Jim's smile seems to have a mind of its own. Despite his best efforts he can't convince it to leave his face as he moseys on towards Pike's homestead. If he's not careful he might actually find himself smitten with Edith, and Jim Kirk does not do smitten. He does temporary or convenient; any real passion he's experienced in life has been fire, hot and bright but fleeting, burning itself out before it could consume both parties. It was just as well, his life wasn't something to offer a woman so the no strings attached approach is as much for his protection as it is theirs.
The thing that does finally wipe the smirk off his face is the odd billowing smoke coming from ahead of him. His brow creases in thought as he runs through possible causes for the need to burn something but rules out anything harmless as implausible. The options left are troubling and that sixth sense that has served him well in the past is kicking up. He spurs his horse to pick up its pace, clearing the remaining distance between him and the crest of the hill that will over look the farm. He tires very hard to ignore the sinking gnawing feeling turning his stomach. He took care of Nero, personally; everyone is supposed to be safe now. It's the happily ever after part of the fairytale stage they should all be living in now and it's kind of disturbing how quickly his mind wants to throw that away and latch onto the prospect of danger.
His horse makes the top of the hill and what should be a picturesque view of the lush green valley sprawling out before it, the kind they put on the posters and other advertisements to get people to flock to the west. Instead of admiring the peaceful life that has always been just out of his reach, his mind blanks and his lungs seize. It takes his treacherous body far too long to respond to his frantic demand to move, to take action, to do something to correct the sight before him. His horse must pick up on his desperate need because he starts forward, trotting in time to the pounding of Kirk's heart.
It's a war zone. The fields hold nothing but the charred remains of what should have been a bountiful harvest. Jim's seen war and bloodshed up close before but this hits him in a way it never has before. The battle at Vulcan was devastating but this is personal; it's his people and they should no reason to fear death in such a violent and devastating fashion. The bodies left strewn in the field are not men that marched into battle but innocent children and their parents, people close enough to be family. Jim can hear the children's laughs echo in his ears from the times the gang sought refuge and a good meal here. He has to swallow hard against the bile threatening to crawl up his throat, his numb mind managing a body count as his horse pulls him forward. One, two, three, four...
His eyes drift to the smoking and smoldering remains of the farmhouse. The back of the building is ash, but the front half is smoke damaged and still standing despite the dwindling fire's attempts to remove it from history. The heart wrenching part of the horrific scene is the body strewn across the front porch; body number five in count but first on Jim's conscious. He's out of his saddle and running to the house in the space between heartbeats. There isn't a force in this world that could stop him.
"No. No, no, no, no, no." He practically falls onto the porch in his desperate scramble to get up the steps, his arms immediately wrapping around Pike's prone form. His mouth contorts in a silent cry at the sight of all the blood and soot covering the closest thing he's had to a father since he watched his own dangle from the end of Nero's rope. His heart hurts worse than any gunshot wound ever has and it has to be what death feels like because nothing could hurt this bad otherwise. He closes his eyes tightly; it's all a nightmare and he's going to wake up with a killer headache and a sincere promise to never drink any of Scotty's concoctions again.
He doesn't wake up and when he opens his eyes again, it's the same horror show playing out in front of him. His own pained cries from the fateful day Nero hung George Kirk in the center of town echo in his head; he is that small boy again, helpless to save the people who matter most, this time watching Pike die instead of his father. He's so lost in his grief, Jim practically jumps out of his skin as a hand grips his bicep tightly.
"Jim," wheezes Christopher, eyes half laden. His chest feels heavy and the world far too cold for the season. Kirk looks lost and broken in a way that makes his heart ache. It's too reminiscent of the six year old with the wobbling lip and the weight of the universe on his too small shoulders, having just watched a mad man murder his father in a sceptical for the town. He'd wanted to pick that small boy up and promise everything would be alright, sooth away the pain that would take root and follow him his whole life. Pike couldn't do it then anymore than he can do it now and he knows it will be one of his greatest regrets in life.
"Hold on," stammers Jim, voice broken in a million pieces like his soul. "We'll get you to McCoy and he'll patch you up." He wants the words to be true more than he's wanted anything in this world and while he has the utmost faith in Leonard's abilities, Jim' life is firmly filed in the tragedy section of the library. Pike shakes his head but Kirk continues on. "He did it once, he can do it again. He's a great doctor. He can fix anything."
