Title: Perfection's Fragility
Author: Gixxer Pilot
Summary: In the immediate aftermath of the Narada, Captain Pike discovers that it's okay to be human and not Superman. At the same time, he learns it's amazing how honest people are when they think no one's listening.
Author's Notes: Because my Pike!muse is nothing but a shameless attention whore, this story grew into something way larger than originally anticipated. It was supposed to be a 1,000 word ditty based off a prompt from trek_hc on Livejournal for the duality of 'broken bones' but it didn't end up qualifying for the challenge because it's both (surprise, surprise) too long and way too late. I guess my muses wanted to break both McCoy and Pike, so there you are. Please accept my apologies for any typos you may find, because I'm sure I've missed something. What can I say? I'm a crap proofreader of my own work. Feedback is loved, but not required. If you dig it, that's enough for me.
Disclaimer: Sadly, Star Trek is not mine. I own only this plot. *sighs*
For the fiftieth time that morning, Chris Pike wondered if he'd made a mistake.
It was a foreign feeling. Second guessing himself was not part of his nature. Though he was not stupid enough to call himself infallible, he knew he was very, very good at his work. First and foremost, Pike was a captain long before he'd ever been a recruiter. Decisions came easily to him; he rarely, if ever, struggled with the constant barrage of self-doubt he knew inhabited the minds of some of his subordinates. He was the proverbial rock, a trait that harked back to the time when he was still nothing but a young, hotshot lieutenant. Chris had always been the calming voice of reason, the one others looked to in a crisis. He was sharp and he was crisp and he was sure, up until the moment he met Nero.
And then it all went to hell.
It wasn't as if he was naïve to the dangers facing him when he left the relative safety of his ship. To the contrary, Pike flew over to the Narada with the expectation that he'd just stamped his one-way ticket to the pearly gates. The Enterprise was not supposed to be a return option, nor did he want his crew risk the ship by making an attempt. Pike was supposed to do the captain-ly, honorable thing and take care of business himself. He knew a few thousand souls on board his ship, the one he'd fought long and hard to skipper, was worth more than his one, pathetic life signature on an alien vessel. It was shitty, but it was also part of the job.
While he may have exuded the stoic, calm demeanor of a leader in the interim before he headed over to Nero's ship, inside, Chris was anything but. When he initiated the start up sequence for the shuttle, his mind was mess of jumbled thoughts, racing through the thousands of 'what if' scenarios like a battle simulator. But this time, what he was about to do wasn't an exercise, and there was no reset button. It might become an Academy lesson that could be taught to the mass of students, but it wouldn't be one from which Chris would see any personal benefit.
Though his words had been to the contrary, Pike prayed that Spock would do the logical thing. God help him, he hoped the ship would leave him behind in favor of a rendezvous with the remainder of the fleet. Chris' goal was to buy the Enterprise time to get away and report back to the command what they knew. If he managed to take Nero out before he died, it would simply be a bonus. It was a plan born of desperation and last options, but it was the only one he had. He made his peace with his choice and Pike was honestly prepared for whatever waited for him when he stepped off the shuttle.
But he miscalculated, and he did so in epic fashion. Nothing he strategically assumed stayed constant. Any logical plans Chris might have dreamt up disintegrated into a neat little cloud of smoke the moment his boots hit the floor. Not only was he wrong on his adversary's intentions, Pike's estimations completely missed the mark on Nero's level of madness. The Romulan was a wild card, completely untrained, unpredictable, and blinded by his lust for revenge. Whatever conventional methods Pike might have known about tactics and diversion he quickly decided could be tossed right out the nearest airlock. None of it did him any good. And when he finally realized his adversary wasn't after a high value military hostage, his brain stem had already made acquaintances with that damned Centarean slug. It was too little, too late.
He didn't have a ton of recollection of the return trip back to the Enterprise, but there were two constants in nearly all the memories he had: Kirk and McCoy. Pike's awareness was limited, but he did recall intense pain, leaning over Jim's arm, fear, more intense pain, and the floating of beam-out, which culminated in meeting McCoy and Chapel in the transporter room. He vaguely recalled Dr. McCoy calling out to Jim and Kirk returning the greeting. If he had the energy in that moment, Chris may have jumped for joy. Instead, he managed only a grimace as his legs buckled under his own weight. If not for McCoy and Kirk, Pike thought he'd have ended up sprawled gracelessly on the transporter room floor.
