.

He brought himself to full alertness, it wouldn't due to forget something important, even if it wasn't about work. Besides, Jim had always been the type that was unable to go back to sleep once he'd been woken.

"Time for you to be getting up." Pike smiled from behind his coffee mug, his eyes twinkling, "Besides, I'll be in meetings up until 1300 hours and this is my only chance to invite you out for lunch after you've been debriefed."

As Pike spoke, the smell of cooking sausage wafted into Jim's room and he grew curious over it before replying with a smile, "I should disappear into space more often, last night I was taken out for dinner and now I'm getting lunch? Any particular place in mind?"

"Just a little Italian place that's just off campus," the older man placed his mug down on his desk and seemed to look off for a moment before turning his attention back to the comm,

"I'll send the info to your personal comm link and I'll meet you there around 1400 if that's good for you?

"I have a lot I want to catch up on, and a few things to tell you before you get started on your new assignment."

Jim considered the time his debriefing would take and nodded, "That should be fine, if anything comes up I'll send you a message."

"Glad to have you back kid," Pike smiled warmly then, it was much different from the bemused expression he started the conversation with, "See you then. Pike out."

The comm link's connection ceased and Pike's face blinked out of the screen. Now it only displayed the main menu, Jim stared at it for a few moments, still unwilling to leave the comforts of his bed in order to start the day.

He was a bit stubborn like that.

Yawning one more time, Jim began to stretch his arms in order to get blood flowing back into them. After a few moments, he pushed the comm system back to it's place flush against the wall and rose to take a shower. He did his best to put as much enthusiasm in his movements, it was a grand feat considering there was no coffee in him yet.

There was no way he was getting back to sleep now that he was up so it seemed Jim would be starting his day a bit earlier than originally planned. As he grabbed a towel from it's place stored in his closet, he reasoned that it wasn't surprising that he wasn't going to be capable of sleeping in.

Life on a Starship was a demanding one, and that meant his sleep schedule was trained to that routine. It wouldn't due to break it, especially when he was going to be working with a professor in the coming academic school year.

Jim made his way to the bathroom that his room contained and stripped down before stepping into the standing shower. He turned the tap and jolted at the feeling of real water touching his skin.

Another thing was the fact that he had grown accustomed to the sonic shower systems in a place that water was treated as scarce. Water was for drinking on a Starship, drinking and for the botany lab to fight the Science division for in staff meetings.

Washing his hair, Jim considered his schedule for the day.

Really the only mandatory things on his plate were his debriefing at 1100 hours and then lunch with Pike right after. He wondered if he could indulge in a nap at some point. It wouldn't be too much of a crime to get himself some extra sleep before he was, no doubt, dragged off to dinner with another friend

He was on leave for a few days, and that meant there would be plenty of time to catch up with friends he hadn't seen in a while. Gary Mitchell came to mind just after Kevin.

Kevin was easily more important than Gary when it came to catching up.

Jim would also have to call Bones up at some point before his new assignment started. The Doctor would kill him if the next time that they spoke, they were both too busy to sit down and talk.

His mind wandered then a bit more, Jim had notice Pike mentioned his new assignment and spared the brain power to consider that maybe lunch wasn't going to be exclusively a social engagement. Pike probably knew who would Jim would be assisting. If Jim was lucky, the Captain might just share that information with him earlier than the official channels would.

After washing the rest of himself, Jim turned off the water and smiled to himself a bit as the water cut off. It was an indulgence he had missed in the first few weeks of his assignment on the Farragut, and yet he hadn't' even really remembered to look forward too actual water showers.

 

Bringing his mind to the present, Jim patted himself as dry as he could with his towel before pulling a loose pair of shorts and a worn out shirt out of his dresser. He got dressed slowly and felt the cotton of both pieces of clothing clinging to the small amount of water that remained on his skin.

While a bit uncomfortable, It would be temporary, something comfy to spend the morning in.

When he opened the door in order to leave his room, Jim was hit with smell of more than just the sausages from before. The apartment smelled like greased fried potatoes along with ham, and the distinct scent of bread toasting.

