Rating: PG-13 ish. Barely
Fandom: STD HSAU
Props to emmypenny for the wonderful beta!
And captlebubbles has a sort of unintentional companion piece here which peeks at Number One's side of things.
There's eight of them in the shuttle. It's his second mission and it's the first for several of the others. Everyone is under 25 and it all feels not that different from being a cadet again. Like they're all just waiting for a flight exercise. The gold tunic suddenly seems a lot less formal than ever before. He's a little antsy as he looks around but doesn't let it show. Much. Chris recognizes a few of the faces and knows the names of two of them.
In the seat closest to him is a girl-woman, he corrects himself, they're adults now-that he's seen a few times back at the academy. He doesn't know her name but he remembers her dark hair and bright blue eyes from a temporal mechanics class at the end of his third year. She sits stiffly and is intently reading something on a padd. Her bags are already packed neatly away. He checks her wrists, ensign, and is pretty sure she just graduated. He remembers her intellect from class, sharp, determined, and there is no way she's been out longer than that without ranking up. He buckles the straps across his chest and opens his mouth to say hello but something stops him and he closes his mouth instead. He shouldn't bother her. She always seemed formal in his (limited) experience, she's probably not one for small talk. It's too early in the morning anyway
He's about to pull up a novel on his padd when the last person boards.
"Pike!" He looks up to see Finn, an ops officer who was a year ahead of him. "Didn't know you'd be here," Finn grins over his shoulder as he stows his bag and takes the seat across from Pike.
"Yeah, Got back 3 weeks ago."
"Earned your stripe I see. Not bad hotshot," they both laugh a little at the name. Pike's heard it before many times, knows there are people expecting a lot from him. Finn thinks the title is hilarious, Pike agrees a little. "So are you alpha?" Finn asks still grinning. Finn's always in a good mood.
"Beta, April's had the same comm officer for awhile. I'm very happy," Finn leaned back in his seat and just smiled like he didn't have a care in the world.
"Good, good, how's Heather?" Chris asked, grasping a little for the name of Finn's girlfriend.
"Eh, we're done, wasn't going anywhere," he waves a hand dismissively, "You ever get things off the ground with Kelly?"
"Not so much. Flying solo, it's what I do best," more like he's hopeless at juggling a dating life he thinks. But no need to say that out loud. Not when tall, dark, and beautiful is three feet away from him at least.
"Ever the bachelor. Hey, did you hear George finally proposed?"
Pike perked up at that particular news. They all had known it was coming but how had he missed it? "Did he? Bastard didn't say a word and I commed him last week." 'I'm always the last to know' he thought but didn't add.
Finn let out a sharp laugh and they discussed George and Winona, which quickly devolved into story trading. Finn had been out around Vulcan, Pike's been in the neutral zone. They haven't seen each other in person for 2 years and there's a lot to say.
Before he realizes it they are docked and the dark haired girl is the first one off. He doesn't pull together a greeting before she's too far ahead to bother.
An hour later she is properly introduced as Ensign Troi, a fellow pilot. "Or you can call me Number One," she adds.
"Chris," he replies and they shake hands and nod courteously. With that she's officially, if subconsciously, filed away as 'coworker: off limits' in the back of Pike's mind.
"Aren't you coming?" She stops and turns to him as the rest of the officers exit the briefing room.
"I have a few things to finish up first. Go enjoy your leave," he says as he stands, tucking his padd away.
"You're supposed to be taking a break too. You're scheduled and everything. I can cite regulation," she warns.
"I know it fine," he waves it off and they walk to the door, "Just another hour, really. I've got to take care of my ship."
She purses her lips a moment before speaking, "Well, don't take any more. Most of us will be at the hotel bar tonight, so don't make us wait. I still owe you a drink after Capra III," she gives him a bit of a smirking smile. They both remember Capra III all too well and the most aggravating yet enjoyable timeloop that they were stuck in for two weeks.
"I'll try to hurry, wouldn't want to let a free drink go to waste," he grins as he ushers her out and they split to go in their opposite directions. Pike takes his time walking back to his quarters. It is leave time after all, they won't mind if he's little late.
One hour quickly turns into three and by the time he makes it to the bar Number One has disappeared with Jose.
Boyce orders him a double before he even sits down on the stool. He doesn't understand the full reasoning behind the gesture until years later.
He's 35 and runs into her for the first time in since her departure. The Yorktown is docked for upgrades for three months and he ends up at a formal dinner and there she is. Pike hasn't seen her in person in four years, hasn't even spoken or commed in at least one, if not two. She's everything he remembers. Which is saying something because there are days where he's sure he's imagined how perfect a first officer she was. No one else fits half that well, so how could she have?
