Fandom & Pairing: Star Trek Reboot, Pike/McCoy
Spoilers: Uh, for the 2009 movie, obv.
Word Count: Just a bit shy of 12,000
Summary: In the aftermath of a classified mission, Leonard has to pick up all of Chris's broken pieces.
Disclaimer: Any resemblance to anything whatsoever is purely coincidental.
A/N : This is imachar's help_pakistan fic. It didn't exactly go according to your prompt, bb, but the boys just took over and it would take a stronger woman than I to resist the combined forces of Pike and McCoy. Sorry about that, and I hope it still pleases. It was very much a labor of love. Thanks to ennui_blue_lite for handholding, cheerleading, and being the most awesomest bff ever, and thanks to wunnerwmn for concrit and helpful suggestions. All errors, of course, are mine. Title is from the U2 song Stay (Faraway, So Close!).
Oh, and this (no-so-)coincidentally fills my hurt/comfort bingo square (spoiler alert!): brainwashing/deprogramming
Chris was in a medical gown, sitting on a biobed, and yet despite the inherent indignity of the situation, he somehow still managed to exude an air of confident command. Leonard would never understand how he did it. That aura was something the best Starfleet officers had in spades, and Chris had always been one of Starfleet's best officers.
Which made it doubly infuriating that Starfleet had taken Chris's loyalty and used it for their own purposes without thought for the cost to Chris. Or, of course, to Leonard.
He turned away from the one-way observation window to look at Dr. Qi'Roth. Commodore Qi'Roth, because there was no way in hell he was granting this asshole the status of a healer, even in his own mind.
"What the hell did you do to him?"
Qi'Roth raised an eyebrow ridge. "Nothing he didn't consent to, I assure you."
"Which tells me less than nothing, because he would've agreed to anything you asked, if you told him it was necessary for the good of the Federation," Leonard shot back.
He probably shouldn't be giving this much lip to a superior officer, but the truth was that Leonard was scared, and he tended to lash out when he was scared. Chris was always trying to get him to channel his fear into "a more useful response than anger," for the good of his career. Which brought him back to Chris, and right now he didn't give a good goddamn about his career.
Because the thing was, that wasn't Chris in there. Oh, it was, physically at least, but in every other way... He turned away from Qi'Roth, gritted his teeth. "He doesn't even know me," he ground out.
That hurt worst of all. Two hours earlier, he'd gotten a vidcomm from HQ, letting him know that after nearly six months of absence -- a period without any contact whatsoever -- Chris was back on earth and that Leonard's presence was required at Starfleet Intelligence, where Chris was being held under observation. Naturally, they wouldn't give him any details at all over commlink.
He'd raced over as fast as he could, breaking just about every traffic law in existence, he was sure, and upon arriving and being told that he had to wait, he'd used his rank, his status as a doctor, and his very forceful personality to bully his way in to see Chris.
Upon seeing him alive, and apparently healthy, his first words had been, "Chris, thank god."
Chris had just raised one elegant eyebrow in that way he had, and had said "I'm sorry, do I know you, Doctor...?" with a faint question in his voice.
Leonard had been speechless. There was no way in hell it was a joke. Jim might conceivably try to pull that kind of juvenile prank, but not Chris. And besides -- once he'd looked closer, he could see... differences. This Chris had a hardness in his eyes. A cynical, secretive, distrustful look that his Chris had never worn, not even with people he knew were his enemies (and you didn't make Admiral without garnering a few, Chris always said).
Just then, though, Qi'Roth had come in and hustled Leonard out of the room, ignoring both Leonard's vociferous protests and Chris's coolly amused gaze.
And now here he was, staring at Chris through a one-way mirror, with Chris looking seemingly straight into his eyes, obviously aware that he was being observed.
He turned back to Qi'Roth. "I want some goddamned answers, and I want them now."
Qi'Roth heaved a put-upon sigh. "That is why you were summoned here, and if you'd waited for me, instead of barging around like a clumsy bear, we could have avoided this unpleasantness. Now follow me."
