Title: Pressing the Point
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: Property of Roddenberry, Paramount, JJ Abrams, etc. Alas.
Summary: "And would you do it all again? Exactly the same way?" Pike asks, his tone a challenge. 3400 words.
Spoilers: Star Trek XI (2009)
Notes: Follows "The Press of Duty". The quote credited to 'Phil Boyce' is from the TOS script of "The Menagerie", the two-part episode that featured the original Christopher Pike.
He wakes to the sound of a soft whirr by his ear: Dr. McCoy running another of his innumerable scans, brow furrowed and mouth turned down at one side. Christopher Pike is pretty sure what that expression means, but he's not going to ask. Time enough for that when they get back to Earth.
A sour weight drags at the back of his throat; he swallows, and resolutely banishes it from his thoughts along with all the other loose threads of his time aboard the Narada. He survived; whatever else happens in the future, he's going to count that as a win.
"Sir, you asked to see me?"
And there he is: the one mostly to thank for Pike being here to consider the definition of winning at all.
He glances toward the door to meet bright blue eyes, framed by evidence of recent bruising; not quite as bad as their first meeting in that bar near the Riverside shipyards, but the finger marks encircling Kirk's throat are something else again. Pike hears Dr. McCoy make a disgruntled noise from beside the bed; then the Acting CMO moves hastily across the room, waving his diagnostic tools in Kirk's direction.
"Jesus, Jim, why didn't you tell me it was that bad?" McCoy clucks at the bruising, then pokes a finger into Kirk's ribs, and the lieutenant-- Pike supposes he's back to Acting First Officer now, given that Spock has yet to clear himself of "emotionally compromised" status-- winces, swatting at the doctor's hand.
"Stop it, Bones. You can get your hands on me later. I'm here to report to the Captain."
"You wouldn't have come down here yet otherwise, I know." McCoy grumbles. "Well, there's nothing life-threateningly wrong with you at the moment, but don't come crying to me when the adrenaline finally wears off and you really start to feel it."
Pike clears his throat. As entertaining as this conversation is, it's not why he requested Kirk's presence, and if the young man has to stand there awhile feeling the consequences of a day's worth of picking fights with opponents stronger than himself, so much the better. Maybe it'll give him a little more perspective.
"Doctor," he prompts, as both men turn to look at him. "If you would?" He gestures toward the door.
McCoy glances to Kirk first, a brief but telling movement, before nodding. "All right. Page me if you need anything; I'll be keeping an eye on the monitors." He packs up his tools, then ducks out the door of the private isolation room, patting Kirk on the shoulder as he goes.
Pike sighs. "Good friend of yours, I take it," he says. He remembers picking them up on the same recruiting drive, seeing both their names on the reports from Kirk's three attempts at the Kobayashi Maru, but hadn't known they were that well acquainted until the incident on the bridge on the way to Vulcan. Cadets of such different ages, and different specialties, rarely bonded that deeply. But then, Kirk seems to have a special gift for inspiring exasperated affection in almost anyone he deigns to turn on the charm for; Pike has already seen the early symptoms in Spock's careful wording of the last day's adventures, and that is yet another thing he'd never have seen coming at the beginning of this mission.
It's a good talent for a commanding officer to have-- when used in moderation. That would comfort Pike more if he could be sure Kirk even knows what the world 'moderation' means.
"The best," Kirk nods, then frowns, just a faint line between his brows. He straightens up into something approximating formal posture, folding his hands behind his back, and clears his throat. "Sir, I'm aware he violated regulations in bringing me aboard the Enterprise while I was on academic suspension--"
"And was that your idea, or his, I wonder?" Pike interrupts him, then waves that away. "Never mind. That's not what I asked you to come down here for. How you got on the ship is irrelevant, considering I technically authorized your presence when I made you Acting First Officer. What you did with that authority after I gave it to you, however, is."
Pike's voice drops lower, sterner, on that last sentence; a muscle jumps satisfactorily in the younger officer's jaw in response. "Sir," Kirk acknowledges, noncommittally.
Pike waits a moment; Kirk wouldn't be Kirk if he didn't have more to say, and Pike isn't trying to cram him into a perfect Starfleet mold-- just sandpaper the edges down a little.
