The thing about Chris is: he’s actually not all that smart.
This isn’t to say he’s stupid. He can recite all of Starfleet’s eight hundred and seventy-two regulations by heart. He can construct the proof for Cochrane’s primary warp theory in under thirty minutes. He’s also fluent in Tellarite, Andorian, and two dialects of Cen’pur (the only reason he never grasped the third is because it involves the use of a third nasal passage, and the last time he checked, humans are a little lacking in that department).
So yeah, Chris is intelligent. You kind of have to be, to make it into Starfleet in the first place, not to mention rise through the ranks all the way to Admiral. Still, he knows there are certain areas where he’s really just average. Like xenobiology, for instance; his thoughts wander and his eyes glaze over pretty much involuntarily whenever someone starts to wax poetic about Vulcan gastrointestinal anatomy or the molecular structure of Orion pheromones. And tactics, too: he’s a quick thinker, sure, but he’s never quite mastered the art of pulling harebrained yet surprisingly effective schemes out of his ass to save the day. Unlike a certain person he knows.
So there are things Chris isn’t all that good at, and that’s fine, he’s made his peace with that. It helps that it’s balanced out by the things he is good at, the most glaring of which happens to be human relations. Or interspecies relations, or whatever you want to call it when you can glance at an interaction between two people and immediately tell not only what the conversation is about, but where it’s heading, what each participant wants out of the exchange, and all the little nuances most people don’t think to look for: eye twitches, hand movements, stance, distance.
It did wonders for Chris as a captain—thwarted nine assassination attempts, and he still holds Starfleet’s record for most trade treaties signed on deployment: forty-two, thank you very much. It also helped him pick out a young, half-drunk deadbeat from a crowd in a bar five years ago, to send him off to become one of Starfleet’s finest.
So yeah, Chris is good at reading people. Usually this makes him pretty awesome, even though he’s no master tactician and he once got lost on the Engineering deck of his own goddamned ship. But right now? This little talent is pissing him off. Because Jim is one of the smartest people he knows, and so is Commander Spock, and Chris just can’t quite figure out why the fuck they’re both being so stupid right now.
It’s been three weeks since they brought Jim to the hospital, half-frozen in the cryotube with McCoy shouting something about radiation and a superblood serum. One week since the self-sacrificing little shit finally woke up, barely able to move and speak yet unmistakably, wonderfully alive. And it’s been exactly zero weeks, zero hours, and zero minutes since Chris has stopped wanting to fucking strangle Spock for not pulling his head out of his ass and just telling Jim how he feels about him.
Because it’s driving Chris absolutely fucking nuts. His people-dar screams at him every time he sees them interact: Alert—infatuated Vulcan! He sees it in every one of Spock’s movements, in every word that comes out of his mouth: the love he has for Jim, the bone-deep loyalty and devotion. The way his gaze always slides back to Jim no matter who else is in the room, the way he sits for hours at Jim’s bedside while the man sleeps and just stares at him, the way his hands tremble and clench into fists whenever someone so much as whispers the name Khan.
Spock’s feelings are so thick, Chris is practically choking on them. And the sad thing is, he can’t decide who the bigger idiot is here: Spock, for not just confessing and putting himself out of his starry-eyed, pining-lover misery…or Jim, for apparently not picking up on the hints at all.
Seriously. Did Chris really recruit this guy from a sleazy, smoke-filled Iowa bar for his intelligence and insight? Because all he sees when he looks at Jim now is a recently-resurrected ex-coma patient who’s dumber than a box of rusted console panels. And sure, Chris still loves the kid—it scares him sometimes, how much he loves Jim, seeing him and thinking not captain or colleagueor friend, but family—but he’s starting to consider denying the Enterprise all diplomatic missions from now on, because her captain is apparently denser than the black hole that destroyed the Narada.
For God’s sake, Spock is hurling clues at Jim so hard it’s a wonder they don’t do physical damage, yet Jim just continues to smile and occasionally play chess and flirt with the goddamned nurses right in front of him, and Chris is this close to just buying a big, bright neon sign that reads ‘IN LOVE WITH YOU’ (or maybe ‘WANTS TO DO THE BOW-CHICKA-BOW-WOW’, but the sign places probably charge by the letter) and holding it over Spock’s perfect, bowl-cut, pointy-eared head so that maybe Jim will finally get it.
