Title: Failure Is Not An Option
Rating: PG-13 (possibly R in later chapters)
Pairing/Character(s): Jim/Bones, Pike, Chekov, Scotty; past Jocelynn/Bones; background Uhura/Spock, Sulu/OFC, Trip/T'Pol
Length: ~38,000 (WIP)
Warnings/Spoilers: AU Star Trek: 2009, with a dash of TOS and ENT; language, minor character death
Disclaimer: All characters, situations, quotes et al are properties of their respective owners and I am merely using them under Title 17 of the US Code, § 107, aka the Fair Use Doctrine, without intents to infringe upon or defame anyone's legal rights. It wouldn't be worth the cost to sue me anyway.
Summary: It's 2029 and change is in the air.
"She is forever moving just out of reach and I sail on, never touching, only watching and wanting to know."
Alfred Worden – Apollo 15
They called him a hero, but that had always been a lie. Other Kirks, they'd been heroes. Jim had done nothing no one else in his position wouldn't have done. Every medal he'd earned was as much a matter of luck as it was willingness to do what needed to be done to bring his crew home safe. It wasn't heroism, it was pragmatism.
If there was anything heroic in him, he would have fought for the Constellation Program even after they forced him into retirement. He would have called Ma after Orion 6 and made her understand he wasn't going into space to hurt her. He would have kissed Bones the moment he realized he'd fallen, despite all his attempts not to, in love.
But Jim wasn't a hero, and hadn't.
Tuesday, 2 January, 2029 (L-197 days)
"You're kidding!" Uhura laughed, trying not to fall off her perch on the the arm of the couch. It was a futile attempt, though, her laughter was so hard, and eventually she gave up and sunk into a nearby chair which, if a bit wobbly, at least was firm enough to not dump her every time she fell into a paroxysm of laughter.
"Why would I make something like that up?"
From beside him on the couch, "I dunno. Making up crazy stories seems to me a very Jim thing to do."
"Just because I might've suggested the head of the AFSPC is trying to ruin our vacation plans for his monetary gain doesn't... mean... that..."
Jim felt his bluster wilt beneath Bones' I am not amused look. That, and the fact they'd finally managed to talk him into wearing a flight suit like a proper astronaut-in-training, which was really quite distracting. Far more distracting than it had ever been when he'd been with the Astronaut Office, and that had been made up of a fair few attractive men and women in prime physical condition.
God, this ignoring how he felt crap was worse than he'd ever imagined. In fact, he was fairly certain said denial was only making him want Bones more, though Uhura's attempts to help – by making up excuses for them to spend more time together, by talking him up to the doctor; by slipping condoms and lube into his pockets when he wasn't looking and giving him superior looks from across the room when he discovered them hours later – weren't making things any easier either.
Still, seizing the distraction, he beamed at them both. "Okay, so maybe I would make up a story like this, but that doesn't mean I did. Just google it. Birth dates, death dates – it's all in the Census Bureau's records."
"Seriously. I mean, my dad's obvious. Disintegrated on live television Columbia did. Ma saw it, of course, and went into labour a month early. But my brother was already around then and he was what? Six? No, his birthday was in March, so almost six, but not quite. Which is point one for the Kirk Curse."
"You have a brother?"
Jim bit his lip at that, quickly turning it into a smile that showed nothing of his true feelings. "Sam, yeah. He was brilliant. A pilot, of course, but probably would of made a better scientist. He'd the eccentric, scatter-brained nature of one, at least while we were kids. Didn't see much of him after he enlisted, 'cause Ma was furious at him, but he was still a great guy. Even helped me forge my papers to enlist early. Died when I was still in the 393b. Flew into a mountain trying to avoid a mess of ground-to-airs in Azerbaijan, or so they tell me...
"Fuck, that makes me older now than he was when he died. Never expected that to happen. Anyway," he added with false cheerfulness, not liking the sad, near pitying look on their faces (and, granted, for someone who'd known at least that much of the Kirk Curse, Uhura seemed the more distressed; as for Bones, he just looked concerned and understanding, not judging – exactly as he had when Jim had first mentioned his father – and that somehow made it possible for him to continue. Jim didn't know if he could otherwise), "Sam doesn't count, not as far as the curse is concerned, 'cause he didn't have any kids. Not that he told me about, least.
