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Author's Note: Written for the Pike/Number One Prompt Table prompt #22 "gamma shift". Thanks to the awesomest betas of awesome ever, leftarrow and possibly_thrice.
Christopher Pike woke in darkness with a scream in the back of his throat, sweat cooling on his body beneath the crisp clean sheets. His heart pounded in his chest almost painfully, and he unclenched first one then the other fist, struggling to breathe normally. He got out of bed gingerly, as if after three months he still didn't trust his legs to bear his weight. But they did, and he splashed cupped handfuls of cold water over his face in the sanitary cube, avoiding his reflection in the mirror.
He didn't have the dreams very often. Only a half dozen times in the months since the destruction of Vulcan. When he'd arrived at Starfleet Medical, that damned slug still latched onto his brainstem, they had administered CRF Antagonists designed to prevent PTSD. So he'd at least been spared the vivid flashbacks reliving his experiences on the Narada during his waking hours. But that didn't mean every now and then he didn't wake with the taste of bile in his mouth, the sour memory of stagnant water on his tongue.
Night on a Starbase was objectively no different than day. The view outside the ports was still the same stars at midnight and noon, the same black spaces between them. It was an arbitrary division of time, for the sake of the circadian rhythms of its personnel, a way of lying to planet-born bodies which still turned to horizons expecting the dawn. But there was something about the dimmed lights, hushed voices of skeleton crews, and shuttered businesses on wide promenades which would be thronged with beings from all corners of the quadrant at any other time that felt like the world was sleeping. Even when the world was eighteen miles of metal bulkheads and transparent aluminium windows onto the vastness of space.
Pike knew he could hail Sickbay and request a sedative. Or even just replicate some camomile tea, his grandmother's time-honoured home remedy for a sleepless night. None of it would work, however. On those rare nights when he still felt that damn bug crawling at the base of his skull, there was nothing to do but get up, stay up, and pray he'd be so tired by the end of the second shift that he'd get a decent night's sleep due to sheer exhaustion.
Pulling on a tee-shirt which matched the faded much-washed grey of his pyjama pants, he padded barefoot over to his desk, which was cluttered with padds containing everything from Starfleet operations from every corner of the sector to a requests for re-supply and shore leave from the four starships currently patrolling Sector 47. But there was only one ship whose daily reports he had keyed up on his comm system, to read every night before he went to sleep, and every morning as he sipped his fresh-ground coffee. And the Yorktown was two months out still, and not due back for another nine weeks.
He'd never done this before.
There had been a woman once, back when he was still XO on the Yorktown. He'd met Janeese at a party and they'd spent his entire shore leave in her bed. It wasn't just that she was beautiful (she was) or that she made him laugh (she did) or that the sex was fantastic (mind-blowing was the word she'd used, and he hadn't disagreed with her assessment). But the truth was, he'd fallen for the idea of her as much as the woman herself. She was easy to be around, seemed to have accepted him for exactly who he was, and didn't mind that his idea of a good time was to take the horses out on the trail with a packed lunch, rather than some fancy restaurant that required him to wear a jacket and use the right fork. It had seemed... perfect. So when his leave ended and he'd headed back to the Yorktown, it had been with her personal transmitter code and the promise on both sides they would make a crazy long-distance romance work.
They'd tried it for nearly a year, before they realised it was never going to work with him off on deep space missions, and she had no interest in a career in the military. Subspace transmissions whenever his ship was in range was no substitute for sharing each other's lives when it came to the little triumphs and annoyances and all the things that made a relationship more than just never leaving the hotel room on shore leave. Jan had wanted more than waking up next to a warm body now and then when he could schedule it and, deep down where he couldn't lie to himself about it convincingly, so did he.
The only person he'd told was Phil, and that had been a wise decision. That way there was no-one else, when they asked him how it was going, to look aghast and wince sympathetically when he told them. And he was spared having to relive her rejection over and over again. One long drunk in port, one sloppy 3am confession to his best friend, and it was over and he could move on.
Since then he'd had the occasional flirtation, but he wasn't interested in one-night stands in space dock or on shore leave. Once he got his captain's stripes, even that seemed like a luxury he could rarely afford.