Leonard could feel his eyebrows bolting for the top of his forehead, and he so badly wanted to rip this supercilious jerk a new one, but for Chris's sake, he restrained himself and followed along with clenched jaw as Qi'Roth led the way down a featureless hallway and into another room.
There was a single table in the center of the room. Leonard settled himself on one side, opposite Qi'Roth, and waited, pointedly silent, for the explanation to begin. Qi'Roth looked directly at Leonard and began to speak.
"Eight years ago, Vulcan was destroyed. As you know, the damage to the people and the culture of Vulcan went far beyond that wrought by the initial blast. You consulted with Dr. T'Parr on her research on s'vith'eln, correct?"
"S'vith'eln -- yeah, the madness. That was the term she coined to describe Vulcans who were so overwhelmed with grief that they retreated into a permanent dissociative state or else shut down their autonomic functions completely, a particularly elegant form of suicide. What's that got to do with anything?"
Qi'Roth hesitated. "Doctor, I must remind you of your duty to Starfleet in maintaining absolute confidentiality of classified information -- "
"Good god, man! I know about my goddamned duties! Out with it." He was seriously going to start tearing heads off if he didn't get some answers, right the hell now.
Qi'Roth nodded. "Recently, Starfleet Intelligence discovered indications of another manifestation of s'vith'eln. It is a type of madness akin to that suffered by Nero himself. It causes the affected Vulcan to blame humanity for the failure to save Vulcan, and to wish to destroy the Federation as revenge for the destruction of Vulcan. Further, there was evidence that a group of Vulcan scientists had been so affected, and were on the brink of re-discovering the formula for red matter.
"When Starfleet contacted the Vulcan authorities about this intelligence, they were met with complete non-cooperation. Vulcan leadership insisted that this manifestation of s'vith'eln did not exist, and that for any Vulcan to subscribe to these illogical beliefs was simply impossible."
Leonard snorted. "Yeah, I can just picture those blank-faced bastards denying the obvious to their dying breath, because it's not 'logical.' Smug, superior jackasses."
Qi'Roth spoke sharply. "Doctor McCoy, this is neither the time nor the place for your xenophobic remarks. Do you wish to hear how this affects Admiral Pike or not?"
Leonard felt his face flare with heat, felt his heart pumping harder at the accusation. He stifled it, though, tamped it down with nothing more than a glare at Qi'Roth, as he waited for further information.
"Without the assistance of the Vulcan High Council, we were forced to resort to other methods of information-gathering. A covert operation, to put it bluntly. We needed to place an undercover agent. Of course, the agent would have to meet several highly specific qualifications. It would have to be someone whose reputation was beyond reproach, with no suspicion of prior involvement with Starfleet Intelligence and yet who had the requisite skills and abilities, and someone who had the kind of high-level connections and access that the Vulcans would need in order to carry out their plans."
"Chris," said Leonard flatly.
"Just so." Qi'Roth nodded. "The complication, of course, was the Vulcans' touch telepathy. A standard undercover agent, however well-trained, would be discovered immediately. The operative we placed would have to actually become the traitor they were portraying. It was the only way."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"We programmed Admiral Pike to believe that he actually desired to betray the Federation by working with the renegade Vulcan faction."
"You can't program a person like a goddamn computer, Commodore. What exactly did you do to him?"
"To put it crudely, brainwashing. It's an ancient technique, but I believe you are familiar with the term, Doctor."
McCoy's voice came out in a harsh rasp he barely recognized as his own. "That's barbaric."
"I don't disagree with you, Dr. McCoy. But it was necessary. When we explained the situation to Admiral Pike, he volunteered for the procedure. In fact, he was quite insistent."
The hell of it was that McCoy had no doubt that Qi'Roth was telling the truth. He could just picture Chris demanding to be tortured, broken, his beautiful bright mind twisted in service to the Federation. He'd feel regret over what it would do to Leonard, but not enough to make him hesitate. It wasn't a thought Leonard wanted to dwell on.
