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) 2004 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
Christine begins to search
through the available video on the screen, trying hard to ignore how her hand
is shaking as she looks for shots of the
"It's here, Commander," Rasmussen says as he reaches around her, punching in the right number. The science officer moves away again quickly.
"Thank you," she
whispers to his back, then turns back to the screen, where the
She doesn't know for sure because the brass are being very tightlipped, and even Emergency Ops personnel are finding it hard to determine what happened. But that's telling in its own way. If it's that sensitive, it can only be about one thing: Genesis.
The project she let ruin what she had with Jim. The project she sold her soul to. The project that just may have killed Spock.
Janice comes back into Ops, walking slowly. She sighs as she gets closer to the station Christine is sitting at.
"It was bad?" Christine asks.
"It was worse than bad. The ship--I understand now why they're not sending her out again."
Christine wonders if Jim
knows yet that the
She brought him back from retirement for this?
"Nyota sends her love," Janice says.
Janice went up to Spacedock to watch the ship come in. Used her lunch and then some to wait for their friends to appear, but Christine doesn't care. One of them had to watch everyone--or almost everyone--come safely home. And Christine suspects she wouldn't have been very welcome.
"Did you see him?"
Janice nods, turning away quickly.
Christine reaches out, stops her progress. "What?"
"He's devastated." There is still an oddly evasive look in Janice's eyes.
"Jan, what are you hiding?" When her friend tries to turn away again, she says. "Tell me."
"He wasn't alone, Christine. When he came out. He was with this blonde. They looked...comfortable together."
Christine sighs. A new woman? She stole him back from Antonia only to lose him to another woman?
"He introduced her as Doctor Marcus."
Christine turns slowly, not able to believe what she is hearing. She hasn't told Jan the long, terrible saga. Has alluded to what went on, that she betrayed Jim by keeping something a secret from him, but she has left out all the crucial details.
Like the name of the woman who set her up, who made sure Jim found out exactly how much he'd been lied to. She can feel her resentment toward the woman turning into a fiery hatred. She thought Carol outed her for the sake of the project, but what if she really just wanted Jim back?
And now, courtesy of Christine, he is free of Antonia and ready for Carol to make her move.
She wonders who she can ask about this. In the past, she would have asked Spock, but--
No, not Spock.
Len then. He will know. He always knows. "Was Len with them?"
Janice frowns. "You know, I didn't see him."
Christine turns to the screen, does a quick search. "Oh no."
Leaning in over her, Janice reads the report from the logs Jim has transferred to Command. "Erratic behavior and collapse?"
Christine pushes away from the terminal. "I'll be at Medical." At Janice's nod, she hurries out of Ops and down the maze of corridors that will take her to the connector wing. Command is confusing, but she knows the twists and turns of the building by heart.
Medical is busy, and she slips by the reception desk. She still wears a small caduceus near her collar, is still authorized access to the area--but it is customary to check in first.
She doesn't give a rat's ass what is customary. Not now. Not when Spock is dead. Not when Jim might be rediscovering the mother of his son--how the hell can he be doing that when Spock is dead and something is wrong with Len?
She turns the corner and careens into someone. Whoever it is reaches out to steady her, and her hands come up to briefly rest on his chest as she tries not to fall.
"Chris." Jim lets go of her immediately, backs away. Looking behind him at one of the private rooms, he says, "I guess you heard about Len?"
She nods. "I was coming to check on him."
"That would be good." His voice is strained, almost inhumanly so. As if he's being pushed beyond his ability to bounce back. As if this is the last of a long line of blows.
"I'm sorry," she whispers. "Spock..." Anything she could say will be the wrong thing so she says nothing.
"He gave his life for the ship. We live because he doesn't." He brushes at his eyes, rubbing them hard.
She wants to pull his hands down, wants to hold him close. She resists the urge.
"Come on." He walks into the room, not even checking to see if she is following, which she is of course.
On a good day, she would follow him anywhere. With him looking so close to breaking, she would follow him into hell if it meant she could keep him safe.
Walking to the end of the bed, she studies the panel that charts Len's progress. He's only been in the room for a short time yet they have plenty of data to study. It's one of the ironies of modern medicine--you can have data up the yin yang, and still know nothing about what is wrong with someone. There is nothing in Len's chart to indicate why he might be behaving oddly. The only exceptional readings are some elevated neurotransmitter levels. And those could be from the stress of what he and Jim and the others have gone through.
She sits down by the bed, watching as Len moves restlessly before looking at the attending physician's notes. He's going to release Len, let him sleep in his own place, far from the controlled chaos that is a hospital. It's what she would do too.
"Is he going to be all right?" Jim has moved to the window, is staring out at the bay.
"I don't know."
He doesn't say anything, and Christine begins to feel out of place. She wonders where Carol is. Have she and Jim parted ways? Was what Jan saw just a friendly goodbye? Or will Carol walk into this room eventually and make the moment even more difficult?
Len mumbles something, and for one moment his voice sounds eerily like Spock's.
Jim turns, and she sees him wince. Then he looks over at her. His eyes are filled with some kind of dark hopelessness, then they fill with something new. Or old rather. The old anger he has toward her.
"You don't have to stay, Commander. I know you're busy." He turns back to the view.
She watches him for a moment, wanting nothing more than to reach out for him, to hold him and tell him it will be all right. Even if it won't.
She wants to lie to him. She wants to comfort him. She knows that comfort from her is the last thing he'll want right now. And he's had more than enough of her lies.
Sighing, she leaves him alone. Because he's right, she is busy.
And she knows when she's not wanted.
She watches the big screen, sits
stunned as the
Jim is stealing his ship back. Jim has clearly lost his mind.
She finds herself rooting for him anyway.
"Open," she mutters. "Open."
The doors open just in time, and the ship heads out.
Jim is gone. She imagines he has taken Len with him. The strange Len who looked at her with such disconcerting intensity the last time she went to check on him and asked her if she would like to play Ka'Vareth.
She's not sure what the hell Jim is doing. But she hopes to god it helps.
"Excelsior will get her," she hears someone say. "Styles will have a thing or two to say about this."
"Yeah," someone calls back, "but will anyone understand him?"
The room erupts in laughter. None of them like Styles. Or his stupid riding crop. Christine wishes Janice wasn't off duty--her friend would enjoy that it is Jim who is making Styles look like a fool. Normally, he just looks like a pompous ass.
Matthew turns to look at her, shaking his head and barely hiding the grin on his face. "Jim is one crazy damn coot."
She grins at him. "You have only yourself to blame for luring him back."
"Don't think I haven't thought of that." He sits down next to her, watches as Excelsior moves forward, no doubt preparing for warp. The grand ship makes her move--if jerking slightly then floating dead in space can be considered much of a move. "Sabotage?"
"I imagine, if you were to check, Mister Scott would be conspicuously absent from Styles's crew."
Matthew laughs. "Well, I think I won't check then." He sighs. "What do you suppose Jim's up to?"
"I'm not sure. But whatever it is, I'm sure he thinks it is life or death." She remembers Len's voice, deeper, more gravelly than usual, and sounding so much like Spock's it sent shivers down her spine.
