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) 2017 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

Back Into the Fire

 

By Djinn

 

Chapel took a deep breath as the tech started the beaming sequence. Her mantra was: "I don't care. I don't care. I don't care."

 

And that would have been a great mantra. If the man she'd been trying to train herself to not give a shit over wasn't leaning against the transporter console, apparently waiting for her.

 

"Doctor Chapel. What a surprise that you wanted back on my ship."

 

She tried to maintain some semblance of decorum. "Permission to come aboard, sir?"

 

"Seems like you're already aboard, Chris. Permission granted to step down and let me take your gear."

 

Damn him. Charm oozing out of every pore as usual.

 

She stepped down and let him take the heavier of her two carryalls. "You greet all your crew this way."

 

He grinned at the transporter tech. "Lopez, do I greet all the crew this way?"

 

"No, sir." Lopez's grin was an easy one, like he trusted Jim with his life. Which he pretty much had to, but compared to when she'd left the ship, this was a different look. Before it had been blind hope in their captain, now it looked like seasoned confidence.

 

Jim motioned for her to go first through the doors and to the lift. Once the doors closed, he said, "Thanks for making me the bad guy with Carol. She really thought I chased you off."

 

She shrugged. "You sort of did."

 

"Yeah, a heartfelt 'I really like you' being such a scary thing."

 

"You could have told her the truth. You were with her long enough." And forgot all about her, she wanted to say, but here he was, personally welcoming her aboard. That didn't seem like being forgotten.

 

He swung her carryall over his shoulder as they exited the lift. "Doesn't matter now. She's not talking to me, either."

 

"Well, you did knock her up."

 

"She told me she was up to date on her shots."

 

"She always forgot. I can't tell you how many scares we had when she was my roommate." Why was she telling him this? Sisters before misters, right?

 

"Is he doing okay? My son?"

 

The son she hadn't let him see after the first time, just after she'd delivered. Chapel wasn't sure why Carol was so dead set on Jim staying on Earth with her—other than her own daddy issues. Chapel had never cared for Admiral Marcus; he'd reminded her of Roger in ways she'd rather not dwell on.

 

"David's a cutie. Smart, but then that's to be expected with you two as parents." She studied him as he seemed to process that. "Rumor was you were going to take a desk job and get off the ship."

 

He shrugged. "Was she happy about that?"

 

"I never told her. Once I heard the desk job was on the Starbase Yorktown. I believe her terms were in her world...on Earth or no contact?" Stupid terms. Depriving the kid of his dad out of spite. But Carol was like that.

 

Jim didn't hit back with a smart comment like he would have before. He just nodded and kept walking.

 

"You're different."

 

"I'm older. I've got this." He gestured vaguely around, and she knew he meant the ship. "I'm...responsible."

 

"Wow. I didn't know you could say the word, much less be it." She grinned. A bigger grin than she really wanted to give him but she liked this new, more thoughtful Jim Kirk.

 

He seemed grounded, up here among the stars. Irony.

 

Carol was probably being an idiot.

 

"Why did you tell her I'd chased you off?"

 

"I really didn't tell her much of anything. She'd heard about you, she knew we were together, and she made up the rest."

 

"And you didn't disabuse her—tell her maybe that you left me?"

 

She rolled her eyes. "She said you didn't even remember me."

 

"Right, Chris. Like I'd forget." He stopped at a door. "This is you."

 

Private quarters. Way nicer than her old shared ones. "You on this deck?"

 

Damn it all—why was she asking that?

 

"One deck up. Command row."

 

"Right." He didn't seem to be rubbing in that she wasn't a section head or deputy. Just stating a fact.

 

"Bones is thrilled you're back." He looked down. "I told him what happened."

 

"You did?"

 

"Yep. That I spooked you with my declaration of extreme like." He indicated the door panel, and she palmed them in. "What I couldn't figure out was if you wanted me to have said love or if you really didn't want anything the least bit serious with me?"

 

"I'd just left my fiancˇ for cheating on me. Why would I have wanted to get involved with another player?"

 

He looked wounded. "You think I can't be faithful?"