He scrubbed the heels of his palms into his eyes. "So what was the plan for getting him back, and what went wrong?" Obviously something had, or Leonard wouldn't be here. If everything had gone right, Chris would have come home and never said a word about his time away, and Leonard would never have even known any of this had happened.
Qi'Roth's voice was oddly gentle. "Dr. McCoy, there was no retrieval plan. The odds of success were slim, the odds of survival practically none. Admiral Pike was implanted with a subcutaneous transmitter, and our hope was that we would pick up enough evidence to convince the Vulcan High Council to assist us in further investigations before the traitors discovered the signal and killed him."
McCoy was sure his heart had stopped beating. His mind processed the words, but he didn't want to accept them. He knew, though, instinctively knew, that it was the truth. The way Chris had made love to him the night before leaving for his classified mission, the way he'd said goodbye to him the next morning. Looking back, it was clear that Chris had never planned on returning.
He squeezed his eyes shut, dug his fingernails into his palms. He would control himself right now. He could fall apart later.
"What happened?" He asked, and he noted distantly that his voice sounded sure and steady.
"He succeeded, Dr. McCoy. He succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. He gained the trust of the Vulcan traitors so rapidly, and transmitted so much evidence so quickly, that we were able to convince the High Council of the truth of our suspicions and extract Admiral Pike before the traitors even discovered the transmitter. They have all been detained and the threat of red matter in the hands of terrorists -- a threat which was much more imminent than we had realized -- has been neutralized."
"He's always been a charismatic son of a bitch," McCoy said.
Qi'Roth remained silent.
"So now what?" McCoy finally asked.
"This was a contingency we didn't plan for. But we hoped that with your help, there might be a way to..."
"What, fix him? You know how difficult deprogramming is. You know that the odds of ever restoring him to the person he was are astronomically low."
"Yes, I do know that. I also know, Dr. McCoy, that if anyone has a chance of succeeding, it is you. You were the last thing he held onto, the part of him that was most difficult to break. If anyone can reach him, bring him back, you can."
"And what if I can't?"
"Then he will have to be confined, for the remainder of his natural life."
McCoy looked away from Qi'Roth's too-understanding gaze. This was too damned much for anyone to absorb at once.
"Doctor, if you do not wish to undertake this, if you do not feel capable of it, for whatever reason, no one will blame you. Alternative arrangements have been made. You are under no obligation -- "
"Good god, man, of course I'm going to do it. I'm going to try, anyway. I don't think I have a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding, but I'm damn well going to try." As if there'd ever been a choice in the matter.
Qi'Roth nodded. "Very well, then. Admiral Pike will be transported to his ranch in the Mojave under high security. You will meet him there. He will be fitted with a tracker implanted in his liver, impossible to remove. You will be fitted with a biomonitor, equally impossible to remove. He will be made aware that if he attempts to leave, or if any harm should befall you, he will spend the rest of his life in a distant penal colony under... highly unpleasant conditions."
"House arrest, huh?"
"Indeed. Admiral Pike is an intelligent man. He will realize that this is by far the more desirable of his two options. We will have Starfleet security stationed in the nearest town, ready to deploy at a moment's notice if there is any difficulty whatsoever."
A feeling very like despair was overtaking him. Mixed with it was anger -- that Chris would do this to them, would throw away everything they had without a backward glance. He shoved it down, looked grimly at Qi'Roth. "I guess that's the best we can do. When do we start?"
All in all, it was nearly three weeks before Chris could be transported to the ranch in Mojave. Three weeks during which Leonard watched the vids of everything that had been done to Chris. Watched Chris taunting the intelligence agents and doctors assigned to brainwash him, telling them that he could take more, that they didn't need to coddle him like a three-year-old. Turning on the arrogance, daring them to do worse, even when his voice was a barely-there husk from lack of water and sleep. He was making it easier for them to do this awful thing to him, Leonard knew. Even as he was sacrificing mind and body for the lives of these people, he was trying to do it in a way that would salve their conscience as much as possible. It was so Chris that Leonard's heart broke.
