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At his father's right hand

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At his father's right hand

Captain Christopher Pike entered the turbolift, nodding to Number One as the doors closed, and wondered if Phil would be willing to make him a martini. Weeks of deep-space scientific exploration with nothing to break the monotony was leaving him drained. Jim- Jim was about at the end of his rope, although he would never show it. Hitting the controls, Chris closed his eyes as the lift traveled to the appropriate floor. The Yorktown was getting too small for Jim, hell, it had been too small for years; when this tour of duty was up, Jim was not returning with him for his next ship posting. They had talked about briefly over the last year, but Jim was nineteen now, and he needed to figure out what to do with his life. Even when dependants were allowed, as Jim had been at eleven, they were expected to leave soon after reaching their majority. The only reason that Jim was still on the ship now was because they were too far out to drop a single young man off at Earth, and the three years of their deployment was almost at an end. All that remained now was to find out his next posting. Chris entered Sickbay to find Phil wrists-deep in an Ensign's abdomen, and wisely decided to just go back to his quarters. He left Sickbay without saying a word.

"You here, Jim?" Chris said as he entered their quarters, but when no response was forthcoming, Chris dropped into the Starfleet-issue sofa, decorated with a patterned throw designed after the woven baskets of the ancient Mojave people, and kicked his feet up with a sigh, closing his eyes. Only a few more days of this, and the ship could move on to something hopefully more interesting. Just when he was working into a good doze, the wall comm unit buzzed. "Figures that something would happen now," Chris muttered as he rose and answered the page. "Pike."

"Sorry for the disturbance, Captain. I've just received a message from Starfleet Command, flagged private for you. Do you wish for me to forward it to your quarters, sir?" Lieutenant Bowie's voice was as pleasant as it ever was, and Chris smiled.

"If you could, Mr. Bowie."

"Transferring now, sir."

Chris heard the ping of his console in the background, and pressed the comm button. "Thank you."

"Sir." The Lieutenant signed off, and Chris walked over to his console and sat down, the back of his shirt riding up from the chair. Activating the message with one hand, he reached behind and yanked his shirt down with the other. He had over-heard someone jokingly refer to it as the Pike Maneuver years ago, and for a short time, he had obstinately avoided yanking on his shirt, before deciding that the sensation of having his shirt bunched up above his waistband was far more irritating. It could have been worse, as he had on two unfortunate occasions entered the bridge with a fly-front malfunction. Chris was pretty sure that it was Number One's doing that made sure that little tidbit didn't get off the bridge. Thank god.

Admiral Osterberg's face appeared on screen, and Chris automatically sat at attention. The man's weathered, expressive face was not a regular visitor to the Yorktown, as he was responsible for primary personnel assignments and postings. Chris knew exactly what the message was pertaining to, and he swallowed against the sudden jolt of nervousness.

"Captain Pike. Starfleet would like to thank you for your continuing dedication and hard work. As you are aware, the current mission of the Yorktown is coming to an end, and decisions on the future of your vessel and of its crew are being made." Osterberg paused, bringing up a hand to push back his unusually long hair (for an Admiral, at any rate) behind his ears, his fingers raking his cheek. "First, I would like to address the continuing status of the Yorktown. Starfleet, pending her response, has decided to promote Commander Eunice Lefler to the post of Captain of the Yorktown upon the ship's return to Earth." Chris laughed with honest delight. Number One deserved her own ship without him getting in the way of her brilliance, and he had known that his days on the Yorktown were probably numbered. As far as he was concerned, they should have promoted her years ago. "Of course, Captain, this leaves the question of your next assignment." Osterberg's mouth twitched up at a corner, and Chris blinked at the screen. "We were unable to decide what to do with you at first. Your record is spotless, your achievements well marked, and even Admiral Nogura couldn't find anything to bitch about." Osterberg's face split into a grin, the lines of his face deepening with the motion. Chris snorted incredulously and shook his head. "We can keep that last bit to ourselves, though. Getting back on topic, we found ourselves with a dilemma with you, because at this time, bluntly, we have no ship for you." Chris's mouth dropped open.


"-so we wish to make a deal with you. After the Yorktown's current mission concludes, we ask that you remain on Earth in a dual role as both a recruiting officer and an instructor at the Academy. In return, we would like to assign you as the commanding officer of the Enterprise, which recently began construction at the Riverside Shipyards. Its estimated completion date is early 2258, with the dedication tentatively scheduled for the summer of that year. We know it can be a lot to ask for an experienced Captain to come dirtside for such a long period of time, but-" Chris tuned out the rest of Osterberg's speech, his body rigid with shock. The Enterprise. They wanted to give him the Enterprise.

"Hey Dad."

They wanted to give him the future flagship.

"Dad, you awake over there?"

He and Jim had just watched the ribbon-cutting ceremony over the news feeds a month ago.

"Dad? You alright?"

Chris slumped in his seat, and looked at the console. The message had ended, the final frame frozen on the screen. Starfleet wanted him to become the Captain of their new flagship?

"Hey, what's wrong?" A hand fell on his shoulder, and he started in his seat. He craned his head around to see Jim standing behind him, a concerned look on his face. "You look like you just saw Number One offer to throw a dance party on the bridge." Chris blinked up at him, and Jim gave him a poke. "You still alive, old man?" Chris shook his head and got to his feet, his legs unexpectedly shaky. Jim was clearly taking in the whole spectacle, and Chris exhaled loudly.

"Holy shit, Jim." Jim's eyebrows shot up.

"Okay, I know something is going on now. What was that message?" Jim turned towards the console, and Chris motioned weakly towards it.

"Watch it while I go splash some water on my face." Chris leaned over and ordered the message to replay, and walked into the bathroom. Right as he was reaching for a towel to wipe his face off, a shout of "Fucking hell!" echoed through their quarters. "Jim, language!"

"You started it!" Chris walked back out to find Jim slouched at the console, his mouth hanging open. Jim turned and looked at him with an incredulous look. "They want to give you the flagship. The Enterprise. The goddamn-"

"Jim." Chris looked at Jim wearily, and Jim snapped his jaw shut.

"Dad, that's amazing! I mean, the Enterprise. It's the posting of a lifetime!" Chris walked back to the sofa and collapsed onto it. Jim flopped down on the floor in front of him, scratching at his upper back through his shirt before casting an inquisitive look at him. "You do want this, right?"

Chris closed his eyes, and let the possibilities run through his head. He would be dirtside for years, although he would probably have short-term off-planet missions occasionally. He would be teaching...something at the Academy. He would be on the front lines in the recruiting battle. Number One would finally get the command she had deserved for years; and most importantly, he would be able to keep an eye on Jim as he got himself established, whether or not he decided to stop hiding his wings. ...and he would get the flagship. It was nigh unbelievable, but as quirky as Osterberg was, he wouldn't joke about something like this. Chris opened his eyes and looked at Jim, who was still giving him a thoughtful look. "What do you think, Jim?"

Jim smirked, a pose that reminded Chris startlingly of his mother, or, at least, the Winona of twenty years ago. Chris had no intention of pointing this out. "I think there is only one appropriate response to that." Chris waited. "Fu-" Chris glared, and Jim tried again. "Hel-" Chris gave him an exasperated look. "Er, where do I sign?"

"John is a horrible influence on you, you know that right?" Chris groaned, and Jim gave him a goofy grin. "However, I suppose you are right. I would be an idiot to turn this down, wouldn't I?"

Jim clicked his tongue. "That's not the word I'd use."

"I am very well aware that isn't the word you would use. I don't want to hear the word you would use," Chris said, getting to his feet. "I'll contact Number One, and see what she's been told about her part in this." He looked down at Jim, who was still stretched out on the floor. "How was your day? Do I need to have any exercise equipment repaired again?" Chris lightly nudged Jim's thigh with his foot, and he chuckled.

"No, no, all in one piece. Shannon is getting tired of having to wait for it to get fixed, so he's been trying to keep Stipe from baiting me." Jim rolled over on his stomach, and Chris quirked an eyebrow.

"Bait you?"

Jim sighed. "Stipe likes challenging me to things, like, y'know, physical challenges. He's convinced that the gibbi shouldn't be able to hit a punching bag or run on a treadmill. I'm already in there when he challenges, so I have fun with it."

Chris gave Jim a confused look. "What does 'gibbi' mean?" Jim flinched almost imperceptibly, and Chris's eyes narrowed. "Jim."

"I didn't mean to say that," Jim muttered, lifting himself up by his arms and sliding his legs forward to rise to his feet, a deceptively easy looking move that Chris could only partially copy. Jim faced him, and Chris was reminded again of just how grown-up Jim had become. Jim stood about five centimeters taller than him now, he was probably at his full height. He was still considerably lighter, but that was due to the realities of his body; Jim's body fat percentage was less than four percent, a number that was considered borderline dangerous to most people, but Jim wasn't like most people, something that Chris had been reminded of increasingly frequently over the last few years. If he gained too much weight, he had problems flying. The first shore leave after starting their current hitch on the Yorktown had proven that, and he had only gained about five kilos. But he still had two years and fifteen centimeters on young Mr. Stipe, whose parents had signed on for this deployment. He didn't know too much about the teen, except for noticing that the boy was in the exercise room almost as much as Jim was, and that his father was a bit mouthy.

"Jim, I would appreciate an answer. Has Mr. Stipe been giving you problems?" Chris said, and Jim snorted and waved a hand.

"I'm a big boy now, Dad, I can deal with the assholes. Gibbi is just a dumb nickname he bestowed on me awhile back. Probably was looking at a dictionary or something." Jim hooked his thumbs on his pockets, and Chris narrowed his eyes in thought.

"Dictionary?" Chris paused. "Oh- as in gibbous." Chris raised his eyebrows, and Jim nodded. "You're serious."

"Yeah. Told you it was dumb. Well, he tries, but he generally looks like an idiot when he gets going. At least Shannon agrees with me on that point." Jim walked towards his bedroom, but stopped and turned around before entering, a distant smile on his face. "Congratulations, Dad. I'll leave you guys alone while you talk, I think I'm gonna take a nap." Jim entered the bedroom, the door closing behind him.

"What the hell was that all about?" Chris mumbled as he pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. It was too much at once. He walked over to the wall comm unit and hit the button. "Pike to Number One."

"Yes, sir." Her voice was as dry as ever, but with a hint of something-

"Have you received any messages from Starfleet Command, Commander?" Number One let out an amused 'hmph,' and Chris smiled. "Do I take that as a yes?"

"Perhaps, Captain." Chris rolled his eyes.

"If you can spare a few minutes, Number One, I'd like to speak with you regarding said message." Chris said, leaning against the wall.

"If the message sharing goes both ways, Captain." Chris could hear the smile in her voice now, and his smile widened.

"I think I can do that."

"I'll be there in five."

The connection clicked off, and Chris glanced towards Jim's closed door. Only two months until they were back at Earth, and he was getting the feeling that Jim was keeping count. Chris ran his hand through his hair, feeling a few curls free themselves. He'll talk with him later. The door chime sounded, and Chris tried to smooth his hair back down.


Number One walked in, lightly smacking a PADD against her palm, and Chris motioned for her to sit. John better be awake, because he was getting an earful after this.

Two weeks before they were scheduled to be in Spacedock, Chris found himself on the surface on a previously unexplored planet surrounded by beings that resembled human sized gila monsters, except with opposable thumbs. Their patterning is even similar, Chris thought, as he sized up his options. He didn't see any weapons, but he had a feeling that they could make those large tails of theirs hurt if they wanted to. The biggest one was snarling and clicking at them, but had not moved; his security team and Mr. Tyler were looking increasingly nervous with the situation. "What do you think, Number One?"

Number One looked at the gila-men, and back at him. "If they are going to attack, they are clearly waiting for something. The translator is still trying to process their language, so we can't talk yet."
"So we just stand here and try and look friendly." Chris gave a slight smile, and the gila-men shifted, causing the security team to tighten their grip on their phasers.

Number One looked at the translator, then looked at Chris. "Stop smiling. They see it as aggressive."

"Ah." Chris schooled his expression as blank as he could make it, turning slowly towards the rest of the team. "Stay calm, gentlemen. I don't want any diplomatic incidents occurring because of nervous trigger fingers." Tyler's shoulders relaxed, the men in the security team allowed their fingers to have blood flow, and Chris bit back a sigh. Only two weeks out, on what was probably their last exploration mission, and they hit trouble. Chris chuckled mentally, and looked over at Number One. "Any progress?"

Number One was staring at the device like it would solve universal conflict, when the sound of movement spun him around.

"Captain!" Chris looked up to see one of the gila-men standing not a meter away, holding out a clawed hand palm-down; Chris stared at it for a split second before noticing movement to his side.

"Stand down!" Chris said, as he decided to parallel the motion. It looked like a greeting, and he was willing to take that chance. Right as his hand was reaching the same height as the native's, a sharp sound accompanied by a blast of yellow light struck the scaled creature, and it slumped to the ground. The other gila-men immediately started roaring, and Chris twisted around, furious. "I said stand down! Who fired their weapon?" His eyes instantly found the perpetrator, and Chris clenched his teeth. "Mr. Stipe, explain yourself at once!" he said, as he knelt down by the stunned gila-man. He felt around the neck until he found a pulse, and sighed quietly. "I'm waiting, Mr. Stipe!"

"I thought-" Stipe was still clutching his phaser; with a crook of his head towards Mr. Tyler, he was relieved of it.

Chris glared at the man as he rose to his feet. The other lizard-men were roaring and snarling, but were still maintaining their position. "You thought what, Lieutenant?"

Stipe looked lost for a moment, before his face twisted into an ugly expression. "They didn't look right, sir."

Chris boggled. "You ignored a direct order because you thought they didn't look right? Are you playing games with me?"

Stipe glared at Chris, who was completely thrown by the whole affair. "I said, they don't look right. Big ugly creatures like that are bound to be aggressive." Number One looked almost as shocked as he felt, Chris noted absently as he walked up to Stipe.

"You fired on a non-aggressive being against orders because you didn't like how they looked? What is this, the eighteenth century? Where do you get off assuming like that, Mr. Stipe?" Chris locked eyes with the taller man, who completely threw rank aside as he glared right back.

"You having a deformed brat obviously has made you forget that if it looks like a big scary mean lizard, it's a big fucking scary lizard!" Stipe spat; Chris felt his blood run cold, and just barely resisted decking the fucker. He thought he saw Number One moving in, but his world had shrunk to just Stipe and himself.

"You are out of line, Lieutenant," Chris whispered, his voice bleeding ice; and for a moment, he completely forgot they were still surrounded by the natives. Before any of the away team could move, Stipe was bear-hugged from behind, and was lifted off the ground easily by the large gila-man.

"I told you! Goddamned lizards! Let go of me!" Stipe twisted and squirmed in the native's arms, but all he was succeeding in doing was tiring himself out. As angry as Chris was, he needed to defuse the situation, and fast.

"Number One?" The dark-haired woman appeared at his side, and after looking one last time at the translator, she gave Chris a tiny smile.

