Title: Holiday Revenge (11/12)
Fandom: Star Trek AOS
Pairing: Pike/Archer, Kirk/McCoy
Summary: Sequel to Goodbye, Holidays. Events turn ugly, for Kirk’s enemy has found the perfect way to pay Kirk back for his meddling.
Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
Jon wishes that he believed Kirk and his team are satisfied at having one successful mission. Instead the fact there has been only one makes them determined to pursue more. In turn, Archer has to draw the line at allowing the nearly compromised but quickly rebounding Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov to take off in pursuit of the latest bad guy. He ends up in a shouting match with Kirk over it.
“We’re close, and they’ve proven they can handle it!”
“Kirk, your friends have only proven that they’re untrained and damned lucky to be alive!”
“Bullshit,” challenges Jim.
Jon wants to strangle him in that moment but he has learned to curb his baser urges. “Bullshit is what I call this game of chance we’re playing when real lives are at stake. From now on, the professionals will handle the ‘shit’ that they are trained to. Is that clear?”
Jim fumes in momentary silence before accusing coldly, “Without us, Sheriff, you wouldn’t have a chance of saving my father.”
McCoy and Scott gasp. Even Spock looks like he thinks Jim has gone too far, despite only recently being of the opinion that the police are miserably inept.
It’s Leonard who comes to Jon’s rescue. “Jim, you don’t believe that. You know Archer’s doing everything he possibly can.”
Jon wonders if this is how a parent feels when his kid lashes out, claiming he’s not good enough as a person to take care of anyone; because, damn, do Kirk’s words hurt. If Jim had said he hates Jon, Jon thinks it would hurt less.
But not believing in him to save Pike?
There must be something crushed about Jonathan’s expression, because Jim turns his gaze away and apologizes quietly. He says in his defense, still stubborn, “We have helped you.”
“Of course you have, kiddo,” Jon acknowledges. “I never said otherwise.”
“Then why do you want us to stop here?”
“I didn’t say stop either. I said be more cautious. Kirk, remember how you felt believing something terrible had happened to Sulu?” Archer looks at each person in the room, letting them know that his words apply to them too. “Can you take responsibility once something bad happens which can’t be undone? Because let’s be realistic. No one succeeds every single time. Humans make mistakes, underestimate each other, even the best among us. You can lose a good soldier or a friend simply because fate is a bitch.” He faces Kirk again. “You’re not ready, Jim.”
“How could you know whether or not I am?”
“McCoy,” Jon says simply. “Send him after Nero without backup.”
Jim blanches, but strangely it’s Spock who steps forward in protest. “There is no reason Leonard should go.”
“Imagine a scenario where he’s the best candidate. Only he can go,” Jon clarifies, keeping his gaze centered on McCoy’s boyfriend. “Could you make that call, Kirk, knowing even if McCoy completed the mission, he wouldn’t come out of it whole afterwards?”
“I’d go,” Leonard confesses softly. “If Jim asked me to.”
“Bones.” Jim has the same look Jon remembers from only weeks ago, that deep fear of losing McCoy. Though Jim doesn’t say anything right away, they can all tell he is struggling to convince himself he could make the call.
“All life is valuable,” concludes Jon when it appears Jim won’t answer, “which is why the most careless thing you can do is assume those asked to put their lives at risk will make it back simply because you’re cocky enough to believe it. Kirk, if you are one hundred percent certain that you can accept the responsibility and consequences of placing others in danger, then okay. Send your friends after Nero.”
Jim whispers, “You win,” and walks out of the Sheriff’s office.
Spock follows in Kirk’s wake only after he has given Jonathan a long, measuring look. Leonard lays a comforting hand on Archer’s arm before going after them both.
A short while later, Scott clears his throat and stares uncertainly at Archer from the other side of the desk, as if expecting orders.
Jon only has the heart to say, “Notify me when we have a destination.”
Jon wishes he could be happier about his victory but the truth is he feels guilty for breaking Kirk’s confidence. Jim does have potential, the kind of potential that other men will envy and some men will try to harness for themselves. When the day comes for that potential to be tested and realized, Jonathan will gladly hand over the reins. But he can’t in good conscience do it today. Kirk has yet to separate his heart from his head, and that makes him foolishly reckless.
Archer tucks away these thoughts as he seeks out the switchboard. Most of his staff by now has cottoned on to the fact that a major mission in underway. Why they aren’t involved, they are still trying to figure out. Soon enough, one of them will approach him for an explanation. He has to delay that moment of truth as long as possible. Mayor Wesley has made it clear he will punish Jonathan for this investigation, and so Jon intends to be punished alone.
“Afternoon, Sheriff,” the deputy manning the station’s call center greets him.
He fishes a badge out of his pocket. “Try not to leave extras lying around, Guerrera.” You almost had your identity stolen by an excitable Russian. “And get Larry on the horn.”
“Sorry about that, sir.” Guerrera pockets the badge with a blush and turns his attention to fine-tuning the radio. “Alpha Zero to Beta One. Do you copy?”
“Beta One here. Boss,” Jon hears through the radio speakers, “what’s the word?“
Jon picks up the receiver. “Put Matthews on.”
Why does Matthews sound so chipper? “Feeling better, Deputy?”
“I appear to have made a full recovery, sir,” Matthews replies cheerfully. “Larry took me out for hot dogs and chili-cheese fries.“
“Ah, the perfect meal after a stomach illness,” Jon retorts dryly. “Wrap it up quickly, boys, and report in. Got a special assignment just for you.”
