DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2015 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

Acting Out

 

by Djinn

 

 

Her:

 

You see him in the rec lounge. The great captain in charge of his silver lady once again. A ship you helped refit—sickbay, anyway. He had no part of those refits, but here he is. He looks across the lounge, sees you, and for a moment his happy patter with Len and Spock is stifled.

 

You loved him. Oh hell, be honest. You still love him. You told him you loved him, damn it all, before you shipped out—kissed him, murmured it, and left. If he said it back, you didn’t hear him, but it didn’t bother you because you felt it. He was yours. He made you happy.

 

Or he did before he showed up on the ship that was supposed to be Decker’s. Before he stole the ship and demoted you without talking to you about it first.

 

Before he dumped you. Because of his fucking, goddamn rule. “Not in the nest, Chris. You know that.”

 

You pushed back. You gave him logical arguments that would have made Spock proud. You could have given Jim a thousand reasons how it could work with both of you on the ship.

 

You honestly thought you’d get farther than Jan had. Because he was sleeping with you. Because you were dumb enough to think he loved you.

 

And you’re used to getting your way. That’s the hell of it. You’ve never met something you couldn’t bend, fix, cajole, intoxicate, or just bullshit your way out of or into. Even Spock succumbed eventually. It took the Platonians to give him a great big kironide-induced nudge, but he fell. The two of you didn’t turn out to be terribly compatible, but you spent a few weeks getting each other out of your systems. You ended up friends, which is what you do when you end a relationship—no need to burn bridges that may reappear in the future.

 

And truth to tell while you might have been tired of each other as lovers, you and Spock found that you were all right as colleagues. Sex turned into a respectful distance and occasional meals shared in the mess, talking about science or your plans for med school. Or his far more drastic plans to change his life. You actually knew he was going to Gol. You didn’t want anything from him anymore, so you were safe to tell.

 

He even asked you to carry a message padd to Jim—that was how Spock let him know. It’s how you and Jim started. Mutual pain, Jim thought. Although he thought yours was unrequited pain—and a cruel blow by Spock to make you carry the news. He never knew you were with Spock. You two were discreet and your captain was otherwise engaged.

 

You didn’t think Spock was being cruel at all. He’d given you the greatest gift. Or so it seemed when you thought Jim was yours.

 

You were an idiot. A “we can make it together on your ship if you want us to” idiot.

 

Jim told you to shut up when you tried to spin him solutions. He told you he didn’t love you. The hell of it is: you aren’t sure if he was lying or not. Now that you look back, were you so bewitched by what you had with him that you never stopped to ask yourself what he really had with you?

 

You wish he was lying, that he does love you. Only...what kind of man does that? But you love him and the idea of enduring this unrequited passion makes you feel sick inside. Being with him was fantastic. You were sure it was more than just sex.

 

But he’s told you it wasn’t. He’s made it clear the discussion is closed.

 

And yet here he stands in the rec lounge, losing his place in his conversation just at the sight of you.

 

Or maybe it’s because you’re practically draped over Lieutenant Freeman. A handsome man. Very tall. Can eat all he wants and never gain weight. And young. Everything that should make Jim nuts.

 

Freeman has been pursuing you since he reported for duty just before V’ger. He doesn’t mind that you’re older. He doesn’t mind that you’ve made it clear you’re not looking for love. He doesn’t even mind that you’ve told him you don’t plan to be exclusive.

 

He just wants to fuck you.

 

And you’re going to let him. You stare over at Jim, keeping your eyes as hard as you can.

 

He suddenly says something to Spock and Len and is headed your way. “Doctor,” he says, once he’s within range, then he turns to Freeman. “And I don’t believe we’ve met yet.”

 

Freeman looks like he has been singled out by God. “Sir, it’s an honor to serve with you.”

 

“Thank you, Lieutenant. Do you have a name?”

 

“Freeman, sir. Lieutenant Richard Freeman. I work in security.”

 

“Well, I look forward to getting to know you.” Jim turns a bland eye on you. “Having a good time, Christine?”

 

He calls you Chris normally. You hate it when he calls you Christine now, even if everyone else does on the ship. But he’s doing it to try to push you away.

 

“I am, sir.” You try to not let your expression show how annoyed and hurt you are by this attention of his.

 

“Just don’t have too much fun. You know Doctor McCoy calls you Typhoid Christine now.” Jim shoots Freeman a smile that is somewhere between amused and appalled.

 

You can feel your face turn red. Unfortunately what he’s saying is technically true, if not quite the way he’s spinning it. You were back on Earth after V’ger, trying to work off the “he loves me not” blues with a very willing friend from medical school.

 

A friend who’d been exposed to Irissian Fever. A friend who was still contagious.

 

There was a crew picnic, mostly lower decks but you’re only a lieutenant despite your rank, so you went and you took your friend. The two of you had fun all while unknowingly infecting a lot of people. Len came up with that stupid nickname when it was all over.

 

If you’d beamed up to the ship during leave, the transporters would have noted the fever. But you stayed away because you didn’t want to be around Jim. And a lot of the other lower decks crew stayed away, too, because why risk being tagged for work when you were supposed to be on leave?

 

Jim knows the whole story—you were there when Len explained, kindly leaving out the Typhoid Christine moniker that time. But he must have told him in private, and now Jim’s making it sound so much worse.

 

“That’s not what—”

 

Jim’s apparently not in the mood to let you finish. “If I were you, son, I’d hightail it while you can. She’s a piece of work, our Chris is.” Suddenly he sounds a lot less insulting—despite his words—and a lot more possessive. The way he’s said “our” makes it very clear he means “my.”

 

Freeman excuses himself and finds younger, prettier company.

 

“Are you kidding me?” You take Jim’s arm and pull him to a corner of the rec lounge. “You don’t want me, remember? You don’t love me. So where do you get off doing that?”

 

“He’s new. He doesn’t need to be a pawn in your revenge games.”

 

“Seventy-five percent of the goddamn crew is new. By that reasoning, I’ll be very bored.”

 

“There’s always Chekov.” He smiles in a way that immediately angers you; he knows you find Chekov unappealing.

 

“Transfer me off.”

 

“I just may. If I do, it’ll be with reason.”

 

“Unlike my fucking demotion.” You take his drink from his hand and down the single malt in one swallow. It burns like hell but you don’t care—maybe it’ll scorch this man out of your heart.

 

“Captain’s privilege to pick his own CMO.”

 

“So is messing with my personal life, I guess.” Even if he’s right that this is revenge—you don’t like Freeman, not really.

 

“Go for someone who won’t be hurt by the fallout.” He takes his glass back, turns, and leaves you alone.

 

You are thoroughly sick of being alone.

 

 

Him:

 

You’re an idiot, interfering in Chris’s love life that way. Especially when you’ve told her you don’t want her, that you never loved her.

 

It’s a lie, and you think she knows it, but sometimes you see such hurt and doubt in her eyes that you want to wrap her up in your arms and ask her to list the many ways she thinks this can work for the two of you.

 

But you don’t. Nogura wasn’t happy with you for finagling the ship. He couldn’t say no, on account of you being a hero, the savior of Earth and who knew how many other planets. But he’s made it clear he’s watching you. That any hint of impropriety or unnecessary risk with the ship will get you pulled off the Enterprise so fast it’ll make your head spin.

 

You hate to admit it, but you’re afraid of what you’ll become without the ship—you were bad enough on Earth, when you knew the Enterprise was out of reach, but now that you have her back you think it would kill you to lose her again. You love Chris. Have fallen deeply, stupidly in love. But Nogura is also a “not in the nest” type of officer. He will not be a kind superior if he finds out you’re with her.

 

But you can’t bear to send her away. She’s asked for a transfer three times and you’ve said no three different ways.

 

The first: “Surely you can let this go, Doctor, and act like the consummate professional I know you are. Deputy CMO on the flagship is nothing to sneeze at.” She stared at you like you were some previously unknown fungus and walked out.

 

The second: “Put your personal feelings aside for once, Chris, and make a decision that does not center around your heart or your gonads.” She nearly decked you for that one.

 

The third: “Grow the fuck up.” Said with as much disdain as you could pack into your voice. Her eyes teared up, but they were angry tears—enraged tears. Not sadness—she’s never let you see that. Although you have a feeling she’s cried over you.

 

You’ve had plenty of sleepless nights thinking about her.

 

You love her. Sadly, that fact is irrelevant.

