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Or freely talk

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Or freely talk


At this particular moment, Jonathan Archer couldn't care less about the Andorians. It was harsh, especially considering that he was far better acquainted with them than most of Starfleet, and in a generally positive way. But the Andorian ambassador was going on about dilithium distribution, of all things, a topic that he was sure had been beaten into the ground long before he ever became an admiral, his rear-end was asleep, and most importantly, he was out of coffee. John looked at the clock on the wall behind Admiral Komack's head. What time was this meeting supposed to end? Lehrer and Nogura both looked like they wanted to pass out, and even Ambassador Sarek looked strained. A little bit. A tiny bit. And only his familiarity with Vulcan non-facial expressions let him read that much. Propping his elbows on the table, he laid his left hand over the loose fist of his right and set his chin on top, trying to look attentive. By the look Lehrer sent him, however, he had a feeling he looked as bored as the rest of them. The Andorian ambassador had just started in on starbase distribution of dilithium when John noticed the alert light on the PADD sitting in front of him was blinking. He lowered his hands to the table and called up the message, expecting it to be regarding some paperwork he needed to do before he left today. It was anything but. John reread the message, making sure he hadn't misunderstood it, and cleared his throat.

"Ambassador Shras, Ambassador Sarek, sirs, my apologies. Something has come up, and I regretfully need to depart this meeting early. Please excuse me." John rose to his feet, nodded to the ambassadors, ignored the glares from Komack and Nogura, and left the room at a good clip, nodding to Komack's secretary as he left the office. It was only a two minute walk to his smaller office, and he walked in without pausing at the doors.

"Tory, what is this?" John said, motioning to the PADD in his hand. "'Something is wrong with Jimmy' is not a very detailed message. What is going on?" Tory rose to her feet as he was talking, and walked up to him.

"I mean what it says, sir. Our young Mr. Pike didn't tell me anything. He called about five minutes ago, asking for you, I told him you were currently in a meeting. I asked him if it was an emergency, but he just asked me to tell you he called and cut the connection." Tory said, looking at John with mild concern in her eyes. "His voice wasn't right, John. It was too weak, and he was stuttering. I've only heard him stutter once before, and that was-"

"When he was telling us about Chris's condition after the Orion raiders attacked his ship about two years ago. I remember." Chris hadn't been given any guarantees for several days, and Jim had been a much as he tried to hide it. John frowned, and rubbed a hand across his eyes. "Thanks for letting me know, Tory. I'll call him back right now."

Tory nodded. "I hope he's alright. The Captain isn't due dirtside for another week." John gave her a wave as he entered into his inner office, closing the door behind him. He sat down at his desk, skipping the coffee he had been craving during the meeting, and placed the call. It was answered almost immediately, which caused the worry that had been growing in his gut to expand rapidly. Jimmy never answered the comm right away.

"Jimmy, are you there? Tory told me you just called," John said, and waited.

After a moment of near-silence from the other end, Jimmy's voice came through. "Hey John. H-how are you doing? Sorry about ca-calling so early." Ice shot through John's veins at the sound of Jimmy's voice. Tory was the master of understatement, John realized. Her 'didn't sound right' was 'something was horribly wrong' to him.

John decided on the direct approach. "Jimmy, cut the crap. I left a meeting with the Andorian ambassador to come speak with you. What's going on?" John listened to shuffling through the speakers, topped with an odd sound and an obvious sharp inhalation of breath. "Jimmy?"

"I told her not to b-bother you, John. It could have waited," Jimmy said, his voice reedy and thin from- something. John's frown increased, and he turned the video on.

"Jim, turn on the video feed." Another gasp through the speakers, and John was now positive what was making Jimmy sound so strange. "Jimmy, now."

The voice that answered was shaking so badly that it was almost hard to understand. "It's-It's mal-malfunctioning. S-sorry, John."

Jim was lying through his teeth, but that wasn't the priority. "Jimmy, are you hurt? You don't sound right." John said, bringing up another screen on his console to look up emergency services.

When Jimmy responded with the same kind of laugh he had heard from his mother the day his father died, broken, with no mirth and impending tears, John's concern turned to near-panic. "R-remember that news th-thing we were t-talking about er-earlier in the month, J-john?" Jim said, and John froze.


"Jimmy, are you talking about the poachers?" John said, barely controlling his own voice.

"Y-yeah. It's k-kinda funny, really. I r-really shouldn't have b-been out so late. I-it was an accident...t-they thought I was an an-animal." Jimmy laughed that frightening laugh again, tinged with what John was sure was a bit of hysteria, and John's heart stopped.

"Jimmy, are you saying that you got shot? Please tell me I'm wrong, kiddo." John could no longer keep the fear out of his own voice, and he scanned the list for the comm information for Mojave Emergency.

"Y-yeah, I did. Hurts l-like hell, too. H-have you ever b-been shot, John? I d-don't recommend it." A dry chuckle this time. John clenched his jaw and located the necessary information.

"Jimmy, I'm going to alert the hospital to come get you, okay? They should be there soon." John was just about to send the message when Jim's voice came through, the clearest it had been since they had started the conversation.

"No! No, I can't go to the hospital. I can't, John. It's not an option." The slight hysteria in Jimmy's voice had transformed into full-blown panic. "John, no, I can't."

John buried his hands in his hair. "Jimmy, I know you are sensitive about your back, but this is no time to be doing this! Laser burns are incredibly serious, Jimmy; they need to be treated as soon as possible." John again reached out to hit send on the message, when Jimmy spoke.

"John, John, I can't go. I'll hide from them if you send them. I can't get Dad-" Jimmy broke off. "I-if you could emergency-transport me a protoplaser, I could p-probably finish fixing m-myself up."

John caught the mention to Chris, but Jimmy's other slip was more important. "Finish fixing...Jimmy, when did you get hurt?" There was no response, and John bit back a sudden onslaught of anger. "Jim, answer me."

