Tough Love by Djinn

Pike sat in his lonely Starfleet Medical VIP room, in the wheelchair his attendant said he didn't need anymore, with no company but a full bottle of Kentucky Bourbon, thanks to McCoy and Kirk. He poured out a finger, then another, and held the glass up to the window, an impromptu toast to what he wasn't sure.

"Bit dramatic, don't you think?" Number One said from behind him.

He would have whirled, but the damn chair maneuvered like a freighter, so he didn't even try to turn it, just sat staring forward, then downed the glass before he said, "You came."

"Of course I came." Her voice was the same, honeyed, calm. And pissed as hell at him. "Why wouldn't I come?"

He couldn't answer because she was still talking. "Oh, yes, that would be because you didn't tell me what happened to you. I had to find it out via the grapevine."

"You always had the best tendrils to the grapevine."

"Shut up, Chris."

"That's Admiral Chris to you now, Commander." He held up his sleeve for her to see the stripes. "Brand spanking new."

"Are they handing those out now for nearly getting yourself killed?"

He poured out another finger of bourbon. "You want some of this? You'll have to get a glass from the bathroom."

"Answer my question." She walked to where he could see her. She'd taken some extra pains with her appearance--not that she needed that to look stunning--and he knew he was in for a first-class chewing out. She always dressed for ass kicking.

"Yes, they are, apparently, giving them out for that. Also for giving away the defense codes. Here's to me. Brave, brave Captain Pike." He threw back the bourbon.

She grabbed the glass from him, poured out two fingers, slammed the stuff, then placed the glass midway between them. "I should catch up."

"We should catch up."

"I didn't come here to catch up."

"Why did you come?" But he knew. He saw her staring at the chair, then over at the crutches, still rosy and new. He saw by her expression that she knew he was afraid of those damned crutches.

"I came, Admiral, because I'm in the unfortunate position of being in love with an idiot." She walked over and grabbed the crutches. "Let's take a walk."

"I'm drunk."

"You can drink anyone under a table anywhere, Chris. Don't give me that crap. Up and at 'em." She handed him the crutches.

"Gwen, no. I'm good here."

"You're not good here. You're not good here at all. Get the hell up or I'll drag you up." She had her hands on her hips, her "I mean business" stance. Her voice had risen, her face was red, and he saw her clench her fists.

"Damn you."

"Damn you. For being stupid enough to blame yourself for not being superhuman. You had a...thing inside your brain. You probably fought as long and hard as anyone has ever fought. And then you couldn't fight anymore because that's what those things do. They wear you down, and they penetrate your defenses, and they make you tell truths you'd rather not." She crouched down. "Chris, you didn't sell out. But now, you're giving up and I hate that. So get the fuck up."

"Who asked you for forgiveness?" He knocked her down with the crutches, saw her gasp and then come up with rage in her eyes. "Did I ask you for expiation, Gwen? I'm fine here. I didn't call you because I don't need you." He reached for the bourbon.

She kicked the table away, the bottle of fine, fine hooch going flying, crashing on the floor, glass shattering, the smell of whiskey filling the room. "Get. Up."

He glared at her and she glared back. "You weren't there. You don't know."

"I don't care. What I care about is that the man I love is letting himself sink into a wheelchair when he can still walk." She reached down, hit the lock on the wheels of the chair. "Now, Chris. It's time to walk now. Just a little."

He took a deep breath, wasn't surprised to find it shaky, rattling around in a chest that he could imagine sinking in on itself. Where his heart once was. Where his courage once was.

Where his honor once was. "I gave the codes away, Gwen."

"I would have done the same thing."

"No. You wouldn't have."

"Do you want me to go get one of those things so we can test it out?"

He imagined her suffering the penetration of that bug in her brain, reached out as if he could stop it. The crutch fell away from him, but she caught it and handed it back.

"Come on. Get up." There was a hint of pain, of disappointment. And he knew it was in herself. She'd probably thought she'd have had him on his feet by now.

Never underestimate the stubbornness of a Pike.

"Baby, please." It was her bedroom voice. Her shore leave voice. Her voice of sadness and openness and finally letting him in and touching him and--

He stood up, had to move the crutches quickly as he swayed and his legs shook. He took a step, then another. She was walking backwards, away from the chair and the booze and the broken, cutting glass. Toward the bed. He limped his way to her, walking like an old man, the crutches pinching his armpits.

She hit the bed, slid onto it, then to the far side. "Not much farther."

He made it to the bed in four more steps, carefully set the crutches where he could get them again. "That wasn't much of a stroll."

"It was the first step that mattered." She pulled him gently down to her, wrapped him in her arms, and then cried.

In all the time he'd known her, she'd never cried in front of him. He'd seen evidence of tears but never the real thing. "It's okay."

She nodded, quickly--as if telling him she was okay, that it would be over soon. And it was. They lay curled together as she dried her eyes and kissed him, and he felt like he was finally safe. The nightmare was over.

"Why didn't you call me?" She ran her hands over his arms, down his back. "Why?"

"I was ashamed." He pulled at the braid. "These...these shouldn't be mine. Not for this."

"Shhh."

"You're not disagreeing."

She met his eyes. "You will earn them. I know you. And you know yourself. But you're right. You don't deserve them. Not yet." She put a finger on his lips as he started to speak. "But you also don't deserve castigation. Or demotion. I wouldn't have promoted you yet." She punctuated the cold truth with a kiss that was sweeter than her norm. "But you didn't dishonor yourself or your uniform."

"Are you sure?"

"Do you think I'd be here if I thought you were a traitor. Or a coward. Or weak?"

No. No, he didn't think that. Couldn't. He knew her too well. She judged harshly, saw straight to the heart of things.

Straight to the heart of him.

"You broke, Chris. Now, let's move on. Let's pick up the pieces and move on."

He nodded and pulled her to him, kissing her as he did in the sweet dreams that occasionally interrupted the nightmares. "I love you."

"I love you, too. Later we'll walk to the end of the hall."

"I can think of better ways to exercise." Even if he wasn't sure his body would cooperate just yet. Although one part of him certainly seconded the plan.

Her smile was so sweet it made his breath catch. "Well, as long as you're getting some sort of physical activity, I guess that will be all right."

She crawled on top of him, careful at first, until he finally said, "I'm okay. I'm not in any pain." She eased off his pajamas, slid down her uniform pants. And then they were together again, and he closed his eyes and sighed.

It was quick. It was gentle. Neither of them seemed to want to wait; they both seemed to need to find completion, connection. Communion.

"I'm sorry I didn't call," he murmured into her hair.

"Promise me you'll never do that to me again."

"I promise." He breathed in the scent of her. She smelled of spring. Of better times, when he'd thought he was invincible. He swallowed, fought back the bitterness--he wouldn't let it win. "But now we have nothing to seal that deal. You broke my nice present from the boys."

She laughed. "I'll replace it with something better."

He touched her hair, kissed her softly. "You already have."

FIN