In between watching vids that would haunt his nightmares for the rest of his life, he explored the property, taking long walks past rock formations and cacti and desert wildflowers that frankly all looked the same to him. He'd never really liked it here, even aside from the memories he associated with this place.
Chris always swore that the Mojave had its own stark beauty, here where everything was stripped to its essence. Leonard didn't like things that were stripped to their essence. He liked things that were lush and full of life, healthy and growing. He had to admit, though, that there was a poetic appropriateness to attempting this -- whatever he was going to do with Chris -- in this harsh place. And if there was anywhere on this earth that could soothe Chris, help him heal, it was this place where he'd grown up.
In the nights, when it was too dark to walk and he couldn't bear to watch the vids and yet sleep was impossible, he researched. He read up on brainwashing, deprogramming, mind-control and "thought reform." They were all variations on a theme and some of the techniques designed to free a person from the stranglehold of brainwashing were as abhorrent as the ones used to brainwash them in the first place.
A dozen times, he started to comm Jim to ask him for his advice, and to share this burden, before he remembered that what had happened was classified above Jim's level and that sending details about it via sub-space communications probably wasn't very wise in any case.
And then, when he was about to go crazy with the waiting, and yet still somehow before he was remotely ready for it, Chris was arriving, being escorted from a hover-car by blank-faced Federation guards who gave Leonard the shivers. They flanked Chris as he strode, self-assured as always, toward the open front door where Leonard was standing.
"Well, hello, Doctor. I don't think we've been formally introduced. I'm Christopher Pike, and I understand that you're Leonard McCoy, my alleged boyfriend."
"Fiancé." Leonard wasn't sure what impulse had made him say that -- it was true, but they'd never made it public, never even discussed specifics of formalizing it, but the knowledge had been there between them, the promise of always, and right now Leonard would cling to whatever he could.
Chris's eyebrows climbed, but the look on his face was one of faint amusement. "Fiancé, then. I see you've made yourself at home. May I come in? I'm a bit thirsty from the trip."
Leonard stepped aside and Chris swept past him. It shouldn't be a shock, and yet, it was. And it hurt, so damned much. So much more than he thought it could, that there was not a single flicker of emotion in Chris's gray-blue eyes.
One of Chris's guards was talking to him now, though, and he forced himself to focus on the woman.
"We'll be leaving now. We're releasing him into your custody, Dr. McCoy. We'll be staying nearby, though, and if anything goes wrong on your biomonitor, or if you push the panic button you were given, we'll be here immediately."
Leonard nodded and the two officers departed, as silently and efficiently as they'd arrived. He closed the front door and turned toward the interior of the house. Time to face the music.
He found Chris in the kitchen, gulping down a glass of sweet tea. Once the glass was empty, Chris set it down with a thunk and then grimaced. "That was disgusting."
"Yeah, I know, too much sugar, not enough mint. If I'd known you were coming today, I'd have made it the way you like."
"You've done your homework, Doctor. Or should I call you Leonard? Leo? Len? Sweetheart? Love-muffin? Help me out here."
The scorn was rapier-sharp. He swallowed against the sting of it. Rule number one was to develop rapport. If he had any hope at all of succeeding, he had to do that. Trouble was, he had no idea how. Rapport-building had never been very high on his priority list as a doctor.
"Leonard'll do," he finally managed.
"Well, Leonard, you're really quite attractive, but I'm afraid you're not my type at all. If Starfleet's hoping to convince me that I have a long-lost love and a life I've forgotten, they didn't choose very carefully."
Leonard barked a bitter laugh. "Yeah, well, overbearing, arrogant, too-goddamned-good-at-everything, self-sacrificing heroes aren't exactly my type, so imagine my surprise when I ended up with you."
