story by Domenika Marzione | art by Pentapus


The irony, as Chris saw it, was that everyone looked at Jim Kirk and saw his father when they really should have been seeing his mother.

Maybe irony wasn't the right word. Shame, perhaps, because it was a shame that nobody seemed to realize that the hand that had formed Jim had been delicate and slender, if work-roughened just the same. And if it was a shame, then Chris himself was at least partially to blame, especially because he'd been in the rare position of knowing better.

Winona, of course, laughed when he told her this. Confessed it.

"Watching Jim grow has put all of my thoughts of nature-versus-nurture quite out the window," she said with a bemused smile. They were strolling through the Academy grounds, down the well-manicured paths lined with cherry blossoms. Well, Winona was strolling; Chris was rolling. "Even as a baby, he'd make the same faces George had made. He acted out in a lot of the same ways, too. He'd probably say it was in spite of George -- or to spite him, or me, or Frank..."

She trailed off, momentarily lost in her own sadness and regret.

"But it's not. He's his father's son," she went on, pushing an errant lock behind her ear.  "And there's not a day that goes by that I'm not proud of that."

They'd known each other for fifteen years, longer than that if one chose to count then-Cadet Pike's awkward and inappropriate advances on then-Lieutenant Kirk -- which thankfully Winona did not. He knew her well enough to accept that she wasn't denying herself credit out of modesty or obligation to George Kirk's memory; Jim had spent a long time angry at her for her choices, but not to the degree and duration that Winona had stayed angry at herself.

"Well, I'm grateful, too," he said, looking up and giving what he hoped was a genuine smile. "I owe him my life twice over."

Age had been kind to Winona, as had retirement from Starfleet, and the deep green of her dress made her seem younger and more alive still. She was, objectively and subjectively, still a very beautiful woman.

"You've given me back my son," she said as she sat down on one of the nearby benches; it made her eye-level with him and he could see the range of complicated emotions in her eyes. But the voice, even at a half-whisper, was still firm. "And you've given Jim back his father. I say we're all even."



The news shot around the USS Hood at three times warp speed.

"Did you hear about the Kelvin?"

Chris, Cadet Third Class Pike, assigned to the Hood on his first-ever training cruise, had been down in one of the Deck 15 engine rooms when the wave of gossip hit. Along with Cadet Third Class Grousman, he'd been holding up some ridiculously heavy piece of wire shielding duct so that Chief Engineman Ata and Engineman First Class X'Noor could meddle with what was underneath without completely taking the place apart and resectioning the entire room.

Life as a cadet on a training cruise, especially life as a Cadet Third on a training cruise, was all about the learning-through-doing. Mostly doing things even the lowest enlisted felt was beneath their dignity, but Chris still had strong enough memories of the near-permanent indignity of his Fourthie year that being ordered around by Crewmen Second Class didn't bother him too much. Which meant that getting ordered around by a chief and a petty officer first class wasn't even a hardship. Especially because, in this case, it meant that the chief in question felt he was the least idiotic of the cadets aboard Hood.

Which was why, despite biceps straining under the weight, he didn't budge from where he was standing even after a Technician (Transporter) Second Class came barreling in to tell the Chief that the Kelvin had been lost with all hands aboard; he didn't want to raise the ire of either Ata or X'Noor, both of whom could make his life very unpleasant for the next seven weeks.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Chief Ata growled, not even looking up from where he was working. From this angle, Chris couldn't see what he was doing or what he was using, just that it gave off periodic sparks and Chief cursed when that happened.

A message had come to the bridge from Starfleet Command, the TT2 explained in a rush, saying that the Exeter and the Defiant had been ordered to the Klingon border to investigate the destruction of the Kelvin by forces unknown (but probably the Klingons) and, if possible, exact revenge.

"We're going to war, Chief," the TT2 announced triumphantly.

Ata finally looked up with a scowl. "We are not going to war," he rumbled. "We are not going anywhere if I don't get this unscrewed. And, once that happens, if we do go to war, you're not going to be that fucking pleased. War sucks, Chaubert, and don't you forget that for an instant."

Of course, they did not go to war, not even after Chief Ata fixed the faulty wiring that was affecting the ship's steering. The Klingons hadn't destroyed the Kelvin, which had not been lost with all hands aboard, although there had been casualties -- including both the captain and first officer, both of whom had died trying to save their crew from a mysterious enemy. All Defiant and Exeter had had to do was trawl the sector for escape pods and then try to figure out who or what had taken out the lead ship of the Kelvin-class cruisers.

By the time Chris finished his cruise aboard Hood and returned to the Academy, the entire incident had mostly blown over. Both Captain Robau and Lieutenant Commander Kirk had been honored in ceremonies attended by their widows, and the surviving crew had been both on and off leave and re-assigned to new billets. There was talk of a named chair in the Starfleet History department in honor of Robau and there was a little muttering at how they hadn't meritoriously promoted Kirk to captain for his act of gallant sacrifice, but that was it.

At least that's what it felt like at the time, with Chris's Academy-issued blinders on and his vision steered directly and solely toward his studies. By the time he was a Cadet Second, he was aware that there hadn't previously been a mandatory course in the command track on the history and tactics of space warfare in the twenty-second and twenty-third centuries, but by that point he'd been at the Academy for too long to ask 'why.' Why was a question that was not permitted to anyone in Starfleet uniform unless it came decorated with admiralty ribbons and Chris, ambitious as ever, was very good at not doing things he shouldn't.



Cadet First Class Pike's first choice for his second (and final) training cruise had been the Potemkin, since she was going to be part of the battle group heading off to remind the Cardassians that the Federation was quite well aware that they were there, thanks much. But he ended up on the relatively brand-new USS Thomas Paine, which he'd initially taken as either a slight or an insult or a warning that he'd picked up too many demerits during Winter Exercises because it wasn't even a cruiser; it was a destroyer. A destroyer serving as protector for a small flotilla of diplomatic and scientific vessels. The Mighty Tom wasn't going to saber-rattle; she was going to tea.

But Chris was not going to tea. Chris was going to work. Six hours after his arrival, which was enough time to find his berthing, dump his gear, and get lost three times trying to find the XO's quarters, Chris was being stuffed into NBC protective gear as part of an all-quarters drill in which he was supposed to be on fire control duty. Not observing as he had during his first training cruise, not supervising as he would once he was an ensign, but on the line with the hose. He'd been through the trainer back at the Academy, like every other cadet, but this was entirely different and... Chris was fortunate that everyone else knew what they were doing because it really was nothing like the trainer at all.