He doesn’t, though. (He wouldn’t be able to write it off as a miscellaneous expense in Starfleet’s budget, and his wife would laugh her ass off.) Instead, he just continues to watch Spock do the Vulcan equivalent of composing Jim sonnets and belting them from a balcony. Then he watches Jim smile and nod and be about as insightful as a brick wall. And then he goes home—he’s outpatient now, thank god, at least he gets a break from Spock’s Vulcan Love Vibes—and resists the urge to bang his head against the wall, because how is this even his life?
His wife just chuckles, pats his knee, and says they have time. But that’s the thing Chris doesn’t get. Jim died. He was completely-still, cold-body, flatline dead for a few minutes there, and yeah, it made Spock go totally batshit and nearly kill a superhuman with his bare hands, but then why isn’t he doing anything now? What happened with Khan should have taught Spock—taught both of them, really—just how little time they have, especially with their line of work. It sure taught Chris—he married his wife three months after his first near-miss, and he hasn’t regretted a minute of their time together since.
Of course, Chris might have just left it at that. Recognized the problem, lamented its cause, and ultimately moved on because Jim and Spock, despite recent evidence to the contrary, are actually two grown men capable of making their own (admittedly stupid) decisions. Sure, Chris might have carried some guilt with him for a time, but that would have faded after a while, he’s sure.
Except then Tuesday happens.
Chris doesn’t mean anything by it. He’s just there at the hospital to visit Jim like usual, limping down the hallway of the kid’s floor with a box of pastries from the local bakery under his arm (McCoy will probably throw a hissy fit, but who’s the Admiral here?). He plans to ask Jim for an update on the Enterprise, not for any sort of Starfleet business but just to see the young man’s eyes light up as he talks about his ship. In fact, Chris already has his mouth open and ready to speak when he arrives at the threshold—and freezes.
Jim is asleep—or rather, a quick glance at the monitor over his head reveals he is closer to unconscious; probably moved around too much earlier, or was just administered another dose of pain meds. But that isn’t what strikes Chris, what causes him to swallow and his heart to seize up with something almost-but-not-quite like pain.
Spock is leaning over the bed, and he has his forehead pressed to Jim’s, one hand on either side of Jim’s face, cupping him like something precious. Spock’s eyes are closed, but his lips move, whispered Vulcan words that vibrate with a depth of emotion that sends shivers down Chris’s spine, even though he cannot hear the individual syllables or understand Vulcan in any way. He doesn’t need to, though. Whether it’s his talent, or Spock’s vulnerability, or something else entirely…Chris somehow knows exactly what Spock is saying.
Love. Forever. Mine. Please, never leave me.
He doesn’t know how long he stands there, watching as Spock lays himself bare for the one person who will never know the depth of his feelings. He only knows, when he finally turns away and tiptoes back down the hall, that this needs to stop.
He doesn’t want Jim and Spock to not be as lucky as he is. He doesn’t want one of them to die in the future—really die, no miraculous Khan-surrection this time—and leave the other alone and bereft and with a million what-ifs. He respects Spock, and loves Jim, too much for that.
So, just like that, as he steps into the elevator and lets the door slide shut with a cheerful ding, Chris makes a decision. He’s going to do something he swore he would never stoop to, something he always thought restricted to the realm of lonely old women and weepy teenage girls.
Christopher Pike is going to meddle.
Plan A is simple: talk to Spock. Maybe all the Vulcan needs is a nod of approval, a check in the box marked Yes, this Admiral thinks it is A-okay to bone your superior officer. It would be just like Spock, really, to hold off on one of the most life-changing events of his life simply because he’s not sure it follows the rules.
And if it turns out to be more than that? Well, Spock likes logic. Chris can do logic. It’s going to be fine.
He does feel a little guilty about summoning Spock to his office for something that has nothing at all to do with Starfleet, but it’s the surefire way to ensure the Vulcan shows up, and it also affords them a private space to talk. As expected, Spock arrives right on time, and immediately straightens into parade rest as the door slides shut behind him. “Sir. Reporting as requested.”
“At ease, Commander. Have a seat.”