Command was lonely. He'd known that when he'd signed up. Where Chris Pike wanted to be was out there. On the edge, pushing the boundaries, seeing new skies and tasting new air. It wasn't fair to ask a partner to sit at home, waiting for his scheduled leave. And the idea of trying for romance among his crew just felt wrong. It was his job to lead them, be the one with if not all the answers, then at least the one who knew the right questions to ask at the right time. Because he would have a thousand faces turned to him at all times, and he wanted to be the captain they could count on in the thick of battle as well as on the milk runs. It was all or nothing, for him. So that meant maintaining distance in order to hang onto whatever trust and respect he earned.
It had been hard enough learning to drop the carefully maintained mask of authority with Phil, and later, his XO. He'd convinced himself that Chris Pike the man could take a back seat to Chris Pike the commander, if it kept his ship running and his crew alive. So he'd resigned himself to his chosen fate. Got used to dinner for one in his cabin, and ignoring his sister's attempts to set him up with attractive accomplished friends on his infrequent trips back to Earth. He'd convinced himself it was better that way, and almost believed it.
Even when he'd been stationed Earth-side while Enterprise grew from an idea to a rough metal shell to the most beautiful lady he'd ever laid eyes on in the shipyards, he'd kept on eating alone. He knew where he was going, and there was no point in starting something he couldn't finish, as he'd once put it to Phil Boyce. He might have flirted at cocktail parties, and even brought partners home now and then when the flirting crossed that line from friendly banter to flirting with intent. But while sex with no strings scratched an itch, it didn't fill a void, and only reminded him of how badly it had worked out the last time.
Then the Battle of Vulcan happened, and his paradigm had shifted. And in the wake of all that, while he waited to find out if he'd ever walk again unaided—let alone be sent back to the stars he loved—he'd discovered the mask had kept him from really seeing exactly what he had. What he could have had all along.
Waking up for the first time with his former XO curled around him, and her breath warm on his neck, had been different from Jan. Different from the occasional fling. It had felt real and right and like home.
So they'd decided to see if they could make it work despite their different postings. Even after being friends for years, there was still a tightness in the pit of his stomach while he waited to hear her voice over comms, knowing it was travelling on a narrow-band transmission through the chaos of subspace. There was still an irresistible need to touch her cheek and feel her skin warm beneath his the second she stepped through the station airlock.
It made him feel like a goddam kid again. It shouldn't, but it did. And even though his hands were still shaking from adrenaline, his thumb found the comm button in the semidarkness with ease. "Computer."
"Status and location of the USS Yorktown."
"The USS Yorktown is currently engaged in a long-range sensor sweep of Sector 24-06."
"Are they within subspace communications range?"
"Adjusting for space-time warp, what is the current time aboard the Yorktown?"
"The current time aboard the USS Yorktown is 2200 hours, 17 minutes."
Night Shift. Pike smiled at the memory.
Newly assigned as Exec to the Yorktown, Pike was responsible for the duty roster, and was more than surprised when he saw that the former exec had routinely scheduled one officer for double-shifts at helm.
"The lieutenant prefers it that way, Number One," was Captain Shundresh's answer when Pike brought it up in the weekly status meeting as a cause for concern. "If she were Vulcan, would you mind?"
"Of course not, but Lieutenant—" he stared down at the name he didn't dare admit he couldn't pronounce, and flushed with annoyance, "the lieutenant is human. Human beings require sleep to function adequately. To be perfectly frank, Captain, I don't know if I'd trust my ship to a helm officer who was on duty for sixteen hours."
Shundresh just stroked his chin, and then finally nodded. "Take the Gamma shift rotation for a few weeks, and evaluate her performance for yourself. Then if you're not satisfied, you may reassign her at your discretion."
"Thank you, sir."
"You're thanking me for putting you on night shift?" He laughed. "Bob April told me I was getting the best XO in the fleet. But now you've clinched it."
Gamma Shift on a Federation starship was traditionally staffed by a skeleton crew, with the senior ranking bridge officer taking command while the captain slept. Those with seniority usually pulled for Alpha or Beta shift, which typically left the Night Shift to junior officers. Chris always remembered his own turn at helm on Gamma Shift when he'd first been assigned under Captain April on Constitution. His first two months aboard he'd seen more of Lorna Simon than the captain, and was beginning to think she was having a go at him until he saw the captain's shapeless grey cardigan sweater for himself.
Night Shift aboard the Yorktown was little different. Chief Engineer Marvick's latest wunderkind, a redhead named Cait Barry, took the station on Pike's right, and junior science officer Thelin, a bluish-grey skinned Andorian, sat directly behind the command chair. The wet-behind-the-ears ensign at navigation, José Tyler, was so eager to please it made Pike's teeth ache. But his attention remained fixed on the helm officer, her dark hair pulled up off her neck in a severe bun, sitting up straight and tall despite being on the bridge for eight hours already.