 

She looked down. Carol hadn't complained of that ever. It was his absences once she was back on Earth that pissed her off, not his adventures. "Back then, Jim, you were different. The stories about your sexual exploits were pretty hard to miss."

 

"I was young. I was captain of this ship long before I was really ready and we both know it." He ran his hand through his hair. "Look, I didn't mean to get into deep things. Just wanted to say hello. Welcome you back." He put her carryall on the bed and headed to the door. "There's a bunch of us meeting in the lounge tonight. Come, if you want."

 

"Okay. Maybe." It would be fun. And probably not the group she was really part of back the first time she was on the ship. But now, as a doctor, as a lieutenant—both very quickly attained—she felt more a part of things than she had before when she'd run to Starfleet just to put some serious distance between her and Roger.

 

"Okay. Well. I'm glad you're here." His smile was half hearted and she didn't think it was because he was lying, but because he couldn't read her.

 

He wasn't the only one who'd changed over the years; she'd learned to hide her feelings when it suited her. "Thanks, Jim. It means a lot that you care."

 

He nodded and left, leaving her to unpack and get to know this new Enterprise.

 

##

 

McCoy watched Christine working in the main ward of sickbay. It was still a happy surprise to see her back. He would have given long odds for it actually happening. "I'd rather walk through fire than serve under Jim again," had been the way she put it before she left.

 

And torn his friend up in the process. He'd been glad when Jim had taken up with Carol. Thought maybe he could finally be happy.

 

And he had been. Until Carol had managed to get pregnant despite birth control being mandatory. McCoy had never believed the convenient "I'm so forgetful" routine she pulled.

 

He realized Christine had stopped and was watching him, and he forced himself back to the here and now.

 

"Something I'm doing wrong?" She smiled as she asked, walking slowly toward his office.

 

"Just drinking in the sight of you, darlin'."

 

She rolled her eyes. "I'm immune to your southern bullsh—charm."

 

"Take a load off, then, and I'll stop subjecting you to it." He waved toward the guest chair in his office.

 

She sat, closing her eyes for a moment, and he wondered how exhausted she was. She'd torn through med school and her residency in record time. "I was up on the bridge," she said softly. "It so weird not to see Pavel there. I miss him. I can't believe he's gone."

 

"I know." The kid had survived everything thrown at him while on the ship and then had died in a freak accident at his home. It was unfair. "I miss him, too."

 

"Life's a bitch. People there one day and gone the next."

 

"Pavel's not Roger."

 

"I know."

 

"Jim's not Roger, either, Christine." It was time to get this out on the table. He'd let her settle in with no lectures, but he'd run out of patience for being tactful and sensitive. "The way you left... He moped."

 

"He didn't mope for long. He took up with my friend."

 

"He wouldn't have if you'd been here."

 

She shrugged, and the carelessness of the gesture ticked him off.

 

"You weren't here, Christine. Picking up the pieces you left behind. I got to do that. He's vulnerable. He may hide it under fifteen thousand layers of cockiness and devil-may-care bravado but he's goddamn vulnerable, and you know it."

 

"I didn't trust him."

 

"Then why come back?"

 

Her expression didn't change. "Because this is an excellent posting."

 

He felt frustration surge through him. Why the hell was she suddenly harder to read than Spock. "You been hanging around with Vulcans?"

 

"Maybe I just finally learned not to show everything I thought and felt." She closed her eyes again. "Maybe I grew up."

 

Her voice was off; he wasn't sure how he knew, but he'd served with her for long enough to sense that. "What aren't you telling me?"

 

"I was hanging around one Vulcan—actually he was hanging around me."

 

"Another admirer?"

 

"Not exactly." She shook her head, her mouth tight as if she was angry. "He put things in my head. Ideas. Hope. Stupid things." She met his eyes and hers were bleak. "Stupid things I want to believe."

 

"About...?"

 

"Jim." She stood. "And I can't ask the Vulcan for more information because he's gone now."

 

"Are you talking about Ambassador Spock?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"What did he tell you?" When she didn't answer, he was about to ask again but saw a crewman walk into sickbay.

 

"Things he probably shouldn't have." She turned and went out to help the crewman, taking him into a private consultation room.