"I just hope he knows what he's doing."
"Me too." She leans back. "Styles is going to be on a tear."
"Oh, no doubt." Shaking his head, Matthew gets up. "We should forward deploy that man to the Klingon Empire. It would bring them down in months rather than years."
She laughs. Being suitable for extended duty on Q'onos is the worst insult Matthew can give. She turns back to her terminal.
"You know, if you're never going to sit in your office, you're going to lose it. Space is at a premium."
She likes being in the thick of things. Feels a bit disconnected inside the office she inherited from Commander Reed. And it's not like Matthew doesn't spend his share of time loitering in the main area. "You're just jealous that you don't have a station out here."
"Maybe so, Christine. Maybe so." He looks up at the big screen again. "I just wish I knew what he was up to."
A security alert runs across her screen. Other ships are being scrambled. "Do you think they'll catch him?"
Matthew looks at her as if she's crazy. "Jim Kirk? On his ship? On one of his damn missions? Not in a million years." He smiles. "And it's a cinch he won't give up. That man never surrenders."
She remembers Jim jumping the ravine, remembers the moment he bowed to the inevitable. He surrendered then. But it doesn't count. He was only surrendering to what he really wanted in the first place: space...and his ship.
A comm she's been waiting for from a damage assessment team out in the Fesayan sector comes in and she smiles. "Business as usual."
He nods, turning away to let her read. The news is not good. Five ships hit hard by an unusually wicked ion storm. The third in as many months. And this time the damage seems awfully specific. As if the storm deliberately hit certain areas of the ship. She sends the comm to Rasmussen, annotates it with, "Does this strike you as normal ion storm behavior?"
Rasmussen reads the comm then turns to her, shaking his head. He messages back, "I'm sending it to the Special Projects department."
She nods. Nobody is quite sure what Special Projects does when they're not investigating cases like this. Christine isn't sure she wants to know. At any rate, a manmade storm sounds right up their alley.
"Christine?" a soft voice purrs in her ear.
She looks up to see Uhura. "Ny." She points to the chair. "Sit."
"I can't stay long," Nyota says softly, sitting down tiredly enough to make Christine wonder what she's been up to. "I'm bound for Vulcan."
Christine frowns. "Vulcan? I don't understand. Is there going to be a funeral after all?"
"Sort of. Do you know much about the katra?"
Christine nods. After all the studying she did back in her infatuation days, she probably knows more than Ny does about the Vulcan soul.
"Well, I'm not real clear on the details, but as I understand it, Sarek thinks Spock gave his katra to McCoy."
Christine nods slowly. That would explain some things. "They're taking him home?"
Nyota nods. "And healing Len in the process, hopefully."
"There'll be hell to pay when this is over." Command is not going to look lightly on this. But when has that ever stopped Jim?
Nyota gets up. "I have to go. Sarek is waiting for me." She touches Christine's shoulder. "I wish you were coming with us. I wish you were still with Jim."
"Me too, Ny."
She watches her friend hurry out, tries not to envy her for still being in Jim's inner circle.
It is a futile attempt.
The wind is whipping outside the windows of Emergency Ops, rain streaming down the glass as if someone has turned a hose on it. The humidity in the room has reached unbearable levels--it might as well be raining inside too. Calling the moisture that beads across the terminals and makes the fabric of their chairs ooze liquid "condensation" is like calling V'Ger a "little probe."
Christine tries to wipe off the screen, looks over to where Matthew is conferring with the Federation President.
"May I assist you in any way?" Sarek's voice is calm.
"You want to wipe off the monitor? Because that's all the good I'm really doing." She smiles, a sad, realistic smile. They may all be dead soon. But in the meantime, she'd like to read the comms while they still flow across the screen.
Sarek sits down. The chair sloshes as he does so, and his eyebrow goes up as if in distaste.
"Nice digs we have here, huh?" She laughs softly, is surprised to see his expression lighten.
He looks down at his sodden robe. "My appearance is also somewhat the worse for wear."
"I'm sorry I got you into this." She should never have called him, never asked him to be an advocate for Jim.
"You did what you thought best. Kirk needed someone to speak for him, and I owed him a debt for bringing my son back to me."
"You didn't owe him your life though." She doesn't want to think of dying. Not when Jim is somewhere in the past on a wild goose chase. Or wild whale chase.
She wonders how many women he will charm on that chase. Too many probably. At least, they'll stay in the past when he brings his oceanic bounty to the future. How the hell do you bring a whale home in a Klingon bird-of-prey? She smiles, imagines Jim saying, "Very carefully."
"He'll save us," she says softly, not sure which of them she is trying to convince.
Sarek considers that. "If anyone can, I think the odds favor him. But even so, the odds are not good."
"I know. But Jim doesn't play the odds. He just wins."
"That has been his history." He studies her, his scrutiny making her slightly uncomfortable. "He lost you, however."
She looks down. "No. I lost him. That's worse."
"Ah. I am sorry. The end of a relationship is often painful."
She is surprised at his choice of words, frowns. "For a human, you mean?"
"Vulcans are not incapable of feeling pain, Christine." His voice, as he calls her by name, is very sad. "Perhaps if you had come to Vulcan after the Fal-tor-Pan you might have won him back? Kirk was, I think, very much alone."
"Even with your son's rebirth?" She smiles. It is the miracle story of the century. Spock is alive. She wishes her guilt would die with his resurrection. But it hasn't.
"My son is not...himself. The refusion was a success, and yet Spock is different."
"I see." She thinks of the Ka'Vareth games she and Spock have shared, the minty Vulcan tea he taught her to enjoy. The way he planned Jim's recapture. All those things, all the other things she shared with him over the years. Are they really all gone?
She and Sarek might be gone if Jim doesn't strike gold. Christine sends Amanda a silent apology for bringing her husband to Earth just to die. Not that she meant to. She only wanted him to testify for Jim and the others. His voice carries weight. She knew the Council would listen to him. She would do it again if she had to.
Even if it means that he dies with her in this damn storm caused by that damn probe. She wishes someone would turn the sound of its sing-song call down--or better yet off.
She glances over at Sarek. Wonders if he is worried about who will carry his katra home if they are all killed. He appears serene, composed.
Matthew walks over. He stands behind her chair, reading the few comms that are getting through the interference. The damage is getting worse. She feels his fingers on the back of her neck, gently squeezing. Reaching up, she lays her hand over his, pressing down for a long moment. She sees that Sarek takes in their interaction, but he does not seem surprised--or offended.
She is glad she is dying among friends.
"Is there anything I can do, Admiral?" Sarek asks.
"Send Jim Kirk some luck?"
"Vulcans do not believe in luck."
Matthew laughs. It is a laugh tinged with exhaustion. "Then send him some logic, Ambassador. I'm sure he can use that too."
Someone calls for him, and Matthew hurries to the other side of the room. Christine turns back to the comms, sees the screen go black. "So much for primary communications." She watches as the techs try to link into the backup system. It does not look like things are going any better for them than for the techs trying to shore up the windows.
She takes a deep breath, forcing herself to relax.
