Changing of the Guard (3/4)

Date:

0

Title: Changing of the Guard (3/4)
Author: klmeri
Fandom: Star Trek AOS
Pairing: Kirk/Spock/McCoy
Summary: For the ISS Enterprise, a prisoner transfer is business as unusual. Having a bond form between the three most dangerous officers on the ship. What is a starship captain to do?
Part: 1 | 2


Kirk prowls the ship in a manner that makes even the most unlikely crewmen to be responsible for an assassination exercise caution in going about their day-to-day routines. Pike thinks about calling his first officer off the hunt, allowing for a moment to fantasize that he is actually capable of convincing Kirk the danger is past; but they both would be well-aware that any such assumption is untrue. An attempt to take out the highest-ranking commander on the ship is merely a precursor to a second one—then a third and so on, until at last the orchestrator who wants that person dead is successful. So Christopher turns a blind eye to Kirk’s prowling, to the rumors of midnight interrogations and the whispers that Kirk won’t quit until he has exacted revenge on someone.

As careful as the crew is around the First Officer, they are equally, if not more so, careful in Pike’s presence. He discovers one day that he cannot have a simple conversation with the ship’s chef about arranging meals for soon-to-arrive guests without the man fleeing in the opposite direction the instant Kirk turns up in the galley.

“Where’s Sulu?” demands Kirk, oblivious to the scattering of the kitchen staff.

Christopher swallows a sigh of exasperation and feels like he is about to repeat himself for the umpteenth time. “I don’t need a bodyguard every second of every day, Mr. Kirk.”

Jim looks like he will gladly argue the case, but before the pissing contest can get underway, Pike ends it. “Mr. Sulu had to answer a call of nature, and since I’d prefer not to have him piss his pants while on duty, I allowed him a bathroom break.” How more reasonable could that explanation sound? “I’m certain he will return at any minute.”

Kirk looks around the empty kitchen with a narrowed gaze before inspecting Pike. “You have your dagger?”

“Yes.”

“It is honed?”

“Would you like me to test it on you?” Pike snaps.

Kirk relaxes. “Fine. I’ll let it go. This time.” The man turns away.

“You realize I don’t need two bodyguards,” Pike growls to the commander’s back. “Either allow your man to do his job, or take the position yourself.”

Kirk glances back, eyes alight, teeth bared. “Should I?”

Pike’s stomach feels funny. “Never mind.” How does Kirk know every single time he’s bluffing?

Kirk carelessly salutes the air and leaves the way he came in.

Pike takes the opportunity to sigh aloud this time, calling to the storage room at the far end of the galley, “You can come out now, Mr. Bastion.”

The chef pokes his head into galley, looking nervous. “Captain? I, ah, was double-checking our ingredients.”

“Of course you were,” Pike says mildly. When the man simply stares back, he inquires, “Do we have everything we need?”

The chef blinks owlishly from his hiding spot. “No, sir, not everything.”

“Then submit a requisition,” Pike smiles sharply, “and I’ll approve it.”

The chef flushes, thanks him, and retreats again.

~~~

Later, when the captain crosses paths with his CMO, he keeps going. McCoy is the one to change direction and fall into step with him.

“Is something on your mind, Doctor?” Pike asks the man, stopping in the corridor after this happens.

McCoy eyes him. “I wanted to see if something was on your mind, Captain.”

“Nothing that needs particular care at the moment,” answers Pike, now wary.

The doctor harrumphs. “Then I guess I don’t have anything to share.”

Pike stares.

McCoy purses his mouth. “This tactic works better with Jim.”

The captain rubs the bridge of his nose. “I have no desire to know how you handle my first officer.”

There’s a gleam to McCoy’s eyes. “Speaking of handling, do you want an update on how I’ve handled Mr. Spock?”

Pike starts to say yes, only to realize from the look in the other man’s eyes, McCoy is essentially setting a trap. “No,” he decides firmly. “Unless there is a medical reason that requires me as the captain to know, I don’t need the details, Dr. McCoy.”

“Shucks,” says the CMO with clear disappointment. “This chat could have been entertaining.”

Not for both of them, doubts Pike. “Don’t you have a med bay to look after?”

“Actually, I’m on break. Jim, Spock, and I are meeting up in the rec room.” Again, McCoy’s look dares Pike to ask.

Pike takes the easy way out. He walks away.

“One of these days you’ll wish you had given in to your curiosity, Captain!” McCoy calls after him, shocking a nearby ensign and causing another one to swallow a snort.

Promoting McCoy was clearly a mistake. Too bad no one had the foresight to tell that to Pike while he was jilting the Surgeon General by signing off on the young doctor’s commission.

Strange, he thinks with a bemused shake of his head, that on some innate level he likes the man’s personality. Thankfully, with age comes wisdom. He never plans to tell anyone that.

~~~

The first inkling of something about to go wrong is a virulent case of food poisoning that strikes down several alpha shift officers without warning. Unfortunately, the security officer Kirk appointed as Pike’s bodyguard, Lt. Hikaru Sulu, is one of the victims. Pike takes one look at the dark-haired man vomiting his guts out on the doorstep of the captain’s quarters and remands him to Sickbay.