 

Great. Another case of some alien STD probably. First contact was highly overrated when it came to that.

 

McCoy leaned back and tried to focus on the report he was doing. But all he could think of was how torn up Jim had been after Carol gave him her ultimatum. How he still beat himself up about not seeing David. And none of this would have even happened if Christine had just stayed the hell on the ship and trusted Jim the way he deserved to be trusted.

 

McCoy didn't know which woman he was more annoyed with. Probably Carol with her demands and ultimatums. Christine was here and maybe this time she and Jim could find a way to make it work.

 

And if not, hopefully she'd stay far, far away from him.

 

What the hell had old Spock told her?

 

##

 

Uhura leaned back in her chair and studied Christine. "I like it. Brunette suits you better than blonde."

 

"It's my real color. Roger liked it blonde."

 

"What does Jim think?"

 

"Haven't asked him." Christine sighed and Uhura wished they were the kind of friends who could follow that up with a "Why the hell not?" But they weren't. They were "our boyfriends are close" friends and that was a totally different thing. Only Christine wasn't with Jim—or at least she didn't think she was—so maybe they were real friends, just grabbing a drink to say, "Welcome back" to the one who left the ship and had now found her way back home.

 

Uhura decided to be brave. "Why the hell not?"

 

Christine shot her a look, then broke into a laugh. "Uhhh, because I'm avoiding him."

 

"Why?" Uhura swished the muddled fruit in her drink around. "He's changed, you know. Since he first got the ship. He's...steadier."

 

"So everyone tells me. Including him."

 

"Well, it's true. So you should consider that. Plus I like hanging around you a lot better than Carol." Not that Carol appeared to be coming back, which was fine with her.

 

"You know she's my friend."

 

"A friend who had no problem dating your guy. Girl rules." She smiled when Christine laughed. "So why did she think you didn't mean much to Jim?"

 

"I may have downplayed the intensity of our relationship. And I'm sure he did, too, after I left him."

 

"He doesn't talk about you. Or didn't, once you left."

 

Christine's mouth tightened and Uhura smiled. It was so typical. Leave the guy but want him to stay loving you forever. Then again, she could afford to be smug—she'd gotten Spock back.

 

Although she wasn't entirely sure how. He just said his future was on the ship, which didn't mean he might not go back to Vulcan and make babies with women who weren't her, but would make it harder. She realized Christine had said something. "What?"

 

"I asked how you and Spock are."

 

"Good. I think."

 

"You think?"

 

"We sort of broke up for a while. And now we're back together. And it's good."

 

"You 'think'?"

 

"Right." She shrugged. "Vulcans are complicated." Half Vulcans even more so.

 

"Yeah, I got to know one a little bit. Motivations can be difficult to figure out."

 

"Tell me about it." She smiled as she saw Spock and Jim walk into the lounge. "Oh, look."

 

Christine sighed. "Did you—"

 

"I swear. I didn't tell Jim I'd be here with you." She'd told Spock who probably told Jim. She thought by the glare she got from Christine that she'd figured that out.

 

"Ladies, aren't you a sight for sore eyes." Jim's voice was unnaturally cheery and Uhura shot him a look to tone it the hell down.

 

"Christine," Spock said gently. "I am gratified you have returned."

 

"You don't give a rat's ass that I've returned, Spock. You're just glad for him." She pointed her drink at Jim.

 

Uhura made a "busted" face at Spock and saw the amusement in his eyes, as well as some surprise—Christine hadn't been quite so outspoken the first time she'd been on the ship. Being a doctor was good for her confidence.

 

And confidence was what was needed with Jim. Uhura thought Christine's problem before had been trust—not so much in Jim's being faithful but in her ability to interest him long term. Uhura blamed Christine's stupid ex fiancˇ and his wandering eye and ability to talk his way out of trouble and make Christine doubt everything.

 

Christine had put up with a lot, until she'd caught him in the bed they shared with some grad student named Andrea. Roger had thought she was travelling. Uhura would have killed any guy who did that to her. Christine had given up her studies and fled to Starfleet, taken up a new career path, and met Jim at just the very worst time probably.