 

You’ve been waiting for her to turn to Spock, know it’s only a matter of time. You haven’t told Spock you were seeing her, and with his post-V’ger emotionalism, he’s taken to watching Chris as she moves around the mess, or the lounge, or a landing party. And he gave her the padd that leveled what was left of your life. “Dear Jim, now that you have lost your ship and Leonard has retired, let me take away the last thing you can count on.” Which isn’t really what it said, but it was what it felt like.

 

And why the hell did he give it to her?

 

So far, she hasn’t appeared interested in Spock and you wonder if it’s because she knows she’ll hurt you the most that way and isn’t willing to go that far or if she’s saving him for later. The final move on this bitter romantic chessboard.

 

The Chris you knew on Earth was tender and sweet. Passionate, yes, but under the fire and sass, there was the nurse you remembered. Caring for you in ways you hadn’t realized had been lacking.

 

You miss that Chris. You haven’t seen her in evidence since you told her the two of you were through.

 

She’s angry as hell. And Freeman clearly wanted to screw her in the worst way. You should have stayed out of it. You should have let them go off and get as physical as they wanted. And it was a low blow to use the Irissian Fever incident against her—that wasn’t her fault.

 

You couldn’t stop interfering, though. Even though you won’t let yourself have her, you can’t get the idea of her out of your mind—or stop the raging jealousy that comes whenever she’s with another man.

 

When you get tired of it, when it gets to be too much, you close your eyes and feel for the vibration of your ship under your feet. You hear the sounds that mean the ship is running her best. You smell the slight staleness of recycled air and are happy.

 

You can’t give this up. You won’t give this up. Not even for Chris. Not even for the person who might be the love of your life.

 

 

Her:

 

You’re walking behind Jim and eating his dust quite literally. This planet is a shithole, and you regret that he’s finally including you on a landing party. Seems like some kind of revenge.

 

He came to you in sickbay, his eyes distant like they are so often now, as if he can’t bear to look at you. “The other doctors shouldn’t have to go on all the landing parties. I need you to be ready in an hour.”

 

You want to ask him why the hell this new policy can’t start tomorrow—it’s not as if he’s wanted you on his landing parties before and you refused: he’s tagged Len or some other doctor over and over. You’re still recovering from the Larza virus that knocked out a third of the crew last week—this time you had nothing to do with it being on board. Ironically, Jim did. Probably getting up close and personal with a lovely Larzan. You’d thought yourself immune after working on so many patients and not getting it, but been proved wrong as life seemed to love to do to you lately. But you were one of the last to get the virus, so you’d taken some leave and holed up in your quarters for a couple of days until you weren’t contagious anymore and could go back to work. But that doesn’t mean you want to trek all over hell and back.

 

“I don’t feel very well.” You didn’t look at Jim as you said it, didn’t want him to see that it’s killing you how little he seems to care about you other than making sure that you don’t embarrass him or his crew.

 

“Really?” There was disdain in his voice you’ve never heard before. “That’s not a very creative excuse, Chris. And I know how smart you are. Do better next time.” He pounded the bulkhead once—a habit you used to find charming. His signal for “it’s decided” or “let’s go.” “One hour.”

 

“Fine.”

 

And now you’re finding it difficult to catch your breath as the heat and the dust and this goddamn marathon he seems to have you on is taking the last of your reserves. But he won’t want to know that, so you keep walking and you realize almost too late that he’s stopped walking, has in fact turned to study you, the rest of the landing party going on at his gesture to continue.

 

“You don’t look right,” he says softly and finally there is some trace of the man you spent so much time with on Earth.

 

“I told you. I don’t feel well.” But how would he know? Len obviously didn’t tell him you’d been sick. And you’ve been avoiding the lounge these days. Nyota has commented on it. She knows you were seeing the captain and now you aren’t. She doesn’t ask why and you’re not sure if it’s because she’s well aware of his policy or if she’s secretly glad you’re not with him anymore. You’ve always suspected she was more than a little in love with him.

 

He turns you so you’re facing away from the dust. “Do you have Larza?”

 

“Jesus, Jim, I’m not so stupid I’d bring it down to these people. Yes, I did have it, but I’m not contagious.”

 

“But you’re still sick?”

 

“I’m recovering.” You meet his eyes, hating how much weakness must be showing in yours. “I told you I wasn’t feeling well.”

 

His voice is more tender than you’ve heard it in a long time. “I thought you just didn’t want to spend time with me.”

 

“That, too.” You know your eyes have changed, from weak to angry, from passive to ready to throw him off a cliff, if only there were one nearby.

 

He takes you by the arm, his hold on you somewhere between helpful and irritated. He passes the others, dragging you in his wake. “Stay up front.”

 

Which means you have to walk faster than you were. He’s not doing you any favors. You swallow hard and try to keep up with him, but you’re tired and you’re weak and you were crying last night like an idiot over this man who is striding off and leaving you.

 

Until he’s not. Until he’s back at your side, and pulling out his communicator, and saying, “Kirk to Enterprise.”

 

Enterprise here, sir.”

 

“Please beam up Doctor Chapel. And notify Doctor Garris that he’s needed.”

 

“Aye, sir.”

 

You want to tell him that he doesn’t have to do this, but you’re afraid you’ll start coughing—or possibly crying. You’re very glad he’s not telepathic like Spock, that he can’t feel what being this close to him, hearing his voice sound the least bit kind, is doing to you. You look down and murmur that you’re sorry.

 

“Get checked out at sickbay and then take the rest of the day off. Tomorrow, too, if you need it.” His voice is gentle again, and it’s confusing how quickly he can switch. On Earth he was steady—unhappy as hell, but constant in how he treated you. Now that he’s happy, it’s as if he’s a different man.

 

You’d ask him again to let you transfer off, but you’re too tired.

 

“Ready to beam Doctor Chapel up, sir. Doctor Garris is standing by to beam down.”

 

“Energize.”

 

As the planet fades away, you think you hear him say, “I’m sorry, Chris.”

 

 

Him:

 

You wander into sickbay, knowing McCoy isn’t there, hoping Chris still will be. She’s been avoiding the lounge and you hardly ever see her in the main mess unless she’s with someone.

 

Her office doors are open and the light is on. You take one step, then another, knowing this is stupid, knowing the best way to keep from letting her in and risking the ship is to turn around and walk out.

 

She looks up and her face is the one you remember from when she was a nurse. Sweet and full of “How can I help?” It’s not a look you’re accustomed to seeing since she’s been on your ship as a doctor. And it changes the moment she realizes it’s you and not a patient in need. “Sir?”

 

You step into her office but don’t sit down. You want to call for privacy—probably should—but you’re afraid of what you’ll do if the doors are closed and the window between her office and sickbay darkened. You want her too much to risk it. Instead you force your voice into the register that means this is business, your tone brusque when you say, “We can’t have a repeat of the last landing party.”

 

You can see your words register on her face; you’re not sure if she’s even aware of how much she gives away. “Well then maybe you should take me seriously when I say I don’t feel well.” She turns back to her terminal. As if what she’s said takes care of this. As if it’s all your fault.

 

“Well maybe you should make it sound more like a medical problem and less a personal one.”

 

She freezes and you wonder what you’re going to get when she turns around. But she doesn’t turn around. “Personal? I’m not the one making this personal. You left me out of every landing party and then insisted I go on one when I told you I wasn’t a hundred percent. You block my social time. You won’t let me transfer off.”

 

“This is a good posting.” And you don’t want to let her go. She’ll find someone quickly if she does. She’s too much fun to be around—too good at getting what she wants—not to.

 

She does turn around finally, and you realize the reason she didn’t before is that she’s crying. “I know why you won’t let me off. How would it look? We were together and then, once you’d gotten what you wanted, you demoted me. For someone who’d fucking retired.” She stares at you, as if she can’t believe you two were ever close. “I’m not going to complain. I’m not going to make trouble. Just let me go, Jim.”

 

You turn and hit the privacy button. The door closes and the screens go dark as you lean in. “Why would you want to leave? Spock can’t take his goddamned eyes off you.”

 

“What?” She backs away. “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”

 

“I keep waiting... Waiting for one or both of you to make your move. You loved him for a long time, Chris.”

 

“I repeat. What does this have to do with me transferring off?” She stands and walks to the door, about to hit the privacy button, but you stop her, you grab her arm and pull her close.

 

She stares at you with some mix of confusion and anger and pain. “Do you want me with him? Would that make it easier for you? I’ve got an even better way to simplify things. Let. Me. Off.” She punctuates the last three words with a sharp finger to your breastbone.