"We're lucky the place really wasn't on fire," the head of his hose team said as they finished up. "Cadet Pike here would've had us all extra-crispy."

The head of the hose team stripped off his protective gear and Chris could see he was a Culinary Specialist Third Class. In fact, most of the team was from the galley, all of them Petty Officer Thirds or below. A year from now, Chris would be Ensign Pike and everyone here would still be middle-ranking enlisted from the kitchens, obligated to call him 'sir' and shut the hell up about any of his inadequacies, real or imagined. But right now, they were fully entitled to point out that he'd been a hindrance and not a help.

He was under no illusion that his assignment to this station, with this crew, was accidental. Lieutenant Commander Ga'ashak, the XO, had explained as she'd marched him down to the bowels of the ship that Chris's job for the next few months was to learn every task that he would soon be supervising once he was commissioned. And to learn it from crewmen who might not have the glamorous billets but were still capable and competent.

"You cannot ask of others what you do not understand yourself," she'd said over her shoulders as she'd skimmed down ladders and stalked through corridors, Chris desperate to keep her tiny frame in sight. "You cannot judge the work of others if you have never done it yourself."

Over the next two months, Chris rotated through the various departments, handed off from Chief Petty Officer to Chief Petty Officer as they each spent time and effort to familiarize him with their areas of expertise. By doing, always by doing, and never by standing around and watching. It was exhausting, but the kind of satisfying exhausting that came with accomplishment and not the sort of running-into-the-ground exhaustion he was familiar with from the Academy. He enjoyed the learning, the being taught, the way he could see in clear and tangible ways that he was understanding and improving. At which point he was given more complicated work because there was "no such thing as an easy day in Starfleet."

There were more subtle and abstract lessons aboard Thomas Paine, however. After three years at the Academy, Chris hadn't realized how much his social skills had atrophied. He had friends, colleagues, and acquaintances at the Academy, got on well with his instructors, and by all of the standards that mattered to cadets, he was perfectly well-adjusted. It was just that life was not lived at the Academy and Chris, loosed upon an unsuspecting galaxy, was shocked at how ill-suited he was to interact with anyone not a cadet or an instructor. Smooth and confident in his native environment, Chris was awkward in his dealings with civilians, enlisted personnel, and the wide array of individuals and groups that were encountered on a cruise with diplomats and scientists. He could not engage in badinage at social events either aboard ship or down on the planets and had stilted conversations with enlisted personnel that showed much more than his inexperience at giving orders to people who would soon have to lawfully obey them.

Which is how he managed to make an ass of himself one evening at a state dinner on Marnal.

Hitting on one of the science officers from the Lively had seemed like a good idea at the time, although hindsight said it was perhaps an idea whose terribleness was amply covered up by a couple of brandies. While relationships between cadets and Fleet officers were strongly frowned upon, he and the lovely lieutenant weren't in the same chain of command or even stationed aboard the same ship and, well, Chris wasn't looking for a lasting relationship. No one need know. The lieutenant in question was very beautiful, apparently unattached to anyone on the convoy, and, honestly, Chris would have been content to just stand and talk to someone who could carry on a conversation on a topic he knew anything about. Which amounted to Academy life, really, but she'd been to the Academy, and if worse came to worse, he remembered enough from the plant subsection of his  xenobiology course to be useful.

Anything from plant xenobiology was unnecessary. To Chris's lasting gratitude, Lieutenant Winona Kirk proved to be as graceful and gracious as she was attractive and the only lasting marks were to Chris's ego and not to his record.

art by Pentapus

The name Kirk had not rung a warning bell, had not rung any bell at all until two weeks after the dinner on Marnal when Chris was tagging along with Lieutenant (j.g.) Xiaopur, one of the Mighty Tom's public affairs officers, on a quick visit to Shaksura's legislature building. The convoy had stopped on this world to take part in both humanitarian and military exercises; the scientists were there to give instruction about improving crop yield and clean energy sources while the convoy escorts, Tom Paine included, were there to practice planetary defense with the Shaksurian air force. The ship was crowded with Shaksurian soldiers for the exercise and Shaksurian diplomats and politicians for various reasons, so Chris had been assigned to the PAO on the premise that as a cadet on the command track, he was eventually going to have to learn how to bullshit well. Which was undoubtedly true, but the assignment also kept him out from underfoot on the bridge and the PAO could use the extra help.

The legislature building was as full of Starfleet personnel as the ship had been of Shaksurians, but Chris knew just from the bright golden hair whose head was bowed over a PADD as she leaned against the balcony. He thought he was cool about it, but he must have stumbled or something because Xiaopur looked up from his own PADD and made an understanding noise.

"Ah, Lieutenant Kirk," he said thoughtfully. "The Starfleet Madonna, lovely in her tragedy."

Chris tried to play it cool, although he was suddenly nauseated. "Sir?"

Thankfully, Xiaopur was looking back at his PADD and didn't notice any distress. "She is the widow of Commander Kirk," he explained, looking up to see if Chris recognized the name. It was familiar, but not in any useful way. "Of the Kelvin?"

Oh, shit. "Right," Chris squeaked out. "I knew that."

"The picture of her with the baby at the ceremony was the one that went out with all of the news stories," Xiaopur went on. Chris, working 20-hour days aboard the Hood at the time, hadn't seen a single one of them. "It was a masterful choice, although it did not do much for recruitment. Join Starfleet, die nobly, and leave behind a hot widow and a child you'll never meet."

Xiaopur said all of this without irony; it was Starfleet humor, tactless and unfunny to every and all civilian and Xiaopur, smooth as glass when dealing with local media and any politician, could turn it on and off like a light. It was the only humor Chris was capable of, however, which explained his problems at every official social function.

Lieutenant Kirk was not at the next one Chris went to, which was shamefully a relief because while he would have apologized if he'd seen her, he was a little glad to have avoided that awful conversation. Nobody from Tom Paine went to the one after that, since the ship had been given a short-term solo assignment that took them away from the convoy and Chris left the ship to return to the Academy before she rejoined.



Taking the time to do a graduate degree was a necessary pit stop in every Starfleet officer's career, although many got away with doing the remote-learning Masters in Military Science, which was kind of like being back at the Academy with the same narrow focus, but without ever actually being at the Academy. Chris understood why his fellow officers went that route -- the graduate degree was just another box on the career checklist, something to be done and done with as soon as possible so as to move on to the next requirement, like serving as a staff officer at the Admiralty. It had no merit in and of itself, only in its completion, and it ranked even lower than shore duty at the Admiralty because at least you could make connections in those hallowed halls.

