Title: Changing of the Guard (4/4)
Fandom: Star Trek AOS
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 | 3
Parts Three and Four were posted together. Please read Part Three first if you have not!
Pike snaps the stopper back into a gourd-shaped bottle, lifting a near-to-overflowing glass of brandy towards his mouth. However, agitated, he places the glass on his desk without drinking. Finally having some sort of clarity into Kirk’s attachment to Spock has given him energy. He chooses to expend that energy by pacing the length of the main cabin of his quarters. Vibrating with a similar tension, the only other person in the room wordlessly tracks the captain’s trajectory.
With a practiced detachment, Pike picks apart his stew of emotions while his legs ruthlessly ferry him back and forth. Shock and anger—expected reactions. Hurt… Not expected but allowable. After all, Christopher’s weakness is having a heart.
The hurt is what sticks in his throat. Pike swallows against it, more furious than before, and rounds on Kirk. “Were you planning to tell me?”
“When?” Pike demands.
“Soon,” Jim replies. “At least I hoped I could. I wanted to be certain you were satisfied that Spock joined Starfleet for an unobjectionable reason before I told you.”
“Did it occur to you that telling me would have expedited my confidence in him?”
“I…” Kirk flinches. “No, sir.”
“In other words,” Pike asserts angrily, shoving that hurt down again, “you did not think you could count on my reaction benefiting your situation. You didn’t trust me, Kirk.”
Jim’s throat works. “I’m sorry.”
“Bullshit.” Pike snaps, “Your only regret is having your secret exposed.”
Kirk steps forward, then, eyes flashing. He shoves a thumb into his chest. “I’m the one who exposed it!”
Pike closes the remaining distance between them, snarling, “You lied to me. Have been lying to me since you returned to the ship.”
“You didn’t ask the right questions.”
“Omission is still lying, James!” Pike roars. “I had a right to know!”
Kirk’s mouth snaps shut. Then, slowly but stubbornly, he argues, “Says who?”
Pike’s chest expands in rage—and deflates just as quickly, his anger overwhelmed by that hurt which won’t disappear. “Why?” he asks. “Why couldn’t you tell me? Is it because of the—” The very words are painful to speak. “—Vulcan operation? Because it’s my fault that Command picked you?”
An emotion close to surprise overrides the anger in Kirk’s expression. “Captain, that wasn’t your fault.”
“We both know that’s not true,” Christopher says unhappily. “They took you from the Enterprise to hamper my command.”
“Still not your fault,” Jim insists. “They made a stupid plan to begin with.” He attempts a smile that falters halfway through. “And it didn’t work.”
“Because you had luck on your side.”
“I don’t think it was luck, sir.” Kirk pauses, considering Pike. “It was Spock.”
“Tell me,” Pike says, “and this time don’t leave any part out.”
“I had to survive,” Jim murmurs.
The hesitancy in Kirk’s voice, Christopher guesses, is because Kirk believes his captain will judge him harshly.
But Pike doesn’t feel capable of that right now. He breathes out quietly, asking with deliberate calm, “What happened that caused you to hold on to Spock? Did you make a deal with him to escape execution?”
Jim shakes his head. “It isn’t quite like that.”
“Help me understand how we came to this, James. I give you my word I won’t think less of you.”
Finally, Kirk’s shoulders relax. “Spock and I met at the VSA. He was assigned to oversee our research group. We… connected. Not as friends, per se, but not quite adversaries either. One night I was—” Jim makes a face. “—feeling homesick. I drank too much, and I think I talked about some personal things I shouldn’t have. Nothing that would jeopardize the mission,” he is quick to add.
“Of course not,” Pike states with confidence. “Go on.”
“To be honest, I didn’t think anything of it. Not long after that, the Vulcans found evidence that our group was collecting unauthorized intel on them. The team was arrested.” Jim takes a deep breath. “I mentioned to you they had a special technique for interrogation. Each of us was taken in turn. Whoever left never came back. I was the last one.”
In that moment, Pike feels a blind hatred for the Vulcan Empire. It isn’t rational, being a parent’s gut-reaction to a child’s cruel treatment at a stranger’s hands, but he doesn’t care.
“Spock was waiting for me. He had been chosen to perform the mind-meld.”
Pike’s heart begins to race, remembering McCoy’s speech about the dangers of tampering with one’s mind, but his voice manages to stay level. “Go on.”