After that, the rest was fuzzy, interspersed with short blasts of color or sound. He felt the softness from the mattress of the anti-grav gurney and the crispness of the sheets. He recalled bits and pieces of McCoy's voice, for once soft and comforting. Muted snippets of sound swirled above his head. Some of their conversations were directed at him, others were not. He couldn't keep up with the medical jargon, but he latched on to the soothing tones and reassuring words. Chris remembered the friendly face of Christine Chapel, her warm hands placing a mask over his nose and mouth, and then he felt like he was floating. The last thing he heard was McCoy's voice. The doctor was telling him he was going to be just fine, and the funny thing was that Pike actually believed him.
Upon his drug-induced reflection, Leonard McCoy, Pike thought, was the most unlikely candidate for both Starfleet officer and Jim Kirk's BFF. Wherever Kirk went, McCoy wasn't usually too far behind, bitching and moaning about infant best friends and their reckless behavior. But he was always there, and always willing to stand up for his friend, the consequences be damned. Their bond was strong enough that McCoy was willing to risk his career in Starfleet, his very last option by his own admission, to smuggle Jim aboard the Enterprise. It worked out well, and Pike knew the repercussions, if any, would be light. But the thought of what might happen to McCoy if the end results of his actions had been less than favorable was not a pleasant thought. Silently, Pike was thrilled he wouldn't have to deal with that kind of nuclear level of fallout.
Still, there was another part of him that felt he had no right to judge their insubordination anymore, not after what he'd done. Compared to coughing up Earth's defense codes to a terroristic enemy, sneaking aboard an unauthorized crew member was a drop in the bucket. McCoy's career would be fine, and so would Kirk's. But Pike - he was a command officer, one highly skilled in torture evasion tactics. Never once during his time at the Academy did he so much as crack during SERE training. He knew exactly how to push the physical pain from his mind and focus on survival. But after all his training, all the hours spent learning how to resist, he'd still broken. His weakness still haunted his dreams at night and ravaged his thoughts during the day.
It was, quite simply, the worst day of his life.
Combat units often said that pain was a reminder. Pike always thought the phrase was terribly cheesy and melodramatic to say the least, but as he lay tucked into his pristine white biobed in the nice, relatively safe sickbay of the Federation's flagship, he finally admitted to himself that the saying did hold some validity. Everything about his body hurt, from his toenails to the roots of his hair. His upper body felt like someone was raking him repeatedly over hot coals; his lower body, even with its diminished sensation, felt like a thousand tiny pins were pricking him from the inside out. However, the agony he felt was a reminder that he was alive when so many others weren't. It told him he screwed up, and it led him to believe that he left with business unfinished on the Narada. But most of all, it made him believe that he was culpable for it all.
As the captain of the ship, Pike craved knowledge. But time and time again, he found himself running into a rather obstreperous obstacle. McCoy, the staunch bastard that he was, would not give Pike access to any of the news reports or Federation feeds being sent to the ship. He'd even gone so far as to exercise his newly acquired right as CMO to lock the captain out of his own ship. The resulting argument would probably be water cooler gossip amongst the crew for ages afterwards. Chris was sure the bridge, several decks up and a few sections forward, heard him and McCoy yelling at one another. Leonard claimed it was for his own good, but Pike did not take kindly to being treated like a child. It was an insult to not only his rank, but to his intelligence as well. He'd screamed himself hoarse to the stony-faced CMO until his voice cracked and his throat hurt. Pike's sustained decibel level decreased exponentially as his battered body fought the urge for rest, but the captain soldiered on, finally passing out, exhausted, in the middle of sentence. Not only was it embarrassing, it was downright infuriating.
When he woke up, Pike quickly realized three things: one, he needed to listen to his body more, two: Leonard McCoy was still an asshole, and three, even if the doctor was an outspoken irritating man, he did really care about his patients. But deep down, Chris knew McCoy didn't understand. He wasn't looking for access to the official reports out of some misguided need to play control freak. He couldn't hold the skepticism against the doctor, but he couldn't exactly come out and explain the real reasons to the man, either.
Pike knew there were exactly two stations and a small number of undermanned and outgunned Federation vessels between Vulcan and Earth. He prayed, while Nero held him captive, that Uhura was able to get some sort of message through to command so the stations and ships had at least some sort of fighting chance. Not even the best, most detailed warning would have truly made it a fair fight, but Chris rightfully assumed the stations' occupants would rather go down fighting. Taking two to the proverbial chest instead of being stabbed silently in the back was not only honorable, but the way he knew they'd want it to be.