Jim made his way past the living room then into the small kitchenette, as he suspected, Kevin was wearing his Cadet Reds and in the middle of the small area cooking up a storm.

He smiled at the younger man, because that's what Kevin Riley was, a young man. Kevin was 19 years old, from Ireland, and in his second to last year of Academy. He was specializing in Tactical and communications with a cross in command so that he could one day serve as a department head or, if needed, a Captain.

Yet, Jim would always look at him and see that kid who's mother had shoved him into a teenagers arms and begged for her son to be saved.

Kevin had only been 9 when they met all those years ago and Jim was glad they'd contacted each other again, after all that time.

"Real food Kevin?" Jim couldn't help the teasing tone of his voice as his affection for the younger man bubbled in his chest, "That's impressive."

Kevin turned his attention away from the stove and twisted around just enough for Jim to see that he was wearing an apron which said 'it's not a meal without potatoes' in rather boisterous lettering. There was a smiled in his eyes as he said,

"Well I was gonna make you dinner last night, but Uhura was a few steps ahead. I thought, why not a proper fry up then? You'd love that after nothing but replicated oats every morning."

 

His Irish accent was thicker than Jim remembered and it was probably Kevin's stubbornness and refusal to let it fade that had caused the phenomenon.

"Need some help?"

Rolling his eyes Kevin turned back to the hash he was frying, "You just sit and wait Jimmy! You've been in the black for a whole year and you'll nary get a rest before the next semester starts.

"Beside you help enough as it is around here, even when you are gone."

It felt a bit strange to just slide into one of the 3 chairs that were located at a round table just off the kitchen. But Kevin was almost done and plating the food, and if he felt this was needed to repay Jim, then he wasn't gonna argue with the younger man.

The table was already set with silverware and two ceramic mugs. In the center appeared to be a carafe of coffee with a heating plate underneath it. At the base of the plate was a bowl of sugar and a miniature pitcher of creamer. It was a beautiful sight that made Jim feel a wave of gratitude for the young man who had gotten up before 0500 hours in order to prepare it all.

Kevin only took a few moments to finish arranging the food he'd prepared and bring it to the table. Serving it was even quicker as and as a plate was slide in front of him, Jim was finally able to see what his friend had made.

The plate contained two eggs, sausage, a patty of fried hash, a bit of ham, and what appeared to be smoked beans. It smelled more amazing than anything Jim had eaten during his time on the Farragut and he couldn't help but cast a grateful smile at Kevin, who returned the expression eagerly.

Not done yet, Kevin practically skipped back to the kitchen and brought forth a plate of slightly singed toast which had been cut into triangles. The burnt edges betrayed Kevin's carefree nature, he had probably forgotten about it while making something else, but Jim's nose told him they'd been buttered liberally and the flavor wouldn't suffer. When all the food had been placed on the table Kevin only had to pour two steaming hot mugs of coffee.

Jim picked up the mug that had been placed in front of him and took a whiff before taking a sip to test the full flavor of the coffee.

"This is all really wonderful, thank you Kevin," Jim sighed, he felt a level of affection for Kevin that he rarely found with anyone, and with him there was peace. Kevin Riley was like the kid brother he'd never had and while he was headstrong and a bit careless, it was moments like this that Jim caught a glimpse of the man Kevin would become.

Kevin slid happily into the seat across from him and lifted a fork in order to begin breaking up the yolks of his over medium eggs, "What are friends for huh? I mean you've been paying for this apartment even though you didn't even live in it last year, least I could do is make you a home cooked meal when you got back."

 

Jim did the same with his eggs and felt the warmth in his chest grow at Kevin's words, "You know you don't ow me right? You're like family Kevin."

"C'mon Jimmy it's just breakfast!" Kevin teased but his blush betrayed his real feelings, "You haven't even taken a bite yet ! Might make yah keel over."

Without breaking eye contact Jim took a bite of his food and smiled. Kevin was a wonderful cook. He had learned from the best in the worst of circumstances after all.