Jim’s mouth tips up in a ghost of a smile. “The others assumed he was torturing me when the opposite was true. Apparently I had told Spock something interesting while drunk that made him re-assess his own situation and draw a new conclusion. When Spock was in my mind, he told me that the future I sought couldn’t be achieved alone.” Jim’s smile finally blooms. “And if I would agree to bind with him, I could survive the interrogation.”
Pike releases a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. “You chose the only option you had.” Because the other option is unthinkable, having Kirk’s mind torn apart before his body was destroyed.
How swiftly hatred can be replaced with gratitude, Pike realizes. He owes the Vulcan a debt for saving his son’s life.
Jim keeps talking. “By the time the Vulcan in charge realized I wasn’t a drooling, gibbering mess like I should have been, it was too late. The bond Spock created isn’t arbitrary. It couldn’t be undone without killing both of us—and because Spock is part of the House of Surak, they could not execute him without repercussion from the House matriarch. I lived so he could live, and vice versa.”
Pike nods slowly. “That explains why the Vulcan High Council was eager to trade you back to us.”
“I think they hoped the long-distance separation would weaken our connection. That, or the Terran Empire would kill me such that no Vulcan would be outwardly responsible for Spock’s demise. As penance for his actions, Spock had to personally see me returned to the Terran Empire, knowing we would never cross paths again.” Jim’s smile reaches his eyes then. “What idiots though. Spock never had any intention of staying behind. On the Intrepid, he used every opportunity to needle Commodore Stonn, and of course Stonn handed both of us to you. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Pike sighs through his nose. A reckless plan, he thinks. And yet successful, as a Kirk plan almost always, impossibly is. “Is that all of it?”
“Well… being cut off from the Vulcan Empire does have its own set of problems,” Jim remarks, suddenly looking sly. “If anything goes wrong with our—” He points at his head. “—you know, we don’t have a Vulcan healer to fix it. I promised Spock we would search for a substitute physician, though Spock being Spock expressed doubt that any human would be capable of being properly trained.”
Unfortunately, Pike knows his son all too well not to see where this conversation is headed. He closes his eyes and stubbornly refuses to open them. “McCoy.”
“Yep, Spock’s wrong,” Jim confirms cheerfully. “Thanks for Bones, by the way. I didn’t expect to find someone like him so soon.”
Oh, Pike is definitely not the one to be praised. The universe did it. Or that trickster Fate. Poor McCoy.
A thought pops into the captain’s head. He opens his eyes. “McCoy knows?”
“In a way,” Jim answers too vaguely for a man normally so direct.
“Kirk,” Christopher demands, “what have you done to my CMO?”
Kirk lifts his hands in a placating gesture. “Nothing he didn’t agree to. McCoy may be an old-fashioned boy, but he is far more ambitious than he lets on.”
Pike chastises himself. Truly, he should have known. Kirk enjoys impossible feats, the kind that make average men give up out of common sense.
Common sense has rarely been a factor in James Kirk’s decisions. Pike is almost afraid to ask his next question. “So, you acquired a Vulcan and a doctor, both of whom have agreed to help you with a secretive master plan. Care to share that plan with the rest of the class?”
Kirk’s sly look turns considering. “I wonder, would you believe me if I told you?”
Pike doesn’t see how he has a choice in the matter. “Let me be the judge of that.”
Kirk still seems doubtful.
Pike reminds him, “No more secrets.”
The man loses all expression. Pike becomes wary, but forces himself to wait out the silence.
Kirk eventually rallies himself, sounding as serious as any cadet taking his first history course when he asks, “Are we evil?”
Pike frowns. “Who’s we?”
“Starfleet. Those who serve the Emperor.”
A delicate subject, one that Pike is fully aware must be broached with care. “Why do you ask?”
“Remember the Organians? They said our methods were crude. Barbaric.”
Pike presses his mouth flat. “The Organians should assess what they see in the mirror before judging others. They’re the ones who lured two empires to their planet and set a trap to see if they could get us to start a war that would destroy one another.”
“But they had a point,” Jim argues. “What we do, our methods… our philosophy is questionable.”
Damn, it’s as Pike feared. “If you think we act questionably,” he says grimly, “then you aren’t comfortable with how Starfleet operates. You should have told me that long ago.”
“Because I would have never remanded you to the Imperial service.”
Jim denies, “I’m not uncomfortable,” only to amend under Pike’s level stare, “…not always. Besides what cadet knows better while training? Murder isn’t encouraged, but it isn’t against the law for officers either.”
“What’s your point?”
