"Damnit, Chris, for Christ's sake!" Pop shouts.
Chris shifts from the couch, glancing into the kitchen. Whoops, forgot to clean the frying pan. Whatever, not like grilled cheese is a tough thing to clean up. He'll do it when he's done with the sandwich.
That decided, he slides back down, shifts, and flips the channel.
"Chris," Pop hollers.
"You could show some respect—your mother and I work our asses off and you trash the hou—"
"Trash the house, what the fuck, I left the frying pan on the stove! Ohhh, watch out, soon we'll be infested with roaches!" He's standing, head ringing slightly and blood pounding because Pop's yelling could take the roof off and what the fuck, overreaction?
"Don't you take that tone with me, young man, you know exactly what kind of bullshit this is and you—"
"And I what? It's Saturday, my homework's done, I'm having lunch! I get straight As, I'm not getting into shit all the time, so what the fuck is your problem?"
"Your language is a problem, don't think I won't take you over my knee like you were five—"
"Oh, just try it," Chris snarls, weight balanced on the balls of his feet and ready to run or fight or maybe just blast into the sky.
"I will not—"
"I'm not listening!" Chris yells over him, because Pop can blow the roof off but Chris's voice is at a decibel level high enough to peel paint, and grabbing the keys to his brother's hoverbike from the counter as he slams onto the front porch. Ma's in the front yard, watering flowers, and looks up as the screen door slams.
"Chris," Ma sighs, a rebuke, using the tone she uses on her kindergarten kids. "You shouldn't—"
"Yeah, we should all shut up and bow before the master of the house," he sneers, straddling the bike and revving her engine, taking it up and out, over the sand and towards the sun.
Sky's the limit.
He comes down, though. Always comes back down, walks into the house, and everyone stays quiet. His brother John will go out and check the bike to make sure Chris didn't destroy it, and his other brother Dave will bring the food to the table and the conversation will wind carefully around topics of conversation that won't piss his father off.
And quietly, Chris will burn because it's the same shit, a different day, and nothing ever gets fixed.
He's eight years younger than his brothers. Dave and John are twins, though they don't even look like brothers at all. Dave is stocky and square; walks with a swagger even though he insists that he doesn't. He's a foreman down at the plant that makes parts for the flagships, down in Mojave Valley. John is working his way to being the local union rep. Right now he's just got dreams of being a pain in the ass.
Thing is, Pop has depression. He's middle-management at the plant, and his psychiatrist moved away last year and apparently there's a lot of shifting of the workforce and specializing going on because they're working on some new ships for the fleet that'll be ready by the time Pop is dead in the ground, for fuck's sake.
But anyway, Pop's been…bad. The only time he's got for Chris is the time he spends jumping on him for stupid little shit. John and Dave—they can remember when Dad would like, go to school plays and teach them to work on bikes and the cars and around the house but Chris…he just came too late. And Pop never lets him forget it.
The worst part is, Chris seems to push all his buttons, and so the whole family tiptoes around this minefield and Chris is just sick of it. Tired. Ma tells him to try to understand, but Chris is thirteen, and he doesn't have depression: he can't understand and maybe doesn't want to.
Everything he knows of depression he knows from the ads that have people devastated, mopey, incapable of interacting in them. Depression is supposed to make people really sad, not huge assholes.
Dave and John still live at home, even though they're twenty-one and Dave is almost ready to marry Brian Forsetti and Nadia Breaker is looking at John like he might be her everything (which Chris personally thinks is freaking John out, but Nadia's kind of determined and he expects a wedding in a year).
Chris thinks they live at home to help Ma; to act as a buffer zone.
His brothers are kind of awesome.
His pop, he just sucks.
But John lets Chris ride the bike and he heads into the desert for hours and hours on end with a water bottle and a few power bars and looks over at the plant, and then points towards San Francisco, and thinks, Yeah, I'm out.
His pop gets better as Chris hits sixteen, though. Tries to make up for it, sees a doc twice a week to help, takes the meds.
Dave married Brian, and they live in a house down the road. John managed to avoid Nadia Breaker, but he lives in the house across the street from Brian, and the whole street likes to watch as the union rep slams out his porch door hollering about that sonovabitch and the foreman comes back out waving a sheaf of papers. Chris can't hear well enough to know what they're fighting about, but John just did a surprise workplace safety inspection, so it's probably to do with that.
"They always did like yelling the place down," Ma observes.
"Over what?" Chris wants to know, drinking his lemonade and shaking his head as they yell.
She laughs, kisses his forehead. "Oh, baby. You never did quite fit." She pauses reflectively, watching as John lays down on the ground hollering how he will prevail. "You get that from my side of the family."
She goes into the house, and Dave threatens to kick John, who shouts that the violent oppressive hand of the corrupt capitalist system has kept down the working man for too long, and Dave says that John doesn't even know what half that shit means.
Chris is beginning to doubt he's biologically linked to these people. Sure, he and John look alike, but seriously.
Ma comes back out, and hands him a packet of paperwork. "School called, said you were already to graduate. You should have said something."
"I—well, I was gonna, but…" he shrugs, unsure of how to finish that sentence. He was going to, but.
She nods. "Starfleet takes kids young as seventeen," she points out, and then grabs her broom and marches forcefully across the road to Dave's, and begins yelling at the two of them to stop making such a scene, for fuck's sake.
"I think it'd be good for you," Pop says, and Chris turns to look at him, wary because he's always a little wary, waiting for the shoe to drop. Pop nods to the papers. "Shouldn't get stuck here building 'em, Chris. Should go out and fly 'em."
Chris waits for some dig about how he always thought he was better, how Chris is such an ungrateful shit, for anything but it doesn't come, and Pop shifts his weight awkwardly and goes back into the house.
Well, shit. He goes because it seems like a good note to leave on: Pop does that awkward "I'm trying really hard to prove I'm a good dad without pressuring you into dialoguing" thing and Ma gets weepy and John and Dave pretend it's no big deal but hang around the house a lot right before Chris leaves, and then Chris hops a shuttle and leaves Mojave in the dust and doesn't look back.
He graduates from Starfleet and goes straight into Command School. His advisor likes him and knows the captain of the Kelvin and apparently pulls some strings, and gets him assigned to the Kelvin, as an ensign, to get his practical experience and write his dissertation.
For the first few months he's too awed to actually say anything, to get in anyone's way. He's technically an emergency relief helmsman, but mostly he ends up in navigation doing a lot of star charting. A lot of star charting. He says "sorry" almost as much as he inhales.
New crew syndrome, he guesses. The only people who aren't feeling their way around each other are the captain and his second in engineering, and his XO. Chris isn't sure that they've worked together, though—well, obviously George Kirk and Winona Kirk know each other, but the captain is… at his leisure there. Wryly amused when Winona Kirk bawls someone out. And Jesus fuck can she bawl.
She's intense like the sun, but never quite flares. Like a black hole, maybe.
"Hey, you, c'mere!" Lieutenant Commander Kirk says, and Chris comes over. "You know how to keep the ship from crashing into the asteroids?"
"I—the asteroids that are far away?" he asks, dubiously, checking the viewing screen and then the screen in front of him—yeah, they're at least three hours from hitting those asteroids.
Lieutenant Commander Kirk's lips twitch. "Yeah, those ones."
"I think I can handle it."
"Good. I'm starving. Pike's got the conn!" Lieutenant Commander Kirk announces.
"Do you have any experience out of a sim room?" a woman asks him.
"Fucking George," the other helmsman laughs. "Okay, kid. Don't kill us all."
George comes back, sits in the captain's chair with a plate full of food and his legs folded underneath him.
"Excellent work not getting us killed, Pike."
"Thank you, sir."
He even manages to navigate them through the asteroid belt, though he doesn't see why they're going through it when they could go over it.
