"One cup of coffee, the last bagel, and a brand new case." The woman who sets three items on the desk in front of Christopher Pike smiles. "Welcome back, Detective."
Pike picks up the coffee first and takes a sip. "Thanks, Doreen. It feels good to be back."
The look she gives him is much too knowing. "Uh-huh. And how many times did you turn around this morning?"
He drops his gaze, embarrassed to be caught in the lie, and clears his throat. "Three."
Doreen reaches over the desk to pat his arm. "Your boy's lucky to have you."
"Yeah, well, as of right now I doubt he would agree." Pike sighs dramatically but his eyes are twinkling with mischief when he lifts them again. "McCoy can't pick him up until tomorrow so I left Jonathan in charge for the day."
That, Chris believes, is the understatement of the century. He'll be grateful if he finds his house still standing. But what choice had he had? With his month-long leave coming to an end, he needed to return to work. Unfortunately Jim had been sulking as Chris prepared to walk out of the house this morning despite the many reassurances Chris gave Jim that Archer would play nice. Jon, instead of actively disagreeing on the matter, had been suspiciously chipper about staying home.
Pike is desperately resisting the urge to find out what they're up to. He has to resist, he thinks as his fingers twitch against the top of his desk.
"Sorry," he apologizes, coming back to the present. "I just imagined several scenarios that could result from Jim and Jon being around each other for an entire day."
Doreen shakes her head. "They'll survive. So will you." She pushes away with the advice, "Captain wants to see you when you're ready. Take the case file with you."
"Thanks," he says again and turns to his computer, finally, fully immersing himself in catching up with all that he has missed.
Having revealed his hand, Jonathan Archer studies his opponent through narrowed eyes. Said opponent in turn peruses the pile of cards between them with a casual air before moving on to inspect Archer’s stack of mini pretzels.
"Go fish," Jon repeats with seemingly infinite patience.
Instead of picking out a card, Jim takes one from the spread in his hand and flips it onto the kitchen table. "No. You go to jail."
Jon takes one look at Kirk's play and curses succinctly.
Jim Kirk's tiny smile turns into a smirk.
With a growl under his breath, Jonathan turns to the jailmaster and feeds him a handful of pretzels. Porthos munches on the offering happily, leaving more slobber on Archer's hand than crumbs.
Jon turns back to Kirk. "Satisfied? I'm all out of bribes."
Jim's smirk widens as he lays down his cards and folds his arms across his chest. "So you admit that I am the winner."
"In your dreams, kiddo. I am the supreme champion of this game."
"But I won."
"You did not."
Knowing just how long Jim can keep up this childish bickering with him, Jon forfeits by throwing down his cards and raises a middle finger. Then he pushes away from the table. "What do you want for lunch?"
All of a sudden, the young man slumps down into his chair, his grin at being the victor dying.
Hardly surprised to be faced with this mutinous side of Pike's offspring, Archer rolls his eyes. "Look here, short roll, you can pout all you want. I'm not leaving."
"Don't you have a job, Sheriff?"
"Called in sick." Jonathan waves a negligent hand. "They'll be fine without me. You're the one who needs a protector."
A sharp thwack makes the kitchen table jump.
Jon raises both eyebrows. "Did you just kick the underside of the table?"
Jim's expression darkens further.
Unperturbed, Jonathan fixes each of them a glass of lemonade and sits down again. When he checks his watch, he realizes it isn't anywhere near lunchtime.
Jim drags his glass across the table as nosily as possible before staring down into it.
"You're supposed to drink it," Jon offers helpfully.
"How do I know it isn't drugged?" Jim asks with suspicion.
"Do I look like I would drug you?"
Jim flicks a glance at Archer. "Yes."
Jon opens his mouth—and blinks. "Okay, I'll give you that one. Sooo many times have I wanted to drug you."
Jim pushes the glass far, far away and sits up straighter. "Well if you think I'll drink it now, you're crazy."
"Whoops." Jonathan retrieves the unwanted lemonade and places it next to his own. He can have them both.
A minute of awkward silence ticks by, then another.
At last, Porthos—still sitting in a chair waiting for more pretzel treats—lays his head down on the table in exasperation. Jim and Jon reach out at the same time to stroke Porthos's head. They stop mid-reach and eye each other cautiously.