"F-four days ago? I thought I had it under c-control, but I was wr-wrong. Th-they aren't healing right." Jim hissed in pain as he spoke, and John tightened his fists to the point of pain, but he ignored it.

"Holy- Jimmy! Why didn't you call me? This is serious! You can't let something like that fester!" John accessed the Starfleet transport system and put in an order for a shuttle to be readied immediately while he spoke. "Jimmy, I'll come down to you, okay? I'll just need to get some things together, and I'll be there. Give me about two hours." John got to his feet and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.

"Don't- don't be m-mad at Dad when you g-get here. It's my f-fault, he's j-just trying to help. I don't w-want him to g-get in trouble," Jimmy babbled. John gave the blank screen of the console a look of confusion.

"Jimmy, what in the hell are you going on about? Why would Chris be in trouble?" John paused, and grabbed a PADD. "On second thought, we'll talk about that when I get there. Just hang tight, Jimmy. Just a few hours."

"O-okay, a f-few hours. John-" Jimmy's voice dropped off, and John almost choked. "John, don't hate me." Jimmy's voice was clear, if still weak, on the last line, and John closed his eyes.

"Jimmy, whatever it is, we'll talk about it when I get there, alright?" John said, reaching to cut the connection.

Jimmy took a deep, shaking breath. "Yessir."

John cut the connection and strode from his office. "Tory, I'm going to be gone for a few days," he said, heading towards the exit. Tory's eyes told her concern, and she nodded. John left the command building and headed straight to Starfleet Medical. Dr. Phlox was on Denobula right now, but one of his proteges was on staff, and would lend him what he needed without questions.

Thirty minutes later saw John in the air heading towards the Mojave Desert, incalculably glad that he had the location of Chris's house pre-programmed into his console. The damn desert looked all alike to him, brown and grey and rocky and goddamned desert; he would have never found his way without help. Not for the first time, John wished that Chris had been born somewhere else; anywhere else.

Then again, Chris probably would have been born in Siberia, if only to spite him. As the green on the land below thinned as he crossed over the Sierra Nevadas and headed south, his eyes focused on the alien landscape below. John was a spoiled New York boy, as Chris had called him more than once, deserts had been more of a concept to him than a reality until he had entered the academy. Then he had signed up for a survival course which had landed him at the outskirts of Death Valley, and he had decided then, helped along with a misguided attempt at drinking from a very sketchy spring, that deserts were the scourge and bane of his existence. So why in the hell did he make friends with a born-and-bred sand rat? To make matters worse, Chris had turned Jimmy into a desert rat as well, otherwise he would be having a much shorter trip within the San Francisco limits. Death Valley was below him, and he mentally saluted Badwater as he continued south.

Jimmy. What was the kid going on about earlier? As weak as he sounded, he hadn't sounded delirious when he started going on about John being mad at Chris, and John was honestly confused by that whole part of the conversation.

"Why the hell would I be mad at Chris?" John muttered, as he began his descent; the lights and greenery of Mojave were an out-of-place splash on the landscape below, and he ignored them as he approached Chris's mountains. There wasn't enough room to park the shuttle by the house, and John brought the vehicle to a spot about ten minutes walk south of it, landing it right on the faint dirt road that serviced the house. John killed the engines and leapt to his feet, gathering up the case of medical supplies he had procured before exiting the shuttle. Setting off up the road, John's eyes were immediately drawn to a scorch mark about 25 meters up the cliff side, a blackened stain against the light rocks that he shouldn't be able to see.

"That isn't from a handgun, it's too damn big," John said to himself, and he gasped when he saw two more stains about ten and twenty meters from the first. The poachers had clearly been chasing something. John's hand clenched around the medical case, and he continued towards the top. The house came into view only a minute later, a Mission-style building that had been largely constructed with desert rock and set into the mountainside, allowing it to blend into its surroundings. It was perfect for the landscape, and the classic exterior hid a inside filled with modern technology and protections. John just wished that the strip of land that Chris had inherited had been somewhere less remote.

Reaching the front door, John gave it a few solid knocks. After a moment of silence, he knocked again. "Jimmy, it's me. I'm coming in, alright?" There was no answer. John was suddenly very grateful that Chris had registered him for the house locks, as he put his palm against the flat panel to the side of the door. The panel flashed, and John reached down and turned the doorknob.

The smell assaulted his nostrils as soon as he opened the door, and John took a step away from the doorway to compose himself. The air from the house was musty, with a strong under-taint of vomit, urine, and other things he really didn't want to consider. And Jimmy had been staying in this for days. John steeled himself and entered the house.

"Jimmy, where are you?" John yelled, as his eyes scanned the front entryway. Was that a feather on the floor? John called out again; finally receiving a pained grunt from the back room. Crossing into the living room, John stopped. Dried vomit clung to several spots of the floor and a medical kit had been overturned, the contents spilling onto the rug in the center of the room. Why were white and gold feathers scattered everywhere? John picked one up, and took a closer look. It was massive, far too large to be from an eagle or a vulture. Maybe a condor? It wasn't important now. John released the feather and walked around to the other side of the room, where he noticed two smaller feathers lying near the doorway. They were both burned.

"What in the hell-" John mumbled. "Jimmy, talk to me," John said, and entered the corridor between the two rooms.

"S-stop!" Jimmy's voice sounded even worse to John's ears, but it still carried.
John did just that, coming to a halt a few steps before the back room. "Jimmy, we don't have time for this," John said, and took a step forward.

"Just- just promise me you w-won't freak out." Jimmy's voice sounded resigned, and John exhaled loudly.


"Promise me!" Jimmy's tone was laced with desperation now, and John swallowed.

"I promise, Jimmy." There was no answer, and John entered the room.