Pike had read her file. One of the only Ilyrians in Starfleet, she appeared completely human except for the fact that she was damn near as smart as a Vulcan—with a poker face to match—and according to Boyce, only slept about four hours a night. In-between course corrections, she ran efficiency ratings tests and all sorts of simulations from her station on everything from tactical and weapons targeting to warp drive and manoeuvring thrusters. Pike was deeply distrustful at first—splitting your attention while on the bridge, on top of sleep deprivation, seemed to him all the marks of an officer on the fast track to burnout. But over the course of the first week on Gamma shift, Chris began to see exactly why Shundresh's former XO gave her back-to-back shifts.
Otherwise, she might have been bored.
Some helm officers engaged in small talk with the navigator. Pike himself had ended up close friends with the Constitution's navigator after serving side-by-side for the last eighteen months, and Isaac had even invited Chris back to his family home in Lebanon during their last leave together. It wasn't uncommon for the same helm and navigation teams to work together for years, and almost every captain had taken their turn at one or the other of the stations as they worked their way up the ranks. You could tell a lot about what kind of captain a helm officer would become someday, based on his or her relationships with their navigators.
Shundresh's helm officer, however, barely spoke to poor Tyler. If she made small talk while on duty with anyone, it was usually Thelin. But with both Chris and Tyler she hardly said two words. The kid seemed to worship her—and Chris wasn't sure if it was a crush, or just admiration at the way she seemed to do twenty things at once, and all of them equally well. Watching her hands as they danced across the helm console, her long fingers making minute course adjustments without any input from Tyler or the computer, Chris was a bit in awe of her.
She ended her shifts just as bright-eyed and bushy tailed as she'd started them, and there were a few instances, early on when he hadn't yet adjusted to night shift, when she was the first to respond to status changes before he'd even processed them. There was no reproach or judgement in her cool gaze. She'd merely acted as if it was perfectly normal for her to be that half-step ahead of him. And it forced him to up his game as well, something that both made him slightly uneasy and exhilarated by the challenge he imagined in her crisp bearing.
But while Shundresh seemed perfectly happy with the situation, Chris wasn't entirely sure he was. Oh, it worked. It worked just fine. But he wasn't sure it was the best solution. So after the third week of Gamma Shift, he scheduled her for a review. The captain let him use the briefing room, and Chris was sitting at the narrow conference room table with her record up on the small screen when the doors slide open, exactly fifteen seconds after her first shift ended, and she stroke through them.
"You wished to see me, Commander Pike?"
"Please, take a seat, Lieutenant." He waved at the chair opposite him and after a second's hesitation she gracefully folded herself into it. He wondered if she even slept with her back ramrod straight. Or if she ever smiled. "As you know, part of my duties as First Officer is drawing up the duty roster. But I'm concerned about your choosing to take both Swing and Night Shift back-to-back."
"Do you believe my performance has suffered, sir?"
What should have come off as defensive, she somehow managed to make into a mild interrogative. Her gaze was unwavering, but open, almost curious.
"On the contrary, Lieutenant. Your performance of your duties is excellent," he said, offering the same gentle reassurance he would any junior officer under his command, yet somehow feeling she neither required it nor appreciated it from the way her expression never flickered. "But Starfleet discourages back-to-back shifts."
"As you can see from my personnel records, I prefer—"
"To be kept busy. I get that. But I think spending sixteen hours at a stretch at the helm is not the best way. For no other reason than sitting down for that long, your legs fall asleep."
She stared at him as if he two heads, or wasn't speaking Standard. So much for an attempt at humour.
"Do you have any hobbies?" he asked.
She seemed taken aback, but her only reaction was the slight widening of her eyes. "Hobbies, sir?"
"Things you do for fun. That aren't your job," he said quickly as she opened her mouth to respond. She snapped it shut again, frowning.
"After I get off shift, I usually go to the gymnasium, sir," she admitted after a few seconds. "I enjoy null-G aerobics, and swimming."
"That's good. What else?"
He was tempted to check and see if her ears grown points when he wasn't looking.
"Keeping active and fit is admirable. But what are you passionate about? What engages your imagination and intellect? Do you play an instrument? Have a favourite author? Write poetry?"