"Wanna take him for a walk?" Jon asks, hoping for a truce.
Jim draws in a breath, releases it slowly. "Okay."
"Walkies!" declares Jon, pleased to have found something they can do together that doesn't entail him losing to Kirk to maintain good relations.
In response, Porthos perks up, jumping down to the floor and hurrying to the kitchen's back door. Jim retrieves the leash and Jonathan grabs their coats. Archer lets Kirk take the lead, following the boy and dog into the backyard at a more leisurely pace after he forces Kirk to put on a jacket.
In the middle of the yard, Jim halts and raises his head towards the sky. For a moment, the kid is very still, just breathing.
Jon can imagine the feeling that must be running through Kirk. The gentle, protective care Pike has encased his son in for several weeks since the attack has been a cage all the same for Jim. With his freedom restored, that last part of Kirk can finally heal. The world is returning to normal.
On the other hand, Pike's brave face this morning had only been a mask, which is why Chris had hesitated in the doorway and made one final, spur-of-the-moment request for Jonathan to stay with his son on the last day. Jon had been quick to accept, knowing that Pike needed that bit of reassurance in order to walk away. Jon suspects that despite Jim's blustering, Jim had understood too what his father needed in order to let go. To be honest, Jim has been behaving rather mildly in comparison to what he is actually capable of. For that, Jon is grateful.
Jim glances back at Archer, a question on his face, and Jon clears his throat and finishes coming down the stairs. Jim is spurred into motion again, walking with Porthos to the gate in the fence. Porthos's tail begins to wag madly at the idea of being allowed to leave the yard, probably because it's Kirk who is beside him. Naturally Jim has become his favorite companion.
Jon tries not to be jealous about that. Mostly he succeeds.
He watches them push ahead for a moment, then sinks a hand into his pocket to unearth a tiny black cell phone.
Pike picks up on the second ring, demanding in a worried tone, "What's wrong?"
"Hello to you, too, Princess."
"What's wrong, Jonathan?"
Jon swallows a sigh. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Jim and I are fine, Christopher. Damn, I wouldn't have called if I had known it would wind you up."
There comes a long silent pause from the other end.
"Okay," Chris says slowly, as though he isn't quite able to believe that the sky hasn't fallen in the two hours and some odd minutes since he left his boyfriend and his son alone.
"Jim's walking the dog."
"Is he in sight?"
The question makes Jon look skyward. "Yes, I can see him. I'm not so stupid that I don't know the rules."
Now it's Pike's turn to sigh. "Sorry, sorry. You know I worry, Jon."
"Don't we all," he mutters in response, then forces himself to sound more cheerful. "Just think—tomorrow Jim'll be McCoy's problem."
"Jim is not a problem," comes the sharp counter.
Jon winces. Wrong tactic. He should have remembered how alike Pike and Kirk are. "I just meant that tomorrow you can rest easy, old son."
Silence again. Then, "All right. I'm sorry I snapped. It's just... Damn it, Jon, I don't know if I can do this."
"I know you don't," Jon comforts him, "but look at what you were able to accomplish today in spite of yourself. To tell you the truth, Chris, I was fully expecting you to turn your truck around and decide to stay home. But you didn't. So good for you."
Chris mutters something under his breath.
Jon presses on, "I mean it. I am proud of you. I am. And I think tomorrow you'll give your kid a big hug, maybe cry a little, and let him out of the nest again."
A huff. "I won't cry."
"I won't say anything if you do," Jon promises.
And just like that, the two men are on even ground again. Jon's heart melts to hear Chris laugh a little.
"How about we go out for steaks tonight?" he suggests lightly. "My treat."
Pike's voice is warmer. "That's generous of you, Jon. I don't think I can promise you that though. I might need to work late. New case. Plus, you should see the paperwork stacked up on my desk."
"Yeah, I'll pass."
Pike laughs again. "It comes with the territory, you know that."
"Ha ha. I swear if they had told us that back at the Academy about the damn paperwork, I would have quit right away and pursued my dream job instead."
"And what's your dream job, Jonathan?"
"Cabaret singing." When Chris doesn't stop laughing, Jon rubs at the back of his neck sheepishly, grateful his boyfriend can't see his expression. Oh hell, that really had not been a joke. Now he will be damned if he ever admits he was telling the truth!
