All good things must come to an end. Or perhaps it is better to say that all good things have a conclusion so that more good things may begin.
Pike steels himself with this knowledge in the last week before Little Star closes for the Christmas holiday. Before he loses those precious people he has come to love so dearly. It's this time of year—when the holidays congregate together in an almost rapid succession—that Pike both loves and hates.
He loves the excitement of the kids, their joyful spirits and unadulterated cheer. He hates that it means they come closer and closer to that final moment when they must part ways. By now, Rand is used to catching him surreptiously moping over a new drawing as he posts it on the board, or at the end of the day, if his eyes linger too long on the closed double doors of Little Star Academy. The moments come and go, poignant strikes of sadness, quiet unexpected tinges of no-more.
Jonathan calls them Christopher's Stages of Grief.
Apparently it is not a new thing. But even Archer is surprised that Pike seems to experience more grief than usual.
"They'll really special to you, this year. I am sorry, Chris. You can't keep 'em forever."
"Just think of all fantastic things you've taught them! Er, how about all the years to come, and the teachers they'll scar? Don't those things at least deserve a smile or a laugh?"
"Christopher Pike. Stop this dreary mourning. You're instigating a crying fest between Pavel and Christine."
"Buddy, I'm going to get you drunk. How about some alcohol?"
"Okay, screw drinking. I'll puke on you the next time you want a shoulder to cry on. Warn a man! Jesus."
"Look! Lookie there, Pike, Jimmy's waving at you. Go on now and see what he wants."
Archer does do a lot for his friend and business partner. Pike has to admit that he might owe the man for all the hand-holding and back-slapping (though that's a bit more painful and a lot more revengeful on Jon's part). And so he is able to cope his way through Thanksgiving, when everybody wants to be an Indian, except Spock who thinks that Pilgrims are logical.
How Jonathan ended up tied to a chair (with more tape—Pike really should have hid that dispenser—and globs of glue, which only served to ruin Jon's right shoe and make the man itch) is a mystery. Apparently he was given the part of the trussed-up turkey for the Indians' dinner. Rand called Pike, circumstances being unfortunate enough that she simply could not find the scissors until Pike had arrived to take a long look and a snapshot of Archer's red face.
Archer was cursing beneath his rag (Jimmy's shirt) as Pike hooted with laughter and contemplated joining the whirling circle of chanting (shrieking), dancing Indians. Spock, as the only Pilgrim, was sitting patiently off to the side, a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, awaiting his evening meal. Rather funny, considering that Vulcans do not consume meat.
Archer being the worst, toughest kind of poultry in the galaxy.
Those are good days, and the Thanksgiving break is short enough. Children come back to Pike with fat bellies and good humor. Parents seem grateful that Pike will gladly watch their children; it is a stark reminder, being unable to drop them off in Pike's care for five long days. Pike is declared an absolute Godsend to volunteer to handle rambunctious, genius toddlers all week long, most weeks of the year. (Or an Archangel. He's been called a very long list of deities in the past.)
Then November is gone, as quickly as all the other months seem to have disappeared. There is but one left: the month of joy; the month of celebration, gift-giving, and family-gathering.
Little Star closes three days before Christmas and stays that way until after the New Year. That's it, then, where the end and the beginning meet.
The first child to go is Pavel Chekov. Pavel and his parents are traveling to their home country for the holidays and Pike has to say goodbye one week before he had planned. They have a small party; one, because Pavel is despondent enough that he sits under a round table and refuses to come out until Pike persuades him to have some cake and, two, because Pike feels that every child should at least feel that he or she will be missed. So what if they party every day until the doors close?
It is a small concession; it is a cheerful face on an otherwise painful goodbye.
Pavel understands well enough that he won't be returning to Little Star. The others do not understand, not yet; but they all participate with happiness and no small amount of laughter. Soon enough the cherub-faced child is cutting out and decorating his own paper Christmas tree alongside of his friends. Pike then assigns a rotation so that each child is able to sign their friends' trees or handprint their signature while Rand labels their name beneath it.
When the end of the day arrives, Pavel grabs onto a random small body until someone comes along to pry him off; he does this several times. Most of his peers squeal or look confused; a few, like Spock who raises his hand in the Vulcan traditional gesture "Live long and prosper" or Jimmy who pats the sniveling Pavel on the head, say their goodbyes in return.