"My son thought very highly of you, Christine," Sarek says out of the blue. It is a surprising statement, almost a gift.
They must be doomed.
She sighs. "I think highly of him too." Laughing slightly, she says, "He thought I could win Jim back."
"He knows Kirk well. Perhaps he is right." His eyes are very gentle. "It is something to live for, is it not?"
"Do you think I need that?"
"Everyone needs that, Christine." Sarek stands up. "I think the President could use my assistance."
She smiles. "Thank you."
"I did nothing."
"We both know better than that."
She turns back to the black screen, glances over at Janice who is trying to help the techs with the uplinks. The screens wink back into service just as a dull roar and then a loud crack fill the room. One of the windows shatters, rain and wind pouring in.
"Look!" Sarek suddenly says loudly enough for them to hear over the roar of the storm. He points out through the murk. Vulcan eyes must be as sharp as that famous hearing.
She sees a bird-of-prey roar toward the bridge. "Lower," she sends to whoever is piloting her. "Lower."
The ship drops just enough to clear the bridge, then crashes in the water. She can't see anything as the storm seems to intensify.
Then it stops.
The silence is eerie. She can hear the ping of comms coming in again, the sound of people moving in their chairs.
She looks over at Sarek. He nods in satisfaction. Matthew is grinning like a damn fool.
Janice walks past her toward her terminal.
"He did it, Jan."
Her friend laughs. "Like there was ever any doubt?"
Christine smiles. If there was doubt, there shouldn't have been. This is Jim Kirk. He saves the day. Every time. And lives to tell the tale. Or lives to let others tell it for him. He doesn't like to blow his own horn.
It's just one reason why he's a hero.
Christine steps away from her friends, glances over at Gillian. She wants to hate this woman that hitchhiked back with Jim, but she's finding it difficult to. She's too full of energy and good-natured awe. Christine doesn't want to imagine what Jim might see when he looks at Gillian.
Gillian looks over at her. "It was nice meeting you, Christine."
"Good luck catching up."
The woman makes a face and fingers the badge on her clothes. She'll be gone soon. The thought makes Christine both sad and happy. She thinks she could have enjoyed Gillian's company. She worries Jim might already be enjoying it.
As Gillian walks away, toward Jim who seems to be looking for her, Christine sighs.
"Don't worry. I told her he was spoken for."
Christine turns, sees Nyota grinning madly. "You did what?"
Uhura shrugs. "The concept of the rebound spans the centuries, Christine. Gillian doesn't want that. Was that wrong and bad of me?"
"Yes." Christine grins. "And thanks."
Nyota's smile fades as she turns to Christine. "You two belong together. I believe that." She sighs. "But I don't see that either of you are trying particularly hard to get back together."
"It's not that simple." Christine looks away, over to where Gillian is brushing Jim's cheek with her lips. He is staring at her forlornly. As if he can't believe she is leaving.
How much does he care about this woman?
"Not that simple?" Nyota says, shaking her head. "He's been back in Starfleet for months. What are you waiting for?"
Christine tenses as Jim looks over at her. Their eyes meet, his are stony, still sad from Gillian's departure. He doesn't look at all glad to see her. She can feel her own smile fading.
Jim appears to hate her. Spock barely knows her, although he seemed to be trying to remember who she was as they stood talking before the hearing. David is dead, killed by a Klingon in cold blood. All her fault, somehow. She feels the guilt as if it was a heavy weight strapped around her neck.
At least Len is back to normal. His hug was warm and welcoming. No lasting damage to him, thank god.
"Christine. He won't wait forever."
"He's not waiting now, Ny. I'll see you soon, okay?"
"Ops is calling?"
Christine nods. It is an easier answer than saying her heart is breaking with each moment she stays in the room. With each moment that the man she still loves pretends she is not even there.
He has not said one word to her, not even when she was standing right next to him after the judgment was announced.
She didn't try to talk to him either. Could see in his eyes the message to stay away.
She obliges him and flees with as much grace as she can.
She somehow manages not to look back.
Ops is bustling with the verdict, the wonderful punishment that isn't any hardship. Jim will get his ship back. A ship that should have had another name painted on it but at the last minute was christened Enterprise. Matthew told her, made her promise not to tell Jim.
As if that would happen. She'd have to get close to him to spill the beans. And it's clear that close is exactly where Jim doesn't want her to be.
Janice comes in and wanders over. "You okay?"
She sniffs in bitter amusement. "Sure."
"Not very convincing."
"First Carol, now Gillian. You think I should be clueing in to something? Like maybe Jim doesn't want me anymore?"
Janice sits down. "Maybe he doesn't. What then?" She's not saying it to be mean. Just working out a scenario. It's what they do in ops.
Christine shrugs. "I guess I move on." At Janice's look, she shakes her head. "I know, I know. It's what you've been telling me to do for some time." She looks up at the big screen. For once, all is quiet, nothing threatening. "Is it okay if I don't make any major life changes today?"
Janice squeezes her shoulder. "It's okay if you don't make any ever. It's up to you to decide what you want."
"So waiting forever? You think that's an option?"
"I don't know. You have to figure that out. I can't." Giving her a small smile, Janice goes back to her station.
Christine stares down at her comm queue, not even seeing the messages. Jim may never forgive her. Is she really going to wait forever for him?
Christine is bent over Rasmussen's station, watching a crippled freighter pull into spacedock when she feels someone nudge her. She glances over her shoulder, sees Janice staring at the entrance.
"Little busy here, Jan." She turns back to the terminal.
"Christine." Something in Janice's voice makes her turn around, look at the entrance.
Jim stands there; he is watching her. They stare at each other for a long time, then he motions with his head for her to join him. The way he used to when they were newly in love and he still trusted her, still wanted to spend time with her.
She feels anger rise inside her. A sudden contrary urge makes her plant her feet.
Jim's expression doesn't change, but she has the sense he is not surprised that she isn't moving.
"Christine, don't be an idiot. One of you has to blink." When Christine doesn't answer, Janice says, "Isn't this what you wanted?" She pushes her gently toward the door. "Go to him. Or so help me god, I'll kill you."
Taking her headset off, Christine lays it down and walks over to him. "Captain."
"Commander." He's not smiling. "I thought you might be free for lunch?"
She nods slowly.
"We need to talk," he says.
"We've needed to talk for some time. You weren't interested in talking." She tries to bite down the anger that keeps rising, knows some of it is because she feels so damn guilty every time she looks at him.
He takes her arm, probably looks like the perfect gentleman, but his grip is steel. "Come on."
"What if I don't want to?"
"Then you never should have jumped that damn ravine."
"That was some time ago, Jim."
"Yes. It was." He shoots her an annoyed look. "Time heals all wounds."
"So they say." He looks at her again, his eyes giving nothing away. He doesn't let go of her as he steers them down the corridor toward the exit.
"I guess we're not going to eat in the mess?"
"No." He glances at her. "Somewhere more private."
"How private?" She tries to pull away.
He lets her go. "Not that private."
She stops, and he does too. They stare at each other, and finally she indicates he should lead on. He does not try to take her arm; she almost wishes that he would. She feels off balance. Very confused.