“When I served under you, I realized something.” Jim seems to be searching his captain’s neutral expression for some kind of confirmation. “You almost never attack our enemies without provocation. You don’t slaughter the prey. If there’s a way to prevent the destruction of those standing on the opposite side, you take it.”
With vicious effort, Pike tamps down on guilt. “I try to do what’s in the Empire’s best interests.”
Jim’s tone sharpens. “No one argues with a commander who says annihilation is the only option. But you expend more energy and resources than the ‘Fleet captains combined on convincing High Command why sparing an inferior race is the smartest thing to do.”
Pike is annoyed only because the person to finally call him out on his abnormal tactics would, of course, end up being his son. That doesn’t prevent him from unleashing his annoyance, though. “Kirk, if you have a problem with my method of command, just tell me that.”
“That’s not it.” Now Jim appears equally annoyed.
Pike draws his eyebrows together in consternation—and very, very slowly begins to comprehend what Kirk is having difficulty putting into words. At last, he sighes and asks, “Do you think I’m evil?”
“No,” Jim says instantly.
“Am I good?”
The man answers more slowly, “No.”
“Then I must be somewhere in between. Which is where you would put yourself, or want to. Am I correct?”
Jim looks uncomfortable. “If you can do it, so can I.”
Pike suppresses a groan. “Kirk, we are not in a contest.”
The brightness of the other man’s eyes says otherwise.
“Let me be frank. You don’t want my kind of problems. Do you know why Amand wanted to be rid of me so badly?”
At the mention of Amand, a snarl curls Kirk’s mouth. “Because he was a fool to think he could pull it off?”
Pike ignores that. “Primarily he was after revenge, yes, but also because he thought I was weak. A blight on the sterling reputation of Starfleet, if you will. Someone who doesn’t always fall in line is a liability to the crew.”
“Bullshit,” snaps Jim.
“No it’s not,” Pike argues calmly. “When a captain gambles wrong, everyone pays the price.”
“So?” Jim seems annoyed again. “Being Captain means taking risks.”
“Being a soldier means following orders,” counters Christopher.
“We don’t have to march to someone else’s command.”
Pike pinches the bridge of his nose, sighing again. “You sound like Boyce.”
Jim crosses his arms over his chest, jaw set in a stubborn line. “I always agreed with Phil. This ship, this crew, should be different from the others. How can we expect our race to survive if we refuse to evolve? Evolution is imminent for every species.” Jim’s mouth forms an unhappy line even as he explains, “I’ve been—am doing—all that I can to find and retain people like me.”
“You?” Pike echoes sharply.
Jim won’t look him in the eyes all of a sudden. “Yeah, me. We both know I never fit the status quo.”
Pike stiffens. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
“I know that now,” Jim says. “I accept that.” Returning his gaze to Pike, he wants to know, “Can you?”
Pike lets his temper fly, saying with an edge not quite honed enough to cut, “If I wanted some spineless prick for a first officer, you wouldn’t be on this ship. Since I came from nothing, I know what a man needs to become in order to survive—and it isn’t a lapdog who licks crumbs off another man’s hand. So, yes, I can appreciate your differences, Kirk. Those differences are why someday you will be a better captain than I am. In fact,” he challenges, “I dare you to do better.”
Kirk stares back.
Pike tightens the leash on his temper once more, choosing to end their tense staring contest by turning his back. “Return to duty, Mr. Kirk,” he says, his tone unyielding. A lengthening silence makes him add, “We’re done here.”
Pike twists around at the waist, ready with his most authoritative captain’s voice.
“We aren’t done, sir.” Jim meets his gaze fearlessly. “I have one more thing to say… to my father.”
An invisible fist punches the air from Pike’s lungs. He couldn’t enforce Kirk’s dismissal now even if he wanted to. His body is frozen.
Kirk’s arms drop to his sides. “My mother said my father wasn’t an ordinary man. Because of that, she kept me.” Though Jim shifts on his feet, his gaze never wavers from Pike’s. “I called her a liar, of course. I said I had never even met the cold-hearted bastard so what proof did I have? Mother just laughed. The proof, she said, would be when he came for me.”
Sweat breaks out on Pike’s forehead.
Jim’s voice loses some of its color. “We moved to Tarsus IV when I was fifteen. The uprisings started soon after. When Kodos was finally killed and his followers along with him, everyone I cared about was dead. I thought I’d be enslaved or worse, stripped to a status lower than a slave just by virtue of being a survivor on a traitor’s colony.” He says nothing for a moment, then picks up as if he had never stopped talking. “And then there you were. The man who came to fetch me from that hell. She didn’t lie after all.”