He sighed. The captain had tried his hardest to weasel any kind of information out of sickbay's staff, but McCoy must have beaten him to it. Every person was mum on the subject when Chris brought it up, gently beating around the topic until they found an excuse to leave. Even Jim, ever enthusiastic, transparent Jim, clamped his mouth closed and quickly changed the topic when Chris broached it. Pike remembered thinking glumly that McCoy must have issued one hell of a gag order to successfully silence the bouncing ball of nervous energy that was James T. Kirk. Knowing McCoy, it probably had something to do with a vague threat to Kirk's nether regions involving something sharp and pointy or highly volatile. It was probably the only one to which the kid would listen.
With a frustrated growl, Pike acknowledged that he at least had the foresight to hand pick an observant senior crew, even if it was biting him the ass on some fronts now. The medical staff thoughtfully stuck him in a secluded corner in the back corner of sickbay, away from the prying eyes and hordes of well-wishers. Only bridge crew and directly related medical staff were allowed back in "his" area, and for that Chris was privately thankful. He wasn't sure he could take any more pitying eyes or too cheerful, starstruck ensigns. Initially, Pike resented the fact so many of his crew felt sorry for him, but he realized in the end that he deserved it. And if he never walked again, he probably deserved that, too.
But still, he was growing restless. Without his work, without his captaincy, what was he? Chris defined himself so much by his rank, title and his job that it was next to impossible to turn off the leader portion of his brain. He'd made way too many sacrifices to count and worked far harder than any of his peers in order to make captain at such a young age. McCoy's expectations that the captain would quietly acquiesce to the doctor's orders while his crew did all the work were downright asinine. Pike was a commander just like McCoy was a doctor. He wanted to be up and around, helping and supervising his people as he should. Instead, he was stuck in a biobed with more tubes and wires sticking out of his body than he thought should be legally allowed. Chris simply felt that in lieu of physical help, he should at least be able to offer some sort of tactical advice or comforting words to his rather green crew.
McCoy, on the other hand, was having none of it.
He tried a few of the games he could play with his clumsy hands on a PADD, but it only succeeded in aggravating his levels of frustration. He tried reading, but he didn't have the attention span for that, either. Finally, he'd come up with one last option. To pass the time, Pike started eavesdropping on his staffs' conversations instead. He managed to perfect the art of appearing as if he was asleep when he was really wide awake, and Chris used his new found skill to his every advantage. The first thing he noted was how great a place the medical ward was to pick up the latest ship's scuttlebutt. The second thing he realized was that, in sickbay, there was just one person's opinion that really mattered.
He knew McCoy was doing his best as the sole surviving M.D., but Pike also knew there was only so much any captain could rightfully ask of his CMO. Brilliant surgeon notwithstanding, the man was still technically a cadet. Though Leonard was far more experienced than quite a few of the other Starfleet doctors, he was still supposed to have years to learn from an old salt how to run a sickbay out in the black with no backup. Instead, he'd been literally indoctrinated by fire, and passed with flying colors. Pike knew it wasn't fair and it wasn't right, but that was life.
It was when a disheveled and obviously exhausted McCoy literally dropped into the chair next to his bed in the wee hours of the morning that Pike had his epiphany: he really did undervalue his medical teams. The stream of patients seemed nearly endless; even though the ship was safely limping her way back home, the medical emergencies never stopped flowing in. Nurses and doctors couldn't just cordon off a dangerous area, shepherd out the troops and tell them to get some rest so they'd be fresh to tackle that big, unnamed task in the morning. There was no way to tell an engineer whose femoral artery had just been nicked to wait until a few hours because the medical staff was too tired, worn out and understaffed to deal with it at that very moment. They solved each crisis individually with little fanfare and then moved quietly on to the next.
Pike watched McCoy from the corner of his eye. Admittedly, the young man was still much of an enigma to him. Kirk was an easy enough read; what he saw was what he got. Couple that with the personality traits he shared with the Jim, and it was simpler to predict reactions. But McCoy was another matter entirely. He knew Leonard was passionate for both his job and for the people he regarded as friends, but anything beyond that Pike didn't know. Hell, he didn't even know if McCoy had friends other than Jim. For a man who, in Pike's mind, was the front runner to officially replace Dr. Puri as the Enterprise's CMO once the ship made it back planetside, that unknown was a bit of a disconcerting notion.