"Which I guess brings us to Grandpa Tiberius. Dad's dad. He died in the Tan Son Nhat C-5 accident in the last days of the Vietnam War. That was part of Operation Babylift, when they were trying to pull all the Americans out of the country." They said the fact that anyone survived the crash at all was probably because of Grandpa Tiberius' remarkable demonstration of flying skill. Got him an Air Force Cross, which Grandma Suzie had kept in a frame on the mantle with a picture of her husband on the banks of the Saigon River. There was a picture of Dad there too, taken when he piloted Discovery during STS-96, and Dad's Congressional Space Medal of Honour. Grandma Suzie had put them there too; Ma had been gone too often to waste time putting up any pictures during his childhood.
Shrugging that off too, "Anyway, Dad was like, what? Two at the time? Something like that. So that's point two for the Kirk Curse."
"To quote Spock, it's just coincidence, Kirk." The fact that Uhura was laughing did little for his case or hers. "You went into flying because your dad flew, and he went into it because his dad flew. It's human nature, not a curse."
Jim didn't seriously think there was a curse either, but it was a rather interesting – and terrible – string of coincidences. And it made for a crazy story, and a crazy story like this was better to focus on right now than Scotty's efforts to fix something in the LVT, or the reports on the X-63 they'd sent off to General Barstow yesterday. And, if it made them laugh, well, that made it all worth it.
"Maybe, but what about Samuel, Grandpa Tiberius' dad? He was in the Army Air Corps until Hitler invaded France. The day he learned from his superiors the States wouldn't be joining the fight just yet, he went AWOL and joined the Royal Air Force. He became one of the first Americans to die in WWII." Got a Distinguished Flying Cross from George VI for his actions too. It and a black-and-white picture of his great-grandfather next to his Spitfire sat on the mantel next to the others. "Grandpa Tiberius was three or so, which is another point."
"Which just proves that foolhardiness is a Kirk family trait."
Jim gave her the finger before turning supplicatingly on Bones, whose expression promptly turned from concern to dear God, why me? He chose to take this as a good sign. "You believe me, don't you Bones?"
"I dunno, Jim. If the rest of your family is anything like you..."
Indignantly, "And what's that supposed to mean?"
He'd never known anyone who could say with their eyebrows you know exactly what that means, let alone detail all the injustices. Or compel him to explain, for perhaps the twelfth time, that he'd only been peripherally involved with his first kidnapping (in that he'd chosen who they were going to kidnap, but had not actually done the kidnapping; Bones didn't seem to see the distinction).
God, if Uhura kept laughing like that, the others would hear her in the simulator and come out, asking all sorts of questions he most definitely did not want to answer right now. Though Sulu, from his place at one of the computers controlling the sim, seemed to be entertaining just those thoughts.
Jim leaned his head back until it collided with the couch cushions and stared at the ceiling, wondering what it said about him if his closest friends were all such cruel people. He continued, "Doesn't end there, though. Samuel's dad, Nathan, went off and joined the RAF during WWI before we got involved in that one too. He became one of the first flying aces. His plane was shot down somewhere over Germany, of course..." And, true to form, a black-and-white of his great-great-grandfather with his SE5 sat on the mantel with his Victoria Cross. And, also true to form, "Samuel was like fifteen months or something at the time, which is another point for the curse...
"Can't really go back farther than that, 'cause they didn't have planes before then, but I bet if you find some famous naval battle, one of my ancestors died in it. I've always had the sinking feeling that Nathan Kirk's dad, whoever he might've been, died in the Spanish-American War; the timing would have been about right for it.
"Anyway, it's like a biological imperative for Kirks, dying in terribly heroic ways shortly after they've fathered children that will, invariably, go on to die in more spectacularly heroic ways – but," he sat up and grinned at Bones, finally answering the question that had started this all, "it does mean that no one in my family's ever died of cancer. So, if I do come down with it, you can know for certain that all the radiation up there," he waved distractedly at the ceiling, "caused it."
"That's only your dad's side," Uhura admonished, halfway between her earlier laughter and genuine worry.
"Yeah, well, Ma never exactly shared much about her side of the family, did she?"
She rolled her eyes.
Bones looked at him curiously though, as if Ma was more interesting than a plethora of dead Kirks, which maybe she was. "What's this?"
"Kirk here hasn't talked to his mother since he was sixteen," Uhura answered before he'd the chance to, sounding smug and exasperated all at the same time.
"It's not my fault," Jim protested. "I couldn't get home in time for Sam's funeral. I'd probably have talked to her then if she'd been there."