Chris, however, had no desire to turn his post-commissioning education into something so... perfunctory. Five years in the Fleet had changed him and, more importantly, he had recognized those changes. He was no longer the boy in a cadet's uniform standing awkwardly by the punch bowl at formal functions because he couldn't talk about anything other than how bad the Astronav midterm had been. He had enjoyed his time at the Academy, at least in hindsight, but he had no desire to return to it or, worse yet, model his career and his future on it.

He'd traveled a lot in his nascent career, getting exposed to different peoples, different worlds, different social and cultural and political mores. He did not want to turn his back on what those experiences had taught him, namely that there were other options beyond 'the right way, the wrong way, and the Starfleet way' of doing anything. That there was, in fact, merit in even considering that Starfleet -- and the Federation as a whole -- did not have a monopoly on best practices and insightful ideas. Which was why he'd opted to not only not do the distance-learning, but also to not go to the War College. He'd chosen a civilian program, even if he'd gone with a field that was professionally useful, and he'd gotten approval to go for a doctorate. Of course, choosing such a path less traveled had its own pitfalls...

"...the basis of a really solid idea, Pike, but I think you need to look beyond the Excelsior." Professor Barton adjusted his glasses and looked over them at Chris. "It's been done over and over and over again. You are an exceptionally bright young man, but I don't see you coming up with anything that either Kleinman or Storch or Garyyak or Ri'olu or Morton hadn't come up with first. I think you should look at the Kelvin instead."

Chris frowned. "With all due respect, sir--"

"That's military-speak for 'I think you're bonkers,' isn't it?" Barton asked lightly. A tiny, wizened man, he carried more than a touch of impishness about him.

"It usually just means that a subordinate disagrees," Chris replied with a smile. Barton's delight in having a serving Starfleet officer as a student often meant that said Starfleet officer had to keep on his metaphorical toes. "Mental health judgments aren't implicit, although they can be conveyed by tone. It's a step below 'are you sure about that, sir?' on the panic meter."

Barton beamed at him. "I shall keep that in mind next time I hear those words from you in a most respectful tone. Now, what were you going to say about using the Kelvin as your primary model?"

Chris leaned forward in his seat, forearms on his knees. It was a most unmilitary position, but he was wearing civilian clothing and there probably wasn't anyone on campus who knew that Chris was merely masquerading as a regular graduate student. "I was going to say, sir, that hasn't the Kelvin been done over and over again as well? It's even more of a textbook case than the Excelsior."

Of course, since he couldn't quite drop the 'sirs,' maybe he really did just look like a Starfleet officer with bad posture and faded jeans.

"It is," Barton agreed easily. "But it is an underused one. Criminally so. There is next to no literature on the incident at all, let alone on the not-insignificant impact it has had -- not only on Starfleet, but also on interplanetary foreign policy vis-a-vis military action. Also, what little there is happens to be unreadable. It's either technical mumbo-jumbo with no application toward political science or it's Vulcan, which is unreadable even in translation because it's still in Vulcan."

They were sitting in one of the lounges of Barton's club, dark wood and heavy leather chairs and antique books along the walls, and that meant waitstaff that kept careful eyes on their drink glasses, swooping in to refresh and replace as needed. Barton took a sip of his new whiskey before continuing.

"The Kelvin had tremendous popular romantic resonance when it occurred -- the dramatic sacrifices of her captain and, especially, of her first officer. But it has equal resonance as an examplar of Starfleet's political philosophies and pragmatic responses and how they've shifted in the twenty-third century. I think you should focus on her legacy and not spin yet another yarn about the brave little Excelsior and her plucky crew against the clients of the Klingon Empire."

Which was how Chris ended up writing his dissertation on the Kelvin and her role in the Federation's changing response to non-state actors and the rise of indirectly-sponsored terrorism. Because while Chris was at a civilian university with an advisor who pretended that his knowledge of Starfleet went little beyond appreciating how short the regulation uniform skirts were, Lieutenant Pike understood full well that when a superior stated a desire, it was equivalent to an order and should be treated as such.

The research itself was straightforward, at least after the hell that was getting his proposal approved. Barton remained unsatisfied after each of the first half-dozen iterations; this part was too vague and his thesis unclear, that part too specific and he was hemming himself in unnecessarily. There was always one more text to read, one more article to cite, and if he had ready access to all of Starfleet's internal documentation, then why the bloody blue blazes was he not using them.

There were at least four different times that Chris seriously regretted thumbing his nose at the remote-learning MMS. The fourth was the most memorable, though, because it came with Barton's suggestion-cum-order that he interview survivors of the Kelvin. Chris had considered it previously and discarded it as an unnecessary luxury during a process where time was a factor -- his academic leave ended with the academic year. There was already a very strong likelihood that he would be finishing his dissertation aboard the Farragut, to which he'd already gotten his orders as a helm officer, and he'd been forced to organize his priorities by what could be accomplished during off-duty hours aboard ship and what absolutely had to be done while still in residence here. On that scale, interviewing Kelvin survivors was not high on either list. He'd read all of the AARs and narrative statements and the eye-glazingly dull forensics report and, considering the driving point of his thesis, that would be sufficient. The actual events of the Kelvin's destruction were arguably less important than what had come before and after.

Also, a tiny part of him was still very afraid that Lieutenant Commander Winona Kirk would recognize him as that cadet from Marnal.

But Barton was not to be put off with arguments about time constraints and alternate information sources. He reamed Chris out rather thoroughly over whether Chris was cutting corners and intentionally avoiding any evidence that would contradict his pet theory.

"These people did not suddenly stop being thoughtful and considered witnesses once the paperwork was signed off on," Barton barked at him. "They have lived not only through the original experience, but also through the changes those experiences wrought. Stop worrying about whether or not they will accurately remember the attack and start wondering how they feel the fallout was handled."

Chris made appointments for video interviews with the helm officer on duty at the time of the attack (now captain of the freighter Pelican), the second officer (the most senior to survive; on shore duty at the Academy), a commo officer (retired), and three chief petty officers. They were all curious about Chris's thesis, but once he assured them that he wasn't out to make any crazy policy recommendations or slander the good names of Richard Robau or George Kirk, they all warmed up. Senior Chief Gregson especially, because he'd been the NCOIC of the Kelvin and had known Robau and Kirk very well as both men and officers and was the most protective of their legacies.