Why now? Why does he want to talk to her now? He's been gone, out in space on his shiny new ship. A shiny new ship that didn't prove very able, given the reports she's read. And a first mission that turned into a bit of a fiasco. She's pretty sure having his ship hijacked was not the pinnacle of Jim's week.
She slows as they approach the exit. "I'm not hungry," she says, her tone abrupt, the words coming out as one rushed sound.
"Fine. We'll walk then."
"Fine." She glances over at him.
His jaw is set, his eyes look angry. He turns to meet her gaze and she can see that he is indeed angry. Very angry.
Looking down, she stops walking. "Jim, if you just want to yell at me. Do it here."
"Why would I yell at you?"
She sighs. "For all the things you're still angry at. For my not telling you the truth. For betraying you. For working on the project with Carol and with David. For using protomatter--"
He looks startled; this is clearly a surprise. "Protomatter? You were involved with that?"
She nods. "I was the one who worked the closest with David. I told you that back when I gave you that damned tour. I was supposed to be the voice of reason, but all I did was egg him on. We were like two kids in the science equivalent of the candy shop. We played with fire; we thought we were gods. What more do you want me to say?"
"It was your idea?"
She looks down, feels a pang as if she is betraying the dead. "No, it was his. But a long time ago, I wrote about it in my dissertation. And he found that. He found me. I did tell you about that...sort of."
"At the conference?" It sounds like it is all coming together for him. "And then you stopped telling me much of anything about your work."
She nods. "So you see, my betrayal goes back even farther than you thought." She takes a step away from him. "I'm truly irredeemable."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"The judge of me, you mean? Well, why not? I hurt you the most, after all. Your son's dead, your best friend was dead, your ship was destroyed. You nearly lost your life and your career, and Len nearly lost his mind. What didn't I destroy because I let a young man talk me into doing exactly what I wanted to do?" She turns away from him, sits down on a nearby bench.
He sits down next to her.
"I have a lot to answer for, Jim."
"Yes. You do. But not to me. Not about the protomatter, anyway. That's between you and your conscience, Chris."
She turns to him, frowns.
"But the other...David..." He sighs. "I find myself in an odd position." He's not looking at her, as if it's easier to talk if he doesn't have to really see her. "Someone I cared about, someone I loved, who I trusted implicitly, betrayed me. Kept something from me and did some things that put my life and my ship at risk."
She looks down.
"Not you, Chris. Spock."
She turns to him. Confused. "Spock did?"
"In this latest mission." He sees her look and waves her questions away. "It's a long story. Suffice it to say that I forgave him. And now I'm wondering why I can forgive him and not you?"
She laughs. It is a bitter sound. "Maybe because you want to forgive him and you don't want to forgive me?" The sound only grows more cutting as she laughs again. "Maybe I'm not worth forgiving?"
"You're really wallowing in this, aren't you?" His tone is sharp, he's not joking.
"I should have stopped David. And now he's dead and the whole thing was a disaster." She wipes an angry tear away. "I knew it couldn't work, and I didn't stop him."
"Protomatter? You knew protomatter couldn't work?" His voice is hushed, this discussion is forbidden, but they are having it anyway. Genesis is a dead subject, yet he is going to let her talk about it. Finally, someone will let her talk about it.
She is glad he didn't want to eat in the mess. "Yes, I knew protomatter was unstable, but that didn't stop me from helping David add it to the mix so that Genesis would actually work, so that it really would create life from lifelessness."
"And it did."
"Not for long. The planet destroyed itself."
He moves closer, drops his voice even more. "Spock probably can explain this better than I can, but it did work, Chris. I saw the cave on Regula." His eyes seem very far away, he smiles. "It was a paradise. A stable paradise."
She waves his words away. "Small scale. But when Khan set it loose on a planet, then it failed."
"Khan didn't set it loose on a planet. Khan set the Genesis device off on the Reliant. In the middle of the Mutara Nebula."
"There wasn't a planet?"
He shakes his head. "The Genesis Planet was formed from the matter within the nebula, and the debris of what was left of the Reliant."
She sits back. "But when they debriefed us, they said the planet was dangerously unstable."
"Yes, inherently so. Carol told me that you had to tweak the mix numerous times before you were confident that the Genesis Cave could be attempted. She said that the system tended toward its original state."
She nods. "It was the protomatter that pulled it forward, kept it moving toward growth, not back toward lifelessness."
"It's mind-boggling to imagine the force strong enough to pull matter in from the nebula and create a world, even though that matter was trying to return to its original unfettered state."
She looks at him. "The matter was never meant to be together. It was the base material that was unstable, not the protomatter in this case."
He nods. "The protomatter did its job. It worked. There was a paradise there, for a short time anyway. If it had been a real planet you tried it on, it might have been a paradise forever." Smiling at her, he says, "It worked, Chris. You and David did it." He laughs. "And no one will ever believe you."
"No one should. It's too dangerous. Too likely to be turned into a weapon. Let them think it's a failure." But she smiles, a long, satisfied smile before she turns to him in alarm. "Carol will figure it out."
He shakes his head. "Carol doesn't know about the protomatter. I don't plan to tell her--neither does Saavik, and David never did tell her. The project has been shut down. You're the only one left who can tell her that her life's work wasn't a failure." He looks at her. "Will you?"
"No." It's not just because she feels she owes Carol some pain for setting her up. It really is too great a risk. "No. She'll never hear it from me." She frowns. "But it doesn't matter. I know her. She'll start to look at the notes we left."
He looks down. "Starfleet wiped the computers...in her lab, and on Regula."
"She'll have backups."
"Maybe. But no one to talk to about it. Genesis is a dead issue."
They sit quietly on the bench.
Finally, she turns to him. "Thank you for telling me."
"I guess you have a ship to get back to?"
He nods again.
She smiles, knows it is a sad smile. "I do wish you well, Jim." Getting up, she starts to walk away.
"Don't you want to know if I'm going to forgive you?"
She stops walking, but doesn't turn around. "Are you going to?"
"Should I?" He is moving towards her.
"Answering a question with a question isn't very clever, Jim. Not after all the time we've spent together."
He moves closer. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."
"You think I won't?" She turns, stares at him. "I don't have much left to show you. Pain and guilt, anger and loneliness, and mostly how I've had to move on."
"Did you move on?"
"I don't know, but you did. The lovely Antonia." Her voice is bitter.
"And you and Matthew?"
She looks down. "It didn't work."
"Why not?" He has moved closer again.
"He knows my heart is already spoken for. Even if you don't want me anymore." She takes a step back, suddenly uncomfortable that he is standing so close.
She is afraid she will reach out for him. That she will make an ass of herself. That if she touches him, she'll never, ever let go.
"Would you like to have dinner tonight?" His voice is gentle.
She looks at him, studies his face. The anger seems to have receded. He is waiting for her answer.
His eyes are boring into hers, and she can't look at him, can't face him. "I'm still in love with you, Jim. I don't think I can just be your friend."
"Fine." He doesn't move.
She looks up at him, perplexed. "Fine?"