"There are such things as phones, you know."
"Which only work if you know the phone number," he corrected petulantly. "But really, it's no big deal. Ma and I have a screwed up relationship. I know this. I get it. I'm over it. Can we drop it now?"
Unfortunately, a change of topic didn't seem to be on the books. "I looked it up after our little conversation the other day. She's been at the hospital at Ramstein for about two years now. I've got the address upstairs, if you want it."
"You're almost as bad as Spock is with his dad, though he, at least, let's me send cards on holidays and birthdays. Men!" she huffed, then, looking briefly at her bemused company, announced, "I'm going to see if there's anything I can help the others with before you lot corrupt them with your evil, repressed ways," before going off an doing just that.
Jim stared after her retreating form in something somewhat akin to horror. "If she's like this now, just think how bad it's going to be when we're finally up there. When she gets her mind stuck on something..."
"Spock said something like that to me last week..."
"Yeah?" he felt the need to turn the conversation away from that topic as soon as possible, "Well, that's Uhura for you. She can convince anyone to do anything, if only by wearing them down so much that they give in to just get some relief. She probably imagines she can get me to make up with Ma before we go up, but, well, she's been trying the same thing between Spock and his dad since before I came along and not gotten anywhere with him, and I figure I'm at least as stubborn as Spock, so I can probably hold off until we launch, and she can't make me talk to her after that. 'Specially since Ma's the one who won't talk to me."
Bones turned a little towards him, the movement causing his knee to brush against Jim's briefly and soliciting a flutter in his stomach that was not at all becoming of a man of his age. "And why's that?"
"'Cause I enlisted. She wanted me to be a lawyer," he crinkled his nose at Bones, earning a bit of a laugh, "if you can imagine that. Ma was practically insistent on it. She was prepared to ship me off to Cornell that fall, nevermind I didn't want to go to New York or study law. I guess she thought it was the safest place for me or some other shit like that. So I talked her into letting me visit Sam down at Dannelly, and then Sam, like I said, helped me forge the papers to enlist."
Clearly confused, "If you were going off to college-?"
"Why would I need to forge papers?" he guessed. Sometimes he forgot that Bones was so new to Aquarian; that, unlike the others, they didn't know everything about him that was possible to learn from official dossiers, filched military records, and old interviews. It was strange, having to explain everything; nice, but strange. "I skipped a couple of grades, then graduated early when I'd taken all the classes Highland had to offer. I was barely sixteen when I joined up.
"Still, I'm not even sure if she realized I hadn't come home from visiting Sam 'til I called her after Basic." Jim shrugged, not wanting to let on it mattered, because it didn't, not any more. "She was in the Air Force too – still is, I guess, if she's at Ramstein now. She believed in the Kirk Curse, at least. Didn't want me or Sam joining up 'cause she didn't want us getting killed, which is good, I guess, even if she went about it the wrong way.
"Anyway, I called her the night before I had to be at Whiteman; told her what I'd done. She told me that I was going to die, just like Dad and Grandpa Tiberius and everyone else. And I said, yeah, but at least I'd be dying for reason, rather than living like her, too scared to do any actual living, and... well... That was the last time we talked."
The doctor frowned. "And that was ten years ago?"
"Near about, yeah. It's no big deal. It's not like we were close or anything before then."
There was a long silence after that, filled only with the muffled noises coming out of the LVT and the occasional burst of typing from Sulu's computer. It was far from awkward, the silence, as it might've been if he'd been here with anyone else, talking about Ma and her stubborn refusal for refusing to forgive him for not being the child she wanted, but it was still silence, and that was one thing Jim had never borne well.
He glanced idly at the LVT. There was some sort of programming glitch that kept on telling them they'd gone into gimbal lock every time they tried to manoeuvre the craft, well, any direction but forward. Scotty had probably fixed it ages ago and had gone on to moving the wires around for better power distribution, or some other crazy thing like that.
Jim turned to share this thought with the doctor only to be caught off guard by Bones himself. It was nothing he could put his finger on – the tilt of his head, maybe, or the look in his eyes, which had gone golden brown in the light – but it stopped him nonetheless. For a moment. For two. And then-
And then Bones leaned over and kissed him.
It was hardly perfect, as far as kisses went. It was gentle, experimental, a little too open mouthed to be chaste; a little too tentative to be passionate. If it could be called anything, it could be called casual, more a four hundredth kiss than a first. But all that being said, it was everything that Jim had ever wanted and then some, and he returned it gladly.