Chris grinned, and for the first time that day -- for the first time in nearly eight months -- Leonard could see a glimmer of the man he loved. He ached to reach out and take Chris into his arms. Then Chris spoke and the moment was shattered. "You've got a sense of humor, though, and that's always a bonus. So, do I get to test-drive the merchandise?" He added an obvious once-over of Leonard's body, as if his meaning hadn't been clear enough.
Leonard gritted his teeth and looked away. "No, you don't get to test-drive the goddamned merchandise."
"You know, I do remember you." There was genuine surprise in his tone and Len turned back sharply. "I signed you up for Starfleet. You were the one who showed up at the shipyard, drunk and disheveled and demanding to be let onto the 'goddamned' shuttle for 'goddamned' new recruits. Soon as I realized who you were, I knew I couldn't let you get away, so I waived the application process and made sure you got onboard."
Leonard nodded, his heart in his throat. "Yeah, that's right. You remember anything else?"
There was a flicker of something in Chris's eyes, but he just said, "No, that's it. Now, I've been told in no uncertain terms that I'm to cooperate with you, so you tell me, Leonard, what now?"
He had no idea. Rapport, he reminded himself. "Uh, let's go sit in the living room." Chris led the way -- to make a point, no doubt -- and settled himself into the large leather armchair like a king in his castle. Leonard sat on the sofa and an uncomfortable silence developed.
Well, he was uncomfortable at least. Chris looked completely at ease and content to just sit there, gazing at Leonard with a slight challenge in his eyes.
"So... how was your trip?" Leonard asked and then winced. Could he be any more awkward?
Chris smirked. "You're really not very good at establishing rapport, are you?"
Leonard looked at him in astonishment and Chris laughed. "You think you're the only one who knows about deprogramming techniques? I was studying Giambalvo's work when you were still a baby in your mother's arms."
"I'm not that much younger than you," Leonard grumbled.
Chris ignored this. "First, you establish rapport. Ideally, some level of trust. Then you provide me with evidence that my memories and beliefs are false. We discuss the evidence, you answer any questions I have, assuage my doubts and provide yet more evidence to support your assertions. I begin to question myself. You offer compassion, understanding, and the chance to talk about what I'm going through. Through all this, I have no contact with the outside world. My only source of human interaction is with you, my captor. When I cooperate with you, I'm rewarded psychologically with praise and approval. When I resist, I'm treated like a wayward child, forced to review the 'evidence' that contradicts my memories, possibly even punished by the withholding of privileges like time outdoors. Eventually I have a breakthrough and I realize the error of my ways, and then you, having gained my complete trust by this point, help me to reconnect with my 'true' memories and ease my way back into my 'real' life. Did I leave anything out?"
Leonard was silent. Of course he hadn't left anything out. Chris was nothing if not thorough, and he'd always applied his fierce intelligence to learning anything and everything that would help him become a better Starfleet officer.
"Of course, even if the procedure is followed closely and the deprogrammer excels at applying these techniques," and here there was a sardonic look aimed at Leonard, "the chance of success is vanishingly small. Let me ask, what do you plan to do if it doesn't work?"
Leonard let his head drop against the back of the sofa, stared at the ceiling. "Hell if I know," he said. How had he thought that he could do this? Good lord, he'd been a fool. He could feel tears welling up, forced them back. He raised his head again and looked straight at Chris. "About the only thing I do know is that I love you, and I'd do anything for you, Chris. Anything."
Chris was obviously taken aback. Well, at least he'd managed to surprise him. It didn't happen often. Chris stood abruptly. "I'm going to go take a shower now. We'll talk again later."
Leonard didn't move from the sofa. He heard Chris moving around upstairs, heard the shower running for several minutes and then cutting off. A few minutes after that, he heard the creak of the stairs and Chris was standing in front of him again, now barefoot, in jeans and a faded t-shirt. Somehow, in his off-duty clothes, with his hair still wet, Chris appeared almost vulnerable, and Leonard's heart clenched.
"You're in my bedroom," Chris said flatly, and Leonard nearly informed him that no, he was in the living room, before he caught onto Chris's meaning. Shit, he hadn't even thought about that. They'd shared the master bedroom when they'd stayed here before.