When Pavel's father comes to pick him up, having to gently detach the boy from Mr. Pike (and possibly detach Mr. Pike from Pavel too), Chris hands the boy his bright green Christmas tree, fully decorated, and tells him that it is a symbol of all the friends that he made at Little Star; that it shall be a reminder, years past, of the kinship he shared with others. Pavel nods, face turned into his father's jacket. Pike shakes Mr. Chekov's hand and touches Pavel's curly blond head one last time.
The next day, several little ones ask where Pavel is, and Pike just smiles with sadness. "With his family, Hikaru. But he won't forget you. I promise."
That is the first child; most certainly, however, Pavel is not the last.
Pike's heart breaks a little each time he has to give in to a goodbye and a weeping child or, worse, a child that doesn't realize he or she won't be coming back. Gaila just smiles and waves bye-bye; Pike feels a pang as her glowing face framed by cute curls disappears down the hallway.
And Pike never has the heart to tread on someone's excitement for the coming Christmas holiday. Pike feels the weight of the impending sadness, but keeps it to himself. It is enough that he knows, whether they do or not; he'll think of the children long after they forget who Mr. Pike was, or replace the memory of him with another beloved teacher.
Jonathan, surprisingly, saves the day once again. Pike is in the middle of explaining to Lenny that his version of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" (and Died and Became a Ghost that Ate Children) is not proper at all for singing aloud. ("Yes, Lenny, it's… different." "No, Lenny, Ghost Grandma was not hunted down by the Abominable Snowman and released into the afterlife.") A knock sounds on the classroom door.
Jimmy, of course, is the one who answers it. Pike doesn't bother to stop him.
A big red Santa Claus bursts into the room with "Ho Ho Ho!"
Everyone screams "Santa Claus!" and Archer—for it could be none other—is instantly buried under a pile of sticky and excited children.
"Ho Ho Whoa there! Watch your hands, you little monkey. Santa's fragile!"
Rand aids the man by plucking off the topmost children and pushing them towards Spock who observes this fascinating pile of Humans with interest.
When Jon is successfully freed, cap askew, he pants "He—I mean, Ho. Ho, you got me good, kids." Archer stumbles first into Pike's desk, banging his elbow, and then finds a chair to sit in when Pike steers him in the right direction. "So who wants to tell Santa what they want for Christmas?"
A chorus of ME!'s deafens the adults. Pike tells everyone to form a line. There is general chaotic shoving, a few threats, and the children manage to make more of a swarm than a line. Rand and Pike gently re-orient each child into coherent order.
Jimmy is first. (Captains, obviously, can use their authority when the need is dire.) As Kirk scrambles into Santa's lap, Lenny calls out from the back of the line, "Santa's at the mall!"
Jimmy ignores him and then beams up at Santa Claus. "I need a spaceship," he says and bounces on Santa's knee.
Pike coughs very loudly.
"Sure. What color?"
"How about red?"
The Captain vetoes that idea quickly.
"Is that it, Mr. Kirk?"
"Excuse me," Jon clears his voice and says in a deep Claus-like rumble, "Captain Kirk."
"'Kay." The boy jumps down and runs to the back of the line.
Hikaru says, which accounts for Pike's sudden need to wipe his eyes, "I want Pavel."
Even Santa seems unable to answer that one.
Nyota demands a car. Santa offers a bike. She punches him.
Spock is quickly shushed when he calls Santa "...an illogical imaginary character of whose identity Mr. Archer assumes—rather poorly." He's told that bad Vulcans get coal for Christmas, and before Pike can tell Jon who will really be getting that coal, Spock asks for coal mined from the Praxis asteroid belt.
Pike thinks that mineral rock is mined there, but who is he to correct a Vulcan—baby or not?
Little Miss Chapel takes five minutes to describe her Christmas List that will Bankrupt Any Parent, then sweetly kisses Santa's cheek before being deposited into Rand's arms.
Santa is unusually gruff, mumbling about too many consumed cookies as he hoists Scotty into his bright red lap. Then he cocks an ear as he listens closely to the whispered request. The boy is released with a short nod.
Lenny, who is last in line, despite that the children have re-lined up for a second round, which Santa will refuse to take, stalks up to Mr. Claus and kicks his shin. When Santa yelps and bends down to grab his injured limb, the boy takes ahold of that long white beard and drags the man face-to-face.