 

But now things were different. Now they were different.

 

Uhura smiled and watched Spock try to convince Christine he was truly happy she was back. Jim just smiled and winked at Uhura as Spock dug himself in deeper. Christine rolled her eyes a lot, but she didn't seem to be ready to run.

 

Uhura leaned back and sipped her drink.

 

This was actually going to be fun.

 

##

 

As he sat in the mess, Spock was uncomfortably aware that someone was staring at him. He looked around and saw Doctor Chapel standing in line, studying him and not looking away when they locked eyes.

 

He let an eyebrow slowly rise, and she smiled and turned back to selecting her meal, so he resumed eating. A moment later, she was at his table, smiling in a way he could not entirely read.

 

"Was there something you needed, Doctor?"

 

She nodded at the chair and said, "You mind if I join you?"

 

"Would it deter you if I said yes? You seem unusually fascinated by me today."

 

"I'm just..." She sat and busied herself with fixing the salad to her liking, before she looked up again. "I met Ambassador Spock."

 

"I see."

 

"I'm sorry—that he's gone."

 

"Thank you." This was a strange conversation. He had spent time with her when Jim was with her, but still he did not really know her. He believed he knew Carol Marcus much better.

 

"If you could stop something from potentially happening, would you?"

 

"Are you referring to something he told you?" The Ambassador had usually been quite circumspect about respecting the realities of the new timeline and not contaminating it with facts and events from his own.

 

"He showed me. Yeah." Her expression changed and she looked sincerely troubled.

 

"Showed?" Surely Spock would not meld with her?

 

"Mind to mind."

 

Apparently he had not known the older Spock as well as he thought he had. "I see. Were you involved with him in some way?"

 

"Uh, no." She stabbed a piece of lettuce with unusual vigor. "I'm not even sure I liked him."

 

Before he could spend undue time determining if that meant she also did not like him, she laughed and said, "Okay, that wasn't an insult to you. You're not him. He's not you. What happened in his timeline doesn't have to happen in ours, right?"

 

"You are a scientist. You know the answer to that."

 

"I'm a biochemist, but you're the braniac. Does it?"

 

"It does not."

 

"So if he suggested you do something, would you?"

 

Spock let his eyebrow go up and knew he was giving her an expression more human than he liked. "He suggested I work harder with my father."

 

"Did you?"

 

"For a few months. It was not an efficient use of my time."

 

"Ouuuuuuch. Sorry." She speared another piece of lettuce, but with far less vigor than before. "I came back here partly because of something he told me. I'm trying not to feel like I was manipulated into returning."

 

"You said partly. You had other reasons, I assume?"

 

"Of course. Excellent posting. Good for my career. Lots of visibility."

 

"Those are all essentially the same reason."

 

She laughed. "They sure are, aren't they? I had another, but it's personal."

 

"I see." He saw Jim come in, look at them with surprised expression, then head for the line. "Perhaps he was the reason?"

 

She followed his gaze, and her smile at Jim was more open than when she'd first reported for duty. Jim grinned back. Then she smiled at Spock, a gentle smile that seemed to require nothing of him. "I refuse to answer on the grounds that I might incriminate myself."

 

"Most logical." He knew his expression was saying it was anything but. Emotions, however, were still something he was working through, as Nyota would probably be happy to detail at length. Easier in this case to credit logic.

 

"So, this isn't the lunch duo I'd expect to see together." Jim looked pointedly at the seat next to her.

 

Spock said, "Please," at the same time she said, "Sure, take a load off."

 

He sat, leaning back and studying them. "Should I be worried? I don't think I've ever seen you two alone together."

 

"You should not," Spock said, then realized he was being overly blunt. Or honest, as a Vulcan would view it.

 

Doctor Chapel started to laugh. "Tell him what you really think, Spock."

 

Jim just grinned, then reached over with his fork and took a cherry tomato from her salad. Spock let his eyebrow go up; he was not sure he would do that as her emotions seemed highly variable. Jim just smiled at him. "She hates them."

 

"Ah."

 

He split a chocolate chip cookie in half. "She loves these, though." He held it out. "Dinner? Just us?"