"Damn it, Chris, I'm sorry. I'll move my things into one of the guest rooms."
"Don't bother. It doesn't matter. I'll take the room I had growing up. Probably give you a bit of a psychological edge, and you need all the help you can get." With that parting shot, he disappeared back upstairs.
Chris avoided him for the rest of the afternoon, and Leonard let him. He needed something to do, though, so he busied himself making eggplant and sausage lasagna, one of Chris's favorites. He made it from scratch, chopping vegetables from the hydroponic greenhouse in the back, rolling out the pasta dough with an antique wooden rolling pin. It was soothing to have something to do with his hands, something that kept him occupied enough that he didn't have to think about anything else.
While the lasagna was baking, he put together a green salad, whisked up a balsamic vinaigrette, and then hulled a basket of strawberries and set them aside to macerate in sugar and orange liqueur.
Before they'd started their relationship, Chris had never been very interested in food beyond its function as fuel for his body, and had certainly never been a cook. It was one of the few arenas where Leonard was the undisputed master between them. Leonard liked -- really, really liked -- being the teacher for once, and Chris had patiently followed his instructions, bearing it with good grace when Leonard corrected his knife technique or brusquely told him to wash his goddamn hands, yes, again, since he'd gone and picked up the dishrag that Leonard had just used to wipe up raw egg from the counter.
He was so lost in memories that he didn't notice when Chris came into the kitchen, until his honey-dipped baritone cut across Leonard's reverie.
"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, right?"
"Something like that," he said, continuing to wash dishes even though he could feel Chris's gaze digging holes into his back.
"Hate to tell you this, but I've never been one for gourmet food."
"Not until you met me, you weren't," Leonard agreed.
"Looks like you know your way around the kitchen, at any rate." Leonard wasn't sure if Chris meant kitchens in general, or this kitchen in particular, but either way it was true, so he just nodded.
"Need any help there?" Chris tossed the question out with careless ease, but Leonard knew him well enough to recognize there was something behind it. He was in full charm-and-analyze mode, a facade he often took on at events where he wanted to find out about people without letting much slip himself.
Still, he had nothing to hide, and at least Chris was speaking to him. Civilly. So he gestured with his head to the dishtowel hanging on its hook and said, "Yeah, you can dry and put away."
They worked together in companionable silence, and Leonard could almost let himself believe that none of this nightmare had ever happened. And then even that tenuous illusion was gone as Chris asked, "How long have we been together?"
"Ah, nearly eight years. After the Narada, I helped with your physical rehab during the months the Enterprise was being refitted. We started seeing each other, and then when I shipped out with Jim -- Jim Kirk, my best friend -- you and I wrote to each other, saw each other whenever I was earthside. After the five-year mission was up, Jim practically ordered me off the ship, told me to transfer to a posting at HQ and settle down with you. You seemed to agree that it was a fine idea. So I did. We've been living together for the last three years."
"Hmm," was Chris's only comment. "And when did we get engaged?"
Leonard cleared his throat. This part was harder to talk about. "A year ago, almost exactly. I, um, I was diagnosed with a terminal illness about eighteen months ago. I wasn't expected to live out the year, and no one could do anything about it. So you brought me here, and you took care of me, for the next six months. It's not a pretty disease, and, well, you've probably heard that doctors make the worst patients. I'm no exception. But you put up with me through all of it -- bathing me, helping me use the bathroom, feeding me when I could eat, giving me IV supplements when I couldn't. I know it was six long months of hell for you, watching me waste away, not being able to fix it, by the end not even able to make me comfortable. You used to sit in bed next to me and read to me for hours. Then, when you thought I'd fallen asleep, you'd put the book aside, put your head in your hands, and cry. Sometimes you'd curse God for letting this happen to me. I've never told you that I knew about that."