Pike summons every ounce of strength he has left. He can see Kirk forming plans A, B and probably C through G, because that's what Jim does. He fights and he fights until he can't fight anymore and then still manages one last round. Time is against them but he can't leave this world until Jim understands. He has one more lesson to teach the kid, though it's been with in Jim from the beginning. "Not this time kid."
Jim's face contorts in abject misery as he tries to protest. He can't do this alone. He needs Pike like he needs air to breathe.
"No listen to me, Jim," insists Pike. His hand tangles tightly in the fabric of Jim's shirt. "You need to be careful."
"You're going to be here to make sure I am. Who else is going to save my ass," chokes the captain. A lone tear makes it way down the side of his face and he wipes it against his shoulder, trying not to jar the man in his arms with the movement. Tears never solved anything and he's not going to put that burden on Pike now.
"He's coming for you, Jim and he won't stop no matter who gets in his way." Pike pauses as an earth shattering cough wracks his battered frame. He's afraid. Not of the death he can feel taking hold or what awaits when he sheds this mortal coil, but what he's leaving behind. George Kirk left him the greatest treasure he had and while Pike never wanted to steal from his best friend, Jim's practically his son in everything but name. He wants to know Jim will be alright, be safe and have everything George and Winona pictured for him, but he knows Jim's penchant for trouble and the likelihood is he'll share Pike's fate sooner rather than later with no one to watch out for him.
Jim watches helplessly as Christopher hacks and contorts in agony. He tightens his grip in silent support and a desperate bid to keep himself from slipping into the black empty void that's forming beneath him. He absently wipes away the flecks of blood dotting Pike's chin with his thumb. It's like hiding evidence; if it doesn't exist then there is no crime. If he can't see Pike slipping out of his fingers, the man will be fine.
Pike's words settle heavy on Jim's soul. He's the epicenter of destruction; his mentor lying bleeding and broken in his arms because of him. Once again to get to Kirk, the world sees fit to go through everyone that matters to him instead of just directly taking him out. He can't let this keep happening; he won't burry anymore of his friends' whose only crime is knowing him. The universe has had since the dawn of time to work on its aim and he can't understand why it's such a shitty shot; he certainly makes himself a big enough target. Why hit everyone around him? He grits his teeth but manages to get out, "Who's coming for me?"
"Agent John Harrison with Marcus-Cartwright," whispers Pike, releasing one final breath before going still in Kirk's arms.
Jim stares dumbfounded at the lifeless body in his grip. He can't grasp on to a single thought let alone make his body do anything other than sit there. The ball of agony starts small and builds like a snowball rolling down a hill. Its weight is crushing, threatening to destroy every aspect of Jim's being until it finally breaks and he lets loose an inhuman wail. He wants to break the world, just so it knows how he feels right now.
Jim allows himself this moment, this one second of weakness, alone in a valley of death where no one can see him, before he pulls himself together. He has things to do, none of which will be accomplished sitting there wallowing in grief. He gently sets Pike's body on the porch and wipes the tears from his eyes with enough force to make him see stars.
In the shed is a cornucopia of farm tools. His unsteady hand latches onto a shovel and he makes his way across the yard. It's family land with a family plot. He loses himself after he breaks the earth, in the repetitive task of shoveling and doesn't realize how loose and watery his limb are until he's standing in front of five graves. He takes his time in writing their names on the simple wooden crosses he hastily fashions. The letters are neat and precise so the world will know exactly who lies here, what it lost on this day. It's the least they deserve and the most Jim can give them right now. His final tribute will be a river of blood supplied exclusively by John Harrison.
He stands there until the sun begins to set, his resolve burning bright and fierce. John Harrison is a dead man walking. He just doesn't know it yet.
McCoy's pulling the coffee pot off the iron stove when he hears Kirk ride into camp. The captain is the last person to return and the most important piece of the puzzle the gang now has to assemble. He lets out a long sigh and sets the pot back down; this is more pressing than soothing his nerves with the warmth of caffeine. Chekov's going to be alright, but the whole incident has left them both shaken; even if neither will admit it out loud. Out of everyone, they're the least experienced in the gang's life of crime; McCoy being a doctor and gang pressed into joining recently and Chekov being all of two minutes older than being a child himself. Leonard assumes what he's pieced together about Pavel's past that the kid had real world experience in abundance like everyone else here but this the first time the kid's had to step up and be responsible for someone else.