Sure enough, after a brief pause, Kirk speaks up again. "If I may, sir-- why did you name me Acting First Officer?"
Pike considers that a moment. "I had my reasons," he finally says. He'd seen the way the two had interacted in the interrupted hearing, and in the argument before their arrival at Vulcan. If Spock was capable of supporting Kirk's logic as sound bare seconds after threatening to drag the man off the bridge, then they were capable of working together to run the ship for however long was necessary-- that, and his gut had told him their diametrically opposed natures would make for a well-balanced team.
His gut had been right, of course. Eventually. That isn't what Kirk needs to hear at the moment, however. "Convince me I wasn't wrong."
That startles him, Pike can see: Kirk's eyes widen a little, and some of the conviction in his stance fades. "I thought Bones filled you in on what happened--? Or Spock? I know he was down here for awhile."
He can't have honestly thought he'd get away with that. No, this is Kirk: he's simply trying every alternative, however unlikely, to get out of something he'd really rather not do. That means he's nervous, Pike realizes; good. Though God knows why-- Kirk had stared down the Admirals on the Academy review board with arrogance writ in every line of his body; what makes him care about Pike's opinion?
"Humor me, Mr. Kirk," he says, with a slight, challenging curve of his lips. "I want to hear it again, from your perspective."
Kirk swallows, then nods sharply and draws a deep breath. "Understood. Uh. You want it all? I mean, starting from the spacedrop?"
"That would be fine, Lieutenant. Proceed."
Kirk startles a little at the rank, and looks reflexively down at the blank black sleeves of the uniform undertunic he's still wearing. No officer's stripes there, though Pike's sure he's imagined the three bands of a Captain shining on gold fabric at least once in the last several hours. The line of his jaw firms; then he looks back up, shadows darkening his eyes, and begins.
Pike lets him tell it all almost without interruption; it seems to be enough to merely narrow his eyes, raise a brow, or frown when Kirk's descriptions get noticeably vague or hyperbolic. He only speaks up once-- regarding the identity of the elderly 'future Vulcan' Kirk had encountered, and left behind, on Delta Vega-- but Kirk refuses to elaborate, staring at the bulkhead over Pike's bed and insisting that the man is better left nameless.
"It's hardly relevant, sir," he insists, gravely. "He had knowledge I needed, but that knowledge was a function of when he came from, not who he is."
He pauses, then adds: "Besides, I promised."
Loyalty, to a near stranger whose request was likely to cause Kirk a great deal of personal difficulty. The concept is intriguing enough that Pike lets it go for the moment; he'll quiz him about it again later, if it becomes necessary. Still, it's beginning to look as though Kirk's conscientious behavior since the Narada's destruction might not be quite the fluke it appears.
That theme continues to thread through the rest of Kirk's report: his use of language shifts from primarily self-centric to embrace a generous sprinkling of we and he and she and they. Pike recognizes the tone of a commander justifiably proud of his subordinates, and is struck by the contrast with the vid he'd seen of Kirk's last attempt at the Kobayashi Maru. Hell, by every exhibition of Kirk's all-eyes-on-me behavior he's been copied on since putting his name down as the young man's official sponsor to the Academy three years ago.
Kirk has aced every test of knowledge put in front of him, is top of his class in survival strategies and tactical analysis, is experienced enough in hand-to-hand combat (at least, with opponents of human-level strength) to serve as Assistant Instructor in the Academy's advanced course, and even, for some reason he's never shared, participates in the Xenolinguistics club-- where, if not the most talented of its members, he holds his own. People turn to him like flowers to the sun; but he has never, not that Pike's ever seen, acted as though he's anything other than the marquee star in his own holovid production.
Not until now. Pike sincerely hopes that this is proof that the boy is finally growing up. Only time will tell, but he allows himself to be cautiously reassured by the admiring quirk at the corner of Kirk's mouth as he discusses "Scotty's" last second save when the Enterprise had been moments from being pulled into the Narada's singularity.