"It appears, Captain, that they were trying to tell us that one of our away team was not "of the same heart" as the rest of us. They appear to be empaths, sir." Her eyes held a dark humor, and Chris returned the look in kind. Looks like this might just work out after all.

"Mr. Waylon, Mr. Mathis!"

"Sir!" The two men appeared at his side, and he about-faced to address them.

"When our new friend releases Mr. Stipe, you are to return him to the ship and throw him in the brig. Is that understood?" He knew his face told of dark things, but the two men didn't even blink.

"Yes sir!" The two men's expressions were as dark as his, and Chris turned back to Number One, who nodded, glanced at the translator, and then uttered a series of growls and clicks at Stipe's captor. With a smooth motion, Stipe was set back on his feet, and was immediately flanked by Waylon and Mathis, who secured his arms. Waylon spoke into his communicator, and in a swirl of light, the three men were gone. The gila-man raised his arm palm-down like the one Stipe stunned, and Chris happily mirrored the gesture.

"Two weeks, Mr. Stipe. That's all you had to wait before you would be free of me and my deformed son. But you couldn't keep your antiquated opinions to yourself, now could you?" Chris stood outside Stipe's cell, watching the man pace back and forth. "Your actions nearly caused a serious diplomatic disaster by attacking an unarmed civilian, you directly disobeyed orders, and you even managed to insult an individual that you aren't in regular contact with. I will ask you again; where do you get off?" Chris stared flatly at the pacing man, who stalked up to the force field separating them.

"Where do you get off lying and cheating for your brat, Captain? That kid has had the gall to humiliate my son for too long; I know he wasn't actually doing the work in those classes he was in, there's no way." Chris was very glad that the force field blocked spit, because otherwise he would be soaked.

"Why is there no way, might I ask?" The conversation was getting more and more ridiculous, and Chris made sure he was maintaining eye contact.

"Are you saying that he's really doing warp theory and advanced physics courses?"

Chris smirked. "If you had bothered asking any of the officers who were on our previous deployment, they could have told you that he has been taking university-level courses since he was fifteen. But you refused to see it like that, didn't you?" Chris leaned on the bulkhead next to the force field, his eyes never leaving Stipe's. "Appearances aren't everything, Mr. Stipe. I feel sorry for your son, if that is the lesson you have been teaching him." Chris leaned in as close as he could go, giving him a grin a shark would envy. "And don't think I don't know who gave my son that ridiculous nickname, Mr. Stipe." Moving away from the wall, Chris faced the balding man. "Lieutenant Mikel Stipe. Your bigotry, your unwillingness to maintain proper decorum, and your continuing defiance has no place on board this vessel, nor in Starfleet." Chris increased his volume. "Mr. Jennings!" A large-framed older man entered the cell block and faced Chris, who nodded in acknowledgement and tipped his head towards the imprisoned Lieutenant. "The instant a square millimeter of the hull touches Spacedock, I want him off my ship."

Jennings saluted. "Captain." Chris walked back up to the force field, and shook his head.

"Two weeks, Mr. Stipe. You were guaranteed to be free of me."

Stipe scoffed. "Why is that?"

Chris gave him an amused look. "Because I'm being stationed dirtside for awhile, Mr. Stipe."

Stipe barked out a laugh. "They finally realized how bad of a Captain you are, sir?"

Chris lifted an eyebrow, and snorted. "Something like that, Mr. Stipe; something like that." Without a second glance, Chris left the cell block, stopping at Mr. Jennings' desk. "Do me a favor, Mr. Jennings."


"When the announcement is made at the end of the week regarding the new CO for this ship, make sure Mr. Stipe is awake to hear it." The older man grinned, and nodded.

"Of course, sir. Should I also make sure the cameras are focused on the cell block properly, sir?" Chris arched an eyebrow.

"Are we having some sort of malfunction of the security cameras, Mr. Jennings?" Chris said, and the man shook his head.

"No sir, all systems are working properly."

Chris gave the man a slight smile, his eyebrow still raised. "Then we have nothing to worry about." Chris turned and left the brig, and headed towards his quarters. He needed a shower after dealing with him, and he wanted to talk to Jim.

When Friday rolled around, and Number One announced where he had been posted, signing off with a classic "good luck and godspeed," Jennings informed him that the entire deck probably heard Stipe's shout. Chris barely squashed a very un-Captainly response; instead, he and Number One viewed the recording together in his ready room after shift, and shared a good laugh and a bottle of brandy. Jim later congratulated him again, and informed him that he had registered for classes at the UC branch in Barstow. Chris thought he may have been even happier at that news than at his promotion.

"Only five more days, sir." Number One was standing next to his chair on the bridge, and Chris glanced up at her. The bridge, nay, the whole ship had been in a reflective mood, and even the stern future captain was falling prey to the trend.

"Looking forward to keeping this chair permanently, Commander?" Chris said, and Number One gave a distant look.

"I might confess to some...enjoyment at the thought, sir." Number One's face was carefully bland, and Chris arched an eyebrow, and shifted forward on his seat.

"Oh? Do tell, Number One." Chris met her eyes, and tilted his head. "I don't think Starfleet is going to know what to do with you, Commander. You'll be an Admiral before the Enterprise is even complete."

"I think you might be full of crap, sir." Number One's expression never changed, and Chris felt a laugh escape his lips before he could stop it.

"You wouldn't be the first to express that opinion, Commander." Number One's lips quirked up into a slight smile as she stepped away from the chair and headed back to her seat at the helm. Chris looked over at Mr. Tyler, who had been clearly listening to the exchange.

"Estimated time to Vulcan, Lieutenant?" Chris gave an indulgent smile to Tyler, who glanced at his screen and replied without even a stutter.

"Twenty hours and thirty-two minutes, sir."

Chris leaned back in his chair. "Thank you, Mr. Tyler. You've gotten better at recovering."

The blond man smiled back. "It has been twelve years, sir. If I hadn't, I would be a bit worried." Chris nodded in agreement, and the bridge fell into a companionable silence.

"Ensign Waylon to Captain Pike." Chris jerked at the unexpected voice, and hit the button on his armrest.

"Pike here." Waylon's voice hesitated for a moment. "Ensign?"

"Sorry, sir. We need you on Deck Four as soon as possible." Chris froze. The gym was on Deck Four.

"I'll be right there." Chris rose to his feet, and nodded to Number One. "You have the conn, Commander."

"Yes sir." Number One brushed her shoulder against his arm as she took his seat, and Chris gave her a look of gratitude as he left the bridge.

The sight that greeted Chris upon reaching Deck Four made his head decide to start throbbing ominously, and he closed his eyes for a moment before surveying the situation more clearly. Jim was leaning against the wall, sporting a magnificent shiner and had his left hand wrapped around his right shoulder, which he was holding perfectly still. Mr. Shannon Richards was standing about a meter away from him, looking between Jim and young Mr. Stipe, whose nose was at an abnormal angle and was bleeding rather copiously into his bunched up shirt. Jim's gaze was fixed on the far wall, and did not turn his head even when Chris moved closer. Chris exhaled and turned to Ensign Waylon, who was in sweatpants and an undershirt. "What happened, Ensign?"

Waylon gestured to Jim, who was still refusing to meet anyone's eyes. "Jim, I mean, Mr. Pike was running on the treadmill, Mr. Richards was on the one next to him. I was stretching on the mats." Chris nodded and signaled for him to continue. "I saw Mr. Stipe came into the gym, where he took one look at Mr. Pike before running over and sucker-punching him in the face."

Mr. Stipe the Younger snarled. "That's a fucking lie!" Chris glared at the teen, who backed down.

"No, it isn't, Micky." Richards' long face, his eyes framed by large glasses and long brown hair, was clearly annoyed. "Ensign Waylon is completely correct, sir. Of course, Jim punched him back, which Micky of course followed up on, and we had to break them up before it got worse." Chris sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"And people wonder why Starfleet only allows children aboard a handful of starships," Chris murmured, looking between the three young men. Stipe bristled at his gaze, and turned to glare at Jim. "May I ask what your problem is with Mr. Pike, Mr. Stipe?" The prematurely balding teen shot Chris a look out of the corner of his eyes. "Mr. Stipe, I would appreciate an answer."

"He got my dad in trouble," Stipe mumbled, and Chris gave him an incredulous look.

"Your father is in the brig for assault and insubordination, charges that have absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Pike." Chris gave the boy a stern look, and Stipe looked away.

"They have to do with at least some Mr. Pike-" The teen began, and just as Chris opened his mouth to cut him off, a woman appeared and smacked Stipe across the back of the head.

"That's enough out of you, mister!" Chris met the eyes of Chief Petty Officer Stipe, who straightened and gave Chris a salute. "My apologies for my son's behavior, Captain; his father has been spinning him some rather amazing yarns about how the universe and everyone named Pike is out to get him. I would apologize for my husband's behavior, but he's dug himself too deep this time." The tall, thin woman wrapped a hand around her son's arm, who immediately tried to shake her off to no avail. "Mick, apologize to Mr. Pike. He didn't deserve your anger." The boy snorted, and looked away from the assembled group. Chris walked up next to Jim, who gave him a tired look and said nothing. "Mick, now." The teen glared again at Jim, who met his gaze with a dull expression and raised eyebrows. The standoff continued until Stipe again tried to wrest his arm out of his mother's grip, again failing. The Chief Petty Officer sighed, a sad tone that Chris felt himself agreeing with, and tugged on her son's arm. "I better get you to Sickbay, Mick. Wouldn't want your nose healing sideways, even if you deserve it." She looked over at Chris, who nodded his dismissal, and she and her son were gone. Chris turned to Ensign Waylon and Mr. Richards, who had stayed quiet during the entire exchange, and shook his head.

"Thank you for your assistance, both of you. We will be getting out of your way now." The ensign nodded and went back into the gym. Mr. Richards looked like he was about to say something to Jim, but simply gave him a nervous smile and followed the ensign. Chris looked over at Jim, who hadn't made a sound since he got to the scene. "Let's go back to our quarters, Jim. I'll fix you up there." Jim pushed himself away from the wall, and followed Chris.
As they entered, Chris locked the door and motioned for Jim to sit down as he walked into the bathroom to retrieve the dermal regenerator. He didn't say anything, simply motioned for Jim to take off his outer shirt so he could see the hurt shoulder. The angry brat had socked Jim right over his burn scar, which remained sensitive, and Chris ran the device over the swollen bruise that was forming. Jim's body slumped in relief as the regenerator worked its magic, and he let out an exhausted sigh.

"Sorry about this. I didn't want the Ensign to bother you, but he did anyway," Jim muttered, and rotated his shoulder as Chris finished with it. Chris gave a humorless smile and started on the black eye.

"How long has this been going on, Jim?" he said, as he worked the device around Jim's eye socket. Jim's brilliant blue eyes, far more intense than his parents, were fixed on the wall behind Chris's head. "Come on, Jim, just tell me."

"This is the first time he's done something this stupid. He's convinced that the sun shines out of his father's ass, so I'm not surprised. The instant I heard who had been hauled to the brig, I figured something was going to happen." Jim looked at Chris, who switched off the regenerator and sat back on the sofa next to him. "I'm just glad I won't have to deal with him ever again in a few days." Jim waved a hand dismissively, and Chris sighed and wrapped an arm around the young man's shoulders.

"No, I suppose not. I'm hoping I won't have to deal with his father again either." Chris glanced towards Jim's bedroom. "How goes your packing?"

Jim let his head fall forward. "Almost done, besides a few knick-knacks. Need me to start in here?" he said, and Chris hummed under his breath.

"Only if you want to, Jim. If you want to relax for now, go right ahead." Chris gave Jim's left shoulder a squeeze before drawing his arm back and standing up. "I still have a few hours left on shift. I would probably suggest you stay in here for awhile, in case young Mr. Stipe slips away from his mother." Chris walked to the door of their quarters, turning around before the doors opened. "I hear the mess is making pasta with pesto alfredo for dinner tonight." Jim looked up from the sofa and gave him a tired grin. "I'll see you at the mess at seventeen-hundred, then?"

Jim nodded. "Sounds good." Chris gave him a soft smile as the doors closed behind him.

Jim stayed in San Francisco for a week after they returned to Earth, mostly to see John and say goodbye to Number One and his handful of friends from the Yorktown; then he was gone for the desert. Chris was in and out of meetings for several weeks pertaining to his new posting, and was only able to call Jim once during that time. He wasn't too worried, however. He knew for a fact that the instant Jim had gotten settled, he had been out amongst the birds; he didn't need to distract Jim from his stress-relief. Chris was finally released from meetings about three weeks after he returned dirtside, and after sitting in on Mr. Stipe's court-martial, was ordered to report three and a half months hence. After extracting a promise to come visit out of John, Chris was on the first shuttle he could get on to Mojave.

Jim, in his brilliance, met him at the shuttle station on the bike. "Um, Jim, I don't think there is room for both of us and my duffel on the bike," Chris said, looking at the bike, then turning to Jim. Jim laughed and grabbed the duffel, slinging it across his back.

"You drive, old man; I'll carry your bag. The logistics of our body shapes work out better anyway that way on the bike." Jim slung a leg over the back, patting the seat in front of him. Chris glared at the not-so-tow-headed brat, before groaning and getting on. Luckily, the weather was pleasant, and they made it back to the house in excellent time.

After putting his bag into the master bedroom, Chris went downstairs to find Jim sprawled on his stomach over the sofa in the front room, wings drooping over the back and onto the floor; Chris maneuvered around them as he grabbed a beer from the kitchen and sat down on the floor near Jim and the coffee table. Jim looked completely focused on whatever he was doing, so Chris sipped at his beer for a few minutes before speaking. "What are you doing over there?" Jim looked up, and Chris could see the PADD he was holding. Jim glanced back at the screen then up at him.

"Thinking about courses I should take for the Fall term." Jim motioned at the PADD, and Chris scooted closer to look.

"Anything in particular you were considering?" Chris poked at Jim's left wing, and he moved it out of the way so Chris could lean against the sofa. Jim gave a loose shake of his head, and pointed at the screen.

"I need to do my placement exams first before I can really choose. I go down next week to take care of those, and I believe the results are instantaneous, so I'll be able to start planning for certain after that." Jim looked at his PADD. "What do you think about advanced sciences, like Molecular Biology?" Chris arched an eyebrow.

"Some of those courses require pretty serious dedication, Jim. Make sure you know what you are getting into before you commit to them." Chris pried the PADD away from Jim and scanned the list. "You are definitely looking at the advanced courses; Quantum Physics, Linear Algebra-" He looked up at Jim, who shrugged. "Don't overwhelm yourself right off the bat, Jim." Jim reached over and grabbed back his PADD.

"I'll be fine, Dad. I'm just looking right now anyway." Jim resumed his reading of the list, and Chris sighed quietly and got up to take his beer bottle to the recycler. He just hoped that Jim kept it under control, he knew from personal experience what happens when you try and take too many classes. Chris was still in agreement with himself on the disaster that was his first term of his second year at the Academy. They still hadn't fixed that statue.