From the moment he recruited McCoy, Chris felt that the younger man only showed what he wanted others to see. Pike had a hunch that there was a lot more to him than just growly, snarky comments and the most impressive eyebrow raise Starfleet had ever seen, but he knew it was unlikely McCoy would let him that close. On the flip side, Pike also knew that stress tended to loosen the tongues of even the most introverted people, and he banked that McCoy was no exception. As the ship's captain, it was Chris' job to look after the welfare of his crew. Just because he was flat on his back did not automatically equate to an inability to observe. Or, that was how he justified the small intrusion to himself. Chris settled in, did his level best to appear as if he was sleeping, and hoped McCoy was tired enough to buy the act.
In the dark of gamma shift in sickbay, McCoy reached up and flipped on the small bedside lamp. He grabbed the PADD from the chart holder mounted near the head of the biobed. He read it over, scrolling through his own notes while sipping from a coffee mug that looked like it was big enough to hold the entire pot. Through the small slit he was able to make of his left eye, Pike noted the sleepless black rings encompassing McCoy's eyes, and the collection of stubble on his haggard face. Leonard set the chart down on his lap and shoved the heels of his hands into his eyes. Hands sinking into his lap, he let out a quiet groan and dropped his chin to his chest.
At first, Chris thought perhaps the younger man had fallen asleep. But after a far too brief moment, McCoy eventually stirred. He shifted in the chair next to Pike's bed in just the right way, his back giving a loud pop of protest. He winced, crossed his legs and picked up the PADD again to read it over.
For a fact, Pike knew nothing had changed since the last time McCoy read his chart. Nothing changed the time before that, or the time before that. It was almost becoming a habit, a way for Chris to tell the time by when McCoy came around. Like clockwork, Leonard would be at Pike's bedside every half hour to check on his progress and to chart any changes. A couple hours previous when rounds were last made, he wondered when the man slept. Looking at him now, it was clear the answer was that he didn't.
Chris paused. Something was not right. Well, there was an endless litany of things that weren't right, but this particular feeling churning in his gut was in regards to McCoy himself. Chris studied Len's face and almost blew his cover when he accidentally furrowed his brows. He caught himself in mid-motion, but it was close enough. A quick glance to McCoy, and Pike relaxed. The doctor was so engrossed into his chart that he probably wouldn't have noticed. Chris studied the exhausted but tense set of Leonard's shoulders and the way the lines on his face pulled even more than normal. Every person on board the ship was stressed near their breaking point, but this was a different expression, one Pike hadn't seen on McCoy yet.
He looked...downright sad. Frustrated and angry were a close second and third, but there was a definitive sadness to Leonard's eyes. It was one Chris had never seen before, and it was chilling, to say the least.
The PADD in McCoy's hands, the one that contained Pike's chart, beeped a couple of times when the doctor signed off on it. He tossed it back in the holder on the biobed and stood. Running a rough hand through his hair, McCoy took one long glance back at Pike's silent form, sighed deeply, and exited the room.
Certainly, that reaction was odd. Alone again, Pike shifted in his bed, trying in vain to keep the pillow from slipping farther down his back. He lifted his head off the second pillow marginally and peeked out around the partially closed curtain surrounding his bed. He was pondering the logistics of a prison break from sickbay when a loud crash literally startled him out of his thoughts. A second later, Dr. McCoy's unmistakable tenor boomed from the other end of facility.
Though Pike only caught half the conversation, there was no mistaking the doctor's harsh, angry tone. A stuttering female voice squeaked out several apologies while McCoy kept yelling. Quick footsteps made their way past his area and Chris heard a stern female inflection enter the fray. Pike listened; it sounded like someone was crying. The third woman was alternately trying to calm the first person while telling the doctor in no uncertain terms to get his ass clear of sickbay. Leonard finished off the litany of sound effects with a loud curse and a growl. Pike saw the flash of green scrubs and dark hair pass by the opening of the curtain. When he heard the hiss of doors opening and closing, he let out the breath he was unconsciously holding.
The stunned silence that had engulfed sickbay began to lift as the medical staff's skeleton crew began to register McCoy's exit. Finally, Pike caught a glimpse of the two women he suspected to be two thirds of the players in sickbay's most recent fireworks. Pike's personal favorite nurse, Christine Chapel, was leading a young engineering ensign to a chair opposite Pike's privacy curtain. Chris nearly did a double take. The girl was barely old enough to be out of high school, and Pike idly wondered if Starfleet now did their recruiting at a daycare. Shaking his thoughts, Pike watched as Christine offered her charge a tissue and knelt down on the floor next to the chair.