Larry confirms. “On our way.“
Jon hands the receiver back to Guerrera.
The deputy asks tentatively, “Anything I can help with, Sheriff?”
He drops a hand to the man’s shoulder. “If I think of something, I’ll let you know. Keep up the good work.”
Rallying himself, Jonathan goes in search of Kirk.
Jim has pointedly made himself scarce. McCoy intervenes in Archer’s search to explain, “He’s need a little time to think.”
Jon deflates. “Was I too harsh?”
Leonard is sympathetic. “You said what needed to be said.”
Well, so much for that notion that Kirk has started to accept him as family. Talk about the proverbial shooting oneself in the foot. You idiot, Jon chastises himself. Why do you make him hate you?
“Sheriff?” Leonard is staring at him with concern.
“Are you okay?”
Jon realizes belatedly he is about half a second away from crying. He squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose, muttering, “Yeah, fine. Just need some… water,” and with that hastily spins around to make his getaway before he makes an outright embarrassment of himself.
Spock is blocking his escape. When Jon tries to go around him, Spock insists, “Sheriff, I need to speak with you.”
“Can it wait?” he asks plaintively.
“Negative,” and just the way Spock states that single word has Archer straightening his spine and falling back into business mode.
“Explain,” Jon says, calmer.
“I decided to coordinate the new trajectory with the traffic cameras in hopes of determining the identity of your deputy’s contact since neither Uhura nor Sulu were able to see him. Unfortunately the tinted windows of the vehicle made the task impossible. I then attempted to discern if other vehicles, and thereby identifiable parties, could be in concert with our target by comparing the footage of several intersections at sufficiently large intervals. This endeavor had more success.”
Spock is a miracle. Jonathan is never going to tell him that. “What did you find?”
Spock’s face shutters ominously, and without a word, he hands Archer his cell phone, a snapshot of camera footage on its screen.
Jon squints at the grainy image.
Leonard reaches over his shoulder and widens the photo by using his thumb and forefinger—and immediately makes a shocked noise.
Jonathan is shocked himself, just for a second. Then his brain shifts gears and starts making connections he hadn’t considered before. His gaze snaps back to Spock’s. “How many intersections?”
“Three intersections within the last twenty minutes.”
“How far behind?”
“On average, six point three minutes.” Spock adds, “Rather than continuing to explore the phenomenon, I thought it best to obtain your guidance on how to proceed.”
Oddly enough, Leonard is watching Archer as closely as Spock is like it’s his experience, judgment and instinct they are now firmly relying upon.
In a way, with Kirk temporarily out of the game, Jon supposes they do need his direction. “Continue with the analysis, Mr. Spock, and bring Mr. Scott into it. If this car follows the same trajectory for more than five miles, that should be sufficient confirmation of his activity.”
Spock nods ever-so-slightly and moves off down the corridor.
Leonard looks nervous. “Sheriff, what does this mean?”
“Nothing good,” Jon replies grimly, turning away. “I need to make a call.”
Leaving McCoy behind and finding a private corner, he flips open his cell phone. Liu answers after on the second ring.
“Speak of the devil. I was about to dial your number,” she says.
He offers, “Ladies first.”
“You called me.”
“I need a minute to organize my thoughts.”
“Strange,” comes the mutter. “I picked up the phone as soon as I had new information but I want to say the same thing. Here it is, anyway: Una convinced Gaius she had a lead that could help him capture Pike, so he allowed her to pursue it. She just texted me the results of her meeting with an old friend, shall we say? Something is underfoot with the local gang. A man named Kor who recently became the new leader is mobilizing his men.”
Shit, Archer knows what that means. “Do you usually get involved territory disputes?”
“Frankly, no. I try to prevent them. Clear out civilians, if possible. But nothing good usually comes of sending my team into that kind of fight. In any case, we are often the last to know. But, Jonathan, there’s more. Robbins’s contact wouldn’t give a name when she asked who is our dirty cop, but he didn’t deny that one existed. In fact, he said the informant turned several years ago. Five years, to be precise.” Liu’s tone darkens. “Marcus went rogue after his daughter had her accident in 2008. The timing fits. And Robbins was able to confirm more: Marcus’s case, the Palmetto Row robberies? They’re the work of men belonging to Kor.”
“A case which, if he’s on Kor’s payroll, Marcus never intended to solve anyway.” Jon swallows twice. “That’s it, then, the connection. I was almost hoping that I was crazy.”
“What are you talking about?” Liu questions sharply.
“Marcus is the reason I’m calling you, Greta. He’s in town, tailing my lead to Nero.”
Her snarl of “What in hell is he doing?” is the opening he needs to explain.
Yet he feels sick to his stomach to say it. “We know Lt. Marcus wants Pike to get caught going after Nero. Second, it was his case that Chris took on, during the investigation of which Chris disappeared. An investigation we just learned that Marcus was purposely stalling from being closed. Why? If he wanted to prevent you from finding out Kor’s gang was behind the robberies, then it makes no sense that he left the case unsolved, knowing you would give it to someone who could solve it.”
Liu sounds troubled now. “You’re saying he wanted me to give Chris the case.”