Jim blazed through the placement exams with flying colors; Jim told him that the proctor looked like he had seen the Eugenics Wars start in front of him when he was reviewing the scores. Jim was positive that the only reason he didn't get accused of cheating was because the proctor would have been held responsible; Chris told him to stop being so pessimistic. Despite Chris's misgivings, Jim enrolled in a full course load of six classes, almost all upper-division courses designed to prepare for continuing on to graduate school. Jim became scarce over the next few months, often only coming home to sleep and go for flights; Chris had to practically tie him down to get him to relax occasionally, usually through music. John came down the week after Jim's midterm exams, providing a much needed break for both of them; Jim emerged from his schoolwork cloud long enough to make plenty of inappropriate jokes and get horrible ideas from John, and they managed to have several jam sessions before the older man had to return to San Francisco. It was near-impossible for Chris to have a decently long conversation with Jim during this time, as he had taken to studying in a niche up on the cliffs above the house. Chris tried not to focus on the fact that Jim didn't seem to be making any serious friends at college, as he was spending all of his spare time studying anyway. Chris spent most of his second year at the Academy holed up in his dorm. Jim would calm down after this semester.

The day before Chris was scheduled to report to Starfleet Command, Jim had his first final exam. Chris got up extra early to say goodbye and wished him luck. Jim gave him a hug and a cocky grin before he headed off on the motorcycle. Chris packed his duffel and called a taxi, keeping his fingers mentally crossed all the while.

He didn't hear from Jim for almost a week. When Chris finally managed to reach him, it took thirty minutes to wheedle out of him that he had aced all of his classes; Jim was much more interested in telling him about a girl that he had bumped into in the Biology and Genetics building. After listening to Jim tell him all about the girl, who according to his son's rather fantastical description was Aphrodite mixed with Marie Curie and with the disposition of a saint (Chris was a bit skeptical,) Chris finally managed to get a word in edgewise.

"Jim, how long did you talk to this girl?" Silence met Chris's question, and he couldn't quite squash a knowing smirk. Jim fidgeted and looked away from the screen. "Well?" Chris said, resting his chin on the back of his folded hands. Jim's handsome face twisted comically for a few seconds before he responded.

"A minute...or two. Maybe," Jim mumbled, his volume decreasing as he spoke. Chris couldn't keep back his laughter any longer, and only when it looked like Jim was going to throw the console across the room did he stop. His shoulders still shaking, he addressed his son again.

"Oh, Jim. Did you even get her name?" Chris watched Jim's shoulders slump. "I'll take that as a no." Jim's wings flared open as he leaned back into his seat, and he gave Chris a morose look.

"She was running late for her final." Jim slouched even further down into his seat, causing Chris to see more of the top of his head than the rest of his face. Chris looked at the depressed young man, suddenly feeling rather old. Jim had had a collection of crushes over the last five years or so, like most teens, but no relationships. Chris knew that Jim's apparent deformity caused by disguising his wings wasn't helping the situation, but he was leaving that choice up to Jim. He was of age and no longer confined to a starship, and Chris didn't want him to be stuck in that harness forever, but he wasn't going to push it. He gave a bittersweet sigh and tried to meet Jim's eyes.

"Jim, school starts up again after the holidays, I'm sure you'll be able to speak with her then. And stop slouching and pouting; girls generally don't like that." Chris got a nice glare from Jim at the last comment, but he scooted back up in his chair. Chris decided to change the subject. "Anything you want to do for your birthday? You've only got a little over three weeks before you are officially no longer a teenager, after all." Jim's face became serious, and Chris exhaled. Every year they went through this. "Jim, the last thing George would have wanted for you is to be so depressed on your birthday, especially a milestone like this one. I would prefer to not have to face your father and have to explain why, either," Chris said, and watched a collection of expressions run over Jim's face as he thought, and Chris wished that they weren't having this conversation over a comm. Chris gave Jim a smile. "John is planning to join us for New Years and your birthday, so I don't think you are going to have much say in the matter anyhow."

"Is he going to his mom's for Christmas?" Jim said, and Chris nodded. "When will you be back down?" Chris thought about it for a second before responding.

"The afternoon of Friday the twenty-fourth. I can't get away before that, unfortunately. Both John and I will be heading back here on the morning of the fifth." Jim nodded congenially enough, but Chris could see the disappointment in his eyes. Time to change the subject again. Chris grinned, and Jim shot him a suspicious look. "We'll have to give you some advice on how to woo your lady friend. I'm sure John would love to tell you some of his stories as well." He paused and furrowed his brow. "Although I would be careful with any advice he offers, as this is the same man who managed to scare off Captain Hernandez on two separate occasions, and they were both equally interested." Jim rolled his eyes and groaned dramatically, before a naughty smirk found its way across his features.

"Is that right? Well, he doesn't need to worry about that anymore, does he?" Chris cringed at the lecherous tone coming from his son's mouth before the actual words caught up with his father-of-a-teenager addled brain...and he wasn't turning red at Jim's ridiculous statement. He wasn't. After relocating his tongue from his throat, Chris straightened up in his seat and fixed a glare on his brat of a kid that would flay the flesh off a Klingon.

"What are you implying, you perverted pigeon?" Chris growled, and Jim was suddenly on the floor; laughing so hard his wings, the only things visible to Chris, were fluttering uncontrollably in the air behind him. Chris barely controlled the impulse to slam his own head into the desk. He settled for massaging his temples instead.

"Your face! Holy shit that was brilliant, but since I'm brilliant, it's not too much of a stretch." Chris watched as Jim's arms reappeared back onscreen as they grasped the table the console rested on, pulling his head and torso back into view. "Oh come now, Dad; it's not like I haven't been saying crap like that for years, yeah?" Jim said as he sat back down in his chair. Chris schooled his expression as flat as he could make it.

"Whatever thoughts you have in that windburned excuse for a brain are still wrong, like they were every other time you brought it up. John and I are just friends." Chris nodded firmly, and Jim gave him a skeptical look.

"Keep telling yourself that, Dad."

Between John and Chris, they managed to turn Jim's twentieth birthday into a multi-day event. Jim was persuaded to drag John to every major landmark in their area of the desert, with John bitching and laughing all the way to each one. Chris realized around the time they were leaving the Trona Pinnacles that Jim had visited more places in the desert than he ever had, and his childhood hadn't been marked by years on-board a starship like Jim's. Chris wasn't quite sure what to think about that, but he did know that he had left Jim alone far too much in that stretch between the last two Yorktown missions. That's why Jim now has that scar on his shoulder that looks like stretched putty, and a tiny bald spot on his wing. Chris startled at a sudden hand on his shoulder, and he turned his head to see John standing next to him, a concerned look on his face.

"You're a million light-years away, Chrissy. You alright?" Chris sighed, his whole frame sagging; John slipped his hand around to the back of Chris's neck, rubbing at his nape with a thumb. "Jimmy's been having fun showing me around, and you-" Chris shook his head and gave the older man a soft smile.

"Just thinking too much, John. Don't worry about it." John looked doubtful, but he gave Chris's nape a final gentle squeeze and stepped back.

"If you say so, Chris," John said, and Chris turned as Jim approached them, his slender form swaying slightly as he walked.

"What's going on?" Jim looked between the two men with a raised eyebrow. Chris reached out and patted Jim on the shoulder as he walked towards their rented car, ignoring the suspicious look on Jim's face.

"Nothing, nothing. Just thinking." Chris stopped by the car, and looked back at John and his son; who were exchanging a look. "Why don't we head back to the house? I think we might have something to eat there, and besides, we have girl issues to discuss." Jim scowled dramatically, but John's face split into a smile that made him look like he was trying to impersonate Dr. Phlox, making Chris smirk in response.

"That's right! We need to fix that, don't we Jimmy?" John reached over and ruffled Jim's hair, the effect a bit different now that he stood taller than both of the older men. Jim instinctively brought a hand up to parry, but John laughingly spun his arm out of the way and ruffled it again.

"John, I'm twenty, not two!" Jim groused as they piled into the car, with John cackling and Chris at the wheel, and sped off towards home.

Carol Marcus. Chris was pretty sure that he was going to be sick of that name by the end of this term. He was thrilled for his son, glad that Jim had been able to find his dream girl relatively easy; but Jim wasn't talking about much else during their calls, and he was more concerned with Jim's schooling than his possible girlfriend. Not that he wasn't happy about that possibility, as he knew that Jim had never been in a relationship, and that kiss he had accidentally walked in on when Jim was seventeen didn't count. That girl had been friendly enough, but even Chris had noticed that she was too deliberate about looking at Jim from the neck up and not touching his back. But Carol was different, according to Jim's happy babbling; she didn't care about his appearance, she cared about his brains. Jim had even brought her over to the house to study, and for any average young man that would have been a really bad euphemism for sex, but Chris knew that Jim was still insisting on keeping his wings hidden, which precluded any serious intimacy on his behalf, anyway. Chris decided that there were things he didn't need to know, so he didn't pry.

Chris was finally able to get enough time to make it back down to the desert to spend some time with Jim right after his finals. As he disembarked at the Mojave shuttle station, he fully expected to be greeted yet again by Jim and that old bike, but instead a sleek newer model hovercar was there, with Jim leaning against the side with a cocky expression. Chris knew the look on his face must have been rather comical, as Jim lifted himself away from the car with a chuckle.

"Where in the world did you steal this from?" Chris said, approaching his laughing son. Jim crooked his head sharply to the right.

"From her." Chris's view suddenly had a lovely young woman in it, as she walked up to his son and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Carol, this is my dad, Captain Christopher Pike." Carol reached out and Chris shook the proffered hand firmly. "Dad, Carol Marcus." So this was the famous Carol. Chris gave her a friendly smile and glanced pointedly towards the car.

"I apologize in advance if my son guilted you into picking up his old man," Chris said as Jim muttered 'hey' in the background. Carol shook her head with a smile, and Jim picked up his bag and put it in the trunk.

"No, it was my pleasure; can't leave a famous Starfleet Captain stranded at the station, could we?" Carol said as she motioned to the car, and she opened up the rear door. "Don't leave your father sitting all alone, Jim." She winked at Chris, and with an eye roll, Jim scooted onto the back seat, Chris following behind. Carol got in and started the car, and they were swiftly on the road out of town. Chris raised an eyebrow.

"Famous?" he said, and Jim shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, you definitely are around here. When the Enterprise posting was officially announced, all the local news feeds were running with it like crazy. You are the local hero, as far as anyone in the desert seems to think," Jim said, and Carol made a sound in agreement. "When Carol realized what Pike I was related to, she acted like I had just told her I was related to Zephram Cochrane." Jim smirked, and Carol squawked.

"I did not, you liar! Captain, he's full of it." Carol never took her eyes from the road while speaking; Chris liked her already. Tilting his head towards his son, Chris gave him a considering look.

"She has a point there, son," Chris said, and Jim scowled.

"I am- you guys- bah. Already picking on me." Jim folded his arms and settled into a nice sulk, while Chris leaned forward a bit in his seat.

"So, Miss Marcus; anything I should know about you? I believe you two met at school?" Chris said, and Carol nodded.

"Carol, sir. Miss Marcus makes me feel like when my parents are mad at me." Carol chuckled, and Chris, amused, leaned back in his seat.

"Then I insist you call me Chris, Carol. I'm on vacation."

"All right."

They made good time back to the house, and Chris took the opportunity to find out more about his son's girlfriend. From his questions, Chris discovered that Carol was a twenty-one year old fourth year student working on her Molecular Biology degree, and had already been accepted to continue on into graduate school. It was clear that she cared for Jim, Chris noticed that her voice softened a bit when she was referring to something good he had done, and Jim was hanging on her every word like she was reciting the secrets of the universe. Chris was simply happy that his son was so happy. If this relationship went sour, though, he had a feeling that the resulting crash would be disastrous. Jim was so infatuated with Carol that Chris worried that his sense of perspective was hopelessly skewed. But Jim was an adult. He had to let him sink or swim sometime.

Chris and Jim made the three of them a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, which Carol praised endlessly as they ate. Chris watched his son mentally preen and glow under her approval, and couldn't help feeling a little nostalgic about the whole affair as he watched the two of them interact. He learned all about Carol's current projects and experiments, which Jim told him as much about as Carol. Chris didn't miss how the young woman's eyes lit up at the talk of her work as much as it did at talk of his son, but decided not to dwell on it. Jim deserved the chance to enjoy his first real chance at love.

Jim cornered him after dinner in the kitchen as they were cleaning up, and asked if he would be willing to play guitar while he sang. Chris was stunned.

"Are you sure? You usually never want anyone to hear you sing." Jim actually blushed, a faint dusting of his tan skin that made him look incredibly young; Chris could no longer restrain an amused grin.

"Hey, it's not funny!" Jim growled, but his embarrassment was too easy for Chris to ignore. Chris had himself a good solid laugh against the kitchen counter for a good minute while Jim put the dishes away snappishly. After he had calmed himself down to a quiet chuckle, Jim glowered and spoke again. "Well? Will you?" The instant Chris nodded, Jim was gone from the kitchen, the sounds of him running up the stairs resonating throughout the house.

"Where is he going?" Chris turned around to see Carol popping her head into the kitchen with a look of confusion on her face. He smiled and motioned her back to the living room.

"He wants to show you something. I would say feel honored, because he never does this in front of anyone but John or myself, but I'll leave that determination up to you." Chris winked as he sat down in one of the chairs, and indicated that she do the same. Jim came down the stairs clutching Chris's guitar, which was still in its case, causing Carol's eyes to widen in interest.

"You play, Jim? You never said anything." Jim entered the living room, shaking his head.

"Not me," Jim said as he handed off the guitar to his dad, who popped open the case and took out the acoustic instrument. Carol looked confused all over again by the exchange, and Chris smiled as he set the case on the rug on the floor.

"He's going to sing for you, if I am understanding correctly. I'm just the backup band." Chris quirked his index finger, and Jim leaned in.

"Yeah?" Jim said, and Chris smirked.

"Annie's Song?" Chris whispered. Jim's face promptly turned a fascinating shade of burgundy, and he began to sputter.

"You- you- Dad," Jim moaned, and Chris gave a naughty smile.

"I've gotta get my kicks somewhere, kid. If I didn't, I'd be completely grey by now." Chris raised his eyebrows, and Jim straightened, running his hands through his hair and looking vaguely insulted. Carol appeared to be enjoying the exchange, based on the amused smile on her own face. "Well Jim, what are we doing?" Jim looked over at Carol, and smiled.

"I hope you like this," Jim said, and tilted his face towards Chris. "How about And So It Goes?" Chris nodded and plucked at the strings as he recalled the tune.

"I'm guessing your tastes run to more serene tunes, Carol?" Chris said as he looked down at his guitar, and he heard Carol make a noncommittal noise.

"I like a little bit of everything, but I tend to like calmer songs, yes." Chris nodded without looking up, strumming a few more notes.

