Spoilers: From If Memory Serves to Such Sweet Sorrow.
Summary: Vina makes a decision, one that will have ramifications for the whole galaxy. AU from the end of If Memory Serves.
Notes: Some quotes are from If Memory Serves, Through the Valley of Shadows and Such Sweet Sorrow.
If Memory Serves
"Is that a smile I see on your face?" A joke and a smile? Something Pike had seen before from Spock but not for a long time.
"I believe it is, yes."
A sign Spock was feeling better, he hoped. He turned to Burnham, who raised an eyebrow, not unlike Spock. He might have commented on it before he was distracted by a flash of silver from the shuttle. At first he thought it was another illusion; something only he could see. However, the others had all looked over at the shuttle too.
He turned to Spock, who said, "She wanted to leave Talos. I was certain you would grant her permission to come aboard."
Spock was right, of course. But when Pike had last spoken to her she'd said she was happy. Now she was standing at the top of the ramp with an expression that suggested she was unsure of her reception. Which she needn't be. He smiled at her and strode up the ramp. "Is this real?"
She nodded and took his offered arm. "This is real."
Despite that, there was still one illusion. Which only he knew about, unless Vina had been forthcoming to Spock and Burnham while they were on the planet. Either way, he didn't want to bring it up: it was Vina's secret to reveal. Probably whenever the Talosians stopped her projection. Which they would have to do sometime.
"I don't believe it would be prudent to spend much time in Talos IV's orbit."
Pike dragged his gaze away from Vina and to Saru, who had spoken.
"We should get to the bridge," Burnham added.
"Good idea." Pike led Vina down the ramp and out of the shuttle bay. As they walked he considered his next steps. The most urgent item on that list was to ensure Section 31 didn't get hold of Spock. They were certain to discover the Talosians' illusion sooner or later and they'd know he was on Discovery.
In the turbolift Vina went straight to the back corner and Pike followed her, ignoring Saru and Burnham exchanging glances. Vina wrapped her arms around herself and he noticed she was shivering, although there wasn't a particularly large temperature difference between Talos and Discovery. He unzipped his jacket and placed it around her shoulders but she barely noticed.
He frowned and leaned closer to whisper, "What's wrong?"
"The last time I was on a ship…" She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
He cursed himself for not thinking of it. Twenty-one years was a long time to go before getting back on the horse. It wasn't surprising she was scared. "Discovery is much more advanced than Columbia. We have safeties, fail-safes and backups. Shuttles, escape pods and the transporter."
She nodded, but didn't open her eyes.
"Once in a lifetime," he whispered, squeezing her hand. It was probably a good thing the spore drive was down. He didn't think Vina would enjoy the experience of traveling by mushroom.
When the lift opened at the bridge he squeezed Vina's hand again before letting it go. "Wait here."
He hated leaving her to deal with her fears alone, but he had to be the captain right now. Before he left he keyed in a code to keep the lift where it was, and allowed the doors to close. At least that way she wouldn't overhear anything confidential and no one would wonder who she was.
On the bridge he learned the situation was even more serious, with something out there that was going to attempt to wipe out all life in the galaxy. With, so far, no clues as to what that would be. But he had Spock back and the trust of the crew. That was going to make things a lot easier.
Once they were on their way, Pike left the bridge in Saru's capable hands and returned to the lift. If Vina were any other passenger he'd delegate this, but he had to take care of her himself. She was still huddled at the back of the lift where he'd left her. But not as he'd left her. This was the real Vina, the one he'd seen briefly, before he'd left Talos three years ago.
After sending the lift on its way he went over to her and put an arm around her shoulders. Which were not bony in the places he expected, but he didn't loosen his hold as she leaned against him. "We should go to sickbay, see what they can do for you."
"Are you all right?" She was pale. Was that because she was in pain or because she'd been living underground for so long? At any rate, her pinched expression was a clue that it was probably at least partly the former. "It's not too late to change your mind."
She raised her chin, her expression defiant. Which told him she wasn't all right. "I knew what was going to happen when I left."
It was just as well. Returning to to Talos when Section 31 were searching for them would be dangerous. But if it was what she wanted he'd have taken a shuttle and avoided risking the rest of the crew.
Correctly interpreting the expression on his face she asked, "Have I put you in danger?"
"No," he said firmly. "Not you. We are in danger," he admitted, "but I won't let anything happen to you."
"I know you won't." She smiled as the lift doors opened.
It was only a short distance to sickbay, but took a while because Vina couldn't walk fast. He let go of her to offer his arm again, which seemed to help. Or perhaps it only helped him; made him feel like he was doing something.
Once in sickbay he called out for a doctor and settled Vina on a biobed.