"Fine, you can't just be my friend. But that's not an answer to my question. Dinner? Tonight?" He suddenly grins at her and it is the old look, the old grin that she didn't think he'd ever give her again. But it fades quickly.
"Yes. I'd like that."
"Good." He touches her hand. "I'm not sure where we're going with this. And I intend to take it slow. I don't trust you yet. You understand that?"
"What makes you think I trust you?"
His mouth tightens. "Touche." He stares at her, seems to be waiting for her to look away. He is disappointed.
"Reconsidering?" she asks.
"No." He sighs, as if he's already tired of sparring with her. "I'll pick you up at seventeen hundred."
As he turns to walk way, she calls out, "Why?"
He looks back at her. "Why what?"
"Why are you willing to forgive me?"
"I didn't say I was."
"Well, why are you even thinking about it?"
He looks at her like she is an idiot. "Because I've missed you. Despite everything."
She can feel a smile beginning, one of her old smiles from before everything went to hell. "Oh."
"That's all you have to say? Oh?" He chuckles. "Work on those conversation skills before dinner comes around, Commander. I didn't fall in love with you because you're monosyllabic." He turns and walks away.
She stares at him until he disappears from sight.
Christine is aware that Janice is staring at her, has been since she came in from her talk with Jim. Matthew too has glanced out of his office more times than is strictly necessary. She ignores them.
And tries to ignore how fast her heart is racing.
She manages to settle down, works productively until the shift is over.
"Everything okay?" Janice is smiling tentatively. "You weren't out there very long?"
Christine knows she waited until the end of the day to ask so that if it was bad, she wouldn't upset Christine during the shift. Jan's a good friend.
"He wants to have dinner."
"He wants to have dinner, and you didn't tell me? When are you going?"
Christine looks over at the entrance; he's just walked in. "Right about now."
"Do not sleep with him."
"Jan. It's just dinner." She grins, knows she is not fooling either of them. This is far more than just dinner. It's another chance.
"Jim." Matthew walks out of his office, clasps Kirk's hand warmly. "So how's the new ship?"
Jim shakes his head. "She needs some work." He glances over at Christine, as if to say they need some work too.
"I repeat. Do not sleep with him."
Christine just laughs. "I'll see you tomorrow." She walks over to the two men.
"Going out?" Matthew asks. His smile looks genuine, and he pushes her gently toward Jim. "Have fun. Don't keep her out too late." Then he turns and walks back in his office.
"Shall we?" Jim's look is warier than she likes.
"We don't have to do this. If you're having second thoughts, I mean."
"Chris, I've had third, fourth, and fifth thoughts. Let's go."
She smiles, tries to figure out if fifth thoughts ends the debate in her favor or not. Decides it must if he's walking with her into town.
She suddenly wishes she could change, feels grungy and a bit dowdy in her uniform. She decides not to ask him if they can stop at her apartment just so she can pull on something that actually makes her feel pretty.
She's not sure she has anything that will cut it anyway. She's nervous and excited and afraid that this is all going to blow up in her face, and she'll lose him again before she ever has him back.
"You don't need to look as though we're going to a funeral," he murmurs.
"Sorry." She laughs softly, looks down. "I'm nervous."
"I thought you got over being nervous around me?"
"That was when we were together. We're not together."
"No. We're not." He glances at her. "I'm not sure what I want to do about this, Chris."
She looks away, pretends to be mesmerized by the merchandise in the shop windows they are passing. "Gillian causing complications?"
"Gillian?" He laughs then. "Gillian Taylor? No. She's gone."
Christine nods, but it is a weak gesture. The other woman may be gone, but that doesn't mean she won't turn back up. Or that Jim couldn't find her if he wanted. Couldn't have her transferred to the Enterprise if he wanted.
Her expression must be terribly morose, for he actually takes pity on her. "I'm not interested in Gillian, Chris."
"That's not how it looked from the peanut gallery."
"Trust me on this. Gillian is gone."
"Well, two syllables. It's an improvement over 'oh,' I guess." He grins at her.
She tries to smile back, but knows the expression doesn't quite hit the mark. His own look softens, and he reaches over, touches her commander's bars gently.
"I saw you get these."
"You did?" She supposes it's possible. She got the promotion just after Jim got back, after she took over from Reed. "You were in the audience for someone else?"
He shakes his head. "I came to see you. I'm proud of you. Despite it all..." His expression shifts, and he doesn't look proud of her. He looks disappointed in her. And still angry.
She wishes she could pull him close and hug him to her and tell him again how sorry she is and how much she loves him and how she'll do anything to make it up to him. But she just keeps walking. "I didn't know you were there."
"I know. I left before the reception." He sighs.
She nods, feels a sharp pit of misery starting in her stomach. She's not sure this is a good idea. Maybe all they're doing is bringing up old pain? She stops walking.
He stops too, as if he knew she was going to. He stares at her, and she knows the look she is giving him is anything but happy. She feels...hopeless. Lost and more alone standing here with him than she has for a long time.
She backs up, toward the entryway of the closed shop she stopped in front of. She wishes the shop was open. She would flee inside. She would run out the back and try to forget how much she loves him and how much it hurts that he may never let her in again.
He moves closer, trapping her in the entranceway, and takes her hand. His skin is warm against hers. "It's okay, Chris."
She realizes she is shaking, tries to pull her hand away, but he won't let her. "Jim..."
"I know." He pulls her close, wraps his arms around her. "I know."
She is stiff, but he doesn't let go, just runs his hands up and down her back the way he used to until she relaxes against him.
She whispers, "I'm so afraid that I'm going to lose you again. Before you even give me a chance." She pulls away, and this time he lets her go--probably because there is nowhere she can run in the small space. "If you can't forgive me, then let's just say goodbye now and cut our losses."
"I don't know if I can forgive you."
"That's crap, Jim. You either can or you can't. You just may not want to."
His eyes widen, and she realizes he's never heard her use her command voice. She laughs and he laughs and suddenly the moment is a little bit lighter.
"Remind me not to piss you off, Commander." He touches her face, and she closes her eyes at the feeling.
"Too late for that." She stares at him. "I'm not sure I can forgive you for Antonia."
"I thought you were cheating on me."
He nods. "I know that now. You weren't very convincing back then. You didn't even want to make love, Chris. You didn't want me anymore."
"That's not true. I never stopped wanting you."
"Well, you stopped having sex with me. I'm sorry, but the distinction is a bit fuzzy, especially when you're the one being rejected."
"I know. I'm sorry." Sorry seems to be all she is saying. She wonders if it means anything to him. Sighing, she eyes the door again. Could she break in?
He touches her face, and then his hand keeps moving, under her ear, tracing her uniform collar, to the back of her neck. He pulls her toward him. "Chris."
And then he is kissing her, and she is lost in the feeling, and clutching at him, and she is glad that she can lean against the door of the shop so her legs don't give out on her as he pushes against her.
She can tell he still wants her.
He pulls away, and his expression is troubled. "I wasn't going to do that."
She smiles, her lips trembling slightly. "No?"
Shaking his head, he looks as though he's a little disappointed in himself.
"Is it so bad that you did it?"
He nods. But then he reaches out and touches her cheek again. "If I touch you, I won't want to stop."
