Under an atomic sky
Chris had just settled into a rather odd dream involving an Orion girl who looked suspiciously like Number One and a beast that he recognized as being from Vulcan, riding around a desert that reminded him of the stretch of the Mojave that bursts into life as one leaves Las Vegas, the yucca trees unmoving as the animal and the Number One-esque Orion frolicked around them when a high pitched tone caused the vision to waver. He tried to keep track of the Orion girl, but she rode off on the sehlat (that's what it was called, he knew he had heard the name somewhere) and the beeping wouldn't stop so when he reached out his hand to get the green girl's attention, he got a rude awakening in the form of his hand colliding forcefully with a solid surface.
"Jesus fucking Christ!" Chris pulled back his throbbing appendage and turned his head into his pillow with a groan, clenched his eyes closed and tried to find the desert again, but that incessant beeping kept ringing through his ears. Beeping. What the hell was beeping?
Chris jolted awake, diving for the nightstand he had just crunched his hand into, knocking an empty glass and a PADD off its surface before he reached his comm unit; snapping it open without looking at the incoming caller ID. "Pike." For a long moment, there was no response, and Chris bit back a sigh. "It's too early for this shit," he mumbled, and reached up to shut the communicator.
"C...Chris?" The voice was female, and sounded off. Chris racked his brain to recognize it.
"Chris, are you there?"
Recognition came like a bolt of lightning. "Winnie? Is that you?" Chris was completely awake now, listening to the breathing coming through the communicator.
"...sorry to call you like this, Chris. I just wanted someone to talk to. I can't talk to Frank." Winona's voice is shaking less, but there was something in her tone that made a chill run up his spine. "God, Chris, how long has it been? You went off on that ship of yours, and I...I..."
Chris couldn't take it anymore. "Winnie, what's wrong?"
A sharp intake of breath was the only response, and Chris set the communicator on the nightstand and pulled on his pants, too concerned to even notice that he had managed to get into them without tripping like he always does in the morning. "Winnie..."
"He's my little angel, you know? Everyone told me that I was so blessed to have such a beautiful child as a last gift from George, and I know it's true...my little angel..." Winona's voice dropped in timbre, the last three words sounding like she was reading an obituary, and Chris threw a shirt over his head and grabbed the comm.
"Where are you, Winnie? Are you at home? Is Jimmy alright?" Chris could not stop the worry that was rushing to fill his chest, and Winona's next words made it grow to a pounding fear.
"He's my little angel, Chris. I just never thought it would be so...true."
Chris turned on his computer console and put in an emergency request for a private shuttle for immediate use while Winona was talking, grabbing his ID and communicator while he headed for the door. "Talk to me, Winnie. Tell me what's happening."
"I...I can't do this anymore, Chris. Frank doesn't understand, nobody understands. Jimmy, he...god." Her voice hitched, and Chris clenched his jaw as the door closed behind him.
Chris flagged down a taxi, muting the comm from his end as he gave the driver instructions. He had only been dirtside for a week, enjoying his extended shore leave while the Yorktown was in Spacedock for a series of upgrades. He hadn't made many plans, and they certainly hadn't included rushing to Iowa to...he didn't know what he was doing. He unmuted the comm. "Winnie, I'm going to come over, alright? Sounds like you need someone to talk to, and I haven't seen you in awhile." Chris attempted to keep his tone light, but he could hear the shudder in the words. He just hoped that she couldn't.
"Come over? Maybe...that isn't a good idea Chris. I mean, the house is a mess, I just got back from Spacedock, and Frank...I don't want to fight with him again." Winona spoke much faster than before, her breathing more audible than ever over the small device. "I need to figure out what to do with Jimmy, and clean the house, and...Jimmy."
Chris handed the taxi driver the required credits as he exited the cab and quickly entered the Starfleet shuttle docks, running his ID through the reader. As he walked towards the small shuttle, he lifted the comm to his mouth. "Just talk with me, Winnie. What's going on with Jimmy? Problems at school? Problems with his stepfather?"
Winona laughed then, a harsh sound that carried no mirth. "All of the above, Chris. He's so special, so perfect...he's too smart for his classes, Frank can't handle him. He's been even worse since I got him back from that damn colony."
The shuttle rumbled to life, and Chris lifted off, leaving San Francisco behind as the shuttle sped towards Iowa. He almost didn't notice Winona's last statement. Chris's hands almost slipped on the controls when his brain processed it, but before he could speak, Winona's voice came through again.
"They killed my sister, Chris. They almost killed my boys. Sam has been doing alright, as well as can be expected...but Jimmy has been impossible, according to Frank. I mean, he drove George's car off the quarry cliff, the police officer said he had never seen anything like it; Jimmy just jumped from it right before it went over, the officer said it was like he knew he would be fine, and now...I think I see why." Winona stopped with a choking sound, and Chris willed the shuttle to go faster.
"Winnie, is Jimmy alright? Did this just happen?" Chris could barely focus on piloting the shuttle as Winona spoke, and horror was swiftly joining the worry in his gut. No answer, and Chris tried to stay calm. "Winona? Is Jimmy alright?"