In a far more somber spirit than the day prior, McCoy pinpoints the cause of the illness as a common microbe found in spoiled food. Because there are over a dozen ill people awaiting treatment, he informs Pike he has already lobbed over Medical’s results to Science to analyze meal patterns and identify potential sources. Since the spoiled food couldn’t have come from the replicator, that makes the culprit more difficult to determine.

Pike leaves McCoy and his experts to the task of dealing with the sick and asks Kirk to follow up on the investigation every hour and report to him once there is news. But by the time Pike’s shift on the bridge ends for the day, Kirk still hasn’t reported in, and so the chronic unease he feels does not dissipate.

In the Ready Room, the captain asks the ship’s computer to locate Jim. The computer supplies the information readily: the first officer is more than ten decks below in the Engine Control Room by the portside Jeffries Tube.

What the hell is Kirk doing in Engineering? wonders Pike.

Sanson’s voice comes over the comm system, breaking into his thoughts. “Captain, we’ve received a report of unauthorized access to Auxiliary.”

Normally unmanned, no one should access that control room without good reason. Pike orders Sanson, “Identify the intruder.”

“Impossible, sir. Looks like someone blew out the security panel after the alert reached us.”

Pike presses his hand to an inconspicuous wall panel by the Ready Room exit. After authenticating his bio-signature, a panel pops out and he flips it up, retrieving a fully charged phaser. “Alert Kirk to the situation,” he says as he passes through the bridge to the lift.

“Yes, sir,” Sanson responds, one hand pressed to his earpiece while his other hand flies across his console.

Two security officers standing guard outside Auxiliary Control salute Pike when he arrives. “Report,” he orders the pair.

“The intruder was still here when we arrived, Captain,” one of them says. “He resisted arrest and got away. Mr. Giotto and Mr. Henderson went after him. ” They step back from the doorway. “The door’s sensor mechanism was tampered with and is malfunctioning. We’re on orders to make sure nobody enters the control room until repairs have been made.”

Pike tucks his phaser into the back of his pants. “Which direction did he run?”

“That way.”

Pike heads in the indicated direction without a second’s thought. As he rounds the bend of the corridor, he keeps his ears open for sounds of fighting. He does not look back.

At last, Pike comes to the sealed doorway leading to the rarely used storeroom of the lounge in the recreational section of the ship. A dead end, he thinks, his hackles raised. Why would any officer familiar with this deck’s layout come this way? A smart man wouldn’t.

Hairs rise on the back of Pike’s neck.

He spins around. Blocking the other end of the corridor are six officers with hand weapons aimed his way. For a brief second, Pike acknowledges their courage. Then he issues a clear warning, “Think carefully about your next move, gentlemen.”

“We should be saying that to you,” replies the man who makes his way to the front of the group. It’s Amand.

“I should have known,” Pike says softly. “Did you tell your comrades what happened to the last man you sent after me, Mr. Amand? I cut his throat.”

Two of the six, the ones who had play-acted at guarding the control room, flinch.

“You see, he was strong—but not trained in Giotto’s particular brand of hand-to-hand combat.” Pike cocks his head at the group. “Are any of you?”

“Your phaser,” Amand states, “put it on the ground.”

“Your department never had any problems. I always wondered why. Is this the foolish kind of loyalty your men have for you… or did you simply brainwash them?”

“Shut up,” snarls the other officer. “We’re here because natural law dictates we should be. The strong overtakes the weak.”

Pike bares his teeth. “Then why are there so many of you?”

Amand fires to the side of Pike’s head. “The next shot won’t miss,” he tells Pike. “Phaser on the ground. Now.”

Pike is fully aware that Amand will shoot him regardless of what he does. He draws the phaser out and slowly places it by his feet. When Amand orders him to kick it over, he obeys.

Pike spreads his fingers in mock defeat. “Would you kill an unarmed man facing you?” The answer is in his attackers’ eyes. They’ve come too far to let him go. “I see. You have no honor.”

“Honor isn’t our way,” says one of the men.

“Then you haven’t been paying attention to how I run this ship.”

Amand barks out a laugh. “Oh, we know, Captain. On your ship, first officers inherit the captaincy without a fight.”

The word inherit sends a little zing through Pike, but he quickly reminds himself it is not likely these bastards know about Kirk’s lineage.

He decides if he’s going to die, it will be on his terms, not theirs. Instead of begging like Amand so clearly wants him to do, Pike laughs. “Sounds to me, boys, like you just hate the idea of a promotion being earned based on merit. Now why would that be?” he taunts. “Because you lack merit of your own?”

The ridiculing is a mistake. Pike isn’t going to die fast as they must have originally planned. But knowing that certain death is staring back at him has never kept Pike out of a fight before—and it won’t now.

Every man but Amand lift their phasers, hatred in their eyes. Amand is the one to call out, “Wait,” and narrow his gaze at Pike as though he cannot comprehend how Pike’s pride could be more important than his life.

“You were always an arrogant bastard.”

Under the circumstances, Pike decides to take that as a compliment.

“Arrogant or not, he’s as good as dead,” says a different man. The others growl their agreement.