He clears his throat. "Gotta go, Pike. Need to catch up to your boy."
"Okay. Thanks for calling."
He starts to hang up but just then Pike calls, "Jon?"
"I do trust you, more than you know."
"Sure, no problem," he answers, still embarrassed. "Hanging up now."
Jonathan pockets the phone with a heartfelt sigh and strides through the gate. Jim is out of breath as if he had been running when Jon catches up to him and Porthos along the street, but Kirk's eyes are sparkling with energy despite the winded appearance and he looks very pleased with himself.
"Take another lap if you want," Jon tells him, tugging Porthos's leash out of Kirk's hand. He looks at his panting dog. "Sadly it has to be a slower pace for us old folks."
Porthos seems to agree, for he does an exhausted flop over Archer's feet with a groan.
Jim points to a stop sign in the distance. "Five bucks says I can make that in under a minute."
Oh this is too good of an opportunity to pass up. Jon digs out his wallet. "I'll give you twenty bucks if you jog it at an easy pace and wait for us to catch up."
Kirk snatches the twenty out of his hand, crying, "Deal!" right before he sets off at a pace that won't give him—or Archer for that matter—a heart attack.
Grinning, Jonathan tucks his wallet away again. He tells Porthos as he scoops the dog up into his arms, "Maybe I wouldn't have made such a terrible parent after all."
Porthos wags his tail.
"Captain," Chris replies respectfully, "I'm glad to be here." He takes a seat in front of her desk.
Captain Gretchen "Greta" Liu is a middle-aged woman with faint laugh lines, light golden-brown hair that curls just beneath her ears, and a no-nonsense attitude to match her sharp intelligence. When the station's former captain had retired nearly seven years ago, she had come from out-of-state to take over the vacancy after he turned down the Chief Commissioner's offer of promotion. The first few months were shaky for the whole department, but inevitably Liu's rules of fair play won the team over and, under her leadership, the precinct has thrived. One of the reasons Pike enjoys working for Liu is that she thinks like he does, so oftentimes she can anticipate what he wants before he even asks for it. It had hardly surprised him that the day after Jim's attack he had called into work only to find Greta had already started the necessary paperwork to take family leave. Later Archer had mentioned that Liu had called him up and grilled him on the specifics of the investigation. Jon's summation of her personality had been "someone I hope I never have to meet in person." Personally Pike thinks that would be a meeting worth attending.
Of course, the leave of absence wasn't indefinite. Now the deadline is up, and Chris's boss needs him ready and willing to put his head back in the game. Thus why he sits motionless under Liu's discerning stare until whatever the woman sees satisfies her.
"You mean that," Liu decides. "Good. Let's discuss your new case."
He raises the manila folder in his left hand. "I just read it... Does the Lieutenant know?" He tells her solemnly, "I don't want to step on any toes."
"We need leads, which Marcus hasn't delivered in the month he has overseen the case." Greta leans back in her chair. "I know you can crack it, Detective. If anyone gives you shit about it, send him to me." The woman drums her fingers on her chair arm then narrows her gaze at him slightly. "Consider yourself lucky, Christopher. There are about a half dozen murders I could have put you on. I thought I was being kind."
"A string of daylight robberies is hardly a light case," he remarks.
"Since the perps haven't actually stolen much of anything, that makes it more interesting, don't you agree?"
Chris does agree. He likes a puzzle—and Liu knows it. "Fine, thank you," he concedes. "I won't disappoint you."
"I hope not," his captain agrees. "Now..." Greta lets her silence stretch on for a long minute. "Is there anything I should know? Other... cases I need to be aware of?"
Chris sits back, eyeing her warily. "No."
The woman inspects her manicured nails. "Don't lie to me, Pike."
He doesn't want to admit the truth either.
She locks gazes with him. "You're part of this precinct, therefore you are free to use our resources to an extent. That does not mean I give you permission to engage in investigations other that the ones I sanction on paper. Are we clear?"
"Crystal," he replies.
Liu gives him a bland smile. "Just don't get caught."
Chris suppresses a smile. "Of course not, Captain."
He stands up to leave but Liu calls to him once he reaches the door.