"What do we have here?" Pollard asked, waving a medical tricorder at Vina, who watched in interest.
"My ship crashed. That's the short version," Vina replied with no emotion in her voice.
Pollard glanced at him before returning her attention to Vina. Pollard probably assumed Vina's ship had crashed recently and he imagined her injuries wouldn't give that impression.
"About twenty years ago," he added, since it didn't seem like Vina was inclined to give any more details. In fact he had a pretty good idea of the exact date, based on the Columbia's flight plan and its last communication. But he wasn't about to admit to anyone he'd done that much research into Vina.
Pollard nodded slowly before stowing her tricorder. "You must be in a lot of pain."
Vina shrugged. "I'm used to it. But I usually have something to take my mind off it. That helps."
The one good thing was that it was currently taking her mind off the worry about the ship crashing.
"You don't have to live with it any more," Pollard said in a reassuring tone. "I'll give you something to help with the pain."
Once she'd gone to get the meds, Pike turned to Vina. "You can trust Dr. Pollard. Tell her everything. Except about the illusions," he added, in a whisper. The fewer people who knew about the Talosians' abilities in that area, the better.
Pollard returned with a hypospray, which she pressed to Vina's neck. Almost immediately her tense expression relaxed.
"Can you do anything for her?" Pike asked the doctor.
"I don't know yet. It's going to take some time to go through the scans. I'll know more in a few hours."
He nodded. "I have to get back to the bridge," he said to Vina. "I'll leave you in Dr. Pollard's capable hands. I'll be back later to see how you are."
It was only once he was back in the lift he realized he'd need to make a detour to his quarters to pick up another uniform jacket.
Back on the bridge he was able to put Vina out of his mind for a few hours and concentrate on work. There was plenty to debrief Spock and Burnham on, and he and Saru needed to discuss a plan for where to go and what to do next.
By the time he finally made it to sickbay Vina was asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he headed to Pollard's office.
"What can you do for Vina?"
"Not much." Pollard looked sympathetic. And maybe a little tired. "I'd like to keep her here for a couple of days, make sure the pain meds are working. There are facilities that can help her better than I can, but I'm not sure any of them will be able to restore her to the way she was before the accident."
He nodded. That wasn't a surprise to hear, but he'd still hoped for more. "We're not in a position to visit any facilities right now."
"So I heard," Pollard said dryly.
He quirked his mouth. "Do what you can for her. And write a list of the places you think would be best suited and if we can get to one of them, we will."
Despite knowing he needed the rest, he still felt guilty for trying to get it. It meant he ended up doing more tossing and turning than sleeping. By the time he gave up it was still early. A check on the logs told him nothing had happened during the night, so he had plenty of time to visit Vina before he was expected on the bridge.
This time when he entered sickbay he found she was sitting on a bed reading a PADD. She was wearing soft shoes and some standard Starfleet pajamas. With his uniform jacket on top. When she heard him come in she looked up and smiled.
He smiled back. "How are you feeling?"
"Better. I like the pain meds." She set the PADD aside. "And I like the space. It doesn't feel like a room this size can be on a spaceship."
He was glad. That was the sort of fear that was hard to live with. Especially as they weren't in a position to drop her off somewhere just yet. "About that. I have something to show you." He held out a hand to help her off the bed. She took it, her hand rough but delicate. Since she didn't pull away he kept hold of it as he led her out of the back of sickbay into a narrow corridor beyond.
"These are the medical emergency escape pods." He waved an arm at the wall opposite, with its alternating control panels and pod doors. "If there's an emergency and we have to evacuate the ship - which is very unlikely to happen - it's not far to go. And they have some medical equipment in them, so patients can continue to be treated." To an extent, but she didn't need all the details.
She let go of his hand to step closer. "Can I see inside?"
The escape pods were one of the few things on the ship that could be operated by anyone, even civilians. All he had to do was to reach out and touch the correct control.
While she headed inside he stayed in the corridor, not wanting to crowd her. Despite its small size she spent some time in there, looking round, touching everything. Satisfying herself it was safe, perhaps.
Stepping out into the corridor she said, "Thank you for showing me this."
He closed the door. "I thought you'd like it." He hoped they never needed to use them.
But there was something else he needed to talk to her about. "There are people I can speak to," he began, a little hesitantly because he wasn't sure how she'd react. "They can tell your friends and family you're alive. Having you turn up on their doorstep might be too much of a shock."
She frowned. "I will come as a shock, looking like this."
He shook his head. "That's not what I meant."
"But I don't want them to see me looking like this." She bowed her head.
"If they love you, it won't matter. They'll be so pleased to see you." He did understand, but he still thought she was worrying over nothing.
"No." She shrank into herself. "I'm not ready."
"Okay." He held up his hands. "The offer's still there when you are."