He wonders, for a moment, what Kirk would have been like had Nero never traveled back through time-- had George Kirk never died aboard the Kelvin and his son enrolled in the Academy at a standard age rather than as a ne'er-do-well of twenty-two. He wonders what his own life would have been like in that universe. Would he still have been captain of the Enterprise? How much of his fate was his own to make, and how much pre-determined?
Fruitless thoughts. This is the only reality that matters, as far as he's concerned. And in this reality, Kirk still awaits his dressing-down, and the tingling in his legs is acting up again.
Pike wants to make sure that the lessons of this mission, above all, stay with him.
"And would you do it all again? Exactly the same way?" Pike asks, his tone a challenge. From all evidence, that's still the best way anyone's ever found to motivate this young man, bar none.
Kirk raises his eyebrows and opens his mouth to answer, but Pike cuts him off before any cocky words can escape. "Think it over," he adds, ominously. "Be sure of your answer."
The golden brows lower, then draw together; Kirk stares at him a moment, clearly trying to figure out what the hell Pike wants him to say and tailor his response accordingly. Of course, he's assuming there's a right answer at this point in the conversation.
Finally, Kirk nods, sharply. "In retrospect, I realize that several of the actions I took on this mission could be viewed as rash, and poorly thought out. Particularly my argument with Mr. Spock on the bridge. However, in each of those situations I acted only to preserve this ship, its crew, its Captain, and the Federation at large-- as the results of my actions bear out."
"Argument," Pike comments. "That's a mild word for insubordinate conduct and attempting to assault a superior officer." He watches for Kirk's wince, then continues. "But I digress. Your argument, then, is that the ends justify the means?"
Kirk is quick enough to see the landmine waiting in that query, but doesn't seem to know how to step around it, either. "No, sir. However--"
Pike talks right over him. He's had time to think about which examples to play devil's advocate with, and he wants to get them over with. "Hindsight may be twenty-twenty, but it doesn't show the full picture, either. For example. After you landed on the drill, you say you tackled the first Romulan by hand-- a being known to be several times stronger than a human-- and only then attempted to engage him with your phaser, which he immediately knocked out of your hands."
Kirk nods, warily.
"You wasted-- how much time fighting with that Romulan after your weapon was lost, not to mention damaging Lieutenant Sulu's parachute in the struggle? Tell me, Kirk. If you'd drawn your phaser first, do you think you might have been able to shut the drill down more quickly?"
Unspoken, the rest of that question hangs in the air between them, as the blood drains from Kirk's face: Do you think you could have saved Vulcan, if you'd stopped screwing around a little sooner?
Realistically, Pike knows the answer is no. The Narada had been drilling into Vulcan for hours by the time the Enterprise had arrived; whatever measurements of pressure and temperature beneath the planet's surface were required to set off a chain reaction with the Red Matter were likely already well within the margin of error. But these questions will be asked, if not by him then someone else; better they be asked now, before the subspace comms are repaired and the inevitable conversations with Earth begin.
He continues. "Speaking of Lieutenant Sulu's parachute. When the Enterprise attempted to beam the both of you to safety, was it really necessary to dive after the lieutenant when he fell from the platform? If the transporter techs had the ability to retrieve both of you while falling, at whatever rate of speed, then they would have been able to catch one alone; while if they couldn't, you would have deprived the ship of both helmsman and First Officer at the same time.
"I don't think you understood, then or now, just how lucky you were that that didn't happen. Because when the chance came to make use of the fact that you had survived and advise the Captain about what course of action should be taken, not only did you express your opinions in an insubordinate and unproductive manner, you chose to do so in front of the crew, making it even less likely that he would listen to anything you had to say."
Kirk had frowned rebelliously at the comment about Sulu, some of the color coming back to his cheeks. The frown is fading now into a vaguely abashed expression, but stubbornness is still written in every line of his stance: jaw firm, back ramrod straight, just as at his academic hearing.
"You let your personal resentment get in the way of your professionalism, something that, I might add, Spock had managed to avoid up until that point," Pike pointed out. "His decision to maroon you afterward was perhaps excessive, but not unearned.
"There's no way of knowing what might have happened if the Enterprise hadn't delayed in order to leave you on Delta Vega. Could you have convinced Spock to go to Earth if you'd approached him more reasonably? Would the ship have reached Earth sooner then, without the detour toward the Laurentian System? Was the information you learned from your nameless time traveling Vulcan ultimately crucial to ending the threat Nero posed to the Federation, or could you have come up with a solution without it?