"I wasn't aware Starfleet mandated extracurricular activities once one graduated the Academy, sir." Her voice was cool, but there was a spark in her eyes that he hadn't seen before.
"Well maybe they oughta." He leaned forward, looking her straight in the eye. "Look, good officers have well-rounded lives. And they interact with one another. Learning to read people requires you to actually spend time with other people." He leaned back and gestured to the screen. "I see you and Lt Barry were in the same graduating class. Did you know each other at the Academy?"
She seemed slightly uncomfortable, as if he had hit on a sensitive subject. "No, sir. I mean, I knew of her. But we didn't meet until I was assigned to the Yorktown. We didn't have very much in common."
"Well, now you have a lot in common. You're working the same shift, you're on the same ship. You should find out if you have anything else in common." He tried to soften his orders with a smile. Something about her bearing and her manner brought out his stern side, and he wasn't sure that was the best tack to take with her. "Try and make some friends here, Lieutenant. Your record is nothing but commendations, but every one of your senior officers has noted that you keep to yourself, and are not involved socially among your peers."
Her dark brows drew together in a puzzled frown. "Sir, forgive me, but are you... are you ordering me to socialise?"
"Yes. No." He scrubbed his hand over his face, painfully aware just how badly this was going. "Look at it this way... Someday, it's entirely possible you're going to be in the captain's chair. And you'll have people under you who will follow your orders, sure. But they're also people who need to know their captain is flesh and blood. And more than anything else, you'll need some kind of respite from the demands of command. Some way to relieve tension, and recharge your batteries, or you won't be much good to anybody. Superior stamina and mental acuity aside."
She nodded slowly, her expression still serious as she pondered his words. A single lock of dark hair fell out of place to curl across her forehead before she brushed it back with an unconsciously graceful gesture.
His fingers twitched against his thigh, wanting to follow their path. He glanced back down at his padd, focussing on his notes.
"For the time being, you'll finish out your current Bridge rotation schedule. Then starting next rotation, I'm restricting you to one shift on, one shift off. No more sixteen hour shifts unless it's absolutely necessary. However, if you'd prefer to work a second shift in the hydroponics bay, or Stellar Cartography, due to your unique physiology—let me know, and I'll speak to the department heads. Do you think that will be a problem for you?"
"No, sir. Thank you, sir. Is that all, sir?"
He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning.
"That's all. And I'll be checking up on you, Lieutenant." He resisted the urge to wag an admonishing finger in her face, but only barely. He stood, and she mirrored him, waiting until he stepped around the table so she could follow him back out to the bridge.
"Shimada Soji," she said to his back, and he turned in place.
"You asked if I had a favourite author. Shimada was a 20th century Terran author who specialised in 'locked room' mysteries." She somehow managed to shrug without actually moving her shoulders. It was all in the delicate lift of her brow, combined with how her lips quirked in the tiniest of smiles. "I like mysteries."
Pike was taken aback by the smile. It transformed her face, and he was struck by just how lovely she was when she let her guard down. However, following that chain of thought to its logical conclusion would have been a serious breach of his personal code of ethics, even if Starfleet was a bit more forgiving about fraternisation within the same chain of command.
"Good. That's good." He covered his sudden discomfort with briskness, and she continued through the sliding doors out to the bridge without looking back.
Pike was brought back to the present by the Yorktown comms officer acknowledging his hail.
He'd only met Colt once, when she was acting as captain's yeoman aboard the Yorktown. She was young—little more than a kid—and he remembered how nervous she'd been, blushing and stammering at the drop of a hat. The quartermaster had recommended her because she was bright and hardworking, but she might have spent the rest of her career keeping her captain's life running smoothly had his former exec not transferred her to Communications.
Colt didn't seem a bit surprised for a late-night Eyes Only call from the sector commander, clearly out of uniform. She briskly informed him the captain would be with him shortly, and he found himself staring at the Federation crest on a white field for only a few seconds before it was replaced by an image of his former Number One.
He recognised the drab grey wall of the Briefing Room behind her. Unlike Enterprise where every surface gleamed white and reflective, the Yorktown decks were more muted, and he felt a stab of homesickness suddenly, despite the fact that it had been years since he'd been onboard for anything more than a few hours.
She was sitting in the same chair he'd occupied, all those years ago, and his lips twisted in a wry smile. He knew without having to ask that she had only just left the bridge.