“It was the perfect lure. God knows what Pike saw while he was out there, but being on Palmetto Row created the opportunity to take him.” Jon sighs. “There’s one more thing to consider: the ransom note. Do you know why you couldn’t figure out how it came in? Because the man who delivered it was already on the inside. And it wasn’t Pike like Marcus would love for us to believe. We’ve been fucking duped, Liu.”
The other end of the line remains silent for a long time. Just when Jonathan begins to worry that he’s lost her—or, worse, Liu’s willingness to trust him—her voice returns.
It’s far from accusing. She says, “Our scenario, then: Marcus, with the help of Kor, engineered a kidnapping, starting with a series of unsolved crimes just in advance of Pike’s return to duty.”
Jon finishes, “The endgame is to destroy Pike’s reputation by insinuating he faked his own kidnapping in order to become a vigilante—the target of which Marcus is now pursuing.”
“Then what has happened to Pike?” the woman asks tightly. “Even if Marcus finds him there, Chris could easily deny the whole thing.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Jon says, voice suddenly not quite so steady. “The dead don’t talk.”
“I hate this theory, Jonathan.”
He understands. It puts Chris’s life at risk more than ever. “Whether you agree with me or not, I’m going to catch Marcus and make him tell me the truth. Count on that,” he promises.
“At this point, you have my blessing. My lieutenant is in your jurisdiction, somewhere he disobeyed orders to go.” She adds after a pause, “Just keep in mind our priorities—and that revenge wasn’t among them.”
“Relax, Captain. I’m the last person who needs that reminder.”
“Shit, Gaius is coming. Talk later,” the woman says tersely, and hangs up.
Jon lowers his cell phone and slumps against the wall.
Marcus is the wild card in all of this. A theory stays a theory without tangible evidence or a confession. Jon had taken the man’s measure and knows that Marcus is the kind of man won’t confess to anything, even if held at gunpoint. Why? Because he is a coward at heart, albeit a duplicitous, spiteful one.
Distracted, Jon steps out of his corner and literally runs into someone. That someone is Jim.
Instantly his stomach sinks. Judging by the glassy sheen of shock in Kirk’s eyes, Jim has heard everything.
“Was it Marcus the whole time?”
Jon doesn’t know where to begin. “Kirk…”
“Alex is really a dirty cop?”
Jon takes a hold of the man’s shoulders. “Jim, I’ll explain.”
Jim wrenches back all of a sudden, his unfocused gaze finally clearing. “Did he take my dad?”
That admission seems to be all Kirk needed to hear. He pivots and stalks away, his posture indicative of a fury so deep that Jon can’t think to match it.
Jon hurries after him with growing dread, insisting once he catches up to the man, “Kirk, whatever you’re thinking isn’t going to work!”
“We know the destination now,” Jim informs him flatly. “That’s what I came to tell you. I’m going there.” When he glances to Archer, the stormy look in his eyes implies the rest of the plan: When I catch Marcus, there will be hell to pay.
This is precisely the reaction from Kirk that Archer wanted to avoid. Instead he caused it. Just when he thought he couldn’t screw up any worse…
“You’re not going,” he tells Kirk.
Jim doesn’t bother to reply, just continues walking away.
In the bullpen, Uhura leans against the booking station filing her nails. She sees Jim coming, narrows her eyes and flips her file around to hold like a weapon, and demands, “Who do I need to stab?”
Spock and Leonard rush out of Archer’s office, being so Kirk-attuned that they undoubtedly just had the realization Jim is on the verge of a dangerous impulse again.
And finally, with perfect timing, Larry strolls into the station, stopping at the threshold of the room to consider the scene. Casually he orders Matthews at his back, “Block the door, Deputy.”
Jon hangs back to see if someone else can stop Kirk before drastic measures are required.
Leonard is the first person to head off Kirk, his sharp inquiry of “Jim, what’s the matter?” tempered with concern.
Spock takes up a position next to Kirk as Jim halts before McCoy. He twists around at the waist to study Jon briefly before re-focusing his attention on his friend.
“Bones, step aside. I have to go.”
“Just because we know where Nero might be doesn’t mean you have to go running there immediately,” disagrees his boyfriend. “What’s this about?”
Jim only says, “My dad is in danger.”
Spock asks, “How do you know that Detective Pike is with Nero?”
“Ask Archer,” Kirk says through clenched teeth. “Now let me go.”
McCoy crosses his arms. “We’re going with you.”
“No.” Jim presses his mouth flat. “The sheriff was right about one thing, Bones. You—all of you,” he amends now that Sulu and Chekov have shown up to listen and Scott is peeking around the office door, “could get seriously hurt, and I’m not willing to make that call. I’ll take the risk alone.”
Oh geez, that is not the conclusion Jonathan wanted Jim to come to after his speech.
A hint of panic comes into Leonard’s face, and he turns to Spock with pleading eyes.
Spock changes position to stand beside McCoy. “Your decision is not rational. We cannot allow it.”
Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov come together to form a second barrier behind Spock and McCoy.
Jim’s determined expression wavers. “What is this?”
From where he’s leaning against the closed entrance door, Matthews explains with no small amount of glee, “It’s called mutiny, Kirk.”
Jon lays a hand over his heart.
Kirk’s puzzlement morphs into disbelief, then anger. “You can’t do this.”
Spock raises an eyebrow. “Clearly we can.”
“I’m your friend!”