They talk half the night and he even whisks her around the dance floor to save her from a commodore with two left feet. It's good to see her. Good down through his bones. The Yorktown isn't the same without her and he tells her as much. She just smiles gracefully. They say goodbye and nice to see you and that's that he thinks. She's moved on from the Yorktown, she's doing well and he got a nice moment of closure.
When he mentions the evening to Boyce a week later the conversation suddenly shifts. Phil will not let the subject of her drop.
"You know we had quite the betting pool going on you two," He says it leadingly, like just about everything he says to Pike. Boyce always has a mission.
"Subtle Phil," he replies a bit sarcastically. Then the thought sinks in, "Wait, really? How did I miss that?"
"Yes we did, damn shame about it too. I lost fifty credits because you're an idiot with women."
"If you forgot that fact then you deserved to lose them," Pike grins wryly and drains his drink.
"Yes well, back then we had a little hope. It's a shame you never made a move," Boyce's tone is light but in that fake way where he's baiting Pike and Pike knows it, but can't quite hold his tongue.
"Well, I'm so terribly sorry I never hit on my first officer," he rolls his eyes and wishes he hadn't finished his drink yet. Or that it'd been stronger. He's always been professional, of course he never hit on her. Even if she is sort of gorgeous.
"You should call her," Boyce eyes Pike and pours another martini. Pike accepts it and considering down it quickly but doesn't. It's not that strong anyway.
"She has a four year old, and is leaving on a 2 year soon. She has more important things to do than to talk to me," he justifies. He's very good at justifying.
"A four year old with no father and you're not here that long yourself. You two should catch up."
"Jose's still around, he hasn't gotten lost in space yet, you know," Pike responds deflecting.
"Oh, I know plenty Captain. I've had to bring that kid down from alien weed more times than I can count. Christopher," oh, Pike was in trouble now, "we're stuck for another month, see her. At least give her a call. You owe her that much."
That's the deal and true to form, Boyce doesn't let him leave until he gives in and agrees.
But Pike doesn't call. He's busy with the refitting and thinks Boyce is being ridiculous. But the thought has been planted in his mind. She's an attractive woman, now that they're outside of the ship that fact seems painfully obvious. He's never really seen her in that way despite the other things he does feel for her. He certainly didn't see her like that when they were serving. She was his XO and he didn't think of any of his crew that way. He knew her intelligence, her dedication and skill but hell, he didn't even register that she was female half the time they served together, she was always Number One, an entity unto herself.
The thought that Phil and presumably a good chunk of the crew had been betting on something happening between them stuck in his head in a way he didn't like. He had a lot of time to think while they were docked and that meant dwelling. Digging up and over analyzing old events, that massage for her pinched nerve that got a little too cozy. Talos of course, and possibly the most damning, how angry he had been at Tyler when she left to raise her child. He'd shoved Tyler on gamma for three damn months until he could finally stand pulling a shift with him again. In hindsight that stunk of 'jealous boyfriend' a lot more than 'annoyed at the idiot who knocked up your first officer'. He also thought about how he couldn't help comparing Reeves to her sometimes and how he always came up just a bit short.
By the time he admitted that the idea of them was nice, rather nice, made sense even, and that maybe he felt something, he had an arsenal of excuses poised to talk himself out of it again. He's waited too long since the dinner to call. She has a young daughter. It'd been years.
And then there's the thought he only lets himself consider for a single minute: that even if the Talosians hadn't been lying that was too many years ago and surely she didn't think of him in that way anymore.
He talked the impulse right on down and walked back on the Yorktown with all thoughts of her buried deep.
But it's something.
Three years later the Yorktown is retiring to dry dock and he's taking the required downtime, the only downtime he ever takes, before taking over the Intrepid for a short term mission to deal with some Klingon border issues.
He ends up working with her for a week as he's choosing his new crew. Number One's been doing tactical and planning work at command and is the person to see as he chooses and restructures the new crew. He's got most of the Yorktown's crew still at his disposal, but needs a more tailored and fight ready crew. He's hesitant about bringing on too many fresh grads. The mission has a high chance of becoming a baptism by fire for any he picks. He takes a few though. A couple who are older, then a few of the new batch of hotshots. Fresh minds can be a boon when things get rough. He knows that, knows he was young as all hell when he assumed command for the first time and that turned out all right. He looks over his choices he can't help but feel a tinge of guilt over what he's invariably going to have to put them through. There's a chance the negotiations will work, that they could have a quiet patrol...but he doubts it. He's seen too many warbirds firing at him to think it won't happen again.
His interactions with Number One are 85% formal and business related. Occasionally they talk about themselves or missions or the past but it's with that comfortable camaraderie of old shipmates. He could have the conversations with most of the old crew he justifies. Which allows him to sweep away the swell of lust that has bubbled up upon spending time with her. (He won't call it love, it's just lust because he hasn't dated much lately he tells himself) A tiny part of him know it's not quite the truth, there's a trust and comfort he feels with her that's different from others. He doesn't allow himself to dwell on that. He finds out she's seeing someone, a researcher, brilliant of course, and that's the stick pin.