And then the opening bars of Also sprach Zarathustra started playing, startling him enough that he actually flung himself away from Bones (and his wonderful, amazing, unexpected, perfect kiss) in shock before he realized what it was: his phone.
He'd ringtones for everyone – insipid pop songs for unrecognised numbers, Gayane's Adagio for people from Aquarian, and so on – but only three people in the world had that particular ringtone and he'd not spoken to any of them since he'd been discharged, which explained his surprise at hearing it. He'd almost forgotten he'd had that song on his phone at all.
Laughing at himself, Jim dug his phone out of his pocket and started to say, "Bones, I think you might be right about watching too many SyFy movies," but, when he turned around, Bones was already disappeared.
That couldn't possibly be good.
Still, he was only one man, and could only deal with one problem at a time. Resignedly, he leaned his head back on cushions once more and answered the still-ringing phone. "Kirk here."
Sunday, 21 May, 2023 (T+ 00:48:36)
For the first time since the launch (no, even before, when they'd been strapped into their couches for hours on end, waiting for the countdown to make it to T- 0:07, when the boosters would ignite and there could be no turning back), the crew of Orion 3 had a moment to take a look out the windows.
It wasn't a long moment – in a couple of minutes they would would have to start the checklists for the first of three burns that would, eventually, take the Constellation into a Sun-synchronous orbit – but it was enough.
"Well gentlemen, I do believe we made it."
Arne Darvin turned towards his CO (a move made somewhat more difficult by the fact they were still in their ACES, and Darvin's couch was on the opposite side of the shuttle from April's) and, rather dryly, commented, "Do keep up, Bobby. We crossed the Kármán Line over half hour ago."
Rolling his eyes, Jim laughed at that. "Oh, lighten up Arne. We're in space." Jim looked out at the Earth spinning below them, still not quite believing they were finally here. Every sense was telling him he'd left the planet of his birth, but he'd never felt better in his life, and Jim knew right then that, given half the choice, he'd never come back down. "We're in fucking outer space!"
Bobby started laughing then too – a bright, raucous belly laugh that, between them, filled the whole shuttle. "God, we are, aren't we?"
"We should have prepared something to say."
"To who?" he asked a little more sedately. "Only Houston's listening. We'll probably only get thirty seconds of air time on the news channels the whole mission."
"Still. Three men have left the Earth who never left the Earth before. That has to mean something."
"I never took you for a romantic Jim."
"What can I say Bobby? You learn something new every day – but that's good. Day you know everything? Might as well stop."
(Commander April was wrong: they would a full forty-five seconds of coverage when the Constellation landed at Edwards. Fifteen of those seconds would be used to say the second manned Orion mission had been carried out with scarcely a hiccup. The rest would be used in an aside, to mention that Captain James T. Kirk, in addition to being NASA's first second-generation astronaut, had surpassed Gherman Titov's record as youngest man in space by five years and two hundred nineteen days.
(Titov had been almost twenty-six when he'd orbited the Earth seventeen times in 1961. He'd been dead for longer than Jim had been alive. But the American public neither knew nor cared and, as such, wouldn't pay either fact any attention until he'd flown Orion 6.)
Tuesday, 2 January, 2029 (L-197 days)
Sulu had, apparently, seen the whole thing.
He'd also, apparently, told Uhura everything while he'd been on the phone.
"You idiot!" the woman in question shouted the moment he entered the sim looking for Pike, and probably would have followed quickly with a slap across the fact if, a) she hadn't been strapped into and couch out of reach and, b) Pike hadn't been strapped into the couch next to her. Then again, she still might've even with Pike in the room. Uhura had the infuriating tendency of making sure everyone she came into contact with knew exactly what they thought of them, be they flight engineers or four-star generals. It was refreshing after an age dealing with military politicking, but, as noted, fucking annoying in everyday situations.
Sulu was closest to the door, leaning against one the aeroponics benches, and visibly blushed at this comment. "Sorry man. When I told her, I assumed she'd go about berating you with a little more common decency."
"This is Uhura we're talking about. She has about as much subtlety as a Triple Seven. Though," he added quickly, before she could make a fuss about being compared to a jet, "in my defence, it wasn't like I asked my phone to ring right then. I'd gladly have ignored it, except for the part where it scared me half to death."