"Who says you have to stop?" She grins, trying to make the moment a little less serious, his expression a little less dire. She takes his hand. "I'm hungry."
She is hungry, but she'd rather be kissing him. But she knows that what she wants to do and what she should do are two different things where he's concerned. "Let's eat, okay?"
He leans in, rests his cheek against hers. "I've missed you so." Then he pulls her out of the doorway and back onto the sidewalk. "Food then."
"Yes. Food." His grip tightens on hers, and she finally begins to relax.
Maybe, just maybe, they can make this work again.
Christine sees Jim in the corridor coming out of ops with Matthew. She nods at him as she and Jan pass him, and he nods back.
"I don't get it," Janice says. "You said dinner went fine?"
"It did. Kind of stiff at times when we strayed into painful ground. But fine other than that."
"It's been two days." Janice looks back. "What the hell is he doing?"
Christine has been wondering that herself. Dinner was nice, especially once they finally relaxed enough to have some fun with each other. Jim walked her home, gave her a quick hug, and left.
Actually, fled might be more accurate. Was he afraid she would attack him right there on the street like some sex-crazed ex-fiancee?
Not that the thought didn't occur to her. "He said he was going to take it slow."
"Yeah, but this is geologic."
Christine laughs. She's been thinking the same thing.
She knows he's not sure of her. He can't ever be sure of her again. That may be a deal breaker. Only why wasn't it a deal breaker for Spock?
"Maybe he just wants you so badly that he knows he won't be able to control himself. So he's staying away."
"Right." Christine says, but she thinks he is testing her. He wants to see what she will do if he really does take it slow, like he said he was going to. She sighs. What does he think she will do? She'll wait and see what happens. Nothing else she can do.
Janice pulls up the comms. "Didn't you raise Peterson's access level?"
"Well, he's commed three times asking for clearance to the delta-three-one project."
Christine sighs. "The man is an idiot. He can't figure out anything without a guided map." She sends a message down to security. Morhaven will enjoy dealing with this one. "He'll get the special briefing."
Janice laughs. "You're siccing Russ on him?"
"Yep." She grins. "We have enough to do without stupid-ass captains who can't find their butt without a--what?"
Janice's eyes have gone wide.
"Is there a problem, Commander?" Peterson has decided to pay a visit.
She turns. "Yes, Captain, there is. You keep asking for accesses that we sent you a week ago. I believe Admiral Cartwright wanted you to read in on the project before you reported."
"I'd love to have read in, but I never got my accesses." He gives her the snotty look that is just one of the things that got him booted off the Louisville. Everyone in ops knows he's planet-bound because Command can't figure out what to do with him. "Perhaps you could just download the project data into a padd for me."
"Sorry, sir. This information isn't portable. Why don't you look again to see if the accesses are there?" She tries for a slightly conciliatory tone. He does outrank her. Even if it's a crime that he outranks anyone.
"I don't need to. Not when it's your screw-up."
She points to a terminal. "Why don't you log in? We'll look for it together." Her tone is no longer very nice.
His expression changes. "I don't have time now. I'll do it later."
"No, you're absolutely right. This is urgent. Let's look now. If I've screwed up, I'll fall all over myself apologizing." She gives him a hard smile. She knows he is hedging.
He looks down. "I seem to have misplaced my password."
God. What else has the man missed in the comms? And why were they giving him access to anything the least bit sensitive?
She forces her face to stay neutral. "Commander Morhaven stands ready to assist."
Peterson actually goes pale. He may outrank the security head, but no one is meaner than Russ when he's dealing with incompetence and shoddy security practices. "Is that really necessary?"
She shrugs. "I've done my bit. If you can't get in, he'll have to get you a new password. I'm not authorized to do that." It's a lie. She can hand out passwords to anyone and everyone if she needs to. But she saves that for emergencies. She doesn't like to deal with Russ's lectures about access control either.
"I don't like you, Commander," Peterson says, not noticing Matthew coming back into ops, not hearing him walk up behind him.
"Duly noted, Peterson," Matthew says in his quiet voice--the dangerous one.
Peterson turns even paler than before as he turns to the admiral. "Sir. I only meant--"
"Oh, your words were self-explanatory, Captain." The derision Cartwright puts on the title is impressive.
Christine smiles at him. "Captain Peterson was just on his way down to see Russ."
"Lucky him." Matthew is speaking as if Peterson is already gone. When he sees the other man still standing there, he gives him one of the famous Cartwright glares. "Don't let us stop you."
They watch as Peterson walks out, his feet nearly dragging as he heads for the security office.
"Damned fool. I told Command they should give him to the Klingons. He'd bring the Empire down in a heartbeat."
She laughs. "I thought you were giving them Styles."
"The list is expanding." He grins at her. "Did you piss him off on purpose?"
"I might have."
He shakes his head. "One of these days, Christine..."
She gives him her best "I learned it from James T. Kirk" grin.
He laughs. "Don't try to Kirk me, woman. I know you too well. And him too."
She wishes Matthew could tell her what is going on between Jim and her then, if he knows the two of them so damn well. But it seems unfair to ask him given the feelings he may still have for her.
He gestures vaguely to the front screen. "See if you can't find Peterson a nice planet close to the border. Where have the Klingons been active lately?"
As if he doesn't know that by heart?
"I'll get right on that, sir." She laughs. Knows he is kidding about Peterson. Mostly.
She waits until he goes into her office and then hurries to her station to double check that she did send Peterson the accesses. The memo is there, just like she knew it would be.
Sighing, she gets back to something that actually resembles an emergency.
Turning, she sees Spock at a table in the mess. She walks over, unsure why he wanted to see her.
She does, then looks around. There are very few people in the mess hall--lunch has been over for hours and the dinner rush hasn't started.
Jim comes out of the serving area, carrying two cups of coffee. "Spock, are you sure you want your coffee this way?" He sees her and stops in his tracks, coffee sloshing a bit.
It's been a week since she had dinner with him.
Not that she's keeping track.
She stands up. "I must have misunderstood, Spock. Did you mean some other day?"
He stands up and pushes her gently back into the chair. "No. I meant today." Walking over to Jim, he takes one of the coffees from him and sets it down in front of her. "If I remember correctly, you prefer it with cream and sugar?"
Jim squints at him. "I knew you didn't like sugar."
"The Fal-tor-Pan is quite a useful excuse. For many occasions." Spock indicates the seat he's just vacated. "Please sit."
She tries not to smile.
Spock looks down at them and shakes his head. "The Enterprise will be here for another three weeks. I see no logic in the two of you avoiding each other." He starts to walk away.
"Spock." Jim's voice is almost panicked.
Spock turns and nearly sighs. "I was not aware you were afraid of anything, Jim." He looks at her. "Perhaps you should ask him about the scar on his arm?" Then he does walk away, more quickly than normal.
Jim slides his arm off the table.
He sips at his coffee.
"I could come around and take a look for myself."
He looks up at her, and she sees the anger again. "You could try."
"Forget it. Forget this." She stands up and hurries out of the mess, leaving her coffee cup for him to deal with.
Spock is waiting outside. "That did not go as I hoped."