 

"I have to spend time alone with you and all I get is half a cookie?" Her words were stern, but her tone—and the way her expression lightened—were not. "Fine. Somebody has to eat with you, I guess."

 

Spock finished his sandwich and said, "Now that you have company, I will return to the bridge."

 

Christine looked up, her eyes soft. "Thanks for the help."

 

"In what way was I of any help?"

 

"That's for me to know." She winked at him.

 

"Getting jealous here." Jim waved him off. "Git, before I tell on you to Nyota."

 

Spock did not know what he would tell—it had been a somewhat confusing and vague conversation—but he took advantage of the opportunity to leave them for the relative peace of the bridge.

 

Nyota smiled at him as he took his station. A sweet, open smile, and he found himself giving her more of a smile than he normally would. She had let him back in so easily. He had not expected it, but they'd been through so much and somehow he'd managed to make the right overtures—for once.

 

##

 

Kirk leaned on Spock heavily as he helped him to sickbay and tried not to show how bad everything was hurting. Chris took one look at him and told the nurse, "Get Doctor McCoy," then rushed to help him onto a biobed.

 

"He would not beam up despite his injury." Spock sounded personally aggrieved.

 

"If you want command that much, you should just say so." Then he groaned as his stomach cramped. "Damn energy weapons."

 

She was scanning him and standing close, and he noticed how good she smelled. Damn, he was happy she was back. That was stupid of him, he knew, but he smiled anyway and said, "You smell like those flowers on Cadixia."

 

She laughed softly and said, "Lie back and be quiet."

 

"Talking distracts me from the pain. Then again, so would some painkillers." He frowned. "Why aren't you giving me any?"

 

"I want Len to see this. Could you please lie still?" Her voice was very serious.

 

"What the hell is wrong?" Was she just being new and nervous or was he really messed up?

 

"What the hell, Jim, this was supposed to be a peaceful mission." Bones sounded extra cranky but just hearing his voice made Kirk relax. "Oh."

 

The way he said that last word made Kirk tense up again. "What? Why won't you two tell me anything?"

 

"I didn't want to give him anything until..."

 

"Right. Okay, Jim. We're just going to move you into one of the ORs."

 

"You're okay." Chris settled her hand on his shoulder. "We'll get a nerve block going before surgery. Then it won't hurt."

 

Something still seemed off, but before he could ask again what was wrong, they were moving him into one of the small operating rooms. Chris hooked something to his back and everything below his neck went numb—he also couldn't move. A nurse took Chris's place while she went to work with McCoy doing something and talking very softly.

 

"I'm right here." He wanted to sit up and see what they were doing but he was paralyzed by her damn nerve block.

 

There was only the sound of them whispering and the gentle shushing sound the nurse was making to him, as if she could see how aggravated he was getting.

 

"Bones?"

 

"Be a good boy and shut the hell up, Jim." Bones was sounding more like his normal self.

 

"You fixed whatever it is, didn't you? So tell me."

 

"Later, Jim. The immediate problem is solved but there's more to do. Let us work."

 

"The immediate—I order you to tell me what's going on."

 

Bones ignored him, muttering something about being the one to give orders in sickbay, but Chris said, "Whatever kind of weapon it was, it wasn't just energy. There was a small projectile that should have exploded when it hit you; it looks like it would have sent shrapnel in multiple directions. But the way it hit kept it from engaging. I was afraid if you werenÕt in pain, you'd move around too much and dislodge it. So no pain meds."

 

"Great call on that, by the way, Christine."

 

He smiled at the pride in McCoy's voice. "That's my Chris. So smart."

 

"Not yours, sir," she said with a laugh. "But you're probably in shock, so I'll let it go."

 

He grinned at the nurse who was laughing. "She is mine. She just won't admit it yet."

 

The nurse laughed harder until Chris told her to stop.

 

"Have we met?" he asked her.

 

"I transferred on a few weeks ago. Ensign Sullivan."

 

"Well, welcome to the ship, Sullivan. You're not seeing me at my best."

 

"Actually, you might be," McCoy said, laughing softly.