He leaves the cook tent and makes his way to the corral to confront their captain who has been gone for three days without a word to anyone and no clue as to when he'd be back. In light of recent events it's dangerous not just inconsiderate. Not to mention it's given the doctor's over active imagination plenty of time to conjure horrible and bloody scenarios. Leonard's more irritable than usual because of it, so he knows he snaps when he greets Jim. "Just where the hell have you been?"
Leonard's itching to work himself into a rant but the haunted look Jim's sporting stop him dead in his tracks. The catastrophic feeling of doom is washing over him and he's in danger of drowning in it if Kirk doesn't throw him a life line through a smug grin or a carefree smile that assures the world all is right. "What's wrong, Jim?" he says, quiet and soft like a plea.
Kirk says nothing, numbly going through pulling the saddle off his horse and walking out of the corral. He's on autopilot and doesn't spare a second to even look McCoy in the eye. Leonard's a living breathing example of the danger he puts people in. How long until he can't use the term living to describe McCoy anymore? The doctor falls in step behind him, a silent shadow companion, yet he can feel Leonard's eyes scrutinizing every inch for some sort of clue or injury; worry wasted on Jim when it should be more wisely directed on McCoy himself.
Jim's in search of copious amounts of alcohol and silence as he makes his way to the cook tent. Unfortunately, everyone's gathered in there finishing dinner. The tent's filled with excitement and farfetched tales being spun over Scotty's latest batch of booze. Everyone seems happy and he's about to be the rain cloud that brings the start of what will be a torrential downpour. It's news he was hoping to hold off on until tomorrow. The bright white bandage wrapped around Chekov's shoulder catches his eye but he can't convince his brain to form the question on his lips; to care about someone who's clearly alive despite what has befallen him.
Everyone looks up when Kirk snatches the glass in front of Scotty and downs it in one go. The Scotsman makes a squeak of protest at his drink being pilfered but everyone else goes silent. Kirk's face says more than any warning could.
"Captain..." starts Spock, a note of concern in his voice as he speaks for the gang. The report he has to deliver is grave but Jim looks as though that news might pale in comparison.
"Pike's dead," says Jim, cold and straight to the point, like ripping off a bandage. His heart knows it's true but his tongue feels like its lying. Pike was larger than life; nothing should have been able to touch him. He's not good at breaking bad news, especially when he hasn't gotten his mind wrapped around it yet. It's why he wanted a night to get his thoughts in order. Perhaps he should have had the doctor do it.
McCoy's the first one to recover from the shock. "Are you sure, Jim?" He can't help but hope for a mistake, a misunderstanding. People die all the time, the world is a hard and unforgiving place but Pike had been doing well since McCoy operated on him. The few times he visited Christopher out on the farm he'd been content with his quiet secluded life.
Kirk clenches his jaw, grinding his teeth until they hurt. He keeps replaying Pike's last moments in his head on a constant loop. "I buried the body. So pretty fucking sure, Bones." Jim wants to feel bad that he's taking pot-shots at his friends, McCoy in particular who's only trying to ease the situation but his real target isn't in sight yet and his anger has to go somewhere. Maybe the gang will take offense and leave while they still have their lives before the next one is called upon to take the bullet for their captain.
Uhura covers her mouth with her trembling hands to muffle her gasp as she turns away from the table. She's made a promise to herself to never let anyone see her cry and since she can't seem to hold back the tears just now, she does the only thing within her power. Chekov looks like he's going to be sick, turning an alarming shade of pasty white and green, while Sulu seems lost and directionless. Spock is an unreadable stone wall and as much as that should piss Kirk off to not see a flicker of remorse on someone who knew Pike almost as well as he did, he finds comfort in not having to see the grief or pity. Scotty bows his head and mumbles a silent prayer while Leonard places a firm, reassuring hand on Jim's shoulder; always the doctor and always looking out for Jim. He dislodges the doctor's hand with a violent jerk of his shoulder. It's not McCoy's fault but he's the closest and that makes him a good a target as anything.
Jim kicks out a chair and drops himself on it. He's tense and rigid and probably in danger of breaking something, wound as tightly as he is. This wasn't supposed to happen; they'd beaten Nero, happily ever after was supposed to follow. It's an unwritten contract promised by every fairytale told since the beginning of time. They shouldn't have had to bury Pike until he was old and grey and Jim wants to cry at all the time that has been lost.
"Jim..." tries Spock again, "what events have transpired?"