 

“I don’t want to.” You’re staring at her, wondering if your look is as helpless as you feel. “I can’t.” There. It’s out and she can make of that what she will.

 

You let go of her arm, turn and hit the button, and flee.

 

 

Her:

 

You sit in the lounge staring daggers at Jim. Nyota is watching you and while normally you try not to show her how much he’s hurt you, after his visit this afternoon, you don’t think you’re capable of hiding it anymore.

 

He “can’t” let you go? What the hell does that even mean? And why did he have to look so damned helpless when he said it?

 

“Which one of them are you glaring at?” Ny’s voice is even, as if she’s not asking something she has carefully left alone since you told her Jim and you were over.

 

“Jim.”

 

“Ah. I thought so but you know...could be either.”

 

“I’m not mad at Spock.” You consider downing your drink and ordering another, but getting drunk is probably a terrible idea. “He and I breaking up was a mutual decision. Jim just—” You look away, taking a sip, not the gulp you’d like to take, of your vodka tonic.

 

Ny’s the only one of your friends who knows you were with Spock. And you only told her when it was over, so she could go for him if she wanted. You thought they might be good together, but then Spock went to Gol and that chance passed. Although maybe now they could make it work. You’re about to tell her that when you see Jim look over. He seems to realize you’re looking his way and turns back quickly to Spock.

 

It’s like goddamned junior high, only with more at stake.

 

“Not that I want you to leave, but you could transfer off if this is really uncomfortable.” Ny’s expression is full of compassion, much more than she ever had when you chased Spock. Probably because she can see actual pain in your eyes this time. Spock was always an elusive target until you finally caught him—but you enjoyed the chasing part. Jim...Jim you thought you had.

 

Nyota doesn’t know how many times you’ve asked Jim to let you transfer off. You can’t do that to him because it’s irregular as hell that he won’t release you, and you don’t want to get him in trouble. You were serious when you told him you weren’t going to start bitching about being a spurned—and demoted—lover once you got back to Earth.

 

But you realize you’ve never forced his hand. Never sent him the formal request to transfer. Asking him to let you go and being told no is a very different thing than making him deny a formal request that sits in the system, fully accessible to Spock and anyone at Command who wants to check personnel issues.

 

Have you not put in the request because you don’t want to get him in trouble or because you don’t really want him to let you go?

 

The image of him in in your office, his hand hot on yours, his eyes so...

 

You stand up and say, “That’s it for me.”

 

“Okay.” Her expression is kind. It generally is. Jan wouldn’t be as nice about it. But Jan transferred off as soon as it became clear Jim was staying.

 

You’ve never told Jan you were dating her former crush. Maybe Ny has, because Jan hasn’t been comming you as much as she used to. You should care about that. You should fix things now that you and Jim are over. But you know you won’t.

 

Are you stupid enough to think you can still win? That you can lure him back? He’s looked helpless before. You think he’s looked that way at Jan once or twice. It means he’s lonely and possibly horny, and there are no alien women in reach, nothing more.

 

You force yourself not to turn around and look at him as you leave the lounge.

 

 

Him:

 

You sit inside a thicket of plants and watch for movement. “Chris. What’s happening?”

 

“Almost stabilized,” she says softly, clearly not wanting to draw attention.

 

For once you two are united. Camsin and Deangelo are wounded, and she and Spock are working together to stop the bleeding. You hate projectile weapons, the way they tear a body up as they bring pain and death. But these natives appear to be crappy shots and maybe you’ve caught a break.

 

If you can just hold them off for the next seven minutes, until the interference that floats over this moon—and periodically makes transporting impossible—floats away again and the ship can beam you up.

 

Spock moves up to crouch next to you. His hands are red and his shirt is smeared with blood from where he’s wiped them off. He went to help Chris almost on reflex, and you think it’s because that’s just him, being an efficient Vulcan, and not because they’re together.

 

But you’re not sure anymore. You see them sometimes, in the lounge now, on nights you’re not playing chess with Spock. They usually sit in the upper portion, where it’s quieter, and they often have padds.

 

The logical part of you says they’re just trading science information. The emotional part says that science is where the heart is for Spock, and Chris isn’t afraid to use what works.

 

“Are you all right, Jim?” Spock’s voice is soft and doesn’t carry a trace of guilt for poaching your woman. Not that he knows Chris is your woman; you haven’t told him anything. But maybe she has.

 

Would she? Damn it all, why are you obsessing over this? “I’m fine.” You see movement and murmur, “There.”

 

Spock goes on alert, the way you know he always will—the way you count on him to. He’s your right hand and if he’s with Chris, it’ll be okay, won’t it? If he wants her and you won’t take her, it has to be okay.

 

You should have let her leave the ship when she wanted to. End of problem.

 

The movement is sharper now, but it’s only an herbivore of some kind, stepping out of the woods like a Terran deer, just as jumpy, scenting the air and no doubt smelling the blood of your men since you’re upwind of it.

 

It takes a few bites of grass, then raises its head, turning and scanning and you freeze, even though it won’t hurt you or your people. You want it to relax and then it can serve as your early warning system.

 

Spock seems to get it, and you watch the deer-thing together. You relax when the animal finally starts grazing.

 

Turning slowly, trying not to make much noise, you watch Chris as she works. The men aren’t bleeding anymore, and she’s putting a makeshift sling on one of them, her voice soft and pretty.

 

No, not pretty—you don’t get to think that anymore. You don’t get to think about how sensual she can sound or how sweet or how amused when you’ve said something that cracks her up. The sound of her happiness was what kept you sane on Earth, but now you have to put that behind you.

 

She looks up at you, and her smile isn’t the wary one you’re used to now. It’s a tired one, though. This has been a long mission and it’s gone badly from the start. But she nods and murmurs, “They’ll be all right.”

 

You nod back, and your eyes lock with hers. For a moment, you’re back on Earth, in her apartment because Lori refused to give up yours and you hadn’t found a new one yet. Chris is lying under you and looking at you with such openness. You almost told her that you loved her the night before she shipped out. You’re sorry you didn’t.

 

You’re glad you didn’t. She’d never give up if she knew how you really felt.

 

But it hurts you in a way you know is ironic that she can believe you don’t love her after the time you spent, the way you connected. Then again, your reputation says that’s what you are. The man who loves and leaves. Not loves and is left. Or loves but can’t have.

 

You turn before you say something stupid like, “Come to my quarters tonight.”

 

“How long?” you ask Spock, because he’ll know exactly how long it will be before Scotty can beam you up, when you’d have to check the tricorder and make more noise than you want to.

 

“Two minutes thirty seconds.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“I think.” At your surprised look, he lifts an eyebrow and says, “I was occupied, Jim.”

 

“I know. But you usually multitask.” Unless maybe he’s with a woman he finds as delightful as you find Chris. Unless he’s thinking about how he wants to get her up to the ship and—

 

No. No, even if he’s thinking that, it’s immaterial.

 

“You seem unusually tense, Jim. Our situation is much less dire than it was before.”

 

“Keep your eyes open anyway.” Your words are said harshly, and Spock looks taken aback. “Sorry. You’re right: I am on edge.” You manage to not look back at Chris, manage not to tell him she’s yours and to keep away.

 

“As I said.” Spock goes back to scanning your surroundings, and you imagine he’s thinking you’re acting like the one who was emotionally overwhelmed by V’ger, not him.

 

And he’d be right.

 

 

Her:

 

The night is hot and humid and your head hurts from the strident sounds of Televians and Federation personnel celebrating with too much of the local drink and not enough antitox. You’ve already been into your personal stash of the drug twice. The Televians like to party. Fortunately they also have other things to offer the Federation.

 

You stand up when it’s clear the required part of this festival of belonging is over, and slip away to the beam-out spot, but you hear heavy footsteps and a murmured, “Chris?”

 

You turn and it’s Jim. He’s looking at you in a way you haven’t seen since Earth. And he’s clearly a thousand sheets to the wind.

 

“Forget your antitox?” You try to keep your words professional, but something seductive has slunk into your voice despite knowing he will hate you if you take advantage of him when he’s this way.

 

He moves closer. “You were always the designated holder of the antitox.” He stumbles against you. “I kept trying to catch your eye, give you the signal.”

 

“I was quite a few seats down from you. With a lot of inebriated people between us.”

 

“There’s always something between us. A bunch of drunks. Spock.”

 

You start to laugh. “The drunks, yes. Spock, though?”