Spock obeys, crossing the room and lowering himself into the chair in front of Chris’s desk. Straight back, legs hip-distance apart, hands palm-down on his thighs: perfect regulation. Chris could probably use him as a straight-edge.
He starts to put away his current project, but smiles when he notices Spock’s gaze tracing the contours of the miniature battleship. He taps one of the anti-air turrets. “The USS Missouri. Ever heard of it?”
Spock nods. “According to Earth history, it is one of the most well-known warships built for the United States Navy, engaged in several old Earth conflicts including World War II and the Korean War. Though I do not understand, sir, why you currently possess a miniature replica of the ship on your desk, or why it appears to be under construction.”
“It’s a model,” Chris answers. “You know, comes in a kit scaled down to a certain size, you put it together piece by piece, paint the individual parts and glue them together?” He suppresses a sigh at Spock’s blank look. “It’s a human hobby. Not so popular now—most people prefer holoconstructions, less mess and everything. But what can I say, I’m old-fashioned.”
He carefully moves the model sideways and waves his hand at the shelf behind his desk, decorated with the rest of the fleet. “I’m working my way through the World War II collection. Only one missing is the North Carolina.”
“I see.” Spock tilts his head. “The accumulation and completion of such a large and targeted collection must have taken quite some time.”
“Yeah, about eight years.” Chris smiles when an eyebrow rises. “I’m meticulous. So anyway, Mr. Spock. Do you know why I asked you here today?”
Spock straightens his shoulders. “As your message contained no information in addition to the summons and the time of our appointment, there is insufficient data to draw a viable conclusion as to your reasons at this time.”
“All right.” Chris leans back in his chair to study the Vulcan better. “Tell me about Jim.”
To Spock’s credit, he doesn’t even flinch. “The captain’s physical health continues to improve by the day. Physical Therapy has already begun his transition to mobility via wheelchair. Dr. McCoy has also adjusted his medication dose to thirty-five milligrams of—”
“Okay, different question.” Chris turns the Missouri’s tiny utility boat between his fingers; he hasn’t yet gotten around to attaching it to the ship. “Tell me about you and Jim.”
Silence. When he looks up, Spock is staring at him, straight-shouldered and tight-lipped. The tiny part of Chris’s brain that will always act like a ten-year-old boy whoops and snickers, Busted.
He pretends to examine the utility boat. “Well?”
A soft intake of breath. “As you are no doubt already aware, the captain and I both serve aboard the USS Enterprise—”
“Yeah, nice try.” He sets the boat aside and leans forward. “Do better this time.”
Somehow, Spock manages to stiffen even more. His gaze drops briefly to the table before lifting back to Chris’s face. “I do not understand your meaning.”
…And this is why, despite not being the sharpest plasma cutter on the repair panel, Chris is still a force to contend with. Because that slight inflection on the last syllable? The tiny tremble on the second word, and the minute pause after the “I”? Immediately sends his bullshit meter through the roof.
He tells Spock as much. Spock frowns. “Vulcans do not—”
“You’re in love with your captain.”
Another long moment of silence. Spock presses his lips into a thin line and drops his chin a fraction of an inch, the Vulcan equivalent of squirming, embarrassment, and a face-palm all rolled into one. Chris barely curbs the urge to raise an eyebrow and follow it up with a triumphant crow of How’s it feel to be on the other side, motherfucker?
Instead, he leans back in his chair and folds his hands on top of the desk. “Well? You deny it?”
Spock lifts his head, but has trouble meeting Chris’s gaze. “As it appears you have already drawn your own conclusions about the situation, any attempt I make to either confirm or deny such a claim would—”
“So that’s a yes, then.” Chris taps his thumbs together and considers applying for the official Starfleet record of number of times one has interrupted a Vulcan in under two minutes. Then he discards the idea. Admiral Quincy has a mean competitive streak. “What’re you gonna do about it?”
Spock doesn’t answer, seeming to have developed a sudden fascination with the corner of Chris’s desk. Chris waits for him. He’s top brass in one of the largest bureaucratic institutions in the galaxy, ponderous and unwieldy like an intoxicated giant. Patience is something he’s learned.
Twenty-nine seconds later (yes, Chris counted), Spock finally lifts his head. “I…had not intended to do anything.”