He couldn't fully hear what was being exchanged, but he didn't really need to, either. Pike knew McCoy's nurse was the caring hand the doctor himself never quite mastered. Chris craned his neck up and to the right as much as he dared and tried to listen in on the conversation taking place. The ensign, a crying and sniffling mess of dark hair and pale skin, sat on a stool opposite the Enterprise's head nurse. Christine waited with as much patience as a woman who was probably running on just as little rest as the doctor she supported could manage while the young girl calmed herself enough to speak. Wordlessly, she passed over another tissue in time for Pike to hear the girl hiccup out her name and then immediately drop into a record setting blabber on the unfairness of the universe.
Chris, this time, actually did roll his eyes in exasperation, and though he couldn't see Chapel's face, he was sure she just executed the same maneuver. He concentrated on slowing his breathing enough so he could pick up their conversation. Pike's eyebrows descended in the way they did when he was concentrating or thinking, forming small ridges in between his eyes. He heard Christine softly but firmly stop the girl's useless filibuster and lay out nothing but the facts. With a derisive snort, Chris realized that he was finally getting his wish. Someone was coughing up information on the ship's status. Well, hallelujah.
Christine calmly explained to Ensign Gabriella Hartsford that McCoy was the only doctor left on board the ship, and not only was he caring for the injured Starfleet personnel, he was in charge of the well being of the literal handful of remaining Vulcans who survived the planet's implosion. Chapel challenged Gabriella to look around at the damage sprinkled liberally though sickbay, and then reminded the young girl that McCoy was missing staff, supplies and a place to put it all when he was done. Pike caught a sarcastic, "No pressure," from Chapel as she made that fact clear. A light laugh escaped the Enterprise captain. She clearly had been spending too much time around her boss if she was able to perfectly mimic his inflection and tone.
But the stark reality came rushing back when Christine told Gabriella that McCoy's attitude was pricklier than normal because of some recent bad luck in sickbay. The nurse didn't go into specifics, but Pike was able to piece two and two together. He overheard two of the orderlies talking earlier about the loss of Lieutenant Andrea Fehn, who was, by all accounts, out of the woods. She survived the explosion, the hairy transport to sickbay and a fly-by-wire surgery, only to succumb to anaphylaxis from a post op antibiotic, of all things. Coupled with the loss of as much as half of their supplies that were blown to smithereens the same time the ship lost Dr. Puri, there was nothing McCoy could do but sit back and watch. Pike knew asking the doctor to do nothing during the middle of a medical emergency was akin to him sitting on his ass during a crisis, uselessly twiddling his thumbs.
Thankfully, Hartsford seemed satisfied with Christine's firm but brief explanation of Surviving McCoy's Moods 101. Pike's hearing, strangely the only thing that hadn't been affected after his capture by Nero, picked up that Gabriella understood McCoy was human and could only do so much, and that she was willing to give him a break on the grounds of extreme stress. Satisfied, she and Christine stood and stiffly embraced. Hartsford headed back to the heat conduit she was working on before McCoy's rampage interrupted her while Chapel set her game face and strode straight out sickbay. She clearly had other things on her mind, and Pike didn't need his advanced tactics degree to correctly deduce that she'd be making a beeline straight for the doctor's hidey hole.
Wherever it was that McCoy went to sulk was not about to stay quiet for long, and he almost wished he could get up out of bed to follow her. Selling tickets to that fight might not be a bad way to provide some much needed entertainment to the crew. Chapel just leap-frogged Kirk on Pike's list of awesome people who could tear McCoy a new one without breaking a sweat. In the back of his mind, he was hoping maybe it'd cheer him up, too.
Chris closed his eyes when he replayed Chapel's words through the running loop in his mind. The numbers were no doubt continuing to mount as the rescue ships plucked the survivors from the remains of the six other Federation ships Nero destroyed. With each day that passed, the bits and pieces of news he was able to glean from passing conversations grew grimmer. The updated KIA and MIA counts continued to tick higher, and Pike knew the upward trend would continue for months. Logically, he knew the six destroyed ships, the ones who never had a chance when they'd dropped out of warp at Vulcan, were not on his hands. But getting his heart to agree with his brain was proving to be an insurmountable task.
How many ships? How many thousands of lives?
Chris wondered how many of them were his fault.
Maybe sleep was a better idea.
Next Up: Pike overhears a confession not meant for his ears, and Christine Chapel lays down the law, both figuratively and literally.