George Samuel Kirk didn't have much time. He'd said his goodbyes to his wife, though he kept the comm. open just in case. He prayed he would last long enough to hear his child's first breath. There was one thing left, though, other than keeping the heat on the Romulan ship. He tapped out a quick message to his closest friend on the ship. Not his best friend ever, not even the best man from his wedding, but Chris was a good guy. They'd spent a lot of off time together in their years at Starfleet.

Take care of my wife.

And then George had to concentrate on protecting them all.

It was nearly an hour before the occupants of one of the tiny shuttles decided they could relax. The pilot, Takashi Sulu, noticed a flag on the console by one of their names.

"Ensign Pike?" he called back. "There's a transmission for you."

They did the usual dance of two average-sized men trying to fit in the cockpit of a very small shuttle. Unfortunately, the only console was in the front. There were two chairs, but there really shouldn't have been. Sulu had to stay in the front to man the controls, though they were looking forward to at least another hour of empty space before they were anywhere near a Starfleet outpost.

Sulu heard a stifled cough. No…more like…a whimper? He turned. Was the message that bad?

"It's from George…Captain Kirk," the Ensign managed with difficulty. "God."

He didn't explain. He didn't really need to. A solemn silence fell over the occupants of the shuttle. They had seen, as they were fleeing, the state of the Kelvin. Takashi had easily picked out the area of the hull that protected several sensitive systems, like autopilot and the weapons targeting systems. It was shot to hell, and they knew in that moment that they would never see George Kirk again.

The crystal mining operation on some nameless desert planet was not particularly well-equipped to care for around 800 stranded Starfleet personnel, including one newborn. But replicators are wonderful things, and the engineers had quickly cobbled together structures that could be used as mass dormitories.

They would need to use the emergency supplies from the shuttles, the bedrolls and spare rations, but that was alright. There was a Terran pleasure cruiser that Starfleet had temporarily employed to rescue the survivors. They only needed to waste a few days here.

Winona shivered in one of the few real beds on the whole planet. The head of the mining operation was a brawny, blue-skinned Andorian female, and she had insisted that Winona take her quarters.

"M…um, Winona?" she heard a tentative voice from behind the door. She gathered Jim in her arms and cracked it open, sitting on the foot of the bed. She touched her little one's face and wondered if George, Jr. was alright. Her eyes closed in pain. She'd call him Sam from now on. It was for the best. She looked at her visitor.

"Hi, Chris," was the somber greeting she managed for one of George's good friends.

"Can I…sit?" he asked. The Ensign was so twitchy, never sure of his place in the world, she knew. She smiled involuntarily. George had told her once, with the same passionate tone that he'd used for their wedding vows, that someday Chris Pike would know that place, and it would be a captain's chair on one of the finest ships in Starfleet.

"Of course."

He exhaled, glanced around, and chose the bedside table. "Look, before he…I got a transmission from G-George. He asked me to…take care of you." He rushed to reassure, "I know you're a 23rd century woman and you can take care of yourself, but…I was hoping…and he also asked me to be…" he wasn't particularly coherent, but this pause was much longer and more significant, and he didn't meet her eyes when he said, "the godfather?" as though it was a question, him begging for permission.

Winona sighed. They'd argued for some time over who to name. Junior's godfather was her brother, but George thought it was unfair that Drew never got to see his godson, being stationed on the Archer. George thought for this one, they should nominate someone a little closer to home.

"Do you know where you'll be living?" she asked hesitantly. "I'm fairly sure I'll be reassigned to Riverside, since I've a house there already, and they always need local botanists to make sure the ships' gardens are taken care of while the crew's on leave."

Chris twiddled his thumbs. "Starfleet asked if I'd like to run recruitment from Riverside."

Winona stared at him, cradling Jim. Their soft conversation was waking him, but that was alright. He didn't get more than a few hours' sleep at a time anyway. At least this time she'd be up first, to handle his reaction immediately.

"I'd be pleased if you were to become Jim's godfather," she said finally. "You're very…you're a lot like George, did you know that? He saw a lot of himself in you."

It is impossible to estimate the effects of a single choice. Chris Pike had vacillated for days before deciding, after staring into the dark of the mass dorm and seeing George's face, that he had to talk to Winona. But what if he hadn't decided that? What if he hadn't asked to be Jim's godfather, something that George had really only hinted at?

Chris shook his head. It had been sixteen years since that single choice, since the destruction of the Kelvin, and he was staring at the boy who was his son in everything but name. His own wife had given him daughters, who he loved dearly, but those years of playing catch with Jim, of sheltering him when he couldn't stand his stepfather anymore, of picking him up from the police station because he'd done something reckless and seeing the pain in those wide blue eyes…Chris was the boy's father, or the closest Jim would ever know.