Pike finally remembers how to breathe. With caution now, he turns to face Kirk directly, the movement more awkward than graceful.
After a second, steadying breath, he finds his voice. “I didn’t know you existed until Winona sent me a missive a few weeks prior to the Tarsus Revolt.”
And hadn’t that been the shock of his life? Winona, being a person not to mince words, had relayed her message as briefly as possible: You have a son. I named him James Tiberius. Come and get him.
In the time it took Pike to find the trail leading to Winona and this unknown child of theirs, the Tarsus IV colony had been nearly destroyed—and so had Pike’s long-held vision for his future. Volunteering to go with the clean-up crew assigned to the mess left after Governor Kodos’s attempt to “free” his constituents from the Empire had been shocking to his peers and superiors alike; they all believed he had some ulterior motive for the request, and while right about that, they had made the false assumption it was to stand out. But en route to the colony, combing subspace transmissions with his heart in his throat for news of survivors, Pike forgot concepts like loyalty and promotions, despite only weeks ago having been scheming for a captaincy. Instead he tried to devise a way to fit a child—namely Jim—into a grueling military life.
Now that Christopher thinks back on the matter, Winona’s note had had impeccable timing: it gave him long enough to make his choice and at the same time allowed for events to play out to completion on Tarsus IV.
“Did she ever… contact you before that?” Jim asks him.
“No. I hadn’t heard from your mother in sixteen years.”
“We never stayed in one place for very long,” Jim tells him. “Sometimes I picked the place. Tarsus was her choice.”
Christopher swallows hard. “James, did Winona…? Was she…?” He fumbles the question exactly as he had during their first meeting, an Imperial officer interrogating a distrustful young man with a battle-weary look in his eyes. Jim had evaded his inquiry then.
“On Kodos’s side?” Jim supplies, then looks away. “There were times when I thought so… but I was never one hundred percent certain.” His gaze returns. “Does it matter?”
“Not to me,” Pike answers, relieved.
Jim nods once before an odd smirk overtakes his expression. “So if anybody started this, sir, it’s you.”
Pike doesn’t understand. “Excuse me?”
“You were different first.” Jim lifts a shoulder in a half-shrug, stating arrogantly, “I’m just following in the footsteps of my old man.”
Pike narrows his eyes. “Considering the number of years you’ve had with your old man, one would think you would have learned to respect him.”
Kirk barks out a laugh and, much to Pike’s irritation, keeps on laughing.
Pike strides over to the computer, opening a comm channel. “Pike to Ambassador Suite.”
Jim chokes all of a sudden. Pike ignores him.
“Sarek here,” comes a deep voice. “Good evening, Captain Pike. How may I be of assistance?”
“How does a private dinner with the ship’s captain sound, Ambassador? In the spirit of family, I believe you may find some of the information I can provide about your son’s partner, shall we say, enlightening.”
Jim appears right behind Christopher, poking at his shoulder. “You can’t,” he whispers.
Pike just smirks exactly as his son had.
No doubt Sarek hears the partner in question’s protest but as a father himself likely appreciates the value of disciplining errant offspring via embarrassing stories. He responds, “Indeed, your offer already intrigues me, Captain. I look forward to the conversation.”
“I’ll make the arrangements. Pike out.” Christopher turns around to meet his adversary, raising an eyebrow with the challenge of you did this to yourself and what makes you think you can stop me?
Jim makes his assessment of Pike through narrowed eyes. “I have a Vulcan too, and I’m not afraid to use him.”
“Is that supposed to be a threat, son?”
“Considering I could have been ‘cuckolded’, as Bones puts it, and Spock could actually be a spy, then it is.”
“Since Spock picked you, the joke’s on him,” Pike rejoins.
Even puffed up, Jim fails miserably at pretending to be outraged. Both he and Pike only last a few seconds before the snickering starts.
Pike is the first to recover his good sense, reminding himself that adults—especially captains—do not snicker. In control of himself again, he reaches out, placing a hand on his surbordinate’s shoulder. “We done now?”
“Yeah,” agrees Kirk. “We are.”
After squeezing Kirk’s shoulder, Pike retracts his hand and heads for the cabin’s exit. Kirk naturally falls into step at his side.
As the pair crosses the threshold and turns right along the deck’s main corridor, Jim muses, “About that Klingon problem we have…”
“Back up and start over,” Christopher interrupts. “What problem, and why is it with the Klingons?”