Leonard purses his mouth, “Which is why one friend doesn’t let his other friend undertake the danger by himself. Jim, it’s okay that you’re not willing to be responsible for us. We’re offering to go anyway, because we care about you.”
For a moment, Kirk simply breathes deeply through his nose. “I still couldn’t stand it. If you were hurt, I couldn’t—Bones, I can’t. With Dad already gone, I can’t lose anyone else.”
Leonard and Spock exchange a glance.
As the outsider looking in, Jon is fully aware of what Kirk is going to attempt next, because now he’s exposed his vulnerable side in order to distract McCoy, Spock, and the others, which makes for the perfect opportunity to act. So without remorse, Archer strides over to the only seated person in the room, the deputy whom he had given ten dollars, and snatches up a bulging McDonald’s bag. The deputy gives a horrified cry of “My Chicken McNuggets!” and scrambles to pursue Jonathan.
Jim has edged backwards between two desks, projecting his despair with a bowed head. To Jon’s eyes, it’s almost a certainty that wily Kirk is actually occupied with reviewing his memory for the location of the nearest fire exit, calculating the timing of the route and also plotting how he might use the layout of the bullpen to his advantage. Six years of chasing Jim has at least allowed him to figure out when not to trust the kid.
A month ago Jon would have simply called Kirk on his act and demanded he adhere to the proper authorities. But Jon has learned a new lesson in recent days: the only way to deal with Jim is to be like Jim—unexpected. And so, fast-food bag in hand, Archer takes out his gun, tosses the bag into the air above everyone’s heads and shoots the hell out of it.
The smart ones duck as the bag explodes into chunks of McNuggets. The smarter ones flatten themselves on the floor to avoid becoming a target. The deputy who failed to recover the bag in time presses his face to the floor and sobs about his murdered lunch.
Kirk stands frozen in between the desks. Spock and McCoy, who had flung themselves at Jim in the interim, clutch him, shielding him from either side.
Jon cocks his head quizzically at the group. “Is everyone paying attention now?”
The remaining department staff who have dared to find out what the hell is happening fill up the nearby arches and doorways.
With an unusual strain, Spock states, “You discharged your weapon in an enclosed area.”
“Around people,” Leonard adds in horror.
“As someone once said, time to skip the hunt and tree the prey,” Jon explains mysteriously. “Kirk, running to the back exit is not the answer.”
Jim looks less guilty than he does curiously surprised. “How did you know?”
“I know all your cues.”
Leonard lets go of his boyfriend in order to yell at him. “You were going to do what?!”
Now Jim does look guilty.
“Did you mean anything you said?” McCoy snaps, livid at being tricked.
“Of course he did,” Jon responds on Kirk’s behalf. “But it wasn’t going to influence his decision, which he has already made.”
“Then why do you keep trying to stop me?” Jim challenges Archer.
Jon looks thoughtful. “Good question.” He flicks the gun’s safety on again and places it in the holster beneath his jacket. “The answer would be: we had a deal.”
“A deal,” Jim repeats, eyeing him with wariness now.
“Partners, remember?” Jon informs all of Kirk’s ridiculously loyal gang of friends, “Kirk isn’t going alone. I plan to be with him.”
“Knew it,” Nyota announces smugly.
Jon ignores that. “Larry, Matthews, you’re my ground team.”
Spock wants to know, “What about us?”
Ah, the hard part. “There’s one little detail you all forgot. I’m in charge, not your friend—and I agree with him. This mission is too dangerous for you.” He looks the rapidly reddening McCoy in the eyes. “I’ve made my decision.”
Leonard explodes, “You’re letting him go but not us? OVER MY DEAD BODY!”
“Mr. McCoy,” Spock says too calmly as Kirk flinches and murmurs, “Bones.“
Leonard turns on Spock. “Why the hell aren’t you angry!”
“It is futile to feel anger over a decision that we cannot change.”
“But you said you’d help me. I told you I needed you!”
Jim looks between them.
“Leonard, have I yet gone back on my word?”
Leonard’s forehead creases—and his scowl slowly dissipates. “Oh,” he says, and then with more tranquility, “All right. We won’t go.”
Jim is still looking between them, frowning. “Bones, did you just agree with Spock?”
McCoy does not answer.
Spock tells Archer before Jim can ask more pressing questions, “You may go now. We have no plans to stop you.”
Nyota hops up on a desk, filing her nails once again. “None at all,” she echoes.
Sulu and Chekov wander too casually back to the break room. Scott appears to be muttering to himself while he packs up equipment inside Archer’s office.
And that, Jonathan sighs to himself, is exactly what he fears. But since there isn’t anything he can do short of locking these crazy people up to protect them (and he does consider that option for a brief moment), he only shrugs with feigned ignorance and takes Kirk in tow. Larry and Matthews wait a heartbeat before following.
The coordinates stored in Kirk’s phone lead them down a country road with fewer houses and more woodland the farther out it goes. Eventually the woodland clears to a wide stretch of overgrown field. Jon passes the turn for a paved road in lieu of using an uneven dirt road about one mile farther along, radioing his advice for Larry and Matthews to do the same. Then he parks sideways by a rusted gate and cuts off the engine of his truck.
“What is this place?” Jim asks, peering through the windshield in a squint.
Jonathan is too busy scouting the structure in the distance through his binoculars to reply right anyway, so only when an impatient Jim reaches for the passenger-side door handle does Jon remember how dangerous it is to ignore him.