“I said wait,” snaps Amand, glancing about. “Something’s wrong.” Then he freezes. “What is that?”

“Gas!” cries someone from the back.

Pike leaps forward for his phaser during the distraction at the same time Amand jerks around, aiming his weapon again. There comes a swooshing of air like a hatch being released behind Pike and a sudden cry of “Get down!”

Pike has an instant to feel his stomach drop before a body tackles him from behind.

He hits the floor, face up beside his savior, as a blast of phaser fire smashes into the paneling above their heads. Pike stares at the smoking scar left behind with a fuzzy kind of comprehension. The sound of men choking fades to background noise.

The gas reaches him, making his eyes tear up. A blurry face comes into view. Pike reacts by instinctively throwing an arm up to shove the person away, but weight presses down on his shoulder, forcing him to remain still.

“Stay down, sir.”

Kirk’s voice registers and Pike obeys, relaxing his other hand clutched around his dagger.

Kirk is on his knees already, flipping a communicator open almost without moving or taking his eyes off the curtain of smoke ahead of them.

Pike quickly assesses his first officer’s appearance—and snarls at the realization that Kirk has no visible weapon on him. He grabs the man’s wrist. “Where’s your phaser?”

The side of Kirk’s mouth tips up. “Don’t have one.”

Christopher is going to brain the fool. “Let me up. Get behind me.” When Kirk refuses to move, he barks, “That’s an order!”

“Negative,” Jim responds coolly. Then, “It’s nearly over.”

That gives Pike pause. It doesn’t prevent him from tensing, though, when he twists his head around in time to see a tall figure slowly breach the smoke, coming directly at them.

Pike shoves Kirk’s hand off his shoulder and sits up, knowing with certain dread that one of them won’t make it out of this trap alive.

Kirk shifts from his knees to his feet in a fluid movement while Pike follows more stiltedly, needing the wall as a brace when he experiences nearly overwhelming vertigo. Kirk doesn’t appear affected by the gas at all.

He grabs the man’s arm, prepared to do something dangerous and very likely stupid, though Pike doesn’t know what his insane action will be yet. Doesn’t matter as long as it saves his son.

Action becomes unnecessary, for the man who steps out of the smoke is Spock. On Spock’s heels, clearing the smoke more hurriedly, is McCoy.

“All clear?” Jim asks.

Spock dips his head in confirmation. “The mutineers have been disabled.”

McCoy comes around the Vulcan. “By god, man, we thought you’d taken a hit!” The doctor pulls up short when Jim raises the communicator in his hand toward his mouth.

“Scotty,” Kirk repeats into the device, “all clear. Reverse the fans.”

“Aye, Jim,” comes a familiar brogue.

“And excellent work. Kirk out.”

“Kirk,” Pike manages to bleat around his shock, “what did you do?”

“Saved your life,” answers McCoy sharply. The doctor’s tone changes to concern. “You should sit down. This gas is the noxious kind. We all took pills to mitigate the worst effects—you didn’t.”

As McCoy’s fussing goes on and the smoke curls back into the hallway’s air vents, Pike decides he can wait to have his answer from Kirk. Yes, staring ahead at his attackers littering the floor, answers must wait. Some of the men look like they simply fell asleep; others are laid out like corpses in a morgue.

McCoy glances in the direction of Pike’s stare and shrugs, stating matter-of-factly, “Don’t worry about those fellows. They’ll never get up again.”

Pike takes note belatedly of the hypospray in the doctor’s hand and the agonizer in Spock’s. He turns to Kirk, feeling weak but hoping his face doesn’t show it. “You knew.”

Jim says, “Spock knew. Amand wasn’t subtle about his visits to Science.”

Kirk steps away from his captain, then, moving over to Spock and McCoy. The man places one hand on the Vulcan’s shoulder and his other hand on the doctor’s. “Well done, gentlemen.”

McCoy smirks at first and then grins. Spock, though not so expressive, says, “Thank you, Jim,” and seems pleased to receive the praise.

It must be the gas affecting him like McCoy described because just then Pike feels like he has stepped into a strange new world. He watches Kirk, Spock, and McCoy with wonder and a little envy.

Later, to Pike’s amusement, McCoy manages to herd them all to Sickbay without any complaints (even from Jim). Only after Pike is safely ensconced under blankets in a biobed and Kirk is frowning over a vitamin shot he didn’t ask for, does everything seem back to normal.

A norm, Pike realizes in that moment, that now includes Spock and McCoy as the right-hand and left-hand men of James Kirk’s team.

McCoy was correct after all. Pike should have asked, should have faced what he feared to know.