"You ain't Santa Claus!"
"Let go of my beard! Bad McCoy!"
Lenny reels him in closer until they are almost touching noses. "How'd you know my name?"
"'Cause I am Santa, you little squirt—"
Pike anchors Lenny's wrist with one hand and attempts to pry loose the giant beard that Jon has apparently pasted to his face (and will moan over later, when he has to peel it off). "Leonard, let go of Santa Claus."
"Don't hurt Santa-y Claus! I want my toys!" wails the upset Christine.
Suddenly there is Spock, at McCoy's shoulder, saying to his friend, "I am capable of disabling the nervous system for approximately one point seventeen minutes. If you desire—"
"No, Spock! DO NOT nerve-pinch Leonard."
The Vulcan says indignantly, "I would not harm Leonard."
Thus McCoy lets go of Jon and turns to Spock. "You can kill Santa?"
"I can disable him," the Vulcan corrects austerely.
Lenny says "Yeah! Do that!" at the same time Archer shouts "No, don't do that!"
Spock looks between the two. Pike interrupts with "Spock, resume your station!" There is a brief stare-down between Chris and Spock before the Vulcan concedes, "As you command, Admiral."
McCoy follows closely behind Spock, having forgotten his need to expose the false Claus in lieu of a more intriguing and urgent need. "Spock," Pike hears, "can ya show me—"
Thus Jon arrives, saves the day and almost ends up in a disaster himself. Typical. Archer concludes the ordeal by shakily climbing to his feet and telling Pike, "Well, I've still got my skin. Halleluiah."
Pike does not smack him—not then, in front of the children.
Santa booms to the kids, "Who wants to sing a Christmas song?"
So begins round two. Though, by the end of the day, Pike is caroling along with the group and has not thought, for just a short wonderful minute or two, of what he shall be missing. No, he lives in that moment—fiercely, completely, and with an unbridled joy singing in his heart.
It becomes another fond memory.
Pike is shaking parents' hands, kissing small cheeks and ruffling heads of hair. He wants to make rash promises that he cannot keep; he wants to tell the kids that sure, they'll see him again. He does neither.
Instead, Christopher Pike hands out school year photos, makes sure that there are no leftover drawings which will be missed, passes out Christmas candy and gingerbread men that the children decorated. The "bloody" legless gingerbread man skillfully created by Leonard H. McCoy is still secreted away in the back of the Little Star refrigerator. Too gruesome for sight but too precious to throw away. Eventually, Pike will wrap it up and place it in the freezer.
He answers questions as best he can.
"Can I stway?"
"No, son. Your mama wants to take you home." So does Janice. The young woman has been crying over Jimmy for the last week.
"Where's Bwones going?"
"To his home too."
"I want Bwones!" The boy's lower lip trembles with emotion. Pike sighs and picks him up (always willing to take one last minute to hold the child close). Then he walks over to Lenny and Lenny's mother. The older boy is sulking with arms crossed.
"Bwones!" cries Jimmy.
"Leonard, what do you say?" prompts Mrs. McCoy.
"Not Bones," sniffs the child.
Jimmy makes a grabbing motion with his hands. "Leonard," Pike says carefully, "I think Jimmy is upset because he won't see you for a while." Such lies, Pike. He mentally berates himself, unable to say the honest truth. Mrs. McCoy's small smile is full of understanding.
"I don't care," mumbles Lenny.
"Well I don't!"
Pike bends down and sets Kirk in front of McCoy. Lenny looks everywhere but at Jimmy.
"Bwones?" It's almost heartbreaking, the way the blond-haired child calmly but surely tries to hug McCoy. Pike sees how stiff Leonard is, head bowed. When Jimmy lets go, Lenny's lower lip wobbles suspiciously.
Then "Ma!" McCoy's unexpected plea strikes them all. "Can't Jimmy come over for Christmas?"
The look in the woman's eyes warms Pike's heart. "Not for Christmas, sweet pea." At Lenny's devastated look, she adds, "But maybe after." She looks to Pike. "Ms. Kirk and I have already traded numbers."
Pike nods, his throat too tight to speak. One pair—one pair, at least, that might remain in touch. God, how he hopes. The alternative seems unbearable.