“Stay in the truck,” he orders, snapping his head around to glare.
“No,” Jim argues politely.
Jon sighs and drops the binoculars to his lap. “This is a private airfield by the northern border of the county.” The only times he has been out this way is to break up the late-night bonfires of trespassing teenagers, although not in recent years. The property had supposedly been sold by the firm managing it to a corporation specializing in emergency aircraft services. It’s strange to Jonathan that the place still looks abandoned.
However there is also no denying if the new owner has yet to make use of the airstrip that is the perfect spot for a clandestine gathering.
He reaches into the back seat, pulls out something and dumps it in his companion’s lap. “Put this on.”
Jim holds it up, eyes widening.
Jon asks gravely, “Do you know how to, or should I help you?”
“I know,” Jim assures him quickly and takes off his coat to don the bullet-proof vest. “When I used to hang around the precinct after school, some of Dad’s friends would let me try on their gear.” Once the vest is properly secured and Kirk’s jacket hides it, Jim points to the holster visible through Jonathan’s unzipped jacket. “What about that?”
Jon’s “No” might be a little too cutting but he softens the impact by reaching into the back seat again and offer up another item. This one he hands to Jim with more care. “I hope they taught you how to use this.”
“Yes, sir.” Jim turns the taser over in his hands. “This means I’m coming with you, right?”
Jon sighs through his nose and stares at the steering wheel for a moment. The unmarked cruiser pulling up behind them belongs to Larry and Matthews, whom he can see suiting themselves for the mission ahead through the rearview mirror when he glances up.
“Kirk, I’m only going to tell you this once so listen up. You are not to engage anyone. Not Nero’s men, Nero himself, or Marcus if the bastard is here. That weapon in your hands is for protection only. If someone comes at you with the intention to harm, stun him then run like hell. I’m hoping it won’t come to that, though. You’re my lookout today, which means you keep tabs on any movements and report in. That means staying at a distance.” He looks to Kirk, then. “No matter what you think, you are not trained for this situation. This is a real-life scenario, son, and a bullet-proof vest doesn’t mean you will live through it. Moreover, I can’t go in, catch Marcus or help your father if I’m constantly checking over my shoulder for you.”
A moment passes before Jim nods. “Understood.”
Jon reaches over without thinking and runs his hand across Kirk’s head. “I let you come this far because I trust you to protect what’s most important—you.” Taking his hand away, he teases lightly, “I can tell you from experience, Kirk, that’s not an easy job.”
Jim’s mouth quirks. “I’ll try my best, sir.”
“Good to hear. Let’s do this.”
They exit the truck in time to face Archer’s two somber-looking deputies.
“Larry told me what’s going on,” Matthews says. He looks at Kirk. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Jim doesn’t appear to take offense to that. “I won’t.”
“This is our plan, gentlemen, so listen up. Kirk is lookout. Larry, give him your radio. He’s keeping eyes on our backs. Matthews, stick to your partner like glue.”
Matthews rolls his eyes. “I don’t need protecting, Boss.”
“No, but Larry does. I’m pretty sure the last time he took part in a hostage situation was in 1972.”
“Fuck you, Archer,” snarls Larry. “I wasn’t a deputy until ’75.”
Matthews’s and Kirk’s eyes pop out.
Jim whistles, fascinated. “You’re old.”
Larry crosses his arms over his chest, his expression dour. “I can still get the job done. But what about them?”
Jon drops his head forward in dismay before turning to address his other problem. “Come out of there, you two.”
Like a summoned apparition, Spock appears at the edge of the undergrowth. McCoy falls out, cursing.
Kirk skips past surprised and goes straight to furious. “You shouldn’t be here!”
“We didn’t stop you,” McCoy points out.
“We followed you,” adds Spock.
“And the others?” Jon asks.
Kirk’s head whips around to stare at him.
“Guarding the primary road in case someone attempts to elude us.” Spock says with more delicacy, “We decided you would be less likely to protest our participation if some of us remained as backup.”
“Too smart for your own good,” Jon decides. “No matter, I accept your help.”
“No!” shouts Jim.
Next to McCoy, Spock lifts an eyebrow. “If you raise your voice by another decibel, you shall attract unwanted attention.”
Kirk is obviously grinding his teeth. “Spock, I thought I could trust you.”
Leonard gets angry. “You’re one to talk, Jim. What’s the point in calling us a team if we can’t be with you when you need us? Stop being so blasted pigheaded! And don’t ‘Bones’ me!” he snaps when Kirk opens his mouth.
Jim presses his mouth flat in unhappiness.
Jon, Larry, and Matthews pretend somewhat uncomfortably to not be listening.
McCoy stalks toward Kirk, stab his finger just shy of the man’s collar bone. “I’ll be damned if I let you cut me out again, you hear? You go, I go.“
“We go,” Spock amends.
A muscle in Jim’s jaw ticks. “I said no.”
“You’re outvoted.” Leonard turns his fiery gaze upon Archer. “Jim had better be wearing a bullet-proof vest.”
Jon clears his throat. “He is.”
“We need them too.”
Before Archer can respond to that, the sound of a slamming car door draws his attention to Matthews, who comes back from the squad car with a vest in one hand, which he tosses without comment to Jim’s infuriated boyfriend.
To a betrayed-looking Kirk, Matthews only says, “We’re losing time by arguing.”
Jon couldn’t have put it better himself.