Because the truth is far more frightening than he previously assumed. Jim has placed absolute trust in two men whom Pike has neither full knowledge of nor the necessary amount of resources to investigate properly. And that scares Captain Christopher Pike to the bone.

~~~

After a day of recovery in Sickbay and an additional day of rest in his quarters per McCoy’s orders, Pike prays the excitement in his life is over and is of course sorely wrong.

His report of the mutiny and subsequent demise of the mutineers is received at Starfleet Headquarters by frowning admirals who care less about the fact that a talented captain almost died and more about dissension in the ranks making Starfleet service look bad. But rather than give Pike time to settle his men, Command hands down their verdict as an unwelcoming schedule change to test if the crew of the Enterprise will dissolve under the mounting pressure. No longer tasked with ferrying the starbase-bound admirals to the Babel Conference (which in and of itself would have been troublesome and a headache, in Pike’s opinion), the Enterprise is now responsible for safely delivering the event’s most honored guest. And though it goes unsaid, if Pike cannot pull off this mission without creating a diplomatic incident, he will lose his captain’s strips.

What concerns Pike more is that with Ambassador Sarek on the Enterprise, the meeting between father and son will be unavoidable. That alone makes Pike suspicious of his new orders. Yet at the same time he could applaud the idiot offering him the advantage. Given that the starship is his to command, there won’t be an issue with monitoring Spock’s interaction with Sarek. Moreover, Pike is saved from the risky venture of bringing his Vulcan science officer to the conference itself.

He delivers this news with semi-satisfaction during the weekly update with his department chiefs. All heads (barring Kirk’s) turn in Spock’s direction.

Spock inquires coolly, “We will be required to wear our dress uniforms, Captain?”

Kirk, inspecting a stylus pen much too studiously, smirks. Scott and McCoy fill the briefing room with curses.

Sighing internally, Pike acknowledges the legitimacy of the question. “Yes. An ambassador from a neighboring empire must be shown the proper respect.”

“Then we can assess whether or not he’s an enemy,” mutters Scott, “and dispose of the body parts.”

McCoy flings his pen at the engineer’s head. “Watch it. That’s Spock’s father you’re talking about.”

Spock hardly appears disturbed by the conversation, and Kirk is just amused, saying, “Good to know you care, Bones.”

McCoy switches his narrow-eyed stare to Jim but, strangely, offers no argument.

Pike’s curiosity is piqued, sensing a new undercurrent between Kirk and McCoy. He’ll shake it out of his First sooner or later—preferably sooner.

“Mr. Spock, put our destination on the main screen. The Babel Conference will be four days’ journey from our rendezvous point. Four days,” the captain stresses, “so McCoy has a point. I want everyone on their best behavior. The Vulcan Ambassador should come away with the impression that, down to the lowest-ranking officer, we have a willingness to cooperate.” He looks pointedly at Kirk. “In other words, no antagonizing the Vulcans. This conference is to prevent war, not start one.”

Kirk’s lazy, arrogant smile belies his polite “Duly noted.”

Alone with Kirk, Pike would have rolled his eyes. He resists the urge. “Does anyone else have anything to add?” When silence ensues, the captain stands up from the table. “Dismissed, gentlemen,” he announces, then points to the science officer, “—except you.”

Almost everyone files out of the room. When Jim slips unobtrusively into place at Spock’s side, Pike pins Kirk a look of no-nonsense. “I said dismissed.”

Wordlessly Jim looks to Spock, who nods subtly. Then Jim obeys.

Pike waits until the door is fully closed behind Kirk before he widens his stance and crosses his arms over his chest. “Tell me, Mr. Spock, should I be worried that my first officer considers your opinion more important than my order?”

“You would be mistaken to believe that Jim considers any opinion more valuable than yours.”

Pike is taken aback. “He told you that?”

Spock is silent for a moment. “Dr. McCoy did. Having observed Kirk’s regard for you on numerous occasions, I must conclude the doctor is correct.”

Pike considers the Vulcan. “Does it bother you?”

From his seat, Spock blinks at him. “I do not understand your inquiry.”

“Yes, you do,” Pike counters patiently, “but I’ll play along. Are you bothered by the idea that Kirk may hold someone in high regard other than you?”

There’s nothing readable in the Vulcan’s gaze, not a shade of surprise or a flicker of emotion. Pike is impressed by Spock’s self-control.

“I’m asking if you’re jealous, Lieutenant-Commander,” Pike presses. “Because if you are, or if you intend to be in the future, you have no place among my crew.”

“You desire that no person should feel close to Kirk. No one except you, sir,” and despite Spock’s polite monotone, that statement is very much an accusation.

“I want no one distracting him with petty feelings,” Pike slaps back. Dropping his arms to his sides, Christopher stalks around the table separating them. “Make no mistake, Mr. Spock, if I wanted to keep Kirk isolated, I would not have allowed you or anyone else to serve under him.”

Finally, something—though unnamed—flashes through Spock’s gaze. “Jim Kirk is not your slave.”

“Nor is he yours,” Pike counters, voice hard.

“If this is all you wished to discuss, I will take my leave, Captain.” The Vulcan abandons his chair abruptly, either stupid or foolishly brave.

Pike takes a breath, then another. “It’s not.”

Spock locks his hands behind his back. Being a seasoned officer, Pike recognizes the look in the other’s eyes now. Spock may appear calm but his temper is dancing on a knife’s edge—and he won’t hesitate to give in to that desire for violence if Pike continues to push him.

For both their sakes, Pike retreats behind a wall of neutrality. “Your father will be on this ship for several days while we journey to Earth. While I will not demand that you stay away from Sarek, I need your agreement that however you choose to engage with him will be done so with discretion.”

The intensity of Spock’s gaze recedes. “Is that decision wise?”

“I find it amusing you would ask me that, Mr. Spock. But to answer you… we’ll see.”

“My actions shall be discreet, Captain.”

“Good,” Pike mutters. “Dismissed.”

Spock heads from the door.

Pike calls to him as an afterthought, because there is one point he wants Spock to understand, “James’s future is here, on the Enterprise. Neither you or I can sway a man’s destiny, Mr. Spock.”

After a moment, Spock replies, “But we can be included in it.”

Pike sucks in a breath, but the Vulcan is already through the doorway and down the corridor by the time Pike turns around.