Jim wasn't going to add that, for a full millisecond, he'd expected to see a monolith in the middle of the hangar. No, he had to leave himself with some dignity and, besides, mentioning it would only make things worse. Particularly as it might earn him a psych eval now that they'd someone trained to do such things on the team, and Jim could personally guarantee that that would be the last thing Bones might want to do at the moment.
He'd taken a moment to look for Bones after he'd gotten off the phone, but he wasn't in the infirmary, or Pike's office, or anywhere else Jim had thought to look. And, if Bones was actively hiding from him, that could only mean that all Jim's worst fears about his feelings for the doctor messing up the mission were coming true.
But Bones had been the one to kiss him.
Not that that mattered in the end. Jim had still been the one to mess things up. He could have turned the phone off but, no, he'd had to leave it on, just in case someone from the office called with an update about the X-63 situation.
It was all General Barstow's fault. He knew that now.
And, okay, maybe a little bit his own, for making the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey his ringtone for people he'd gone through the Triple Six disaster with. Well, he'd originally programmed for all his Orion 6 team members back when they'd still been in training, but he'd added Willard's number to the list when he'd taken Clark's off. It had seemed like the thing to do, not that it had really mattered, not after Orion 10. No one from NASA called him much after that. Not Mulhall or April or Noel. Not even Gary Mitchell. And he'd used to talk to Gary all the time. Even after that nasty business with his stepsister.
Yeah. Carol was exactly who he needed to be thinking about right now – if he wanted that psych eval.
"We'll discuss why you've got ringtones that scare you half to death later. Right now I want to know what you're going to do about it, 'cause the UST has gone on far enough," Uhura said, unstrapping herself from her couch and moving to stand in front of Jim, seemingly continuing to debate with herself all the while if it was worth slapping him.
"Can we not?"
Jim was fairly certain he heard Pike mumble something along the line of, "Yes, please," but couldn't sure. While it was likely Pike felt very deeply about not wanting to have to hear anything about his colleagues' (and, in many respects, children's) love lives, Pike was hardly the sort to admit it. The sort to sit there, looking more and more displeased with the situation, yes, but not the sort to tell you what he was so displeased about, at least when it came to emotions. If it had been anything else, anything else at all, he wouldn't have hesitated to say something. Jim rather liked that about him. It seemed like a very Dad-like thing to do. And, in many ways, Pike was the closest thing to a dad he'd ever known.
Jim had issues. He knew this. But that didn't change the fact that Pike thought of him as a son too.
Either way, Uhura wasn't for it. "No, because if you two don't resolve this while we're on the ground, it's only going to get worse and blow up in all our faces when we're up there. And, frankly, I'm not sure that the Moon's big enough to survive the fallout if that happens."
"Your faith in me is touching, but, really, I can handle it." Somehow. "Can I at least tell you about the phone call that fucked everything up? Yes?"
"Good," he continued as if Uhura hadn't said anything at all (which made him feel a touch guilty until he remembered her recent slip-prophylactics-into-pockets tendencies, after which he felt decidedly less so). "Anyway, Ann called." As this, by the blank stares, meant nothing to the others, "Ann Mulhall, she was on Orion 6 with me. Left the astronaut corps right after, but stayed in the service. The Navy gave her a star and everything. She's the COMSPECWAR for Coronado now, or so she tells me-"
"It means she's in charge of the SEALS for the Pacific Fleet," Sulu explained for Uhura, who would have used the question as an excuse to start in on his incompetence with interpersonal relationships (which, while admittedly true, became a very tiring subject matter very quickly). Sulu was nearly as brilliant at relationships as Jim was bad at them, and could do things like that – explain naval acronyms for her – without being called a heartless, condescending bastard with no respect for other people, their personal boundaries, or their abilities to suss things out on their own, as Uhura had called Jim many, many times before.
In fact, when he thought about it, considering how much Uhura seemed to take unholy glee in mocking him, it was quite odd that she possessed such an extreme desire to see him happy.
But whatever. It was Uhura. She was family and he loved her. Regardless of her oddities.
"Anyway," he continued pointedly, "strange as her job is considering she's a pilot and not a SEAL, she called to tell me that NASA wants me at Arlington for the Remembrance Day ceremonies."
Pike seemed decidedly still uninterested, offering only a vague, "That's... unexpected," as he unstrapped himself from the centre couch.
"Unexpected?" Uhura laughed, momentarily distracted from his love life and the lack thereof. "It's crazy. They've all but spent the last four years calling you crazy. Why would they want you back after all this time, even if it's just to stand there looking pretty for the photographers?"