And he didn't think that Jim could really shock him, not after years of tales of his exploits and bailing him out.

"I don't want to join Starfleet," the kid repeated. "I don't want three massive legacies looming over me for my entire freakin' career. Captain Kirk, shortest fricking captaincy in the history of the Fleet, saves 800 people. Winona Kirk-Jeffries, best damn botanist in the Fleet. Captain Pike, due to be an Admiral as soon as he consents to the desk work. Didn't you ever think that might be a lot of pressure for one guy to live up to? Thank God I have no aspirations for botany. There are more species of plant to keep track of than there are personnel in Starfleet, and it's not just a list of names, it's characteristics, appearance, and uses! Plus trading status." Jim shuddered at the thought.

"Watch your mouth, kid," Chris said belatedly. "Okay, so what are you going to do with your life?"

Jim smirked. "Race cars."

Fortunately for Chris, Winona, and Starfleet, not even racing was enough of an adrenalin rush for James Tiberius Kirk. Either that, or people had started whispering that he'd passed his prime. By twenty-two, Jim was back in an Iowa bar, planning to visit his mother the next morning and decide, as he did every year since he was sixteen, if it was time to face the music. Naturally he had a racing name, and though all of Riverside knew who he really was – that punk delinquent son of Starfleet's late hero – they obligingly called him by the adult persona of Jimmy T Carrigan. At sixteen, he'd thought that was a hilarious pun. At least he hadn't just gone with "Carr," like he'd first wanted to.

He spotted a very sexy girl in cadet red fetching drinks, and offered to pay for the one he guessed was hers.

She shot him down, but he kept trying. Jimmy T was nothing if not tenaciously persistent. And if his attempts for a good fuck led instead to one hell of a fight, well…he was sore, but not really complaining. Maybe he should stick to three-on-one from now on, though.

"Heard you were back in town," came the slightly weary greeting.

"Hey, Chris. You whistle really loud," Jimmy grinned.

The speech wasn't the usual "are you done fucking around yet?" one. This was about George.

"I first met your father in a bar fight, you know? He had been hitting on your mother outrageously – they were already dating – when some guy asked if he was bothering her. It led to a full-on brawl, and there I was trying to get the female cadets to safety. He stumbled out twenty minutes later with a dislocated shoulder and two black eyes, clapped me on the shoulder, and said, 'Thanks for taking care of my girl.'" Chris sighed. "You have a strange kind of honor, son. You don't hesitate to go for a woman, sleep with her within an hour of meeting if you think she'll have you. But you're the first to defend even a stranger if you think she's being objectified or treated as less than a person because she's a woman."

"I'm quirky," Jimmy agreed with a smirk.

"There's a rumor you're dropping out of the racing circuit," Chris changed the subject.

"Thinking about it," Jimmy shrugged.

"It takes most cadets four years to finish training, some five. Prodigies, or people who are already trained in some area, sometimes manage it in three and a quarter or three and a half. Four more years for a command-specialty ensign to get captaincy, if they're lucky or distinguish themselves. And you're not just lucky, Jim."

Jimmy – no, Jim, he decided – considered it for a moment. That pretty xenolinguistic-focus Uhura. She was in Starfleet. On the other hand, he'd never chased a girl so intensely. He laughed at himself mentally. This had nothing to do with Uhura. No matter what he'd said his whole life, his goal had always been to join Starfleet. He just didn't want that legacy hanging over him. Well, there was a way to fix that.

"Can I get my record sealed?" he asked curiously. "If I were to, say, change my name, would that erase my past?"

Chris was startled that he was even considering it, and the solution bore merit. "Everything but your medical history could probably be sealed. Well…maybe your psych profile. Command-focus cadets need a very accurate psych profile," he said seriously.

Jim toyed with the Kelvin figurine. "They probably wouldn't like it if I hacked that, then," he muttered aloud. Chris rolled his eyes.

"If you really want to assume a new identity – or pretend this is your real one, this Carrigan character, do you know what it means? No visitors from your old life. You and I pretend we don't know each other. I'll be your recruiter, your sponsor, but I can't be your godfather. Everyone knows who my godson is, though I haven't flashed your picture around since you were eleven. A broken nose on a kid that small hurt too much to explain."

"For a long time I wasn't sure if I was trying to kill myself or just piss him off. Then I realized either way, I was trying to kill myself. If you hadn't come…" Jim shivered.

"That was a cry for help. I'm sorry it took me so long to figure that out," Chris answered. "Anyway, I'll be checking in on you regularly, if only as your sponsor. And don't think you can get away with slacking off just because I can't whip you into shape in person."