Why, thank you, Captain Obvious. Chris drums his fingers on the desk for a moment, then straightens his shoulders. Fuck it.
“It’s not against regulation, if that’s what’s holding you back,” he says. “In fact, if you sent us your Form 114 tomorrow, I can’t think of a single person on Command who wouldn’t sign off on it.”
But the relief in Spock’s expression doesn’t come. Instead, the Vulcan only seems to close off further. Did his fatherly-indulgence voice not work? He’s been practicing, ever since Jim. Rehearsals in front of mirrors might have been involved.
Then Spock shifts, gaze flicking briefly up at Chris before sliding over to a point just past his shoulder. “I am aware of regulations, as well as all applicable legal and policy-related precedent, sir,” he says, and boy, Chris can almost hear the underlying You dare question my Vulcan thoroughness, mere mortal?. “But that is not what is ‘holding me back,’ as you say.”
Huh. Okay, so Chris’s initial hypothesis was wrong. Not Starfleet’s Wisest, remember?
“Then what?” Whatever it is, he can roll with it. Chris rolls a lot. Ha. Wheelchair.
Another uncomfortable shift, and oh, hello there, Stoic Vulcan Mask. Thought you were gone for good, but it turns out you just went out to take a piss in the garden.
“You are aware,” Spock says, and wow, he could apply to be the voice of the next gen’s shipboard computers, “that since the Battle of Vulcan, our species has been struggling to maintain adequate numbers in the face of extinction.”
Chris’s heart twinges as it always does whenever someone brings up the Narada, Nero, and the loss of over six billion Vulcans and three thousand cadets. Even a year afterward, they are all still mourning. His spine aches all of a sudden, thin tendrils of pain wriggling down through his leg like tiny snakes.
If Spock recognizes his silence, he doesn’t say it. “According to official records, there were only five hundred fifty-seven Vulcan births last year. We are a dying race, sir. If there is ever to be any hope of restoring the population on New Vulcan to even a fraction of the original, all Vulcan citizens must prioritize the needs of the many over the needs of the few.”
“You’re saying…” Chris sighs. “You’re saying your people need you to start making Vulcan babies.”
“Not in those precise terms, nor on that precise timeline,” Spock answers. “But essentially, yes.” He pauses, and the mask cracks for an instant to reveal a flash of vulnerability. “I…I would spare myself the pain of attaining something precious, only to have to let it go.”
And damn, if that doesn’t strike a blow straight to Chris’s chest, because he’s been there before. He knows this feeling of being pulled in two directions at once: his ‘Fleet career on one side, the most beautiful woman in the world on the other. Chris got lucky—it took a revenge-crazed Romulan wielding a slimy brain-eating slug, but he found his happy medium, and even though he thinks Spock and Jim could find one too, he knows what it’s like to be scared. He knows what it’s like to look at his future and not see any light in it, and how terribly, awfully paralyzing that feels.
Leaning back in his chair, he regards Spock: the stiff line of his shoulders, the stubborn refusal to meet his gaze. His terminal dings—a reminder of lunch with his wife in fifteen minutes—and for a brief instant, Chris tries to imagine letting go of that: her smile, her laughing eyes, her soft, loving touches.
With a wave of his hand, he dismisses the reminder. “All right, Commander,” he says. “That will be all.”
Spock rises from the chair so fast it’s like he was electrocuted. “Yes, sir,” he says, executes a stiff salute, and turns for the door.
Chris holds out for two steps, then blurts out, “Spock.”
The Vulcan pauses, spine stiff as a steel rod. Chris sighs. “I don’t agree with your perspective,” he says, “but I understand. Think about it long and hard, Commander, and I’ll support you in whatever decision you make.”
Three seconds of silence; then Spock nods, still facing the door. “Thank you, sir.” And, with a soft hiss-slide, he’s gone.
In the sudden silence of the room, Chris lets out a long sigh, picking up the tiny utility boat again and turning it in his fingers. The bright San Francisco sunlight winks off its detailed edges: so small, so seemingly insignificant, yet still pivotal to the whole.