"Gamma shift now ending," the computer chimes. "Alpha shift crewmen, please replace Gamma shift."
Ensign Tully, who he actually had a few classes with, grins at him and takes his place.
"Hey, Pike!" Kirk calls to him as Chris debates the merits of eating versus just crashing into bed. "Have breakfast with me."
"I was—" he begins, but he kind of made up his mind as soon as the invite was issued.
"Gonna have breakfast with me, I know. It's like I've got ESP or something," Kirk agrees, spreading his hands in wonder at his own ability.
"Mr. Kirk, report?" the captain says as he passes them, lifting one of his heavy eyebrows. The light glints off of his head: he must have just shaved it. When he looks at them, Chris realizes he thinks of a hawk. Captain Robau is a hawk-like man.
They both snap to attention. Well, Chris does, so hard it's possible he's going to break something one of these days. George Kirk sort of, braces, but doesn't snap.
"Nothing to report, sir. Tested out our navigation systems through an asteroid belt, and she held in one piece."
"I am glad to hear of it, Mr. Kirk. Enjoy your breakfast. Mr. Pike." He turns his dark eyes onto Chris and Chris reminds himself that he's a Starfleet officer. He's not going to fucking quail. Captain Robau nods, and continues striding purposefully down the hall.
"So. You're writing your dissertation," Kirk says as he starts walking towards the transporter.
"Allegedly," Chris agrees as the transporter doors slide shut.
Kirk grins at him and doesn't say anything as they enter the very busy cafeteria. He walks over and punches seven buttons on the console of the replicator. He gets three plates piled high. He follows Chris's incredulous gaze down and then beams.
"I'm a growing boy from the heartland," he says earnestly.
"You're older than me," Chris points out, and decides that even though technically it's time for breakfast, his body thinks it's time for dinner, so he gets a grilled cheese sandwich. And then, after a moment of deep contemplation, tomato soup.
"Yeah, don't even talk to me, there," Kirk snorts and sits down.
"I want to know," Winona Kirk demands silkily as she leans against the table next to where Kirk has planted himself, "why anyone signed Hastings up as head of engineering."
"Because we brought you on as his number two." Kirk lifts his eyebrows at her and Chris shifts, trying to be relatively unobtrusive but…they're having the conversation right in front of him. What's he going to do, be invisible?
"When I kill him in his sleep," she says, in a way that is completely genuine, "I will be so gratified."
"Sweetheart, you're psychotic," Kirk informs her, tugging her down for a kiss, which Chris definitely studies his grilled cheese during. "Have fun terrorizing the crew, try not to make any of the newbies lock themselves on the wrong side of an airlock."
"I promise nothing," she replies with a smile, and it changes her whole face, that smile.
"Don't mind her," Kirk says as soon as she's gone, loading his fork. "She really is psychotic."
"She's your wife," Chris points out after swallowing the last bite of half his sandwich. Okay, maybe he was seriously hungry.
"I'm an expert on the subject," he agrees with a grin. "Call me George," he says, extending a hand.
"Chris." Chris shakes the hand, and then grins kind of ridiculously, and the he's annoyed by how pleased he is. He's twenty-four. Grow the fuck up.
"Good. Now. Talk to me about what fascinating thing you're going to write your dissertation on."
"Homicidal 2ICs," he deadpans, and George laughs.
"I so do not want to be captain," he says. "No desire. I'm happy to be an XO, but…" he trails off, takes a bite, shaking his head. "Anyway, we're only out for a year on this mission."
"Not the three—?"
"No, she's pregnant, which they knew when they signed us on, but. Apparently they really had to get people out here. This whole crew is kind of hodge-podged, really." He looks around. "Border planets. I don't know why anyone wants to go out to live by the Neutral Zone: it's like asking for trouble, you know?"
Chris nods. "That's what I'm supposed to be writing on. The impulse to colonize up to the Neutral Zone, despite frequent redrawing, and the extent of the Federation's responsibility to police it."
"Sucks to be you, man."
"What'd you write on?"
"How to avoid inter-personnel relationships."
Chris is pretty sure he's being fucked with. "Seriously?"
"Look it up."
"So you did all the work—"
"And then ignored it. Well, you know. We weren't really supposed to end up on the same ships. She was actually supposed to work at one of the 'yards doing development, but that didn't work out 'cause she's seriously good at keeping these things in the air." He shrugs. "But, it kinda sucks 'cause we had to leave Sammy in Riverside with my parents—"
"Yeah, my oldest. He's five; another part of the reason we're only out here for the year. I mean, it seriously seriously sucks, but. You make do."
"Do you know what she's—"
"Too early." George Kirk has mastered the ability of simultaneously speaking and inhaling his food. Chris's is going cold, but he can't stop staring in horrified fascination. "And we like the surprise. I think it's gonna be another boy, though.
"But, the reason I like you, Chris," George says, leaning across and pointing at him with a loaded fork, "is because you yelled at her."
Chris freezes. "Um?"
"Two weeks ago. Yelled right back at her to give you all a fucking break. I heard about it for the whole rest of the week." He laughs. "This whole thing is gonna be a blast."
He leans back, stretches out and locks his fingers behind his head, looking pleased with the entire world, and Chris shifts uncomfortably because oh shit.
He's crushing on the XO. The married-with-a-kid-and-another-on-the-way-XO.
He's pretty sure Winona knows. That she catches him looking, and it's not like he's going to make a move—George is so in love with his wife that he honest-to-god doesn't notice when other girls walk by. And he's married, and part of what Chris likes about him is his unswerving devotion to his psychotic wife.
It's just… a kind of really inconvenient crush and maybe he jerks off a few times. It's no big deal.
And it's worse that he kind of likes Winona, after a few months. He gets loud and angry, she gets cold and sneering, and George laughs at both of them afterwards like it's the funniest thing in the world, and she's scary, sure, but…
There's a release in being able to shout at her about something. It's very freeing to not give a shit about someone's feelings and know they'll be fine. That tomorrow you'll work fine together. Relatively.
Okay, someday she might actually cut him, and he's very aware of that fact, and that she lets him get away with as much as she does because George likes him and probably goes to bat for him and George gets away with murder, like calling her "sweetheart."
Pike slides in as third rotation helmsman and does a lot of paperwork on shifts he's not writing.
Robau even stops in a few times and asks him how he's doing.
Chris is getting off Alpha shift, yawning hugely because he made the mistake of taking over Hutaka's Gamma shifts since he'd had 24 hours off because of some scheduling mix-up, and Hutaka was throwing up everywhere.
George is coming down, running a hand through his hair to smooth it and when he catches sight of Chris he grins at him and says, "She's going to have that baby or I'm going to reach up and pull it out, I swear, Chris. Never get a woman pregnant. Whatever torments they wreak upon us, they're multiplied by approximately three million when they're pregnant."
Chris laughs into his hand, slightly, hearing the exhausted and almost hysterical edge it takes. "Have fun on beta, sir," he says, and then heads to his room to fall asleep.
He wakes up when the klaxons go off, runs the hall and checks the computer to see where they've been hit: engineering. His stomach drops out and he checks, because that would be—
Winona's gone into labor: she's in medical. Thank fuck for small favors, then.
That's all he has time to think as he runs down with Hastings and Takagi, trying to evacuate where they've been worst hit, and then the general evac order goes out and that's…George. Which means Robau's either out of commission or dead, which makes this whole situation even worse.
He checks the computer because someone has to fucking direct this evacuation and if they lost the lower decks then they just lost a ton of the shuttles and yeah, great, they're down to nineteen L-Class couriers and the one medical.
That's forty people to a courier. He turns around and squints against the blaring red and the smoke drifting up from the lower decks. That's Hastings.
"Hastings!" he yells, and Hastings turns around. "We've got forty to a courier, close the door once you've got it! We lost more than half of them in that last hit, and Medical 37 is sealed already!"