Kirk's silent for a moment; it's replayed in his head so many times but he can't make his mouth form the words. If he says nothing he can pretend, if just for another moment, that it never happened, that he had a good night with Edith and shirked his duties, while Pike sits at home in front of a fire reading to his niece and nephew. Tears threaten at the corner of his eyes but they're not from sorrow, they're anger. Of all people, how could Christopher go and get himself killed and for Jim of all people? He's mad at Pike for not being here now, at this Harrison who saw fit to take his father figure away for no other reason than to take a stab at him. He's pissed that he wasn't there to stop it in the first place, for finding comfort in the idea that with Nero gone, that the dangers to the people in his life were minimal if not regulated to the mundane. He loathes the fact that he ever cared about someone who was going to go and die nobly like his actual father and furious with himself for ever accepting Pike's offer to make a difference. He should have stayed in that jail cell and let the world be done with him. And god damn it, he hates the fucking world.
"They're all dead," he states, cold and so devoid of emotion he thinks Spock might be proud. There's a numbness in his chest he hasn't been able to shake since the farm. "He slaughtered them all, the children too. The fucking children. All because he was looking for me." Jim hangs his head in his hands. He's not sure he can shoulder the pressure that comes with being the blight on those he cares about. His hands are so coated with blood now, he's sure they'll never wash clean.
"Who, Jim? Who killed Captain Pike?" asks McCoy in a hushed tone. Kirk's clearly in shock and he's afraid if they push the captain too hard, he'll break into a thousand shards of glass McCoy can never piece back together.
"Agent John Harrison," spits Kirk with a bitterness that leaves him cold. The name tastes foul in his mouth. He's just given life to the boogeyman, like he dared to speak evil's name. He looks at the people sitting around the table and all he can see is their deaths, the graves he's going to have to dig when they lay down their lives for his selfishness.
Everyone shifts uncomfortably at the table. Pike had been their Captain, their friend and in some cases their saviour and now he's gone, gone without pomp and circumstance. There's a general unspoken consensus that the man deserves better. They all look at each other uncomfortably, the unspoken conversation of who is going to draw the short straw and compound Jim's grief.
Leonard's never shied away from taking on someone's ire; he'll take the bullet for the gang. As hard as the news is hitting him and as much as he feels for the obvious anguish Kirk is trying hard to keep buried, he was the last one to the party and thus doesn't have the years of friendship with the now departed man to mourn. He can be a bit more objective and will gladly take on the role of devil's advocate to protect the others.
"Pike wasn't the only one to have a run in with Agent Harrison," starts McCoy. The experience is still as fresh in his mind as the bruise on his face but adding to Jim's burden hurts worse than the punch he took. Still, Jim needs to know just how efficient this man is; he's already gotten closer than Nero ever did to them.
Jim's head snaps up, eyes dark and dangerous and ready to cut a person to ribbons. The world is a silent sucking void filled only with the doctor's voice. He'd been enjoying himself with Edith while the people who mattered the most, his family, were wrestling with death personified. In the stark light of truth, it's the first time he's really notices McCoy's black eye. It's been three days and already Harrison has put his hands on Jim's people and what's worse, he's blind to the damage being done.
"He showed up in the saloon in Rigel. Wanted to know about you..."
"I'm going to kill him." It's soft and quiet but no less a promise of the blood bath that's coming.
Scotty hunches his shoulders and pulls his empty glass closer to himself. Sulu's lips form a hard line as his fist rests tightly on the table. Uhura's hand seeks out Spock's under the table as Chekov sits up straighter. They know that tone, that look; it promises war and a path to ruin if they're not careful. They've been here before and seen what Kirk's obsessive focus can bring and now they no longer have Pike to temper Jim's devotion. Objectiveness will be lost in favor of justice and they don't know how to save Jim from himself.
Jim springs to his feet, paces back and forth. "Pike said Harrison's an agent with Marcus and Cartwright."
"He's an employee with the railway," states Spock. It's one thing to launch a vendetta against a single person, another to go against an entire corporation which is backed not only by money but the army and government as well. They've seen the destructive force that that kind of enemy can bring with the destruction of the Vulcan settlement.
"You think this has something to do with the damn we blew up?" asks McCoy.
"No, this is personal. And they wouldn't know it was us, at least not by name. And they wouldn't have anything against Pike," answers the captain.
"Well that's just great," mutters McCoy.
Jim stops and turns sharply towards the table. "I want each of you to pick a town, call in any favors you have with anyone and get information on him."