She glares at him. "What were trying to do?"
She gets in close, nearly in his face. "Why?"
Nearly frowning, he says, "You are my friend. I do remember that now."
She laughs bitterly. "It was my fault you died. Do you remember that?"
"While you were involved in the events leading up to my death, you do not carry the sole blame. And it is a diffuse trail, with many bends along the way. You did not, for example, have anything to do with Khan."
"He wouldn't have gotten loose if Reliant hadn't been there; Reliant wouldn't have been there but for Genesis. And Genesis wouldn't have reached the stage it did but for my work with David."
"True, but have you considered another scenario? Khan might have freed himself from his prison some other way. He might still have come after Jim. I might still have died trying to protect him, only there would have been no Genesis planet to bring me back to life. You cannot know how much you do or do not bear blame in this." He gently pushes her back. "Christine, if you do not mind?"
Jim comes barreling out of the mess, sees her and stops.
"Ah. Jim. Perhaps you are on your way to see Christine now that you have had time to reflect on her hasty departure? As you can see, she has not run far." It is clear from Spock's tone that he considers them both idiots.
Jim glares at her. "Come back in."
She glares right back. "Give me one good reason I should."
His lips tighten, and he starts to turn away.
"Humans are fascinating. You both want each other quite badly, yet you will not admit it."
"Stay out of this, Spock." Jim is clearly pissed.
She's no slouch in the short fuse department either. "Don't take it out on him. At least he has balls enough to talk to me."
"You know, emergency ops has not helped your demeanor."
"Well, I'm sorry you don't like my demeanor." She is about to turn away when she feels Spock's hand on her back urging her into the mess.
"I would like to issue a challenge. How is it Doctor McCoy puts it? Oh yes. I double dog dare you both to sit for fifteen minutes and talk. Preferably with a minimum of histrionics."
She glares at Jim again. When Spock is reduced to spouting southern dares, they really have fallen to an all time low. She can see by Jim's face that he is thinking the same thing, so she walks into the mess and sits back down at their table. The coffee is still there and she sips at it.
Jim comes in a moment later. He sits down and angrily pulls up his sleeve. There is a long scar near his wrist.
"Rock climbing?" she asks. "Still working up to El Capitan?"
"I was on El Capitan. Unfortunately, I wasn't on it quite long enough."
He nods, then shrugs. "Spock was there. To the rescue. I didn't die."
"You could have." She stares at the scar. "When did this happen?"
"After the hearing."
She looks down. "Were you that unhappy? Even with a new ship and your career handed back to you? You only take the extreme risks when you're past caring."
"I wasn't--" He sees her look and his mouth tightens. He takes a deep breath, then says softly, "I was alone... or I felt that way." He sighs. "I left Antonia after you came to Idaho." He waits until she looks up at him to continue. "I didn't have to. She and I could have made it work, I think, even with me back in Starfleet."
The idea of that hurts. She doesn't like how much it hurts. "Then why didn't you stay with her if it was so goddamned blissful?"
He sighs. "Because of you."
He nods. "I'm so damned angry with you, Chris."
She shakes her head. "Maybe that's all there is to say. Maybe you need to go back to her then."
"Why? She's beautiful, she's sweet and protective, and she loves you. What more do you want?"
"I want you."
He laughs, the sound unexpected. "Back to that, are we? We need to find you a new word."
"So, if I understand correctly, you are angry with me."
"And you want me?"
She takes a sip of coffee to hide how thrown she is. "Angry sex, Jim? That sounds like a recipe for disaster."
"I know. Why do you think I've stayed away?"
"You seemed so nice the other night at dinner."
"I didn't say this made sense." He sips at his coffee, as if he too is desperate for something to do. "I wanted you so much that night. I couldn't get you out of my mind. And the more I tried, the angrier I got." He shakes his head. "Spock has been telling me to stop avoiding you. That I'm letting you become my personal bogey-man."
"Spock's really upped his command of the vernacular, hasn't he?" She leans forward. "And why are we taking advice from a man who hasn't dated in what? A decade?"
He laughs. "Probably ever. I don't think he and T'Pring really dated. They just went from daycare buddies to betrothed in one easy step." He stares at her. "It's easier to joke, isn't it? About him, about this. Than to face it."
There is a long silence.
She finally says, "If you want to end this. If it's easier for you, then we will. You don't have to forgive me; you don't have to try to get to know me again. You don't have to do anything with me. Just go out on your shiny new ship and find a new person to love." She looks down. "Or maybe an old one? At dinner the other night, you mentioned Carol a lot." It hurt how easily he referred to the woman he used to speak of with such misery.
"I'm not in love with Carol." His tone brooks no argument.
"Well, then Gillian, maybe? She was fun, right? I got to know her a little. She had a real exuberance for life that I think would be attractive to you."
"I'm not in love with Gillian, either." He suddenly sounds impatient.
"And Antonia? Is that really over? You had two years with her?"
"And I was jumping the ravine at the end." He sighs. "God help me, I love her, but I'm not in love with her. Not the way I should be."
"Well, I'm running out of candidates." She knows she doesn't sound helpful any longer; she sounds angry.
"Good." He smiles, takes her hand and studies it. "You have such strong hands."
She waits. Doesn't want to think about how good it feels to have him touching her. Even just like this.
"I'm in love with you," he says. "I've been in love with you since that damned shuttle and that damned virus. I can't shake you."
She starts to laugh. "I hope that wasn't supposed to be romantic."
He grins. "It wasn't." His grin turns into a frown. "I don't think it was, anyway. You know, before you, I used to think I was good at this." He lets go of her hand, leans back in his chair, and crosses his arms.
He looks very much like a ticked off little boy.
She finds him damn near irresistible.
"Don't look at me that way," he says softly.
She looks away quickly. "Sorry." When he doesn't say anything, she asks, "So where are we, exactly?"
He smiles. "We are right back where we started. I want you, and I'm pissed as hell about it." He looks up at her, and for the first time, there is not even a little anger in his eyes.
"Can I make it better?"
"God, I hope so." He leans in. "I have to go to a send-off soiree tonight. You have a dress uniform, I suppose?"
"I have several." One of the benefits of taking Reed's job and being promoted is that her uniform allowance was increased.
"Would you like to be my date, Commander Chapel?" He laughs nervously, as if he can't believe this is a good idea.
She's not certain it is either. "Jim, are you sure?"
He doesn't answer at first. Then softly, "Yes. I'm sure."
She looks down. "That's sort of what you said about dinner, and then I didn't see you for a week."
"I know." He laughs and she looks up at him. "But this time, Spock'll have my ass in a sling if I avoid you."
She smiles. "That's true."
"I think he just wants his Ka'Vareth partner back."
She smiles. "Maybe." She finishes her coffee and stands up. "I have to get back. They're going to wonder if I got lost."
"I'll pick you up at at eighteen hundred?"
She nods. "Provided you still remember where the apartment is?"
"I remember." He looks down. "And...I may have been by the building a couple of times in the last week..."
She smiles. "Really?"
He nods. Sheepishly.