"The person you should talk to, if you haven't already," Gregson told him on their third interview, "is Commander Kirk -- George Kirk's widow. She's a science officer aboard... the Armstrong, I think. She was a science officer aboard Kelvin at the time, although she wasn't exactly taking shifts so late into her pregnancy. But she's the one who'd have the most insight into what George Kirk was thinking and doing and why."

Chris kept his reaction to himself. "I've considered it, Senior, but I'm not sure it would be useful enough to warrant... well, to ask her to relive what was both the best and worst day of her life."

He'd read her statements, which had been heartbreaking, but it had been reading the transcript of her final conversation with her husband that had forced him to stop for the day and go drink enough bourbon to be able to pretend that it was the alcohol that was making him sick.

Gregson chuckled darkly. "You think she's not going to do that on her own anyway? I think she'd welcome the chance to talk about it for a good cause."

Chris made a noise of protest; if the interviews had had a secondary lesson beyond those that Barton had promised, it was to remind Chris, quite sharply, that he was using the tragedy of others for his own enrichment. "You going to sell this story, Lieutenant?" Master Chief Nolando had asked early on.

"Commander George Kirk was a good man and a good officer who did more in twelve minutes than most officers will do in their entire careers," Gregson said firmly. "I think she'd welcome the opportunity to help you tell the world that."

Gregson still spoke to Winona Kirk -- called her every year on the anniversary of the Kelvin's destruction, ostensibly to wish the boy a happy birthday but really to remind her that her husband was not forgotten -- and offered to put forward the request and make introductions. Chris couldn't say no gracefully, nor would he admit that Commander Kirk already knew damned well who he was.

Except she didn't.

"Oh!" she said with a startled laugh when she saw who it was on the vid screen. "Well, this puts an entirely different spin on the proceedings, doesn't it?"

Chris didn't blush often or easily, but he knew he was blushing now. But he'd practiced what he'd wanted to say and bulled forth before he lost his nerve.

"Before we begin, ma'am, I just... I need to apologize. What I did was rude, not to mention against the spirit of the regulations if not necessarily the letter. And my failure to apologize promptly, without prompting or alternate motives, is inexcusable. Not to  mention, well, this."

Commo vid screens had the nasty habit of showing all of your flaws and imperfections in high definition, but Winona Kirk managed to look radiant regardless. Radiant, but also sad, profoundly so. Even when she smiled, it did not reach her eyes.

"Your apology is unnecessary," she told him. "Yes, technically it is necessary -- cheeky cadets should not be propositioning superior officers -- but there was no fallout and so no foul. Truth be told, I remember it fondly precisely because of, well, this. You were a Cadet First swinging well over your weight class and, for one shining moment, I was just the woman out of your league. I wasn't the Widow Kirk, I wasn't the one they whispered about, I wasn't worrying about my fatherless son or grieving the husband who'd sacrificed everything for us. I was the pretty science officer from the Lively and for that, you have no reason to apologize."

Through the magic of high-def commo vid screens, he could see tears waiting to fall. He could feel his own.

"But now that I know who you are, I reserve the right to pull this out as a joke to be laughed at whenever I please."

Chris smiled. "Go right ahead, ma'am."



Chris only stopped running at the door to the bridge, drawing up to a halt so he could walk purposely through the entrance and straight up to the captain's chair.

He'd been asleep when the attack had begun, nearly getting jostled out of his bunk by the impact of energy weapons against the Agincourt's shields. The alarms had sounded and lights had flashed and the level but melodious voice of the Second Officer, who'd had the bridge for the middle-of-the-night shifts, had ordered everyone to battle stations.

Chris, as Fourth Officer and the senior helm officer aboard Agincourt, had gone to the Flight Control office to check in. He hadn't been needed on the bridge yet, so he'd gone on his rounds, making sure all of the deck officers were in place and damage control and fire systems were manned and working. He'd felt a little useless, superfluous, as he'd made his inspections; with his (early) promotion to Lieutenant Commander had come relief from deck officer duties and put one more layer of personnel between him and the days when he'd been on the line holding the fire suppressant hose.

The summons to the bridge had finally come as he'd been wolfing down a buttered roll and some coffee; one of the FC chiefs had told him to eat while he'd had the chance. He'd crammed the rest of the roll into his mouth, taken a last swig of coffee, and headed out.

"Reporting as ordered, ma'am."

Captain Qemar looked away from the viewscreen -- currently showing two Cardassian vessels, one frigate and one destroyer -- for a moment to acknowledge his presence.

"Commander Pike, take the conn."

Chris performed the relief routine with Lt. (j.g.) Gistedt, who did a very good job of hiding his disappointment that he wasn't allowed to keep his hands on the rudder during the engagement. But Gistedt was the most junior helmsman aboard, there were four Cardassian ships out there, and the warp drive had sustained damage in the initial attack. His replacement couldn't have been a surprise.

"This is Commander Pike and I have the conn," Chris announced, concluding the formal transfer of control. He sat down, adjusting the seat slightly because Gistedt was a head taller than he was, and took a good look at the console, making mental notes of the positions of the dials and meters, before moving his attention to the vid screen.

They hadn't been able to raise any of the Cardassian ships, so they didn't know if this was an official engagement, some kind of piracy, or even if there were actually Cardassians aboard. It wouldn't be the first time third parties tried to push the Federation into actions they wouldn't otherwise had taken. Chris, with three articles and a dissertation on the subject, could probably provide a pretty good list of likely candidates. Of course, it could also simply be the Cardassians pushing a little harder in their years-long entreaty for the Federation to get the fighting started already.

"They're turning around," Malkov, the navigator, announced unnecessarily as the Cardassians did just that, lining up briefly before spreading out to resume their attack.

Shields were holding, but they were down to 73% on the fore end and 68% on the aft and it was no surprise when Captain Qemar ordered Chris to take evasive actions.

He flipped the switches on the overrides for the secondary thrusters, putting both sets on manual control. Behind him and slightly off to the left, Gistedt, who'd stayed to watch,  made a noise of either surprise or disapproval. It wasn't standard procedure; during Flight Control training, the instructors told students to never take anything off auto unless it was malfunctioning. On the whole, it was sound advice; flying a heavy cruiser was hard enough without adding to the list of what had to be kept track of. But if everything was on auto, it wasn't hard to predict what was coming and prepare; the only way the Agincourt would evade anything was to keep the Cardassians guessing and that meant leaving the driving to a cocky human pilot and not the computers.