"Yes, let's seek out the psychopath," blurts McCoy, refusing to flinch under the glare Jim levels at him. People with sense would run from the danger, but as always Kirk seems to run towards it. McCoy's had firsthand experience with Harrison, this isn't someone who should be trifled with and they certainly shouldn't be splitting up at time like this to be picked off on by one.
"Captain, is this a wise course of action?" injects Spock.
Jim's glare finds Spock. "We need to know who we're dealing with. He clearly knows about us and I don't want to get caught unaware again. You think that would be logical enough for you, Spock."
The clenching of Jim's fists and tension in his shoulders is not lost on Spock. "You are getting defensive." Driving a wedge between the captain and the gang will not help matters but the line between facilitating Kirk's goal while keeping the gang safe is becoming finer and finer.
"I'm the captain here and those are my orders. Everyone needs to head out at first light." His statement leaves no room for argument, at least not one anyone is going to win. He has to find John Harrison and take him out to keep his people safe.
They quietly get up from the table, filing out of the tent single file into a night that just became colder. Jim's glaring at a spot on the tent wall steadfastly ignoring the little voice in his head that is some weird hybrid between Spock and McCoy that's whispering his plan is faulty. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Chekov stand gingerly, careful of his shoulder that's bound in crisp white bandages. He knows he's being a bastard during their impromptu meeting, Pike taught him to be a better leader than what he's currently demonstrating, but his rage is demanding release like a starving animal; punching members of his own gang to dispel his anger would be in poor taste under normal circumstance let alone now. He feels compelled to take steps to mitigate his transgression. "Chekov, what happened to your shoulder?" he snaps despite his efforts to come across as compassionate.
Scotty gives the kid a sympathetic look before he ducks out of the tent. Knowing the mood Kirk is in, Chekov is either going to get treated with kid gloves or unfairly wringed out. Either way he doesn't envy their youngest member.
"ничего... it is fine, Keptin," insists Chekov. It hardly compares to the trouble that's darkening their doorstep and he knows it won't slow him down; he won't let it. Growing up on his own on the streets taught him to be resourceful and work through any injuries that weren't life threatening. He won't let this get in the way.
"No it's not," interjects McCoy taking a step closer to Jim. Why these people insist on brushing off injuries is beyond him, but unlike them, he knows exactly how much worse they can make it.
Kirk keeps his eyes firmly glued on Chekov's face for any ticks or tells that might contradict the kid's claims.
"He took a bullet to the shoulder. What he needs is to rest, not get on a horse and go galloping all over the country side!" snaps the doctor. Chekov will be fine but putting unnecessary strain on the wound is only going to increase the likelihood of it not healing correctly.
"Chekov, can you continue?" asks Jim, hiding behind formality and rank. He'd like to let Chekov convalesce but he needs all hands on deck for this one. Every second Harrison is out there is a chance the man will get the drop on them and that will leave them worse off than an injured shoulder.
The kid straightens and holds his head high. "I can do this Keptain," assures Chekov. He adds an enthusiastic nod to drive the point home.
"I'm the doctor here, Jim, and I say he can't," interjects McCoy, willing to hold the line if no one else is. Everyone around here is always in such a hurry to get themselves killed.
"Enough, Doctor McCoy. Your objection is noted but some things are more important." Jim wants to apologise for being cold and distant when he hears the audible click of McCoy's jaw as it snaps shut but he needs to stay focused. There's someone stalking them right now and he doesn't have the intel to keep his people safe. Harrison's gotten too close for comfort and taking comfort in familial bonds isn't going to stop this new threat.
"Whatever you say, Captain," spits McCoy as he storms out of the tent. It's as close to a 'fuck you' as he can get without uttering the actual words. In fact, it might cut even deeper. He can only hope it serves as a reminder of just what Kirk has to lose if he's not careful with his blind quest of vengeance.
Jim silently watches Leonard storm out. Jim softens his voice. "Just to be safe, I want you to go with Sulu tomorrow."
Chekov slouches a little, the disappointment clear on his face. He owes his survival to Captain Pike and later to Kirk, failing them hurts the way he imagined failing family would. Being the weakest link through injury is a failure in his books.
"It's just a precaution. You did good out there, Chekov. You kept McCoy out of Harrison's clutches." A little spark comes back to the kid's eyes as he nods before taking his leave. Jim on the other hand still feels like someone shot his dog and in retaliation he went and kicked his best friends' dog. The first day without Pike in the world and he already feels like he's screwed things up royally.