"The car thing happened over a month ago, Chris, I just got back....a real angel, Chris, that's what he is, I can't handle him. Angels should be with their own, yeah? Chris? He's always been different, Chris. Smarter, sharper, with those eyes that see right through you. Frank is scared of him, Chris. I...think I might be too."
Chris would later wonder how he had managed to keep calm during the two and a half hour flight to Riverside, trying to keep Winona talking while piloting the shuttle. As soon as he touched down, he transferred to a vehicle and sped towards Winona's house, saying every damn thing he could think of just to hear her reply. He hadn't been out there in over five years, but he navigated the flat landscape like he had just been there yesterday. When he was about five minutes away, Winona spoke up one last time, her voice flat and pinched.
"Angels...belong in heaven, right... Chris? I think it would be better for him. This isn't his world, Chris. He's not like the rest of us...he's in pain being here, Chris. I..." Chris felt his blood run cold, and he slammed the gas pedal to the floor.
"Winnie, listen to me. Let me to talk to Jimmy, maybe you two just need some time apart. I can take him for awhile, Winnie, just...let me talk to him." He was babbling now, but he needed to keep her distracted. "Winnie?"
Another laugh, this one breaking off into a sob. "He can't talk right now, Chris. He's, he's asleep."
Chris nearly slammed into the front of the old farmhouse in his distraction, but managed to stop the car and get out. "Winnie, I'm coming in. Don't do anything, I'll talk to you inside." The door was unlocked; he eased it open and stepped in. He opened his mouth to call to Winona, when he saw a shadow lying at the base of the stairs. He had only met Frank at the wedding over five years ago, but he recognized the motionless form, and his own pulse jumped. A quick touch to the man's neck revealed that he was only unconscious, and Chris let out a soft sigh. The house was dark, and he moved cautiously. "Winnie? Where are you?"
"In here, Chris." her broken voice responded from the next room. He approached the door with a trepidation that did not help his nerves. A smell Chris knew well came to his attention as he approached, and his chest tightened.
"Winnie, I'm going to turn on the light." Chris felt the wall for the switch, damning the lack of technology in the old farmhouse as his fingers bumped into the switch. The wall was tacky to the touch, and his fingers felt wet as he flipped it on.
When his eyes adjusted to the light, the scene laid out before made him forget how to breathe. To his left, Winona Kirk sat on the edge of an old sofa, her pale fingers wrapped around a Starfleet-issued phaser, her eyes staring at the ground at her feet. Chris noticed the small specks that seemed to coat her and everything around her, and he brought his fingers up to his face. The dark red flecks on the tips of his fingers were already dry, and Chris let his eyes drop from his fingers to follow the spatter to its source. His feet moved before he realized it, and he dropped to his knees beside the slender form as the sickening smell of drying blood attacked his nostrils. With hands that were starting to shake, he reached out and pulled off the towel that was draped across Jim Kirk's shoulders and torso.
"My god." The boy's back was covered in a fine coating of blood, and on his back was--
"What did I tell you, Chris? He's a little angel." Winona bit back what sounded like a laugh, and the edge of hysteria in her voice brought Chris to his feet.
"Let me have the phaser, Winnie." Chris approached her slowly, but she didn't move as he reached down and pulled her fingers away from the weapon. It had been set to kill, and Chris shuddered as he disabled it. Shoving it into his pocket, he returned to Jim Kirk's side. He grabbed the towel and began to wipe at the blood, revealing ragged skin and tiny, cherubic wings that looked demonic until he removed the gore that covered them. Wings. James T. Kirk, a child borne in the midst of a horrible tragedy that had claimed both his father and, Chris believed, a large part of his mother, had sprouted wings. They were too small to be of use, perhaps less than a meter long each, but they were fully formed, white feathers laced with gold streaks appeared as Chris cleaned the gristle off. Despite the blood that appeared to have coated every surface of the room at first glance, Jim was only a bit pale, his breathing steady and strong. By all appearances, he had simply passed out. "When did this happen, Winnie?"
Winona was looking towards the door Chris had entered through, her eyes red and unfocused. When she didn't respond, Chris turned back to Jim and gently lifted the thin boy into his arms, being careful to avoid touching the new appendages. The jostling brought a moan to Jim's lips, and Chris stopped moving as Jim's eyes, still that amazing shade of blue, opened and attempted to focus.
"Whassgoinon...?" Jim stiffened, and Chris lowered him back to the floor.
"Hey, Jimmy, you remember me? I saw you last at your mom's wedding, remember?" Chris retained his hold on the boy, but loosened his grip. Jim's eyes scanned his face, and then he nodded.
Chris gave a slight smile and nodded. "Call me Chris, Jimmy. Why don't we get you cleaned up." It was the wrong thing to say, as Jim's eyes grew wide as he noticed the carnage around him; with a cry, he flung himself out of Chris's arms, scrambling to his feet and darted his head around, the fear on his face growing more obvious with each passing second.