Greta picks up a framed photo of two smiling children from the corner of her desk, saying without looking at him, "I can understand how you feel, Chris. If it had been one of my kids..."
"I wouldn't wish that horror on any parent."
She looks up, then, and meets his eyes. "Law and order is our business, no exceptions. Remember that."
Chris nods despite the lump in his throat. "Yes, ma'am."
Liu waves him out of her office with a commanding "Get to work, Detective."
Pike texts back, I said vegetables, not fries.
Archer's reply: not a miracle worker
Chris huffs and pockets his phone. He supposes it would be too much to ask Jim to follow McCoy's recommended diet (and Jon to enforce it). Leonard will just have to take care of that little problem himself.
A pang of anxiety comes on the tail-end of such a thought, causing him to grasp his cup a little tighter than normal. He manages to breathe through it. Chris thinks he is getting better at handling these spikes of fear, although deep down he knows there would be merit to seeking a professional's opinion on the matter. But he doesn't want Jim to start worrying about him or for Jim to think he must postpone his leaving because Chris is likely to have a panic attack when he does. Jonathan has already assured Pike that he will keep Jim in his sights as much as he can, and to be honest that is the only reason Chris is able to let Jim move out again, panic attacks or not. It might be that he can no longer protect Jim, but he trusts that Archer can and will do so in his stead.
"I hear Captain Liu put you on Palmetto Row."
The voice interrupting Chris's inner musing isn't an unexpected one but still startles him nonetheless. Chris starts to lift the coffee mug to his mouth out of habit to hide his surprise only to realize there isn't coffee in it yet to sip. So he offers the newcomer a welcoming smile instead, replying in his most congenial voice, "She did. Mind if I pick your brain about it later?"
Alexander Marcus lets the door to the break room close behind him. "Be my guest, Chris." He collects a small styrofoam cup and loads it with sweetener in preparation for the coffee that's still brewing. "Were my notes legible enough?"
"They were," Chris agrees, pausing slightly afterwards. "Alex. I want you to know—"
Marcus raises a hand without looking at him. "No need to apologize. You're the best detective on the force."
"Don't sell yourself short. You taught me a lot of what I know," Chris counters.
Marcus turns around, then, a hint of a smile on his face. "I did—which is why I am able to bow out gracefully."
Chris promises, "I'll do my best."
Marcus nods. "I know you will." Then his stance relaxes, his voice becomes the friendlier tone Chris is used to hearing. "We had a little mishap with one of the rookies and the drunk tank a couple of weeks back. Too bad you missed it." The man chuckles. "It did remind me of how your son spent his fifteenth birthday party, though. Remember that, Chris?"
Pike grimaces. "I'm not lucky enough to forget."
Alex cuts a glance in his direction. "Doreen kept us up-to-date on Jim's progress but I say there's no substitute like hearing it from you. How is he?"
"Recovering better than his old man," Chris murmurs, pushing down another pang of anxiety.
"Hm," the other detective remarks in a non-committal fashion, placing the full decanter onto the counter and pouring himself a cup. He claps Pike on the shoulder as he passes by. "If you need a listening ear, I have two."
"Thanks, Lieutenant." Chris drags air into his lungs and makes a snap decision. "I'll be working Palmetto this afternoon, need to get the lay of the land for the case... but I am free now if you can spare your lunch hour." He thinks it might benefit him to vent some of his frustration—and his fear—to someone who would understand. Marcus might have a perspective to balance his own. He hopes so.
Marcus considers him momentarily, then nods. "An excellent idea. Let me grab my coat."
Chris watches the older man leave and fills his cup to the brim with black coffee. Perhaps this first day back won't be so difficult to endure after all.
But he did remark, just once, "I think it would be better if I don't involve myself overly much. I know what I would do if I found those bastards."
Alex had nodded gravely upon hearing this. "You may be right, Chris. It's a different game when it's your own."
Which is why Chris had needed to hear this from Alexander Marcus in particular. Five years ago, Alex's daughter Carol had been crossing the street to catch up with some friends and been struck down by a drunk driver. With her pelvis shattered, the recovery and rehabilitation had been brutal—and Marcus had been the coldest, most relentless Chris had ever seen him. To this day, Alex rarely talks about the accident or the fact that the case still remains unsolved, despite every rock their department had overturned and the reward money they had all chipped in to offer for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
The lunch ended on a less bitter note, with Marcus telling Pike the story of the rookie and the drunk tank along with a few other hilarious events he missed, and they parted on good terms.