 

“You can tell me if you’re with him.” He pulls you off the path and into the woods that line the estate the celebration is taking place at. The moons are shining, so it’s not too dark to see where you’re going or you’d fight him. He’s in no shape for a midnight stroll.

 

You dig out an antitox. “Open your mouth.”

 

He does. Obediently. And then he runs his hands through your hair, which is down as the protocol rules required for this shindig. The Televians wanted people to be loose and free. Thank God they weren’t nudists.

 

He leans in and kisses your cheek. “I love you.”

 

“Sure you do, Jim.” You can see the drug is already starting to work, can see awareness of what he’s doing and who he’s doing it to come back to him. “I’m going up to the ship. I’ve done my duty here.”

 

“That’s what I am now? Duty?” He isn’t drunk anymore and his voice is bitter—as if you broke up with him?

 

“I’m sorry, did I misunderstand the conversations we’ve had? Do you want to be more?”

 

“What I want and what I can have are two different things.” He takes a step back. Then another. “Besides, you’re with Spock.”

 

You can’t help it. You start to laugh. His voice is so morose over this fact he’s made up. “I’m actually not.”

 

“You’re not?”

 

“No. I scratched that itch after Platonius. We parted as friends.”

 

He closes his eyes for a moment. “I don’t feel very good.”

 

You dig out another antitox and hand it to him. “But if I wanted to be with him, I would be. Since you won’t let me date anyone else but Chekov.”

 

He starts to laugh. “That was so shitty of me to cock-block you that way.”

 

You laugh, too. “I didn’t really like Freeman. But I thought he might make you jealous.”

 

“He did.” He takes a deep breath, and you can tell the second antitox is working. “How did I miss you and Spock together?”

 

“You were a bit busy with Elaan and her tears among other things.” You see understanding dawn. “And he and I weren’t really a couple.”

 

“Not like us?”

 

You think at first he’s baiting you, saying that to be mean, but his eyes are gentle. “Were we? Because you told me you don’t love me.”

 

“I also just told you I did.”

 

“Yes, and you were very drunk. Besides, does it change anything?” You can feel your voice getting harsh and bitter but can’t stop yourself. “That you love me? What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”

 

And just like that you see the captain take over the man you love, and you suddenly wish you’d been out of antitox. Sloppy-drunk Jim was much more fun, and made you more fun, too.

 

“I withdraw the question, sir.” You turn and head back to the path to the beam-out site.

 

He doesn’t try to stop you.

 

 

Him:

 

You sit across from Spock and try to pay attention to the board, moving pieces nearly at random until Spock finally pushes the board aside and says, “Jim, you are distracted—and your play is erratic.”

 

You should make something up, but then you look over at the dance floor where Chris is dancing with a crewman you don’t recognize and you settle for sighing heavily.

 

Spock follows your gaze. “Ah.”

 

“What the hell does that mean?” Ah. Ah what? Ah, yes, the woman Spock would like to be with again, so perhaps you should not be staring? Or the woman he was with and has no intention of getting back with?

 

You rub your eyes. You’re tired, so goddamned tired. You think you were running on the high of getting the ship back before. You’ve been so busy being the best captain you can be that you’ve run yourself into the ground.

 

It’s ironic, in a sense. If she knew, Chris could relieve you of duty. Would she do it? You don’t know.

 

You realize Spock has said something and look over at him. “What?”

 

“I was merely remarking that I’ve noticed you spend a great deal of time staring at Christine.”

 

“So do you.”

 

“Primarily because I am trying to see what has you so rapt.” Spock’s eyebrow goes up, and it’s like the Vulcan version of the rimshot after a good zinger.

 

And you laugh, because he’s funny and you’ve missed his dry Vulcan wit. “Spock, do you want her?”

 

“I do not.” There is something in his eyes that says he’ll say more but only if you probe.

 

And you do because you want to know if what she told you was true. You want to hear it from him. “Were you with her?”

 

He nods. “After Platonius. Briefly. We were not compatible in the ways that mattered.” He meets your eyes and his are unrelenting. “Are you with her?”

 

You feel a surge of relief. He’s asked you about this. You can finally talk about this. You’ve left McCoy out because you don’t want to put him in a weird position being her boss and your friend. But Spock is asking. “Yeah, I was.”

 

You look over at her, dancing with a new man. One of these days someone is going to go from temporary dance partner to lover. You dread that day.

 

“You clearly have strong feelings for her, Jim. Why are you not still with her?”

 

You laugh, and it’s the outburst of air that you make when you’re more surprised than amused. “Isn’t that obvious?”

 

“It has never been to me. Your rules about fraternization do not always make sense. Especially when the woman in question is in medical. Many captains have found their mates from that section.”

 

Mates. Trust Spock to put it in the most primitive terms.

 

You pull the chess board back and indicate Spock should take his turn. “I lay awake at night thinking of loopholes. Of ways around my rules.”

 

Spock makes a move that puts you in way more danger than normal. You really are playing like shit tonight. “They are your rules, Jim. You do not have to go around them. Simply change them.”

 

“But Nogura...” You sigh. Do you want to admit how afraid you are that this ship—the ship you missed so much it hurt—might be taken away from you?

 

But you miss Chris that much, too. You want her as much as you wanted the ship. “It sounds so simple when you say it, Spock. Change, bend, cheat.”

 

“It is not cheating. But if you think it is, then this may be an insurmountable problem. I take it she does not wish to transfer?”

 

You don’t answer immediately, unsure if Spock is testing you or if Chris really hasn’t told him anything. Even though you’ve seen them talking—their dark heads close together as they lean in at the mess table or sit in the upper lounge.

 

But Spock looks sincerely curious so you murmur, “I don’t want her to go.”

 

He doesn’t know what to do with that. You can see it on his face. He’s processing—does what you said mean she hasn’t requested a transfer, or that she has and you’ve denied it? He should know you better than that. You wouldn’t deny it if it were in the system. Moreover, he sees most of the transfer requests. But she’s never put her request in despite asking you for a transfer—and you’ve spent a lot of nights trying to figure out why she doesn’t just make it official.

 

And you spend even more time hoping it’s because she still loves you.

 

“She does not strike me as happy these days, Jim.”

 

“Happy? Coming from you?” You’re trying to divert him. The relief you felt at being able to talk about this is turning into a feeling of being trapped. Yes, you have these feelings but talking about them any longer will give too much weight to...possibilities. Alternatives you cannot take advantage of.

 

He looks a little disappointed in you. But he moves his chess piece without comment, and you go back to the game, trying your best not to sneak looks at Chris.

 

 

Her:

 

You’re working on reports that Len should be doing because tonight you’re seeking any excuse to stay out of the lounge. And sickbay’s calm, and the lights are turned down, and you can almost pretend things are the way they should have been. That you’re here because this place is yours, and soon Decker will come in and sit down in the chair across from you and put his feet up on your desk despite your scowls and just shoot the shit.

 

You miss Decker. No one ever talks about him. Ny and Pavel and Hikaru and Scotty—they all just seem glad to have Jim back. But sometimes you miss the captain who believed in you.

 

You hear the sickbay doors open and get up. The two doctors on duty have gone to grab some coffee—you told them to go. It’s obvious to you that they’re falling in love. It seems only fair that someone be happy on your duranium prison.

 

You expect to see a patient; you don’t expect to see Jim. He smiles, a gentler smile than you’re used to, at least when he’s sober. “Bones said you were here.”

 

“Working on reports.”

 

He motions for you to go into your office, actually sits across from you rather than standing like he did the last time he came to visit. “Thank you.”

 

“For what?” You know what. You just want to hear him say it.

 

You just want him to talk to you. Anything that will drag this out is fair game. You miss far more than just sex with him. The two of you talked—connected—or you thought you did.

 

“For saying no the other night when I was drunk.’” He leans in and sighs. “If you’d said yes...” He shakes his head and stares down at your desk. As if answers lie in white laminate.

 

“You would have hated me if I’d said yes.”

 

“That’s true. And...it’s not.” He leans back and holds his hands over his eyes, the way he used to when he’d just gotten home after a bad day being an admiral. “Spock told me to change my rules.”

 

You’re shocked that he’s talking this way. As if he’s on the verge of capitulating and doesn’t seem happy about it. “Have you been drinking?”

 

“No. Damn it. I’m trying to talk to you. We used to be good at that.”

 

“I used to think you loved me.”

 

“I do.” He stares at you angrily, as if this is your fault.

 

You should be happy that he loves you, but the victory feels so hollow. “I have to finish these reports, Jim. You coming in and taunting me with vague hints of ‘maybe’—that’s just mean.”