"Mom? Mom, what's going on? Why is there blood everywhere?" Jim walked toward where his mother was sitting, and reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. With a strangled cry, Winona's hand snapped up and slapped her son's hand from its resting place.
"Don't! Don't...Jimmy, go...go with Chris. Let him help you get cleaned up." The alarm in Winona's voice caused Jim to stumble backwards, and she kept her gaze firmly set at the doorway. Jim's hand was still raised, but he stayed where he was.
"Mom?" Jim's voice had become rough, and his eyes were beginning to water. As he blinked rapidly, he reached a hand and scratched at a spot on his lower back, below the wings. "My back feels weird."
That may be the understatement of the century, Chris thought, as he moved next to Jim, watching the small hand move closer to the edge of the new flesh. He decided to speak up before Jim finished his exploration. "Jimmy, I'm going to be honest with you." Chris noted a mirror on the far side of the room, away from the blood and confusion, and he laid a hand on Jim's shoulder and started moving him towards it. "Your mom called after...well, you can see for yourself." Chris let go of Jim and moved a pace away, allowing Jim to view himself in the mirror.
Jim looked at his reflection straight on, his befuddlement clear to Chris. "What the hell, I don't-" His voice broke off with a gasp as he pivoted his torso, the red-stained feathers coming into view. He stared at his reflection wordlessly after that, twisting his body and craning his head over his shoulders to look at the new limbs. His face screwed itself into an ugly smirk, and Chris grew worried all over again. "I guess I get to be an even bigger freak now! Not enough to be a skinny freak, I get to have wings now too! Shit!" Jim kicked at the wall, causing the mirror to shift on its mounting. The outburst appeared to contain all the energy Jim had left, and he staggered back from the recoil into Chris's chest. Chris immediately wrapped an arm around the boy's waist, and Jim sagged in his grasp, breathing in shaking gasps. "Mr. Pike..."
"Chris, Jim. Chris is fine."
Jim took a deep breath and started again. "C-Chris, I've got wings."
Chris rested his free hand on Jim's head, lightly stroking through the long sun-bleached locks. Flecks of dried blood were dislodged from the motion, and Chris grimaced. "Let's get you cleaned up, Jimmy. We'll let your mom relax down here for a bit." Without waiting for a reply, he guided Jim out of the room, leaving its crime scene feelings behind. Chris had completely forgotten about Frank, and almost tripped over him at the base of the stairs. He saw Jim's eyes widen again, and he was quick to assuage him. "Just unconscious, Jim. Looks like he tripped." Stunned was more likely, but Jim didn't need to know that.
"Ah, okay." Jim's voice had taken on a floating tone, and Chris was pretty damn sure that the boy was going into shock. Stepping over Frank's still form, he got both of them up the stairs without further incident.
"Where's your bathroom, Jimmy?" Chris looked down at the crown of Jim's head, and when he didn't get an answer, he tapped the top of the kid's head with his chin. "Bathroom, Jim. Where is it?"
"Oh, uh, second door on the left. I...I have my own."
Chris maneuvered them through the designated door. Jim's room was surprisingly spartan. It contained items that he would expect in a boy's room, a few toys, a stack of PADDs, some assorted sports equipment with various levels of wear, but there were no pictures, no school awards, and Chris's lips tightened at the sight. He didn't have time to dwell on it, however, and he led Jim into the bathroom. The boy was already shirtless, but he was covered in blood spatter. "Jim, we need to get you out of those pants." Jim looked up at him, and slowly brought his hands to the waistband of his trousers, pushing them and his underwear down in one motion. He stepped into the small shower, and Chris turned on the spray; the water immediately turned pink around Jim's ankles, and Chris watched the shell-shocked expression relax as the shower beat down on Jim's face and shoulders. His wings were still filthy, however, and Chris tapped his finger on Jim's shoulder.
"Yeah?" Jim looked like he was about to fall asleep, and Chris reached over and grabbed a bottle of shampoo.
"Let me help you with your hair and your, er, wings before you fall asleep standing up." Chris met Jim's eyes, and when the boy nodded, he got to work. After giving Jim's hair a through scrubbing, he turned him around so his back was to the showerhead. Jim immediately flinched, and a hiss escaped his throat. Chris pointed the showerhead down. "Sensitive?"
Jim nodded, but said nothing. Chris made a soft noise in the back of his throat. "I'm sorry, Jim, but I think you are going to have to bear it for a few minutes. I need the spray to help clean all this gunk off of you." No answer, and Chris angled the showerhead back up after adjusting the pressure down. As he worked his hands over the boy's back and wings, he began to think about the future. Jimmy couldn't stay here, at least for awhile; Winona's state of mind was unstable at best regarding her youngest son at the moment, and he didn't want Jim to end up a sad statistic, or further scarred by the situation. The boy already had enough pain to deal with. Why had Jim and Sam been on Tarsus? She said Sam was doing alright, but-.
Chris startled, and jabbed his fingers a bit too forcefully into the wing bones, causing Jim to gasp. He murmured an apology, and continued working. Where was Sam? "Jim, where is your brother?"
Jim shrugged. "I think he's at Gramma's house."