The smell was ten times worse than before, and John bit back a sudden rush of nausea. A plate of dried-out bread sat on the floor near his feet, and there was even more signs of vomit. The large sofa near the wall had a nest of blankets on it, and feathers and dirty bandages were everywhere. John approached the sofa island near the center of the room, carefully avoiding as much of the mess as possible. As soon as he could see into the enclave between the sofas, his jaw dropped.

Bizarrely, the first thought that came to mind was that he had never seen Jimmy without a shirt before. The teen was lying on his left side, curled up into a fetal position. His skin, so tan the last time they spoke over a vid transmission was wan and grey; John could see the frightening black mess that was Jimmy's right shoulder. His back, though- John followed the line of the boy's neck down his spine, noting where the bones emerged around the scapula. Jimmy didn't have a hump on his back. He had full-blown wings. Wings. White and gold feathered wings. John must have made some sort of noise, because Jimmy's head twisted around enough to get an eye on him.

"You p-promised you wouldn't f-freak out," Jimmy said, his visible eye wide with fear. John blinked slowly, trying to formulate a response. Jimmy had wings. They were sprawled on the floor with him, the right one draped at an odd angle. John saw a bald spot surrounded by red and blackened flesh on the right wing, and the shock slipped away.

This wasn't the time.

"I did promise," John said, and walked up to Jimmy's side and lowered himself to the floor, setting the medical kit down by his side. Jimmy had two wounds, that he could see, but the angle- "Jimmy, you only got shot once, didn't you?" John gently prodded at the outside of the shoulder wound, grimacing at the weeping, clearly infected injury. It was mostly covered in eschar, and John opened the case and dug for a laser scalpel and the tricorder. Time to put those emergency lessons to work. Phlox would be proud. "Jimmy, I'll have to remove the necrotic tissue first." He ran the tricorder over Jimmy's prone form and winced at the readings. His kidneys were showing signs of distress due to the infection from the burns, he was starting to suffer from an electrolyte imbalance, and he was severely dehydrated. The only good news was that the wing injury had responded much better to Jimmy's earlier efforts, and the infection was much smaller on the thin flesh. He would have to work carefully. If the infection in the arm wasn't completely removed, he would probably lose it. "Jimmy, I'm not a doctor. I'm going solely on various emergency courses and lessons that I've received over the years. I can't promise anything." John laid a hand on the teen's head, the filthy hair parting under his fingers.

Jimmy nodded sluggishly, his left hand reaching up to touch John's hand. "I'm sorry," Jimmy said, and John gave him a sad smile.

"It wasn't your fault, Jimmy. I just wish you had called me sooner," John said, patting Jimmy on the cheek.

"I'm not talking about that."

John picked up a hypospray of anaesthetic. "You have nothing to apologize for." He depressed the hypo near the shoulder wound and watched as some of the tension drained away from the teen. "Better?"

Jimmy sighed. "A little."

John picked up the scalpel. "I need you to lie on your stomach, kiddo. Try to keep these things-" John gave Jimmy's left uninjured wing a soft poke, "-out of the way." The poke actually brought a small chuckle out of the teen, and John felt some of the tension that had been coiling in his gut fade. John helped Jimmy shift slowly onto his stomach, and put a pillow under the boy's head. The wings did present a maneuvering problem for John, however; after a moment of thought, he moved himself up by Jimmy's head. "No moving, Jimmy." After an answering grunt, John leaned over and got to work.

John set down the protoplaser and surveyed his handiwork. The tricorder's readings were already much improved, and the comprehensive antibiotic he had hypoed Jimmy with after he was done with the debridement was doing its job well. He had cut a bit too much off with the scalpel, but the protoplaser had managed to repair the majority of it. It was going to scar, although it shouldn't be too bad. The wing hadn't needed debridement, luckily, just a few minutes with the protoplaser. A few more hyposprays to correct the electrolyte imbalance and relieve the dehydration issue, both problems which had been forecast and solutions given him by Phlox's student, and Jimmy was looking and doing a hundred percent better.

Now that the imminent danger was out of the way, John wiped the sweat from his face with his shirt and sat back to take a good look at the teen. Jimmy was lean and surprisingly muscular, especially in the torso. It made sense if the wings worked, which John was pretty damned sure they did. John remembered the climbing scorch marks on the cliff near the house, and closed his eyes in anger. The only accident there had been here was that they had thought he was a bird, John was certain of it. From the looks of it, Jimmy was trying to escape to the house, and was flying over the arête in the mountain close to the house when he was hit. "What did they think you were, Jimmy?" John muttered, more to himself. Jimmy groaned and cracked open an eyelid.

"You mean the poachers?" Jimmy said, voice rough with exhaustion.

John gently lifted and examined the teen's left wing. "Yeah."

"From what I overheard, they thought I was a giant albino vulture. Those guys were really fucking dumb." Jimmy's words were muffled by the pillow. John snorted, and looked closer at the wing he was holding. There were feathers missing all over it, not enough to expose the skin, but enough to look ragged. John clicked his tongue.

"Jimmy, do you, er, molt if you get ill?" John said, glancing at the uninjured part of the right wing, noting similar gaps. There was no response, and John tapped Jimmy on the temple. "You awake, kiddo?"

"Er? Oh, um, sometimes. This is the worse it's ever been, though," Jimmy mumbled into the pillow, and John gave him a tired smile.

John got up from the floor, and took a look around the room. His nose had got accustomed to the smell, but it was still there. "Jimmy, why don't we put you to bed. You've been camped out down here since you got hurt, haven't you?" John looked down at the teen, who was dozing off. "I can clean this place up while you're asleep."

"-ut I made the mess," Jimmy muttered, as he slowly pushed himself into a sitting position. John took Jimmy's left arm and helped him to his feet, putting his own arm around the boy's waist when he began to list dangerously. The teen's skin was still clammy to the touch, and John tried not to focus too much on the tremors that Jimmy was obviously trying to control.