~~~

The days leading up to the scheduled pick-up of Vulcan’s ambassador are uneventful. Pike is struck by a sense of déjà-vu when he strolls onto the bridge an hour before arrival at the designated rendezvous point in the neutral zone between the Terran and Vulcan empires. The only difference, he notes, is that Kirk is beside him and not held prisoner on a ship from the other side.

When a Vulcan starship appears in range, Pike is saved the trouble of opening a channel because this time the Vulcans contact them first.

Pike responds to the “Intrepid to Enterprise” with an immediate “Acknowledge the hail, Mr. Sanson.”

From his captain’s chair, he replies, “This is Captain Pike of the ISS Enterprise.” A visual comes on the main screen, and Pike manages to mask his surprise. “We read you loud and clear, Intrepid.”

The Vulcan is at the helm of the other ship raises her chin. “Captain Pike, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am T’Pring, commanding officer of this vessel.”

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance as well, Captain T’Pring,” Pike relays the same trivialities after noting the ranking pins on her uniform collar.

T’Pring gives Pike the odd impression she is amused by him as she openly scrutinizes his ship’s bridge. “You wish to know the whereabouts of Commodore Stonn,” she states.

Pike nods. “News would be welcome. We were… familiar with one another.”

“Stonn was relieved of command in light of his need to return to Vulcan.” T’Pring seems to momentarily focus her stare over Pike’s shoulder before finishing the explanation. “He must prepare for his marriage ceremony.”

“In that case, send Stonn my congratulations.”

T’Pring’s amusement fades. “I shall, Captain—though most males of our species would take such a remark as a slight.”

Pike’s eyebrows shoot up.

“A Vulcan marriage ceremony is not an event worthy of celebration.” But T’Pring doesn’t elaborate further; instead her attention shifts once more, this time staying elsewhere. “Greetings, Spock, son of Sarek.”

Pike twists around in his chair to stare at the officer standing stiffly next to his science scope.

“T’Pring,” Spock responds.

Pike faces forward again after glancing sideways out of curiosity at his second-in-command. Kirk seems fixated on the Vulcan captain in the same way she had been on Spock. His expression is shuttered.

A red alert sounds in Pike’s head. He ignores it. “Captain, please inform Ambassador Sarek that our departure must commence relatively soon.”

“I have already done so. The ambassador requested a shuttle service to the Enterprise. Will such be possible?”

Again, Pike is caught off-guard, but he says, “We can accommodate that.” Pike stands up from his chair and straightens the front of his dress uniform.

“A moment, Captain Pike,” T’Pring delays him. Her gaze lands on the man beside the captain’s chair. “Mr. Kirk, I am pleased to meet you again.”

Kirk’s sudden smile is disarming, especially for someone who had appeared standoffish only seconds ago. “The pleasure is mine, T’Pring. Congratulations on your promotion.”

“I offer congratulations as well. Truly, your—” Her gaze flicks to Spock. “—accomplishment is unprecedented. We underestimated you, Commander. Next time,” she says straightforwardly, following a pause, “we will not. Intrepid out.” The image of T’Pring fades away.

Kirk exhales slowly. But when Pike looks at the first officer expectantly, the man only murmurs, “Later,” and precedes him to the upper deck.

Rather than following Kirk directly to the lift, Pike stops to face his science officer. “Mr. Spock, inform McCoy, Scott, and Giotto of the change in reception locale. We’ll convene outside the shuttle hangar.”

“Understood.”

Pike remarks pointedly, “I expect to see you there.”

Spock’s “Affirmative” offers no insight into his feelings about the order.

Pike joins Kirk in the turbolift, waiting until the door is closed to ask, “How do you know T’Pring?”

Smiling thinly, Kirk says, “By human standards, I suppose we would call her the ex-wife.”

“Whose?” Pike questions in surprise.

Kirk’s smile becomes flat. “Mr. Spock’s.”

And that, it seems, is all the information the other man is willing to share with his captain. Obviously Pike doesn’t know any of this hither-to unmentioned backstory, but on some level he fears he is going to hear about it soon.