"You'll like this then." Chris lifted his head and looked at Jim. "I'm ready." Jim nodded, and they began, Jim's lovely voice was a tick rougher than it may have once been, but he was still suited exquisitely to the material. He was too busy playing to focus on what he was playing to pay much attention to Carol, but what he did catch was promising. As they finished, Chris looked up to see Carol trying out her best fish impression, and Jim- Jim's face was blank. After what must have felt like a lifetime to his son, Carol began to bounce in her seat, applauding loudly.

"That was amazing! Jim, how come you never told me you could sing? Oh wow." Carol's voice came out almost as a squeak, and Jim immediately affected the mellow "it was no big deal" attitude, a hand scratching at the fine hairs at the back of his head. Chris calmly sat back in his seat and watched the young couple silently with a fond smile.

Chris found himself completely swamped with work, now that he was teaching classes at the academy and doing recruiting trips. His talks with Jim dwindled to once every week or so, and those calls were often less than twenty minutes, with the usual pleasantries and updates on school and work taking most of the time. Carol was still very much in the forefront of the conversations, although Chris noticed that Jim's effervescent bubbling over her had tempered into fond commentary; which he thought might actually be a good sign. However, as the months of Jim's third school term pressed on, Chris realized that something wasn't right; Jim's smiles became more and more strained, and his mentions of Carol seemed almost...sad. Chris tried everything he could think of to lure solid answers out of him, but Jim had gotten exceptionally good at diverting and conveniently forgetting to answer questions. The most he got his son to admit to was that school was tiring him out more than usual, but that told Chris nothing.

About a week after Jim's midterms, John informed Chris during their thrice-weekly lunch that he had to do a trip down to Twenty-Nine Palms, and told him that he would stop by the house before he returned and see how Jim was doing. Chris knew damned good and well that Jim was willing to tell "Uncle John" things he would never confess to his old man; so he thanked John and sent him off to spy. What Chris didn't expect is John to drop by at midnight immediately after his trip, charging straight into the house and asking for a beer. The instant Chris got a good look at John's face, he knew something was wrong. Motioning John into the living room, he fetched a few beers and sat down next to the older man, who plucked the offered drink out of Chris's hands and took a long draft, saying nothing. Chris wasn't so patient.

"Alright, something is going on," Chris said, watching John's Adam's apple bob as he downed his beer. John gave him a look out of the corner of his eye that made him groan and put a hand against his forehead. "That bad?" John swallowed the last of the beer and put the bottle down with a thud.

"It's not great, Chris." Chris sucked in a breath. John always started with that damn nickname. This was serious. John propped his elbows on his knees and rested his face in his hands, looking straight ahead. "From what I could glean from the two of them, which was ninety percent her, pretty Carol is getting increasing amounts of crap for associating with Jim; she's got quite the fan base, from what I understood. Jim is, of course, getting it in reverse, being told to back off and how she is too good for the likes of him-" John angled his head towards Chris. "-insert your favorite cliche phrases here. It started out mild, easy to ignore; but Carol admitted that it has been steadily worsening as the trimester has gone on." Chris closed his eyes against John's words, feeling the prickles of anger rise in his chest. "Not that it wasn't obvious. I'm assuming he didn't tell you." John lifted his head enough to rest his cheek on his folded hands, and Chris furrowed his brow in thought.

"Tell me what? I've been barely able to get more than a straight sentence or two out of him for months if it's about anything serious." Chris sighed, and John leaned back and put an arm around his shoulders.

"Someone vandalized your motorcycle while it was parked at the campus. Jim's been trying to get it back to the way it was for almost a month now." Chris jerked his head towards John's, eyes wide, and received a sad smile for his effort.

"Please tell me you aren't saying what I think you are saying," Chris said, and John let his head fall back to look at the ceiling; Chris suddenly felt very weary of the whole discussion.

"I'd love to say that it's not what it sounds like, but it's completely what it sounds like. I managed to pull him aside for a bit, ask if he had considered just stopping the disguise, but he is completely unwilling to do so." John sighed. "He's accustomed to the reactions he gets now; I think...I think he's afraid of what will happen when his little secret eventually comes to light." Chris nodded absently, and John continued. "I asked if he had thought about telling Carol, but even I couldn't get an answer out of him for that one." Chris sagged, and John squeezed Chris's shoulder without raising his head. "They aren't going to last much longer as a couple if something drastic doesn't happen, and soon." Chris let his own head fall back against the sofa, and the two sat in silence for a long while, listening to the clicks of the old-fashioned grandfather clock in the background.

"Carol's a nice girl," Chris blurted out, and John sighed.

"Yeah, she is."

"Jim is going to be a wreck, although he'll deny it until Nogura gets a sense of humor."

"Jimmy is going to be a fucking mess. He's still shooting Carol moon-eyes, and they've been going out, what, five months now?"

"You do realize we sound like two old women who have nothing better to do then wear red hats and gossip about their neighbor's kids," Chris said dryly, and John barked out a laugh that trailed into another sigh.

"I think it's going to come down to Jim or her unobstructed education, at least in her mind, and it's crystal clear which one she'll choose. The look in her eyes when she was telling me about her newest experiment was even more sappy than Jim's looks at her," John said, and Chris couldn't argue against that. Heaving yet another sigh, Chris swung himself off the sofa and looked down at John, wincing at his blood-shot eyes and the growing bags under them.

"Why don't you stay here tonight, John? The extra bedroom is all set up." John raised bleary eyes to Chris, who took his hands and pulled him into a standing position. "Come on, old man, I would be a horrible friend to let you wander back to your place half-awake like that, especially after you've done me a favor."

"Trying to get me into bed, Chrissy?" John smirked, and Chris groaned.

"Don't you start that. I said the spare bedroom, old man," Chris snarked, right as John pulled him in and gave him a big noisy kiss on the side of his head. "Definitely your bedtime," Chris deadpanned, as he pushed John through the door of the extra bedroom and closed the door. "Good night, John."

"G'night, Chrissy." John's reply was muffled by the door, but Chris still heard it as he entered his own bedroom. With a tired smile, he fell into his own bed, and hoped that his son's situation would resolve itself quickly.

The resolution came swifter and harsher than either Chris or John had expected. Only about two weeks following the end of the school year, Chris returned from a normal day at work to find Jim sitting on the sofa in the front room, hunched over and with a look on his face that made Chris drop what he was carrying and sit down next to him. "When did you get here, Jim?" Jim didn't answer, and Chris sighed and fell back against the cushions. "Jim, talk to me. Is this about Miss Marcus?" That got a reaction. Jim stiffened, clenching his fists so tightly that his knuckles turned white; Chris could see the veins pop out even more than usual. Chris resisted the urge to massage his temples to relieve the headache that was rumbling into existence, choosing instead to reach out and cover one of Jim's fists with his hand. "Son, please." Jim deflated, his chin falling to his chest.

"As you've probably guessed, I've been cut loose," Jim muttered, his voice laced with the bitterness Chris and John had both expected, and Chris squeezed Jim's fist in a comforting motion. "She told me she needed more time to devote to her research, now that she's continuing on to grad school." Jim let his fists relax, and Chris pulled his hand back. "That's a little bit of the reason, but not the primary one." Jim turned his head to face Chris as he spoke, and Chris tried to put on a reassuring smile.

"If that's not the main reason, what do you think it was?" Chris said, and Jim gave a dark, toothy smile devoid of warmth.

"I have excellent hearing, Dad. Especially if it's from a decent distance away." Jim fell back to join his father against the sofa cushions. "I didn't tell you that Carol took me to meet her parents." Chris sucked in a breath, and Jim gave that bitter smile again.

"I'm guessing it didn't go well," Chris murmured, and Jim shrugged.

"I wasn't what they were expecting, I'll tell you that." Jim arched his torso forward and scratched at his lower back. "Carol had neglected to tell them much of anything about me. The look on her mother's face was classic; I'm pretty sure I would have gotten the same look if I had been a Klingon." Chris groaned and put a hand on his son's shoulder, causing Jim's smile to lighten a tiny bit. "Her father wasn't that bad, asked me about my studies, about you and the desert; her mom said next to nothing to me most of the evening. When they thought I was out of earshot, they informed Carol that despite me being the son of a decorated Starfleet Captain, that I wasn't intellectually her equal, therefore I was only going to be a distraction to her studies." Chris's eyes widened incredulously, and Jim shrugged again. "She argued against that one, telling them that I was first in my class and how I had been taking college classes for years; it was pretty clear by her mom's response that she didn't buy that one bit." Jim gave a painful chuckle, and Chris instinctively squeezed his shoulder. "After some back and forth, her mom finally just came out with what she had obviously wanted to say the entire time. She-" Jim's voice caught, and Chris decided to say nothing as he watched his son take a few deep breaths to try and keep his composure. Jim gave that frozen grin-grimace again that sent a chill down Chris's spine. "No daughter of her's was going to throw away her career on a malformed spoiled brat who was never going to get anywhere in life, and if Carol insisted on seeing me, she was going to stop paying her expenses." Chris felt his jaw drop.

"Was- was she that blunt about it?" Chris got out, and Jim pursed his lips and nodded.

"I may have misquoted a tiny bit, but, yeah, that was basically it. Her complete sap of a father tried for about ten seconds to calm his wife down, but it was pretty clear who made the decisions in that family." Jim swung his legs out and leapt to his feet, knocking Chris's hand off his shoulder in the process. "I knew that Carol would choose her studies over me. I knew that almost as soon as I really met her. I just-" Chris got to his feet and faced his son, who was beginning to shake. "I just wish it had lasted longer." Jim slumped forward and let his forehead fall against Chris's shoulder; he took that as license to give his son a hug.

"I am sorry, Jim, for what it's worth," Chris said, and Jim mumbled something into his shoulder in reply before pushing back.

"I feel like such a fucking kid, getting all bothered about this shit. I bet you were a lot younger than this when you had your first girlfriend or boyfriend," Jim groused, and Chris sighed at his tone.

"Jim, you have extenuating circumstances, and besides, not everyone has their first relationship as a teenager. You don't need to be rushing into anything." Chris barely kept himself from rolling his eyes at Jim's disbelieving reaction.

"How old were you?" Jim challenged, and Chris snorted.

"I was nineteen when I had my first real girlfriend. John was twenty, and that relationship...ended rather unfortunately, from what I've inferred." Jim actually gave a real chuckle this time, and Chris quirked his head.

"What's the laugh for?" Chris said, and Jim gave a wan smile.

"John seems to have crappy luck with his girlfriends," Jim said as he walked towards the kitchen. Chris paused and thought about it for a moment, before nodding.

"You have a point there, son." Jim popped out of the kitchen holding a pint of chocolate-chocolate ice cream, and Chris raised an eyebrow. "If you can't get off the ground next time, don't blame me."

"I won't," Jim said around his spoon, and Chris rolled his eyes.

"Awwwonrnt?" Chris mimicked, and Jim shot him a dirty look as he took another bite.

"Hmph." Chris gave his son a smile as he walked back to his briefcase and picked it up.

"I have some work I need to finish, Jim. We can talk more in a few hours," Chris said, and Jim nodded mid-swallow, the spoon hanging out of his mouth. Chris headed to the stairs, and sighed silently as he caught Jim drooping into a chair with his ice cream. Damn Marcus's. It was unfortunate that Carol was related to them.

Jim, much to Chris's relief, didn't suddenly start eating him out of house and home (any more than usual, anyway) to comfort himself, instead choosing to sign up for his fall classes and loafing around the house in San Francisco with him for a little over a week before heading back south to start the summer term. Chris had brought up the idea of taking the summer off, but Jim would have none of it. John actually sided with Jim, saying that he understood the need to keep busy, and Chris decided to drop the subject. Jim went back to school, and Chris was sent out for an eight-week training cruise commanding the USS Danais. It would be another month until he spoke with his son again, and the short call he did have was rushed and entirely uninformative. By the time he returned, the summer term was over, and by Chris's reckoning, the fall term was within days of starting. He decided to head for Mojave like usual, but without letting Jim know ahead of time, grabbing a taxi from the shuttle station.

Chris didn't know what he had expected when he entered his mountain home, but it wasn't this. Just from the front entryway, Chris could see an explosion of clothes, books, PADDs, dirty dishes and other detritus littering every surface of the front room, and it appeared to continue on into the adjoining rooms. His nose crinkled when he stepped around the rotting fruit shoved under the coffee table, and walked up the stairs to dump his luggage. His house had been turned into a dorm. Maybe he should have given Jim notice, so he wouldn't have to had to see this, but it was too late for reconsideration now. Where was Jim, anyway?

"Jim? Are you in the house?" Chris was happy to note that the upstairs had not suffered the same indignity, excepting Jim's room, which looked like the aftermath of an engineering experiment gone horribly wrong. As he entered his bedroom, which appeared untouched, he yelled one more time to no effect. Jim was probably out flying, or studying; but he would be back quickly enough when he noticed that the proximity sensors had been triggered. After dropping his bag onto the slightly dusty bed, he decided that he would go ahead and start cleaning the downstairs. Chris promptly almost tripped over a bottle as he reentered the front room, and upon grabbing it realized that it was an empty vodka bottle, the last few drops resting at the bottom. He gave a deep sigh as he worked his way around the room, picking up an unfortunate collection of more empty bottles, rotting food, and very dirty dishes and dumping them in their corresponding receptacles. Just as he was about to start on the clothes, a light-feathered whirlwind blew in the front door, nearly knocking him over.

"Hi, son," Chris said wryly. Hurricane Jim looked like he had seen a ghost; his blue eyes were as big as the wheels of his bike, and his jaw was trying to beat a strategic retreat south. Chris calmly reached out and closed Jim's mouth with a single finger under the chin, hearing the young man's teeth clack together with the motion. "I must confess I wasn't expecting to relive some of my early Academy days when I came home, but well, I figure that I've gotta have that second childhood sometime." The mention of the mess knocked the dazed expression of Jim's face, and Chris watched as his son's face went through a spasm of expressions, before finally resting on irritation.

"You didn't tell me you were coming home today!" Jim exclaimed, immediately darting around Chris to pick up his clothes. Chris turned to watch him jump around the room, a bemused smile on his face.

"I didn't know I needed to RSVP to enter my own home," Chris said bluntly, and watched Jim nearly trip over the coffee table. "I might be an old-fashioned guy, but might I ask why the house looks like a very large dorm room?" Jim bolted out of the room with his arms full of clothing, and Chris sat down to wait. After listening to the noises from his son running around the house for several minutes, Jim came back into the room looking a bit sheepish, flopping into the seat across from his dad. Chris leveled a look. "Well?" Jim gave him a slightly shaky smirk.

"I got really busy with classes, and didn't have time to clean," Jim said as Chris sighed.

"You had time to drink, though," Chris said dully, and Jim frowned.

"It helped me sleep." Chris raised an eyebrow and glanced towards the base of the stairs.