"Since you didn't go out telling those bastards 'shoot me,' I think you can be absolved of some of the blame." John attempted to get Jimmy moving, but succeeded only in catching him as he fell over. "Sorry about this, Jim." John leaned over and hoisted Jimmy bridal-style into his arms, the wings dangling loose. Jimmy was unexpectedly light, and even going upstairs didn't slow his speed down too much. Jimmy grumbled his embarrassment at first, but John got no resistance from the exhausted teen, and John pushed the door to Jimmy's room open with his hip. Because he had stayed downstairs after he got injured, his room was undisturbed. John gently set him down on his bed, and walked over to the dresser.

"Whatcha doin'?" Jimmy said, as he slowly shifted himself into a more comfortable position on the mattress. John pulled out a pair of pajama pants and boxers out of the drawers, and walked back to Jimmy's side.

"I'm guessing that you have been wearing those things since you got hurt, by the fact they appear to be able to stand up on their own. Do you think you can change yourself? I don't want to embarrass you any more than necessary." John motioned to the pants that Jimmy was wearing, and the teen reached out his left hand and took the clothes from John.

Jimmy scoffed, and John turned around as the boy slowly shimmied out of the dirty pants. "The day you don't try to find something to embarrass me about is the day that the Klingons take up knitting instead of fighting." The old pants fell on the floor by John's feet, and he could hear Jim wiggling on the bed.

"Not much of a difference there. Have you seen how big knitting needles can get?" John waited until the movement noise stopped, and turned his body towards the bed. "You decent?"


John helped the freshly clothed teen under the blankets. If he had any doubt as to how tired Jimmy was, the lack of grumbling after he ruffled his hair told it best. John headed to the door of the bedroom, and lowered the lights to ten percent. "Go to sleep, Jimmy. I'll come and check on you a bit later." A garbled noise that may have been an 'okay' came from the bed, and John gave a small smile and closed the door.

John didn't even think about it at first, as he methodically opened the windows to let the dry desert air in, set the robotic floor cleaner to work, collected laundry and picked up feathers off the carpet. It was sometime between unjamming the floor cleaner (too many feathers) and shaking the barbs off the blanket that Jimmy had been using on the front step of the house that the whole affair hit him like a starship on a collision course, and John found himself sitting on the step clutching the blanket, wondering when he had sat down.

John had always wondered what Chris was hiding regarding Jim. The story he had been told explaining Jimmy had been too simple, with too many questions left unanswered; Chris could be damned good at obfuscating when he wanted to be. It was a necessary political tool, but it rankled when it was turned on him. John picked up a tiny feather that had been stuck to the blanket and stared at it. If Jimmy had been half-alien, even if he couldn't think of a single known species that would give someone working bird-like wings, they would have never bothered covering it up. There was still discrimination against mixed-species children, unfortunately, but not enough to merit the elaborate show that had been staged here. Chris would have had no problem in protecting Jimmy if that had been the case. No, this was more than that. John twirled the feather in-between his fingers, ignoring the breeze that was stirring the dry soil in the canyon around him. Chris had stated early on that Jimmy's mother was human, and John knew she was. Jimmy's father had been human as well, if a different hunch of his was correct, but that was neither here or there right now. There was, then, only two things that he could think of that would give a human boy wings, and both would merit the layers of secrecy that Chris and Jim had been maintaining for over five years.

The boy could be heavily genetically modified, something that was both illegal in most cases and looked upon very badly by most, especially humans. The memories of the Eugenics Wars were not easily forgotten, even if that was generations ago; if word had gotten out, Chris's career would have been doomed by association alone, even if he had nothing to do with it. John wasn't even sure if even the most skilled geneticists could have done this, however. The sheer amount of manipulation that would have been required was beyond his comprehension, and unless the mother gave Jimmy up for experimental purposes, it would have been cost-prohibitive. John knew there were plenty of worlds willing to do the work if you had the cash, but wings and the related modifications needed for them to work? No, the chances of Jimmy being genetically modified were rather slim. That only left one choice, and the implications of it were overwhelming.

The x-gene. Considered now an evolutionary dead-end from the actions of frightened governments in the early twenty-first century; even if over fifty percent of the population was estimated to have the gene, it was completely dormant, and no attempt to reawaken it had succeeded since. There were always the standing rumors that a handful of the Homo Sapiens Superiors, as they had been scientifically known, were still alive, their abilities giving them much extended lifespans; but if there were any left, they had long since disappeared into the stars. John didn't blame them. Ironically, the Augments and the Eugenics Wars had largely been spurred by the attempt to make a controlled version of the x-gene, genetic improvement without the unpredictability. John snorted and got to his feet, brushing the dirt off the seat of his pants. That had gone well. If Jimmy represented the resurrection of the gene-

John shook his head. Jimmy would never have peace and quiet if it got out, and it would be especially disastrous while he was so young. Every lab and geneticist worth their salt would want him, and would have him tied up to testing equipment so fast that his head would spin. Jimmy didn't deserve that. They wouldn't be able to hide it forever, but John could almost guarantee that giving Jimmy as normal of a childhood as one could have, well, for being the only person in the world with wings, had been Chris's plan all along. He knew why Chris hadn't told him; he was an Starfleet Admiral, and as such was expected to report such things when they could be considered beneficial to the organization, and there was no doubt that this discovery would be considered as such. Chris was also expected to, of course, but he was at the center of the whole affair.

"Goddamnit." John gave the long-forgotten blanket a few shakes and went back inside the house. He needed to check on Jimmy. A sudden thought struck John, and it chilled him to the bone. Jimmy had almost died to protect his...secret? His freedom? Or- John almost choked with the realization. It was to protect Chris. It had to be. Jimmy was devoted to him, it had been obvious since that first day he met the boy back at Chris's rented house in San Francisco. Chris would have never told Jimmy to do what he did; never would have told him to take a wait-and-see approach to critically serious injury for the sake of his career. Christopher Pike was a damned good man. It was one of the certainties in life. Admiral Nogura had clearly been born a judgmental old man, Commodore Newton refused to be promoted anymore because it would take her away from her precious chorale, and Captain Pike was one of the most upstanding and honorable men in Starfleet.