He put a hand to her shoulder and she returned her gaze to him. Whatever else might be wrong with her, her eyes were perfect. A beautiful blue that he never tired of seeing. But much as he'd like to stay here with her, he couldn't. He took her hand again to lead her back to sickbay. "I have to get to the bridge. Will you be all right?"
"Yes. I have twenty one years of news to catch up on." As they reached her bed she picked up the PADD and held it up. "Do you need your jacket back?"
He shook his head. "Only the badge." He reached out to take it, hesitated and brushed her cheek first. She closed her eyes. Before he ended up staying too long, he dropped his hand to pull the badge off.
"Dinner later?" he asked, fixing the badge to his jacket.
She nodded, opening her eyes. "It's a date."
He smiled, liking the sound of that.
He was looking forward to spending a quiet evening with Vina, but when he entered sickbay he found Spock there. He and Vina were having an intense discussion over a PADD that he hated to break up. He stayed by the door, watching and smiling.
Spock was obviously feeling better. He was still on leave and since he hadn't asked to return to active duty, Pike hadn't forced him. The more time Spock took to recover, the better. Although he never was very good at relaxing and from what he could hear they were discussing a science project. Probably one of Spock's.
Vina's speech was still not much more than a whisper, but her face was animated, and the way she moved her hands demonstrated she was pain-free. Either the company, the distraction or both had done wonders for her.
Much as he was glad to see they were both happy and well, he couldn't stand here like a voyeur. As he turned to go Spock called out, "Captain?"
Pike turned, flushing a little. "Busted. I promised Vina dinner."
"Then I will bid you good evening." Spock nodded at Vina and Pike, then turned to leave.
Pike stopped him at the door. "You've heard Admiral Cornwell is on her way?" he asked quietly, so Vina couldn't hear.
Spock nodded and spoke in the same tone. "Does she believe I am guilty of murdering the medical staff?"
"I don't know." He and Burnham were certainly guilty of violating restricted space in going to Talos, but he wasn't going to burden Spock with that if he wasn't already thinking about it. Besides, he was sure he could persuade the admiral that the trip had been a necessary one. After all, it was his report that had led to Starfleet restricting the area in the first place.
"But she's a fair person," he added. "You don't have to worry."
"I was not worried. I believe you 'have my back'."
Pike grinned and slapped Spock between the shoulder blades. "Always."
Spock gave him another of those small smiles that were becoming more common, and left.
Pike shook his head and went back over to Vina. "Ready to get out of sickbay?" he asked, offering his arm.
She took it and asked, "Can we go someplace private?"
Liking that idea, they went to his quarters. Being captain meant having the biggest room. Big enough, he hoped, for Vina to forget she was on a starship.
He ordered their meals - hers being a soup from Pollard's meal plan, since twenty-one years of drinking protein complex meant you couldn't go back to normal food straight away.
"Was it awkward when you got back to the ship?" she asked, over their meals. "Knowing how Number One and Colt felt about you?"
He used the excuse of chewing his food to avoid answering for a while. "I'm not sure the Talosians understood human relationships very well. What they saw in Number One's mind doesn't necessarily mean what they thought it did."
She raised her eyebrows.
Okay, so they'd avoided the issue. He hadn't wanted to risk the relationship they had. He and Number One were a good team. Adding the awkwardness of feelings into it would have inevitably ended up with one of them serving on another ship.
"Colt soon got over her crush." As far as he could tell. It wasn't something he ever had any intention of asking her about and she'd never volunteered any information that score. "It's not unusual for a junior officer to have a crush on their senior."
Vina's eyes lit up. "So who did you have a crush on?"
"Oh, no one," he said airily, waving his fork around. But he smiled because this was the sort of conversation he'd missed since taking command of Discovery. It didn't matter that he didn't really know Vina, she was still easy to talk to.
"Come on." She leaned forwards. "Your secret's safe with me."
He gave a show of sighing in surrender and put his fork down. "There was an instructor at the Academy. Almost any star I could name, she'd been there. And she had a story to go with it."
He leaned back, remembering for a moment how much fun she'd been to spend time with. It hadn't been a romantic crush - she'd been old enough to be his grandmother. But he'd stayed back after every class to listen to whatever story she chose to tell. Until the day she hadn't been there. Astrophysics classes hadn't been the same after that.
"Did you get a love of adventure from her?" Vina's question brought him back to the present.
He shook his head. "I joined Starfleet for the adventure. Partly. But I did want to end up with as many stories to tell as she did." Despite his time in Starfleet he didn't have nearly as many and too many of them didn't have happy endings.
"I joined that survey ship for the adventure," she said wistfully. "It was my first time off Earth. I think I got a little too much adventure."