"What's wrong?" She peered at him, her dark brows drawn together, and the firm set of her mouth reminded him how stern and formidable she could seem—particularly when the full weight of her attention was on you. It made him want to squirm in his seat.
"Does something have to be wrong? Maybe I just wanted to see your smiling face."
He tried to keep his tone light, but he could only imagine how he looked on the other end of the comm—bags under his eyes and hair curling damply against his forehead. No wonder her gut reaction was so on the money.
"At 0300?" She rested her elbows on the briefing room table and chin on her interlaced fingers. Chris ducked his head to hide a smile. It was a tell, one he never told her he'd deciphered. It usually meant she was trying to look disingenuous. Most often right before she verbally eviscerated someone.
"I thought maybe you might be off-shift," he said, hand to his heart as he protested his innocence. "Remember that whole one shift on, one shift off thing we used to call normal?"
She rolled her eyes. "What is this 'normal' of which you speak? I'm unfamiliar with the term. Anyway, look who's talking. How many times did Phil have to practically order you off the bridge?"
"Too many," he admitted. "He mother-hening you now too?"
"I told him Piper was a fine Acting CMO, and we could get along without him. But you know Phil." Her expression softened with a fond smile. "You'd think he didn't trust us out here, to get along without him."
"Considering the number of times he's had to patch both of us up? He might not be far wrong." Chris chuckled. Boyce had bullied the Admiralty into letting him stay on with Starfleet Medical until Chris was back on his feet (literally), and then called in God knows how many favours to get back on the Yorktown before she shipped back out. "He still making noise about retiring?"
"Only on days ending with 'y'," she said gravely, her eyes sparkling with a combination of annoyance and mirth. "He keeps showing me holos of the house in Cape Cod, and explaining his long and detailed plans for renovating it."
Pike snorted. "The man's spent less time planetside than either of us, the last fifteen years."
"Speak for yourself, Old Man." There was a wicked gleam in her eyes as she leaned towards the screen. "Fifteen years ago, I was still a green lieutenant toiling away at the Academy."
"Teaching hapless cadets how to manually pilot Class-D shuttles, if I remember correctly. How many of those had to be recovered from the bottom of the bay?"
"Just the one, and thanks for bringing that up."
"Thanks for reminding me I'm robbing the cradle." It wasn't exactly fair, given there was barely a decade between them. But in his eyes she never changed, while he only seemed to get greyer. It had become something of a joke that he continued to make to try and take any potential sting out of it before he heard it from someone else. And every time he's said it before now, she'd ignored it or blown it off. So now it feels like a co-conspiracy instead of a small betrayal.
"I'll sleep," he promised, meaning it even if he knew he couldn't deliver on his own words. "Later."
"So will I," she said, daring him to say a word. For a second, he saw the brittle junior officer he'd had to practically order to have fun, back in the day. It was all about the tilt of her chin, and the calm, cool regard. But he knew better, now. Back then he'd thought he was doing her a favour. It's only now, years later, that he realised she had been humouring him.
Still, he remembered how isolated she had been. How isolated she had remained, unwilling or unable to let other people in. Cait Barry had been the first—then, over time, Phil, himself, and even Spock, though their interactions had tended more towards chess and the same kind of small-talk on the bridge she had once made with Thelin.
It wasn't so much that she had thawed. But she'd learned how to carefully chose which face to show to whom, and when. It surprised him to realise they weren't that much different, in that regard. All these years later, he could count on one hand the people he would trust with his life. She had always been one of them.
"So what's his name?"
Pike blinked at the sudden change in topic. "Who?"
"The base counsellor you've been lying through your teeth to during your mandatory sessions?" she asked with the characteristic bluntness he normally found refreshing—less so when she was turning the full force of her superior intellect on him.
"Her name's Liz, and what makes you think I lie?"
"Because if you actually told her what's really going on with you, she might be able to help. At the very least with the insomnia."
"It's not constant."
"But it is chronic," she said, as if daring him to contradict her. "I pay attention to the timestamps on your subspace communiqués, you know. And unless Starbase 12 has some new and ground-breaking ideas as to duty shifts, I sincerely doubt the sector commander's meant to be still at his desk at 0200."
He blinked. "Damn."
"You should do what I do, to keep Tāne off my back—save them to your padd, and then wait 'til Alpha Shift to put them into the delivery queue."
"Sneaky and underhanded," he said with genuine admiration. "I'll have to remember that. Does it actually work?"