Swallowing his bite of perfectly cooked eggs Jim sighed again at the flavor. There was something about replicated food that just couldn't match the real deal.

"As always, a masterpiece Chef Riley." Jim gave his compliments to the cook and fixed his coffee with a dash of cream and a small bit of sugar. He stirred the mug and took a sip of the liquid perfection and wondered if he could live in a moment. Because it really was the best thing to wake up to.

 

"Don't expect it everyday." Kevin laughed and took a chomp out of a triangle of toast, then promptly took a sip of his coffee to chase it down,"I have classes in two months Mr. Lieutenant!"

"I won't Cadet." Jim replied easily, Kevin's usual rhythm of 'bite-drink-bite-drink' felt more like home to him in a way that not even home cooked food could, "Any plans for the day?"

"Just attending the summer circuit on Romulan," Kevin spoke as if he was confessing something, "Tested out of Vulcan, but you know that o'course, so decided to get a jump on the next semester."

"Good for you." Jim felt a wave of pride in the Cadet, "I'm sure you're giving them all hell."

Rolling his eyes Kevin took a drink of his own coffee that was dressed with far more sugar and creamer than Jim had ever taken in his own, his eyes lit with a devious spark, "Only what they can handle, don't wanna scare any of 'em too bad."

Huffing out a chuckle Jim continued eating, "What time is that circuit anyways?"

 

"0700 hours." Kevin replies easily as he practically shoveled his food into his mouth before taking an unhealthy swig of coffee, Jim would scold him but knew that when the Cadet was in the cafeteria he was a perfect gentleman.

Jim took a glance at the chronometer, and felt a spark of amusement, "Well it's 0635 so you better finish up soon."

Quick enough to give most whiplash, Kevin took a look at the chronometer and cursed in Irish Gaelic before quickening the pace which he was eating.

"Don't choke." Jim spoke and it would have sounded like a reprimand if his own affection for the Cadet hadn't bubbled up in the moment, "I'll clean up, I don't have to live until much later."

Kevin cleared his plate and pulled off his apron which he had kept on through the meal, ostensibly to keep his Cadet Reds clean.

"Thanks Jimmy, I'll see you for dinner OK?"

Jim took another sip of his coffee, "Sure thing Kevin."

 

Kevin stood quickly and tossed his apron over the back of his chair before rushing towards the door and grabbing his satchel which was on a small table by the exit. He opened the door and paused for a second before he stuck his leg out, then pulled it back, causing a box that had been outside the door to be pushed into the entrance of the apartment.

"You got a package!"

Jim had a good idea of what it was so just waved Kevin off and let the guy finish rushing out of the apartment they shared. It wouldn't due for him to be late, even if the cause was a bit understandable.

Practically flying down the hall Kevin was gone, not to be seen again until the evening when Jim would probably harass him to order pizza. Because he wasn't going back to replicated food before he really had to.

After finishing his plate and another mug of coffee, Jim gathered the dishes and put the stopper in the drain before placing the plates an cutlery in the sink so that he could wash them. pouring a bit of soup over them, he turned the water on and allowed the sink to begin filling so the dishes could soak for a bit.

While the sink was being prepared he grabbed a left over sausage and took a bite before bringing out a few containers to store the leftovers. It would be nice to warm them up the next morning and have something that was semi-fresh.

Once the food was all packed up and stored in the cooler, Jim turned the water off, grabbed a scrubber then proceeded to wash the dishes.

After the plates and silverware were scrubbed down and placed into the other side of the sink, he got to work on the pans that Kevin had used to fry everything up. Of course he first poured the left over grease into the recycler and only then did he dip the pans into the soapy water for cleaning.

It was mindless work and Jim lost himself to the motions of it.

There were plenty of machines that could get the plates cleaned and disinfected much quicker, but Jim preferred the old style. It reminded him of being home before it all went wrong.

So once the dishes were all cleaned and rinsed, only then did he pile the ensemble into the disinfector for a round of sanitizing.

Grabbing a dish towel Jim dried his hands up to his elbows before drying off the counter and tossing the towel into the designated bin beneath the sink.