Mrs. McCoy takes her son's hand and leads him to the door. Lenny does not say goodbye, then; neither does Jimmy. When the McCoys are gone, Kirk wants to be picked up again. Pike hoists him onto a hip.
"I think we've fed you too many holiday cupcakes, young man."
The boy shakes his head. "Puddin'?"
"No, no pudding. I bet your mother has some at home, though."
As if on cue, Winona approaches the duo. "Can you believe it? I was just told by a miniature Vulcan that Jimmy 'exhibits an acceptable array of social skills to further interaction of a companionable nature.' He requested that I provide his mother with contact information and requires a twenty-four hour notice for a playdate!"
Pike raises both eyebrows. "I assume that you complied."
"I didn't dare not to!"
"Spock?" Jimmy asks around a thumb, looking between the two adults.
"We'll see, darling," Winona replies, stroking her son's hair. She takes him from Pike. Then, as Jimmy winds his little fists into her shirt, she smiles at Pike. "Well, I suppose that this is it, Mr. Pike."
"Chris." Her smile has not wavered. "You know that I'm grateful. You've done so much for Jimmy. I can tell a difference."
He is not quite blushing when he replies, "Jimmy has taught me too, Ms. Kirk."
They trade a laugh. Finally, inevitably, Pike takes that one step back. Winona half-turns, readjusts the weight of her son and her purse. Then she stops, her body language screaming hesitation.
"Yes?" His heart goes thud-thud.
"I, uh, Jimmy and I—we'll be heading to Iowa for the holidays." She turns to face him again. "But when we get back… a Saturday night?"
She does blush. "For that dinner. I mean, if you—"
"No! No, of course, I mean, yes!" Pike takes a deep breath. "Yes, Saturday night—any night—would be wonderful."
Her look is a mix of relief and embarrassment. Pike suspects that his expression is identical.
"Okay. Goodbye, Chris."
"Goodbye, Winona. Jimmy... Bye, son."
The boy tosses a hand over his mother's shoulder, waving it wildly. "Buh-bye, Mr. Pwike! Buh-bye!" Winona whispers something in the child's ear. Jimmy's eyes are gleaming, even from a distance, as he shouts at the top of his lungs "Bye, Mr. Pwike! See you waiii-ter!"
He returns to the rest of the lingering party, a small but growing hope inside him. It reaches blossoming potential when the last parent and child—oddly enough, the Vulcan and his mother—are prepared to depart from the sanctuary of Little Star Academy (to leave Pike's nest and fly). The child faces him with dark, assured eyes. Spock states, matter-of-factly, to his teacher, "We shall meet again, Admiral." Then with a nod to his mother, the wise baby Vulcan allows himself to be led home.
Pike helps a sad-faced Rand clean up the last mess of the year, and then lays a hand upon her shoulder before she leaves too.
"Does it get easier?" she wants to know.
"Not really," he answers honestly. "But we'll start over anyway. That helps."
She smiles somewhat tremulously and hugs him. "Merry Christmas, Christopher."
"Merry Christmas, Jan."
Then he is the last left. Pike takes his time, casually rearranging this chair and that, flipping off the lights one by one. When he has no other reason to stay, sets the alarm system and locks the doors, the evening sun is a beautiful backdrop. He steps into it with a sigh.
Beep. Beep beep.
"What's wrong with your voice?"
"Nothing" comes out muffled, followed by a string of curses. "Chris, come over to my place."
"Jonathan, I don't think I'm in the mood—"
"I got Scotty's Christmas present."
Pike stops trying to unlock his car. "What?"
"The fat one's present. And it—" A yelp and high-pitched yowling. "—just bit the Hell out of my finger."
"Archer, what did you do?"
"If you show up with the promise that you'll help me find a way to sneak this under the Scott's Christmas tree, I might tell you."
Pike doesn't pause to think. "On my way."
"Good. See you soon." The line crackles with "Damn you, you stupid mutt, you definitely aren't as good as my Porthos—can't believe I paid that much—beagle puppies are damn expensive these days!…"
Pike is laughing now, as he pulls out of the parking lot.
Hope is in full bloom.
Thank you to everyone. All the encouragement, ideas, and shared laughs have given this Playtime life. I am thrilled that so many people enjoyed it! And no, for those of you who wondered, I do not have children. Only an imagination and a wicked sense of humor. :)
As always... Until we meet again, dear readers, over Story.