 

"Unconscious would be even better," Chris said, but her voice lacked any acid. She was just having fun and he grinned again.

 

The nurse laughed and then adjusted something on his nerve block.

 

He felt himself getting sleepy. "Oh, wait, was that a code for put me under?"

 

The nurse gave him a sheepish nod, then it all went black.

 

He woke in main sickbay, the lights turned down and Chris sitting by his bed. "I can't believe you knocked me out."

 

"Operating on a conscious patient isn't my preference—or Len's." She scanned him and smiled at whatever the little instrument was telling her. "How's your pain level?"

 

"Nonexistent now that you're here."

 

He expected a grimace but she just smiled. "That thing could have killed you. You still have your luck."

 

"Yeah. My luck." He took a deep breath and felt a shock of pain in his abdomen. "Owwwwww."

 

She had the hypo ready, the cool medicine flowing into him as she said, "Just breathe."

 

The pain receded and his vision got a little fuzzy. "Want to see you."

 

"I'm right here. Just wait. It'll clear in a moment." She put her hand on his and squeezed gently.

 

"You stayed. You must have been worried about me."

 

"It's my job to worry about everyone on this ship."

 

"But I think you were extra worried about me." He smiled. "I was so happy to see your request for transfer back on, Chris. But surprised, you know? Because you left and I didn't think you were ever going to come back." Shit, these drugs brought honesty apparently. But at least his vision was unblurring.

 

"I didn't think I'd ever come back. I...I had some encouragement to try the ship again."

 

"Yeah? Bones?"

 

"No. Spock."

 

"Spock?"

 

She laughed. "Not our Spock. The old one."

 

"Oh. Ohhhhh. Did you and he...?"

 

"Jim, he's like eight hundred years old. Or was—I'm sorry, I know he was your friend."

 

"Friend might be stretching it. But yeah. I'm sorry he's gone. Especially if he said anything nice about me to you."

 

"It wasn't what he said. It's what he showed me." She got up and her boot steps echoed softly across sickbay, then she came back to him. "Look."

 

It was a picture of him and her. Much older. They were laughing and he had his arms around her. "Us? Only his timeline's version of us?"

 

She nodded. "They weren't together when they were young. He thinks if they had been, both of their lives would have been the richer for it." She took his hand again and it felt so good to feel her skin against his—warm, she'd always been so warm. "He thought I should come back. Give you and me another chance. Probably to fail spectacularly..." She sighed. "Sorry. I'm still a little bitter about Roger. And I worry that you and Carol...what if she wants you back?"

 

"Why would she?"

 

"But what if she does? She has your son."

 

"Yes, and she's holding him hostage. Why would I forgive that?" He turned his hand so it rested palm to palm with hers. "I've missed you. I was...really hurt that you'd just leave me that way. I never talk about you to Carol so she never understood what you meant to me. I guess you never talked much about me either?"

 

"I was vague. And terse. What was the point? You were with her and then you weren't."

 

He nodded because it was what he expected from her. They were so alike in some ways. "In case you need a primer on me, not talking about something is a definite sign that it matters. The things that matter don't get discussed or joked about—they get buried. Carol never understood. She thought you were just another notch in my bedpost."

 

"You don't have a bedpost," she said, and then she leaned in and kissed him gently.

 

When she finally pulled away, he grinned up at her. "I might requisition one just to put your name on it."

 

She laughed. Then she yawned.

 

"What time is it? Are you supposed to be sleeping?" He looked around and saw that it was the gamma shift team. "Chris."

 

"I wasn't going to leave you for one of them to tend to."

 

"McCoy did."

 

"Yes, once I made him. He's a fussy old hen when it comes to you, Jim."

 

"That's okay. I probably need a fussy old hen every now and then. And God knows he heard me whine about you enough times. Spock had his own issue with Nyota, but McCoy understood. Jocelyn..."

 

"I am nothing like her." She made an affronted face, and he imagined Bones must have whined to her on occasion about his ex-wife. "But yeah, he's a fan of us, I guess. And I have a feeling he'll kill me if I hurt you again."

 

"That would be sad. So don't do it."