"Sometimes." She grew serious again. "Everybody has nightmares, Chris."
"I know. And at the end of the day... it could be a lot worse." He tried to shrug it off, and was surprised when instead of being placated by his words, she scowled.
"Stop measuring what happened to you against other people, to try and minimise it," she said. She'd kept her voice low and even, which was how Chris knew she was really pissed. "It's not about what it could have been. It was what it was."
He swallowed hard. So long as they talked around it, he could manage. Just barely. It was only when the good humour faded from her eyes, replaced by genuine worry, that he began to regret calling. Because this was something she shouldn't be burdened with. Not when it was something only he can change.
It wasn't about the physical pain—although having a bug burrow its way into your brainstem wasn't exactly a walk in the park and not something Pike would have wished on his worst enemy. It wasn't even about knowing that he was going to die, and most likely not as quickly or cleanly as Robau had. He was Starfleet. He had made his choices long ago, and had stepped onto that shuttle full expecting to meet the same fate as Richard Robau. And it would have been worth it, if it bought Vulcan that much more time, or gave Spock and Enterprise a chance to make a difference.
It was about control.
It was about being fully conscious and aware of exactly what he was doing. It was about feeling his mouth form the words and listening as he spoke, and not being able to stop himself. It was about knowing that with the subspace frequencies of the border protection grids he was rattling off the same way he'd repeated his name, rank and serial number before, Nero would do to Earth what he'd done to Vulcan. May have already done, countless billions dying while he listened to the steady drip of water on metal and felt the ship lurch in and out of warp.
It was about being strapped down, immobile, and his entire universe consisting of what little he could see of that mining ship, and listening for any sound that might have warned him what was coming next. It was about not knowing if his ship had even survived, or if Spock had commanded his first starship for even less time than George Kirk had, all those years ago. It was about hours spent picturing the wreckage of Enterprise floating through space and wondering if there was anything he could have done to change the outcome, or if it was all inevitable.
The nightmares that left him sweating and shaking and unable to sleep weren't that Jim Kirk never appeared. They were reliving those moments of complete and total helplessness over and over again.
"Nobody gets over trauma overnight." She leaned forward, fingers brushing the screen in front of her, as if she could reach through subspace to touch him. "Not even the legendary Chris Pike."
Her face swam in and out of focus as he blinked, eyes burning. "Now you sound like the base shrink." His tone was wry rather than defensive, and he was rewarded by her lips quirking in the half-smile he found so endearing.
"In that case, she sound like a very intelligent woman. You should listen to her."
Mirroring her gesture, he reached up to trace the corner of her mouth on the screen with a fingertip. "What would I do without you?"
"Probably wake Phil up in the middle of his sleep cycle."
"True. But you're a better kisser."
She laughed. "I'm not even going to ask how you know that for certain. There are things about my CMO that I'm perfectly happy not knowing. Please, allow them to remain a mystery."
This time his laughter was genuine.
"Go back to bed, Admiral," she admonished, more like a parent than a lover.
"Won't do any good," he pointed out with a shrug.
"Try, for my sake. Close your eyes and think of something pleasant."
He closed his eyes, and smiled. "I'm picturing you naked."
"That's not going to help you sleep." He didn't need to see her expression—he could see it behind his eyes.
"I never said it would. I just like doing it. It's very relaxing." He opened first one eye, then the other, and was glad to the worry line between her brows had smoothed out. "You should try it sometime."
"I don't have to try—I have perfect recall, remember?"
"Then at least one of us will always remember our anniversaries."
"You'll get through this."
It came across as more of an order than an affirmation, and he couldn't help but smile. "Aye-aye, ma'am."
"Now go back to bed, before my comms officer starts to wonder if we're up to shenanigans on an unsecured subspace channel in here."
"Shenanigans? You really have been spending too much time with Phil." He scrubbed a hand across his face. "Alright. I'll give it a shot. You go back to terrifying junior officers with your dazzling competence."
"Be well," she said, and he heard I love you.
"Be safe," he said back, and the last thing he saw before she cut transmission was the lock of dark hair slip over her eye. His fingers twitched with the desire to reach out and brush it back, but the screen was dark and crackling in the silence as it cooled.
He still didn't sleep that night. But Dr Dehner was surprised to find a request for an appointment from Admiral Pike's yeoman the next morning cross her desk. She was even more surprised when he kept it.
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