 

“He’ll take my ship.” The words come out in a panicked rush.

 

“Who will?”

 

“Nogura. He had someone else in mind to replace Decker, but I came back the conquering hero and forced his hand. But he’s watching me.”

 

“So you lied to me? For this?” You indicate the room around you. “For metal and crew and space and not being tied to a desk?” You can sense the enormity of your rival. It goes so far beyond just the ship. It goes to who he is, where he’s best, and how he’s happy.

 

“Do you want off the ship?” He looks as if he’ll finally let you go. This can end.

 

You should want off this damn ship. Yes, it’s an excellent posting, but you don’t think you’ll ever move on while you’re here.

 

But this, if you could just have this. Moments...

 

“Chris, I’ll let you go if this is hurting you.”

 

“I don’t want to leave you.” It’s out before you can think about what you’re saying.

 

It’s out because it’s the truth.

 

“No?” There is a world of emotion on his face. Happiness of some sort. Relief, maybe. And something you’re not sure how to read. “That’s good, then.” He looks away. “Right?”

 

You don’t want him to look away and you don’t want him to have to ask if it’s good. You just wish you could go back to how it was when you were together. You were so good together. Why doesn’t that matter?

 

Then he murmurs, “I miss you so goddamn much, Chris” and you want to give him something—anything—to make this better.

 

“Jim, can we just...can we try to be friends? You’ve treated me like the enemy. And I’ve done the same to you in reaction.” You want to get up, to pace, but your office isn’t big enough for that. “We didn’t just have sex. We talked. I loved talking to you. I miss that.”

 

“I do, too.” He looks relieved, like you’ve just taken a huge burden from him. “You want to stay?”

 

“But not like before. I don’t think I’ll be okay if we keep on this way.”

 

“We can be friends.” His voice is desperate, as if you’ve thrown him a life jacket in the middle of a vicious storm. “This is a good posting.”

 

“It is.” You close your eyes for a moment, can’t bear to see the expressions playing across his face. Want and need and fear—fear of the man he used to consider a mentor. Would Nogura really take the ship away?

 

Does it matter? If Jim thinks he would, then that’s reality. That’s the wall you need to get over—the wall you’re afraid you’ll never get over.

 

He starts to get up and you stand, too, holding out your hand to stop him. “I need to say this. If being friends doesn’t work for us, then you have to let me go. With a great recommendation.”

 

“Okay.” He surprises you by taking your hand and squeezing it. “We can make it work.”

 

“Sure. Okay.” This is your idea—not leaving, being friends—and yet you’re suddenly uncomfortable with it. It’s not in your nature to surrender, but it feels like you have. But wouldn’t leaving also be surrender? “I wish Spock had never given me that padd to give to you.”

 

He looks wounded, and you realize you’ve said that out loud.

 

And that makes you feel bad. Bad that you’ve hurt him, which is stupid because he’s done nothing but that to you since he took the ship. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. I’d probably feel the same way in your position.” He turns and leaves and there is such heaviness in the room that you find it hard to get back to the reports.

 

What the hell are you doing?

 

 

Him:

 

You’re in the middle of your second scotch when Chris comes into the lounge. She sees you—appears to be looking for you and doesn’t seem surprised to find you looking back. Her smile is sweet and sad and loving—you shouldn’t think that word when you think of her, but it’s true and you do.

 

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” you say to the young ensigns you were talking to and make your way to the bar, where she has come to roost. You don’t like to admit you’re trying to stake a claim before any other Freeman types get ideas, but you know that’s exactly what you’re doing.

 

Even if she’s not yours. Even if you can’t have her—won’t let yourself have her.

 

“Sir.” Her grin is playful, and it’s been so long since you’ve seen that look on her face that you almost don’t know what to do with it.

 

But you rally and say, “Doctor,” in the same voice. Because this is what friends do. They tease. This isn’t flirting, necessarily.

 

“Buy me a drink?”

 

“God knows I owe you.” You signal the crewman playing barkeep to come over, and you order her top-shelf vodka for her vodka tonic.

 

You know what she likes, not just her drink of choice, but how she fixes her coffee in the morning, how she likes her eggs done, her meat cooked, her toothpaste squeezed.

 

You hated every minute of being on Earth and loved every moment of being with her. It was one of the more schizophrenic times of your life. But she stayed with you—even seemed to like you no matter what mood you came home to her in.

 

Home. Her apartment was home. Far more than your place with Lori ever was. You would have had to find your own place but for V’ger. If Nogura kicks you off the ship, you won’t have a home to go back to.

 

“You’re quiet. Do you want me to go somewhere else now that I have my drink?” Her voice is uncertain, so you turn back to her and try to give her the most tender smile in your repertoire.

 

“No, Chris, I don’t want you to go somewhere else. I wouldn’t mind us going somewhere else.” You gesture with your chin toward an empty table and with a smile of understanding, she leads you toward it.

 

You hate the new uniforms from a practical standpoint, but you like how they accentuate her rear end. Almost as nice as what those minidresses did for her legs.

 

You force your eyes up. You shouldn’t be ogling. Friends don’t ogle. Do they?

 

Maybe they do. It’s safe to admire a friend’s body, right?

 

She turns and you nearly crash into her. Laughing, she steadies you. “How many have you had?”

 

“It’s you, not the drink.”

 

She looks surprised that you’d be this honest. But you’ve been lying to her since you took command and you’re sick of it. Truth feels better.

 

“I miss you. So, so much,” you say, and she smiles and slips into a chair. You take the one next to her. “I’m sorry I was an ass.”

 

“It’s okay. You’re my ass.” She shakes her head, turning a little red. “Sorry, I’m not supposed to say that.”

 

“Why not? It’s true.”

 

Her expression changes instantly, to one of hurt and anger. “You haven’t exactly been alone, Jim. Mine and how many others?”

 

“I was trying to forget you.”

 

“Did it work?”

 

You shake your head and purse your lips, the code you two have for “Big fat ‘No’ to that.” You had a lot of codes. You weren’t together that long but you found a way to forge a secret language, to learn what the other liked, to make the evenings and weekends fun even when your workdays were shitty’s snotty cousins.

 

She smiles, and you think maybe she’s thinking the same thing. What you two share. Which is dangerous, because there’s a line in the sand on how much you can backtrack with her. You don’t want to end up back at a desk, at Command, surrounded by men and women who willingly gave up the stars and seem fine with the loss.

 

“I want to say something.” You stop and consider if this is smart—it’s right but you’re not sure it’s what you really want. But she needs to know. “You can date whoever you want. I’m not going to interfere. It was wrong of me and I’m sorry.”

 

“Okay. Although for the record, I don’t really need your permission to date people.”

 

“Then why didn’t you?”

 

She laughs, the bitter expulsion of air that you didn’t hear that much on Earth but have on the ship. “And have you imply to some poor junior officer that I’m the queen of STDs? No thanks.”

 

You’re not sure what to say, so you settle for sipping your scotch.

 

“You were an asshole, and your story was out of context.”

 

“Guilty as charged.” You still can’t believe you did that to her.

 

She shrugs and looks away, and you think she’s letting it go. You’re owning that you were wrong. What more is there to say?

 

Music starts up, a song you remember dancing with her to. Slow and sexy in a little bistro in Berkeley. She was wearing a black halter dress that left her back very bare, and you let your fingers dance over her skin.

 

You glance up from your drink and see her looking at you with an expression of such longing it stops you cold. And you want nothing more than to let her know you’re there, too. In the memory. The good memory. “Mario’s. Black dress. Lots of skin. I may be moving away, but I’ll never forget, Chris.”

 

“Neither will I.” She holds her glass up to you. “To...friends.”

 

You clink your glass against hers and resist the urge to add, “And more.”

 

 

Her:

 

You’re sitting in the upper lounge with Spock. He’s reading a paper you’re working on, and it’s surprisingly nice to be just relaxing as he makes notes on your padd.

 

You hear footsteps behind you, recognize Jim’s step, his happy step. He hands you a vodka tonic, and you imagine it’s full of yummy top-shelf hooch. “Thanks.”

 

“You seemed like you were out.”

 

You almost laugh at this. He was at the bar in the main lounge and you’re facing the wall in the far corner of the upper lounge. There is no way he could even see your glass. Did he want to see you or is he still jealous of Spock?

 

He hands Spock a glass of water with a grin. “Didn’t want to leave you out.”

 

“Thank you, Jim.” Spock’s eyes are warm, and then he goes back to the padd.