Sulu shrugged, looking almost as bored as Pike. "You know the government. It'll be five years since the Triple Six disaster this September and, rather than have a separate ceremony then, they'll have it now, when everyone's paying attention for the Challenger and Columbia."
"What's stranger is that, according to Ann at least, they want me there badly enough they're willing to let me hang about the blockhouse at the Cape for the Orion 15 launch first, since it's only a few days before, and pretend it's just like old times..."
"They have to want something."
"Well of course they want something, Uhura. The problem is with figuring out what. I think it's something to do with the X-63."
"I can't think of anything else I've had a hand in recently that might've caused them to ring me up out of the blue."
"This has probably been in the works for months. I mean, it is the five year anniversary of a space-fairing catastrophe you survived. It only makes sense that they'd want you there, and that they'd have trouble getting in contact with you since you're pretty much off the grid."
"Still, it seems awful last-minute. Remembrance Day's in just over three weeks. And, 'sides, if it was really about remembering space-fairing catastrophes, why didn't they ring me up last year? I'm sure the astronaut son of a dead astronaut would have been a lovely thing to have on hand on for Columbia's twenty-fifth, and twenty-five is such a much more impressive number than five."
Sulu didn't seem to find either five or twenty-five that that impressive, as all it got from him was his shrugging routine and a casual, "It's a different administration," in much the same way other people said, "These things happen," which, while true, failed to imbue him with confidence.
"Maybe. But... oh, I dunno. Things just feel off. Like I'm missing something. Something important. Something key about this whole situation. I mean, why have Ann of all people call me, especially when she's not assigned to NASA anymore ? Why not one of the higher ups?" The Director, for instance, or one of the Public Affairs Officers.
"Not everything is a conspiracy Jim," Pike sighed, standing and making his way towards him. He looked at the other two and, though his words were light, there was a suggestion of force behind them. "Sulu, Uhura, why don't you continue the tests, see if we've got the gimbals all sorted out?" That said, he guided Jim out of the LVT and back into the hangar.
It was empty, holding no sign of Spock, Scotty, or Chekov, let alone Bones. Not that he'd really expected any of them there – Bones was probably retreating into his work, like he'd seemed to have done after Bryan Robinson's death, and the others were probably working on the computers down in the mechanical room since they'd not been in the LVT – but, still, it would have been nice to have the distraction.
Jim flopped down on the couch for lack of any reason not to and stared at the ceiling, hard. He didn't have to see Pike's face to know there was an equal measure of exasperation and fondness there as he took his own seat, rather more sedately, on Uhura's abandoned chair.
They were both silent for a long time, and then, despite himself, Jim found himself saying, "I know it's stupid – that I'm being stupid about this whole thing – but something feels wrong about this whole situation.
"I've been watching the news lately. A real shocker, I know, but there are only so many holiday movies even I can take, and, like I said, I've had this feeling we've been missing something. I know Barstow said he wants the plans for the X-63 sped up because of the trouble in the Caucasus, but the situation there hasn't changed all that much. Not recently. Not so much that six months will make that much of a difference. And all that makes me think there's something going on there we're not being told about, but, for the life of me, I can't guess what.
"I mean, Russia's moving more troops into Chechnya and Azerbaijan, but they're still not doing anything with them besides looking threatening, like always. Turkey's stationing more troops in Georgia and along the Aras, but they're not doing anything with them either, just like always. And, well, the state-sanctioned warlords are fighting each other, like always, but absolutely nothing is going on that wasn't going on exactly like it was this time last year. There's not even a whisper of anything that might be getting the State Department's panties in a twist, not in that neck of the woods at least.
"Then I started looking – I mean, really looking, on all sorts of websites that would have me on all sorts of terrorist watch lists if Uhura hadn't rigged up that whole thing with the servers that keeps the government from being able to track us in the first place. There's some whispers of unrest in Egypt, the sort of thing that the Turks would use as excuse to send in peacekeeping forces like they did in Georgia. Muslim brotherhood, and all that.
"And then I got to thinking, if the Turks do send forces into Egypt, the Russians might think to use Turkey's distraction with a second front to their advantage... and then we'd have a real war at last..." Jim sighed, every bit of exhaustion, confusion, and self-defeat that he'd been feeling since the moment he'd learned the X-63 had been moved up leaking through. "But maybe I'm just being stupid."