Chris exhaled. "Alright. Say, Jim-"
"You're taking me with you, aren't you? I don't think Mom wants me here anymore, and I don't want to deal with Frank." Jim twisted his head around to look over his shoulder at Chris, and Chris nodded without thinking about it.
"I think you and your Mother just need some time apart, to let things calm down. As for Frank, I don't really know what to say, Jim. Maybe a few weeks." Chris gave the wings one last once-over, and turned off the water.
Jim snorted, and reached for a towel. "It's not going to be just a few weeks, Chris. I'm not an idiot. Frank will have me shipped off to a lab or something so fast I'll get whiplash. I mean, he was planning to send me off to some boarding school program without telling Mom. She just found out earlier today, right before...this happened." Jim motioned in the general direction of his back as he stepped out of the shower, towel wrapped around his waist.
Chris headed back to the bathroom, looking out the window as Jim rifled through his drawers for clothing. "What am I gonna do for a shirt?" Chris turned around and pursed his lips. Jim stood in the center of the room in old jeans holding a t-shirt, and looked a bit lost.
"You are taking this a lot better than I thought you would." Chris reentered the bathroom, and after a moment of searching emerged with a roll of elastic bandages. "This is probably going to be a bit uncomfortable, but we'll figure out something better later."
"I can handle it." Chris raised an eyebrow, and started wrapping the bandages around Jim's torso and wings, flattening them against his back.
"I'm sure you can, Jimmy, considering I heard an interesting story about you driving a car off a cliff. Why did you do that?" Chris said, and watched as Jim bristled at the questioning tone in his voice.
"Frank was going to sell it! It's not his, he didn't have the right." As soon as Chris finished, Jim pulled the t-shirt over his head, and went and looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. "It looks like I have a hump."
It did, but Chris decided not to vocalize his agreement to Jim's statement. "The car wasn't yours, either. It was your mother's." Jim scoffed, and pulled a duffel out of his closet, and began stuffing things into it as Chris watched.
"She didn't care about it, it was just a memory. It was beginning to rust in the barn, until Frank started working on it. At first, I thought it was cool, you know? That he was going to fix it up. I even hoped I'd be able to drive it someday. But I realized that he was just getting it ready to sell, and I couldn't let him." Jim shook his head, and grabbed a few of the PADDs, shoving them in the bag with his clothes. "I'm ready."
Chris's eyes widened. "That was fast."
Jim was already at the door to the bedroom. "I don't have much."
"Do you have a jacket in there?" Chris said, and glanced towards the closet.
Jim rolled his eyes. "Just a thin one. It's still warm outside."
Chris grabbed a long coat out of the closet, and tossed it to Jim, who caught it with his head. "You need it to help keep your new body parts out of view, Jim. Not for the weather."
"Oh, yeah." Jim slung it over his arm, and the two of them walked downstairs. Frank was still unconscious, but he was groaning and shuddering on the floor. They needed to leave. Jim fell back behind Chris as they reentered the room where Chris had found him. Winona had cleaned up while they were upstairs, the blood all but gone from the various surfaces. Chris could see a few spots she had missed, but they were small.
"Winona?" Chris said, and the shadow in the doorway leading to the kitchen froze.
"How's...how's Jim?" Winona stayed where she was, and Chris sighed.
"He's right here, Winnie." Chris could hear her intake of breath, and watched with a sudden bolt of sadness as she moved backwards toward the kitchen. Behind him, he heard a sound that sounded suspiciously like a sniffle, and his shoulders crumpled. "I'm going to take Jimmy for awhile, okay? Let things calm down here. I'll call you in a week or so." Chris turned and put a hand on Jim's shoulder, feeling the tiny tremors that he was obviously trying to resist. "We should go, Jim. Before your stepfather wakes up and we have more issues to deal with."
"He doesn't know." Winona had moved into the room enough to discern her face from the darkness, but nowhere near either of them. "I stunned him before he could get in the room."
Chris nodded, and headed towards the front door. "It would be best for it to remain that way." He opened the front door, and looked back. "I'll leave your phaser out here, Winnie. You know how to fix it." Chris stepped outside and set the phaser on the banister on the front porch, then turned back to see Jim hovering in the threshold. "Jim?"
Jim looked back into the house and opened his mouth, but nothing came out. After a long uncomfortable moment, Jim walked out on the front porch, closing the door behind him. Without a word, the two got into the car Chris had requisitioned, and Chris started it up. As the vehicle moved away from the farmhouse, Chris took one last look at the front door through his rear-view mirror. He needn't have bothered.
Jim stayed quiet even after they switched from the car to the shuttle, and Chris navigated the flight path back to San Francisco in silence. About thirty minutes outside the city, Jim finally spoke. "Do you know why I have wings all of a sudden?" Jim looked over at Chris, who double-checked his controls before settling back into his seat.
"I have an idea. I'll have to get some equipment to confirm it, but I have a feeling I'm right." At Jim's look, he continued. "You know about the x-gene?"
Jim nodded. "It's the gene that was forced into dormancy a few hundred years ago through drugs, right? The one that gave people weird abilities?"