His terminal pings again: an incoming message from Command. Chris recognizes it without even having to look at the subject line: new crew rosters, taking into account those who died during Khan’s attack, as well as the Academy’s graduating class. His recommendations were due a week ago, but, just as he’s done the last five times the message came through, Chris deletes it without thought. He doesn’t agree with Admiral Archer’s lineup, the shuffling of Captains and First Officers among all the new ships. He doesn’t want Jim or Spock to be unhappy.
Almost without conscious thought, his gaze slides to the closed door. He’s not sure if he succeeded in changing Spock’s mind. He doubts it; Chris should’ve known better than to try to out-logic a Vulcan. But maybe Spock will surprise him. Maybe they both will.
In the meantime, though, it’s time for Plan B.
He finds Jim on the roof of the hospital, a blanket draped over his legs and a cigarette in his hand. To his credit, the young captain does look a bit sheepish at Chris’s raised eyebrow. “Don’t tell Bones,” he says. “He’ll have an aneurysm.”
Chris shakes his head, but can’t help but smile as he settles onto the bench next to Jim’s wheelchair. “Those things’ll kill you,” he says.
“There are worse ways to die.”
And okay, ouch. Chris remembers waking up in the hospital to words like radiation and cryofreeze and dead, and tamps down on the confused mix of grief, anger, and worry. Even though he gave it his best shot, Jim didn’t die. Half the reason why Chris visits him so often is just to remind himself of that fact.
His silence must have lasted longer than he intended, because Jim glances sideways at him and clears his throat. “So, um.” He smiles and nods at the box in Chris’s lap. “More junk food?”
“Hey,” Chris answers, feigning offense as he hands it over, “It’s a very advanced intervention designed to help you gain all your weight back, chicken legs.”
“Uh-huh. Whoa, donuts! You’re spoiling me.”
“About time somebody did.”
The soft smile Jim shoots him at that makes Chris’s stomach tie up into knots. Damn, but he loves this kid.
But since Admiral and mushy don’t go together (except maybe with Admiral Jang, but they will never speak of that incident ever again), he straightens his shoulders and fixes his gaze forward. Starfleet Medical may not be his favorite place to be, but Chris has to admit it’s got a hell of a view. The mid-morning sunlight filters clear down into the waters of the bay, a shimmering, incandescent blue sliced neatly apart by the bright red of the bridge. Alcatraz is gone, of course—Khan Noonien McCrazyface made sure of that—but San Francisco lives on. Chris thanks the stars every morning for that.
Next to him, Jim stubs out his cigarette and replaces it with a Triple Chocolate Glazed. “Holy shit, that’s good,” he says around a mouthful of icing. “Thanks, sir.”
More silence, broken only by the soft whoosh of the breeze, the calling of distant birds, and the sounds of Jim chewing. When the younger man finally finishes the first donut and reaches for another, Chris clears his throat and asks, as nonchalant as can be, “So how’s Spock?”
Brief silence; out of the corner of his eye, Chris sees Jim’s fingers twitch. Then, very carefully, the captain answers, “I don’t know. He hasn’t been around the last few days.”
He has to give Jim credit: to anyone else, it would sound blasé. But Chris has two things going for him: his Awesome People Intuition, and the fact that he knows Jim like his own child. The hesitation, the slight tinge of disappointment and anxiety? Chris picks it up like an antenna tuned to Jim’s wavelength.
Of course, right on the heels of it all comes the guilt. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so direct with Spock; the Vulcan probably thinks his withdrawal is best for them both, but Jim has always thrived on connection, on contact and people being there. Chris remembers his first visit, a mere two days after the kid first woke up, when Jim had a meltdown and clung to him and just cried for half an hour. He’s better now, Chris knows, but that doesn’t mean he’s healed.
Spock, he thinks darkly, you’re an even bigger idiot than I am.
Oblivious to the turmoil of Chris’s thoughts, Jim wipes extra icing off on the blanket—and ew, gross—and reaches for his cigarette pack. “So you didn’t come all the way out here just to make me fat and ask me about Spock.”
“Well.” Chris fishes around in his pocket, finds his lighter, and flicks it on for Jim who gives a nod of thanks. “Actually I did. Not the fat part, the Spock part.”
Jim raises his eyebrows, blue eyes curious. Chris sighs and casts about for the right words. Seriously, he’s too old for this shit. “Okay. So I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but ever since you died Spock’s been kind of…attached.”