Hastings nods, because Chris is twenty-four and a kid, but he's the one yelling the loudest, and that's what matters. Chris runs back down the hall, coughing and sealing off the lower decks because they're going to have an oxygen vacuum before—
"It's a useless case!" one of the engineers shouts. "We gotta get out now, kid!"
"Everybody up?" he yells over the sound of twisting metal and snapping pipes.
"Everybody who's gonna make it!" the engineer shouts over his shoulder. Chris looks around, but there's no one in the hall, not that he can see anyway, and he jumps the flight of stairs down to meet up with the stragglers heading down the hangar bay corridor and files into the last shuttle in the hangar.
"Why haven't they gone?" he demands as the door slams shut behind him, shoving his way through to the pilot's chair. He's not sure what he'd have done if someone was piloting: probably sat down and had a breakdown. He's just functioning on the assumption that because he can fly it, he will.
As it is, the seat's empty, but in the copilot's seat is a young woman in command's blue. He thinks she's a navigator—maybe does gamma a lot.
"Ready?" he asks the woman sitting in the copilot's chair. She's disengaged them, and he opens communications to the other pilots.
"Ready," she agrees.
"Punch it!" he shouts, and slams them out of the hangar. He doesn't watch what happens next; he's too busy trying not to get hit, because George (and it has to be George, going down with the ship—in his head Robau's been dead since he heard George give the evacuation order. Maybe it's both of them, but this isn't really the time to think about this kind of shit) can fight them off but not that long—there isn't that much time, and they're too close to the Neutral Zone and Klingon space and they've got to get to…
"What's the nearest outpost?" he demands tightly.
"Haven," the woman says. "Contacting Governor Book now."
She does that, and he leans around to look behind them. They've got thirty-eight people in there, a lot of them bleeding pretty badly.
"Listen up," he barks into the channel broadcasting to all the shuttles. "We're headed to Haven, which'll take us about 18 hours at Warp 3. I don't want to push it, let's just—"
"We're headed to that rock?" an older man demands incredulously. Science officer. Fuck off and die, if he's got a better idea he should have thought of it before Chris got in charge.
"That rock's closest thing in Federation Space," Chris snaps, and then coughs; his throat feels burned from the smoke. "And we're in the Neutral Zone, too fucking close to Klingon space for me to be really picky about where we go. We're headed to Haven."
He shuts off the transmission, and forces his fingers to relax.
"Governor Book has medical personnel standing by," the woman says. "At warp factor three I calculate our arrival to take longer 18 hours, especially as the courier is highly overcrowded. Also, given that dataset, I suggest we do not go over that rate of speed."
"Yeah," he agrees. "I need a status report on the wounded we've got, and how bad…" he trails off. "I'm really sorry, what's your name?"
"Number One," she replies smoothly, opening the communication channel.
He blinks. "Right," he agrees. "Of course it is."
Behind him there are thirty eight people, most of them hurt. People are coughing and sharing the lav and throwing up, and there's the sound of crying and it feels claustrophobic, and he's got the luxury of the viewing screen. He can at least see space. He's not… they all head out into space for the luxury of it. For its vastness. This feels like the worst kind of cruelty, to shove them all into a tin can like sardines.
"If we have to rely on impulse power," she informs him after two hours of silence, "we'll have to resort to cannibalism. We're not equipped with replicators."
He stares at her, and then begins to panic. "We—is something shutting down? Is one of the other shuttles having a problem with—"
"No," she says. She doesn't sound…bothered. It's starting to eat into his facade of calm. "I am just preparing for any eventuality."
"Do it in your head."
"As you wish."
Later, when he's known her longer, he's going to realize that that was completely her way of reassuring herself. Of dealing. Later, he'll know how to comfort her; to realize that she needs it. But that'll all come later. Right now he has people flat lining in the back of his shuttle.
"Shit, she's going into cardiac arrest!" someone shouts. He can't turn around; the autopilot is sketchy here at best, and so he grips the controls tightly as the medical personnel shout about needing space and other people shout about how there isn't any and then "it's okay. She's alright," comes the verdict and they all shudder a little in relief.
The third time it happens there's not as much fuss.
The tracheotomy causes a stir, though.
They make it to Haven 20 hours after jettisoning from the Kelvin, exhausted and jittery from the nerves.
"Who is in charge here?" Governor Book asks. He has very kind eyes, and Chris wants to tell him that.
"I am," Chris says, when none of the other higher-ranking officials says anything. This is his punishment for yelling the loudest.
Book's eyes flick up and down him, but he nods. "I imagine you'll be needing food—"
"Medical attention. We had three in cardiac arrest and one tracheotomy, and apparently there are a few people who are breathing, but won't wake up. And a few cases of shock, and—"
Number One hands Book a PADD.
A man whose uniform says he's an admiral steps up, and Chris wants to know where the fuck he came from. Then he realizes that really, it took them twenty hours. The admiral could have heard from Book and gotten here to Haven and waited for them in that time. He glances behind them and sees a lot of Starfleet personnel—far more than would occupy a rock like Haven normally.
"Where the hell is Lieutenant Commander Kirk?" the admiral demands.
"Dead, sir," Chris says. There'd been a moment, on the shuttles, when they were figuring out who was on what shuttle and taking the roster—a moment where some part of him had gone He could be alive. But he wasn't on the rosters, and then the pilot, Tanz, on Medical Shuttle 37 had said that the XO—no, the acting—no, the captain was dead: he'd been on the ship.
"What about Commander Kirk?"
"Um, Winona is—" on MS37. Which is…somewhere, parked. She just had a baby, so he doesn't figure she's getting off the shuttle—
"Right here," she snaps. She looks tired, hair loosely pulled back, with the baby cradle against her neck in one arm and a phaser, which he notes is on and set to 'stun' in her other. Oh shit, she's lost it. "Good job," she tells Chris, who is in the middle of trying to signal that she's crazy to the admiral, who's standing right in her way.
"Coming from you that means next to nothing," Chris informs her, feeling jittery and punchy and this at least is somewhat normal, and hey, if she stuns him he'll get to sleep.
"Get the fuck out of my way," she tells Admiral Whatever-his-name-is. She's ignoring Chris, which is probably for the best.
"Kirk, you're senior surviving officer, and I need a full—" the admiral begins. Behind them people are being unloaded and treated: some getting to the medical buildings and some people are getting emergency operations right there—Chris snaps his head back around at the whine of a phaser.
Winona's got it pointed at the Admiral's head. "I will drop you where you stand. If you're lucky my hand won't slip and it'll only be 'stun.'"
He looks down the phaser, and then into her face, and steps aside. Book lifts his communicator and says quietly, "Commander Kirk is coming through with a child. Please do not detain her, and give her what she needs."
The admiral looks at Chris helplessly. "She's senior officer."
"No, sir. I think I am," Chris says, and tells himself that that burning feeling in his throat? Lingering smoke inhalation damage. Nothing to do with the fact that all he wants to do is cry.
"…Okay," the admiral sighs. "Okay. What's your name, kid?"
"Pike, sir. Christopher Pike."
"Okay. Go get checked out. This can wait."
There are endless debriefings, closed sessions of the Federation Congress and with the cabinet and the admiralty, and when it's over Archer (who's the only one who's asking questions that don't scream "Cover our asses!" and seem to be more genuinely along the lines of "What do you think could have changed things?") pulls him aside and says, "You were writing your dissertation on something stupid, right?"
"I—yeah?" Chris says, scrubbing his face. Archer nods sympathetically, and squeezes his arm reassuringly.
"Write it on what happened. Consider it an order."
"Thing is, Pike. Strikes me as a little bit odd that things fell apart so bad that the ensign who was writing his dissertation ended up being the guy calling the shots. We wanna make sure things don't fall apart like that again… someone who was there and is smart has to tell the truth. I can trust you not to bullshit this."