“From the Proxima mission.” Jim sounds much too innocent as they reach the turbolift’s waiting area. “I forgot to mention one little detail. That Klingon we captured had knowledge of a new kind of technology called a cloaking device. They stole it during a skirmish in Romulan territory. When installed in a shielding system, it makes a ship invisible.”
Pike couldn’t feel more exasperated if he tried. “That’s no small detail, Kirk.” What else has his son conveniently forgotten to (or decided not to) tell him? “Why am I being informed about this now?”
“Being different, sir, you would have felt compelled to report it.” Jim faces him, his eyes are alight with anticipation. “Imagine the possibilities if we get our hands on that tech.”
Oh, Pike can. What better way to make the Enterprise, and thereby her future captains, the most feared—and best protected—ship in Starfleet?
“You want it?” Pike asks the man.
Kirk nods firmly. “Yes, sir.”
“Then you’ll have it,” Pike decides, stepping into the empty lift. “Consider it a gift for saving my life.”
The man follows him, beaming, and asks, “What else can I have?”
Pike rolls his eyes ceilingward as the lift engages.
Jim points out, “You could get into trouble again. And I’ll save you. Then I could have another reward.”
“I’m told finding trouble isn’t all that difficult if you have a talent for it.”
Pike wraps an arm around the man’s shoulders, giving Kirk a light shake. “Stop harassing me, or it’s you who will be in trouble.”
The turbolift arrives, and the door whooshes open before Kirk can offer his comeback.
“Aw, look at that,” drawls the ship’s CMO sarcastically while his companion stares unabashedly into the lift. “Like two peas in a pod.” McCoy prods the Vulcan beside him. “Told you Jim could handle his father.”
“Shhhh!” Pike and Kirk hiss at the same time.
Pike takes his arm off Kirk. Kirk straightens his tunic and pulls back his shoulders.
“After you, Captain Pike,” Jim says, adopting a formal tone.
“Thank you, Commander Kirk,” Pike replies just as formally, exiting the turbolift first.
Jim’s eyes are twinkling like his father’s when he steps into the corridor.
Spock addresses McCoy. “Is it not the human custom to speak informally among family?”
“Normally,” says the doctor, “but don’t expect them to act anywhere close to normal.”
“Ah,” murmurs the Vulcan. Then he turns to Pike and bows with the precision required of a man meeting his father-in-law for the first time. “Captain Pike.”
Pike arches an eyebrow.
“I would like to apologize,” Spock states. “I now realize my past attempts at familiarity with you, my bonded’s sire, were likely misconstrued as insolence.”
McCoy snorts and turns aside, his laughter poorly disguised as a coughing fit.
Pike grimaces. “Of course.” Spock fighting with him was family-like behavior? How horrifying. Someone needs to teach the Vulcan that Kirk cannot be used to provide examples of appropriate human behavior. Otherwise the consequences don’t bear thinking about.
The captain adds in what he hopes sounds like a soothing tone, “I forgive you.”
“Spock, I think we need to have another lesson on human customs.” The fondness in Jim’s voice obliterates any pretense at admonishment.
Spock blinks. “That would be agreeable, Jim.” Pausing, he recommends, “Dr. McCoy should join us as well. His bedside manner suggests he lacks proper knowledge of the etiquette required of a physician.”
“What!” McCoy whips around. “Why, you pointy-eared bastard! I’m the kind of physician I am just to deal with boneheaded patients like you!”
With human-like smugness, Spock continues, “It seems that our situation is now resolved.”
“Perfectly,” agrees Jim, grinning from ear to ear.
With the sudden inkling he ought to be anywhere else, Pike pushes ahead along the corridor at a pace that carries him around the corridor’s bend before the other men can catch up. Although, when Pike pauses out of sight, realizing none of them have actually bothered to follow him, it occurs to Christopher that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy must find more lasting appeal in their private banter than in his heart palpitations caused by said banter. Not that that will likely stop the three men from terrorizing Pike every so often to just to test his self-control.
Smile forming, he moves off again, slowing his fast clip to a normal stroll.
A man has to give as much as he gets, he thinks pleasantly to himself. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy—most especially Kirk—probably do not realize that becoming a unit is tantamount to giving Pike permission to test their combined strength in all manner of devious (but of course formed from the good intentions of a parent and therefore excusable) ways.
Jim wants to tackle stealing Klingon technology? Pike has an operation in mind that will do the job quite nicely. Yes, nicely indeed.
Lighter in spirit than he has felt for most of his life, the captain grins, whistles a jaunty tune, and plots how to employ his most laudable talent: training the next generation.