Jim blinks. “What do you mean?”
Okay, seriously? “Well, you must have noticed how often he comes to see you, and, you know, the way he acts.”
Another blink, wide-eyed and innocent. “Spock’s been acting the way he always does. Sir.”
“No, but what I mean to say is that he…oh. Oh, you little shit.”
He punches Jim in the arm—lightly—as the younger man laughs. Really, he should’ve caught it sooner, except he’s always been kind of stupid when it comes to Jim. That’s okay, though. If his intuition, his trump card, is going to fail with anyone, it might as well be Jim Kirk.
Jim straightens after another moment, wiping at his eyes. “Sorry, sir,” he says, but the glint in his eyes tells Chris he’s not sorry at all. “I just like fucking with people.”
“I noticed,” Chris deadpans, but even then he can’t keep the smile from forming. If Jim actually isn’t as thick as the Enterprise’s hull, maybe it’ll make Chris’s job easier. “So then, back to Spock. You know he’s in love with you?”
And damn, does that sound weird coming out of his mouth. It must sound even stranger to Jim, because his smile falters. “Ah, well…I wouldn’t call it that, sir.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well.” Jim sighs and sucks on the cigarette. Smoke seeps out between his lips as he speaks. “You said it yourself, sir. Spock gets attached.” A pause, and his expression goes sad. “It’s just…I don’t think it’s for the reason you think, sir.”
And wow, if Chris gets thrown for any more loops this week, he’s gonna get motion sickness. “I don’t follow.”
Jim takes a deep breath, gaze drifting to the clear blue waters in the distance. “You know how Mom got after my dad died,” he murmurs. “Within three months, she remarried. Then divorced, then remarried, again and again, four fucking times by the time I was ten. It didn’t exactly make for a perfect home life.” Another draw on the cigarette; another breath full of smoke. “But I know why she did it, you know? Things were going great, couldn’t ask for anything better, and then all of a sudden—boom, she’s alone, the whole world’s flipped on its head and she’s got nowhere to go, no one to turn to. She clung to whatever relationship she could find, to ease the pain of losing my dad.”
Chris blinks and tilts his head. “You’re saying Spock’s doing the same.”
Jim sighs, regarding his cigarette sadly. “Wouldn’t you, if you’d lost your mom, your planet, half your city, and your captain all in less than a year?” He shakes his head. “Spock doesn’t love me, not really. He just doesn’t wanna lose me.”
And damn, these kids are going to be the end of him. If Chris dies of a heart attack tomorrow, he’s going to fucking haunt Jim and Spock for the rest of their lives.
“You don’t know that for sure,” he offers, but Jim just chuckles, humorless.
“No, but it’s logical. And you know Spock and logic.” He taps ash off the end of the cigarette, and his voice goes soft. “I figure a few more weeks and it’ll get better. We’ll go back to the way things were, with Spock setting up his boundaries again. He’s started already, from the looks of it.”
Chris has to bite his tongue to keep from replying, No, actually, that’s my fault. He’s not exactly into being tossed off the roof. Still, it doesn’t keep him from asking, because even though it turns out Jim isn’t as dense as he was playing at, he still hasn’t answered the most important question. “Are you happy with that?”
And there it is: the flicker of pain across Jim’s face, so deep Chris feels an answering pang in his own heart. Then Jim turns away, curling just slightly into himself like an injured animal. “I have to be,” he whispers.
And damnit, Chris wants to tell him. It’s like every fiber of his being rises up and screams at him to tell Jim about his conversation with Spock, about just how deep the Vulcan’s so-called ‘attachment’ goes. Spock loves you, he wants to say, wants to grab Jim by the shoulders and shake him until he gets it. Spock loves you, and you won’t let him.
But he knows Jim won’t believe him. For all his brashness and cocky bravado, Jim Kirk is one of the most insecure people Chris has ever met. It drives him crazy sometimes, how the kid can fight battles and give orders better than any of the admirals Chris knows, yet still comms him late at night asking for advice about the simplest tactical maneuvers; how he flirts and sleeps around like it’s second nature, yet turns tail and runs from the one person in the universe who might love him more than Chris does.