With the thrusters on auto, the ship was far more responsive. She wasn't trying to compensate for how he'd set her trim or slowing his aggressive push forward. Which would probably be an apt metaphor for Starfleet as an institution to chew over if Chris wasn't busy trying to keep a thousand people alive.

Qemar was a captain with a light touch; sure of her own authority, she gave wide latitude to her subordinates to act independently and with initiative and her commands to Chris were ones of concept rather than concrete specifics. She trusted Du-Ashok, the weapons officer, to do his job without step-by-step instructions and she trusted Chris to keep the Agincourt both safe and in a position to respond to the attack. She made suggestions, clearly expressed her wishes, and only occasionally barked out a concrete order for right now. It was refreshing, especially after being micromanaged aboard Farragut and one of the many things Chris admired about Qemar.

Two more Cardassian vessels popped out of warp, patrol cruisers, and it was suddenly six-against-one and Chris wondered when Qemar would order them to choose discretion over valor and try to flee. Even with the warp drive currently offline, they'd be able to make a break for it, at least until the engineering chiefs could do whatever it was they were doing to jury-rig a repair. They weren't going to have full power, but any warp would be better than no warp, which was what they were currently sitting at.

But she didn't tell Chris to flee. She told Du-Ashok to take out one of the destroyers.

"Unless I'm mistaken, the patrol cruisers haven't fired on us," Qemar said. "They're simply trying to box us in to make us easier targets for the others. The Cardassians are fully capable of accusing us of accosting their patrol ships without provocation, so let us not give them that satisfaction."

This was another reason Chris admired Qemar; she appreciated that politics and war were never mutually exclusive. Which seemed obvious to Chris, but eight years in the Fleet had proven to him time and again that it wasn't universally so. Qemar read political philosophy and quizzed the ensigns on history and respected the Federation's enemies and almost-enemies as complicated in motive and creed, but she had no compunction about killing as many of them as possible if required. She didn't seek out conflict, but she saw direct engagement as more necessary than the Admiralty often seemed to. "Diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggy' until you can reach for your rifle," she'd tell her officers. "But it only works if you occasionally pull the trigger."

Back at the Academy and then again at Flight Control School, astronautical combat had been described almost clinically, as if it were a chess match. A difficult one, to be sure, but one with prescribed rules that governed strategy and tactics. But there was nothing clinical about this, nothing pristine or regular or orderly. It was noisy, chaotic, and filled with surprises, mostly unpleasant. The bridge of the Agincourt was tense but still controlled, at least on the surface. Qemar kept her cool and everyone else followed her lead, even as the situation descended rapidly from worrisome to dangerous to possibly (probably) fatal. They had contacted the Admiralty and help was on the way, but they could expect nothing in under four hours -- at best.

Qemar, through Du-Ashok, took out the destroyer Cestar, but not without sustaining further damage. Chris kept the Agincourt in motion, but there were still three vessels, two frigates and a destroyer, shooting at them and not missing as often as anyone would like. The reports of damage to the ship came in first as single drops, then a trickle, then a flood. Chris listened with half an ear, paying attention in a passive way except for reports of damage that would affect his ability to steer. Most of the engineering decks were on fire, which both did and didn't affect the rudder, depending on who was diverting what when, until Chris lost his tertiary thrusters a second time and they did not come back online.

It took ninety minutes from the destruction of the Cestar for the Cardassians to render Agincourt dead in the water. They could have blown her to smithereens a dozen times already, but they hadn't.

"Prepare to repel boarders."

At the Academy, pirate scenarios during the familiarization course were considered something of a joke, either a waste of valuable lesson time or a chance to cut loose and get silly. This was the twenty-third century and yes, while there were still pirates and raiders and bandits of various flavors, very few of them were insane enough to try to take on a Federation vessel. It hadn't happened in more than a century, in fact, and that sad little historical footnote had belonged to a freight transport with a wormy navigation system. Nobody took the course seriously, which was apparently true during enlisted training as well. At the Academy, the command to prepare to repel boarders was most frequently heard in the dorms or on Surrey Hill, right after the start of an impromptu game of Blackbeard. (Chris's first demerits had come during one such assault after he'd gotten caught on video tormenting a Fourthie with a makeshift cutlass.)

But here and now, there were no cadets with fake eyepatches and silly accents. There were teams of crewmen armed with rifles, a detachment of which was stationed at the bridge doors. Chris stood up and checked his sidearm; he'd been wearing his holster since the call to battle stations.

Qemar looked at him, an eyebrow raised in question.

"I'm not needed here," he pointed out. "If we get engines -- or warp -- back, Lieutenant Gistedt can get us out of here as quickly as I could."

He had a team to report to, a unit to command. Qemar nodded. "Go," she agreed.

Chris turned to Gistedt. "If we get anything back, punch it and go," he told him. "You have the conn."

"I have the conn," Gistedt repeated quietly. Chris patted him on the arm as he passed by.

Once off the bridge, Chris radioed Lieutenant (j.g.) Obanago, his defense team's 2/IC, and asked where the hell they were so that he could join them. Obanago, who'd come to the Agincourt a week after Chris and still didn't always remember that he wasn't supposed to answer to 'Ensign' anymore, didn't bother to not sound relieved.

The Cardassians came in waves; over the radio, it sounded much like the damage reports had -- a drip here, a drop there, and then suddenly a deluge. Chris had never killed anyone before, let alone so up close and personal as this would be. His unit was charged with the defense of the Engineering decks, a laughable proposition with half of it aflame and the rest sparking and smoke-filled. He told his crewmen to drink water and not to be afraid to use the smoke and fire to their advantage. "Just don't get singed."

The actual defense was noisy and chaotic and terrifying because it was noisy and chaotic. Chris could hear shouts of anger, screams of pain, the discharge of weapons and the results. He got the same over his radio and he wished he could turn it off, but he couldn't. Thoresen, the First Officer, was dead and Galbari, the Third, was missing. Chris was now two heartbeats from the captain's chair; one if nobody could find Robbins.

Qemar was still on the bridge, serving as battle commander for a war with no map. She instead directed teams to where she heard silences; Chris was ordered to move half of his surviving unit up to third deck, where Galbari had been, because nobody from that team was answering.

The elevator doors opened to a sea of blood. The boatswain's mate next to him threw up at the sight and smell.