When he had first met Chris, he had just gotten his commission as Captain, and Chris was still a cadet. He had thought Chris too severe, too caught up in his studies at first; but after an insightful discussion about the desert, complete with a alcohol-fueled rant on his part about how they should just terraform the lot of it because it was too ugly and dry and boring otherwise, his eyes had been opened. Actually, they had almost been forcibly closed, as his rant served to completely piss Chris off, but instead of hitting him, Chris had started talking. When John had countered that Chris had been raised in Mojave, a green paradise in the middle of the desert, Chris had scoffed and launched into the most detailed and romantic description of the Mojave Desert, Death Valley and all, that John was certain had ever been said about the place. He had talked about the eagles and the hawks, the yellow carpets of wildflowers in the springtime, the amazing caverns and even the snow. John had had a double-take at the last one, but Chris said that the desert at sunrise and sunset with snow on the ground was one of the most beautiful things a person could ever see, and John fell a little bit in love with it purely through Chris's description. Almost twenty years later, and John found himself yet again in the middle of Chris's precious desert. He had grown fond of it, well, as long as it wasn't summertime; but he would never confess that to either desert rat. He'd never live it down.

After grabbing the tricorder, John slowly opened the door to Jimmy's room and walked up to his bedside. A short scan with the device showed that Jimmy was doing much better than just a few hours ago, and the fever had mostly abated. John had to smile at the soft snores coming from the sleeping Jimmy, drool leaking onto the pillow. He had needed his rest. John checked the teen's temperature the old-fashioned way with a hand to the forehead, his nose crinkling up a bit when his hand connected with Jimmy's filthy hair. A shower was most certainly in Jimmy's future. John left Jimmy's room and headed down to the guest bedroom, the one he normally used when he stayed over. It was a bit musty, and it was clear that it hadn't been opened since Chris had left on his short-term mission three months ago, but it was fine. John opened the window and shook the bedding out, and stopped when he saw something outside. It was just a jackrabbit, but John stared at it for a moment. He had left all the windows open downstairs. Chris had installed one of the best security setups money could buy for the place, to ostensibly protect it while it was vacant, but it had been upgraded not long after Jimmy had come to live with him. John made his bed, then walked back downstairs, closed all the windows and double checked the security settings. Chris and Jimmy had made it this far without their secret blowing wide open, and he wasn't going to ruin it for them.

John made himself a sandwich for dinner, checked on Jimmy a few more times, and sent a short message to Tory to let her know that Jimmy was doing better, but he would be staying here until Chris got in and to arrange his commitments accordingly. John stopped by the master bedroom to nick something to wear for the next few days from Chris's drawers. The two of them were the same height, although Chris had about five kilos on him and a bulkier torso, but he wasn't going out anywhere, and Jimmy wasn't going to care. After grabbing a few plain shirts and a pair of pajama pants, he shuffled down the hall and went to bed.

Three days later, and Jimmy was doing well. He still tired quickly, and an ill-conceived attempt to go for a flight had ended before he even got off the ground, but he was feeling better every day. John took the opportunity to quiz him about his physical differences, getting his confirmation about the x-gene almost immediately. As John had figured, the changes were much more complex than simply having a set of wings on his back. Hollow bones, much larger lungs and blood vessels, as well as higher flexibility all worked together with those wings to allow Jimmy to fly, and fly well; John was utterly fascinated by it all. Jimmy hadn't wanted to tell him anything at first, but after John assured him, multiple times, that he had no intention of saying anything, Jimmy seemed relieved to be able to tell someone new about everything. It was tiring keeping secrets. John knew that from experience, and seeing the tension drain out of the young man as he talked about crazy stunts he had done that John could most definitely not tell his dad about, using language that would get the glare from aforementioned dad (who had told John on multiple occasions that he was a bad influence) while doing so made John much more relaxed about the situation. The two of them even did a few casual jam sessions, with Jimmy singing with that smooth voice of his and John on the guitar (he wasn't as good as Chris, but he could hold his own) and John could sense with every song how lonely Jimmy was sometimes, even if he'll deny it until the Ferengi stop being tight-asses.

John couldn't wait for Chris to call tomorrow. He was going to enjoy every minute of it.

He just hoped heart attacks didn't run in Chris's family.

Jimmy dozed off on the couch in the front room while they were watching a movie, a twentieth-century piece about a woman who pretends she's a man who is cross-dressing as a woman, the logistics of which were utterly mind-boggling at first and amused Jimmy to no end. John threw a light blanket over the teen and stopped the crazy movie; Jimmy had been enjoying it, so they would try it again later when he was awake. John suddenly heard the noise of an incoming call in the family room, at the time Jim had told him it would, and he headed in and sat at the chair in front of the console and waited. After a few more seconds, the call auto-connected.

Chris's voice came in loud and clear, and John felt his mouth creep up into a mischievous smile. "You there, Jim? You know, you could answer before it picks up automatically, you know." John didn't say anything, and Chris's voice came back again, this time with a hint of exacerbation. "Did you forget the time, Jim?" John heard him sigh, and his smile stretched wider. "Jim, are you in the house?"

John couldn't wait anymore. "Jim is currently taking a much needed mid-day nap, but I can tell you that we will be having an incredibly interesting conversation, Chrissy." There was dead silence from the other end for a moment, and John was just starting to get worried when much tenser tones than just a moment before come back over the connection.

"John? What in the hell are you doing there? What's going on with Jim?" John was getting the full power of Chris's 'captain' voice, and it was a good one. The amusement John had been getting out of Chris's confusion deflated on the spot. This was a serious situation no matter how you looked at it, and John knew he had been dealing with it by keeping a humorous outlook on it. No more bullshitting around.