Pike only ever spoke in calm, measured tones, as if no word should ever be wasted, and this was no exception. "It's not stupid, Jim; it's strategy, to guess your enemy's movements before he makes them. You've always been able to see a little bit further than most. If you think that something's wrong – with NASA wanting you at their ceremony, with the AFSPC wanting the plans early, - I believe you've got reason to. But you've got to remember something."
"What?" Jim asked resignedly, rolling onto his side, looking at Pike but not quite meeting his eyes.
There was something resolute about Pike, an undeniable efficacy and genuineness about his person that made Jim think of the Kennedys, if the Kennedys had been desert rats and not New Englanders. Perhaps the colonel was a touch more martial than that family had ever seemed, and certainly without the near-royal family background, but that selfsame confidence, that charisma was still there. No one less could have convinced a sixteen-year-old Jim to do something about his dream of wanting to do something better. Something special.
There had been times, in the years between the gas station in Chicago where he'd first met Pike and the bar in East Cambridge he'd met him again six years later, when he'd wondered why Colonel Christopher Pike had spoken to him at all that day. It wasn't until he joined Aquarian that he'd come understand that Pike spoke to everyone the same way, with an eye for finding what would motivate a person within minutes of meeting them. Whether this was a natural or learned trait Jim could not say, but it was such an integral part of the colonel that he scarcely questioned it, though sometimes he did question what Pike would have become had Trip not asked him to do this Moon mission for him – he could easily imagine him as a senator or a VP for a firm like Durandal. Someone world-changing, anyway.
He didn't ask a lot of things about Pike. He didn't need to, not when it was more than obvious that, whatever lay in his past, Pike was someone he'd willingly follow to the end of the world.
If the world was perfect, it would let Jim become a commander even half as good as Pike was at his worst. No, that was wrong: if the world was perfect, it would mean that Jim would never need to command another mission. Not that he hadn't loved every minute of Orion 10, but Pike was so much better at it than he'd ever been. Because Jim knew he wasn't a Kennedy or a Roosevelt, or, hell, even a Robertson. Ten years had passed, but he was still that same fucked up kid, and a handful of undeserved medals and three trips into space hadn't changed that.
"Not to go burdening yourself unnecessarily with things you can't help."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"The situation in the Caucasus isn't yours to worry about."
"It has to be somebody's." A real, true war between Turkey and Russia would force the X-63 project ahead faster than Aquarian had prepared for. And while that wouldn't create too many problems for Enterprise's launch, it would be a problem for all the unmanned supply launches that would follow, allowing them to expand their base and become truly self-sustaining.
"Who's then?" Pike's, in non-existent hours he wasn't trying to pull everything together for the mission and dealing with Aquarian's real life façade? Spock's? Scotty's? No, it was Jim's responsibility, whatever else Pike said. It was partially his fault mankind was forced to go about getting to the Moon this way anyway. He could handle the consequences.
Jim was very good with consequences.
"And you don't see that as an unnecessary burden?"
Of course it was a burden. But, "Not unnecessary." The mission was all that mattered. If the cost of success was his own happiness, well, it wouldn't be the first time in history that a Kirk had sacrificed himself for the greater good.
Pike sighed and ran a hand through his hair. For a moment it looked like he might say something more, but he didn't, and silence returned to the hangar.
When it became clear that Scotty had decided the best way to fix problem with the gimbals was to sit down with Spock and Chekov and rewrite the program that translated the LVT's movements to the simulator's star chart, Jim went looking for Bones. They needed to talk.
There were, however, a few problems with this plan, first among them that Jim had not the slightest idea what he would say to the doctor when he found him. After all, what could he say? I'm sorry, but while I think I might be in love with you, nothing can ever come of it? He didn't need Uhura to tell him that that that would be a terrible idea.
It was true, though. The mission was paramount. He could phrase it whatever way he wanted – concern that Bones was merely turning to him because he was the first person to show interest since his wife divorced him; worry that any relationship between them would be unduly stressed their already stressful mission; fear that their attraction was formed solely out of the stress of the situation – but what it all came back to in the end was that something between them could affect the mission, and Jim couldn't have that. It was stupid and pathetic and more than a little cruel, but that was the deal.
Either way, it was probably for the better that he didn't find Bones lurking about. It gave him time to crash on a chair in the infirmary and think of a better way to handle the problem.