They found Galbari's body, one of many both Starfleet and Cardassian that littered the floor. The fighting had been fierce; the bulkheads were singed and even pierced and there'd been at least two explosions, one of which had clearly caused as many fatalities as the fighting itself. They found no Cardassians and only one survivor, a crewman third class missing her left arm and right foot. The wounds had cauterized themselves, which was the only reason she hadn't yet died, but she was barely conscious and in shock and Chris spared two men he couldn't afford to lose to get her to the sickbay.

He commed Qemar to tell her he was moving up to the second deck, but when he got no answer, he headed for the bridge instead.


It would be weeks -- months -- before the official report came out, before there was a standard narrative of what happened when the Cardassians initiated the war by attacking the USS Agincourt. But until then, there were stories, some true and most not and, out of the latter, some which were almost true and more that were simply the residue of unreliable memories of a grisly and terrifying time.

Chris wasn't sure which stock his award citation came from; there were huge parts of the story he still didn't know with any certainty. Including some parts where he'd been present. According to three different eyewitness accounts, he killed four Cardassians outside of the bridge; he did not remember the fight outside of the bridge at all. His memories jumped from heading up to that deck to finding Qemar dead at the commo station, weapon in her hand. Other pieces were missing, too, and not all were from after he'd gotten shot in the shoulder and hit his head on the bulkhead.

Nonetheless, he was fairly certain he was being decorated for heroics that he'd never attempted, let alone succeeded at pulling off. But there had been little point in carrying on that fight beyond the first few rounds of protests. The admiralty desperately wanted a hero from the Agincourt and they'd chosen him to be the bright light in what had been a very dark moment, possibly the beginning of a very dark time. As he sat on the dais, fiddling with his sling as he waited for Admiral Bisho to finish speaking, he found himself thinking back to the USS Hood and TT2 Chaubert, so eager to go to war. Well, now they were going to war and Chris, soon to be Captain Pike, thought that Chief Ata, wherever he was, was right once again.

The promotion was unexpected. He hadn't been a lieutenant commander long enough to seriously entertain the thought of one, let alone to skip two ranks and set the new speed record in the process. He frankly thought it undeserved and worried that everyone else would think so, too, making command that much more difficult. Phil Boyce, a medical officer from the Agincourt and, especially since the battle, a friend, had assured him that nobody would challenge his authority.

"You've traded in the academic fast-tracker for the swashbuckling badass," Boyce had explained over a sample cup full of medicinal single malt. "Just don't act like a jackass and you'll be fine."

Boyce's words had been deceptively lighthearted; if Chris had spent that miserable day fighting for his life, Boyce had spent it fighting for others' lives -- and losing more often than he'd won. Agincourt had lost more than six hundred souls that day and Boyce, drenched in blood not his own, had had to do the reckoning. He'd spoken openly to Chris of resigning his commission, of leaving Starfleet and setting up a private practice somewhere where he'd never see so much as a car accident. Chris had talked him out of it, or maybe Phil had done it himself, since Chris could see him -- in his uniform -- in the crowd watching the ceremony.

Admiral Bisho was still going strong, although Chris chided himself since Bisho was a good speaker and, judging from the crowd, nobody seemed to mind. The seats were full of the family and friends of those who'd perished aboard Agincourt as well as some of the survivors and the former group, at least, seemed to find comfort in this sanitized retelling of what had happened. Strip away all of the fear and the pain, drown out the weeping and the assaults on all senses, and what you were left with was a crew that did what it was supposed to do without any real opportunity to do anything else. At least that's how it worked out in Chris's head. In Admiral Bisho's version, it sounded a lot nicer.

Chris received his promotion as part of the ceremony, in part because Chris had insisted that he wanted absolutely no ceremony. He was getting his extra stripes on the backs of six hundred dead and there was nothing to celebrate about that, at least not here and now. That argument worked about as well as trying to turn down the medal.

Bisho finally wrapped up, to genuine and hearty applause, and then there was the promotion and then Chris got up to speak. He'd been working on the speech for two weeks; Boyce frequently groused that he could give it by now for all the times he'd heard it and read it in draft. He'd even asked Commander Robbins, still recovering from wounds received in the battle, to read it through and she'd commended it for its clarity and brevity. (Robbins was about as Vulcan as you could get without being born on Vulcan, so this was equivalent to wild applause.)  But the proof would be in the delivery.

The speech was not about himself or his career or how neat it was to have made captain eight years out of the Academy. It was about Qemar, Galbari, Thoresen, Obanago, Chief Zorak, Crewman Third Class Martin, and everyone else who'd not made it home. It was mostly about Qemar, though, who'd been parent, patron, and protector to them all, and whose absence Chris felt acutely as he sat on the dais, alone among the Agincourt's senior officers.

His voice broke on the second sentence.

After the ceremony, there were hands to shake and congratulations and condolences to receive, which Chris did with what he hoped was good grace. He still took the first opportunity that presented itself to flee to the cherry orchard next to where they'd set up the dais. It was out of season for blossoms, but it was still leafy and quiet and Chris sat down on a bench with a heavy sigh and closed his eyes.

"That's quite a tribute you gave Captain Qemar," a voice said and Chris opened his eyes with a start. He had no idea how long he'd been sitting, but it was enough time for Winona Kirk to find him and sit down next to him. "Sir."

She smiled at the irony of it -- he'd been a cadet when she'd been a lieutenant and now he'd not only caught up to her, but he now outranked her.

"But I, for one, was not surprised," she went on when he said nothing. "You have a way with words. Especially when it comes to paying tribute."

She was sitting almost primly on the bench, hands in her lap. He saw a wedding ring that was not the one George Kirk had given her, but gave no indication that he'd noticed it. "Thank you," he said instead, his voice a little low and rugged from overuse.

They'd kept in occasional contact since the interviews for his dissertation. At her request, he informed her when he'd finished and, not at her request, he'd offered to send her the sections that dealt with the Kelvin. He'd let her know that the dissertation was becoming a book and, on her own, she'd told him that she'd read his articles. She'd sent a short message of well-wishing while he'd been laid up in the hospital after the Defiant had brought him back to Earth, but that was as personal as it had ever gotten.

"What's next?" she asked. "If I may."

"Once I get medical clearance, it's off to the new captain's course," Chris answered. "And come July, I take command of the Cochise."

The USS Cochise, a Saladin-class destroyer, was an ambitious assignment for a first command, but as it looked like Starfleet was on the cusp of a protracted war with the Cardassians, a lot of commanders and young captains (although none as young as him) would be bumped up in weight class. Chris had asked for Robbins and Boyce, although he'd told neither of them yet. Robbins because he wasn't sure how the reversal in authority would sit with her, at least at this early juncture, and Boyce, because while both of them knew that Phil would not sit in a country practice fixing ingrown toenails while the Federation went to war, he had not said so aloud and to officially assume would cause resentment.