Chris nodded back, scratching his chin. "It's been about two-hundred years since the last person with an active x-gene was born. I think the current estimate is that over fifty percent of the population has it, but, again, dormant. The United Earth government denies it now, but it's pretty well accepted that the drug regime was not a choice for the people at that time."
Jim shuffled, leaning forward to keep his back from touching the seat. "It's because I was born in space, isn't it?"
"I don't think it is because you were born in space, but because you were born in the midst of a disaster of unparalleled proportions. I saw some of the readings that were transmitted before everything went...sideways, Jim. There were intense levels of radiation, some types Starfleet hasn't the faintest clue even now as to what it was. A shuttlecraft is not as shielded as a starship, it wouldn't be unfeasible that you got a dose of radiation at your birth." Chris said, as he took the controls and began the descent into San Francisco.
"I started feeling weird after the car thing. My back kept itching, but I didn't wanna say anything." Jim wiggled in his seat as if to empathise this, his back still angled away from the back of the seat.
"Your mom and stepfather were in a fight earlier, weren't they?"
Jim sneered at the statement, and looked out the window. "Yeah. It started after I brought up the boarding school thing. Mom doesn't like when Frank fucks with us without her input."
"Jim, that's inappropriate."
Jim snorted at Chris's tone. "It's true. He was going to send us both away years ago, it was mom's compromise with him to send us to stay with her sister. And that turned out so well."
There was nothing Chris could say to that.
The next week confirmed what Chris had suspected with some acquired medical equipment. Jim's x-gene was active, and it was still causing physical changes. Jim's wings doubled in size within the week, leaving the eleven-year old mostly bedridden with muscle cramping and spasms. He lost several kilograms, and the tricorder revealed that his bones were losing density, the marrow dissolving to hollow them out. His body was preparing itself for flight, even though Jim could only make his wings twitch at this point.
On the ninth day, Chris called Winona. She asked him to take Jim permanently; he argued about his position not being practical for taking in a kid, but she knew he had leeway due to his position as Captain on the Yorktown. Jim's choices were either staying with him or going off-planet somewhere, and the latter option didn't have his mother in the equation. There was no choice there, and Chris agreed to keep Jim with him. She talked to Jim with the video feed off, and Jim's lack of surprise at the situation made Chris want to cry for the boy. He settled on a squeeze of the shoulders and making whatever Jim wanted for dinner.
After three weeks, Jim could move his wings enough to glide from the top of the stairs to the second story of his house to the bottom. The joyous grin that Jim shot him after he successfully landed made Chris think that maybe, just maybe, this would all work out.
He knew he would get summoned to the Admiralty after he put in a request for expansion of his quarters on the Yorktown. It took them longer than he thought it would, and a month after taking Jim from Iowa, he walked into a conference room at Starfleet Command.
"Take a seat, Captain." Admiral Nogura motioned, and Chris followed the command. Admiral Lehrer had a bemused look on his face, but then he had never known the man to have anything but; Commodore Newton looked like she would rather be somewhere else. Chris was in the middle of wondering if she still sponsored the cadet chorale at the academy when Nogura cleared his throat.
"Captain, this should be a short meeting, we don't want to keep you from your leave too long." Nogura jabbed his finger at a PADD sitting in front of him, and motioned to Newton with his free hand. "Commodore."
The fair-skinned blond woman leaned forward, scanning the information on a PADD in front of her as she opened her mouth. "Good to see you again, Captain Pike." Newton said, nodding to Chris who smiled and nodded in return. "We just have a few questions regarding your sudden request to have a bedroom added to your quarters aboard the Yorktown. You have stated that your reasoning is that your son will be joining you; this would generally not be an issue, as the Yorktown has available room, but in that this is the first time we have heard of you having a son, and we are concerned that this may be a decision that has not been thoroughly considered." The Commodore looked at Chris with a raised brow, and Chris stiffened his back.
"I am the only person James has left. He is an incredibly intelligent boy, he will do just fine in space." Chris met Newton's eyes, and she smirked.
"That is all well and good, Captain, but you didn't answer the question. Is there anywhere else that this boy can go? Joining you on-board ship should be a last resort, not a first choice. Starfleet has always maintained that space is not a suitable place to raise children, which I am sure you are aware of." Nogura and Lehrer's eyes reflected the same question, and Chris closed his eyes for a moment.
"Captain, we apologize for the intrusion of your privacy, but your request involves Starfleet property, and as such we simply wish to confirm that this is the best solution for all sides." Admiral Lehrer's droll tones were actually a bit soothing, and Chris felt himself relax.
"His mother is...gone, and my mother is in no condition to raise a child. I have no intention of leaving him in a boarding school either, I do not believe that would be a wise move for him." Chris said, spreading his hands apart palms-up like he was delivering a benediction. Lehrer smiled in response, his eyes echoing the expression under the old-fashioned spectacles.