No wonder she was scared of being on a ship if the only one she'd ever been on had crashed. He reached out to brush his fingers against the back of her hand.
She caressed his fingers with her own. "Why don't you tell me a story from an adventure you had? One that wasn't in the Enterprise's data banks when the Talosians downloaded it."
He smiled and picked his fork back up. He knew the perfect one to tell: the time they were invited to a wedding on Isella Gamma II. It had ended up with him nearly having to marry the bride to keep the peace between her people and the group on the other continent. Which the wedding was supposed to be uniting. Boyce and Number One hatched a plan to get him out of it, some of the details of which he still didn't know. And didn't want to.
He had intended to spend some time reading reports after dinner, but the evening went quickly. By the time he took an exhausted Vina back to sickbay he was too tired to do anything except sleep.
'I heard you lost a crew member. Are you all right?'
The message from Vina stared up at him from his PADD. But he couldn't answer it. Not yet. He was the captain and there was work to be done. Later there would be time to grieve.
He'd let the bridge crew go early, once they'd recovered Airiam's body. They'd been closer to her and needed the break. There were people making sure Control was wiped from her brain. And everything else, by the sound of it. There would be nothing of Airiam left.
Her funeral would be in the morning. After that the crew could move on. Would have to move on. It bothered him more than he cared to admit that he didn't need to prepare anything for the funeral. He'd done this enough times to know what to say.
He picked up a PADD showing a report he was supposed to be approving, but dropped it on the desk after he'd read the first paragraph three times without taking any of it in.
The truth was he was hiding. Informing her family was Saru's job, which Pike felt relief and guilt about in equal measures. Admiral Cornwell had made herself available to anyone who wanted to talk, but he didn't dare make himself one of them. There was a danger she would probe more into his feelings than he'd like.
He already knew he took crew deaths hard because he believed he should be able to protect them all. He didn't need to hear it from a trained therapist. He could kid himself he was getting better about it, but the truth was that one death was always easier to bear than multiple.
Right before his initial visit to Talos IV he'd been grieving the deaths of three people on Rigel VII. He'd been thinking about leaving Starfleet, but he'd been running away from something. If he left now he'd be running to something.
Being with Vina didn't necessarily mean he'd need to leave Starfleet. But the life of a starship captain meant being in space for a long time and he didn't want to be away from Vina for that long. Three years ago he'd made peace with never seeing her again, save for trying to come up with arguments that might have convinced her to leave. But now she was here he didn't want to let her go.
He sighed and poured himself a drink. As he did so he thought of Boyce and wished he was here. Although he'd never spoken to the doctor about his feelings for Vina. Chiefly because he hadn't been sure what they were himself. But also because he hadn't wanted to admit to anyone that perhaps the Talosians hadn't only found Vina the sort of man she'd fall in love with, they'd also seen his ideas of a perfect woman.
Perhaps it was time to grieve. Not the part of it where he was beating himself up for not being able to save everyone. And not in a bottle either. He finished the drink in one swallow and took himself down to sickbay.
Once there he found Nhan, who grimaced at him. "I'm fine."
He approached her, smiling. If she was assuming he'd come to see her he wouldn't disabuse her of that notion. But if she was well enough to complain he was sure she was fine.
"You did the right thing." He placed a hand on her shoulder. He wanted to tell her it would get easier, but in his experience, it didn't.
He left her trying to to convince Pollard to let her go and went over to Vina, who was hiding at the back, a concerned expression on her face. He reached out a hand to her, and led her to the turbo-lift and to his quarters.
He kept hold of her hand on the way but didn't speak. He didn't know what to say. He didn't have the words to articulate what he was feeling.
Once in his quarters she lead him over to the bed and pulled him down to sit beside her. She wrapped her arms around him. He held onto her, burying his face in her hair. She smelled of Starfleet standard-issue shampoo. He traced her spine with his palm, the unusual shape of it taking his mind off Airiam.
But truthfully he wasn't that bad. He'd been over events in his head and there wasn't anything he could have done differently. Maybe he should have suspected that if Tyler had sent the messages he would have made it appear that someone else had sent them. But that would have widened the suspect list to everyone on the ship. He'd had to make a call and that was the only option available to him at the time.
Eventually he let go of Vina so he could face her. "I've been selfish keeping you here. You should be at a medical facility where they can help you."
She bit her lip. "You're afraid something will happen to me, if I stay here."
He closed his eyes. She knew him too well. But he didn't want to discuss it. He didn't want to think about something happening to her. Not when she could have been safe staying on Talos.
After a moment he nodded his head and opened his eyes. "It's not safe here."
She nodded. "At least it'll be easier to plan when I'm not on a Starfleet ship in hiding."
He blinked. "Plan what?"