If Jim truly believes Spock is only around for the short run, then nothing Chris says will change his mind. It kind of makes him want to throw him out the nearest window—and Spock too, for good measure—but Chris knows a futile battle when he sees one. Something painful twists in his gut when he thinks of the message from Admiral Archer: the crew rosters waiting for his approval. He’s been putting it off, had hoped Jim and Spock could work their shit out…but it seems this war was lost a long time ago.
He takes a deep breath, and when he lets it out he wills all his frustration and anger out with it. Maybe this is just the way it’s going to be. God knows he tried.
When he finally turns to Jim, the smile feels artificial on his face. “All right,” he says, rising from the bench and ignoring the way his back aches in protest. “Wanna take a turn around the courtyard? I promise I’ll find a route that doesn’t cross paths with McCoy.”
It’s a poor change of subject, but the relief in Jim’s eyes more than makes up for it. “Yeah,” he says, smushing the cigarette into a nearby ashtray. “Let’s do it.”
An hour later, Chris finally makes it back to his office. As expected, Archer’s request has slithered back to the top of his inbox, now appended with an URGENT tag, basically Admiral-ese for Get this shit done now or I’ll do it for you. Chris spends five minutes staring at the document, specifically the names of the command teams for the Enterprise and the Hawking.
“God forgive me,” he whispers, signs his name, and sends it off.
To his credit, it only takes eight minutes (yes, Chris counted again) for Spock’s message to come through, requesting a meeting. Chris deletes it. Two minutes later, another request arrives. Then another. Followed by his door chime.
Chris seriously contemplates just ignoring it and going back to his game of Solitaire, but he doesn’t want to foot the bill for a broken office door. Minimizing the window and folding his hands on the desk, he takes a breath and says, “Enter.”
To say the Vulcan who walks in is furious would be like saying Khan was just a little funny in the head. Spock moves with a stiffness like a steel rod shoved up his ass, and when he comes to a stop in front of Chris’s desk and assumes parade rest, his eyes glitter like hard-cut diamonds. “Sir,” he says, gaze fixed straight ahead.
Chris wonders whether Spock’s spine will actually snap like a toothpick if he goes any straighter. He decides not to take the risk, quashing the urge to bat his eyelashes innocently and replacing it instead with his most authoritative tone. “I didn’t agree to a meeting, Commander.”
“I am aware, sir.” If possible, Spock stiffens even more. Chris could probably bounce a penny off his ass, and not in the good way. “However, this cannot wait. I wish to know why the new crew rosters do not—”
He is interrupted by a commotion outside. Chris suppresses a sigh; right on time.
“Damnit, Jim, you are not cleared for this sort of activity—”
“Shut it, Bones, I don’t have time for your—Pike! Pike, you fucker, open the fucking door!”
Time to face the music. Chris presses a button on his desk and the door slides open, revealing Jim, sweating and pale on a pair of crutches. Even wearing his hospital gown, there is no mistaking the rage in his eyes.
Dr. McCoy hurries in after him, already speaking. “I’m sorry, Admiral, he wouldn’t take no for an answer, I’ve already got a medical team on the way—”
“That’s quite all right, Doctor,” Chris answers. “You’re dismissed.”
McCoy stares at him like he’s just announced his decision to resign and become an Orion bar dancer. Chris raises an eyebrow. “I assure you Commander Spock and I are more than capable of looking after him in your absence,” he says. “Dismissed.”
And, unlike some people, McCoy knows how to follow orders. “Yes, sir,” the doctor says, sparing one more piercing glare for Jim before retreating from the room.
Almost as soon as the door slides shut behind him, Jim sways on his feet. Chris catches Spock making an aborted movement toward him, and sighs. “Sit down, Captain.”
Jim recovers himself and glares. “I would prefer to—”
“Sit,” Chris snaps, “before your First has a heart attack.”
Jim glances at Spock—whose face is a comical mixture of shock, worry, and residual anger—before obediently sinking into the nearest chair. Chris doesn’t miss the way he winces as he does so; Jim is going to feel this afterward. He’s only a little bit sorry. The rest of him is too busy being fed up with this shit.
The pain, though, doesn’t slow Jim down. “Judging from the message I just received, Spock’s not going to be my First much longer,” he growls, glaring at Chris. “I thought I fought hard enough for him the first time around. Sir.”