"Is that why I tripped on an empty vodka bottle near the stairs, Jim?" Chris drawled, and he watched his son's face flush with embarrassment. "Just- don't get too dependent on it, Jim. There are much healthier ways of relaxing in the world." Jim was looking at the wall behind his head, and Chris rolled his eyes. "I know, I'm just the old man who you talk to occasionally over a console, but try to humor me sometimes." Jim chuckled at that, and Chris settled back in his seat. "How was school this summer?" Jim gave him a tired smile.

"Busy, but I aced all my classes," Jim said, flaring his wings as he repositioned himself. Chris nodded, giving him a proud smile.

"Like usual, yes?" Jim shrugged, and Chris leaned over and patted him on the shoulder. "Just try not to get the house that messy again, hmm? I really wasn't looking forward to explaining to the Admiralty how I broke my neck tripping on an empty bottle of booze." Jim ducked his head with a sheepish look, and Chris slapped him on the shoulder. "Have you eaten yet?"

"Not yet. I was just out getting some fresh air, I was going to eat when I got back," Jim said, and Chris nodded.

"Let's get something together, then. I didn't have much for breakfast." Chris rose and pulled his son to his feet, and the two of them headed into the kitchen. Jim opened a wing and wrapped it around Chris's shoulder, pulling him against Jim's side.

"Sorry about this, Dad." Jim looked genuinely contrite, and Chris cuffed him on the side of the head.

"Just try to not repeat it, alright?"

"Yes sir."

Chris noticed that the funds for Jim's schooling hadn't been deducted for the second term, and placed a call to his son the first chance he got. The Jim that appeared on the screen looked like a pale shadow of his usual self, and Chris felt a stirring of what could only be called worry in his gut. After going through the usual opening pleasantries, Chris got down to business.

"Jim, tuition never got taken out for Winter," Chris said, and Jim did a slight shrug in response.

"I didn't register for classes." Chris fell back in his chair as he gave Jim an incredulous look.

"You- what? This is the first time I've heard about this, Jim," He said, examining the younger man's face on his screen. Jim scrubbed a hand through his darkening hair and shrugged again.

"I needed a break, Dad," Jim stated with hardly any inflection, and Chris only barely managed to bite back a surge of anger. Sitting up and squaring his shoulders, he looked Jim straight in the eye and let his displeasure show in his gaze. Jim's own eyes dropped for a moment, before meeting his again in an odd expression of defiance that Chris did not expect.

"You are an adult, Jim, and it's your decision, but I find myself disappointed that I didn't even rate a simple call to let me know ahead of time." Whatever Jim had been expecting him to say, it obviously hadn't been that; Jim's shoulders stiffened while his expression sagged, and Chris could see pure exhaustion lining his son's features. "Jim, what's really wrong? How many classes had you been taking?" Jim shook his head.

"I'm sorry about forgetting, I just was really caught up in things, and I didn't-" Jim paused, and Chris pursed his lips. "I took nine courses last semester," Jim said with a tired sigh. Chris felt his mouth drop open.

"Jim, what in the world were you thinking? No wonder I was having such a hard time reaching you!" Chris pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling the building headache behind it. "Jim- Jim, is this about Carol?" Jim's face went perfectly blank, and Chris bit back a groan. Before he could formulate his next statement, Jim's blank expression relaxed into a vague look of guilt.

"It...might have been, at first," Jim muttered. "I took eight classes during the summer to get ahead and forget, and I was able to keep up with that, so I thought I would try for nine. But-"

"But?" Chris inquired, and Jim reached behind and scratched at the top ridge of his right wing.

"The regular school year is a lot longer than the summer term. It was all I could do to keep everything straight." Jim settled back in his chair. "I've been working part-time at a hovercar repair and tuning shop, doing the computer work and sometimes the mechanical stuff." The guilty look returned, and Chris opened his mouth to speak, but was preempted again. "You've been taking care of me for so long, and I don't want to keep taking advantage of you. I'm thinking of travelling for a little while." Chris could barely keep up with Jim's constant changing of topics, but he managed to formulate a response.

"Let me see if I have this straight. You took eight classes during the summer, thought you could pull off nine and a part-time job during the full length fall semester..." Jim scowled, but Chris pressed on. "You burned yourself out, and so you decided to...drop out of school?" Chris saw the dark cloud pass over Jim's face, and quickly amended his statement. "I mean take some time off. Jim, why haven't you been saying anything? How am I supposed to help you if you keep everything to yourself?" Chris could hear the hurt in his own voice, and winced internally. Jim rubbed at his face with both hands, hiding his features from view. "Jim, do you want me to come down? I can take some personal time-"

"No!" Jim snapped, and immediately looked chagrined. "I mean, no, I don't want to impose. There's no need to burden you with dumb shit like this, I'll deal." Chris slumped in his chair.

"Jim, it's my job to help you out, I want to help you; don't give me this crap about not wanting to impose." Chris sighed and met Jim's gaze. "I thought we had talked about this, son." Jim closed his eyes and fell back in his seat, and Chris was torn between wanting to throttle him and wanting to give him a hug. Only Jim.

"I'm sorry. I just- I want a change of scenery for a little while. I love the desert, but I want to see the rest of North America, at least." Jim opened his eyes, and Chris gave him a soft smile.

"I'm pretty sure road trips are a time-honored form of taking a breather during college. I took mine a little earlier than most, but I did it as well," Chris said, and Jim gave him an interested look.

"Where did you go?"

"I travelled to the Academy by way of Teotihuacan. It wasn't exactly the most direct route-" Jim laughed, and Chris's smile grew. "-but it was an amazing trip." Jim nodded.

"It gives me something to think about, at least." Jim pursed his lips in obvious thought, before popping his lips. "Oh yeah! I bought a bike for the trip. I've been fixing it up during quiet times at work." Chris smirked.

"You mean you are going to give my poor old antique a rest? However can I thank you?" Chris sing-songed, and Jim glared in response, before breaking off into chuckles. The two men regarded each other silently for a moment, until Chris spoke up again. "When are you thinking of heading out?" Jim chewed on the inside of his cheek.

"I was planning on next month," Jim said, and Chris's smile flattened out a bit.

"Not going to be back for Christmas or your birthday, are you?" Chris said, the words coming out a bit harsher than he had planned; Jim's own smile faltered.

"I don't know, Dad. I honestly don't know." Jim started preening his wings with his fingers, and Chris knew he wasn't going to get any more solid answers out of him at that point.

"I'll be down before you leave. The house will need to be closed up, and I would like to see my wayward kid before he wanders off for who-knows how long." Chris leveled a stern look at Jim, who tilted his head in understanding.

Chris called up John and vented to the older man for several hours after hanging up with Jim. John calmly listened to him bitch and gripe without comment for over an hour before interjecting with a wry smile on his face.

"Chrissy, Jimmy is a fantastically smart kid. However, just because he's a damn genius doesn't mean he knows what he wants to do with his life. Hell, I think they've done studies to prove that sometimes the smarter you are, the less likely you are going to setting into a career right away." John paused, and his expression became serious. "Chris, Jimmy is only twenty. He's had more shit to deal with than ninety-nine percent of the kids on this planet. I think him taking some time to get prospective on his life will be a good thing. Not forever, mind you, but I wouldn't be shocked if we don't see much of him for the next six months or so." When Chris squawked out his objection to the six-month estimate, John snorted and told him he would be over tomorrow after work with martini fixings. "The good Doctor Boyce informed me recently that a good martini does wonders for your stress level. I think you need it."

Chris managed a three day holiday to the desert about three weeks later, where he and Jim cleaned up the house and had a few jam sessions, and Chris pretended he didn't see that Jim already had the saddlebags of his bike packed. The morning of the third day, Jim brought up an idea at the breakfast table which caused Chris to nearly choke to death on his eggs in shock. So when Chris found himself on the edge of one of the medium sized cliffs near his house about a half hour before sunset, his son doing a mind-boggling series of stretches behind him, Chris felt like turning tail and running back to the house.

"Jim, I really don't think this is a good idea. I know you've mentioned it a few times, but the physics of it worry me." Chris turned around to see Jim, his wings spread to their fullest extent, and marveled at the effect of the pinks and oranges of the sunset through the gold and white feathers. Jim was easily one of the beautiful people Chris had ever known; George had been handsome, his mother was pretty, but Jim was in a wholly different playing field. Chris just hoped that more people could see that, even when Jim's wings were concealed.

"Yeah Dad, I know I'm hot, and we'll be fine. I just need a higher plateau to start from if I'm carrying something." Jim strode to the edge of the cliff and peeked over, nodding absently. Chris had never felt himself afraid of heights, but he felt a healthy respect of them was perfectly normal. It was an instinct that Jim lacked, a fact that had almost given Chris a heart attack not three months after he had taken custody of him. Jim spun back around and walked up to him, giving him a visual once-over. "Now I get to decide how to go about this." Chris gave him a comically horrified expression, and scooted away from him and the cliff. Jim burst out laughing, his grin open and boyish, and those blue, blue eyes gleaming with mischief that even Chris couldn't disregard.

"Speak, you pain in the ass." Chris cracked a smile, despite of the growing fear that he was going to die horribly in just a few moments, and Jim waved a finger in irritation.

"I meant, that I could carry you either in front or on my back. If I carry you on my back, my wings will be more restricted but you'll probably feel more secure; if I carry you in front, I'll probably be able to keep us up a little longer, but you may be a little more uncomfortable." Jim tapped his foot as he thought, but Chris's answer was easy.

"If we are really going to do this, pick whichever one you are more comfortable with. I'd prefer to be alive at the end of this, as I would like to be able to see inside of the Enterprise before I bite it," Chris said, not completely able to disguise the shaking of his voice. Jim clasped his shoulder and gave him a concerned look.

"If you really don't want to do this, we can skip." Jim smiled, but his eyes told a much different story, and Chris felt like he was kicking a puppy. Damnit. He shook his head and managed another smile.

"No, you hauled me up here, we'll go through with it." Jim gave him that wide grin again, then took him by the shoulders and led him close to the edge. He kept his eyes on Jim.

"We get to be all up close and personal for awhile, so probably a good thing that we have no spectators." Jim chuckled, and made a hugging motion with his arms. "Basically, we are going to have a bear hug, and then you'll turn around once I get to the right altitude. You hold on under the wings, I'll hold on under your arms. For obvious life-ensuring reasons, don't let go." Jim tilted his head. "If you feel unstable, you can use your legs to grab on too." A minute of pulling and prodding later, and the two were definitely in what would be referred to by onlookers as a compromising position. Of course, Jim didn't help. After a whispered "Hey good-lookin', come here often?" Chris may have accidentally let loose of Jim's waist to smack the younger man on the back of the head, and Jim apologized with a smirk. Chris often forgot that Jim was taller than him, and when he felt himself lifted off the ground, his feet resting on top of his son's, he let out a small noise. "You alright, Dad?" Chris nodded, and they were at the edge of the cliff before he could process it. "I would suggest closing your eyes until I start gaining altitude consistently. I doubt this will be like the orbital jumps you did at the Academy." Chris murmured his agreement and shut his eyes as he felt their feet leave the ground. Swallowing against the sudden nausea, he focused on breathing as he felt the air rush by them. To Chris, it felt like they were falling far beyond what he would have expected for lift-off, but right as he thought about saying something, the air around them changed direction as Jim began to gain altitude. He could feel Jim's unique muscular system working overtime under his fingers as Jim's wings beat a wide swath around them, and after a few more seconds, Chris slowly allowed his eyes to open. The sides of the mountain were rushing by; birds scrambling to get out of the way as they flew past, and Chris had to close his eyes against a spike of vertigo. The next few minutes were disorienting to him, as he alternated between glancing at the passing cliffs and clenching his eyes shut. The sound of the wind changed, and Chris felt Jim's arms tighten further. "Open your eyes, Dad. We're almost there." Chris opened his eyes to look out on open sky, and he instinctively looked down; the peaks of the Bristols were below their feet, and Chris decided he liked looking straight out instead. After a few more minutes of ascending, Jim leveled out, and Chris turned his head towards Jim's. "Time to turn you around! Go ahead and let go, I've got you." Chris didn't stop to think, and he found himself leaning against his son's chest, both of them looking in the same direction.

"Holy shit," Chris whispered, and he could feel the answering grin. Jim squeezed his waist lightly, and pointed towards the multicolored horizon with his chin.

"I told myself years ago that I was going to bring you up here so you could see the Mojave sunset how I've been able to see it," Jim said quietly, and Chris felt a tightness in his throat that had nothing to do with vertigo.

"Thank you, Jim. It's- I don't think I can describe it." Chris blinked away the annoying moisture that had suddenly sprung up, obviously due to the wind; and father and son watched the sunset in silence. He thought he heard Jim say 'It's the least I can do," but he wasn't sure; he lightly clasped the top of one of his son's hands, the same hands keeping him from plummeting to the ground below, and admired the view he had always loved from what was easily the most magnificent vantage point he had ever seen it from.

When Jim was in his harness and walking him to the taxi waiting for him a short walk down the mountain a few hours later, Chris finally identified what the clawing sadness that had been resting in the back of his stomach the entire trip was. And after Jim gave him a hug and a goodbye as he climbed into the back of the vehicle, Chris turned in his seat to see Jim's receding figure, and gave a short wave that was answered in kind. Chris wondered if all parents felt like this when their children moved out, even if it wasn't going to be forever.

Jim called him three weeks later from Chihuahua, Mexico, and told him about Ciudad Juarez with excited hand motions and commentary on the local scenery; all while wishing both he and John a Merry Christmas, telling them that he would be sending their gifts a bit late, and to not worry about anything for him. Chris barely got in a Happy Birthday to the soon-to-be twenty-one year old. The next call came about three weeks after that, shortly after he received a box with all sorts of knick-knacks and souvenirs that Chris and John looked at with bemusement, with Jim agreeing with him on the amazing nature of Teotihuacan, and babbling about the rainforest in Chiapas. A month passed until the next (he had hopped a shuttle to see Machu Picchu) and the month after that had him calling from Texas. Jim let slip on the Texas call that his mother was currently dirtside, and Chris was unsurprised when Jim didn't answer his inquiry about whether he was going to visit her. The six month mark found Jim calling from New York, a short call that told Chris next to nothing about how his son was doing; when Chris asked if Jim was planning to come home any time soon, his son, his hair now a dark shade of burnished gold, completely refused to answer.

Almost two months passed without any communication from his son, and he became increasingly worried when some routine queries turned up nothing for Jim's whereabouts. When he communicated this worry to John, the older man had sat in complete silence for a moment before getting to his feet and sitting down at Chris's computer terminal, and punched in a short command. Chris got to his feet when he saw a dark look pass over his friend's face, but John spoke before he could approach.

"He was in Indiana as of two weeks ago." John's answer was terse, and Chris gave John a confused look.

"How did you find that? I haven't had any luck." Chris walked up to the console, but John stood and blocked his view. "John?"