Now Chris is on Palmetto Row, the name of the downtown street catering to little vintage shops that have seen way too much criminal activity in the past month. Contrary to his usual investigative style, Pike starts with the latest robbery and works his way backwards down the list. As he gathers information from the shop owners (or verifies what Marcus had already noted), he jots down a few thoughts of his own, additional questions or speculations he needs to address with the lab or some of the informants he has garnered over the years. Unfortunately there is no particular pattern which jumps out at him as he reviews the material other than the basic motive of some young punks desiring to start their criminal careers. That leaves him shaking his head in consternation. Maybe it was gang-related activity?
As he is pondering this angle while exiting the second-to-last store he had planned to visit, a familiar prickling starts between his shoulder blades. He developed the sense for being watched about his fifth year as a police officer, and rarely has it led him astray. He walks a few more steps before abruptly turning around on the sidewalk. However there is nothing out of the ordinary: a woman and child leaving a parked car; a traffic officer writing a parking ticket; a kid in a hoodie zooming along on a skateboard.
Chris shakes his head and keeps going. It could be nothing, maybe a curious bystander staring at him for too long.
The final and very first victim is a high-end pawn shop situated between a local art gallery and a children's clothing store. As Pike enters the pawn shop, the feeling of being watched immediately dissipates, leaving him face to face with a young man snapping gum between his teeth. The clerk doesn't seem interested in anything but his comic book until Chris flashes his badge. Then the guy calls the owner up to the front of the store. They recount the morning of the incident, when they had opened shop only to discover it had been vandalized and robbed during the night.
As the owner walks Chris around the shop, showing him the new window installations and the broken security camera in the corner, the man points out, "I told all this to that grisly-looking detective."
"I'm taking over the case from Lieutenant Marcus," Chris explains. "I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today. I know it can be exasperating, having to answer the same questions again."
The owner shrugs slightly. "I just want to feel safe, Detective. Thought it was bad enough that my windows got smashed up but now people are being cautious about shopping in this area. It's hurting my business."
"I can understand. The Chief of Police, in conjunction with my captain, mandated nightly patrols for most of the downtown, which seems to have curtailed the activity for now." He doesn't mention the nightly patrols had only begun recently. "Don't worry, though," he adds with feeling, "we will catch these punks."
The man looks at Pike for a second, chewing the inside of his cheek. "For some reason," he says at length, "I believe you."
"Good." Chris checks his watch. "I won't keep you any longer." He closes his notebook and pockets it, offering his hand for the owner to shake. "Thank you again for your time, sir. I or another officer may come by with more questions."
"Okay if you do."
Chris leaves the pawn shop then, sighing as the door swings shut behind him. "Careful, Chris," he reminds himself softly, "don't make promises you can't keep."
When he returns to his squad car, he radios into the station then takes his notebook out again. Flipping through it, he wonders if there's a chance he could make it to a steak dinner after all. Normally Pike tries not to take his work home but if it means he can have one more meal with Jim, he may just need to. Plus, wouldn't it be smart to have a second pair of eyes look over these files? Archer would love that. It would be just like their Academy days.
Having convinced himself, he dials Doreen. She informs that Liu is tied up in a meeting, so Chris leaves a message with her that he won't be returning to the station until morning and can be reached on his cell if anyone needs him. Doreen is happy to pass on the message, saying, "I know how much you're going to miss Jimmy, Chris. Have dinner with him—and pinch his cheeks for me! Tell him I want to meet that boyfriend of his!"
Chuckling, Pike hangs up and fits his car key into the ignition. It's only then that a flash in the rearview mirror catches Pike's attention: sunlight glinting off metal—a chain around someone's neck. The chain's owner stands half-obscured in shadow at the mouth of an alley between the pawn shop and the art gallery. Pike makes a quick appraisal of the fellow before returning his gaze forward—only, in the next instant, to snap back to the reflection. Before his brain has finished processing every tiny detail, he is reaching for the door handle, jerking the key out of the ignition. Heart is in his throat, he hurries across the street. Instinct prompts him to unsnap the tab that keeps his weapon secured in his hostler beneath his jacket.