The remainder of the trip to the shuttle bay is made in silence.

~~~

Security chief Giotto has the uncanny ability to show up when Pike least expects him. Often times, the man’s unobtrusive appearance is more unsettling than it is welcoming. Perhaps sensing that today is not the day for Christopher to feel unsettled, Giotto alerts the captain to his impending arrival by calling ahead.

Therefore Pike is ready and waiting when Giotto strides through the hangar archway, two red-shirted officers at his back. Giotto pauses to assess the area, studying the foreign shuttlecraft docked in the bay. “He’s here already?”

“Precisely on time,” Pike says. “We’re running scans now. The pilot will be allowed to power down in a minute or so.”

“Never seen the inside of that model. I wouldn’t mind a tour.”

“I’ll make the request.” Pike indicates the extra security Giotto brought. “In the meantime, keep your men out of the way. The last thing I want to hear from the ambassador is that he feels like he is under surveillance.”

“Should we keep an eye on him?” Giotto inquires in a mild tone.

“It never hurts to gather intel while performing one’s duty.”

Giotto nods subtly.

Pike clears his throat, continuing on, “There’s a small welcoming party scheduled during beta shift.”

“I received the attendance roster from Mr. Kirk,” the other man confirms.

“Stay alert,” Christopher reminds him. “You and I both have seen how easy it is to buy a man’s conscience and his sword. Some fool might think he’s sly enough to end my career and shatter the Terran-Vulcan Alliance at the same time. Ambassador Sarek cannot come to harm in any way while he’s aboard the Enterprise.”

“I’ll protect him like he’s the Emperor himself, Captain.”

Pike’s mouth curves slightly. “I wouldn’t go that far, Mr. Giotto. The Vulcan might get ideas.”

Amusement comes into Giotto’s eyes. “From what I’ve seen, Vulcans already consider themselves our superiors.”

Pike shakes his head slightly. “Mr. Spock does have a way of expressing himself.”

“Most of us don’t take offense, sir.” Giotto pauses. “Well, except Dr. McCoy. Usually, after meeting with Mr. Spock he looks like a cat dunked in a tub of water and rubbed the wrong way.”

Pike presses the back of his hand against his mouth, choking.

“But you didn’t hear that from me,” Giotto mutters. “I try not be noticed by McCoy.”

“Same,” Pike murmurs. When he’s certain his urge to laugh won’t come back, he removes his hand. “Speak of the devil, as our doctor says.”

Giotto shifts to stand next to Pike, watching the three-pronged formation of Spock, Scott, and McCoy come down the short hallway.

McCoy’s dress uniform, like Spock’s, is nicely form-fitting. Scott’s look like he borrowed the wrong size and tried to fit into it anyway. One of the medallions on his chest is upside-down.

Next to Pike, Giotto sighs through his nose. “I’ve seen worse.”

Kirk appears at Pike’s other elbow. “I let Scotty borrow some of mine.”

Pike and Giotto frown at Kirk. “Borrow what?” Pike asks.

“Medallions,” Kirk elaborates. “You have no idea how many hours I had to listen to him complain about having only two.” Kirk shrugs. “Since I had too many to wear on my uniform, I gave him the extras.”

Pike sighs internally, thinking, Only you, Kirk. “Don’t I give out enough commendations?”

“No,” Kirk answers immediately, looking mischievous. “Especially not to Mr. Scott.”

“Duly noted,” Pike comments dryly.

Giotto makes an excuse to leave and does so quickly. Pike and Kirk join the other officers in the hallway.

At his approach, Pike hears McCoy ask Spock, “How’s that greeting go?”

The doctor is staring at one of the Vulcan’s hands.

Spock obediently lifts that hand in the Vulcan salutation. “Do you refer to this greeting, Dr. McCoy?”

McCoy frowns momentarily before lifting his own hand in a replica of Spock’s.

Kirk whistles. “That’s perfect, Bones.” Then Kirk’s hand goes up.

McCoy snorts. “Are you trying to greet somebody or flip them off?”

Kirk seems proud of his crooked salutation. “Spock says it’s adequate.”

The others in the group snicker, even Scott who is trying to separate his fingers to look like everyone else’s. Pike privately decides Spock must be humoring Jim. Though considering that Spock refuses to look any of them in the eyes, the reason why must be an illogical one.

As Jim waves his salutation around, McCoy rolls his eyes and slaps at the man’s hand. “Put that down before you put somebody’s eye out.”

Pike hates to break up the fun but duty calls. “Attention.”

The officers assemble into a line with Kirk positioned first by the archway. Pike nods his approval of the order and heads back into the hangar. The shuttle’s hatch is open and its ramp secured to the hangar floor.

At first, the figure in the hatchway appears daunting, even weaponless and robed in a garment that doesn’t seem practical for fighting.

Pike bows slightly from the waist. He calls up to the figure, “Ambassador Sarek, welcome to the ISS Enterprise. I am Captain Christopher Pike, in command of this vessel.”

Sarek moves down the ramp at an unhurried pace. When he is on the ground level in front of Pike, he says, “Captain Pike, long have I waited to meet you.”

A part of Pike wants to ask out of suspicion why, but for the sake of maintaining a diplomatic accord, he looks pleased. “I am honored to be of interest to you, Ambassador Sarek. Please, come this way.”

Pike leads Sarek from the shuttle bay to the archway where his senior officers are lined up. Back ramrod-straight, Kirk has his poker face in place as Pike begins introductions; until, that is, the ambassador addresses the commander directly with “James Tiberius Kirk, well met.”

Kirk breaks form and gazes at the Vulcan with almost glowing pleasure. “You remembered my middle name.”

“Vulcans have impeccable memories, Commander.”

“Of course, Ambassador,” Kirk replies good-naturedly. “I hope your journey was undisturbed.”

Sarek’s affable tone belies his serious delivery. “Conditions were favorable.”

Pike is completed baffled. Are these two chatting about the weather? In space?

Sarek seems to recognize he is doing something unusual, for he moves on without another word to the next person in line.

After Pike’s introduction, McCoy stops gawking at the Vulcan to offer a polite, “Welcome aboard, Ambassador.”

Sarek raises an eyebrow. “Thank you, Dr. McCoy.”

Next up, Mr. Scott tries to use his version of the Vulcan salutation. Sarek responds with a courteous “Live long and prosper.”

Pike forces himself to take a deep breath when Sarek reaches Spock. “Ambassador,” he says, “this is my Chief Science Officer, Mr. Spock.”

“Science Officer Spock,” Sarek states slowly. His gaze never wavers from Spock’s; nor does Spock’s from his father’s. “I understand Mr. Spock is the first Vulcan to enter Starfleet service.”

“That is correct,” Pike replies, aware of tension from the other men in line.

“Then I hope he performs his duties adequately,” Sarek concludes, “as his behavior reflects upon all Vulcans.”

That comment is not meant for the humans present, and everyone knows it. Sarek holds his son’s gaze a moment longer as if finishing up a private conversation, and then finally the ambassador moves on.

“Spock,” Pike hears McCoy whisper while leading Sarek to the turbolift at the end of the personnel gangway, “are you okay?”

“Perfectly, Doctor.”

“Well, I’m not. Who wants a drink?”

Scott gives his enthusiastic assent. Thankfully, the rest of that conversation is obscured by the closing door of the lift.

Arriving on the deck housing the ship’s guest quarters, Sarek spares no attention for the appearance of a small security escort. Like Pike, he accepts the illusion of privacy for what is: a courtesy, nothing more.

Pike says once at the door to Sarek’s cabin, “We would like to host a small banquet in your honor this afternoon. Would that be acceptable?”

“As you wish, Captain Pike.”

“Thank you. Your belongings will be transferred to your quarters shortly.”

Sarek inclines his head. Pike bows. After the Vulcan disappears inside his quarters, Pike breathes a sigh of relief.

He approves the stationing of two guards outside the door and goes along his way, wondering if he has already experienced the worst of what this journey has to offer or if more is still to come.

His streak of luck tends to favor the latter.