"Helping the Talosians rebuild. It's why I left, so I can go back to help them."
He stared at her open-mouthed. He couldn't deny the enthusiasm she had for the idea, not when it showed so plainly on her face and in her voice. Here he'd been thinking of leaving Starfleet to spend more time with her, and she'd been intending to going back to Talos.
"You can come with me." She brought him back to earth with a hand on his knee. "Spock told me about Talos being in a restricted area. You're the best person to get us past that."
So that's what she and Spock had been doing. He rose and paced the room. "And this is Spock's idea?" Had he spoken to her about it while they were on Talos?
She shook her head. "No, it was yours."
He stopped and studied her, frowning.
"The illusory you, I mean. We spoke about it often enough that the Talosians began to agree that it would be a good idea. But they didn't want to lure anyone else to the planet and you were never close enough to ask."
He had thought about the Talosians on occasion. They'd rebuffed his offer to help, with the worry that other races could follow their example and destroy themselves by living in illusions too. A concern he couldn't disagree with. Going back would mean choosing who was on the team carefully. Which would require a lot of planning.
"It's not going to be easy," he warned her.
She stood to meet him. "But it will be worth it for the Talosians. I'm not going to give up." She lifted her chin.
"I know." The sort of person who could survive what she had wasn't someone who gave up easily. She hadn't given up fighting the Talosians' powers for years, given what she'd told him, back in that cage. "Hardened Starfleet officers would have struggled going through what you did on Talos."
She ducked her head to hide a smile.
"That's the part of you I'm attracted to you," he said softy. "The real you. Not the eighteen year old or the version that's scared on Rigel VII or an obedient wife or an Orion dancer."
She took his hands. "Will you come with me?"
"I don't know." He already knew, from the short time they'd spent together, that he'd follow her wherever she went. But he wasn't sure how that could be Talos. "I'll have to think about it."
The Red Angel
"I need a favor." Pike had finally managed to find a quiet moment with Cornwell in his ready room. "We rescued a civilian from a crashed ship. She needs to go to a medical facility, but we can't risk the trip ourselves."
"Where did you find her?" Her expression was purely curious.
Pike knew she was going to ask more questions. And the only thing he could do was to answer them honestly. No matter how much he'd rather not. "Talos IV."
"And she crashed recently?" She frowned.
"No." He studied the wall behind her shoulder.
"Okay…" she said slowly, inviting him to say more.
But he was afraid of saying too much. When he'd written his report after his return from Talos IV he'd left out Vina's feelings about him. He'd certainly not said anything about his feelings for her. Cornwell was the person most likely to drag it all out of him without him noticing she was doing it.
It turned out he didn't have to, because she was clever enough to work it out on her own.
"It's Vina, isn't it? The woman you met there."
"I had a lot of time to read reports on the way here," she explained. "Why now? You tried to rescue her before."
"A desire to help people." Despite Cornwell's quizzical look, he didn't explain. Maybe she'd be a good person for Vina to sound out about her plan to return to Talos. If Cornwell agreed to the trip they'd have plenty of time to talk. But he didn't want to talk about it until he'd decided what he thought about the idea.
"She's also scared of crashing," he added, hoping that would pique her professional interest.
Her expression was one of intrigue. "Where are you planning to take her?"
He suppressed a sigh of relief. "Pollard has a list. She can pick one that's not out of your way."
She nodded and after a moment said, "All right, I'll do it."
He smiled, glad he'd found a way to help Vina while continuing with his mission to save the galaxy.
It had been a long day, but they had some breathing space while they waited for Burnham and the Red Angel to wake up. Unfortunately, it was space for Cornwell to leave, taking Vina with her.
Pike wasn't so distracted by this that he didn't notice Spock sneaking out of sickbay. Pike stopped him at the door. "Be in my office in one hour."
He couldn't let Spock's disobedience go unpunished. It may have been the right call in the end, but the ends didn't justify the means. What if he'd been wrong and Burnham had died for nothing? Although he wasn't looking forward to arguing logic with Spock on that point. Nor was he sure Spock would do anything differently as a result of the conversation. But they still had to have the conversation.
He came across Culber next, who assured him Burnham was still fine, with all the patience of doctors used to having their captains check on them in person, after they've given a report over the comm. Pike affected the air of someone who had come down to sickbay purely for that reason. And then hurried over to Vina's room.
Someone - Pollard he suspected - had found her a t-shirt and pair of pants. Although she still wore his uniform jacket over the top. That was all she had to take with her. It was a reminder of how much she'd lost in that crash: she hadn't brought anything with her from Talos and she didn't have anything now.
There was no use worrying over that. He offered his arm, with a small grin. "May I escort you to your shuttle?"
"You may." She grinned back and took his arm.