He tells himself to forget it all and charges headfirst into space fights for a year, coming out harried but mostly whole.
During the year thoughts of her bubble up on occasion but he blames it on the stress. Even after the Intrepid limps home and he can't get her out of his head he blames it on the stress. The stress that doesn't exist anymore.
He still doesn't call her. Even when he hears she's single again.
Pike is 40 and stares at the options for his next assignment. A five year, a 2, two ways to do a 1 year and a 3 year. He could do another Klingon run, fights and tough decisions and excitement, an exploratory into some newly negotiated space, one that's a damned milk run which he pushes off his desk straight into the trash. The exploratory is tempting, he loves that kind of work, challenging and varied... but it's the five and he's not sure he wants to be gone that long. He's been restless lately and shorter seems wiser. One is an offer to command Deep Space 2. On one hand it'll be less eventful, but it's important and 3 years sounds like a nice term. Less firefights, more stable communications(though the only person he seems to comm regularly anymore is Boyce), always active, but more fleet looking over his shoulder too. He goes back and forth between DS2 and a chance at the Euclid again. Of course it's a different ship nowadays but it was his first ship and there's something tempting about going back. It's a two year, a little boring maybe but steady.
He chooses DS2 in the end, he'll be it's third commander ever and if he's honest he could use the change of pace after chasing warbirds for a year. He may 'accidentally' tell command to shove it if they watch him too closely but he figures he'll manage. He always does.
DS2 requires more diplomacy than anything. Everyone's in and out, ships and ambassadors and admirals and it's his job to make sure everything is running well. Sometimes he'll get to command the small artillery of ships, maybe even see some action himself.
It's downright relaxed compared to what he's been through.
A year in he meets Lwaxana Troi. He knows of her but has never met her before. She's Number One's mother and they could not be more different at first impression. The warnings he received didn't do her justice. She's a handful, to say the least, but her stay isn't long and it seems to be going well enough. As he sees her off he feels like he handled the whole ordeal rather well. She intimidated a few people, scandalized a few more, but all in all no lasting damage done and she seems quite happy.
"Thank you so much Christopher, it's a delightful little station. You've been a dear," he smiles in return and feels pretty damned pleased about the whole event.
Then she adds, "I understand now what my daughter sees in you," her eyes positively twinkle as she struts off to her waiting shuttle, Hum or whatever his name is following in her wake. For a moment Pike can't move. Can't quite process what he just heard.
If Boyce had a tone to lead, Lwaxana had a tone to drag you where she wanted you. Pike can't doubt her meaning even though he desperately wants to.
He walks away feeling decidedly less pleased than he walked in. That night he looks in the mirror and has to admit it out loud. He's not indifferent about her, hasn't been for awhile. In fact he really likes the idea of them. Knows that he has a few other words than 'likes' that he's close to using to describe it. Words that he hasn't used in awhile.
He sends Number One a message a week later and they chat a bit. Seeing her on the screen is part amazing and part awful. Which is why he lets their communications falter and eventually fade to nothing again within a few months. She's too far away. Seeing her is a little tortuous because he knows he can't have her.
Besides she seems just fine without him.
His entire body just stops for a moment when he sees her. No breath, no thoughts, everything is paused and just taking in the sight.
She's there, she's really there, maybe a hundred feet away, closer than she's been in years, and being hugged firmly by Christine Chapel.
Before he can recover she's walking away and then all too quickly she's gone.
He snaps back to his senses and strides back inside the gym to clear out the stragglers. Internally his mind is racing, werebeagles and bratva hitmen being roughly shoved aside for thoughts of her instead. Pike has a course of action within minutes. He's done with waiting and losing.
The next day finding her phone number is easy and he dials without hesitation and waits for her voice. His resolve falters while he waits for the answer, a moment of terror flitting through him. He doesn't know anything about her life anymore, doesn't know if she's seeing someone or, god forbid, married.
"Hello?" Her voice is cool, clear and just like he remembers.
"Number One. It's Chris Pike, I've recently found out you're in the area and was wondering if you would join me for dinner?" He sounds more confident than he feels and has to stop himself from biting at a fingernail.
He can tell she's a little surprised and rejoices for a split second that he still knows her moods that well. "Yes, I'd like to take you out and catch up, how's next week for you?"
"Just fine, Wednesday?" she asks.
"What about Tuesday?" there's no reason not to do Wednesday, not a single one. Other than that he doesn't want to wait. Can't wait, not anymore, not when he knows how close she is.
"Also fine, Tuesday it is."
"I'll see you then."