"Yeah," Pike agrees immediately. "Of course."
"Good. That's what I thought. Go home, kid. Take a few weeks, go home, see your family."
"Oh, baby," Ma says, and hugs him tightly. He hugs her back, loosely. He can't quite… get there.
"C'mon, we'll have a beer," Dave says, handing him one as they settle on the porch.
"You okay?" John asks.
Chris looks at him. "My best friend died," he says, because he might have had a crush, but he'd never had a friend like George, and—it was a stupid thing to say about him, but it was as close to the truth as Chris could get it. "And I spent eighteen hours in a shuttle with a woman who acts like a Vulcan but is human, who told me we probably wouldn't have to resort to cannibalism, but apparently she drew up a list, and there was blood everywhere and I can still smell it and I don't even know what that ship was and now they want me to—"
Dave reaches out and puts a hand on his knee, and Chris shuts up, breathing through his nose.
"No," he says finally. "I'm not okay."
"You'll get there," John says.
"No," he says, because he's pretty sure it's the honest to fuck all truth. "I don't think I will. Not for a while."
Ma makes him stay for two weeks, and Chris— he wants to know where Winona went. If she's gone back home and is trying to pretend that this is ever going to be normal.
He wonders what Number One is doing; if she's…it just seemed to glide off of her like she was teflon or something.
When he closes his eyes he can see her talking to one of the engineers. He was babbling, curled up in a ball and twice her size, but she'd sat down cross-legged and put her hands on his knees and listened to him with her head cocked, birdlike, brown hair tangling in the wind that was blowing through the complex on Haven with a vengeance. She looked so queerly serious, with her big eyes and small nose and pointy chin. Strongest person there and she looked like a good breeze would have knocked her over.
He goes back to his apartment, pulls up a PADD, and starts writing that fucking dissertation.
He opens the door expecting Chinese food, and finds Number One, looking up at him seriously.
He checks, just to make sure she hasn't like, broken her brain and become the delivery girl. She hasn't.
"I brought you this." She's got this weird way of talking. It's almost a British accent, but it's… transatlantic. She's got a transatlantic accent. It's weird.
He takes the light PADD from her, stepping inside to let her come in because he's not actually sure what he's supposed to…do. Because…he hasn't seen her since Haven. And it's not like they had a relationship or…he even liked her that much. "This is… the list of who we should have eaten."
"I broke it down in three parts," she agrees, looking around. "Nutritional value, workforce value, and morale."
"Morale?" He feels like he's missing something. Something very very important.
"People who are competent and healthy but are obnoxious are very bad for morale. They should be eliminated first," she says, stepping over old clothes gracefully. She's wearing…ballet slippers. Black, but those are ballet slippers, right down to the leather on the bottom.
He glances around. Yeah, he hasn't really…cleaned. In the past two months.
To the point where he ordered new underwear because he couldn't be bothered to clean his. That might have happened twice. There's a layer of grime on the floor, and empty take-out everywhere. He's embarrassed to know himself at that moment.
"Wait, wh—" His brain catches up to what she just says, and then it's funny—it's just fucking funny, and he's gasping for breath, laughing so hard he's going to shake apart with it.
She tilts her head, watching him. "You need to get out."
He laughs, because she's right and he still has no fucking idea what's going on because seriously, what is this, but—. "Yeah, well."
"You're getting fat."
Now that's just uncalled for.
"I go running every morning at 0800," she informs him. "I will collect you."
"You—what?" He blinks. "No, Number One, look, it's—I'm fine, I'm just, this dissertation and—"
"Do you think you've died and not noticed it yet?" she asks.
He blinks at her. He's completely lost. At this point he thinks he should just roll with it. "I—what?"
She opens a shade. "'Excess of grief for the dead is madness; for it is an injury to the living, and the dead know it not.' An intelligent observation, for a Terran. Of course, Xenophon was alive almost three thousand years ago. Does that make it more admirable or less?"
He's pretty sure that he's lost the entire train of this conversation. Entirely. It's just— he has no idea what is going on.
"He is dead, and you are alive. Act like it," she says. "I'll return at eight. Be ready."
She shuts the door quietly behind her, and he stares at the door until the Chinese guy knocks, almost scaring him to death. He pays him and eats his mu xu pork, staring down at the five PADDs he has. He's been—shit, it's been three months, and he's been lost in it. Stuck in that moment, in that day, reliving it until he feels like he was there for all of it; listening to the transmission between George and Winona—
"Sweetheart can you hear me?"
"I can hear you."
"I love you so much. I love you—"
—and parsing all the data before and after, what got sent to Starfleet, what the shuttles carried in their databanks…he's reconstructed it and relived it from everyone's perspectives and it's…
He shuts them all off and goes to bed.
She doesn't say anything about him being out of shape (he's not that bad, it's just… he's not in top condition). Her hair is pulled into a ponytail and she's wearing a coordinating running outfit, and she looks so put together and he wonders if she stays put together the way he falls apart.
They get fresh-squeezed orange juice because he hasn't had anything fresh in ages, and he finds himself saying,
"The thing is, I don't think that anyone else with the training would have reacted that way. I did the math, and he had four seconds. Well, five-point-four, but it takes about one-point-four to key in the sequence, so it's about four seconds after the weapons went offline to when he punched in the collision course."
"You think no one else would have—"
"I don't know. It's just… I think they might have, but not that fast. He owned it. Right then, at the last minute, he was going down, but he owned it and saved us."
"Will you be suggesting to Starfleet that it should train captains to be…" she trails off, searching for a way to put it succinctly. He waits: someone has to, and he sure as shit can't. "You want them to be less practiced and more spontaneous so that when the familiar falls away they are not left grasping?"
"Yes. Yeah. And I want to do it to the whole chain of command, if I can manage it. I want to have the Kobayashi Maru modified for the Kelvin's experience, run a few cadets through, then a few captains, compare the results. I think I can push that through. Maybe make them see that over-training is a problem."
She nods, bracing her chin on her fist. "Will you go back out?"
He looks at her, surprised by the question, but more by the fact that he hasn't thought about it. "Yeah."
She nods, the nudges him with her foot. "I would be interested in the results. And I am available if you require assistance. I am in the apartment two doors down from you."
That's how he gets roped into daily runs at eight in the morning and a research partner who makes obsessive lists.
This is what they find out, at the end: Starfleet has an ideas shortage.
The courses are so constricting that they don't give students a chance to think for themselves; to be radical. And while that's fine for milk-runs, venturing into unknown space with a fresh captain who follows all the rules can be tricky.
Starfleet is suffering from a hivemind. Groupthink at its worst, where there's right and wrong and no room for shades of gray.
He posits that there's a correlation between George's lack of training in command—he was, after all, a science officer, even if he was the XO—and his youth (younger by four years than the average youngest captains) that led to his solution. George hadn't had the training; he'd just done what had to be done. His mind hadn't been cluttered: he hadn't been thinking of anything except making sure as many people lived as could. Only two hundred people died on the Kelvin.
That's an impossible statistic, given the situation. They should all have died.
Winona Kirk comes to see him present his dissertation, once he finishes it. She's going back out, he's heard. She doesn't bring either of the kids. Just watches in her charcoal uniform as he presents and they listen. She doesn't stay for the reception or the discussions.
He doesn't know what he wants from her. He doesn't know if he wants to say to her I'm doing something, trying to change things so it doesn't happen again, what are you doing? because…because he feels like she's judging him. Like he's been weighed, measured and found wanting.
And he doesn't actually know why.
He slides back into Command School, and his experiences and references get him assigned to the Jimmy Carter as XO. He'll finish the next year and a half of training, and then join up when she docks. At this rate he'll make captain in four years: it'll be a record.