"A warrior captain for a warrior vessel."

"So they keep telling me," Chris sighed. He wondered if this was awkward for her -- here he was, being covered in glory and reward for doing what was expected of him and his connection to her came mostly through her late husband, who'd neither survived nor received much more than the regular complement of awards for doing the amazing. The irony had been choking him for weeks and it couldn't have escaped her.

It clearly hadn't.

"There's a rumor that they're going to give George the Federation Medal," Winona said. She was Winona in his head, even if she was most definitely still Commander Kirk out loud. "Apparently enough admirals have read your book."

She looked up at him and smiled wryly.

"It'll be overdue," Chris replied. He'd never understood why they'd skipped it in the first place. George Kirk had certainly fulfilled all of the requirements, even the unofficial one of having died in the commission of his heroics. "They're giving one to Qemar."

"I don't think that's completely coincidental," Winona said, looking down and fiddling with her ring. "But I'll take it anyway. For his sake."

Chris nodded, although she wasn't looking at him. "How's Jim?"

Winona laughed, not entirely happily. "Growing. Angry. Growing angry. Angrier." She looked apologetic at the outburst. "He looks just like his father and he's so very, very bright -- I'd like to think I had something to do with that."

They'd kept in loose contact, but they'd never been friends. He took a chance. "But?"

Winona sighed and for a long moment he thought she'd ignore the prompt. "But he's eleven and he's unhappy and I will not burden you with the hows and whys."

He didn't press.



"... by 2300, come hell, high water, or one demerit for each minute of lateness," Chris warned his charges. "Don't start fights with the townies, don't get anyone pregnant, and do not get so drunk that you won't be able to get back to the BOQ without drawing attention from the Shore Patrol. Above all, do not get yourself arrested because if I have to bail any of you out, I own your souls for seven years after commissioning and you will spend all of them on third shift commo duty and you will stay an ensign for the duration."

This got the expected laughs, but Chris was fairly confident that while there'd be the usual port visit shenanigans that went along with cadets set free for a night, nobody really had mischief in their hearts. Which was good, because he really didn't want an ensign on commo duties for seven years.

"Now all of you go do whatever it is the kids do these days for fun -- I think they call it ‘getting drunk,'" he went on, to more laughter. "I will see all of you at 2300."

Chris dismissed the cadets with a casual wave and left them to their plans. They'd been a fun group, one of the better ones he'd interacted with since he'd started his tour as a recruiter and occasional chaperone of cadets returning to the Academy via the shipyards.

Recruiter. The word still made him steam a little. Of all the assignments to draw for shore duty, he'd wound up with this one. Which always had enough officers volunteering for it that they never had to draft people -- and which Chris absolutely had not requested. It had been assigned to him by the Admiralty and he'd been unable to get out of it because his only compelling reason for why he should be re-assigned had been that he didn't want to play the War Hero.

The Admiralty had explained in very, very small words that playing the war hero was precisely what they'd wanted him to do.

It had been five years since the Cardassian War had ended, but Chris had been enough of a key figure in the big events, starting with the attack on the Agincourt and ending with the peace treaty signing aboard Ushant, that the kids would pay attention for an extra thirty seconds. He didn't want to romanticize war, though, and tried not to bring up his experiences at all except to warn the serious candidates that they were signing up for more than just a chance to see the stars and the cost could be very high. But in the six months he'd had the command, the recruiting numbers had been great and so the bosses ultimately didn't really care what he said.

None of which meant that Chris wasn't hoping that the Admiralty had been on the level when they'd promised him a reward for accepting the recruiting billet.

Being at the dockyard was both a tease and a torture, a reminder of what he'd enjoyed and what he hopefully would soon enjoy once this tour was done. Not that he got any pity from anyone for his current situation. Boyce, happily stationed at a colonial medical center, would remind him that he'd managed to avoid shore duty for far longer than anyone could reasonably expect. ("We were at war for most of it, Phil." "And yet everyone else somehow managed to make it back for a couple of years.") Usually before informing him that any other medical officer would have grounded his crazy ass years ago.

Robbins, whom he had gladly pinned with the markers of a captain's rank and set free almost a year ago, gave him the same cold comfort. At which point he'd demand she talk dirty to him and read to him from the ship's log of the Condor, her first command. They'd been together long enough that sometimes she'd even comply, although he suspected she was making things up when she did. That, or Condor had a real problem with bilge pumps and should be brought in for a refit.  

Not quite ready to head back to the Transient BOQ and start the endless paperwork that came with the billet (he had a yeoman at his office, but his office was three time zones away), he took a stroll around the yards. There were eight ships currently in residence, six -- including the Lexington, his first heavy cruiser command -- in for refits. There was a new escort being built at the south end and, in the front bay, the future USS Enterprise, just now finally getting a skin so that she looked like a starship and not like a giant mechanical spider.

Chris spent a few minutes saying hello to Lexi, looking both better and worse than she'd ever been under his command, which had included one knock-down, dragged-out fight with the Cardassians (and his chief engineering officer ready to take on the Cardassians himself with a pea shooter if he had to for fouling the nacelle filter so soon after its last repair). And then he went to go look at the Enterprise, which sat like a gigantic promise to all coming in and out of the dockyards. It would be another year before she was close enough to completion for the Admiralty to even begin considering command and crew, but in another year, Chris would be months away from finishing his tour at the recruiting command and... he tried not to hope that this was the reward the Admiralty had hinted at. A year was a long time to get attached to a hope and he didn't want to break his own heart when Enterprise was handed off to someone else.

In the meanwhile, however, she was a very pretty lady and he was a single man, free to look.

Eventually, though, it was time to hit the PADDs. Riverside was not much of a town; the dockyards had been built here ten years ago because, with the war on, Starfleet needed more facilities. Plus it had suddenly seemed like a good idea to honor George Kirk's memory and there was lots of space here in the middle of nowhere. That was all it had going for it then and now, which meant very limited off-base entertainment for the large numbers of Starfleet personnel both transient and stationed here. Chris knew which bars the cadets would be going to and which ones were frequented by junior officers and which ones were for the locals but were willing to serve a beer to Starfleet personnel who were either dockworkers or senior enough to not make a fuss. He had a fabulously greasy burger at one of these last, then spent the evening working his way through a couple of pints of lager and three days' worth of reports from his staff.