"Works for me, Captain. Gentlemen?" Newton nodded, and Chris looked at Nogura, forcing down a reaction to the older man's expression. Nogura's chin was resting on his knuckles, his eyes boring into Chris. Lehrer cocked an eyebrow at the exchange. "Admiral?"
Nogura held his gaze for another beat, before dropping his hands and nodding. "I think we have asked what was needed." Nogura glanced at both Admiral Lehrer and Commodore Newton while he rose to his feet. "Any last questions?"
"No, I think we've inconvenienced Captain Pike enough. If you will excuse me, Captain." Lehrer gave him a slight smile, and departed.
Newton came up to Chris and stopped abreast, placing her hand on his shoulder. "If you need anything, Chris, let me know." She patted his shoulder, then headed out of the room. "Come by and visit, Chris, I miss hearing that lovely voice of yours!" Newton's voice faded as she grew further away, and Chris chuckled under his breath. He forgot about Nogura for a long moment. That was a mistake, as he looked up to see that the man was flanking him. Chris never heard him move, and he barely refrained from jumping.
"Pike. You never struck me as the type to impregnate and run, to put it bluntly." Nogura's expression was disapproving, and Chris suddenly felt like he was being cornered by his father. The man only had fifteen years on him, for fuck's sake!
Unable to completely hide his opinion of Nogura's statement, Chris ground his teeth together and did not respond, and Nogura snorted as he walked by. "Forgive me, Captain; it isn't my business. I wish you luck with your son, I'll see you back here at the end of your leave." Chris didn't move as the Admiral left the room, and it was a long moment before he let his jaw relax.
Nogura's response was what he expected, but it was a different thing to actually hear it. As long as he continued to do his job to the best of his abilities, they couldn't officially use this against him.
He would just have to do that much better then. He wouldn't give them a chance to use Jim against him. Neither Jim or he deserved it. Letting loose a sigh, Chris strode from the room and left the building, noting the heat that was unusual for this time of year. Chris suddenly wondered if Jim's new wings would molt, as he turned towards the car park to head home.
"Chrissy!" A solid weight slammed into him from behind, and he would have tumbled to the ground if there wasn't an arm around his waist keeping him upright.
"Goddamnit, John! Warn a man before you body-check them, please!" Chris twisted out of the arm's reach, glaring at the laughing face that owned it. Jonathan Archer waved a hand in dismissal.
"But it's so much more fun to watch you bluster, Chrissy." Archer slung his arm through Chris's, and they continued together on the path to the car park. "So what's this I hear about a kid? You've requested an expansion of your quarters and everything. I suppose this is why you've been scarce the last month?" Chris looked away from Archer as he blasted him with questions, and Archer trailed off. "Chris, what's going on? How old is this kid? I barely remember you emerging from classes and studying to go to the Starfleet Academy-sponsored events, let alone go out enough to, well, sow your wild oats around." Archer paused, his voice dropping to a concerned tone. "Do you need any help?"
Chris gave Archer a wan smile, and shook his head. "No, I'm doing alright. It was just all very sudden. He's an amazing kid, really smart. He's got a- I guess you would call it a birth defect, but it's only cosmetic. I think he'll do better among adults." Archer's eyes grew wide, and Chris squeezed his arm.
"A birth defect? Chris, that's really rare these days. Was his mom not taking care of him?" Archer said, coming to a stop at the entrance to the car park.
"Nothing to be done about it, there's no treatment. His mom was...she just couldn't take care of him anymore. He's pretty self-reliant, so I am staying positive about the whole affair." Chris walked into the car park, Archer at his heels. "He's eleven, before you ask again."
Archer sped up and walked beside Chris, a thoughtful expression on his face. "You would have been...25. You were stationed on the Wellington at that time for your practical in command training, where in the hell did you get time?"
Chris opened the door of his car, sliding into the driver's seat without looking up at Archer. "Come now, John, I wasn't a monk." Chris started the car, then looked back up at Archer, who was leaning against the side. "I'll talk to you later, alright? Maybe you can come to dinner sometime, you can meet him then."
Archer slapped the top of the car and took a step back, nodding. "Sounds like a plan, Chrissy." Archer smiled, and gave a casual salute. "Talk with you soon, Captain."
Chris smiled and returned the salute. "Of course, Admiral." He threw the car into drive and left Starfleet Command, trying to ignore the worried look of his older friend in the rear-view camera. Chris hated lying, but he hoped that John wouldn't focus on the fact that he barely gave a straight answer to any of his questions. He didn't think it would go over well with Starfleet to say that he had been given custody of James T. Kirk.
Jim had been surprisingly acquiescent about the whole affair, and as the time grew nearer to going back into the black, Chris had a growing sense of dread that the boy was going to snap. As his remaining shore leave dwindled to two weeks, Jim continued to be well-behaved and tolerant, even throughout medical tests. His changes had stabilized, and Chris was sure that the wings would grow with Jim as he did. At the two-month mark since picking Jim up, the tension that Chris had been happy pretending didn't exist sprung to the forefront in a glorious explosion, one that Chris was sure only a preteen could enact so perfectly.