"And finally, how do you justify beaming onto the Narada with Spock instead of sending a security detail? You were the Acting Captain, and he was the only other command-capable officer on the ship, improbable as that sounds. Had your mission failed, you would have crippled the Enterprise's capacity to further react to the crisis. As it was, given your personal-- and dare I say it, emotionally compromising-- connection to the mission at hand, Nero was able to nearly fatally distract you at a crucial moment. Fractions of a second more delay, and we'd all be a smear of atoms in the vortex of a black hole."
His voice is growing hoarse; he'd talked more than he'd ever wanted to in the last couple of days. He swallows, but does not glance toward the pitcher on the stand by the bed; he keeps his eyes locked on Kirk, waiting for the young man's reaction.
"Well?" he prompts.
Kirk visibly gathers himself, then meets Pike's gaze fiercely. "You once told me that my father leaped without looking," he says, slowly and clearly, "that it was something you admired about him, something you thought Starfleet had lost. When I landed on that platform, when I saw Sulu falling, when Spock refused to even consider the possibility of following the Narada to Earth-- okay, so maybe I need some remedial diplomatic coursework in how to call your superior on his bullshit without pissing him off, but in each and every one of those situations, I went with my instincts, and each time, it paid off. It might not always have been the best of all possible solutions, but it worked. We're all still here to argue about it, and whatever else happens, I'm going to go with that.
"I'll take whatever consequences the Admiralty decides to dish out, but I could no more let Sulu fall off that platform alone, or let the Enterprise abandon Earth, or send Spock to the Narada without my support than I could turn down your dare back in Iowa. Sir."
Pike lets the tension build a moment more, taking in the strength and certainty radiating from the other man, then lets out a long breath. He's not exactly relieved; how could he be, given how much Kirk reminds him of not only the father Pike had studied so thoroughly for his dissertation, but also of his own younger, rawer self. It worries him, too, how quick Kirk is to seek out the more violent options. All the same, he's surer now of what his recommendation will be to Command.
"Good," he says, firmly. "I'm glad to hear it."
There's a stunned pause, which Pike uses to finally, casually, reach for a glass of water and drink; then Kirk's jaw drops open in a very satisfying way. "Wait-- what?"
"It's all very well to leap without looking," Pike informs him, smiling crookedly. "My ship's doctor back on the Yorktown, Phil Boyce, once told me that a man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on, and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away. He was right. The trick is to be able to stand by your decisions afterward, whatever the rumblings from the chain of command, and to have a good crew to back you up when things do go wrong.
"You were born for this, Jim. First Officer Kirk. Your temper's going to get you killed someday if you don't get a handle on it-- that or your libido-- but you have the instincts, and you have the will for command. Mutiny aside, I'm not sure I'd have done any differently in your position, at your age. If I can, I'm going to get that field promotion confirmed for you at least as far as Commander, provided you pass the exams when we get back; you'd be wasted as just another tactical officer, and Starfleet's going to need all the talented Captains and XO's they can get their hands on after everything that's happened."
Kirk gapes for a moment longer. It's not an expression he wears very often; Pike basks in it while it lasts, seizing his victories where he can.
"Thank you, sir," Kirk finally says. "I don't know what to say."
Pike shakes his head. "Just remember this: it's not about you anymore, and it never will be again. Every decision you make from now on is going to impact hundreds of other lives under your authority, and you will be accountable to them for every risk you take. Do you think you can handle that, son?"
Kirk's chin goes up, and that light comes back into his eyes; the one Pike had seen glimpses of, earlier, highlighting the important roles other crewmembers had played in the Enterprise's misadventures. "Yes, sir, I can."
And damn if he doesn't believe him. Pike isn't sure whether to feel proud, or alarmed, or upstaged at this moment, so he takes a deep breath and waves a hand toward the door. "Then go on out there. Let the doctor patch you up, catch some rest if you can, and bring our ship home."
There's only one reply Kirk can give to that, and he does, with a bright, glowing grin.