Jim draws a breath—and his shoulders come down. “Fine.” He asks Jon, “Lookout is a safe position, right?”
“Safer than most,” Jon replies.
“Bones, Spock, you’re with me.”
Would anybody laugh if Jonathan did a happy dance right then? If Jim can’t stop Spock and McCoy, he’s going to protect them even if it means staying out of the action himself. Jon really, really couldn’t be more thrilled.
Maybe he sounds too cheerful when he rubs his hands together and says, “Then if there aren’t any more quest—”
Jon is rudely interrupted by “No, you put it on!”
Leonard isn’t paying attention in lieu of trying to force the vest into Spock’s hands.
Spock rejects it. “I insist you wear it, Mr. McCoy.”
Oh god, thinks Jon. Here we go.
“I’ll have one,” Leonard counters. “Somebody get me another vest! Spock, damn you, take it.“
“Negative,” insists the dark-haired man.
Jon suddenly recalls an unfortunate fact just as Larry interrupts the arguing pair, “Each vehicle only carries one spare vest. One of you will have to do without.”
Each clutching an end of the vest, Spock and McCoy freeze, as does Kirk. Then with sudden strength, Spock thrusts the bullet-proof vest at McCoy as Kirk steps up to McCoy’s other side. In tandem, they begin manhandling McCoy into the vest.
For only a handful of seconds, Leonard gapes like a fish before outright trying to fight them, and not quietly either. Jon snorts softly at the scene and sidles around his truck from sight. There, he begins to strip off his jacket.
Larry comes around the side just as he detaches his vest. “Jon—” The man pales. “What are you doing?”
Jon hands the vest to Larry. “I was carrying an extra.”
“You won’t have a fucking vest!” Larry spits, inexplicably angry. “Fuck that, this is a potential gunfight, you idiot!”
Jonathan is glad he has the kind of authority that Kirk doesn’t. “Deputy, shut your mouth and give them the damn vest. Like Matthews said, we’re wasting time.” When Larry looks like he is considering punching Archer in the face instead, he says in his best sheriff’s voice, “That’s an order, Deputy.” Then he finishes zipping up his jacket and moves to the end of the truck to find Matthews leaning there.
“They got McCoy in the vest,” Matthews updates him, amused. Amusement becomes surprise when the deputy notices what Larry has in his hands. “Hey, where did you get that?”
Larry shoves the vest at Matthews, sounding truly pissed as he explains, “Archer had an extra.”
“Oh, thank god,” declares the younger deputy, “because now McCoy says Spock can’t go without a vest, Kirk agrees, and Spock is calling bullshit. Listening to those three drives me bananas!”
Larry gives Jon one last, slashing glance before turning around the truck. Matthews goes with him.
Jon uses the moment alone to run fingers through his hair, feeling uncomfortably vulnerable without the thick padding of the vest secured against his chest. Well, it can’t be helped, he decides. He made the right choice. Kirk and his friends shouldn’t be here at all, granted, but since Jon can’t prevent the unstoppable, he should at least prepare his charges for the fight to come.
“Let’s get this done, Archer,” Jonathan pep-talks himself. Find Pike. Get out. And don’t get shot.
If luck is with them today, they’ll survive.
His team, one-half appointed and the other half self-appointed, waits for him when he steps onto the road. Matthews is checking and re-checking his weapons; a sign of nervousness but also of willingness to do his duty. Larry has a pair of binoculars trained on the hangar in the distance.
Kirk faces the same direction as Larry, chin slightly lifted, that odd calm about him which Jon now recognizes. He feels it too, after all: the certainty of knowing he has reached the point of no return.
Only the courageous dare to go forth.
Perhaps sensing Jon watching him, Jim turns to meet his gaze.
“Ready?” Archer asks.
“Yes, sir,” Kirk replies and heads for the gate.
Nero is such the opposite of Kor in personality and mannerism that Chris fully expects to be dumped in a corner and forgotten until Nero can be bothered to remember his existence. However the bodyguard carries him up a steep flight of steel stairs to the landing of the hangar’s office and leaves him standing there. Chris is actually at a loss of what to do next. He looks over the railing to see Nero standing directly below him having a leisurely conversation on a cell phone. Beside Nero is his right-hand man Ayel, who stares unabashedly back up at Pike, arms folded but his knife still plainly visible. It’s as if he’s silently daring Pike to make a move.
Chris leans his forearms against the railing, links his fingers together, and adopts a neutral expression to mirror Ayel’s.
The man’s dark eyes narrow in cool speculation.
This is the oddest captive situation Chris has been in. After giving himself a moment to acknowledge the dread creeping up his spine, he tucks away the useless feeling in lieu of a clinical detachment, taking note of his surroundings.
There isn’t much left inside the hangar: a large peeling poster of a fifties advertisement for Camel cigarettes, a rotting pile of airplane tires, several stacks of dusty, broken wood pallets, nesting pigeons in the rafters. How often does Nero use this place? And for what?
He is also curious to know what lies in the office behind him, but it obviously would be a bad idea to take leave from where Nero’s men had placed him.
After a while he closes his eyes, hoping to gain some semblance of rest, but without sight, his other senses become more attuned to the activity below and keeps him on edge. He opens his eyes to the sound of footsteps on the stairs, from both the return of his dread and relief from his own unpleasant imagination.