"James Pike was last heard from in Texas, shortly after reentering the US from Mexico. However, James Tiberius Kirk spent the night of July fifteenth in a holding cell along with five others following a bar fight in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was given a warning in Akron, Ohio two weeks before that for the same reason, and got fined in Buffalo, New York a week before that for again the same reason." John's expression was dark, and Chris struggled to process the information. What the hell was Jim doing? Why was he- Chris lightly nudged at John, and the older man stepped back to let Chris sit at the console. A short call up of the booking photo taken in Indiana dismissed away any doubts of it being his Jim, and the picture of an all too familiar young man glaring out from the screen, bruised and angry, jarred Chris to the core. Only nine months ago, Jim had been shooting him those smiles that made him look twelve as they practiced their music and as he was flying him up to watch the sunset; the man in the photo barely resembled him. The sky blue eyes were devoid of warmth, and had the fog of liquor obscuring their highlights. Chris didn't even realize that he had made any noise until he felt John's warm hands squeezing his shoulders.

"What the hell is going on, John?" Chris spit out as he scanned the short file. The Indiana arrest had been his fourth since he started using his birth name, but only the Buffalo arrest had actually filed charges. Only. Chris stared blankly at the offending information, not willing to parse it anymore. "He seemed so happy to be out and travelling a few months ago." John leaned over and hit the off button on the console, guided him to his feet, and moved both of them to the sofa. When the anger hit him, it shocked him with its force. "What the fuck is he doing!" Chris snarled, and John sighed at his side. "...and why is he-"
"Using the Kirk name again? I have my theories, but I will leave him to explain his true reasoning to you." Chris looked at John, who shook his head and said nothing more. Chris could only think of one reason that didn't completely make his stomach do flips, and his frown deepened.

"This isn't just a road trip anymore," Chris muttered to himself, and John made a hmming noise.

"I wonder if it ever was," John said quietly, and looking back, Chris felt himself in agreement. For some reason, the thought that came to mind was whether Jim was able to get enough flying time in with all this moving he seemed to be doing.

"Hi Dad." Jim's face was clear, except for a small healing scratch above his right eyebrow, Chris is just relieved to see him in one piece.

"Long time no talk, son," Chris said, hearing the hurt trickle into his own voice. Jim frowned lightly, but did not look away.

"I know it's been awhile, and I'm sorry; things just got busy and I lost track of time." Chris raised an eyebrow, and Jim gave him a petulant look. "What?"

"Too busy to speak with your old man, Jim? Forty-six and I've already been put out to pasture." Chris affected an over the top sigh, his shoulders drooping as he exhaled, and the younger man snorted.

"Dad, you'll be over a hundred and still kicking ass, don't even start that old man crap." Jim gave him a smirk, and the pull of skin caused Chris to notice a line to the left of his lips that hadn't been there before.

"Where did you get the scar, Jim?" Chris said, tapping at the according spot on his own face, and Jim waved a hand in dismissal.

"I don't remember, maybe in Mexico? Doesn't matter," Jim drawled out, and Chris bit back a real sigh. The two looked at each other in silence, the moment stretching to an awkward point that Chris didn't like.

"I have a question for you, Jim." Chris sat up and fixed a thoughtful look on the younger man. "When you were younger, I put an flag on your original profile to make sure no one else was using your identity." Jim's jaw clenched, and he shot Chris a look that told the older man that lying had not been the way to go. Chris took a deep breath and started again. "Alright, no, I didn't. I did however check from time to time. After not hearing a word or getting even a basic text message from you for months, it- came to mind again." Chris would not drag John into this, this was between Jim and himself. He raised his eyes, and he knew the look on his face was bleak from the guilt that flashed across Jim's features. "It's entirely your right, son, I have no right to insist differently, but-"

"Dad." Jim cut him off, and Chris snapped his mouth closed. Jim let his head fall into his hands, and Chris watched him scrape his fingers against his scalp for a minute as the younger man collected his thoughts. Jim let his hands fall back to the table, and Chris tried to steel himself. "It's not like that. I decided after nearly getting caught up in someone else's dumb fight in Texas that I didn't want you to get connected to any stupid shit that might happen to me. I didn't want anything to cast a bad light on you, especially while you are waiting on your ship." Jim's eyes clouded with something that Chris didn't want to see, let alone understand, and he let his own head fall into his palms.

Jim was trying to protect him again. Chris had considered many different reasons for Jim reverting to the Kirk name, but he had (and he was pretty sure that that John thought the same) always come back to this one. Chris didn't know if this martyr streak developed after he had taken Jim in or before, but it was still deeply concerning. It had only been five years since Jim had almost died trying to protect him while he was off-planet. This needed to stop. "Jim, I'm a grown man. You don't need to be protecting me all the time; my career is perfectly safe, and I- Jim, what am I supposed to do if you need my help and you aren't in any shape to contact me yourself?" Chris didn't bother disguising his anger as he spoke, and Jim bristled.

"I'll be fine, you've spent enough time worrying about me these past ten years; you deserve some peace and quiet without me messing up your life any longer." The anger twisted dangerously in Chris's gut at Jim's statement, and it took him counting to ten in Orion before he could get his next words out without yelling.

"Is that what you think, Jim, that I considered you nothing but a burden? I thought we knew each other better than that. Or was I wrong?" Chris hissed the words out through clenched teeth, his mood burning blacker than he had felt in a long time. Jim quailed visibly, his head shaking violently from side to side.

"Fuck, no- but why? You could have easily just left me there, but you took me in and sacrificed everything for me! You could be married now, or shacked up with John permanently-" Normally Chris would respond to the John crack, but this wasn't the time; he watched Jim take another shaking breath. "You could have been passed over for the Enterprise because of me-"

"James." That brought Jim to a complete halt, his mouth hanging open. He hadn't called Jim by his full name in years. "I could have been passed over for a laundry list of reasons, Jim, you don't even rate in the top ten." It was a lie, hell, Chris had worried about it shortly after Jim came into his life; he was pretty sure that Jim knew that damned good and well, but he would be court-martialed before he would let Jim start blaming himself for things he had absolutely no control over. "Why are you suddenly going on about this now? I thought we had talked about this years ago." Jim immediately shut down, his features as bleak as a Georgia O'Keeffe desert painting, and Chris blinked away what he realized was emerging tears of frustration. "Jim, please."

"I've gotta go, I've got to be at work in fifteen minutes." Jim wouldn't look him in the eye, and Chris didn't trust himself to speak, but managed to get a few words out regardless.

"Just- just be careful, son," Chris murmurs, and Jim met his eyes for a second before muttering a goodbye and killing the connection. Chris laid his head on his arms and tried to remind himself that he was a Starfleet Captain.

From there on out, calls from Jim were short, uninformative, and bordering on uncomfortable. Chris persisted in asking Jim to come home, but he resisted, meanwhile, Chris and John watched his criminal record grow, with a new arrest about every other month. Nothing beyond the usual charges that accompanied bar fights, but with each one, Chris felt like he had failed at something he should he be excellent at, considering what he was in his professional life. Jim's twenty-second birthday came and went, and Chris didn't get to wish him a happy birthday until February. John was present for that call, and did his best to try and get Jim to talk; regaling him with wild stories and telling the type of utterly inappropriate jokes that Jim would have leapt at only a year or so prior. Jim was having none of it, and John looked as lost as he felt after the call was over.

"I don't know what to tell you, Chrissy." John gave him a hug and another martini, and Chris tried to think positive. He sometimes thought that he was blowing this out of proportion; even John had made cracks in the past about how overprotective he was of Jim, but no longer. The arrests and the bouncing from job to job to pay his bills (Jim's insistence on not 'bothering' him meant that he was not pulling funds from the account Chris had set up for him years ago,) especially the growing rap sheet reinforced that Chris couldn't just forget about the whole affair. But Jim became more and more difficult to keep track of over the records system, and he found himself coming to the grudging conclusion that he would simply have to wait.

Chris checked his messages on his console every day before heading to work, hoping for something, anything. It had been almost three months this time. After putting on his black instructor's uniform, he grabbed his packed duffel and headed outside, flagging a taxi. Jim was getting better at disappearing. Before, Chris had been able to do some relatively basic inquiries to locate him in the past, mainly through the arrests; but with Jim having not been arrested in awhile, the last notation referencing a redacted event that he was listed as being involved in, but not arrested for, he knew that Jim would be long gone before he ever got to wherever the last information pinpointed. He was just hoping that Jim was doing alright; maybe Jim just needed a few years to get his wanderlust out of his system before settling into a career. He knew he was just making excuses to cover his own feelings of impotence at the situation, however, and he sagged in his seat. He was so distracted that he didn't hear the taxi driver trying to get his attention.

"...sir?" Chris's head jolted up, startled out of his thoughts. Rubbing a hand over his eyes, Chris managed to pull out the credit chip to transfer the funds for the ride.

"My apologies. I'm don't think I'm quite awake yet." With a feeble smile, Chris grabbed his bag and slid out of the car, nodding to the driver as he pulled away. He needed to snap out of it; he had a shuttle to pilot in a few hours. He was finally going to be able to see his ship for the first time in person, even if she was only about half complete; he was even taking a group of promising cadets to get some insight into the construction of the ship they may be serving on after they graduate. After finishing up some paperwork at his office, he met the cadets at the shuttle with a smile, greeting each one as they boarded. But as he took off from San Francisco, all he could think about was that day three years ago that he had found out his posting, and how Jim had seemed so happy for him.

It had completely slipped Chris's mind that the Riverside Shipyards were in Riverside, Iowa. As he made his descent, the fields in the distance brought that reminder into sharp distinction, and he sighed quietly as he brought the shuttle to a stop. It had been almost eleven years since he had last been here, and even longer since he had seen it in the daytime; but those were thoughts for another time. He had a job to do now. Chris unbuckled his safety harness, then sat back and let his eyes close for a moment as he listened to the sounds of the cadets disembarking.

A touch on his arm brought the world back into focus, and he realized that the shuttle was silent. Blinking, he looked up to see the Ensign assigned to the shuttle giving him a look of concern. "Sir, everyone has disembarked. Are you alright, sir?" Chris could feel his face reddening, and he shook his head.

"No- I was just thinking. Thank you, Ensign." Chris got to his feet and left the cockpit, the Ensign on his tail.

"The cadets are currently with Commander Summer, Captain. She requests to meet with you at sixteen-hundred hours at the recruiting office, if possible." Chris nodded to the Ensign as he left the shuttle, automatically bringing his hand up to shield his eyes as the sunlight came into stark reality. Before his eyes had finished adjusting to the light, he addressed the young officer.

"Of course. Thank you for your help," Chris said, and the Ensign nodded and left. Chris turned back to face the shipyard proper, and it took him a moment to realize what he was looking at. The partially completed Enterprise towered over the shipyards, its smooth grey hull punctuated with gaps and chunks with construction lights peeking through, the support pillars and scaffolding obscuring part of the view. Chris didn't even notice himself moving until he was stopped at the gates by a saluting dark-blue uniformed Petty Officer in tinted glasses, asking for his identification and clearance to be in the construction zone. Chris placed his hand on the identification scanner without looking away from the ship, his ship; he knew that he wouldn't be allowed on at this point, but he wanted to take a closer look. When the screen flashed his ID to the Petty Officer, the man immediately saluted again.

"Captain Pike! We were expecting you!" Chris tore his eyes away from the Enterprise to look at the man, who had a proud grin on his face. "Isn't she a beaut, Captain? You are one lucky man! ...sir." Chris smiled in return, and the Petty Officer waved him through the gates. Chris's eyes traced the curves and planes of the ship, his head turning slowly as he took it all in. "Would you like an officer to give you a tour, Captain?" Chris absently shook his head, his gaze still firmly fixed skyward; the enlisted man chuckled, a pleasant sound that only heightened Chris's sudden euphoria. "If you need anything, sir, I'm Petty Officer Orbison."

"Thank you, Mr. Orbison," Chris said, glancing in the man's direction and gave a slight nod before setting off towards the support column at the front of the saucer. A few minutes in a lift found him staring at an ocean of grey hull-plating, disregarding the technicians who were looking at him and talking amongst themselves. The Enterprise. Chris placed a hand against the first panel he could reach and closed his eyes. His ship. It was going to be worth every minute of the six year wait. It was almost unfortunate that the security was so tight on the shipyards, Jim would be able to take some great pictures from the sky above. Chris opened his eyes at the last thought, a bittersweet, yet determined smile taking over his face. He would show Jim the Enterprise. Even if it took years, he would show her to him. He leaned in and touched his forehead to the cold metal for a moment, ignoring what sounded like a giggle from the background. As Jim might have once said, it was going to be awesome. Well, actually, Jim would have started with a different word, but he would have cycled around to awesome eventually. Chris nodded to the scrambling techs as he reentered the lift to head back to ground level. He had a recruiting office to report to. As he passed through the gates leading out of the construction zone, Petty Officer Orbison gave him a kind smile.

"Whaddya think of the lady, Captain?" Orbison said, and Chris looked up at the Enterprise one more time.

"I think she's perfect, Mr. Orbison."

Normally recruiting offices were staffed with mid-level officers, such as lieutenants, and occasionally lieutenant-commanders; but higher ranked officers were often cycled through short-term to provide a fresh face to the locals. Being the place where they were constructing the future flagship, Riverside was one of the few with a commander as the primary recruiting officer; but they were still advertising that the future Captain of the Enterprise was there. As such, Commander Summer had already booked him up solid for the next five days, and he only managed to snag a few minutes here and there to view his ship, or even check his messages. There was still nothing from Jim, and even John had been unable to locate him through his superior resources and contacts. Chris resolved that if he hadn't heard anything from his son in the next few weeks, he would buckle down and do a serious search. This was getting ridiculous. Chris decided not to dwell on it too much, as the more he thought about it, the more worried he became.

Day six was only half-booked, and Chris was able to finally go for his official tour of his ship. Despite his earlier belief, there was a few areas that were finished enough for him to view, and he found himself unable to ask more than very basic questions as he took it all in with wide eyes and a toothy smile, much to the amusement of the head of the construction team and Petty Officer Orbison, who had appointed himself Chris's personal guide to his ship. As the tour came to an end, he was approached by an ensign from recruiting, requesting him to speak with a walk-in that had just arrived at the office. Commander Summer met him at the door as he entered the small building, her long-fingered hands resting on her hips as she quirked a Vulcan-esque eyebrow.

"We've got an interesting one this time, Captain," Summer said, her long dark frame graceful as she walked behind the counter in the lobby. Chris had briefly entertained asking her to dinner, but had just as quickly decided that he wasn't the best company right now. She was easily one of the most intimidating people he had ever met, making her an odd choice for a recruiting officer; Chris was half-convinced that she recruited through sheer force of will. Chris followed the woman into her office, watching as she sat down on the corner of her desk. "He says he's a doctor. Considering I've seen lifers at Elba II look cleaner and saner than he does, I was a bit skeptical, but we ran his ID." Summer gave a dry chuckle. "Turns out he's a damned genius. He's got a list of specialties and degrees that should make Admiral Gaynor orgasm on the spot." The Commander delivered the last line with a perfectly straight face, and Chris barely managed to keep from laughing. Instead, he cleared his throat and spoke.