They were quiet on the way, Pike feeling the weight in his chest that was getting heavier with every step. Once they were in the lift on their own, he said, "I'll go with you to Talos."
If he'd known she could smile like that he'd have made the decision sooner.
"You could petition the Federation on the Talosians' behalf," he said, because it had been all he'd thought about at night when he tried to sleep. "Find someone understanding with the clearance to know what happened there."
"Do you have anyone in mind?"
"A few ideas, but no one definite. There's no rush. I have to finish my mission and you need whatever medical care will help you."
She nodded. "I'm glad you're coming. I wouldn't want to do it without you."
"I…" he began, but the lift arrived at its destination before he could finish. Usually it had better timing than that. He was silent on the way to the shuttle, even though he couldn't see anyone close enough to overhear. He knew from experience that an engineer could be working on the far side of a shuttle.
Once in the shuttle he began strapping her in. "I don't want to be without you." He took a deep breath at that. It wasn't only that he didn't want to live without her, he also didn't want to go another day without seeing her. The strength of his emotions surprised him. When he thought he was never going to see her again he'd suppressed them, but now he could let them out.
He leaned forward to kiss her, still holding onto the seat's straps.
They could have kissed for a minute or an hour, he wasn't sure. They only parted when a cough came from the back of the shuttle. He'd ended up clinging to the straps so hard they'd left marks on his palms. He flexed his hands after letting them go.
Cornwell raised her eyebrows at him as she headed to the pilot's seat.
He stood, straightened his uniform and tried to act like nothing had happened. But Vina's smile gave the game away and he suspected he looked just as happy.
"I've known Chris for some time," she said to Vina. "I have a ton of stories he wouldn't want me to tell you."
Vina smiled at her and Pike did too, as he walked off the shuttle. He knew he could count on Cornwell to distract Vina from the small shuttle she was on with fewer fail safes than a starship. He'd rather she hadn't known the nature of their relationship, but it was a good trade for Vina's happiness.
He held Vina's gaze as the door closed. Then he took a deep breath and headed back to the bridge.
Through the Valley of Shadows
On one knee, Pike reached for the time crystal. As his outstretched fingers touched it, he found himself kneeling in an unfamiliar white room. He stood as he studied his surroundings.
There was a person on the table in the middle, under a sheet. Around them were five people in scrubs, wearing hats and masks. Machines around the room bleeped, but he didn't understand what they were telling him.
He stepped closer, but none of the doctors or nurses noticed. Perhaps they couldn't see him. With their faces half-covered he couldn't tell if any of them were familiar. Maybe it was the person being operated on he was here to see. For a moment he thought it might be himself, but before he could find out, it went black.
What had happened? Was he still in the same place?
"The emergency back-ups will cut in any second," a calm voice said.
He was still in the operating room, then. In the continuing dark he wondered at the power failure. Hospitals had back-ups. As did starships. This was eerily like it had been on Enterprise when the holographic communication system had caused system-wide failures. They'd all been sitting in the dark for a while then too.
Was this what he was here to see? Was it going to happen everywhere? He was certainly on board with the idea of ripping it out of every place that had it, although he knew he was in a minority of one in hating it.
The lights snapped back on, dimmer than before, but enough to make him squeeze his eyes shut for a moment.
The machines bleeped discordantly and the previously calm medics sprung into action.
"We're losing her!"
So it wasn't him on the table. Still curious, Pike stepped around the medics to the head of the table. It was when they stepped back that he got a clear look and he gasped at what he saw.
"Vina!" he breathed, as one of the doctors declared time of death.
He reached his hand out to her and found himself on the Enterprise. In front of him was a photon torpedo embedded into the side of the ship. A photon torpedo about to explode, he noticed, from the read-outs on it.
On the other side of it was Admiral Cornwell.
"This thing is going to blow in ninety seconds. There's an emergency lever for the blast door."
He followed her gaze.
"I can bring it down manually. From the inside. Seal off the rest of the ship."
He didn't know why it couldn't be closed from anywhere else, but he did understand what she was suggesting. "No!" He reached out a hand to stop her. He expected to find a torpedo in the way but it was gone.
He wasn't on Enterprise any more. He was back on Boreth, on his knees, his arm stretched out towards a crystal.
He put a hand to his mouth. "Vina. Kat." He shook his head. He couldn't let them die.
"You may still choose to walk away from this future. But if you take the crystal their fates will be sealed. Forever. There will be no escaping it."
He dropped his hand, his fingers grazing the cold of his Starfleet badge on the way down. He clutched at it. He could walk away. Vina and Kat could live. Until Control wiped out every living thing in the galaxy. Vina and Kat would want him to choose the galaxy. Would die for it if they had to. But he didn't want them to have to.