Leonard blinked rapidly, and scrubbed a plate with unnecessary ferocity. When he was fairly sure he could speak without his voice wavering, he continued. "Anyway. Jim and Spock pulled some kinda miracle out of their asses, and they really waited until the last possible damn moment this time. We both thought I was a goner. We'd said our goodbyes. You told me you loved me. Seven years we'd been together, and you'd never said it. I already knew you did, but you'd never said the words. But it was only a matter of hours, then, and I guess you figured you weren't going to have another chance.
"I'd just told you that I loved you too, when suddenly it sounded like the sky had fallen in. I swear to god, the entire house shook. You just grabbed my hand tighter and told me that you didn't care if it was the apocalypse, you weren't leaving my side. Turned out it was Jim, landing the goddamn Galileo in the front yard because it was the fastest way to get here once the Enterprise was in range of Earth.
"He and Spock busted down the front door -- well, they vaporized it with their phasers -- then came pelting in here, Jim yelling about ambassadors and cures and someone named Natira. It was pretty chaotic, and I was pretty out of it. That's about all I remember until a week later, when I woke up to you and Jim fighting about who would stay and watch me and who would go get some rest. You both looked like death warmed over. I asked if I got any say in the matter, and I swear I've never seen the two of you shut up so fast. The noise you made when you turned and saw me awake, Chris. It was like a wounded animal. Then you were by my side, holding me, and you said you loved me, and that you were never letting me get away again. Jim was crying too, not that he'd ever admit it, and he bitched me out for scaring him so bad.
"A week later, you took me out on the balcony at sunset -- I could barely walk still -- and you sat me down in a chair, then you got down on one knee and asked me to marry you. That's it."
It wasn't, of course, not by a long shot. It didn't begin to convey how he'd felt, how happy and just plain relieved both of them had been, knowing that this wasn't the end, that they'd been given another chance. How they'd both sworn not to waste it. And how damn good it had been between them, from that point until the day Starfleet had come calling again. But he couldn't talk about those things. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
He realized that Chris was still silent, and he risked a glance, only to see Chris looking back at him with a strange, contemplative look on his face. "Well, Leonard, that's quite a melodramatic story."
Leonard rinsed off the last spoon, set it to dry on the dishrack. He shrugged. "Lasagna's done. Why don't you set the table, and I'll serve it up."
They ate in silence, although Chris did make a few appreciative noises at the food. When they'd finished, Chris spoke. "Let's take it as read that rapport's been established and move on to the next stage. Where's your evidence that everything I know and remember is false?"
Leonard blinked at this abrupt shift. Chris was good at keeping people off balance when it suited him. Still, over the years he'd become pretty good at rolling with the punches.
"I've got the datachips up in the bedroom. The vids of your brainwashing sessions, the notes your interrogators made, your own verified and witnessed consent to the procedure. Plus some things I took from our place in San Francisco -- holos of us, letters, things like that. Nothing that couldn't be faked given the time and resources." No point in trying to hide that fact, not that it would've escaped Chris anyway. Probably better that he be the one to raise it, actually.
Chris tapped his fingers on the table. "Well, I'll review it all, but as you pointed out, it doesn't really prove anything. And Leonard, I already know you're lying about our engagement."
Leonard felt his eyebrows raise. The engagement? Out of everything, that was what Chris zeroed in on? "Why do you doubt that part in particular?" he asked cautiously.
But Chris refused to be drawn out. "Doesn't matter. I just know it's not true."
He was too tired for this shit. He could barely keep up with Chris on a good day when it came to these verbal chess matches, and he'd been through the goddamned wringer today. Enough was enough.
"Fine. I'll put the datachips in your room so you can look at 'em whenever you want. I'm going to bed. You can clean up, or I'll do it in the morning. Good night, Chris."
The next few weeks were, for the most part, an awkward dance of avoidance punctuated by uncomfortable discussions. But -- there were also moments, even hours and days, where they'd slip into a rhythm -- talking, cooking, taking walks, or just being together in the same room, each doing their own work -- that felt so natural, so much like Leonard remembered, that it broke him again each time he crashed into the brick wall of Chris's skepticism.