He goes out to a bar on Filmore without Number One—who's become a fixture in his life without him really noticing until it was too late—and sees Winona. She's just sitting there, jeans tucked into knee-high boots and a leather jacket slung over her shoulders. Her hair is shorter—cut more ragged around her face. Maybe she wore it long because George had liked it.
She raises her shot glass to him. There's an empty in front of her already.
He wonders if she's going to go back to Riverside. If she had the baby's—Jim, named after her father, his brain reminds him— first birthday with balloons and cake and managed to smile, and then hopped onto her bike and drove from Iowa to San Francisco, just to have a drink.
He raises his back, and they knock back the shot from opposite ends of the bar, and then she gets up and leaves. He watches her go, and then goes home, bangs on Number One's door.
"I'm having survivor's guilt," he says.
She looks at him and then steps aside. Her apartment is clean and spartan; she could leave tomorrow and you'd never notice.
"I know," she replies simply, and they sit together, still, on the couch as her clock ticks away the minutes. His skin feels too thin and like he's about to fly apart or he needs to get up, move, fight or—
He reaches over and takes her hand, feels her stiffen and then let him.
"You okay?" he asks, quiet, because he hasn't asked her that before. Because she seems like it just doesn't hit—like she could take the absolute worst the universe has and dust her black pants off and keep on walking; knock on his door at eight and go for a run. But she was there, and he's getting better at knowing her: at reading a mood in the rhythm she sets for running, or in the way she holds her PADD or the slant of her eyebrow at any given moment.
And he knows, now, that a year ago she wasn't okay, but she was doing what he'd done: pretended. She's just better at pretending than he is.
"I am…getting there."
He thinks about it. "Me too."
He's twenty six when he hits the skies as an XO; he's thirty one when he takes over the Jimmy Carter for Rodriguez and takes Number One as his XO.
The thing about his relationship with Number One is, he looks at her and it's kind of terrifying.
Because she gets him: she knows what buttons to push and she knows what look to give him and she's smarter than everyone he's met and she doesn't—
She doesn't need him.
And he likes feeling needed.
But they're married—they're that married couple, the parents on the ship.
But then there are days when he finds his feet outside her door and can't remember what sent him coming here, only that here is the place he's got to be.
"Do you date?" he asks after the door swings shut. She puts down her PADD and raises her eyebrows at him.
"I mean, I've known you for six years now and I've dated in that time, but I don't think I've ever seen you out with a guy."
"You're not privy to my social life," she points out. "There was a significant amount of time when you were here and I was still at Starfleet."
Sulking, as he recalls. She was sulking at Starfleet in a very calm, ruthless way that made everyone really happy that he'd picked her as his XO.
The thing about Number One is, she's not emotionless—it's not even Vulcan. It's just her personality and a result of the school system on Ilyria. If she has family, she doesn't know of them, but she doesn't seem to miss it—maybe because she has no idea what to miss. He's not going to press the subject because what the hell does he know?
"Okay, but did you date?" he asks. "Ever?"
"A few times," she says, frowning. "Why?"
"Well, I didn't know if you did, as a rule."
"As a rule." Ah yes, there's the lovely "You're so full of shit" tone. He knows that tone well.
"Never mind. You've got that report I had the yeoman send over?"
"I have. If you're looking for someone to pursue, she might be amenable."
"That's ten years younger than I am. I would feel like a dirty old man."
"Perhaps you should consult with Boyce. He knows a thing or two about that, I hear."
She's smiling, leaning against the pillows, and it'd be a really easy thing to lean across and kiss her.
"Yeah, maybe I'll go see Boyce," he agrees.
The next day, after he gets off shift he heads down to sick bay. "Got time for a drink?" he asks Boyce, because that's the magic word. "Drink." It's got to be a CMO thing: every one of them he's ever met has been a functioning alcoholic.
"I think I'm in love with Number One," he blurts after the first sip of his very dry martini.
"You just figured this out?"
"No, I'm serious. How are you just figuring this out. All of Starfleet knows, Chris. Well, no one knows why she waits, but everyone knows you're head-over-heels."
"Someone could have told me!"
"Who do you look for when you walk into a room. Any room?"
"If you finish that sentence with 'XO', Chris, I'll throw this martini at you," Phil warns, grinning. "Face it. You're deeply in love and scared shitless."
"You're enjoying this."
"I am loving this."
He can't avoid her, and he can't stop realizing that not only has he categorized the way she looks at any given moment and that he not only reacts to it but doesn't notice?
Like when he catches Phil laughing the next day because Chris tells the Yeoman to get them something to eat and then doesn't eat anything—because Number One was tapping her fingers in the way she does when she's waiting for lunch. It's a problem that he didn't notice this.
"I'm in love with you."
He probably should have waited for the door to close before he said that. She looks up at him from the bed, then behind him, then back to him, looking nonplussed.
"Were you just going to let me—"
"I didn't think you'd be so stupid," she admits, resting the PADD on the table beside her bed. "And then I was…unsure of how to make you aware." She gives him a long look. "You're not usually so stupid, Christopher."
"I'm very sorry." He grins, feeling a little reckless, alive and like maybe now's the time to do something really stupid.
"You should be."
"Really, very sorry." He walks over to the bed, sits and braces his arm on the other side of her thighs. She takes in his position, then looks at him, lips almost curving into that laughing smile he sees every so often.
"You've said that," she points out.
He grins, leans in and kisses her.
"After having made a declaration of love you now expect intercourse?"
She's fucking with him. He thinks.
"Jesus Christ," he mutters. "I'll settle for making out."
He kisses her, because yes, she's fucking with him, and she might kill him.
The sex might kill him. Mostly because when he has his hands on her thighs as she's writhing over him he just—
There's nowhere but here, and that's scary. It's—terrifying. Because if he loses her…and it's practically in their job descriptions that one of them is going to go down.
And then Archer calls.
Well, to be fair, he's been out for ten years at that point, and neither of them has managed to stay dead (they have died, though. She's died eleven times. He's not thinking about it).
Phil's about ready to retire, maybe, but other than that, they're doing pretty damn well.
"It's getting worse," Archer says. "The captains are getting worse."
"I don't know what you want me to—" he starts, but it's a lie, he knows what's coming.
"Just five years, Pike. Take five years, come back to the Academy, help us straighten out the curriculum and then—I'll give you the Enterprise, Chris. Pick your own crew, hell, you can groom your own crew down here. It's getting worse. We've got bureaucrats instead of captains half the time."
"I'll have to —"
"Chris. I'm not really asking."
"I understand, sir."
"I'll see you when you dock. Archer out."
He looks at her over the video con. "I'm not going to ask you to—"
Stay. He's not going to ask her to stay on Earth, which isn't her home planet. He's not going to ask her to be stagnant, not when she's so happy out in the black.
"I will take a diplomatic tour," she says. "That will put me in constant contact with Starfleet."
"Who else will I serve with?" she asks, quiet. "You are my captain."
"Five years," he promises, sitting beside her on the couch. "Five years, and then we'll have the flagship of the fleet."
"Yes, a new toy," she says wryly. "How delightful."
"You're itching to get ahold of it," he snorts. "Don't try that with me."
He hates it.
That's not true. After three years Spock comes to Starfleet, and Chris starts not to hate it so much. Stops taking so many leaves of absence to go back to Mojave to be with his parents, who are old, fuck, how'd that happen?
Spock is half-human, half-Vulcan, and full to fuck of attitude. But Chris has been trained to notice really subtle indicators of emotion, and he thinks Spock appreciates it. Mostly Chris just likes that he winds up the admiralty and there's jack all they can do about it. Spock is brilliant, but he's half-Human and half-Vulcan, and he's the Vulcan Ambassador to Earth's son, and Spock is not manageable.
Spock is an ally—when Chris recommends him to reprogram the Kobayashi Maru he thinks the captains who already have their commissions are going to cry when they test it. Maybe it'll give them something to think about.