Jim rubbed his ear reflexively. Whenever he'd done less than what Christopher Pike deemed James T. Kirk's "academic best," he got a sharp yank and a scolding for neglecting his studies.

"The thought never crossed my mind," he grinned. Then he frowned. "Wait a minute, I was speaking hypothetically," he started to insist.

"Don't insult me. You've probably been planning this crap since you were sixteen. You always were about ten steps ahead of everyone else."

Jim laughed, caught. "I've only really been planning it since I was twenty or so. Having a new identity in place was just a happy coincidence."

"Right. Have you at least been studying something useful?"

"I may have accidentally checked out a few books on warp engines instead of car ones," he shrugged nonchalantly. "And there are always a lot of different species hanging around the tracks. So maybe I've picked up a few words here or there in Andorian, Arcadian, Klingon, Vulcan…" he listed a few more before Chris held up a hand to stop him, grinning.

"You fluent in any of those?"

Jim shrugged. "I know enough in about half to get by in most emergency situations, especially emergencies related to engines."

"Any other skills I should be aware of?" Pike prompted.

"Well, I may have a Federation Generic Star Ship Pilot's License," he said quickly.

"When the hell did you have time to train for one of those?"

Jim bit his lip. "I may have…taken the course online. And tested for it. When I was ten."

Chris sputtered. "You're joking, right?"

"I recertified when I was twenty," Jim said helpfully.

"God, kid, if you'd joined when you were supposed to," he shook his head.

Jim rolled his eyes. "No matter how fast I'd finished cadet training, you really think they'd let a twenty-four year old captain a star ship? Much less twenty-three, or twenty-two?"

Chris had to laugh. "You're telling me you spent the last six years racing cars because otherwise you'd be spending even longer not being in command of your own ship? That's a strange kind of patience."

"Cadet training is the absolute lack of an adrenalin rush," Jim shrugged. "I'm already wondering if it's a good idea. I'll probably go stir-crazy within a week. And then to sit on the bridge and stare at someone else in the captain's chair, in the real driver seat? I don't know if doing it in two years is fast enough."

"You'll be fine. At any rate, there's all kinds of things an adrenalin junkie can do in space, without needing to be captain." He told Jim when the lift off was for the shuttle of cadets, and said, "See you there. And don't forget what I told you."

"About pulling on my ear?" Jim teased.

Chris ruffled his hair and left.

Jim went back to staring at the model of the Kelvin.

Well, Leonard "Bones" McCoy, M.D., certainly was a character. He reminded Jim of a gruffer, more pessimistic version of Chris Pike, and decided immediately that Bones was going to be his first real friend anywhere close to his age. He'd always done better with adults, really, though little kids looked up to him for some strange reason.

Jim settled into cadet life with surprising ease, shaking off the cries of "Jimmy T!" with a self-effacing, "It's Jim now. An' I'm just like any of you guys." There were plenty of male cadets eager to drink with him, study with a racer-cum-genius, but Bones was the one who patched him up after bar fights. More importantly, Bones was the one who made sure he buckled down and studied before tests, and Bones was the only one who saw his quiet, introspective moments over the little model Kelvin that he kept on the desk.

Bones was the only one who asked him why he kept it, too.

Jim, startled out of another reverie, laughed a little and said, "Every command cadet now labors under the shadow of the Kelvin. Will any of us ever be…anything like George Samuel Kirk?"

They studied in silence that night.

Bones was also the only one who Jim had picked both times he ran the Kobayashi Maru simulation. Bones even convinced him to think about the purpose of the test for a few more days when Jim started to put his name down for a third trial, using that tone Chris had for when Jim was doing something stupid. Reluctantly, Jim agreed.

And then all hell broke loose.

"Cadet Carrigan, Enterprise." McCoy flashed a small grin at him, pleased they were both on the same ship, the flag ship of the Fleet. Jim was a little irked he was in Engineering, but it was officers-only on the bridge, at least for Alpha Shift, and his most recent bar fight had gotten his stripes off.

I should probably stop doing that shit, he thought to himself for the umpteenth time, but once his blood was pumping, he didn't usually have much control over his actions. And giant morons that looked like his stepfather never failed to get his blood pumping.

They had barely gotten moving before that Chekov kid, the Navigation whiz he'd heard about, took the comm. to inform them of the mission. Kirk's eyes widened. Lightning storm?

He abandoned his post and took off at a dead run to the Bridge, babbling to Pike and probably making very little sense, until the man had gripped his head and said, "Jim. Calm down."

Jim's shoulders relaxed immediately. "Chr – Captain Pike, this is the same kind of anomaly that was seen on the day…the day the Kelvin was destroyed. I read your dissertation sir, and what's more, I know you were there. Vulcan isn't suffering a natural disaster. It's that Romulan ship again. It attacked Klingons last night and it's attacking Vulcan right now."