"Jimmy is fine, at least he is now. I received a very distressing communication from him four days ago, and came straight down here," John said, and waited for Chris. John could hear Chris shuffle around a bit on the other end.

"Turn on the video, John," Chris said, and John watched as the screen lit up with Chris's grim face. John activated the video on his end, and the two men looked at each other in silence for a long moment. "That's my shirt."

John gave Chris a slight smile. "Sorry Chrissy, I didn't stop to pack before I rushed down here."

"What happened?" Chris's gaze was intense, and John settled back in his chair.

"Do you want it straight up, Chris?" John said, and Chris nodded. John took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment, formulating his response. "As I said, Jimmy called me four days ago. He refused to turn on the vid screen, his voice was weak, he was stuttering badly, and babbling about getting you in trouble. After a bit of disjointed back and forth, I managed to get out of him that he had been shot." John watched Chris's eyes widen in shock. "Not only had he been shot, he had been shot about four days before calling me. Four days, Chris. He was adamant about not going to the hospital, and I realized that I was his only option. I didn't know what to think when his last line to me was asking me not to hate him, Chris. I managed to wrangle medical equipment out of a doctor at Starfleet Medical, and hauled ass down here." John stopped to breathe. Chris's expression was guarded, and he kept his mouth shut. Chris was waiting to see how much he knew. John sighed. "Turns out, well, he probably told you, that there are some poachers going around with old laser rifles in the desert and killing anything they feel like. Well, those poachers mistook Jim for an animal when he was outside at night-time, by his own words. At first, I figured that Jimmy had been walking out among the Joshua trees or something, and they shot him based on movement." John met Chris's gaze with a bit of ice in his own. "Then I get here and discover that things are much more complicated than that. Had Jim waited another twelve hours to call me, he would have probably lost his arm. Another twenty-four hours beyond that, and we would be having an entirely different conversation right now. He received a single shot from a laser rifle, and the only reason he isn't dead is because he was high enough up in the air that he was near the edge of the weapon's range. He'll have a scar on the back of his right shoulder, and possibly a small scar on his right wing." John slumped a bit in the chair, and watched Chris's expression collapse.

"He's asleep right now?" Chris looked defeated, and John mustered up enough energy to give him a reassuring look.

"Yeah. I was able to fix him up, he'll just be under the weather for another week or so," John said, and Chris scrubbed a hand through his hair.

"So now you know. God, John, I-" Chris stumbled over his words, and shock was the only thing that registered in John's brain for a moment. Chris Pike did not stumble over words.

"Chris, what do you think I am going to do? I promised Jimmy I wouldn't say anything, and I plan on sticking to that. I know why you didn't tell me, Chris, but I really wish you had." John looked at his old friend, whose face had gone completely blank. He had one more thing to say. "Chris- Chris. I thought about it, after I had managed to patch him up and had a few minutes to process. I thought it was about his freedom, but I don't think he would have been willing to die on the floor of your house just for that. It would have been equally pointless if it was just about the secret itself. No-" John paused, and looked directly at Chris. "I know you sure as hell didn't mean for him to do it, or would ever want him to do it, but the reality of it is that Jimmy almost killed himself to protect you. When he called me, he was babbling about you, and how he didn't want you to get in trouble. Chris, he's deathly afraid of losing you. You're all he's got, at least in his mind." John finished, and gave Chris a sad smile. Chris was blinking rapidly; John rubbed at his own eyes.

"John...thank you. I don't know what else to say. Just- thank you," Chris said, his eyes suspiciously shinier than usual. John shook his head.

"I'm just glad to have made it in time, Chris." John chuckled to himself, and Chris gave him a quizzical look.

"What was that for?"

John let the smirk reappear, even if it was a bit tempered. "Got any other big Jimmy-related secrets to tell me? Or do I get to guess?" He watched as the tired worry on Chris's face transformed into something a bit harder, and John rolled his eyes. "I have a better idea. Let me tell you a very short story from when we all met up on Grange III, and about the time where I went to wake up Jimmy so he wouldn't get a nasty sunburn from sleeping outside, and I almost called him George."

Chris's expression relaxed a bit in what John was pretty sure was relief, and his head tilted a bit to the side. "That was almost two years ago." Chris looked at John. "You've known this whole time and you haven't said a damn thing." Chris's expression was wry. "Has anyone told you that you can be a real jackass sometimes, John?"

John grinned. "Your son, about...oh, a month ago?" Chris groaned and scratched at his hairline.

"Remind me to yell at him later," Chris said, then his face turned serious. "Weren't you concerned about why I had him?"

John stilled, and gave a slight nod. "I managed to finagle a reason to contact Commander Kirk shortly thereafter, and I asked about him during the conversation. I got a series of very general statements out of her about what Jim Kirk was up to that sounded exactly like what Jim Pike was up to, and I realized that she and Jimmy were still in some sort of contact." John rolled his shoulders to relieve the stiffness settling in them. "When I realized that, I figured that Jimmy was with you with her blessing, as it were."

"She didn't want him after everything...came to light, John. I still have nightmares about the night I took Jim out of that house." Chris turned his head to the side, his eyes closed.

John pursed his lips. "How bad was it?"

Chris's eyes were haunted. "If I hadn't gone, I'm almost positive the next call would have been someone informing me about the tragic murder-suicide at the Kirk household."

John's eyes went wide, and he sat up in his seat. "You aren't exaggerating."

"I wish I was, John. I wish I was," Chris said as he rested his chin on his hand. "I entered their house after talking to her over a communicator for hours to find her sitting on a sofa clutching a phaser set to kill, and Jim unconscious on the floor surrounded by blood spatter. She hadn't hurt him, the blood was from the wings breaking through his back; but she was scared and borderline hysterical. My original plan was to take Jim for a few weeks, let things calm down; but Winona let me know quickly that she didn't want him back. His only other choice would have been to go off planet to a boarding school or something to be forgotten about, and I wasn't going to let that happen. Jim didn't deserve it." Chris looked at John, who sighed and waved a hand in the air.