Spock's bored, Pike realizes after he graduates early—at twenty—that's two years. It's like he's waiting for something—utterly competent and original but somehow stagnant.
Pike tells him to teach, and at twenty one Spock is a Commander. Pretty good. Okay, it's epic; record-breaking.
He hates the kids, but he works on the Kobayashi Maru and… and Pike tries to recruit kids who aren't going to bend over and hold their ankles for the Starfleet brass. Someone who might be a challenge to Spock, because the day Spock finds whoever the fuck he's looking for?
Yeah, that'll be a good day.
It distracts him, a little, from realizing that he's forty six and it's been five years and here he is. Still on Earth.
"You whistle really loud."
He's draped over the table, bleeding, his eyes are rolling in his head and he's drunk, but the kid still manages to comment on Chris's ability to whistle. And then Chris realizes that there's something familiar about that face.
"The kid— what's his name?" he asks the bartender, who's looking around with disgust after everyone else beats a hasty retreat. This is going on Starfleet's dime, Chris can feel it coming.
"Jimmy? 'S Jim Kirk, he's… he's probably fine, but we got a regenerator out back, you want it." He chuckled. "Mostly just for him. Jimmy's a fuckin' piece of work."
"Jim Kirk? You know Winona?" the bartender asks, squinting.
"I'll take the regenerator." He cradles Jim against his chest, staring at his bloodied up face, fixing the worst of it. He can't—it's not processing. In the background the bartender is kicking the rest of the patrons out, and after ten minutes Jim blinks at him idly, then looks over at the bartender.
"A.J., I'm gonna need a drink," he decides in that raspy, still-strangled sounding voice. He pulls out of Chris's grasp like it's not weird that a complete stranger was doing that, sticks two napkins up his nose, and then sprawls in a chair and Jesus Christ—once you know who he is, it's obvious. He looks so much like George—his eyes are bluer, maybe, and he's…prettier than George was, but… he's obviously George's kid.
Chris sits down across from him while Jim tries to wiggle one of his canines, making a face—ignoring Chris entirely.
It's like someone bodyswapped Winona and George—he looks like George but he acts like Winona.
Not quite, though. He's disaffected—a James Dean or a Holden Caulfield—a Jack Kerouac or a Dean Cassidy. Listless; a delinquent with a rap sheet taller than Pike—petty shit from a too-bored kid stuck in a contained space, unable to get out of his own fucking way.
Chris tries—tries to appeal to something in him; use a trick he might use on Winona.
Jim Kirk laughs at him as he walks out of the bar.
He's not on the shuttle in the morning.
Chris tries not to feel like he's failing George, somehow. And it's fucked up, because he hasn't thought about what he owes George or the way he's living because George gave him the gift of that and—it's been a long time since he's thought about George so sharply.
Number One is intrigued by the depiction of Jim Kirk, but reminds him that when he met Sam Kirk a few years back he was almost the same way. A student, and making something of himself, perhaps, but that same defensive surliness.
Chris thinks about it and decides that no, that was nothing like Jim.
And then it's the anniversary of the day the Kelvin went down and he goes to the bar to share silent shots with Winona, because it's a fucked up tradition but it's a tradition, goddamnit.
"So I hear you met Jim," Winona says, planting her forearms on the bar next to him. She's in worn jeans and a leather coat and a shirt that would probably work on a woman twenty years younger than her—oh, who's he kidding, it works on her. He didn't know she was on Earth—he has no idea how she knows about what happened seven months ago: he didn't get the idea that Jim was in communication with his mother.
"So, Sam goes to college young, is making a name for himself, and…Jim…?"
"Drinks himself into a coma, most days," she agrees, throwing back a shot and then looking at him, defiant and a little amused, though the shape of her smile cuts like a Cardassian knife.
"He's—" He doesn't know how he wants to finish the sentence, but he looked up Jim's file and saw his transcripts and the things he could be doing are… endless. He's a genius, smarter than Winona and George and hell, he might even give Spock a run for his money, at least mathematically.
He also saw the mandatory psych evals and holy mother of god does Jim Kirk have a problem with authority. He can also outthink the tests, because tests that should be drastically varied come out with oddly similar results.
"Don't," she snorts. "You're going to say he's wasting his potential. That I should make him enlist or some bullshit."
"Fuck you, Chris." She never yells when she's angry—he remembers watching her after Kodos and it's like she goes straight through pissed and into psychotically calm. Now she just grins slightly. "You know the only thing Jim ever asked me for?"
"To go to Tarsus."
There's nothing to say to that. Tarsus is something that Terrans don't talk about and even Vulcans only mention in a carefully scientific community—respecting the need to grieve and move on. To take the lesson, boil it to the detached facts, and then move on. What do you say about someone who only ever asked to go to the site of a future genocide?
"Jimmy's the proverbial horse," she says after letting the silence go uncomfortable—Winona's good at that, setting everyone ill at ease—swirling the shot around and watching it spill against the dark wood of the bar. "Can lead him to water but can't make him drink."
"How'd he…?" He wants to know how Jim survived, because that's not in any of the reports.
"Kodos took him. Jimmy wanted to go, and George's cousins were going to go but didn't pass the physical, and I'd been on that committee—you remember, the one where it was a split vote to even give the fucker a moon."
"I remember." He also remembers that she voted to give him the moon.
"So Jimmy was begging and I thought it'd do him good to get out of Iowa, away from Frank," she spits the name. Chris wonders if there's a grave in Iowa bearing Frank's name. "So I let him. Kodos had him in his house, fostered him. Then I don't get a wave back and I knew something was wrong and…" she trails off and grins, crooked and sharp. "You know the rest."
He does. He remembers getting word that had Winona hijacked a cruise ship and led the charge. Remembers images of a slight boy with violently angry blue eyes. He'd been in deep space, but they'd all felt the ripples of it: some of his people had been related to the settlers of Tarsus IV.
"So he stays in Iowa."
"Stays in Iowa," she agrees, then shrugs, spreads her fingers, rifles them through the hair she keeps shaggy. "Except he's here, now. Bar down on Filmore." She nods in the general direction of the bar and downs her second shot. "I wouldn't try again."
"You asked him to join up, didn't you? Dared him, tried to treat him like he's got my pride or George's sense of duty." She's mocking now, sharp edges in a face that could be kind—if she was knocked out or dead. Mocking and hard the way she was when she'd looked at him, just a bit of nothing taking a shine to her husband because he was kind. A nice guy—George had been a nice guy. No one expected him to cheat on his wife, not least because she would have killed him dead and hung him from the cafeteria ceiling by his balls if he had. George had called her "sweetheart" without a hint of irony; Chris wants to know, even now, what the fuck George saw in Winona. "Did he laugh at you?"
"Scoffed. Reminds me of you."
"Aw, Chris, now you're flattering me."
"You're not worried?" He doesn't have kids. He can't empathize. But he doesn't get it—how she can just… let Jim do this to himself.
"Of course I'm worried." She barks a laugh. "But he's here, and he's friends with doctor or a cadet or whatever McCoy calls himself. Who knows, Chris. You might get an officer out of him at this rate." She pauses, looking at the shot glass she's been idly playing with. "And that? That scares me shitless."
She leaves, and he pays the tab, the way he always seems to end up doing.
The thing about Winona Kirk is that she's a bitch, but you can't help being a little bit awed by her.
Chris likes McCoy, and that's how he gets exposed to Jim. Not the drunk sullen kid who'd leapt into a bar fight and then kept drinking, but the sober everyday version of Jim Kirk. It makes him want to give McCoy a medal.
He wants McCoy to be his CMO on the Enterprise, because that guy knows what he's doing, and he's not afraid to do it. A bit gruffer than Phil, but Chris just likes the sonovabitch.