Once that was done he made his way to the living room, where the package Kevin had carelessly kicked into the room was laying on the floor. Jim picked it up lazily, it was a 2 x 2 foot square and roughly a foot thick. The package was addressed to him from Starfleet HQ.

He grabbed his hover bike key from the dish and used it to break the synthetic seal before popping the package opened he found almost exactly what he was expecting.

Reaching in Jim pulled out the jacket for the Starfleet Blacks of a member of the Academy's staff, and beneath it was the formal Grey inform for officers. Taking inventory he found there was roughly 4 uniforms that had been vacuum sealed into the box, 2 of each.

What he wasn't expecting, was that the uniforms had no ranks attached to it. Jim dug through the box and pulled out each uniform but found nothing.

It was a mystery he'd have to ask Pike about over lunch he supposed. If the Captain didn't' have an answer Jim would simply have to put in a request for his lieutenant stripes.

With all the uniforms unpacked, Jim placed them in the cleaner so that they'd be ready for his trip to debriefing later.

Sighing Jim checked the chronometer and found it only to be a quarter to 0800 hours.

He supposed he could always read until it was time to leave.

1100 hours was the time Jim ended up leaving for his debriefing in his fromal Greys.

Considering how close the apartment was to the Academy, Jim knew it was a bit early and he was just being restless. If anything, he would at least get a good seat to fill out his paperwork and listen to whatever Rear-Admiral had been assigned to his sector's meeting.

On his way in, he greeted as many shipmate from the Farragut he could. None of them were particularly close, but it was a given that a group who had spent a year in space together would have a sense of camaraderie.

They all piled into one of the general briefing rooms and began filling out their final reports for the log. Starfleet had provided PADDS for each of them, so it was with great efficiency they each grabbed a device from a dock and got to work.

The silence reminded him of being back in the Academy. Since this was the debriefing for the USS Farragut's tactical division, there was just under 80 officers that had reported.

Jim wondered how chaotic the Engineering and Science division's meetings were, their staff made up a far larger percentage of the roughly 600 crewman it took to run a Constellation Class ship at full capacity.

Once he was done with his report, he sent it off and placed the PADD back in the dock it had been waiting in when he arrived. Then he sat patiently at the desk he had filled his report in.

At 1300 hours Rear-Admiral Cartwright entered the room and, after confirming all the PADDS had been docked, began giving his speech which thanked each of them for their service.

It was basic and nowhere near as flowery as the speech Jim suspected the Command Crew received. But that was the way of things. The Command Crew may take credit for all the achievements for a mission, but they also are expected to do all the heavy lifting as well as take responsibility for every mistake and death.

There were few who would desire such glory when it came with so much gore.

So when they were released at 1330 hours, Jim wasn't surprised.

He would have lingered and maybe shook a few more hands, but Pike was expecting him for lunch and after checking the address on his portable Comm Link, the restaurant was just far enough away that Jim would have to leave immediately to make the date.

That's just how it was sometimes, he supposed, as he made his way out of HQ and towards the small parking area that he'd left his hover bike waiting in.

Jim secured his hat to his bike and kicked it into ignition.

Pike was waiting at a table by the window when Jim arrived at the rather quaint Italian bistro that was labelled 'Isla Bella'.

Jim entered the small hole in the wall of a restaurant and Pike stood then waved him over with a smile and a friendly call of, "Jim! You came just in time."

"I haven't kept you waiting too long?" Jim smiled and made his way over to the Captain, who greeted him with a firm handshake and half hug, before breezily sliding back into his seat. Jim took his place across from the older man.

"Nah, I've been here long enough to order myself a soda, got you a lemonade because I'm sure you've had enough caffeine to last an Engineering Cadet an entire semester."

Jim huffed out a laugh but couldn't argue the point, lemonade was perfectly fine.

"It's good to see you Captain." Jim said instead. Pike had been the reason he'd enlisted and Pike was the reason he had reclaimed the star dust in his soul. He owed the man a lot.

