Characters: J. Kirk, C. Pike
Rating: T, for language
SUMMARY: my version of the time between Kirk's official promotion and his actual settlement as Enterprise Captain. I was hoping for more interaction between Kirk and Pike, so this ficlet was begging to be written. Hope you don't mind.
This story is dedicated to alien09 (pre-beta reader - tit for tat, dear:) ) and to ChristinaTM (beta reader - Job's patience, I know... ;) ): thanks for your precious help and support, I love you both!!!!
A/N: italic is for characters' thoughts.
DISCLAIMER: obviously not mine, or I wouldn't be here just inventing, you know...
Jim had been beamed up to Enterprise and was currently headed towards his new quarters. The ship was silent, almost void of people, since there were only basic personnel on board. He especially requested to be transported ahead of his crew – he wanted to be alone with her, to feel her.
The ship was humming gently under his feet, welcoming her newest captain with a soft whisper.
Am I ready for this?
Doubt seemed to be recurrent, these days. As a cadet, he had been self-confident – even too much so, some would say – but since his official promotion he found himself questioning himself about everything. Nobody could tell, of course. He was the usual smartass on the outside.
After the ceremony, in which Kirk had relieved Pike as Enterprise captain, twenty (long) days had passed, waiting for Enterprise to be repaired and Starfleet Command to regroup and reorganize everything. Loosing such a high number of lives, had hit everybody hard, and Starfleet was trying to regain some balance, both emotionally and operatively. Jim had spent that time almost alone, rethinking things over and reliving everything. He now had a different perspective, a different approach. Before he was all about affirming himself, now his behaviour was turned on being a part of something bigger than himself.
I'm growing up.
When eventually he had been called to Starfleet Command in San Francisco, Jim had been relieved to find he was able to form his own crew. Jim hadn't hesitated in his request to keep the people on board Enterprise with him – Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, Scotty and Bones. Starfleet barely blinked. They knew better than to split up a winning team. The only 'left unsaid' had been Spock. Jim had requested him, but Starfleet had been unable to guarantee his assignment on Enterprise.
Guess the Vulcan has grown on me.
His footsteps stopped in front of his door. The captain's quarters were located on the senior officers' level, near the bridge. The rooms were larger and more comfortable and, most importantly, granted privacy, calmness and personal space.
Jim tapped his code and entered. The room wasn't empty, though. A man was standing near the window, staring out at the spacedock. As Jim opened the door, he turned and smiled warmly.
'Long time no see, captain,' the man welcomed.
Jim was stunned. He hadn't expect to find anyone in his quarters. Most importantly, the person standing before him wasn't supposed to be standing at all, given the nerve damage he had sustained.
Jim managed to regain his composure enough to exclaim almost in awe 'Admiral Pike! You're standing!'
'Indeed. They were able to heal me, as you can see. McCoy is a great doctor, and he's very stubborn when it comes to his patients'
'Yes, he certainly is', Jim said, absently rubbing his neck and remembering the hypos stabbing again and again.
Pike watched him intently, and Jim felt like the older man was searching for something on his face. Jim must have showed that something, because after a while Pike smiled knowingly and nodded his head.
'You've been sorting things out, haven't you?' he asked.
At first, Jim didn't understand the question. Then Pike's reasoning dawned on him.
'Yes, I have. It's normal for a captain, isn't it?'
'It is.' Pike confirmed. 'But it's different for each of us. I was given the Captaincy under normal circumstances, no field actions, no heroic missions, so it was pretty smooth and clean. Almost as if you learnt as you went. Your promotion, Kirk, was a baptism by fire.'
Jim snorted and seated himself at his desk, gesturing to Pike to do the same.
'It's hard to compare experiences, sir. I don't know about yours.'
'Well, that's true. But I know of yours, I was there.' He paused. 'Sort of. I do know that when you're in the game you don't have the time to think things over. You need time by yourself to fully understand everything that happened. That's why they gave you the biggest room, by the way,' Pike said, waving a hand to indicate the quarters.
Jim smiled weakly.
'I know you've been alone during these days off. Where have you been?', the older man asked, a hint of worry colouring his voice.
Jim's smile faded.
'Away. No particular place.'