"Which brings us nicely around to now. Does anyone else know besides myself and Commander Kirk?" John said. Chris shook his head.

"No, you and Winona are it. Sometimes I think that it's a miracle that we've managed to keep it a secret for so long, personally. Jim gets a little stir-crazy if he can't go for a flight for more than a few weeks, and it can be rather difficult to figure out how to satisfy that when you are on a starship." Chris gave a slight smile as he exhaled, and John smiled in return. "John, I'm sorry. I should have told you."

"You were afraid that I would feel compelled to report it, Chris. I understand your reasoning, don't worry about it anymore." John's smile widened, and Chris lowered his head in a silent apology.

"Are you staying there until I return?" Chris said, placing his hands on the table by his console. John nodded.

"He's in no condition to be staying alone right now. He tires too easily, and I've already had to stop him from trying to go flying twice. Luckily, he doesn't have the energy to get himself off the ground, so I'm just making sure he doesn't sneak out and try to jump off a cliff to get lift-off instead," John said, watching Chris groan and roll his eyes as he spoke.

"Dad?" John turned sharply in his seat to see Jimmy standing at the entrance to the room, wiping the sleep out of his eyes. John motioned with his head, and Jimmy walked up to the camera. Chris gave his son a happy smile, and John slapped his hands on his knees and rose to his feet.

"I'll let you two talk now. See you in a few days, Chrissy?" John said, and Chris nodded.

"Thank you again, John. For everything." Chris turned that smile on him, and John felt the grin work his way onto his own face.

"Anytime, Captain. Anytime." John made sure that Jimmy was firmly ensconced in the seat he had just vacated, gave a quick salute at the screen and left the two to catch up.

Nogura sent a message through Tory letting John know that his sudden absence was not appreciated. Actually, it said something a little different than that, but John's brain turned it all into white noise about three words in. He may be one of the junior Admirals in comparison to the old man himself, but he had the right to take personal time. Nogura would just have to deal with it.

More importantly, John had gotten to see Jimmy fly for the first time, watching with thunder-struck awe as the young man soared and twisted, spun and dove with an effortlessness that was simply breathtaking. Jimmy had confessed that he could usually stay up all day, as long as he found a stable air current, but John found it much better for his own nerves that Jimmy was still recovering. If the teen had an accident in mid-air, there was nothing he could really do. Jimmy managed a fifteen minute flight before coming down and landing, where John watched with a bemused shock as the boy's legs decided that they weren't cooperating, and Jimmy ended up flat on his back.

"Fuck! I had it, too!" Jimmy groaned, punching his left fist into the dirt. The worry that had sprung up faded at the sound and sight of the clearly-embarrassed teen, his skin flushed and expression murderous, and John bit back a laugh and offered him a hand.

The day of Chris's return was marked with a much-improved Jimmy rushing around the house, making sure it was clean and things were put away. John sat back with a soda (no beer, as under-aged Jimmy had been doing the shopping) and watched the spectacle from the comfort of one of the family room sofas. After Jimmy zoomed past into the kitchen for what must have been the tenth time, John couldn't keep quiet any longer.

"What in the blazes are you doing, Jimmy?" John said, watching as Jimmy skidded to a halt at the sound of his voice.

"Er, just putting some things away," Jimmy mumbled, not meeting John's eyes. John looked at him with a frown, then his eyes widened.

"You've been outside flying! I thought we talked about this, Jim." John glared at the teen, who gave him a rather amusing nose-crinkle in response.

"I had left some things up on a niche in one of the bluffs, I was only up there for a few minutes," Jimmy said, shooting John a defiant look.

John rolled his eyes. "I assume these things weren't supposed to be up there?"


John snorted. "Are you done fetching items from cliffs?" Jimmy walked into the kitchen, and John got to his feet and followed him. "Well?" Jimmy rolled his eyes, and John frowned. "Jimmy, you aren't hundred percent yet. I'm just worried that you are going to overdo it." Jimmy and John linked gazes for a moment, then Jimmy dropped his head.

"Yeah, I think I'm done," Jimmy said, and John reached out and ruffled his hair. "Hey, stop that!" Jimmy swatted at John's hand, but the older man moved easily out of the way.

"You need a haircut badly, kiddo. I doubt Chris will even recognize you at this rate," John said, a playful smirk on his face.

"He just saw me over the comm a few days ago, you ass, he's not going to be surprised." Jimmy scowled at John, who grinned.

"You know, your dad will have a cow if he hears you talk to me like that," John said with a chuckle.

"Maybe not a cow, but Jim definitely knows better than that; am I correct, son?" John and Jimmy both spun around to see Chris standing at the threshold of the kitchen, holding a duffel and looking rather bedraggled. No one moved at first, then Chris dropped his bag and walked up to Jimmy, carefully grabbing his upper arms and looking him over. Jimmy's ears began to turn red under the scrutiny, but Chris spared him and drew the teen into a hug. "You are not allowed to worry me like that again, Jim. When John told me what happened..." Chris said, chin resting by Jimmy's ear. Jim's hands twitched, and John could almost see the mental struggle on Jimmy's face. After all, it wasn't cool to go around hugging your dad once you reached a certain age. But this was different. John gave Jimmy a look, and the boy let his arms wrap around Chris's back, his head dropping against the taller man's shoulder. John quietly sidled out of the kitchen to leave them be.

About five minutes later, the two of them walked out of the kitchen, and if their eyes looked a tick red? Well, John decided that he wouldn't say anything about it. Chris dropped his duffel on one of the sofas and sat down, working his shoes off with his feet. Jimmy fell into the sofa next to him, his wings bent oddly at the middle from being sat on. John raised an eyebrow, and Jimmy gave him a confused look. "What?"

