Mission 2.5: Intermission
Location: Pierce's Quarters
It had been years since Pierce had had the opportunity to cook. He had tried to make it happen today, but this ship was just too short on living space to have anything even remotely resembling a kitchen on it. So, he'd done the next best thing.
He'd programmed the replicator to exact specifications for his son's favorite meal.
At least, he hoped it was still Theo's favorite. These were the sorts of things they really didn't talk about anymore. Why did fathers and sons stop talking about their favorite foods and their favorite colors after the son hit his twelfth birthday? Did mothers and daughters talk about them? For that matter, did fathers and daughters? Having had only one child, Pierce was left with a lot of questions about other parental relationships.
Well, it didn't really matter. Someday, when he met a mother and daughter, he'd have to ask them. For now, he would just have to resolve to talk to his son about his favorite color more often.
The smell of the spicy food hit Theo's nose as he approached his father's quarters, making him close his eyes in a moment of deeper, sensory recall. Old times. That aroma took him right back to old times, he'd been what - 4 or 5? - and his mother had made jerk chicken and rice, extra spicy just the way she liked it, then left it out on the counter while she answered some shipboard call to assist. Little Theo had been up far too late, curious and not at all sleepy, and had reached up to try it.
It had been his favourite ever since. Simple, hot and utterly delicious, though it came with all the memories these days, that happiness and that unfair loss.
To find both here, on this ship, meant only one thing to the younger Hunnicutt. His father was trying. In a good way.
"Hey Dad," Theo said, as he stepped into the room. He mustered up a genuine smile and pushed down the tougher emotions. "That smells amazing!" He admitted with an easy honesty.
Inwardly, Pierce breathed a sigh of relief. Outwardly, he just grinned. “The replicator isn’t as good,” he admitted, “but can you believe there’s not so much as a hot plate on this entire ship?”
"I dunno," Theo replied, happily. "It smells exactly the same!" A frown followed. "Really?" For some reason he'd never considered this, but also, Theo had the nagging suspicion that someone somewhere had illicit student-level cooking kit. "I don't believe you," he said, amicably. "We always had a grill or a toaster or something in the dorms."
"If anybody knows how to hide and find any illicit appliances, it's Lieutenant Junior Grade Pierce Hunnicutt," replied Pierce proudly. "And since I used to be him, I'm confident I still have the skills."
Theo chuckled. "Sounds like some good stories there, Dad," he suggested with hope in his eyes as he regarded his father. "Care to tell me one?" It had occurred to the younger man many times since his father had abandoned him to travel the galaxies that there was a great deal he didn't know about Pierce Hunnicutt.
Pierce gave his son a lopsided grin and gestured to the table. “You mean you want to hear about your dad participating in not exactly legal activities?” he said cheekily as they sat.
Taking his seat, Theo looked back up to his elder and captain. "Hell yeah," he said, wondering how many stories there were exactly. It had been a while since they'd shared any, but he put that thought to the back of his mind for now, and placed his hand over his heart. "I promise not to tell anyone else," Theo added with a warm smile.
"Let's see," mused Pierce as he poked at his foot idly. "There was the time I smuggled Romulan ale in an attempt to impress the Captain. No! Even better! I once modified the replicator's recycling function so we could get away with smoking cigars. It was nearly two years before anybody discovered it."
At that thought, Theo laughed gently and shook his head. "Those things will kill you, y'know," he pointed out, if amicably. A serious look took up residence then, as he cast his mind back. "I'm not sure I've ever done anything illegal..."
"You've got to be kidding me!" laughed Pierce. "My own son, never involved in less than legal activities. Your Uncle Simon would be so disappointed."
Uncle Simon. Theo wondered what the roguish man was doing right now. Last time he'd seen him, it had been during the usual festive gathering, the meeting of families at Christmas back on Earth.
"Ah!" Theo admitted, recalling something from way before that. "Well, maybe not never," he said with a guilty smile. "Uncle Simon did kinda rope me into one of his schemes when I was still in High School. He snuck us both into a black tie corporate event once as wine waiters. We ended up dancing with a couple of older ladies... I think I walked all over her shoes, but Simon was twirling his partner about the floor like he was competing for a trophy."
Pierce laughed at the mental image of Simon cutting a rug with someone old enough to be his mother. "Gate crashing has to be one of his tamer occupations," he said. "You know, I half expect him to end up out here one of these days."
"Wouldn't surprise me if he found a way," Theo agreed, grin bright in his eyes. "Hey, remember that time he turned up in the shuttle, all dressed up like Santa with a freezer full of snow? I thought it was really cool, but I was probably only about six... Where did he get that from? I remember Mom yelling at him when I was supposed to be asleep. Did you guys get in trouble?"
"Of course," answered Pierce with a grin. "I knew he was coming. Your mother was so angry that I didn't warn her. She liked Simon, of course, but the manner in which he arrived was a bit too much." He grinned a bit wistfully, remembering the good times. "I wish I knew where he got the snow. I'd get some for the ship. I suppose frozen crystalized water can't be too hard to find, though."
The thought of his dad in trouble was enough to make Theo chuckle, though he didn't remember his momma's fury - that must have been reserved for a more private moment - and he barely recalled her ever showing true anger. Frustration, yes. Real temper? Not around him at least. "It's definitely doable," the younger man agreed. "But might be considered frivolous I suppose. Still, it made my day back then. We had some good times, huh?" Theo prodded an old wound, the subtext hanging in the air in his mind's eye. Before you sent us away.