No particular place my ass. Must have exiled yourself to wrap your head around all this, kid, Pike thought.
The older man regarded the new captain with a soft expression, trying to decide whether to step over the official line and let the boy know that the conversation was personal.
When Pike ended the fight back in that bar in Riverside, three years before, he did it because he thought that Starfleet really needed Jim's personality and skills. Over the Academy years, Pike had been both exasperated and relieved that Jim was exactly like he had imagined. He could also see a touch of George Kirk in the boy. Jim had grown on Pike, his blatant bravado a giveaway of his real self: to Pike, Jim was like a kid, begging for attention and guidance. Recognizing in the boy the very same traits he himself had as a cadet, he soon sort of adopted Jim and became his mentor. Seeing him now in this painful predicament, Pike was proud and worried at the same time, just like a parent would be.
Pike sighed, abruptly ending the silent pause. Jim was surprised to notice that Pike's face held a tense and worried expression. He sensed the shift in the mood and curiously gave the older man his full attention.
'I don't mean to intrude, Jim. I know you wanted this time alone to get acquainted with your ship. But I wanted to have a word with you before you left.'
Jim was more than a little surprised that Pike felt the need to apologize, so he replied convincingly:
'There's nothing to be sorry about, admiral. I may not show it, but I respect your opinion and I'll always be grateful for your… interference, back in Iowa. So feel free to interfere some more.'
Pike snorted. 'You've got nerve, son, that much I can see.'
'So I've been told, sir,' Jim smugly replied.
They remained silent for a moment, both enjoying the playful banter.
How do you tell a new captain, a kid, for god sake, to watch out? Pike was struggling to find the right words. He decided for the direct approach. He leaned forward, as if in doing so it would better convey his urgency.
'It's going to be hard, Jim. Everything.'
Jim could tell that this conversation was going to be difficult for both of them.
'You'll have the command, you'll have the ship, but believe me, it will get messy. You're going to be strong, stronger that you've ever been.' Pike began.
'I already know that, sir'.
Furrowing brows and shaking his head, Pike quickly dismissed Jim's reply.
'No. No, you don't, trust me on this. Of course, there will be times when you'll barely have to say or do anything at all, even times when you'll be utterly happy and at peace with the universe, I can't deny that.'
A pause, then Pike went on. He sat back in his chair, a faraway look in his eyes, almost as he was talking to himself.
'Sometimes you feel like the weight of the world is on you. You're responsible for the lives of hundreds of people, and you have to consider your every move from every angle… this takes its toll, you know. Of course you have your crew to rely on, to help you up, but in the end you and only you are really responsible. Sometimes that idea gives you nightmares and you feel alone…' he trailed off.
Again, there was silence. Pike's words weighed heavily on Jim, a painful affirmation of his own thoughts.
'Have you ever faltered, sir?' Jim almost whispered, voicing his underlying fear.
'Yes, I have. Many times. But I was the Captain, and I had to make it. Not so much for myself, but for my crew. You'll discover a strong sense of protectiveness for those under you, Jim. It's not the same thing, let's be clear, but the ship is like a family, in which you're the one they turn to whenever there's something that shakes things up. It's a huge responsibility for just one man, and there will be times when it's going to be almost unbearable.'
Yeah, I can see that, thought Kirk.
Jim had his eyes closed, his mind absorbing what Pike was telling him. He was leaning back in his chair, his head slightly bent to the side. Pike had never seen him so lost. This boy had witnessed the destruction of half of the fleet, of thousands of lives, of a planet, for god sake, had saved Earth, and been through so much grief… and yet he was feeling unsure.
'Listen, Jim. I want you to know that having doubts and second thoughts it's normal. There will be times when you'll wonder if you should have dedicated your life to this ship, to Starfleet… when you'll long for a real family near you, that's for sure. There's nothing wrong with you feeling that way. It's human. Hell, you'd be a failure as a captain if you didn't feel that way. Starfleet and your crew won't think any less of you. I know I won't, son.'
Jim regarded the admiral with a look that was part surprise and part skepticism.
'I'm not telling you to be frightened, mind you,' Pike added.
'You're just telling me the shape of things to come,' Jim parried back.