If Kat was here she'd remind him of his duty. But she wasn't. He would have to remind himself.
"You're a Starfleet captain," he whispered. "You believe in service, sacrifice, compassion, and love." He took a breath and stood, facing Tenavik.
"No. I'm not going to abandon the things that make me who I am because of a future that contains an ending I didn't plan for. No," he repeated more forcefully. "Give it to me."
"I honor you, captain."
As he took the crystal he saw a flash of the medics trying to revive Vina. Followed by Kat beside the unexploded photon torpedo. Had he done the right thing?
He'd had time to think on his way back to Discovery. Too much time. Kat was a Starfleet officer. Sacrificing yourself for the galaxy was a given, much as he disliked the idea of anyone having to. But Vina wasn't. She'd left a world of illusions, begun to live in the real world and make plans to help the Talosians. Without her passion and her knowledge, they'd be sacrificed too.
As soon as he returned to the ship he messaged Vina. While he waited for her to call, he needed to speak to Tyler and L'Rell. But it was hard to concentrate on the conversation with the images from his vision still going though his mind.
The future was not set. He didn't believe it. Couldn't let himself believe it. He could change what he saw.
Eventually, Vina called back. She appeared in his ready room, a ghostly apparition.
The blood drained from his face and he backed into the table before realizing she was a hologram. She was real and she was alive.
Vina leaned forward, worried. "Chris, are you all right?"
He shook his head. The medical facility had holographic communication. He had made sure she'd gone to one with a good reputation, but he hadn't considered what might come with it. It meant that it was going to cause the same system failures they'd had on the Enterprise. And it was going to happen while Vina was in surgery. If only he knew when.
He swallowed past the lump in her throat and faced her. "I'm sorry, I've never liked holograms." She wasn't a ghost, she was alive.
She didn't look less worried, but said, "I'll change to using the screen."
"No." He raised his hand, not that he could stop her. When the Columbia had crashed holographic communication was in its infancy. He didn't want his feelings to stop her from enjoying the experience. "You try it, I'll be fine."
She smiled and reached a hand out to his, but it passed through his arm. "Not quite as good as an illusion."
"Where are the Talosians when you need them?" He managed a smile.
She clasped her hands in front of her. "You picked a good time to call. I have a surgery scheduled tomorrow."
Tomorrow. He could lose her tomorrow. Or he could tell her not to have it. But she must need it - or want it badly enough to have it. So then it would be rescheduled and what if that was when the failure happened? Or she could go to another facility, but maybe it would happen there instead. It wasn't necessarily all about holographic communication.
There were no good choices. Maybe this was why the future was fixed.
He managed to ask what it was for. But as she talked he found he was seeing her lying on that table as machines beeped. And he couldn't tell her about it. He didn't want to scare her.
"Chris?" she called from what sounded like a long way away.
He realized he hadn't heard a word she'd said. "I'm sorry."
"It's not just the hologram is it?" she asked softly. "Something's happened. Something awful."
He shook his head. "I made a choice. A hard choice." The only choice because how could he have chosen differently? He peered out of the window at the stars beyond it. "What if I made the wrong choice?"
"You didn't," she said confidently.
"How can you tell?" He returned his gaze to hers, a little amused.
"Because I know you. I know you'll always do the right thing." She was sincere. He hoped she was right.
He took a deep breath. He had to stop thinking about what he'd seen - he was squandering this opportunity to speak with Vina. But he was summoned to the bridge. All he could do was to hope he'd have another chance.
Such Sweet Sorrow
The ship was a haven of activity as people collected belongings from Discovery. Anything important that could fit on Enterprise needed packing.
Pike hadn't brought much with him, so he didn't need long. He'd left his ready room until last, where he had somehow ended up acquiring a few things. He was almost done when the call came through. On screen, this time, after he'd made sure to request it.
"What can I do for you, captain?"
Captain Mazariello was someone he knew of. A friend of a friend. She'd been a ship's doctor for two five year missions. After being injured on the second, she'd opted for a less dangerous career commanding a medical facility. But not, he knew, a quieter life.
He got straight to the point. "I have reason to believe your holographic system is going to cause a catastrophic system failure."
Mazariello raised her eyebrows. "How do you know that?"
Even if he could tell her about the crystal or what he'd seen on Boreth, she wouldn't believe him. "I can't say. But please, have it checked over."
"I heard about what happened on the Enterprise and we had our systems checked over at the time. Very thoroughly," she added before he could protest. "We also have emergency back-ups and contingency plans for everything. Including back-ups failing. We take the lives of our patients very seriously."
"I know." He hadn't been to this particular facility while Mazariello was in command, but he had been to enough. Maybe too many. "But is it worth the risk? Why not turn the holographic system off while your engineers check it over again."