 

"I'll try not to." She looked at the picture again and smiled.

 

"Wait. Why would he have that? Did he have others?"

 

"One other. It was of the crew. I wasn't in it. He said I'd left the ship at that point."

 

He watched her as she talked and had the distinct feeling there was something she wasn't saying. "So just two pics. The bridge crew I get. But the two of us. We weren't involved with him, were we?" Old Spock had been really happy to see him.

 

"No, Jim, we weren't." Her tone was light but there was still something off.

 

"What aren't you saying?"

 

"The picture of the crew, that was his happiest moment. With all of you. This"—she touched the picture of them—"was his greatest regret."

 

"We were? Huh?" The pain meds were making it hard to focus, but he really thought she wasn't making a lot of sense.

 

"Lie back. Let me tell you the story as he showed me. We...melded, I guess is the term?"

 

"Yeah. He did that with me, too. Scenes of us as friends. But nothing as old as I am in that picture." He wished Spock had shown him this—might have made him fight harder to keep Chris on board.

 

"This was taken right after you retired. It's our wedding. There had been a mission with the Klingons—he wouldn't tell me much except you and McCoy nearly died and a young woman he cared for betrayed him. Anyway, almost losing you, that was enough for both of us. You were ready to call it quits and I would follow soon after. This picture is of our wedding."

 

"Well, that's happy. Why did he regret this?"

 

"I'm getting there. Be patient. I know it's not in your nature." She leaned down and kissed him again, and she was more tender than she'd ever been before. "We postponed our honeymoon because you had to do something official. Spock should have been there with you but he felt emotionally compromised over the woman's betrayal and shuttered himself away to meditate or something Vulcan. I don't know. He wasn't there."

 

She stopped and seemed to be considering. Then she leaned in, "If they ask you to go to a launch of someone else's Enterprise, say "No," okay?" Her look was incredibly intense, so he nodded. "You were killed, saving the ship. He never forgave himself. He thought if he'd been there, you would have lived. And...the me of his world thought so, too. I was so mean to him, Jim. And then I went off on some kind of rescue mission and died saving some others. He thought it was more suicide than sacrifice."

 

She shook her head and blinked hard several times. "I can still hear what I said to him. Feel how he felt. He started to pull away then. He never cared about anything—well, anyone—the same way after that. Just causes. Not people. We did that to him. I don't think he was giving us a gift by letting me know all this—I think he was trying to get me to save the other him. Even though everything's changed and we may never be those people, you know?" She quit the frantic blinking and let herself cry.

 

"I know. Chris, I know." He wiped her tears and pulled her down for another kiss. When she pulled away, he said, "I love you."

 

"I love you, too." When he tried to pull her in for another kiss, she glared at him. "You better not screw up my work by manhandling me."

 

He started to laugh. "Proud of your repairs, huh?"

 

She nodded. "Not my first ones, but my first ones on you. No doubt there will be many more."

 

It was the most wonderful thing she could have said. More meant she was staying. He felt something inside himself relax: had he been waiting for her to say she was leaving again?

 

He held his hand out and she took it as the medicine made him ever sleepier. "I can't stay awake."

 

"You don't have to. I'll still be here when you wake up."

 

"Here on the ship. Not here by this bed. You're no good to me exhausted, Doctor."

 

She smiled and it was an easy expression, the wariness she'd carried since she got here seemed to be gone. "Aye aye, sir."

 

##

 

Chapel finally made her way past the security checkpoint and searched for Carol's office. What the hell was her friend involved with?

 

Finally, she found her, and knocked on the wall. "Hi."

 

Carol looked up, her expression the annoyed one Chapel had seen lots of times if she interrupted her studying. Then it changed when she realized who it was. "Hi. I thought you were on...well, somewhere." Carol never seemed to be able to keep track of her. Always had more important things on her mind.

 

There were times Chapel wondered just how close of friends they really were. Time to test that. "I'm umm... I'm on the Enterprise now."

 

"Oh." There was a world of bad in that one word—Chapel took a deep breath and waited for the rest.

 

But Carol shrugged and said, "Your life." She went back to her computer. "I hope you didn't come for lunch. I'm really busy. Maybe dinner."

