"So," Jim said, tipping back the last of his Bud Classic as he stared across the dimly lit table at the Admiral. "Who am I, Admiral Pike?"
Pike shook his head at him, then gestured to the bartender for another. The Shipyard Bar wasn't quite as empty as it had been the last time they'd talked there, but neither of them minded the surveillance-foiling noise or the familiar warmth of red cadet uniforms clustered in the background.
"You're Captain James T. Kirk," Pike said, curling the corner of his mouth in familiar, fond exasperation. "Just with a slightly more expanded resume than I'd known about before. I still find it hard to believe that I never heard any inkling of all that before Intelligence flagged your name for the mission."
Jim shrugged. "You know how they are, especially the special operations divisions; I know you worked with them once or twice yourself. Need to know basis."
"And your whole command crew needed to know?" Pike asked wryly.
"Only a couple of them know any more than the absolute basics," Jim replied. "The others-- well, we'll see how often Mallory calls on us in future."
"You're certain he will, then?" Pike furrowed his brows at that. "Yours is the only DGS mission I've seen cross the Ops desk since I was promoted. I thought the only reason they reached for Starfleet officers on this one was because of the location, and because Mallory knew you were the best person to pull it off."
"Trusted me, you mean," Jim murmured, grimly. "And yet-- they still knew we were coming. They evacuated days before we got there, after you passed on Mallory's message. And half of the supplementary information Captain One passed on from mainstream Intelligence was inaccurate."
Pike looked appropriately disquieted by that, but didn't speak the words aloud. "I see," he said.
"So, yeah, I'm certain." Jim sighed, then nodded to the bartender and accepted the fresh beer from him.
"You do seem to find your way into trouble wherever you go," Pike said, shaking his head. "I don't know why I expected that to change now that you have your own ship."
"Just living up to the family name," Jim acknowledged, able to smile about it now the way he hadn't the first time he and Pike had met. "My grandma Kirk always used to say, 'Man is born unto trouble, as sparks fly upward.' And especially Kirks."
Pike snorted. "Appropriate," he said, then raised his still-half-full glass. "To Kirks, then."
"To Enterprise," Jim smirked and clinked his bottle against it.
"To the next five years of boldly going where I damn well should have got to go, myself," Pike added, smiling ruefully.
Jim froze as that, then grinned widely, feeling as though his face were about to split. 'Fleet's long-term exploration program had been in a holding pattern since Vulcan's destruction; he hadn't dared hope for it to resume this soon, or to involve the new flagship. "A five year mission? Are you serious?"
"Bar the occasional, shall we say, diplomatic detour," the admiral confirmed, lines crinkling around his blue eyes, "you're guaranteed the next five years out there, exploring strange new worlds and defending the ones we've got from all comers."
"Yes." Jim glanced around to make sure no one was watching, then did a fist-pump of victory. "Can I tell the others, or do I need to wait for the official orders?"
"Do you expect me to believe you wouldn't at least tell McCoy, even if told you to wait?" Pike chuckled. "No, it's all right; they won't officially announce it until your leave is up, but you'll need most of that time to finalize preparations."
"Right, right." Jim nodded, then grinned again. "Thank you, sir."
"Just try not to antagonize the other Captains too much, all right?" Pike teased him. "I got quite the earful from Number One after you left Algeron IV."
"Aw, I knew she liked me...."