 

“Scintillating reading?” Jim sits down next to you. Not too close, but before he’d have probably sat across from you.

 

“The Ilia...” You struggle with what to call it. It wasn’t entirely a robot. “Android, for lack of a better word, was advanced. I’ve had lots of spare time”—you shoot him a wry look, glad that you can say this without being so angry—“so I’ve been analyzing the scans we took. The analysis has morphed into a paper. Which he’s now editing.”

 

Jim makes a face, a funny one that makes you laugh, and you know it means he thinks Spock will be a hard editor. Then he leans back and you realize he doesn’t have a drink. “Is there a reason you’re not drinking?”

 

“I’ve got a headache.”

 

“Do you want to go to sickbay?”

 

He turns his head to look at you, and his expression is the one he used to give you when he wanted you to massage his head and neck. Then he seems to realize he’s doing it and sits up. “I’m okay.”

 

“I can go and bring something back.”

 

“It’s fine, Chris. Leave it.” He doesn’t sound mad, just leans back again and closes his eyes.

 

“You had headaches on Earth, but I didn’t know you had them on the ship.”

 

“Sometimes. Not often. There’s been—it’s been hectic.”

 

You don’t think that’s really true. “I’d like to check you out. Or Len can do it, if you’d rather have him. Headaches are out of the ordinary for you.” You glance at Spock to see if he’s going to chime in, but he appears focused on your paper.

 

“I’ll be by tomorrow. You can do it.” He gives you a smile then gets up and leaves.

 

“His headache is not normal—you are correct.” Spock raises his eyes to meet yours. “Perhaps the first flush of getting the ship back is over. Perhaps he is missing other things.”

 

“Other things?”

 

He nods. “You, for instance.” He hands the padd back.

 

“Better?”

 

“It was quite good to begin with, but yes.” He seems to be studying you.

 

“Just say it.”

 

“You and Jim have reached some kind of understanding. Things were quite tense before and now they are not.”

 

“Détente.” You take a sip of your drink. “Friends. That’s all we’ll be.”

 

“I do not believe that.” He sips his water calmly as if he has not dropped a huge conversational bomb.

 

You laugh and say, “Elaboration would be appreciated.” It amazes you how easily the two of you converse, how few words it takes. Maybe being in love with his best friend was the magic recipe for improving your relationship.

 

“Jim had strong feelings for other crewmembers. Rand. Noel. Moreau, after his experience in the mirror universe.”

 

You knew about Jan, of course. But the other two are news to you. “This is not making me feel special.”

 

“It should. He sent them away. Or more accurately let them go. You he keeps.”

 

“I never asked for a transfer.”

 

“You never requested one in the system or I would probably have seen it. But I am relatively certain that you asked him for one in private. And he said no, did he not?”

 

You nod.

 

“As I said. He wants you around, Christine.” He leans back. “Do you want my advice?”

 

You laugh. This is such a strange conversation. Especially since Spock has seemed to go out of his way not to bring Jim up with you. “Sure.”

 

“Just wait. When Jim first got the ship back, he was nearly paralyzed with fear that he would lose it. I saw him questioning decisions, taking longer than he would have previously. As if afraid to make a mistake. This tendency has faded the longer he has been in the center seat.”

 

“Well, he didn’t refit the ship. Decker knew it better than he did.”

 

“Admittedly, but this was more than that. This went to the core of who he is and what he wants and what he is willing to risk. Being with you is something that right now he cannot entertain. But I predict that the more he makes this ship his, the longer he’s in command, the less he will care about the risk. His fear will fade. And I think unconsciously he knows this. It is why he wants you here. Why he brings you a drink on a whim.”

 

You smile. “A really good drink. Expensive.”

 

His expression is light as he nods.

 

“Do you want me with him?”

 

“We are friends, Christine. I enjoy spending time with you—that might not be true of other women he could choose.”

 

You laugh. “Ahhhh, so altruism goes out the window as a motive for you being a big yenta.”

 

“I never claimed to be altruistic. This is most assuredly personal. If I am honest—and I see no reason not to be with you—his leaving the ship was one of the last things that sent me to Gol. It is, I have come to realize, my nature to run from emotionally laden situations—when I feel overwhelmed. My father and I could not get along, so I went to Starfleet. I felt as if Jim was abandoning me, so I went to Gol. I do not wish to find myself in that state again. Jim happy with you would be one way to help guarantee that.”

 

“I never thought of you as someone who runs from your problems. But at least you go to challenging places. Not like you run off to join the circus or laze on a beach.”

 

He almost smiles, and you grin back.

 

“Can I ask you something, Spock? Why did you give me the padd for Jim? Why have me deliver the message that you were leaving?”

 

“I was highly emotional at the time. I felt betrayed by him and yet I knew that my leaving would be a far greater betrayal—of him and all things human. I did not know if the two of you would become involved, but if you did, it would be the last emotional gesture I thought I would ever make. My last gift to you both.”

 

You lean in and touch his hand briefly. “Thank you for that.”

 

“Should you not wait to see if I am right before you thank me?”

 

Pfff. Jim will come around or he won’t. But it’s still nice what you did.”

 

“Are you really so sanguine?”

 

You laugh. He has become better at reading you since his meld with V’ger. “No. I’ve been a mess.”

 

He nods toward the padd. “But a productive one.”

 

“Yes. But a productive one.” You smile. “So just wait, huh?”

 

“That is my best advice.”

 

You like his advice. You like that someone else is thinking there’s a chance for you and Jim. You’ve thought about it—especially lately, now that you and Jim are friends again, and he’s finding all sorts of reasons to be near you—but you don’t know if you’re reading things correctly or just engaging in a dangerous game of wish fulfillment that may never happen.

 

“And if I am wrong, is there someone else you would rather be with?” Spock’s look is light again.

 

“Nope. And nowhere else I want to be.”

 

“Then wait and see.”

 

You nod. “Okay. Wait and see.”

 

 

Him:

 

You’re walking on a beach and the water is a stormy gray. Rain is pounding down on you, but you don’t care. You have your pants rolled up and are carrying your shoes and by God, you will walk on this beach.

 

Alone, but at least you got the beach.

 

You hear laughter, and you look back to see Chris running toward you with an umbrella. You smile, even though you shouldn’t, but it’s as if the universe has a terrible sense of humor or a very strange sense of whimsy.

 

“What the hell are you doing out here?” She moves close enough to open the umbrella and cover you both—well, as much as any umbrella ever covers two people. “It’s pouring, dipshit.”

 

You laugh, because while she may have thought you were a dipshit lately, that name was always reserved for when she was amused, not angry at you. It’s a name from the old times, when she found you appealing even when you were cranky and never failed to find ways to turn you into happy-Jim and not asshole-Jim.

 

You take the umbrella from her and toss it aside. “We’ll both get wet.”

 

“Why?” But she lets you take her arm and lead her down the beach.

 

The storm picks up, and even though the sand is wet, it’s not immune to the blasting wind and it pelts you unmercifully.

 

“Gee, this is wonderful, because I wanted to spend my one day of leave getting sandblasted.” She has moved closer, and you put your arm around her and pull her even closer, letting her hide her face in your shirt as some sort of reprieve from the sand.

 

“It’s a shitty day for a walk on the beach.” But you love the way it feels to hold her like this, to feel her warmth even through layers of wet clothes.

 

“No? Really?” She looks at you, her hair sopping, her makeup running a little, and you’re not sure she’s ever looked more appealing.

 

You smile and rub the make-up off, and she goes very still. Then you go still, too, and the two of you just stand and stare into each other’s eyes like lovesick teens.

 

“What are we doing?” she asks, her grin sweet and amused.

 

“Getting into trouble.”

 

“Sweetie, if you think this is trouble, you’ve been doing it all wrong.” With a grin, she takes your arm and gets you moving again, only in the opposite direction, with the wind at your backs. Smart women are so sexy—except you’re headed back to town and you wanted to walk and walk. She lifts her face to the sky, safe now from pelting sand, and says, “I love beaches in the rain.”

 

You look at her: this is news to you.

 

She makes an expression of mock frustration. “I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. And I like beachcombing. And it rains a lot. Ergo...”

 

You touch her hair, pushing it back behind her ear. You’ve been very free with your hands, touching her too much lately, and you know it. But she never complains or tries to make you take it further. This time she leans into your hand, but when you let go, she says, “Maybe there’s beach glass.”

 

You don’t think there is, but if you could make it materialize just for her, you would. You spend the next hour looking for it to no avail, but she manages to find shells, and you spend some time skipping rocks—she’s surprisingly good at it.