 

"I'm with Jim." She blurted it out, not wanting to commit to any meal unless Carol knew the truth.

 

Carol laughed but didn't turn around. "You think I don't know that?"

 

Chapel refused to start explaining. She just stood and waited—and wondered who had told her.

 

Finally Carol turned around. "What I don't know is why."

 

"I left him. Because...he was getting serious about me. I didn't lie to you exactly—his reputation, after Roger, did scare me. But I wasn't just some blink and you'll miss it roll in the sack for him."

 

"I see." She leaned in. "Why are you here? Is today the day for more unpleasant truths?"

 

"No, it's the day I ask you for a favor." Chapel tried to bite back a smile—Carol owed her a lot of them.

 

"What?"

 

"I want to take Jim to meet David—he's at home with the nanny, right?"

 

She nodded. "I told Jim—"

 

"Yeah, I know what you told him. But you had a dad and I had a dad and while neither were particularly good dads at the end of the day, they loved us and we loved them. David deserves to know his father."

 

And Spock had shown her what a toll not knowing him would take on Jim. It had been the other thing he'd wanted to share.

 

She felt a bit like a proxy, taking up battles he'd probably wanted to fight but never could.

 

But it was fitting. She'd gotten Jim, after all. In his timeline, Spock had loved him, but she'd gotten him. And now she'd get this Jim—her Jim.

 

"Can I take Jim over to the apartment?"

 

"Is he here? Are you already on your way there and this is a formality?" Carol finally sounded like her friend, not some cold scientist. And she sounded really hurt.

 

"No. I wouldn't do that to you." She sat down. "I was the one who was there when David wouldn't stop crying. I know what you've gone through raising him without a partner." Although the nanny did a hell of a lot but that was not something she was going to say, not when she needed Carol to agree to this. "Let him see what a good job you've done—what a fine son he has. A son you've raised."

 

You, you, you. Carol always resonated with that.

 

She sat back and waited.

 

"Why should I let him?"

 

"Because you're just being stubborn. Because it's wrong to keep them apart. Because you're better than this. Because it's the right thing to do."

 

"Sometimes I really hate you."

 

"And other times I bail you out of a Risan jail." It took a lot to get thrown into one of those lock-ups. Just one of the many favors Carol owed her for.

 

"This negates everything. The balance sheet is clear."

 

"Fine but this isn't a one-time thing. I know you have custody, but he gets to visit. Even if I'm not in the picture."

 

"You don't think you will be?"

 

Carol sounded...hopeful. Chapel didn't actually think she was going anywhere for a long time, based on how both she and Jim had changed and how much fun they were having together, but why not let her think she might, if it helped Jim and David?

 

She could see the surrender in Carol's eyes before she finally muttered, "Fine." Carol's comm system chimed. She checked the number and grimaced. "This is going to take a while."

 

"I'll see myself out. I'm still on your door?" She'd babysat enough nights, she should be.

 

"Yeah." She took a deep breath. "I should be there when he gets introduced."

 

"We can wait, if you want..."

 

The chime kept ringing; Carol looked torn. Finally she waved her off. "I don't want to see him. Not yet. Just do it." She turned away.

 

"Okay." She hurried out before Carol could change her mind.

 

Once she was clear of the building, she commed Jim. "Hey, what are you doing?"

 

"Nothing at the moment. Where are you?"

 

She smiled, imagining his face when he was introduced to David. David was too young to really understand the "This is your dad concept" but she had no doubt Jim would charm the diapers off him. "Can you meet me?" She sent him the address.

 

"That's Carol's place." There was a note of hope in his voice that she loved.

 

"It is. Also David's. Want to meet your son?"

 

"You got her to say yes?"

 

"I did. I also cleared some things up with her."

 

"I see." He sounded happy—even with just two little words she could tell.

 

"So? You want to meet him or what?"

 

"I love you."

 

"Yeah, tell me that when I'm not making dreams come true." She grinned. "I'll see you in a few."

 

"Yes. Thank you. I'm on my way." The connection was cut.

 

Then a text message came in. And I really do love you.

 

 

 

FIN