~~~

Pike discovers Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in a quiet corner of the ballroom, oblivious to the socializing and schmoozing between officers happening around them.

“A mind-numbing party,” proclaims the CMO as he turns his attention to the approaching captain. He knocks back his drink, finishing the complaint with “Tell me again why I have to be here?”

Pike looks to Kirk. Kirk dutifully pats McCoy’s shoulder.

“You represent the fine men and women of Starfleet Medical,” Jim says.

“Most of whom are either soulless, talentless, or both,” the doctor grumbles.

“Not on our ship, Bones.” Kirk winks at Pike, takes away McCoy’s empty glass and heads through the crowded room, no doubt to have it refilled.

Pike looks from McCoy to Spock and back again. As if disturbed by this scrutiny, Spock politely excuses himself and follows in Jim’s wake.

“Coward,” mutters McCoy.

Pike withholds judgment on that observation, saying instead, “I meant to tell you earlier, Doctor. The dress uniform suits you.”

McCoy tugs at his collar. “Damn thing’s been choking me all day.”

The act amuses Pike. “Your sacrifice is appreciated.”

“Nah, it’s not much of a sacrifice,” says McCoy unexpectedly, flapping a dismissive hand. “Now if I was Mr. Scott? Unable to muck around with those precious engines lest this precious uniform get dirty?” McCoy looks gleeful for a second. “It’s killing him.”

Well, that explains why the Chief Engineer hasn’t said more than two words to Pike since this morning and why those two words sounded very peevish.

Noticing who is heading in their direction, Pike clears his throat in warning. Then he leans toward McCoy, teasing, “How’s your small talk?”

McCoy twists at the waist to look. “Oh wonderful.”

Pike suppresses a grin.

When the honored guest of the banquet finally reaches them, Sarek inclines his head in greeting, and then, of all things, says, “Am I to understand it would be rude to insert myself into your conversation for the sake of small talk?”

Pike nearly chokes on his own spit.

McCoy’s face reddens. “Damn it, I forgot about his Vulcan hearing.”

Pike stops himself from balling a fist in the doctor’s tunic and shaking the fool. How could McCoy confirm that Vulcans have acute hearing and not share that tidbit with his captain? A man doesn’t need to be blindsided like this in front of a renowned liaison of another empire!

McCoy’s embarrassment melts to wryness when he sees Pike’s expression. But all he does is shrug and murmur, “Sorry.”

Sarek is either oblivious to their exchange or too polite to comment on it. Pike would bet a month’s salary on the latter.

Bowing from the waist, Pike apologizes. “We meant no offense, Ambassador.”