'Exactly, that's what I'm telling you. You've got a brilliant future, Jim. And you'll be a great captain. If you wouldn't be, Starfleet Command wouldn't have put you here. You just keep caring for this ship and her crew, and be the leader I know you can be. Test your boundaries, keep pushing yourself, learn from your mistakes and let your officers to be of help. Make this work, Jim, and you'll have a wonderful life. This may sound like a lecture, but I hope my words can help you along.'
Jim was silent. He felt like he was being taught an important lesson in a fatherly way. He understood now that Pike's concern over his inner turmoil was more personal than the superior-to-subordinate worry. This also explained why he found the admiral in his quarters.
Must have used the security code to sneak in, Jim mused.
This man was the closest thing to a father Jim had ever had. Knowing that Pike felt the same connection was not only flattering, but also soothing. Swallowing the lump that has formed in his throat, Jim trained his eyes on Pike's and said:
'This is probably going to sound strange… but that felt like something I imagine my father would say. And it does feel right, because you're the first person who ever believed that I could be something more than a townie in Riverside. You made me into the man that I am. I'm grateful for your advice, sir. Thank you for believing me worth your effort.'
Jim smiled tentatively and Pike full grin made him feel like a kid being rewarded for good behaviour. The duo stood, knowing that no more needed to be said.
'Well, son, I'll leave you alone with your ship now. I'm sure you can't wait to start this new relationship.' Pike concluded playfully.
In a flash of understanding, Jim just then realized the depth his loneliness could reach, having his life dedicated to Enterprise. Surprisingly, though, he found it didn't matter as much as he thought it would. Pike's words had comforted him.
Jim reached out to shake his mentor's hand.
'Thank you,' he said smiling warmly. 'I'll let you know if I'm stuck in a mess, sir.'
Grinning broadly, Pike engulfed Jim in a fatherly hug, surprising both of them. He hadn't intended to give away his affection for the boy, but when Kirk hugged him back with the very same affection, Pike was relieved he had done just that.
'I'm sure I'd be the first to be notified, in that case, Jim,' he replied jokingly.
They parted, and Pike moved to leave. When the door opened, he turned and, with a gleam of amusement in his eyes he said:
'As long as it isn't another save-the-galaxy stunt, son.'
Jim's mocking salute was the last thing Pike saw before the door closed.
There wasn't any more time left after Jim finished dressing in his brand-new uniform. Straightening his yellow overshirt, he smiled to his reflection in the mirror, his eyes eventually pausing on the three gold shiny stripes decorating his sleeves.
Damn right, admiral, I'll be good at this. I'm ready.
He left his quarters, confidently striding towards the turbolift that would take him to the bridge.
His crew was already there, as the computer had notified him a few moments before.
The trip in the turbolift was shockingly short and when Jim stepped on the bridge, the first thing he heard was Uhura telling him that Starfleet had just given them the go to launch.
Nodding in salute to his people, who appeared to be just as eager as he was to depart spacedock and jump into deep space at maximum warp, he headed to the captain's chair – his chair – slapping his friend's shoulder:
'Bones! Buckle up!'
This earned him an exasperated glance from his Chief Medical Officer.
He sat in his chair and called Engineering, where Scotty assured him that the dilithium chamber was at maximum. Jim chuckled when he heard Scotty shouting 'Get down!' to his alien assistant.
Straightening in his chair, Jim voiced the first of his official orders:
'Mr. Sulu, prepare to activate the thrusters.'
I can get used to it.
The turbo lift opened, Spock appearing on the bridge. Jim smiled.
'Permission to come aboard, Captain.' Spock requested.
'Permission granted.' Jim promptly replied.
Spock approached and Jim stood, looking directly in the Vulcan's eyes.
'As you have no First Officer, I respectfully submit my candidacy. I can provide character references, if you wish.'
'It would be an honour, Commander.'
They nodded to each other, a hint of a smile even on Spock's face. Then Jim settled himself confidently in his captain's chair and each of the crew took their position on the bridge.
'Manoeuvring thrusters, Mr. Sulu.'
'Thrusters in standby.'
'Take us out.'
I can definitely get used to it.
Space, the final frontier…
THE NEW BEGINNING