They do drinks every so often, and Chris will wander into the campus hospital and McCoy will be on duty. It's amazing to see him go soft and gentle with patients who are actually sick. People who get hurt because it's their own fault—cadets, mostly—or people with alcohol poisoning, those people McCoy barks at and is terrible to. But kids with broken arms and the genuinely sick get reassuring smiles and gentle hands. Even his voice moderates.
He uses that voice on Kirk, sometimes. Jim Kirk will be slouched against a building looking tired and instead of bawling him out Chris will hear that soft tone full of gentle reprimand as he walks by on his way to a meeting or a class.
Winona was wrong, Chris thinks. McCoy's not going to get Jim Kirk into the sky.
After that, Chris doesn't really think anything of it until Spock comes into his office a year later and says, "You knew George Kirk."
"Yes." He has no idea where this is going, but Spock'll get there. Maybe he's going to do one of his random theses on it. Spock does that: write thesis and dissertation papers for fun.
"And Winona Kirk."
"Jim Kirk just completed three of the mathematical puzzles I leave on my board."
"…I see." Chris wants to know why Jim was even in a classroom, but that's not the point, clearly, because Spock looks…very focused.
"He is not a contractor."
"Doesn't want to be and his list of convictions keeps him from being hirable, even though he is a Kirk."
"If I can convince him to enlist—"
"I'll eat my hat."
"You are not wearing a headpiece, and I believe you would be unable to digest it were you to achieve masticating it."
"It's an idiom, Spock. It means I don't think it's gonna happen." Which Spock might know. Chris is never sure where Spock actually stands on speaking Terran. He's a gifted xenolinguist: he probably knows exactly what it all means and he's just fucking with them all.
"But if I do succeed. You are intimately aware of his situation."
"…Where are you going with this, Spock?" Because he's not 'intimately aware' of Jim's 'situation'—he has no idea what the fuck Spock's talking about.
"I am willing to be his academic advisor but I did not take the command track courses, and he may need assistance I am unable to provide."
"That's a few years off, Spo…" he trails off, because Spock's just given him a PADD that shows Kirk, James Tiberius testing out of… the first two years of Starfleet. "What the hell?"
"He tests within the 99th percentile on average in mathematics, 90th in histories. He is conversant in a dozen languages—they are the rudimentary and slang versions of those languages, but that is easily remedied."
"He's not enrolled, Spock."
"So why am I holding a PADD with his tests?"
"He is bored easily," Spock replies. "I provide him with PADDs, he does the work on them, I take them back."
"I'll be damned," he says, and then has to chuckle, because Spock is a genius. "All right, Spock. You figure out a way to get him into Starfleet and I'll back you."
He doesn't expect it to happen, not really, which is stupid, because it's Spock and Spock is the unalterable force.
Two months later he's bawling out three of his cadets for picking a fight with a civilian, even if said civilian did put all of them in the hospital and standing before a judge backing the plan to remand Jim into Spock's custody.
The problem with the command track, Chris knows, is that students are either beaten into submission and refuse to talk, have checked out, or are in awe of the person who's talking and refuse to dialogue out of "respect."
Jim? Jim is not what you'd call a quiet student. He's also not an idiot, though he can act the part with the best of them.
He doesn't believe in going down unprepared, or unarmed—and when the professor snaps that it hasn't been a bad policy thus far Jim goes home, makes a graphic representation of casualties that could have been avoided if the landing party had been better prepared or even armed, and comes back to class with it.
Spock and Chris field a lot of protests. Spock just wants to know, in that very logical way of is, what the problem is. Chris points out that Starfleet wants captains, not lackeys, and Jim Kirk isn't going to take any stupid orders.
And the thing—the thing on top of that is that Jim Kirk is one of the nine people who saw Kodos' face and survived Tarsus IV. And he wears it on his sleeve, though Chris isn't sure any of the students identify it that way. The professors and Admiralty do—when Jim Kirk sneers about logic and politics and tyrants it's impossible to tell him to shut up, because something in his eyes dares them to. Dares them to push him far enough to say, "I lived it, and you dicked around. I lived it, and my mother had to drag your asses to the rescue because of an unanswered message. Justify that."
So he gets a platform while they grind their teeth. Chris sits in on a policy discussion and wonders if Spock put him on the wrong track: if Jim Kirk shouldn't be in the line to be a senator, or maybe president.
"You should come to dinner," he tells Jim after class lets out. "Meet Number One."
"You call your wife Number One?"
"We're not married," Chris says. "Regulations and all."
"But you live together."
"It's amazing what Starfleet will overlook."
Number One lifts her eyebrow when he tells her that Jim Kirk is going to come to dinner next week. "I have two weeks of shore leave," she points out.
"You're so curious you can't stand it," he snorts.
They like each other immediately, even though Jim skirts around the issue of calling her anything by going midwestern and "ma'am"ing it up.
Dinner is…take out. Because…well, Chris still can't really cook and Number One is okay with…replicators. Sometimes. When she's resisted the urge to tamper with them.
But Jim launches them into a conversation about minding colonies easily, refusing to be intimidated by the whole situation and Chris just grins at them both as they argue about he merits of monitoring the colonies as opposed to allowing them to thrive on their own, independent of the Federation's core planets and cultures. Which, Kirk argues, are really Terran, because Vulcan isn't in the business of exporting its culture.
"They should be allowed to grow as naturally as possible," Number One insists.
"Bullshit. They're settled by people from planets already assimilated by the Federation, they're in the Federation by default; why shouldn't we monitor them? We fund the expeditions; we should protect the investment."
"Your experience of Tarsus IV clouds your judgment," she says mildly.
"Informs it," he replies, leaning back in his chair; it's a defensive slouch, but more than that it's the "I'm about to be seriously pissed off and fuck your shit up" slouch. Chris doesn't know what his life's come to that he's identifying Jim's posture in detail.
She considers. "I suppose that's an appropriate distinction. And the vein of argument relating to funding and investments is very logical. I have not prepared a counter argument for it as no one has raised it yet."
"Jimmy, don't go into politics," Chris groans, drinking his beer and chuckling. Mostly because he's pretty sure he'd be president for life or something.
It's the first time he calls Jim "Jimmy" without realizing it.
"He is an appropriate surrogate child," Number One decides at the end of the night, after Jim's gone back to his dorm. "We should send him money on his date of birth and invite him for holidays."
"I know it's been twenty years, and I should be used to you saying things like that," Chris sighs, opening another beer, "but I'm so not ready for fatherhood."
"I believe you have inadvertently signed up for it," she replies. "And you are more suited than I am to motherhood. I am not sufficiently…" she trails off, searching for the term, "soft."
Which, really, should have prepared him, but when he gets home from classes the next day and realizes she's reading Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch he can't even process.
"This is an awful book," he informs her. "It makes parents cry. Do not use this as a parenting guide."
Jim comes over to dinners at least once when Number One is dirtside, which is every few months or so. He's skittish about it—like he's trying not to overstay his welcome, somehow, and it makes Chris want to punch Winona in the face. Just a little.
He starts to get a little suspicious of Spock and Jim's relationship when he sees them in the practice rooms. Jimmy'd said they practiced on Thursdays and did drinks on Sundays (Jim plies Spock with hot chocolate and mudslides, apparently), and Chris has time and is curious and holy mother of—
Spock is throwing Jim like a rag doll against the wall. Jim slides down, laughs gets up, and charges.
Because he's insane.
He gets a few punches in, but more impressively he avoids getting hit. The fight goes on because even if Spock's stronger, Jim learns very quickly.
And Spock is teaching him, slowed down to 80% speed, maybe, to demonstrate, but it ends with Jim flat on his back, pinned under Spock with Spock's hand wrapped around his neck and the other pinning his free arm to the mat (his right arm is trapped at an awkward angle under his back), and Chris doesn't even know.
It's a little thing, the way Jim shifts his hips just so that take it from two guys sparring to foreplay in 0.02 seconds.