The swirling pattern beneath the necklace had been blue.
By the time Pike is inside the alleyway, the tattooed man is gone.
Chris stays close to the brick wall, gaze intently skimming his surroundings. His fingers twitch at his side from the sudden adrenaline rush and the mad dash across the street. Sweat begins to cool at his temples. He reaches inside his jacket, briefly touching the butt of his gun, but does not draw it.
Could it have been his imagination? A delusion brought on by his fierce desire to have someone to punish for his son's pain?
Suddenly a trash can tips over midway down the alley and a cat darts into a stack of torn cardboard boxes. Pike releases the breath he had been holding, leans against the wall and closes his eyes in relief.
Would someone follow a police officer in broad daylight? Not likely. No one—especially not an experienced mob boss like Nero—is that stupid.
Chris straightens up and slowly travels the length of the alleyway, hands fisted at his sides. He is almost convinced his imagination had gotten the better of him when he reaches the very end of the narrow alley. There, a sagging rusted door without a knob stands oddly ajar.
Pike stares at it for a long moment, until his gut poses a question of what if that he cannot ignore. He takes out his gun, nudges the door open with a foot, and disappears inside.
He picks up the digital clock; it reads just after midnight. Shuddering once, Jon throws back the covers and pads barefoot to the bathroom. After he rinses away the sweat of a nightmare he can't remember, he returns to the bed.
But there's no point in laying down. He won't settle until he hears from Chris.
Retrieving his phone from a discarded pair of jeans, he dials Pike's cell number. The call goes to voicemail.
"Shit," he mutters softly after an attempt to call Pike's desk phone at the station fares no better. Did Chris really land a case on his first day back that required an all-nighter? Pike had said he might be working late but that didn't sound like 'until the cock crows' to Jon. And at the very least, the man is conscientious enough to leave a text message so no one would worry about him.
Now Jonathan is worried. As he has a moment's debate on what to do next, someone quietly taps upon the bedroom door.
Jon opens it to find a sleepy Jim blinking at him. Kirk murmurs something under his breath and steps past Jon as if sleepwalking. He heads into the bedroom, calling, "Dad?"
As Jon expects, Jim stops dead in the middle of the room.
"Dad?" Jim repeats, this time with more coherency.
"No Dad," Jon confirms, scratching at his head. "He must be at work?" He waits for a response but Kirk just stands there, back to him, in silence.
Sighing, he says, "C'mon, Jim, go back to bed."
Jim turns around. "Did he call you?"
"No." Jon considers the kid's pensive expression with a pang of guilt. "But he is probably working a late shift. Got a lot of catching up to do, you know."
"Not if he didn't call," insists Pike's son. Kirk seems to hesitate, then, rubbing at one of his arms. He starts for the bathroom door, stops, and turns around, going back into the hallway.
Jonathan follows him on instinct, because he saw a glimpse in Jim's eyes that he doesn't like. "Where are you going?" he wants to know when Jim bypasses his own bedroom.
Jim picks up a coat discarded across the back of the couch in the living room.
"Kirk," Jon calls more sharply, striding ahead to plant himself in the path to the front door.
"I'm going to the station," Jim finally replies. He stares Jon down with that implacable look still in his eyes. "Give me your keys."
Jon shakes his head, saying, "Can't, kiddo," then drags in an uncertain breath, coming to a decision that Pike will probably kill him for later. "We are going to the station. I'll drive."
Kirk's implacable look wavers—and he nods. "Just a sec." After going to the kitchen, Jim returns with a pair of sneakers in hand.
Jon rouses the snoring dog in Pike's recliner while Jim dons his shoes. "Porthos, you're in charge now."
Porthos makes a grumpy noise and turns over to go back to sleep.
Jonathan runs his hands over his face and finds an outfit suitable to wear for a middle-of-the-night trip to a downtown police station. "After you," he says once he and Kirk are both ready. Then he locks the deadbolt on the front door behind them and stops on the front stoop long enough to watch Kirk's tall, somewhat bony figure cut through the darkness to the truck parked in the driveway.
A feeling of foreboding presses down on him. A twist in his gut says something's wrong.
Pike is not home.
Why hasn't he come home?