"So what's the catch?" Summer leveled a look at him that probably blasted ten years off his lifespan, and Chris tried again. "Besides the looking like a convict part, obviously." Summer walked around to her chair and fell into it without making a sound.

"That's for you to find out, Captain. Although there was a pending entry in his personal records regarding a divorce, so I think we can take a good guess." Chris nodded.

"In the interview room?" Chris said, and Summer pushed a PADD towards him.

"Good luck with that one. If you need backup, I'll be here." Chris left the Commander's office and walked up to the interview room, listening outside the door. He could hear a low voice grumbling, but it was too quiet to make out the words. Straightening his jacket, he entered the room. The aroma of liquor was not insignificant, and Chris allowed himself a small eye-roll before steeling his expression and facing the man. Summer had a point. Doctor...Chris glanced at the PADD he was holding. Doctor McCoy looked and smelled like he had been sleeping on the floor of a bar for a week. Dark stubble covered his face, the lines around his mouth suggesting that the scowl was fast becoming permanent. What Chris could see of his eyes wasn't any better. They were narrowed and focused, but appeared to be looking at something far away. Chris hated when they came in like this, lost and depressed; it made him second-guess whether he was doing the right thing by convincing them to enlist. This one wouldn't respond to the so-called fatherly smile he often employed on the straight out of high school crowd, he was far too old for that. Chris decided to just be polite, and see where the conversation led.

"Doctor McCoy, thank you for stopping in." Chris pulled out the chair on the opposite side of the table from the Doctor and sat down, placing the PADD in front of him. McCoy's quiet monologue fell silent, and he lifted his head to meet Chris's eyes. Chris was expecting a much older man from what he had seen walking in, but the face that stared back at him probably wasn't a day over thirty. Older than the average recruit, but not exceptionally so. Chris gave him a faint smile. "I'm Captain Christopher Pike, Doctor McCoy. I have been informed that you were interested in joining Starfleet?" McCoy's mouth twisted, and Chris kept his expression bland.

"That's what this place is for, right?" McCoy said dryly, and Chris noted the Southern tones in his voice.

"I would hope so, because otherwise I'm in the wrong building," Chris said, and McCoy's scowl loosened a tiny bit as he snorted.

"Fair enough," McCoy grumbled. "I've heard you've a need for doctors, and I find myself currently open to the prospect." Chris nodded, and looked down at the information on his PADD. Summer wasn't exaggerating; his credentials were stunning. He would probably only have to take the xeno-specific medical courses to fill Starfleet requirements, he should be done in three years instead of the standard five to eight for the Medical track. The fact that he looked like a escaped convict was a problem that needed to be addressed first.

"You heard correctly, Doctor. To get this out of the way, your credentials are impressive. The fact that you are certified in multiple specialties makes you even more appealing to Starfleet." Chris met the man's eyes. "I will cut straight to the chase. You look perfect on paper, but what I'm seeing in front of me concerns me." McCoy's eyebrow seemed to have acquired a twitch, and Chris continued. "I want to hear why you wish to enlist, Doctor." McCoy gave an almost imperceptible flinch, and for a split second, the man looked incredibly young. Chris stayed quiet as McCoy tried to formulate his response.

"Well, since you were straight-forward with me, I suppose I can return the favor." McCoy swallowed heavily. "As of five days ago, I am a divorcé with no medical practice, no credits, and a single rucksack of clothing to my name. My ex-wife also made damned sure I wouldn't work anywhere in the South again," McCoy said, as he aborted a hand motion towards his coat. Chris knew that move too well, even if he had never been one for it himself; he steepled his fingers together and spoke.

" for the last five days, you made your way from...Georgia to Iowa, medicating yourself with whatever is in the flask that you just refrained from grabbing." Chris raised an eyebrow, and McCoy deflated. Chris looked down again at the personal information on the PADD. McCoy was twenty-eight going on eighty, and had- ah. "If you join Starfleet, you are aware that you will most likely be separated from your daughter for significant periods of time, Doctor." McCoy's face darkened, but there was no surprise in his expression.

"No need to worry about that," McCoy spat angrily, and Chris felt rather sorry for the man, but was careful not to let it show on his face.

"I am assuming that your current appearance is due solely to your recent circumstances, Doctor. As I am sure you are aware, Starfleet does have rules and regulations regarding appearance and decorum that you would be expected to follow." Chris gave a pointed look at the region of McCoy's inner jacket pocket. "That would mean that the flask would need to remain in your quarters, Doctor." McCoy chuckled, a humorless sound that Chris was sure had been the man's standard tone for quite some time.

"That won't be a problem...sir." McCoy clasped his hands together on the tabletop. Despite the rest of the man looking like he hadn't bathed in a week, his hands and fingernails were clean and groomed; Chris felt immeasurably better about the situation. Placing his own hands flat on the table, he pushed himself out of his chair.

"Well then, Doctor McCoy, allow me to be the first to tentatively welcome you to Starfleet." Chris flagged McCoy's file on the PADD, then reached out and shook his hand. "The shuttle leaves tomorrow at oh-eight-hundred from the Shipyards; I will be piloting. Should you change your mind, we ask that you inform us as soon as possible." Chris noted the sudden paleness to McCoy's skin. "Is there a problem, Doctor?" McCoy looked away, and shook his head.

"No, sir," McCoy said, and Chris narrowed his eyes.

"Alright then, Doctor. I will see you tomorrow." McCoy nodded and left the room; a few seconds later, Commander Summer slipped in.


Chris looked towards the open door. "Provided he doesn't get so drunk that he forgets, he should be on my shuttle back to the Academy tomorrow." Summer smirked, and gave him a pat on the shoulder.

"I wish I could keep you around, Captain. Pretty face like yours brings them in droves." Summer said as she walked from the interview room, and Chris coughed out a shocked laugh before following.

"Sir, you need to get down to the Shipyard Bar. There's a nasty fight going on between some cadets and a townie, and it's not going to end well for the townie at this rate." The breathless cadet coughed into a sleeve as she tried to catch her breath, and Pike ignored the emergence of that familiar headache as he hurried towards the garish neon sign of the only local entertainment. The one night he had free, and he was stuck playing babysitter to a group of cadets that should know better. As he approached, he could hear the gasps of the other people inside, followed by the obvious sound of fists meeting flesh, and he entered the bar to see one of the burlier cadets beating a man into a table. Without stopping to think, Chris let out an ear-splitting whistle, and the entire bar fell silent. Chris took one look at the garish sight of the offending cadet's knuckles dripping with blood as he dropped his victim to the table, and his expression went icy.

"Outside, all of you." Chris watched the cadet glance towards his buddy, and he glared. "Now." The bar cleared out quickly, and Chris turned his attention to the man draped over the table. His face was covered in blood, at least the part Chris could make out, and he seemed to be laying on something. "You alright, son?"

"You can whistle really loud, you know that?" The man said woozily, and Chris's eyes widened in shock as he tilted his head to get a better look. He would know that voice anywhere.

"Jim?" Jim's neck twisted around as he tried to focus, his wing-rounded back rolling with him.

"Dad?" Jim gasped, then clutched at his head. "Shit, that hurt." Chris glanced around noting that the bar was now empty, barring the bartender. He walked up to Jim, who was still prone on the table, and put a hand around his back, guiding him into a standing position.

"Can you walk, Jim?" Chris said, wincing at the blood covering his son's face. Jim swayed in place for a moment, then gave a shaky nod. "Go clean up. I need to speak with the bartender." Jim looked dazed, but he walked off towards the restrooms. Chris walked over to the irritated bartender, leaning his hip against the bar. "My apologies for the commotion, Mr-"


"How much do I owe you?" Nelson shook his head, and gave Chris an inquisitive look.

"You really Jim's dad? Or was I just hearing things?" Chris's eyebrows flew up with the mention of Jim's name.

"How long has he been coming here?" Chris said flatly, and the bartender snorted.

"I'll take my first question as a yes." Nelson cleaned a few glasses off the table. "I'm guessing that you are the Captain Pike that everyone keeps mentioning, the one who is getting that big beast of a ship that they've been hobbling together. No one else could have cleared the bar out like that, excepting Commander Summer." Chris met the man's eyes, and the man continued. "Never heard you had a kid." Chris sighed.

"I would ask that you not repeat the information, Mr. Nelson. Personal details like that are generally kept out of public eye for security reasons." Nelson shrugged, and held up his hands palms-out defensively.

"No one will be hearing a thing from me, Captain. I was just curious." Nelson gave him a shrewd look. "You haven't seen him in awhile, have you?" Chris's jaw clenched involuntarily, and Nelson gave him a sympathetic look. "Jim's been coming in here for about two months, off and on. I initially got the impression that he was waiting for someone, but I could be wrong." The man took out a cleaning rag and began to wipe the counter. "Jim's a special one. He's as smart as they ever come, and he's got a charismatic streak a mile wide, so people have been willing to chat with him." Nelson looked up from his cleaning. "But he's also different." Chris's gaze hardened, and Nelson held up his index finger. "Hold your horses, Papa Bear. I could care less, and most of the people who come through here could care less. I mean, we get aliens of all shapes and sizes, so one kid who is shaped a bit differently generally wouldn't even rate on the weird scale. But that's the problem." Chris frowned, and Nelson continued. "Most people assume that he's part-alien, to account for it. But by his own admission, he's one-hundred percent human."

"...and that's a problem?" Chris said, his sarcastic tone not even phasing the bartender, who chuckled.

"I've learned something over the years, Captain, and I'm pretty sure you know it as well. Humans can tolerate almost anything strange or different, as long as it isn't harming them, and most importantly, if it originates from outside the group. Meaning species, bluntly. But when the abnormality comes purely from within, opinions can and will shift; for no other reason that whatever is different is uncomfortably close to their reality. Especially because it's incredibly rare to see these days." Nelson glanced towards the bathrooms, then back at Chris. "Your son's physical differences appear to be entirely cosmetic, and in the dark lighting of the bar, people see his pretty face before they see the rest of him. I have often found myself lately seeing what new patrons will do after getting the full picture; most just look surprised before continuing on with life, but there is always a handful that judge him. The cadet he was chatting up before the fight broke out clearly was more interested in the fact that Jim could hold an intelligent conversation with her then to focus on anything else. The cadets that started the fight, however, I would probably place into the second category. Especially that brawny fellow, who started the whole damn thing for no real reason than to start a fight." Nelson straightened, and Chris could see Jim walk out of the restroom, his face only marginally cleaner with tissue jammed into his nose to stop the bleeding. The bartender leaned in towards Chris, and lowered his voice. "Go get 'em, Papa Bear. I know a lost kid when I see one, and the fact you are here is a damned good sign." Chris mouthed 'Papa Bear?' as he stepped back from the bar, and Nelson gave him a smirk before glancing over at Jim. "Either of you want anything to drink?" Jim's bruised mouth managed a small smile.

"Vodka." Jim said, as he made his to the closest table and collapsed into a chair. Chris sighed.

"If you have coffee, that would be perfect for me." Chris nodded his thanks to the bartender, who waved a hand dismissively. He made his way to the chair opposite his son and sat down, trying not to focus on the streams of dried blood running into Jim's mouth. Jim accepted his drink from Nelson without looking at him, knocking half of it back with a practiced flourish that made Chris's headache pulse a bit harder. He took a sip of his coffee as he tried to figure out where to start. "How's Winona?" Jim's eyes widened minutely, and he slouched into his chair.

"Okay, last time I saw her," Jim muttered as he took a swallow of his drink.

"Is that why you've been staying around here?" Chris said, unbuttoning the collar of his uniform. "The bartender told me that you've been here infrequently for two months now." Jim shrugged.

"Might be." Chris's lips tightened at Jim's dull tone, and he leaned back in his seat.

"Jim, did I ever tell you that I wrote my dissertation on the Kelvin?" Jim gave him an odd look, and nodded slowly.

"I seem to remember that." Chris took a drink from his coffee and watched his son's clearing expression, even has Jim held up his now-empty tumbler and asked for a refill.

"George didn't believe in the no-win scenario, Jim." Chris looked into his son's bright blue eyes, the skin around them peppered with both new and old scratches; Jim snorted and took another pull of his drink.

"...and we can see where it got him," Jim said bitterly. Chris allowed a tiny smile.

"Depends on how you define winning, son." Jim's eyebrows furrowed, and Chris pressed on. "You've spent most of the last two years wandering from place to place, and getting yourself in trouble at half of them-" Jim scowled. "-don't think I haven't noticed. Jim-" Chris folded his hands together on the table top and kept eye contact. "Jim. Do you want to continue being the genius repeat-offender everywhere you go, or do you want to do something better with your life?" Jim froze, although Chris knew if it had been anyone but him or John, the viewer would have never noticed. Jim began fiddling with what appeared to be a salt shaker shaped like a starship, the granules falling onto the table as he shook it between two fingers. Chris's smile softened. "Jim, I've never really brought it up before, but why don't you enlist in Starfleet?" That got a response, as Jim let his head fall back and barked out a laugh.

"Are you kidding me, Dad? You must be way down on your recruiting quota for the month. Do you really think they'd really want a aimless freaky fuck-up like me?" Jim's face was darkly skeptical, and Chris instinctively glared at his language before sighing.

"Jim, I know you are capable of being outstanding in whatever you choose to put effort into, and I have your academic record to prove it. You aren't a child anymore; I can't force you into anything. But I want you to consider it. You could really do something special in Starfleet, if you wanted to." Jim's face fell blank, and Chris knew that was it.

"We done?" Jim said, finishing his drink with a grimace. Chris got to his feet, pushing in the chair.

"I'm done." Chris smiled, but he couldn't keep the sadness from tainting it. Jim's eyes flashed with something; Chris couldn't name it, but it reminded him of the boy who fell apart in his arms on the floor of his kitchen so many years ago. Chris let his hand fall on his son's shoulder as he rounded the table. "The shuttle for San Francisco leaves tomorrow at eight-hundred, I'll be on it." Chris watched Jim look at the hand on his shoulder. "Please don't disappear for so long again, Jim. You really are going to make my hair go grey if you keep this up." With a final squeeze, Chris let go of his son's shoulder and walked towards the exit, Nelson acknowledging him as he passed. He turned around right before the doors, meeting Jim's eyes. "I know you can do better, son." Jim blinked back at him, and Chris left the bar. He barely slept that night.

Chris was a bit amused that the doctor from yesterday, who appeared to have found a shower if not a razor, was one of the first on-board the shuttle. It was probably his way of forcing himself to go through with it. As the cadets shuffled past him, Chris kept his gaze fixed on the horizon, obscured as it was by machinery and infrastructure; he didn't even notice Commander Summer approach.