Turning his head, Pike tracks the progress of Nero’s approach. Nero is in the middle of the line, with one man in front of him and two behind. There isn’t much to tell the thugs apart, for they all conform to the same dress code, shaved heads, and stoic countenances. All that varies is the placement and design of each man’s blue tattoos.
Had the men who beat up his son looked the same?
Fury flashes through Pike, then, bringing with it clarity to his thoughts. He straightens up and steps back from the railing, his gaze centering on Nero.
“Thank you for your patience, Detective,” Nero says like a man who finds pleasantries tedious. Once on the landing, he gestures to the office. “Shall we?”
“After you,” Chris responds evenly.
“A courtesy. How thoughtful. However, understandably,” Nero bares his teeth for a quick moment, “you will go first.”
Pike makes a show of limping to the door of the office. It isn’t locked, and he walks inside. There is power to the building, it seems, because when he flips the light switch, the room’s overhead light fixtures turn on after a few seconds of undecided sparking.
“You own this building,” he guesses.
“Yes,” Nero replies. “Or rather, I am associated with the shell company which purchased it.”
“You clearly don’t have much use for it,” Chris comments while he watches Nero casually remove a handkerchief from an inner suit pocket and wipe a clean spot onto a dusty desk. Then Nero leans against the desk there, handing his soiled handkerchief over one of two men who had accompanied him inside. The third henchman remains outside the door.
“You have questions. Ask.”
Pike doesn’t like this type of generosity. It means Nero assumes whatever knowledge Chris gains will ultimately not matter.
Well, if Chris is going to die in the end, then he only wants to know one thing.
It takes a second to force the question from his mouth. “Why Jim?”
Nero’s eyelids drop to half-mast. “Of course. Your son Kirk. Why did I have him beaten, or why did I let him live?”
Pike clenches his fists, causing the men on either side of Nero to snap to attention. The look in their eyes implies he is in for a messy death should he be stupid enough to try to attack.
Chris forces himself to breathe. Three deep breaths later, he is able to relax his hands.
“Both,” he orders in a clipped tone.
Nero’s dark-eyed gaze studies him for some time before complying, and only then, does he begin with “There is one other question you like an answer to.” A mirthless smile curves the man’s mouth. “Why not you?”
Yes, that is a valid question. Chris sees no point in denying it.
Nero answers, “I had Kirk beaten for attempting to spoil my plan. I drew the line at killing him because he did in fact succeed at it. There were others I could have chosen, of course. The engineer who defied me. The ones who worked with Kirk. Or you.” His gaze sharpens. “The fool who encouraged them to reveal the truth. I asked myself: which is the greatest sin?”
Chris flattens his mouth into a thin line. “The one who sinned is you.”
“Sin is a matter of perspective, Detective.” Now Nero considers him with something akin to anticipation. “Should I tell you whom I picked?”
Chris is so angry he thinks he must be trembling with the force of it. “I know who. My son, you asshole!”
Nero laughs, a short burst of sound which dies almost as soon as it occurs. His eyes are icy-cold as he pushes away from the desk. “You sinned the most.” He glides toward Chris, a soft snarl building. “You, Christopher. One failed plan is nothing. I can seed more terror. I can end more lives. But I cannot retract the moment you released my identity to the public. That is your greatest sin, your debt to me, for which you should know you have only begun to pay back.”
Chris understands—finally, truly understands. Nero chose to hurt Jim in order to hurt him. Nero will continue to terrorize and punish those Pike holds dear until Pike is sufficiently repentant.
Is it possible to reason with this man? Or should he try his damnedest to destroy him?
“There it is,” Nero says. “The recognition. The comprehension.” He circles Pike, whispering silkily, “I would enjoy it if you fell to your knees and begged for forgiveness.”
“Groveling wouldn’t make a difference,” Chris says with certainty. “You enjoy breaking people too much.”
Nero pauses, leans in to say by his ear as if sharing a secret, “I live for it.” He steps back, adding in a more detached tone, “Suffering is one of life’s greatest teachers, and I, the greatest teacher of all.”
Chris can’t respond to that, isn’t certain if a sane man should know how. Nero is not simply cruel and unfeeling; he is unhinged.
“I believe I shall impart to you my latest plan to secure your suffering,” Nero continues on. “It begins with someone who has been a thorn in my side for—”
The yells accompany sounds of commotion in the hangar.
Nero turns, tense and clearly annoyed to be interrupted. “Whoever that is, kill him immediately.”
Chris had recognized the voice. “It’s Marcus,” he clarifies for Nero’s benefit.
“Marcus,” snarls Nero. Then, more calmly, “Ah yes, Kor’s rat. Another worthless individual.”
Chris raises an eyebrow. “Actually he’s a supply of information you likely couldn’t come by so easily. I would have thought a man like you would consider that useful. Yet you can be rid of him on a whim?”
Nero seems to take this advice seriously. “You are correct, Detective. I may have dismissed his usefulness out of turn. Bring the man here.”
One henchman hurries away to relay this new order to his partner who is already en route down the stairs to dispatch Marcus.
Chris grimaces, not very pleased with himself that his first instinct was to prevent Nero from killing Alex.
Nero distances himself from the doorway as Marcus is ushered through it and allows silence to linger a while in the room before speaking. “You are trespassing on private property. I am inclined to have you buried on it. Why should I let you live?”
Marcus seems to think his concern takes priority over Nero’s ire. “You let Kor walk away. Why?”