"Doesn't that hurt?" John said, and when the confusion didn't abate from the teen's face, John pointed at his wings. "You're sitting on your wings. That doesn't hurt?"

Jimmy made an 'oh' sound, and shook his head. "It's not the most comfortable thing in the world, but it's bending under the bones. It's kinda hard to describe, it's just pressure. It hurts more when I'm in my harness, because that presses on the wing bones," Jimmy said plainly, and John noticed a shadow flicker across Chris's face. John hadn't really thought about that. Jimmy had been in something that compressed the wings for years, and John was pretty damn sure that having bone forcibly suppressed by straps was not pleasant. The fact that Jimmy was still going through puberty could only make it worse.

"Well, it's a good thing that you don't have to wear it here," John said, looking between the two men. Jimmy nodded and Chris nodded absently, and John felt bad he brought it up. Silence fell over them, and he realized that the feathered elephant in the room needed to be dealt with. "What do you need from me, you two? I'll have to go back to the bay tomorrow, and I don't want to fuck anything up." Chris gave him an automatic glare for cussing in front of Jimmy, but then his eyes softened.

"I don't want to presume anything, John. I feel bad enough as it is." Chris's expression was pinched, and Jimmy sagged a bit in his seat. John gave Chris a stern look.

"I told you the other day to stop apologizing, Chrissy. I understand and agree with your reasons for keeping his flighty nature under wraps." After a pregnant pause, Jimmy groaned and smacked his hands over his face, and Chris smiled ruefully.

"I can't believe you just said that," Jimmy groaned.

"I can. Try knowing him for almost twenty years," Chris said with a smirk, and John 'hmphed' in response.

"None of you understand my wisdom and brilliance. You both suck." John shot them both a mock glare, which caused Jimmy to fail miserably at not giggling, and Chris's smirk to really light up his eyes. John gave them both a grin before squaring his shoulders. "I'll continue on in public as if nothing happened, unless you two have a better idea. Is this acceptable?" John looked at Chris, who shot him what could only be called a relieved look, Jimmy tilted his head and furrowed his brow.

"What will you tell them about this last week?" Jimmy said, and John snorted.

"I am not required to account for my whereabouts when I take personal leave, therefore I have no intention of saying anything," John said, but Jimmy was still giving him a thoughtful look. "Am I missing something, Jimmy?"

"What about Ms. Nakashima?" Jimmy said, and John nodded.

"Good question. I trust Tory, and besides, all she knows is that I came down here to help you out with something. I'll tell her that you had a nasty spill if she asks. Otherwise, I won't volunteer the information." John looked at Jimmy, who gave him a glad smile.

"Thanks, John. I was worried about how Dad would look with you having to rush down and all." Jimmy shot a glance at Chris, who sighed and put his hand on Jimmy's head.

"I told you not to worry about that, Jim. Don't think we aren't going to have a talk later about how you handled this situation." Chris let his hand drop to the teen's right shoulder, and Jimmy winced. "Still tender? Well, we will be having a nice quiet week or so here without too many distractions of the aerial kind, won't we?" Chris said flatly. Jimmy's face fell, and he slouched into the sofa.

John bit back a laugh at the sight, and focused on Chris; despite his admonition of Jimmy, the look on the Captain's face was both relieved and concerned all at the same time. Chris was a damned good father. Jimmy may not be his blood, but Chris clearly couldn't care less. John let the moment stretch for awhile longer, then got to his feet. Someone had to save Jimmy from his evil Dad, after all. "Well, since we are all here, it's been some time since we played together. Whaddya say?"

Jimmy seemed to approve of that idea, getting to his feet and running upstairs. Chris rose from the sofa and walked up to John, who gave him a soft smile. "You've done a damned fine job with him," John said quietly, and Chris chuckled deprecatingly.

"Doesn't feel like it sometimes. Jim is a great kid, but I'm often so busy with my duties-" Chris trailed off with a tired sigh, letting his head drop onto John's shoulder. John reached up and put his hand on Chris's back, rubbing it lightly.

"Don't start, Chrissy. You've managed to make it work, and what happened was no one's fault but the fucking bastards who shot him. I wish Jimmy could report something to the police, but I can see where that would become a problem rather quickly." John paused, and Chris lifted his head. "Don't you start getting insecure on me, Chrissy, I already had to tell Jimmy off about the same damn thing."

Chris smiled, and clapped a hand on John's shoulder. "We keep you on your toes, old man."

"Get a room, you guys!" John and Chris looked up in unison to see Jimmy walking down the stairs holding two guitars by their necks, and Chris cringed.

"Be careful with those, Jim!" Chris said, completely ignoring Jimmy's comment. John walked over to the teen and took the bass out of his hands, and Jimmy handed off the standard to Chris before falling onto a sofa.

"I'm guessing there's something specific you want to hear?" John said as he slipped the strap over his shoulder.

Jimmy grinned and nodded. "Well, since Dad's voice sounds kinda scratchy-"

"That would be because I'm tired, you pain-in-the-ass-" Chris growled as he followed John's lead with the guitar, and John barked out a laugh.

"-I was thinking of something from that group with the bearded guys. Whatcha think?" Jimmy gave Chris a coy look, and Chris looked over at John.

"Sharp?" Chris said, and John nodded.

"Sounds like a plan."

As they counted off and began to play, John looked at Jimmy. The teen's eyes were closed, and he was mouthing the words along with them, and singing at the appropriate chorus spots. It felt like a strangely domestic moment, in a possibly-testosterone-ridden sort of way, but John wouldn't miss this for the world. When they finished, Jimmy shot them both a thrilled look before ordering them to play another song. Chris and John locked gazes for a long moment, not saying a thing; Chris gave him a wide smile before tapping his foot and launching into the next song. Jimmy really needed to learn how to play drums.