"You aren't looking at your ship, Captain." Chris started, and looked at the Commander, who quirked an eyebrow. "I hear you got to play schoolyard monitor last night. I overheard from a few of the cadets that they were getting concerned that it was going to end badly, and by badly, they appeared to mean homicide." Summer pursed her lips. "I wonder if it was that kid again. He almost never starts the fights, but he's usually smack in the middle of them." Chris kept his face neutral as she spoke. "Jim, I think his name was." Chris allowed himself to nod in confirmation, and she gave a humorless smirk. "Ah, so it was him again. Smart as paint, that one. Considered picking him up a few times for the fleet, but something about him made me decide against it." She reached a hand up and flipped her braids behind her shoulder, her expression thoughtful. "He needs a push from the right person, and I'm not it." Summer looked skyward, and Chris found himself tracing the line of her neck. "We'll keep your ship safe for you, Captain." The Commander took a step back, and saluted. "It was a pleasure, sir." Chris gave her a honest smile and saluted back, and she smiled before spinning on her heel and walking away. The ensign from the shuttle walked up to his side, and Chris acknowledged her with a tilt of his head.

"It's almost oh-eight-hundred, Captain. Are we expecting anyone else?" Chris looked out towards the bulk of the shipyard for a moment.

"No, I think we have everyone." The ensign nodded and went back inside the shuttle, and Chris turned to follow her. An out of place sound made him pause, and he rounded to see Jim on that bike he had acquired right before he set off on what was originally supposed to be just a road trip. Jim brought the bike to a stop, and threw the keys to a passing shuttle tech as he approached; Chris stood stock-still as his son passed him on the ramp, then turned to face him. The two men looked at each other in silence, until Jim tilted his head to the heavens.

"She's beautiful." Chris followed Jim's gaze, the Enterprise's construction lights barely visible in the morning light.

"That she is," Chris murmured.

"Y'know, I might want to see the inside of her some time; get a proper tour from its Captain." Chris brought his head level to see Jim smiling at him, really smiling at him, those impossibly white teeth gleaming in the light, and Chris knows an apology when he sees one; but he can't seem to get the unexpected lump in his throat to go away so he can answer. Jim's smile intensified, and he tipped his head to one side. "The command track is usually four years, right?" Chris nodded automatically, and Jim smirked. "I'll do it in three." Before Chris can open his mouth, Jim is inside the shuttle, and a little trickle of what he might call joy has welded a grin on his face.

"Captain? It's five after." Chris looked at the ensign, his expression unchanged; the woman's eyes widened. "Captain?" Chris motioned towards the shuttle, and he opened the cockpit door as the ensign paused in the doorway of the primary hatch.

"Nothing to worry about, Ensign. Let's go home."

Jim was off the shuttle and lost in the crowd before Chris had even opened the cockpit door. After speaking with the ensign (The good doctor was afraid of flying, explaining the reaction from the other day. He was going to be an interesting addition to Starfleet.) and handing off the shuttle to the maintenance crew, Chris started towards the processing building.

"You seem to be in a good mood, Chrissy. Something you wanna tell me?" Chris looked to the left to see John coming up beside him, holding a PADD, and Chris leaned over and bumped his shoulder. John's eyebrows shot up, and he grinned. "Definitely something going on. Spit it out, old man." Chris glanced at Processing, and he could see John follow his gaze.

"You might say I recruited a person I never planned on trying to recruit, John." Chris chuckled. "I hope the shuttle ride sobered him up the rest of the way, otherwise he's going to get it from the Quartermaster." John stopped cold, and Chris spun to look at him. "What?"

"Are you speaking of who I think you are speaking about?" John's tone was incredulous, and Chris smirked.

"I don't know, who do you think I'm talking about?" Chris watched John's expression flash through disbelief and irritation, before settling on amazed.

"You got Jimmy back, didn't you? Damnit, why didn't you tell me, you bastard?" John reached over and smacked Chris's back, and Chris winced involuntarily before letting out a sigh. "Chris?"

"This all happened in the last twelve hours, John. Ran into him at the local bar getting the stuffing beaten out of him last night, managed to sit him down for a chat." John frowned at Chris's words.

"He alright?" Chris nodded, and John's shoulders relaxed, before he hurriedly looked at the time on his PADD. "Damn. Well...shit. I've got to run, but we will be having a nice talk later, right Chrissy?" Chris snorted.

"Like I have a choice, Admiral," Chris said with an eye roll, and John huffed.

"Hmph." John patted Chris on the shoulder, and fell back with a smile. "Say hi to your wayward son for me, Captain." Chris rolled his eyes again and waved to John as he departed, then turned and continued to the processing center. He had just cleared the doors when Commodore Franklin, the head of the Astrophysics department, all but bowled him over; Chris grabbed the closest wall to keep from falling. Franklin gasped and immediately took his arm to help him up.

"Captain Pike! I'm so sorry, I wasn't looking where I was going." The Commodore giggled nervously, and Chris waved a hand in dismissal.

"Don't worry about it, ma'am," Chris said, taking a quick peek around the room before Franklin wrapped a hand around his arm. "Ma'am?"

"Were you the one who brought him in? The whole building is talking about him!" The large woman grinned. "The son of George Kirk finally here in Starfleet, who would have thought?" Franklin paused. "Shame about the birth defect, but that doesn't matter when you have a good head on your shoulders!" Chris felt his heart stutter for a moment. Jim had enrolled using the Kirk name. Chris realized that he didn't know what he thought about that, but he knew it was entirely Jim's prerogative. "Captain?" Chris quickly smiled at the Commodore.

"Nothing, ma'am. Just thinking." Franklin swung her arms through the air with a flourish, and Chris had to back up to avoid getting hit.

"It's going to be an interesting next few years, Captain!" The animated woman laughed as she sashayed out the door, leaving Chris feeling a bit shell-shocked in her wake. Chris recovered enough to head into the Quartermaster's area, scanning the rooms as he passed by. He struck pay-dirt in the next to last room.

"...come back tomorrow for your shirts and uniform jackets."

"Yes sir." Chris paused outside the door as the petty officer exited the room, snapping a quick salute when he spotted Chris. Chris returned the salute, then slipped into the room. Jim was sitting on a bench against the wall, holding a package of what appeared to be the cadet uniform pants. Chris checked to see that the room was empty, then he closed the door. "Hi Dad." Jim looked up at him, his expression slightly overwhelmed; Chris sat down next to him.

"You could have simply gotten rid of the harness, you wouldn't have had to worry about waiting on your shirts," Chris said, and Jim smirked.

"Then they would have had to cut holes in the back of them instead. I still would have been waiting." Jim rolled the wrapped pants between his hands, Chris leaned over and pulled them away from him.

"Don't mess them up before you even open the package, Jim." Jim gave a nervous chuckle and tipped sideways until his head was resting on Chris's left shoulder. It was a motion that Jim had not done in years, and Chris turned to gaze at the top of his son's head before letting his own tilt to rest on top. Father and son sat there quietly for awhile, listening to the sound of each other breathing. Chris broke the still first. "So, Cadet Kirk?" Chris felt Jim tense, and he quickly wrapped his arm around Jim's shoulders. "I assume that your reasoning is the same as last time?" Jim nodded against his shoulder, and Chris sighed. "The Admiralty and the teaching staff are going to know regardless of your choice of name." Jim shrugged.

"I know. I just- I don't want you to get held back because of me. My record isn't exactly spotless, as we both know, and I'm going to get in trouble in the future." Jim sat up, and Chris missed the pressure on his shoulder, although he kept his arm in place. Before he could complain about Jim's martyr streak again, Jim pressed on. "This way, people compare me to my dead father instead of the future Captain of the flagship. I think it'll work better for both of us." Jim smirked, but the humor didn't reach his eyes. Chris squeezed Jim's shoulder.

"Whatever disagreements we may have had, Jim, I will always be proud to call you my son," Chris said, and he felt Jim shake under his arm. "I think I can share you with George; I've taken you from him enough already." Chris gave him a kind smile, and Jim gave a strangled laugh before letting his head slip back down to Chris's shoulder. Chris rubbed Jim's wings lightly through his shirt and pretended he didn't see the moisture in his son's eyes. Jim swallowed audibly, before opening his mouth to speak.

"Can I crash with you? They wanted to put me in a two-person dorm, so I told them I would live off-campus." Chris snorted incredulously and flicked Jim in the cheek.


It took less than twenty-four hours for Chris to be called to a meeting with the Admiralty. Nogura looked like he had been eating rusty nails for lunch, judging by his pinched expression, and Lehrer and Newton were both blank-faced and staring at him. Chris suddenly had an odd sense of déjà-vu, but shook it off and focused on Nogura.

"Pike, I'm going to go straight for the point here. Might you be able to explain exactly why James Tiberius Kirk, one of the academy's newest recruits, holds what can only be called a startling resemblance to your son?" Nogura was glaring holes into his face with his eyes, but Chris couldn't find it in himself to care.

"There isn't much to explain, Admiral. He believes it would be better for both of us for him to resume the use of his biological father's name during his stay with Starfleet," Chris said blandly, glancing between the three seated parties. Lehrer leaned forward, light glinting off his glasses; Nogura appeared to be considering violence, or he was constipated. It was hard to tell sometimes. Newton looked like she was torn between surprise and amusement.

"Are you saying that you lied about the boy's origins, Captain?" Lehrer looked thoughtful, and Chris shook his head.

"No sir. I was given custody of James from his mother, who was no longer able to take care of him. As it was a private matter, I kept the information I revealed during our initial interview simple. I was the only person he had left, Admiral; I was not lying," Chris said, meeting Lehrer's eyes. The older man considered him for a moment before a small smile appeared on his face, he then webbed his fingers together in front of his face and glanced over at Nogura.

"I seem to remember that you did especially well at your diplomatic courses during your Academy days, Captain. I should know, I taught some of them. I also know when I see an master at obfuscation and bullshit." Lehrer paused, and looked back at Chris. "Mr. Kirk's placement scores are beyond exceptional, Captain, he is easily one of the best you have recruited since you began in this position. In my personal opinion, I think we can overlook your...omissions from eleven years ago." Lehrer rose to his feet and gave Chris an approving nod. "For what it's worth, Captain, you appear to have done a fine job with that boy. I have seen people with similar issues fall apart, but Mr. Kirk is intelligent and confident in his own abilities, if he is a bit-"

"-wild," Chris finished, his mind flashing back to that bar in Riverside. Lehrer tilted his head in agreement. Commodore Newton got to her feet as well, her expression amused; Chris bit back a smile of his own. Newton faced Nogura, who still looked perturbed.

"It is my opinion that this is a non-issue, Admiral. Captain Pike may be guilty of omitting a few of the facts, but I have no doubt that he did not misrepresent the necessity of his custody of James. As far as I am concerned, the fact that the Captain isn't his biological father is of no consequence. I request for this meeting to be adjourned without censure." After a strained moment, Admiral Nogura pushed back his chair and stood, looking at all assembled with an irritated expression.

"It's a good thing that you are a damned good officer, Pike, that's all I have to say." Nogura scowled at Chris, who carefully kept his face blank. "Very well. Like any other in this situation, the teaching staff may be informed of your relationship if it becomes necessary, and should he be placed in any of the classes that you teach, you will be expected to be fair and transparent in your grading and conduct towards your son. Nepotism is not tolerated in Starfleet, Captain, be sure to remember this." Nogura picked up the PADD on the table in front of him, and walked around the table, stopping at Chris's side. "I sincerely hope you have no more surprise children hiding in the wings, Pike, even if they are Kirks. I grow tired of these meetings," Nogura said, giving Chris a sharp look. Chris shook his head.

"No more children, sir," Chris said, and Nogura snorted.

"Good." The door hissed closed behind Chris, and he nodded his thanks to Lehrer and Newton, the former raising an eyebrow.

"You appear to enjoy living dangerously, Captain. But don't mind me, I think we can stand a little shakeup now and again around here." Lehrer nodded to the Commodore and headed to the door. "I look forward to seeing Mr. Kirk's progress here at the Academy." Chris smiled.

"As do I, sir. As do I." Lehrer nodded and left, and Chris turned back to Newton, who had moved right in front of him. "I have a feeling you had your suspicions already, Commodore." Newton flipped back her hair and laughed.

"I did, but I was never certain. You both have blue eyes, but the resemblance ended there; I actually did a bit of research to see if George Kirk had any sisters when I realized who he reminded me of." She paused, and poked Chris in the shoulder. "I wonder how long it will take Nogura before he realizes that Archer already knew about this. I might recommend giving John a heads-up, otherwise you may be sleeping on the couch for a while." Chris's eyes flew wide as he choked on his own saliva, and Newton gave him a naughty grin. "A girl has to get her revenge somewhere, Chris. You've made me sit through two pointless meetings and suffer Nogura's bitching because of this." She sidled around the stunned Chris, and gave him a pat on the back as she headed for the door. "Honestly Chris, if you two aren't sleeping together, you might as well start. Most of Starfleet is convinced that you two are practically married as it is." Chris boggled at the blond woman, then finally managed to get his mouth to work.

"We're just friends!" Chris sputtered, and Newton burst out laughing all over again as she walked out the door. Right before it closed, she waggled a finger at him.

"Keep telling yourself that, Chris!" The door closed on her smirking face, and Chris pinched the bridge of his nose. Hearing a familiar voice, he walked to the room's sole window and looked through the blinds to the ground below. It took a moment of searching, then Chris saw Jim walk by in his new cadet reds, and what appeared to be that doctor he had recruited shortly before the bar incident with him, although without the weeks-growth of beard, it was hard to tell. Jim was waving his arms in defense of something, while the doctor looked vaguely irritated by the conversation. Chris felt a smile creep across his face, and he swiftly left the building. It only took a minute to catch up with Jim, who spotted him and gave a half-wave before quickly converting it into a jaunty salute; the doctor, who was much younger looking when he was cleaned up, gave a slow salute as well, the expression Chris spotted from before still firmly in place.

"Cadets." Chris nodded to the doctor before looking at Jim. Jim gave him a bright smile, the scratches from the fight now faint on his face, and the doctor- McCoy, that was it- nodded.


"How goes your first full day at Starfleet Academy, gentlemen?" he said, looking between the two men.

"Just settling in- sir," Jim said, almost forgetting the proper address; Chris saw McCoy glance over at Jim with concealed surprise. "They were even able to find a uniform for me." Chris nodded and turned to Jim, who was still smiling that brilliant smile; Chris suddenly felt like it was eleven years ago and Jim had just flown for the first time. Clearing his throat and ignoring the tightness that seemed to have spontaneously moved in, Chris addressed his son.

"Mr. Kirk, I would like to speak to you later at my office, if your schedule permits." Jim's eyes softened, and he gave a nod.

"Anytime, sir. Is sixteen-hundred permissible?" Chris allowed a small smirk at the formal tone. He was going to have to get used to that.

"I will expect you then, Mr. Kirk." Chris took a step back, and both Jim and McCoy gave a final salute as he spun on his heel and walked away. Chris could hear McCoy speaking as the distance grew between them.

"You two seem to be friendly." Chris slowed his pace, waiting for Jim's response.

"He helped me realize something very important," Jim said, his words barely audible. Chris paused mid-step and swallowed again against that annoying lump in his throat before setting off, not bothering to quell the grin that had overtaken his face.