“I, too, have no desire to captain the Hawking,” Spock adds—and now that Jim’s more comfortable, Badass Angry Vulcan is back out again to play. “I firmly believe my services would be of the most use aboard the Enterprise, where—”
“Yeah, well,” Chris interjects, speaking right over him, “you see this?” He touches the tips of his thumb and index finger together to form a ring. “This is exactly how many shits I give about that.”
Silence. Jim looks like he’s choking on a Salarmian mud-squid. Spock looks like he’s considering how to murder Chris with the least possible mess.
For a long moment, they just sit there staring at each other. Chris thinks back to an old Western he watched as a child, and idly wonders which one of them will be the first to draw. Then, at last, Jim shifts and asks, voice hoarse, “Why?”
The betrayal in his voice lances through Chris like a phaser shot. Quickly he scrambles to build up his walls, fixing Jim with a steady look. “Because Starfleet is not high school, Captain,” he answers. “Because we are an elite, well-organized military organization, and we do not have the patience for two little kids who can’t get their fucking act together.”
Jim flinches as if struck and Spock’s face goes even stormier, but Chris plows on. “I tried,” he says. “I wanted to give you two a chance, so I went out on a limb for you, as usual. But Starfleet wasn’t built to cater to your selfish whims and your schoolgirl crushes. We lost three thousand cadets last year. The fleet was gutted. Then Khan attacked, and nearly two dozen of our finest captains and first officers were killed. Then all that shit happened with Marcus, and now we’ve not only lost half of San Francisco, but the majority of our clout and respect in the eyes of the Federation as a whole.”
His voice is rising, but he can’t help it. He is just so done, and he needs them to see. “We need all our resources right now in order to rebuild, both in technology and personnel. I thought you two would figure out your shit by now, but you haven’t, and I’m out of both patience and time. You belong to Starfleet first, each other second. And if that means ‘Fleet will be better served by the two of you going separate ways, then that’s the way it’s going to be.”
A long moment of silence follows. Spock looks like he wants to say something, but seems to be having trouble organizing his thoughts. Jim, for his part, just stares at the floor for a long time before finally lifting his gaze to Chris.
“What about Regulation 141-C?” he asks, quiet.
Something in Chris softens at that, and he taps his thumbs together. “Yes, couples in a committed relationship still get priority in the assignment of posts,” he says. Then he sighs, making sure to look straight at Jim. I want this for you, he thinks. Please, understand I can’t think of any other way. “Any appeals are due by COB tomorrow. So I suggest, between now and then, the two of you sit down and have a nice, long talk about what, exactly, it is that you want.”
Another brief moment of quiet. Chris can hear the ticking of the clock on the wall. On the seventh tick, Jim finally nods. “Yes, sir,” he murmurs, and turns. “Spock?”
The Vulcan’s gaze flicks from Jim to Chris and then finally down to the floor. “Yes, sir.”
“Okay.” Chris pinches the bridge of his nose against the rising headache. “Now get out of my office.”
He’s got his eyes closed, so he only hears the soft rustle of cloth and the sound of Jim’s chair pushing back. When he lifts his head and looks, though, it is to see them walking out the door, Spock’s arm firm and supportive around Jim’s waist as Jim leans into him, whispering something Chris can’t hear.
The door slides closed behind them, and Chris finally lets out a shaky breath, staring down at his hands. It’s done now. Whatever happens from here, he’s played his part.
The next morning on his way to HQ, Chris’s padd pings with an incoming message. It’s blank, with an attachment—Starfleet Personnel Form 114: Notification of Commencement of Personal Relationship. Parties involved: Commander Spock and Captain James T. Kirk.
Chris doesn’t think he can smile wider, except apparently he can when he walks into his office a few minutes later and sees the large rectangular box sitting atop his desk. It’s worn around the edges with a bit of water damage as of having been in storage for a long time, but the photograph of the majestic, ancient USS North Carolina is glossy and clear for all to see.
There’s a tiny white card sitting atop the box, and Chris can’t help but raise his eyebrows at the two lines inside.
Fuck you, and thanks.
I, too, wish to express this sentiment.
Chris sets the card down and grins. He is a fucking genius.