 

“I’m freezing, Jim.” She moves back from the surf. “I’m going back up to the ship.”

 

You want to tell her not to. Or to take you with her so you can warm up together. You want that more than anything.

 

“I have a room.” It comes out as if your mouth is operating independently from your brain, but once it’s out, you don’t try to call it back. Even if you know you should.

 

She moves closer. “I want that so much. But I can see in your eyes that it’s a bad idea.” She leans in and kisses your cheek, lingering a moment, her lips soft on your skin. “This was fun,” she murmurs, then turns and walks away.

 

You could stop her. You watch her and know that one word would probably stop her. But you let her go.

 

You turn back to the ocean and even though you’re cold, you keep walking, trying not to think of how she’ll look in the shower, or curled up in a chair in her plaid robe as she combs out her hair, or lying under the covers, naked preferably. Your body responds to those images, and you’re glad you’re alone out here.

 

Trying not to think of her—all the lovely versions of her that you’ve known—is definitely a great big bust.

 

 

Her:

 

You hear someone cough and turn to see Admiral Nogura standing at the door to sickbay. “Sir?”

 

He’s here because the ship was in the right place to give him a ride to Starbase Fourteen for a summit. He’s been monopolizing Jim, although Jim invited you to dinner with them last night. A dinner that included Spock and the department heads, so you felt safe, disappearing in the noise.

 

“Chapel, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

He gestures toward your office and you lead him in, then hit the privacy switch when he nods at it. He doesn’t sit, so you don’t, either. “I need you to be completely candid, Doctor.”

 

“Okay.” Your voice squeaks a little—shit, does he know about you and Jim?

 

“You’re one of Decker’s people. Tell me how you think Captain Kirk is doing.”

 

You know surprise is showing on your face. “With all due respect, Admiral, I’m also one of Kirk’s people. I was on this ship before.”

 

“Ah. That’s why you’re still here, then.”

 

“That’s part of the reason.” You can’t believe you’re talking to him like this. The man who holds Jim’s future in his hands. But you don’t see the point of not being as blunt as you usually are—let him see why Jim wants you on his ship. “I’m here because even as deputy, this is an excellent posting.” Jim would smile to see you parrot the party line so effortlessly. “And, sir, Captain Kirk is an outstanding commanding officer. I have no complaints.”

 

“At ease, Doctor, before you break something.”

 

You realize you’re standing very stiffly, and try to relax, sitting when he finally does.

 

“You were involved with Kirk on Earth.”

 

You aren’t sure what to say, and you swallow harder and more visibly than you mean to.

 

He starts to smile. “It’s not in a record somewhere. I saw the two of you in Sausalito one weekend. It was very clear you were together. Are you now?”

 

“Sir?”

 

“Are you together now?”

 

“We’re friends. Nothing more.” You meet his eyes. Let him know this is the truth, even if you hate it.

 

“I see. And yet you were at dinner last night. It was...interesting that he chose to have you there. I realize you were a department head but you’re not anymore, and I didn’t see any other deputies there. What message do you think Jim was trying to send me?”

 

“I have no idea, sir. The refits are still being worked out in some areas. Food service is one of them.” True, unfortunately. Everything will be fine and then suddenly the replicators are spitting out half-done items that might or might not resemble what you actually ordered. “Perhaps he wanted two doctors in case of mass indigestion.”

 

He laughs. “I doubt that was why.” He stands and you start to get up, but he motions for you to stay seated. “He pulled a fast one on me. Getting this ship back.” He shakes his head. “He thinks I’m mad.”

 

“Are you?”

 

“I was. But the secret to getting ahead in any big bureaucracy is to be flexible. And to recognize that talent and the future don’t always conform to one’s expectations.”

 

You aren’t sure what to say. Is he giving you permission to see Jim? Why isn’t he having this discussion with him, then?

 

He takes a deep breath. “I came down here for more than just this little talk.” He suddenly steadies himself on the back of the chair and grimaces as if in pain.

 

“Sir?” You’re up and around to him, scanning him even before you get him back into the chair. “Oh. Oh, sir, I’m so sorry.” Medicine has advanced so much but there are still diseases you can’t cure, and he has one of them.

 

“Picked it up years ago, according to my doctor. It sits dormant, until enough of your cells age and degrade, and then boom. But I don’t have to tell you that, do I? You recognized it right away.”

 

You nod. You saw a case at Starfleet Medical. An officer around Nogura’s age. Probably, if you checked, one who served on the same ship—the same landing party even.

 

He moves and groans. “It’s worse right now. The pain meds my doctor gave me aren’t doing the trick.”

 

“You hid it well.” You had no idea during dinner that he was in pain.

 

“You don’t get to where I am without developing a poker face. Something Jim could learn.” He moves again, clearly trying to find a comfortable way to sit. His joints—all of them—must be killing him.

 

“Let me get something stronger.” You hurry out to sickbay, fill a hypo, and grab some extra vials of the medicine, enough to hold him over until he’s back on Earth.

 

He closes his eyes as you inject him. “My wife and I divorced years ago. No kids. Married to my job, you might say. It’s all I have. So I’m keeping this quiet. Do you understand, Doctor?”

 

You nod, then you hand him the extra vials. “These should tide you over till your regular doctor can give you something stronger.”

 

“Thank you. I can see why Jim loves you.” He leans back and closes his eyes, and you can tell the medicine is working. “Damn near flaunted you in my face last night, Chapel. He’s getting tired of being well behaved.”

 

“I don’t think that’s what he was doing.”

 

“Then you aren’t as smart as I think you are.” He opens his eyes. “I’ve been hard on him. Was disappointed when he didn’t work out on Earth. He was my protégé, and I had a route planned out for him. But he wanted to be back among the stars. And now he’s here. By a goddamned fluke and one big killing machine that ran off with his successor.” He laughs. “He’s always made his own luck.”

 

“Yes, he has.”

 

“Life is short and you never know when it’s going to change forever. I’ve found that out in the worst way possible. I had plans, still. New heights to reach.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“I came to you because I looked up your file when I saw you at dinner. You know what it is to have your life derailed by something outside of your control. First your academic career and now your CMO position.”

 

You nod because he’s right: having your future torn away is your steady state.

 

“I know you’ll be discreet. I’m not retiring until they escort me out on a gurney—or possibly in a body bag.”

 

You smile, but you know it’s a half-hearted attempt. Nogura reminds you of Roger in so many ways. “I understand, sir.”

 

“And I’ll talk to Jim. Let him know I’m fine with this.” He waves toward you with a gesture that clearly means you being with Jim.

 

“Don’t, sir.”

 

He lets out a bark of laughter that makes you grin: it’s so spontaneous and sweet. You can see how Jim might have looked up to this man, might have called him a friend before he became his personal bogey man. “Don’t tell him you two can be together?”

 

You shake your head. “Let him get there on his own.”

 

“What if he doesn’t? He loves this ship.”

 

“I know. But let him get there on his own. For me?” You can’t believe you’re saying this to the man who can make all your problems go away. But you’ve fought so long—since Roger disappeared—and you don’t want the easy way now.

 

You want to know that Jim loves you enough to risk the ship.

 

“I like you, Chapel.” He nods, as if he wasn’t sure about that before. “You should consider Command if you get tired of medicine.”

 

“Me? At Command? At Starfleet Medical maybe, but real Command? I didn’t go to the academy, sir. I’m not regular Starfleet.”

 

“You may not have started out that way, but I think you are now. Keep it in mind. There are plenty of billets that need someone like you.”

 

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” You scan him again and see that his readings are no longer those of someone in extreme pain. “I wish I could do more for you.”

 

“So do I, Doctor. So do I.”

 

 

Him:

 

You’re watching Chris as she talks to the delegation from Kretala. She’s charming one of the Kretalan doctors, and he’s flirting in a way you don’t really like. You turn away but then you remember Nogura, what he said to you as you walked him to the transporter room.

 

“You’re doing a good job, Jim.” It was something the old man would have said before you went and fucked up all his plans for you. Before you stole your ship back and tied his hands. “I’m proud of you.”

 

There was something off in his expression, but it didn’t read as dishonesty. He meant what he was saying. He just seemed a little sad.

 

But he was proud of you. He didn’t ask you why Chris was at a dinner she had no business being at other than as your guest. And he said you were doing a good job.

 

You turn around and walk over to Chris. “Doctor, can I have a word?”