Chris could be a ruthless bastard when it suited him, and he turned the full force of it on Leonard now, letting him get comfortable and then grilling him about details of their life together, how they'd met, where their first date had been, when they'd first fucked (Leonard winced at the callous way Chris flung that word out), what position it had been in, who topped, which of their friends knew they were together and when, what they'd done on each shore leave when Len was back on earth, and a million other details. Of course, since he was a human being, and not a walking computer, he screwed up, forgot things, contradicted himself, or just plain got a detail wrong in his telling, and Chris jumped on each of those with bitter triumph, holding it up as further proof that Leonard was just part of a conspiracy to "re-educate" him.
Leonard bore it with as much patience as he could muster, which wasn't much. Still, every time he wanted to tear into Chris, he reminded himself of how steadfast Chris had been when Leonard was the one lost and needing help, how Chris had never faltered, even when Leonard had been covered in his own piss and vomit, spitting at Chris that he didn't need his goddamned help and he certainly didn't need his goddamned pity.
He reminded himself of that once again now. They were sitting out on the back porch, watching the sunset, on an evening very like the one when Chris had proposed. Leonard was exhausted from another grueling session of answering Chris's questions, and wanted nothing more than to sit quietly and sip his bourbon without having to think at all.
No such luck. "Why do you love him?" Chris asked. It wasn't the first time he'd referred to his prior self in the third person, and Leonard kept trying to correct him, but of course Chris was just as stubborn as he was.
He snorted. "Sometimes I wonder myself." Then he contemplated the question seriously, sensing that it was more important than Chris was letting on.
"He -- you -- you have a way about you. It's hard to describe. An air of authority, maybe. Self-confidence."
"Power," said Chris with a cynical twist to his lips.
"No. I mean, all right, maybe that's part of it but -- no, that isn't what I meant. You made -- you make me feel safe. Protected. Cared for." Goddamn, this was embarrassing. But if it would help him get Chris back, he'd do worse than embarrass himself. "You're brilliant, of course, and gorgeous, and charming as all get-out when you want to be. Most of all, though, I know that you'd do anything for me. That if it was in your power, you'd never let anyone hurt me. That you'd never hurt me."
"He did, though, didn't he?" There was something odd in Chris's tone, something Leonard couldn't quite place.
"What do you mean?"
"He hurt you. He left you, Leonard. According to you, he held you in his arms when you'd just come back from the brink of death, and he told you that he would never leave you. He asked you to marry him, promised you forever. And then when Starfleet came knocking, he took off without a backward glance."
Leonard's hands had clenched into fists, his nails digging deep gouges into his palms. He wanted to tell Chris to go to hell, that he didn't understand, but the thing was -- he did understand. He understood all too well. And now he was continuing, soft and inexorable.
"You're furious at him. You feel betrayed. And you feel guilty for feeling that way, because after all, it was for the greater good. He sacrificed himself for the Federation. Again. But -- there had to be some other way, some other person who could've carried out the mission. He'd given enough to Starfleet already, and he'd made a commitment to you. But he didn't even think about saying no to them, did he?"
Leonard didn't reply. Couldn't.
"I don't blame you for being angry, for being hurt. I would be too, if I were you. But let me tell you something, Leonard. If I had something like you describe, that kind of love, I'd never let it go the way he did. There's always another way, another fool willing to step up and be the martyr, and I've got to say, I think that other Christopher Pike, if he ever existed, was too stupid to live, and he certainly didn't deserve your devotion. He didn't deserve you."
"Oh, and I suppose you think you do?" Leonard heard the bitter sarcasm in his own words, but Chris didn't react to it.
"Deserve you? No. I'm not a nice man, Leonard, or a good one. But at least I admit it. And whether or not I deserve you, I intend to have you."
With that, Chris left, and Leonard heard him climbing the stairs and closing his bedroom door. Leonard stared at the darkening sky full of stars -- beautiful, cold, and distant -- and it was a long time before he went in to bed, and longer than that before sleep found him.
On to part 2