“We sure did,” Pierce replied catching his son’s unspoken meaning. In truth, Pierce’s only regret was that he didn’t send Theo and Donna back to Earth sooner. By putting it off, had he sealed her fate? There was a war on, after all. He should have sent them as soon as war was declared. Instead, he had waited, hoping it wouldn’t last or that they would somehow escape battle. He should have known it was a bad idea, but of course, hindsight is 20/20.
And of course he knew that Theo didn’t see it that way. He had been only 15 at the time and there was no fighting anywhere near them, so the war wasn’t as real to him. Perhaps Pierce should have taken more time to explain it properly, but there was no changing the past. “I really thought I was doing the right thing,” he said soberly. “Send you and your mother to Earth. I thought you’d be safer there, that we were too close to the fighting. I suppose I should have realized that our enemy was clever and had probably already gotten to Earth and the rest of the galaxy.” He paused for a moment. “Every day, I think how close I came to losing you both and beat myself up over the decision,” he finished.
'I really thought I was doing the right thing.' Theo grimaced. He'd promised himself when he'd found out his place here was secure, that he'd find the right moment for a serious chat with Captain Pierce Hunnicutt. He wanted to talk about this face-to-face in person just as very much as he'd wanted to have a real family dinner with his old man. Now he felt a little guilty for ruining the latter with former, but the guilt faded at those first words.
"The right thing would have been keeping us all together," he countered, with emotion that wasn't pure anger, but a deeply felt regret for how his father's plan had turned out. Theo sighed, a heavy gesture that echoed through his entire body and attempted to push the wrong emotions down and allow reason to bubble to the surface. "Nowhere was safe, not really. I hated that you sent us away, that you didn't want us with you. I didn't hate you, Dad. But I hated that decision. I never understood it. I don't think I ever will. But the war wasn't your fault. What happened to Mom, wasn't your doing."
"I know," replied Pierce. "But knowing it and believing it are two different things." He paused a moment and looked his son directly in the eyes. "You're wrong about one thing, though: I wanted you with me. I wanted to keep both of you with me every second of the day. I thought I was being selfless, sending you to Earth. Turns out I should have been selfish after all."
That direct look focused Theo's thoughts in one single direction, to one burning question. A question that had spiked in his mind for 15 years and would likely never have a satisfactory answer because of that sheer length of time.
"How could you do it, Dad?" Theo asked. How could the elder Hunnicutt have sent them both out into that unknown? He'd never talked about in any depth with his father, he'd always avoided the detail, shared the trauma with paid professionals and family who had been physically present. "It was... so bad."
"I thought I had to," answered Pierce, voice tinged with anguish. "And when you think you have to do something, you do it, no matter how hard it is."
Theo considered this for a long moment in silence, then took a deep breath. His father's response was simple, but made a messed-up kind of sense. He'd done what he thought was best. It hadn't been, and now they were both stuck living with that unwanted outcome. That pain.
Slowly, the younger Hunnicutt reached his arm across the space between them and rested it atop Pierce's own.
"Thanks for letting me come with you this time," Theo said. Another simple response, but one coloured with honest, sincere emotion.
The smile that crossed Pierce's face was tinged with a bit of sadness, but it dispelled quickly. "I wouldn't have it any other way," he assured his son.
Theo noticed - that subtle colour of sorrow in Pierce's expression - and he saw part of himself reflected back in his father's expression. That complexity of emotion they both owned and mostly kept private. He chose to draw attention to this only obliquely, as he had always done in the past, not wishing to push this wonderful meal into sadness for any longer.
"I didn't think I'd be able to do it," Theo admitted. "It was sooo difficult to even contemplate being this far from Earth, with no real way back. But that was also the reason I had to be right here with you. I couldn't lose you too, Dad. No fear was worth that."
Both of Pierce’s parents were still alive and kicking, so he had no idea what it was like to lose a parent. But, he had a feeling that losing his only son would be far worse than losing both of his parents and all of his brothers on the same day. So, when he replied, it was perfectly honest. “I know how you feel,” he said. “I couldn’t bear losing you, either. I’m glad you found a way to make this work. Whatever it is, keep doing it.” He paused for a moment, then continued thoughtfully, “how do you manage? Meditation? Take Kwon Do? A girl? A guy?”
He blushed. Theo didn't like that reaction, but his body didn't seem to care. Caramel skin picked up more than enough crimson to be obvious and he smiled awkwardly as he looked back openly to regard his father.
"Well," the younger man admitted. "Sometimes I don't manage. Sometimes I'm curled up in a little ball in my bunk. But as coping mechanisms go - I use the holodecks to climb, hike, dive..." There was something else too, and Theo suspected that particular something would interest his father far more than any hobby might. "And there is a girl, but not in the way you're thinking. A friend from the Academy. Her music..."
Pierce wracked his brain for a moment but realized he didn't know the crew well enough to know which women may be musicians. "Well, oftentimes friends are far more important anyway," he replied. "I'm glad you've found ways to cope."
"Thanks, Dad," Theo returned. "But while friends are definitely important, family still vastly outranks them."
Pierce had to agree with that whole-heartedly.