“None taken,” Sarek replies serenely. “In any event, Captain, I should like to discuss a private matter with you.”

Thank god, state affairs Pike can handle. With one last nonplussed look at McCoy, the captain guides the Vulcan to a table where Sarek takes a seat. Muttering the excuse that he needs to find one of Kirk or Spock, McCoy is quick to leave the pair alone.

Sarek asks, “Why would my son have a position on the Imperial flagship?”

Caught off-guard, Pike says, “Why do you care?”

Sarek’s response is a coldly formal “The concern comes from the Vulcan High Council. Surely it cannot be wise to allow a recruit of Vulcan origin to join the senior ranks of a ship used to further the human cause.”

“Maybe you wouldn’t place a human on your best warship, but our kind isn’t like yours, Ambassador.”

“Clearly.”

The response, stated so matter-of-factly, rankles. But Pike has dealt with plenty of political heresy before.

He says, “If there are issues with Mr. Spock or his service, we will handle them well and, I assure you, discreetly.”

“The Council wishes to be kept apprised of his adaptation to this… new environment.”

An odd request, thinks Pike, considering they exiled Spock. “I’ll see what can be done,” he replies courteously.

Sarek stares at him, unblinking, for a long moment. Then, “Do you believe it is possible for Spock to thrive among your crew?”

That’s a father asking, Pike guesses. “I do believe it’s possible.”

“Yet I estimate his chances of survival to be very… poor, Captain.”

“It would appear that way,” Pike says. “But my first officer thinks he can help Spock acclimate more quickly to humans in this position. I’m not sure why he thinks that, but I gave up years ago trying to figure Kirk out.”

“Then you offered no protest.” That is not quite a question and not quite a statement either. It’s as if Sarek is trying to judge Pike’s personal acceptance of Spock.

Pike remarks, “Kirk’s usually right.”

Sarek raises an eyebrow, and in that moment Pike can see a similarity between Spock and his father.

He adds as an afterthought. “Your son tends to follow my officer’s suggestions as well. Perhaps Spock’s intuition tells him that Kirk has his best interests at heart.”

“Intuition? A human characteristic,” says Sarek. “My son is not human.”

“With all due respect, Ambassador, Spock had a human mother.”

Sarek shifts to tuck his hands in the long sleeves of his garment. “Spock’s upbringing should not be your concern—or that of anyone in the Terran Empire.”

“Then his treatment here, away from your Empire, should not be a concern of yours,” Pike retaliates.

“I see,” Sarek remarks softly, undoubtedly recognizing that they have arrived at a stalemate.

Pike notices Kirk approaching them from the side. For some reason, the man does not appear happy. The captain steps back from the table.

“Is there something you need from me, Mr. Kirk?”

Jim scratches Pike’s temper by ignoring the direct question in lieu of addressing the other person at the table. “I would be happy to discuss Mr. Spock’s situation on the Enterprise. Our physician, Dr. McCoy, is also willing to speak with you.”

“Kirk!” Pike calls sharply.

Kirk’s gaze flicks over to him. “I have the responsibility for Spock, Captain, remember?”

“I’m not likely to forget,” Pike says in a hard tone. What in hell is Kirk trying to do?

“Perhaps,” Sarek intercedes, “this discussion should be pursued in a more discreet location?”

Pike and Kirk ignore the suggestion, squaring off.

“You will not talk with the Ambassador without my leave,” Pike orders. “Understood?”

Kirk raises his chin. “Negative, sir.”

Pike is vaguely aware of the attention they are drawing from the others in the ballroom, but feels far more concerned that Kirk is set on publicly defying him. Did nothing he say about maintaining the illusion of harmony during the briefing stay with his First?

Pike warns the man, “You’re walking a fine line, Commander. Give me one good reason not to call Security and have you escorted to the brig.”

“Because,” Jim says as he holds Pike’s gaze, heat in his own eyes, “Ambassador Sarek—”

“Jim! Not like this,” hisses McCoy, looking unusually pale—but not as pale as the Vulcan standing next to him.

“—is my father-in-law,” finishes Kirk.

The buzzing in Pike’s ears is a weird thing, normally only occurring when he is in close proximity to the blast range of a phaser cannon. The buzzing spreads along Pike’s skin.

The muted noise of his surroundings ends when McCoy, abruptly inside the captain’s personal space, grabs Pike’s wrist. Pike swallows, then, realizing the doctor is taking his pulse the old-fashioned way.

Something, Pike once read, one only does to a man in a state of shock.

Just like that the buzzing dissipates, and Pike’s brain comes online again. He shakes off McCoy’s touch, taking a step back from their tight little group, then another step. Christopher has certainly been caught by surprise before, but not like this.

Never like this.

With a voice that allows no challenge, no discussion, no defiance, he commands, “Mr. Kirk, with me.”

There is no need to barrel through the crowd; the men and women watching the proceedings jump back from Pike like he’s on fire.

That’s just as well, thinks Christopher, because he would rather reserve the rage burning in him for one man alone.

Next Part

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About KLMeri

Owner of SpaceTrio. Co-mod of McSpirk Holiday Fest. Fanfiction author of stories about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

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