"Because sometimes it's the only way people can communicate with their dying relatives." Her tone was of someone who was explaining this to a five year old. "If they're far away and can't get here in time, a hologram is almost as good as being there to say goodbye. I can see you like screens, but for most people it's not the same."
He bowed his head. He knew he wasn't going to win this one.
"I'm sorry, captain," she said in a softer tone. "You have someone here?"
He nodded. "A…" he paused, searching for the right word. But in the end it was the pause that would give it away, not his choice of words. "...friend. Vina. She's undergoing surgery soon."
Mazariello was looking sympathetic when he returned his gaze to the screen. "Try not to worry. I know nothing is certain, but no doctor ever wants to lose a patient. We'll do everything we can."
He had to be content with that. Although he wasn't. He couldn't leave Vina to her fate. As soon as Discovery was gone and they'd dropped her crew off, he was taking Enterprise to Vina and getting her out of there, to somewhere that didn't have holographic communications. He didn't care what anyone said on the matter.
The preparations to take Discovery into the future were nearly done. Pike had changed back into his old (new) uniform. He had a few minutes and nothing left to do but to check his messages. He'd been putting it off, for fear of what he might find there.
And what he found was exactly what he'd feared.
He'd given in too easily; he should have done more.
He should have ordered Stamets to use the spore drive to go to Vina, rather than Xahea. But even if Stamets had agreed to do it, Saru would have been within his rights to countermand that order. Probably confine Pike to his quarters. Maybe stick him in the brig. And he would have been disappointed if Saru hadn't done any of those things.
He should have told Vina not to have the surgery and found her a medical facility with no holographic communications.
He'd lost Vina and there was still no guarantee the galaxy would be safe.
"Dammit!" He threw the PADD across the room. It hit the wall with a satisfying crack and fell to the floor with a thud. Good. That's what it deserved, giving him that sort of information.
The door opened. Spock stood in the doorway, the PADD lying at his feet. He bent to pick it up. "Captain?"
He'd come to tell him they were ready. But Pike wasn't. How could he go out there and say goodbye to everyone on Discovery now?
"I need a little more time." He leaned against the wall, keeping his head turned away from Spock.
"The Section 31 ships will be here in ten minutes."
Ten minutes wasn't enough. Ten hours wouldn't be enough. He accidentally met Spock's gaze in the reflection in the window and could see from Spock's expression that he'd read what was on the PADD. Spend enough time with Spock and he became easier to decipher. He supposed the reverse was true, which made Spock the person Pike least wanted to see at this moment.
Pike nodded, not trusting himself to speak just yet.
"But if you hide in here, more people will die."
Pike shook his head. Despite Spock's faith in him, he knew he wasn't that important. Saru, Number One and Kat could all handle the upcoming battle without him.
Kat! He met Spock's unyielding gaze, eyes wide. Kat was currently on the Enterprise where she would die. With an unexploded photon torpedo, which could have ended up there during the battle they were about to fight.
Kat was going to sacrifice herself soon. He wasn't going to let her.
He straightened up. "Right behind you."
Spock raised an eyebrow, but didn't question it, which Pike was grateful for.
"We are out of time. That last light will change, the torpedo will blow and everyone on the bridge, maybe everyone on this ship will die."
"And if you do this, you die. This is my ship, my responsibility." He wasn't going to let anyone die. Not anyone on this ship, if he could prevent it.
"I heard about Vina," Kat said softly.
Spock, he guessed, worrying about him. And doing his duty as a Starfleet officer to inform his captain's superior that he might not be thinking straight.
"Then you know I won't lose anyone else on my watch." Connelly, Airiam, Vina. It was three names too many since taking this mission. "It has to be me."
Despite looking sympathetic, Kat said, "No, it doesn't. We need you, Chris."
He didn't want to hear it. He wasn't going to let her do it and they didn't have time for a debate. He took a step towards her, prepared to manhandle her into the turbo-lift if he had to. "I'm not going to lose you!"
She side-stepped him, but he followed. "Don't make me force you."
She must have seen he was serious and this time her step took her towards the turbo-lift, not the lever. "Chris--"
"Look after the crew." He could see in her expression she was going to say something complimentary. But this wasn't bravery, it was cowardice. It was only partly proving to himself the future could be changed. It wasn't even all about saving the crew, it was about not losing anyone else. "Tell Una I'm sorry."
She rested a hand on his shoulder for a moment, ducked under the half-open blast door and stepped into the lift.
He pulled the lever.
All he felt, as the torpedo counted down the last few seconds, was calm.
Title is from a quote by Mahatma Gandhi:
Real sacrifice lightens the mind of the doer and gives him a sense of peace and joy.