"Jim, stay out of the guest bedroom, the security windows are malfunctioning." Chris announced loudly as he headed to the kitchen to scrounge up some lunch for the two of them. He didn't notice the sudden silence that had overtaken the upstairs after he spoke, but he did notice the sound of Jim flapping his wings lightly as he glided down to the bottom floor. "Jim, what do you want for lunch?"
"Am I that embarrassing to you?" Chris turned around to see Jim, his wings half-raised, with a deep scowl on his face. Chris was speechless, which gave Jim opportunity to continue. "Afraid someone is gonna see me? Mess up your career for taking care of the freak?" Jim's voice rose in volume as he spoke, and he spun around and kicked the kitchen doorjamb, which snapped Chris out of his shock.
"Jim, it's not about me. I thought we were doing this so you wouldn't be shipped off to a lab or something by your stepfather. Am I wrong?" Chris raised his hands, trying to calm the boy down.
Jim snarled and kicked the wall, sending a painting falling to the floor. "Well, it's not much different than here, is it? I've been stuck here for two months! I've almost never gone out, I have to wear this stupid corset thing if I do, and I never see anybody but you!" Jim rounded on Chris, wings spread as far as they would fit, and Chris felt a strong stab of guilt. Jim was right; Chris had all but confined him to the house since he had picked him up, and what kid wanted to be cooped up all day? Especially a kid like Jim, who had grown up in the wide-open spaces of Iowa farmland.
"Jim, look, I'm sorry. I'm new to this too. You have to tell me these things, otherwise I'm going to assume that you are doing okay." Chris moved closer to Jim, who looked like he was deciding whether to run or not. "Jim..."
"Shut up, just- shut up! Why do you even care, anyway? I hadn't seen you since mom got married to that bastard, yet suddenly you are right there when everything goes to shit! Why weren't you there for Tarsus? Why weren't you there to save dad's car? Why now!" Jim was close enough that Chris was getting a coating of his spit, but Chris stood his ground. "Why now, Captain!" Jim was screaming now, his eyes were dilated and his breath was coming in harsh gasps.
Chris's shoulders slumped, but he met Jim's eyes. "Jim, I didn't know. I've been on assignment, and I hadn't heard anything from your mother." It was not what Jim wanted to hear.
"You, you, shut up!" Chris didn't even see Jim's wing descending on him until it was too late; Chris was slammed hard into the cupboard doors, the force of the blow knocking the air out of him. Chris slumped to the ground and gasped for breath, the sound echoing in the quiet kitchen. "C-Chris?" Jim's voice was whisper-quiet and weak, but Chris couldn't concentrate enough to raise his head to look at him. "Chris?" A shaking hand entered his vision, brushing his cheek. "Chris, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean it, I'm just so tired of all of this, I-" Chris looked up to see Jim on his knees in front of him, his entire body shaking as he looked at Chris.
Chris coughed, and winced at a painful twinge that lanced through his back. He was going to feel it later, but it wasn't important now. Chris raised his arms, put his hands on the back of Jim's neck and shoulders, and pulled him until Jim's head was resting under his chin. Jim stiffened and started to push himself away, but Chris tightened his grip. Chris said nothing, and ran his fingers through the boy's hair until he felt the tension uncoil from the smaller body. Jim began to shudder, and Chris closed his eyes as the first sob erupted from the boy. He held Jim as he cried; he felt his own eyes stinging with unshed tears, but he held them back. After Chris's shirt was completely soaked through, Jim pulled himself back, and wiped at his eyes.
Chris gave a reassuring smile and patted Jim on the cheek. "I know." He ran his thumb across Jim's cheekbone, and Jim leaned his head against the large hand. "Why don't I get something together for us for lunch, and I'll tell you about an idea I just thought up for getting us outside." Jim nodded, and Chris pulled himself to his feet and tried to ignore the twinge that made itself known. Guilt flashed through Jim's face, and Chris chuckled. "If you want to apologize, think on ways of controlling that temper so we don't have to have a repeat of this result, hmm?"
Jim gave a subdued nod. "Yes sir."
Chris walked to the refrigerator and peered in. "Two questions, Jim. First, what would you like to eat, and secondly, would you like to meet an old friend of mine?"
Admiral Jonathan Archer was Jim's new favorite person by the end of dinner. John was naturally funny and charming, and the eleven-year old soaked it up like a sponge. Jim stuck perfectly to the agreed back-story, skirting around any probing questions with an ease that warned Chris to watch out for that in the future. After dinner, John convinced Chris to break out the guitar and sing a song or two, which shocked Jim.
Chris laughed and pulled the instrument out of its case. "I try, anyway."
John snorted, waving his hand in Chris's direction. "That creature over there used to be kidnapped regularly by every music-based group back at Starfleet Academy, don't listen to a word he says."
"Thanks for the support, John." Chris deadpanned, as he tuned the guitar.
"That's what I'm here for, Chrissy."
Jim almost choked on his drink. "Chrissy?"
Chris glared at John. "Don't even think about it, kid."
John burst into laughter over Jim's responding 'awww,' and Chris quirked a smile.