That led to a brief side conversation where Uhura confirmed the attack on the Klingon ships, and the Vulcan XO called his conclusion logical. Jim was kind of self-conscious about this oddly intimate hold, and backed out of Chris's – Captain Pike's – grip.

"Red alert," the Captain said slowly. He glanced at Jim. "Engineering, right?" Jim nodded. "I'm lifting your rank suspension, for now. Go get a Command uniform and be back before we break Warp." Jim nodded again and took off.

Commander Spock turned to Captain Pike. "Does that Cadet know you? I believe he began to call you 'Christopher.'"

Pike smiled tiredly. "Cadet Carrigan is the son of a family friend, and I recruited him personally. He is extremely intelligent and, if he had joined Starfleet at the usual age, would probably already have a ship of his own."

"I believe he is the same Cadet who has failed my test. Twice," Spock said pointedly.

"He does better under pressure. Real pressure, Spock, not simulated pressure. And I don't think he gets the Kobayashi Maru, because 'no-win' isn't in his vocabulary."

"He seems very aware of the Kelvin, on which the Kobayashi Maru is based, for someone who does not believe in such situations."

Pike laughed. "Spock, if you think that was a no-win situation, you've been reading it wrong. A handful of men died saving hundreds, including an infant. I lost my best friend that day, but I could just as easily have died, along with Winona Kirk and her minutes-old child. Captain Kirk didn't believe in no-win situations, either. Maybe the simulation should reflect the best option available: not to go down swinging and have nothing to show for it but more bodies, but to go down swinging to give at least some people the time to escape. That option is usually available even in the worst of situations. To be honest, Spock, I think I'd fail your test, too."

Spock turned back to the science station, but Pike could see he was thinking about it.

Jim was back, hovering anxiously at Pike's side. They came out of Warp smoothly…into a battlefield. Of all the things for Jim to be right about, dammit. Pike was immediately in war-captain mode, and the officers were doing him proud. Then the Romulan came on screen.

Jim was not entirely thrilled with this plan, but it was the only plan they had. They had only seconds until the drop when he turned and said, "C-captain? Be careful." He hated that he was using the voice of a scared child worried Papa wouldn't come home tonight. But he didn't have time to freak out about his image right now. There was a drill to destroy, and he was the man for the job.

Things started happening so fast that Jim could only react. He dove after Sulu, screamed for the transport, watched Vulcan's destruction, picked a fight with Spock and reacted violently to being grabbed. He didn't know how he'd sunk so low as to get marooned on Delta Vega, but there he was, 14 kilometers or whatever from the nearest climate-controlled structure.

And then there was that crazy Vulcan who claimed to be Spock, and oh GOD the things in his head, those memories, it felt like his brain was being shredded into pulp on a juicer.

Scotty, the beaming, the panic over Scotty about to be sliced to bits, and then running from security, ending up on the bridge, trying to make a freaking Vulcan show emotion.

Well, that worked a little too well, and he had the finger-shaped bruises on his neck to prove it. Then it was time to turn this boat around and rescue the closest thing he had to a father, without once explaining that to anyone. God he was tired.

Finally, he could relax. Chris Pike was safe in the Enterprise's sick bay. They were coming back to Earth, limping a little, but with hardly any loss of life and a crew of newly-made combat veterans. They couldn't be called cadets anymore, that was definite. Jim was mildly concerned that he would be in a great deal of trouble for the mutiny-turned-take-over, though.

As it turned out, there was something of a trial. But with Chris Pike standing there – well, sitting in his wheelchair – in front of a bunch of stuffy admirals and all of the surviving members of his class, saying,

"If you even think about expelling George Kirk's youngest son, my godson, not only will I resign, I'm pretty sure Jim and I will take most of the crew of the Enterprise with us. You're a little low on captains, these days. And Jim is the most promising young man I've ever had the pleasure to personally recruit. Who do you think you are? Not thirty-six hours ago he was personally pulling me out of a torture chamber. That was after he realized Nero's plan to destroy Earth and, with the help of First Officer Spock, came up with the plan that they single-handedly executed to not only sabotage the drill and remove the Red Matter from Nero's hands, but also save this planet from Vulcan's fate."

Pike glared at the tribunal. "So I want you to think very carefully about what you're going to do to this young hero."

After a speech like that in his defense, Kirk wasn't really surprised to be made Captain of the Enterprise. He got to hand-pick much of his crew, and barely changed a thing. If a certain "Cupcake" found himself on custodial duty instead of Security…well, it must have been a computer glitch.

A/N: that's all, folks! Eight pages and 3,861 words - none-too-shabby, if I do say so myself. :)