“Only a fool greets his grim reaper with insolence instead of remorse,” cautions Nero too softly.
“You didn’t take care of Kor, and he’s coming back, Nero,” Marcus says. “You should concern yourself with that.”
But Nero doesn’t, offering hardly more than an unappreciative “What is it that you want?”
“I offer you a proposal that could benefit us both.”
Nero considers Marcus from head to toe as though uncertain if Marcus is the kind of bug which should be deemed fascinating or disgusting. “A proposal. Very well,” he says at length, cold as ever. “I understand, Lieutenant. You dearly wish to be rid of the ties which bound you to Koloth, whom you hated, and now bind you to Kor, whom you hate more. But that doesn’t require me to take an interest in you.”
“I’m offering you my services. I’m saying I’ll work for you!”
Nero’s upper lip curls. “I only accept those who can be loyal.”
“I can be loyal!”
“Your actions speak otherwise, and I don’t have the patience or inclination to retrain you. Throw him off the landing,” Nero instructs his henchman, turning away.
Marcus jerks forward when Nero’s man twists his arm behind his back. “Listen to me, Nero. This could work for us!”
Nero continues to talk without heeding the plea. “If he survives, let him crawl back to his master.”
As Marcus is forced backwards, he shouts with a desperate fury Chris has never heard from him before. “DAMN YOU, I GAVE YOU PIKE!”
Nero stills, for the first time appearing truly caught off guard. After a moment, Chris watches him raise a hand and turn around. The man dragging Marcus over the threshold to the office freezes.
Nero advances on Marcus swiftly and demands, eyes alight, “Speak.”
Marcus stumbles in giving an explanation. “I organized it, the whole thing, start to finish. You wanted Pike so I caught him for you. I would have killed him, or talked Kor into doing it, but I waited to see what you would want to do. The only reason I used Kor to deliver him is that I knew you wouldn’t answer a message from me. I can kill Pike now for you if you like.”
Something in Marcus’s explanation doesn’t satisfy Nero, for he leans back and slips his hands into his pockets. “You would kill this man if I asked.”
It isn’t a question, but Marcus doesn’t seem to catch that. “Yes! Just say the word,” he insists.
“Worthless, as supposed,” concludes Nero too softly.
Listening to Marcus speak freely of murdering him, Chris is sick, furious, and in pain. He realizes belatedly that Nero has turned around to stare at him.
Nero speculates, “This hurts you.” Then he laughs in the same abrupt way as he had before and withdraws one of his hands from a pocket to reveal a key. To the man holding Marcus, he orders, “Leave the Lieutenant here.”
Marcus, now thrown roughly aside, barely manages to catch himself against the desk.
Nero glides over the office threshold and says to them just before he closes the door, “Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity for old friends to catch up.”
Chris hears the snick of a lock. One of the Nero’s men takes up a position outside the office, visible through the long window pane next to the door.
Marcus straightens up, saying incredulously to himself, “He didn’t believe me.”
In that moment, Chris wants nothing more than to lay out Marcus with a hard punch. But he can’t start a fight which he isn’t capable of ending. Marcus isn’t injured or physically exhausted like he is and would undoubtedly win.
Marcus places his hands to the door, still suspended in disbelief. “He’s going to kill me.”
Bitterness swells up in Pike. “And that’s not how you imagined this little scenario playing out, is it, Alex?”
Marcus glares back at him. “Shut up.”
“Why should I? Truth be told, I was astounded by you just now, kissing his ass that way. You know you’re only trading one leash for another.”
“Fuck you, Pike. I’m out of options!”
“I know,” Chris counters coldly, willing to twist the proverbial knife a little deeper. “You must have never imagined your revenge would bring you as low as this.”
Marcus spins around and starts toward him with a growl.
Chris offers the man the same humorless smile Nero had given him. “Hurt me if you like. It won’t change a thing.”
Marcus stops, nostrils flaring, but backs down.
Eventually Chris’s fury subsides enough that he can leash it. Moving carefully to the desk, he tries a chair that wobbles precariously but in the end bears his weight. After a while it becomes boring to watch Marcus pace the confines of their prison, looking for another way out.
But Marcus obviously doesn’t believe his preoccupation is pointless. He accuses Chris, “Why are you just sitting there? We need a plan. An escape. Damn you, Christopher, get off your ass and help me!”
Chris just smiles at Marcus’s gall. “No,” he says succinctly. “I would rather die.”
Marcus is taken aback by that, staring at him in a different way than before. Chris sees the moment Alex understands; Chris is willing to do nothing if it means Marcus meets death with him.
“You’re no different,” the man says to him at last, flatly. “You’re caught in it too.”
Pike dips his head in the barest of acknowledgements, though he reasons his choice as “At least I’m willing to pay the price for my actions. You were too much of a coward for that. How else did you end up here?”
“Of course. Honorable Christopher Pike to the very last,” his old mentor sneers in disgust.
Not so honorable after all, thinks Chris with a touch of sadness.
Marcus turns away, back to the door and to his desperation to live, allowing silence to lengthen the chasm between them.
Chris folds his hands on top of the old desk and waits for his tragic end.
Truth #1: This was supposed to be the last chapter before the epilogue.
Truth #2: I was too nervous to write the showdown, so the next chapter is the last chapter before the epilogue.
Truth #3: More than one person is going to die. Now we can all be nervous together!