"It's good to see you too...," Pike sounded as if he'd paused in the middle of a sentence before pulling out a small box and sliding it across the table towards Jim, "Lieutenant Commander Kirk."

Jim stared at the box frozen and then looked back up at Pike, unsure if he' heard the man right.

Pike just sent him an expectant look, so Jim reached towards the box and opened it slowly. Sure enough, it contained the braiding for a Lieutenant Commander.

Jim choked on his own breath, "You're joking."

Air was feeling like it was in short supply as he gently lifted the braiding from the box and looked between the ornament and Captain Pike, "I've only been-"

"Lieutenant for a year, I know." Pike smiled, "It was actually Captain Garrovick recommended you for promotion and Commander Reychi also gave high commendation.

"I simply asked to be the one given the honor to award the braiding. You earned this."

Air was finally coming back into his lungs and Jim didn't know what to say. He felt like he was going to cry from the pure unadulterated bliss of being promoted.

Reverently, Jim clipped the braiding onto his uniform. One set on each sleeve, it sparkled and Jim felt like he was something bigger than human.

"I noticed my braiding didn't come with the uniform but I had no idea that this was why," Jim finally huffed out a desperate laugh, because if he didn't he'd probably cry, "Thank you Sir, I'll do my best to live up to it."

"All I ask." Pike smiled a little too brightly, "Besides, I'll get to watch you."

"Sir?" Jim frowned at how sure the man sounded, as he asked their drinks came and Pike simply replied,

"I'm running Survival Courses this year."

Jim let his head drop, the wave of incredulousness he felt at the man was too much as he laughed openly, "Of course you are, Sir."

Culture and propriety dictated that Pike order for them both. Jim was just lucky to have a mentor who was above ordering food he found distasteful. So they ended up requesting a simple pepperoni pizza and that was that.

When it was served their conversation turned towards Jim's time on the Farragut and finally Pike seemed to get around to his announcement and what it meant.

"Jim," Pike voice was gently probing, "I just want to be sure, as your Mentor and friend I have to ask; Will you be OK running the Survival Dome with a bunch of kids?"

Taking a sup of his lemonade Jim gathered his thoughts and said, "You know, maybe before serving on the Farragut I'd have said 'No', but after serving and actually facing survival situations, I'm 100% sure of my nerves.

"I know how I'll behave when faced with actual danger, and I can take on a bunch of Cadets in a highly controlled environment."

"Good." Pike nodded, he seemed pleased in his own reserved way, "I knew a year in service would do you wonders, you're a rare breed and It'll be a privilege to see you rise higher."

Jim bore the compliment as best he could and felt his cheeks warm, "There are some Admirals that wouldn't agree, especially after the Kobayashi Maru incident from my last year."

"Well," Pike's voice took on a teasing tone, "Even they were forced to give you a recommendation."

Shaking his head he was startled as Pike suddenly laughed, "Did I tell you they got my other protege' to work on it?

"Mr. Spock was pleased as a Vulcan could be when he was assigned the program!"

Mr.Spock had been mentioned by Pike once or twice and Jim really only knew of him as the first Vulcan that had ever enlisted. Science and Linguistics were Spock's major focus, so Jim had never had the opportunity to meet him, much to Pike's chagrin.

"Were they that angry?" Jim winced a bit but couldn't help but feel a bit smug, "They got a Vulcan to lock the program tighter?"

Pike shook his head, "Yes, he apparently failed to understand your logic but after review of your Academic Hearing, he deemed your ultimate fate 'satisfactory'."

Jim laughed then and shook his head, "I'm glad he was happy I wasn't expelled."

"I'm hoping you'll meet him this year." Pike confessed, "I really want you two to meet, I have a feeling you'll get along."

 

Whenever people tried to introduce Jim to their other friends it either ended badly or neutrally. But for Pike's sake Jim did hope that he and Spock could be friends.

Jim absently wondered why Pike was so eager for them to get along but really if he was overseeing both of their careers personally it made perfect sense.

Taking a bite of pizza Jim mulled over everything he'd learned and their conversation turned to lighter topics.