At 2230, he started the walk back toward the Transient BOQ -- the cadets were housed in the junior officer wing -- and was halfway there when a couple of young women stepped outside of one of the noisier bars and flagged him down.

"Hey, officer," one of the two -- very drunk -- girls called to him. "One of your people started a brawl."

Chris ignored the implied disdain for Starfleet; town-dockyard relations had never been great. "Still going on?"

"Fuck yeah," the other girl confirmed. "It's, like, ten against one. You Starfleet people are bullies."

Chris called a thanks over his shoulder and jogged toward the door. With this place, it could be anyone lieutenant or younger, but Chris knew that one more incident with the local sheriffs arresting Starfleet personnel was neither desired nor affordable in the current climate. The Admiralty would do something stupid like make the bars off-limits and that would cause an entirely new set of problems.

Stopping the brawl was easy; Chris had had an excellent command voice well before he'd had his first command and six years of war had given it laser-like precision. Figuring out what to do when he discovered the identity of the townie his cadets had been fighting (not well, apparently) was anything but.

He ordered the cadets back to their quarters and left them in the nominal charge of Cadet Third Uhura, who'd been the only one brave enough to try to explain, and promised them that there would be repercussions that lasted longer than their hangovers. It was possibly an idle threat -- the bar manager seemed as relieved as Chris that neither the cops nor the Shore Patrol had shown up and was insisting that there was no lasting damage -- but it wouldn't hurt to scare them a little.

As for Jim Kirk, currently laying unconscious on a table, that was another matter.

It wasn't how he'd ever imagined meeting the kid, but he couldn't say that he was totally surprised. Winona had never gone into any detail, but it had been clear over the years of their semi-formal, semi-regular correspondence that the bright, angry child had become a bright, angry young man whose resentment of his parents had never quite faded. Winona lived in New York now; she'd retired after twenty years as a full commander and had started a foundation dedicated to supporting the children of Starfleet members killed in action. It had taken off -- hence the move to New York -- and her days were spent providing scholarships, summer camps, mentors, trips to amusement parks. She would occasionally make a comment about vicariously getting parenting right on the re-do, but Chris had never said anything in response because there was nothing he could say that would ease that pain.

But it was with that frayed relationship in mind that he carefully avoided the topic of Winona entirely once Jim came to; anything he could say now would be undone by the knowledge that he considered Winona a friend, so he went in the opposite direction. Jim's reaction to his father's legacy was not unexpected, but Chris knew enough about the boy from Winona and had been at the recruiting gig long enough to know which buttons to push. They ended the evening ambiguously, but no matter what Jim thought, Chris knew who'd won the argument.

The following morning, he had his errant cadets shepherding the recruits through processing and on to the shuttles -- a crappy job that they all thought was punishment for the previous night but would have been their duties regardless because Cadets Second Class weren't useful for much of anything -- when he saw Jim drive up.

Getting Jim processed and registered back at the Academy was not simple -- yes, he was academically and physically acceptable and yes, he was George and Winona Kirk's son, but he'd also spent his entire childhood in the Starfleet system as a dependant minor, which meant that they had easy access to a long list of minor and not-so-minor infractions. But Chris had eventually ended the debate by reminding the admirals that they'd sent him out as a recruiter to be the war hero everyone wanted to become and hey, look, he'd brought in the son of one of the twenty-third century's greatest heroes who wanted to outdo them all. "If you didn't give me this billet to bring in people like Jim Kirk, what the hell am I doing out there? Sowing the seeds of the next crop of Logistics Officers?"

Chris waited a month into the fall term before emailing Winona with Jim's contact information; he wanted to make sure Jim was going to stick it out and he was sure that Jim had made no attempt to tell his mother where he was. In the note to Winona, Chris explained that he wasn't sure whether she would be happy or angry with what he'd done, but it had seemed like the best idea at the time.

He got back two words: Thank you.



Chris wasn't thinking of George Kirk when he named Jim as the interim First Officer, although he was quite sure both Jim and Spock would disagree. He was thinking of himself and Robbins back on the Agincourt, the cavalier helmsman and the rock-steady Operations officer, and how well they'd worked together once they'd stopped staring daggers at each other's backs. If he was going to go off and get himself killed (if he was lucky) by a crazy Romulan, then Chris could at least take comfort that he'd left the Enterprise and her crew with the best possible command element -- and it was one that included Jim. No matter what Spock thought (and Spock clearly thought that the Romulan wasn't the only crazy captain in this scenario).

But Chris's luck didn't run to getting killed by crazy Romulans, although not for lack of trying. And Jim and Spock turned out to be a much more dynamic duo than Chris and Eunice had been at such an early juncture, which was also to Chris's good fortune. If a bit of a surprise because with all of Jim's seeming recreation of his father's heroism, Chris could clearly see how much Winona was responsible as well. Yes, George Kirk had been stoically brave in the face of the ultimate no-win situation, but he'd also been, well, stoic. Winona was the fiery one; Chris had long since come to realize just how similar in temperament mother and son really were. Not that he'd ever told Jim, who as far as Chris knew still had never actually told his mother where he'd been for the last three years.

Which didn't stop her from traveling west for the memorial and to see her son's commissioning as a captain. Chris had offered her a place next to him, but she'd refused and had taken a seat in the gallery. "It's his moment. I don't want to ruin it."

Jim ended up surprising both of them by tracking them down after the memorial service as they'd been heading for the cherry orchard.


Winona had been in mid-sentence, but she froze, watching motionless as Jim jogged toward them. He stopped in front of her and, without another word, gave her a hug. Chris rolled a step away to give them some kind of privacy, but not before he heard her choke back a sob.

"Sir," Jim began once they'd broken apart, his voice not quite steady. "For the record, sir, you are not nearly as sly as you think you are."

Chris cocked an eyebrow. "Have you really been a captain so long that you feel comfortable talking to admirals like that?"

A genuine Jim Kirk grin, the kind that was almost impossible not to answer in kind. "This admiral? Yes, sir." He looked at his watch and then at his mother. "I have to go do stupid stuff. Can I..."

"You know how to reach me," Winona finished for him. "Go do stupid stuff."

"Sir." Jim nodded to Chris, then ran off again.

Chris looked up at Winona as she watched him go.

"Well," she finally said. Sighed. She looked like she was going to laugh and cry at once.

"Cherry blossoms?" Chris offered.

Winona nodded. "Cherry blossoms."



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25 June, 2010