 

She smiles at the doctor and leaves him with no particular trace of sadness over being pulled away. “What is it?”

 

“He likes you.”

 

“He does.” She’s grinning up at you, the way she used to tease you when other men flirted with her back on Earth. “Wants to show me the city. I think he may want me to go back to his apartment afterwards. He keeps saying how nice it is.”

 

You grin back. “I’m sure he does want all that. I know I said you could date whoever you want, but...don’t, okay?”

 

She lifts her eyebrows. “No?”

 

You laugh, and you realize you feel free. It’s not just that Nogura told you that you’re doing a great job: you know you are. You’re on the Enterprise because you deserve to be. Being a captain is what you do best. This mission—it was looking like it was going to go tits up before you got here. The Kretalans have reserves of some very strategic minerals—especially after V’ger destroyed some of the Federation’s sources—and it was vital to get a trade agreement hammered out. Which you have—well, technically Spock did, but you were the one who went out and played the local equivalent of golf with the prime minister while the scientists worked out the agreement.

 

An agreement that needed the prime minister’s signature. And he was on the fence even if he was allowing his people to go through the motions. Until you got done with him. It’s not just women you can charm, and it’s not just sex that gets the job done.

 

Chris is waiting for you to answer, and she has a gently amused expression on her face. “He’s looking better and better, Jim. Just saying...”

 

You laugh and lean in and whisper, “I love you. Don’t go with him. Stay with me.”

 

“Define ‘with.’” Her look is mischievous and sensual and it’s all you can do not to grab her and hightail it to the nearest room with a bed. Or at least a nice sturdy wall.

 

With. Like we used to be. I don’t want to not be with you anymore.”

 

Her smile is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, and she reaches up and touches your cheek, and says, “I love you. And yes, fine, I’ll resist the overwhelming urge to dump your sorry ass for him.” She gives you a grin that’s loaded with just a little bit of payback, and you nod because it’s not like you don’t deserve it. “But the doctor you’re so jealous of also has a procedure I want to see. It’s for a disease similar to one in which I have a personal interest.” She gives you a strange smile. “So you can wait, yes?”

 

“Well, we’ll be stuck here for a while, so yes. And we have time. I just wanted to—”

 

“Make sure I knew I was yours? Well, you did, so let me go pick this guy’s brains. I’ll be gone for a while if we go to the hospital.”

 

“I trust you.”

 

And you realize you do. You never really trusted Lori, which is probably why she hit “Do Not Renew” on the term marriage agreement when your year was up. But Chris you trust, not least because she’s still here after all the shit you’ve put her through. She’s still talking to you and the last few months she’s been so sweet, but she could get her back up when she needed to. She’s not your doormat, and you love her for it.

 

It’s hours before she comes back and you’re sitting with the prime minister, watching the suns set, the color like nothing you’ve ever seen. When she walks over to you, she looks...elated, and you wonder what this disease is she’s so bent on curing.

 

You pull a chair close and say, “Join us. You don’t mind, do you, Temel?”

 

The prime minister smiles. “Not at all. I would have one of my women join us, but I am currently out of favor with my wives.”

 

Chris laughs softly as she sits. “What did you do?”

 

“I forgot an anniversary. Offend one, offend all. I should really have stopped with one wife.”

 

“I’ll remember that.” You wink at Chris. “Just one wife at a time.”

 

She actually blushes. Just when you think there’s nothing she can do to charm you more than she already has, she goes and tops it.

 

 

Her:

 

You’re busy sending the info you got from the Kretalan doctor to Starfleet Medical when your comm unit goes off. You put it on visual and see Admiral Nogura on the other end. “Hello, sir.”

 

He’s beaming. You sent him the procedure and specs for the medicines that the Kretalans used in conjunction with the therapy for a disease very similar to his. “Chapel, I owe you.”

 

“No, sir. It’s my job. The Kretalans had cures for three diseases we’ve had little luck treating, and protocols for some we’ve never seen. This one was very similar to what you have. I can’t guarantee it’ll work, though.”

 

He waves that off. “It’s better than what I had, which was Jack Goddamned Shit.”

 

“True. I’d have sent it to your doctor, but I wasn’t sure who it was, and you did ask me to be discreet. I didn’t think prying would be very stealthy.”

 

“Good instincts. Like I said. Command needs you, Chapel.”

 

You laugh and shake your head.

 

His look changes. “Has Jim come around? Because if he hasn’t I might want to ask you out the next time you’re on Earth.”

 

“That’s transference, sir. It happened all the time when I was a nurse.” You smile, and you can feel the true joy in your expression. It’s been a while since you’ve felt this hopeful about anything, much less Jim and you. “As far as Jim, well, a girl never tells. He’d want me to be discreet, too. But I wouldn’t get your heart set on anything.”

 

He laughs. And it’s a laugh with a lot more gusto than when he thought he had no options. “Go have fun. And I’m serious. If you ever need anything, Christine, you just ask.”

 

“I will.” Favors from higher ups are good to collect. “I hope it goes well.”

 

“Me, too. Nogura out.” The screen goes dead.

 

You hear a soft cough behind you and turn to see Jim.

 

“Something I should know? You dating my boss?” There’s a soft smile on his face, but then it fades. “I knew something was wrong with him. His energy was all off and he looked so sad when he said goodbye.”

 

“I’m not dating him. And I can’t talk about the other thing—medical stuff, you know.” You pretend to zip your lip.

 

He doesn’t look upset with you. In fact, he looks happy.

 

“I can be discreet, Jim. Very.”

 

“I know you can. Let’s be discreet right now.” He hits the privacy button and the door closes, the windows darken, and he walks to you and pulls you out of your chair and onto the desk. “So me coming around...am I to understand that he’s okay with this?” He’s pulling your top up as he asks, pushing your pants off, and you know that he’d already made up his mind. That it doesn’t matter what Nogura thinks anymore. But he’ll like it even better if he doesn’t have to worry at all.

 

“He’s fine with it. He cares about you, Jim.”

 

“And I care about him. And now, so do you.” He brushes your hair back, then stops and just stares at you. “I’ve wanted to do this for so long.”

 

“Then by all means let me help.” You undo his pants, slip them down, and pull him to you, wrapping your legs around him. As he slides into you, you close your eyes, murmuring, “I’ve missed this, Jim.”

 

“God, so have I.”

 

And then there’s no more talking, and you’re both trying to be quiet, laughing as you cover each other’s mouths to try to reduce the noise. These offices are private, but they are not soundproof.

 

As he finishes and leans against you, held inside you by your legs wrapped tightly around him, he murmurs, “Did you wait for me?”

 

“That would make me pretty pathetic, wouldn’t it?” Even if it’s perfectly in character given your track record with Roger and Spock.

 

“Did you wait for me, Chris?” He cups your cheek, and you smile and lean into his hand, craving his touch after so long away.

 

“I guess I did.”

 

“Did you know we’d get here?”

 

You shake your head, not wanting to say out loud that you doubted. You’d rather be a woman who had faith. But you may have been nothing more than a woman under the influence of a broken heart, inertia, and a tiny bit of hope—thanks to a certain Vulcan.

 

“I love you,” he says as you release him. He pulls your clothes up and gets you settled back in your chair, then does his own. “Are you going to be done with that soon? I’d like to be discreet somewhere we can make more noise. Like my nicely soundproofed quarters.”

 

You laugh. “Just a few minutes.”

 

“You mind if I wait here?” He starts rubbing your back and neck as you work.

 

“That’s slightly counterproductive,” you say as you try to type and not moan in pleasure. He knows how much you love this.

 

“Don’t care.” There is such a lightness in his voice that you look up and he kisses you on the forehead. “And by discreet I don’t mean I’m going to sneak around. You’re mine.”

 

“That was never in doubt, Jim.” You pull him down to kiss you on the mouth, happy to hear that you won’t have to hide the way you and Roger did at first, then you push him away. “Go sit. I need to finish this and then we can play.”

 

“I like the sound of that.” He sits in your chair, humming a song you recognize as the one you danced to at Mario’s. You glance over, and he’s grinning and staring at you like you’re the sacrifice and he’s the horny dragon.

 

“You’re distracting me.”

 

He shrugs. A big, expansive, sure-of-himself James T. Kirk shrug. And you realize Spock was right. The man who broke up with you wasn’t the man you fell in love with. Then again this man might not be the man you fell in love with either because he’s actually happy. How much better will the two of you be together if you’re both happy?

 

You’ll think about that later. Jim’s tapping his fingers and this report isn’t going to write itself.

 

 

FIN