Pike walks away, shuts the door to his office, and rubs his face because that's just going to be one of those situations that either blows up in everyone's face or…no. It's going to blow up. It's just a question of when.
When he gets home he video comms Number One, who doesn't like it one bit.
"It's taking advantage of his position of authority."
"I'm pretty sure Jim can handle himself. He's of the age of consent on every planet in the Federation, the kid's probably been having sex since he was—" he breaks off, because it doesn't bear thinking about "—anyway."
"It's still highly inappropriate."
"I would like to speak to Commander Spock on this topic."
"Oh my god, no, Number One—"
"I believe we can come to an understanding."
She doesn't end up making that comm, but only because Vulcan goes up in a distress beacon and he's on the ship with these kids who leave on the parking brake and—
And then he's reliving the Kelvin, and when he looks at Spock and makes him captain and makes Jim acting captain he wonders if, now that Spock's broken George's record of being the youngest captain in Starfleet history, he'll also follow in George's footprints and die to save them all.
He hopes not. It's why Spock is captain and not Jim—Jim will… someday Jim will be amazing, but Jimmy's not someone Chris wants to try by fire. Besides, he needs Jim down on the ground with Sulu and Olsen.
And then he's hostage, and praying that somewhere out there Jim and Spock are getting ready to kick this bastard's ass.
He tells them everything.
He tells Nero about George, about his crush on him, about Winona.
Tells him all about Number One, about her face and about the fact that he's sure she's going to kick his ass at some point for being a dick; tells him about growing up in the Mojave Desert, about his childhood spent staring at the sky and riding horses and learning how to put ships together and his brothers and his parents.
Tells them, in detail, about the Kelvin. Talks around Jim and Spock, about his years at the Academy. About how much he hates being landlocked.
He learned this lesson the hard way, back when he was much younger: you just keep on talking. He's not equipped to be taciturn, but he can do wry, and weary, and it's not babbling, it's just… talking.
It's not pain, not… he's been tortured: flayed, fingernails pulled out.
He's even had his brain messed with, but this is…different. It's like he can see everything seeping away; his defenses viscous and sliding down off of the information he's trying so hard to hold onto.
He tells them the codes.
He doesn't tell them about Jim or Spock. Doesn't tell them that they're going to die, because his boys are amazing.
They don't ask, and that's interesting. They never ask him, "Is there anyone who could fuck this up for us?"
It occurs to him that that question wouldn't present itself to most people. That long exposure to Jimmy and Spock have completely warped his idea of what important questions are.
He doesn't know what to do with the fact that Spock pulled a George Kirk.
It was Jim's idea—Jim owns up to it, laying on his couch and drinking the beer that Number One hands him when he walks in the door three weeks after they've all been on Earth, after one of the inquiries that Chris remembers so well from the Kelvin. No one ever doubted it to be Jim's idea, not really.
But Spock did it, and Chris doesn't know how to protect Spock from that: from his own suicidal impulses or his frankly terrifying trust in Jim.
Chris doesn't know how to protect Spock from Jim, and so it's almost (but not quite) a relief when Spock doesn't immediately sign on.
They elevate him to Admiral. He wants to punch someone in the face for it. He doesn't want to be landlocked, not while she's in the sky. He doesn't want to ride a desk. Starfleet was never about—
He's fifty-three and an Admiral, and it's impressive and sucks.
He gives Jim the ship because who the fuck else is he going to give it to? And if he has to be landlocked, then he's going to be at least on the side of one captain up there, and he figures Jim's probably going to need someone on his side dirtside.
Chris doesn't exactly see Jim's next five years going smoothly.
The only thing that makes him nervous isn't anything that will stop him: it's just he doesn't want to sign Jim's death certificate.
Which is why he gets progressively more annoyed with Spock, who is holding out for what? Yes, his planet is gone, and Chris can't empathize with that, but he doesn't see Spock being happy anywhere but—
Chris knew Spock before Jim, and saw him waiting around for something more. And then there was Jim, and Chris doesn't want to oversimplify things but…the two of them are a set. Spock should know that.
Thing is, Jim might be able to do it without Spock. He learns quickly, reapplies that knowledge in new and interesting ways.
Like the Kobayashi Maru. Jim's the only person to take it three times: the only person to believe it could be beaten even after taking it once.
And Jim came at it at a weird angle, in the end—came at it sideways, or from underneath: redefined the parameters.
The challenge wasn't the scenario itself—the rescue of the Kobayashi Maru. The challenge had been the entire simulation. Jim had beaten the test, if not the scenario. Jim thinks broadly; he doesn't narrow in. Pike had seen Spock's report on the code Jim had inserted into the programming: it had been simple.
Jim just… the kid just sees things so differently than the rest of them. And it's unorthodox and terrifying but it might be what they all need.
Jim solved the Kobayashi Maru by making it about the test, and not the scenario. Jim saved Earth by making it about Nero, and not Earth and the Federation and Vulcan. Destroying a ship is more easily accomplished than saving a world. Manipulating a test is more easily accomplished than solving the scenario.
Put like that it seems lazier, but it's not, not really. It's a different kind of focusing; his brain works differently, but it works. Chris would be dead and Earth destroyed if not for Jim, and Chris knows it.
He's a lot less worried, when he thinks about it like that.
He's even less worried when Spock finally agrees to join.
Cut it a bit close, there, son.
Then, of course, they get the Udalis, three months into the run.
The Enterprise is late to check in with whether it's okay to send the diplomatic team to Udalia VIII.
Sulu's the one who answers, which means both Kirk and Spock are down on the planet, and Scotty is somewhere in the background swearing up a storm. Sulu cuts the transmission short with a terse, "We have the situation under control."
Forty-eight hours later Sulu checked in to say that Udalia VIII was no longer inhabited.
No one has any idea what to do with that.
He pieces it together from the reports: Spock is carefully within all the parameters, but it's edited. Uhura's command of language is such that she can say exactly what happened and make it sound like something else entirely. Sulu's reports are sketched off and short, except when he's acting captain, and then they seem oddly precise.
Jim's reports give even Chris a migraine, and he was there for Jim's school years.
Jim? Uses fucking footnotes.
What happened was that the Udalis did genetic testing, and it went bad for a significant portion of the population. They were amped up super-humanoids, stronger than Vulcans (he gets that from McCoy's report about how bad Spock was), and apparently carnivorous, but intelligent. The landing party had been stuck, and hurt, and it had taken a day for Kirk to get to the point where he could rig together a communication system in the old ruins of the Udali capital to talk to Scotty, and then another day for them to keep the Udali back far enough to get beamed back up to the Enterprise without taking any Udali with them.
That's just what happened: the basic facts, although from experience he can say that he would not have been able to do that—that he's not sure Winona could have dealt with that situation.
That's… that's the definition of FUBAR, even before he gets to what went ultimately wrong.
Which was that Spock was infected, and McCoy and Jim had banded up to kill him, revive him and put him into a medical coma, and then basically burn the infection out of his system.
McCoy had acted as bait—possibly because he and Spock don't like each other—and Jim had been the one with his phaser set to "kill."
Chris doesn't say anything: hopes it's an aberration.
The next time, Jim is dead for thirteen minutes before McCoy can revive him.
"You proud?" he asks Winona. It's another year, another set of shots, and he's curious. He's walking again—it's weird, because they're not his nerves, it's artificial and robotics, but he's walking and he can feel, and his brain doesn't know the difference, and what the fuck, he can run, so he's putting this in the win column.
"Someday I'll kill you when you sleep," she replies.
That's a yes.
It's become more about Jim's birthday—mourning George but thank fuck it's another year Jim's not dead in the ground.
There's never chit-chat, and he always comes home and sits, staring up into the black sky and praying to a deity he doesn't believe in not to let it happen to his people. Not Number One, and not Jim.
He gets lucky, there.