"Any requests?" Chris said, as he plucked a few strings. Jim shook his head, and John waggled a finger.
"Thrill us, Chris."
Jim sat entranced as Chris broke into a lilting introduction on the guitar, his fingers danced down the strings as a mournful and defiant tone reverberated through the air. Chris shot a look at John as he played; the man had leaned back against the coffee table and closed his eyes, letting the music become his world; Chris began to sing about a minute and a half in, a song about a woman who was never happy with what her man did for her, and Chris felt his heart calm itself in its tones. He should have done this months ago, but he was too preoccupied in figuring out the technicalities of Jim's presence; Jim had been too busy trying to pretend he was unaffected by the drastic changes he had just suffered. Chris never thought he would be a father, but Jim deserved his best. Not just because he was the son of a good friend, but because Jim was Jim. The kid had clearly not had a good run of it so far, Chris would be damned if he would make it worse. He let the last words, "...how blue can you get?" sound in the air, and resolved that if this afternoon was the nadir of their relationship, he would make sure it didn't return.
The room was silent as the last notes of the song filled the room. John's eyes were still closed, and Chris looked over at Jim to see the boy's mouth hanging open. "You are going to attract flies, Jim."
Jim's mouth snapped closed, and he shot Chris a dirty look. "That was amazing! How come you've never done it before?" The accusation in his voice made Chris's heart ache, and he gave Jim a sad smile.
"I guess I've been too caught up with other things. I'll try to sing more often." Chris said, as John sat up and gave Chris a slap on the shoulder, then rose to his feet.
"You get better every time I hear you, old man." Archer groaned as he stretched his arms to the ceiling, and cracked his neck from side to side. "I'm afraid I need to get going, you two."
Jim stood up with a tiny pout on his face. "Already? You just got here!" The whine was childish and heartfelt, and Chris felt a small return of that earlier guilt.
John gave Jim a wide smile, and held out a hand. "I've got work, unfortunately. Enjoy your youth, Jim, soon enough you'll be stuck being grownup and boring with the rest of us."
Jim took the offered hand, and gave it a shake. "It was good to meet you, sir." Jim paused, and smirked. "You aren't boring, sir; and I'll never let myself become boring."
"I look forward to seeing you maintain that creed, Jim." John gave a cocky salute to the boy, who grinned and mirrored the action right back. John met Chris's eyes with a look that demanded a talk, and headed out of the room.
Chris looked over at Jim, who was trying to scratch his wings without being obvious, and put his guitar down. "I'm going to see the Admiral off. I'll be back in a few minutes." Chris left the house, and saw John leaning against the railing outside, a thoughtful look on his face. "It was good to have you over, John."
John looked at Chris, the earlier lighthearted amusement all but gone. "Jim is a great kid, Chris."
Chris nodded. "Yeah, he is."
"Pity he doesn't look a damn thing like you." John's voice was flat, and Chris struggled from reacting to it.
"He looks like his mother." Chris countered, letting his voice betray nothing. It wasn't exactly a lie.
John sighed, and ran his hand through his hair. "Chris, I'm not an idiot. Something is going on here, and you aren't telling me a damned thing."
Chris met John's gaze evenly, and after a long beat, John exhaled loudly and broke eye contact. "Damnit, Chris. I'm worried about you." Before Chris could react, John wrapped his arms around Chris's shoulders and brought him into an embrace. Chris let his eyes close and his chin rest on John's shoulder, John's hands soothing against his back. Chris felt John turn his head towards his, and he sighed. "Chris, just promise me that you'll be careful. I'll trust your judgement, whatever is going on." John placed a chaste kiss to the side of Chris's head, then withdrew.
"Thank you, Jonathan." Chris said, reaching out and squeezing John's shoulder.
"Well, time for me to head out. I ship out tomorrow on a diplomatic mission. Fun will abound, I'm sure." John's smile reappeared, and Chris answered it in kind. "Take care, both of you. I'll talk to you later, probably after you head back out." With a wave, he walked down the front steps and flagged down a cab. Chris waved, and John got into the cab and departed. Chris stood on the front step for a moment and breathed in the evening air, watching the path of the long-gone cab. With a distant smile, he reentered his house. When Jim ran up to him and demanded he sing another song, he swore to himself that he would make this work, for both of their sakes.
Jim had taken to the wilds of the Mojave Desert like a fish to water, and for the first time, he was able to truly try out his new wings. Chris watched the boy take flight in the open air, the very image of a child angel. He could not stay aloft for long periods, as his muscles were still adapting to the wings, but Jim's joy was infectious. For three days, Jim practiced flying, Chris sung every song he could think of, and taught Jim most of them. When Jim called him 'Dad' instead of 'Chris' on the way back to San Francisco, he couldn't keep the grin from overtaking his face.
Number One was more accepting of Jim's created history than John, and greeted them both aboard the Yorktown with a smile and a handshake for Jim, and a smirk and 'Welcome back, sir. I see you've been busy,' but no other questions. The Yorktown set off on its next mission, and Captain Christopher Pike set off on the one task he had been certain he would never have to face. Fatherhood.