By midnight, Jim had decided three things:
One, that the chairs in the infirmary sucked, no matter how you went about sitting in them, and should be replaced post haste, preferably with ones exactly like Pike's.
Two, that he would very much like to kiss Bones (amongst other things) again, preferably without interruption or audience the second time round.
And three, that the chance to walk on the Moon was well worth the cost of everything else.
Armed with this knowledge, Jim went looking for Bones again.
He found Bones in the motel room they shared, buried underneath a mountain of blankets to keep from freezing in the bitter Iowa winter. It was hard at first to tell if he was still awake or asleep, but, either way, the doctor stirred as he entered the room, probably roused by the blast of snowy air that accompanied him. The TV was on, as was the bathroom light, though that meant nothing; the TV was usually on in their room, though usually Jim was the one watching it.
A beat or two passed in which the only sound came faintly from the television:
"Ha... there it is again. That itch. Go down, go down, go down, go down, go down."
"The urge to jump. Do you know where it comes from, that sensation? Genetic heritage. Ever since we were primates in the trees. It's our body's way of testing us. Calculating whether or not we can reach the next branch."
"No, that's not it... that's too kind. It's not the urge to jump, it's deeper than that. It's the urge to fall!"
And then, as if nothing at all had changed, the doctor's voice floated up from the bed, heavy with sleep. "Jim," he said, "turn the TV off and go to bed."
Despite himself, Jim smiled indulgently, reminding him, "You're the one who left it on this time," even as he did as asked. He toed out of his shoes as he went and pulled off his jacket too, intending to dive into his own bed. If Bones didn't want to talk about their aborted kiss, well, it was all for the better. They could just pretend it never happened...
...which was what he'd been going to suggest anyway, so everything worked out perfectly. And eventually Uhura would realize this and stop trying to play matchmaker. And eventually these feelings of love and lust (tinged right now with more than a little hurt) would dissipate, and it would be as if the kiss had never had happened at all.
...which was exactly what he wanted, because feelings complicated things, and in twenty-eight weeks they'd be on the Moon, where the last things they needed were complications.
...which they inevitably would have, because even the smoothest of relationships created complications, and Jim had never exactly been known for his smooth relationships. Nevermind the fact that Spock and Uhura seemed to have a less-than-perfectly-healthy relationship that no one was complaining might cause unnecessary complications for the mission.
…which was okay, it really was, because Bones had only kissed him because Jim was the first person who'd shown interest in him since his divorce. It had probably meant nothing to the doctor, and he'd probably have run off even if his phone hadn't rung. He probably wanted to pretend nothing had happened even more than Jim did.
...which was okay, it really was, because Jim was fine just as he was. He'd be better if he was in space, but, as far as present circumstances allowed, he was perfectly fine.
Really, he was.
"I was waiting up for you, you idiot. That makes it your fault and your TV to turn off."
Jim's smile wavered. "Were you?" he said brightly, as if he'd no clue at all why Bones might want to talk to him so late. He was well-practised in pretending nothing was wrong, but he would have been lying to say that it didn't hurt to have to use this tone on Bones, who'd never offered him anything but the complete truth. It mad him feel hollow, cold, and more than more than a little foolish. It was foolish to feel that way. He'd already made his choice; he'd made it long ago, when he'd first looked up at the sky and seen it as the last, greatest frontier man would ever find. He'd come too far to risk it all.
The words of his excuse already on his lips, "Look-" Bones began, struggling to untangle himself from his blankets enough to sit up.
And this word – this one single, pathetic word – caused something in his to break, his resolve shattering into a million pieces as he found himself saying, far too quickly and far too desperately for the kind of man he liked to think of himself as, "I'm sorry my phone rang and I'm sorry I reacted like I did and I'm sorry I didn't come looking for you sooner and I know I'm a terrible person and that there's no way in hell I deserve a second chance, but, please, Bones. Just, please."
He didn't know what he was asking or why he was asking it now when he'd spent all day convincing himself he'd no need for it, only that he was, because as unbearable as the idea of the mission failing was, the idea of never knowing if this thing between him and Bones would work was worse. It could very well cause everything to go up into the biggest ball of fire since the last sun in these parts exploded, but he had to take that one in ten thousand chance. Bones was worth the risk.
"Jim?" He was clearly confused, either from Jim's unexpected change of heart or sleep, but something flashed in Bones' eyes; a flicker of the same something that had been there before he'd kissed him earlier.
That was all the leave Jim needed before he kissed him again.