"I think I love that." She takes a deep breath, one that is not full of apprehension or sadness. But actually of anticipation. "I'll see you later."
"Count on it."
He almost sounds convincing.
She gives him a look.
"I'll be there," he says. This time he does sound sure.
She leaves him to finish his coffee in peace.
Jim's send-off soiree is well attended, and the rooms are crowded at Admiral Morrow's house. There's barely anyone under the rank of captain, but Christine realizes she knows just about everyone there. The old Christine Chapel would have been out of her element and very nervous, but now she is relaxed, mingling comfortably with Jim.
He is looking at her. "You know more people here than I do, don't you?"
He laughs softly. "Party's still for me. I don't care if they like you better."
He pretends to pout, and she chuckles.
"They don't like me better." She takes his arm, leads him to the bar and orders him a single malt. Glancing over at their host, she sees him gesture for Jim to join him. "I think Morrow wants a word."
Jim takes a sip of his Scotch and nods. "My latest marching orders, I suppose." He suddenly frowns. "You didn't date him too, did you?"
She rolls her eyes. "No."
"Good." He starts to say something else, but she puts her hand on his arm.
"Only Matthew. And it was just a few dates. I told you a long time ago, you've ruined me for other men."
He looks far too happy about that.
"Go talk to Morrow." She orders herself a cognac and joins Matthew on the patio.
"You two back together?"
"Don't know yet." She looks out over the bay--Morrow's view is outstanding. "Nice place."
"Yes." He grins. "Almost as nice as mine. Why don't you know yet?"
She laughs. Matthew is relentless when he is on a quest for info. "I just don't."
He shakes his head, as if she just doesn't get it. "He loves you. That's obvious."
"Well, I'm glad you think so."
He smiles at her gently. "I know so, Christine. The man is crazy about you. He brought you here with him. I can't think of a more public statement to that effect." He grins. "Or a more obvious message to those of us who were a little too interested in his woman."
She laughs. "I think you're reading a lot into this."
"You're not a man." Matthew grins, then looks past her, his smile growing larger. "Jim. I was just telling Christine how good it is to see the two of you together again."
Jim's hand snakes around her waist, pulling her close. She glances over at him, sees a possessiveness she doesn't expect in his eyes. Maybe he is being more territorial about her than she realized?
He sips his Scotch, smiles. "It's nice to be together again." His tone is a bit harsh, as if he's angry.
She supposes he might be--with both of them.
Cartwright doesn't seem to mind his friend's tone. In fact, he laughs and says, "Can't blame a man for trying."
Jim's tension seems to evaporate in the face of his friend's openness. He chuckles too. "No. I guess I can't." His hand tightens on her. "You want to walk? The grounds here are lovely."
She nods, lets him lead her away. He drops her arm as they walk down the patio steps and onto one of the paths that lead to the cliffs, but as soon as they are out of sight of the house he draws her to him and kisses her. His lips are fierce, and he pulls her closer than she expects. He isn't hurting her, but he's making no attempt to be gentle.
She searches his face, trying to figure out what he is feeling.
He's giving nothing away. He stares at her, then pulls her in again, kissing her gently this time before moving away. "Come on." Taking her hand, he leads her closer to the cliff. "It's beautiful here." He hugs her tightly as she moves in to snuggle against him.
"Yes, it is." She looks at him. His face is still unreadable. "Why did you want me here tonight?"
His answer is immediate, his tone almost savage. "Because you're mine."
She swallows, feels her mouth go a bit dry. "We're going to have an interesting night, aren't we?" When he doesn't answer, she looks down. "I thought you were against angry sex?"
He lets her go, moves away from her, closer to the cliff. He stares down at the crashing waves. "I am."
She backs away a little bit, is suddenly dizzy standing so close to the edge, even if there is a railing. "Hate to break it to you, but most of your kisses haven't been what I'd call tender."
"I know." He runs his hand through his hair, mussing it up.
She makes a sound, and he turns to her. With a smile, she finger combs his hair back into place. His eyes close as she touches him, and she leans in, her lips soft on his cheek.
"I'm sorry," she says.
He shakes his head. "Don't. It wasn't just you. I let you go. Maybe I shouldn't have. Maybe I should have tried to find a way to understand."
She touches his cheek, smiles when he leans into her hand. "It's done. Maybes won't do either of us any good. There's only now and what happens from here on out."
He nods. "Only now." He sighs, then he says softly, almost too carefully, as if he is working hard to keep his tone civilized. "You're not going home tonight."
"I'm staying here with Morrow?"
He doesn't smile, and she laughs nervously.
"So much for my little attempt at humor."
"I'm not in the mood to laugh." There is something in his eyes that unnerves her. He has never looked at her with quite such a combination of desire and anger and possessiveness.
She looks down. "Sorry."
He sighs again. "Quit saying that."
He kisses her. His lips are relentless, his arms like steel as he holds her close. Opening her mouth to his, she feels his tongue slip in, questing, tasting, battling her own. Her arms tighten around him, and she moans.
He pulls away slowly. She is almost afraid to look at him, almost afraid to see how much anger he really does have for her. He takes her hand, leads her down the path, back to the house. His thumb rubs her palm, and she moans again.
Looking over at her, he smiles. A dark and seductive smile. She feels as if her legs might collapse and tries to get hold of herself. This is Jim. He'd never hurt her.
That thought doesn't keep her from being a little bit afraid. And very much aroused.
It's going to be an extremely long evening.
Jim pushes her inside his apartment, palms on the light, while with his other hand he is locking out the world. He leads her to his bedroom, and she moans as he pushes her against the wall, as he kisses her hard and fast. Then he pulls away from her.
He slowly undresses her. She notes that he doesn't rip her dress uniform from her, takes his time stripping her, folding her clothes and putting them on his dresser. Somehow the care he is taking makes her more nervous than if he lost control. She stands naked before him and shivers.
Pushing her against the wall again, he holds her there, staring at her, his look hungry. Then he lets her go. "Undress me." He watches her as she takes his uniform off and folds it as carefully as he did hers.
"I'm older," she says, suddenly embarrassed at his scrutiny.
"You're beautiful." He moves against her, and the feeling of his skin on hers is pure heaven. They kiss for a long time. His touch begins to get harder, more fierce. More possessive.
Finally, he pulls away. "Go lie down on the bed."
She does what he says and waits for him, but he doesn't move, just stands there watching her. Then he turns to the closet, seems to be looking for something, finally draws out some socks, which he ties together into one long strand. He walks over to her.
"You know what this is for?"
She nods. Her mouth has gone dry. This is not a game they've played very often.
Tonight it's not a game at all.
"Get up now if you want to leave."
"Jim?" She doesn't want to leave, but she is suddenly uneasy.
He nudges her, and she scoots over to give him room. He slowly ties the end of the strand to her left wrist, then he pulls her arm over her head and winds the cloth around one of the metal bars on his headboard, pulling her arm tight.
She makes a sound, not a moan exactly. Almost a whimper. It shocks her. "Jim?"
He kisses her. His kiss is tender.
That only confuses her more.
Reaching for her other wrist, he pulls her arm over her head and looks down at her. "Last chance."
She swallows, then closes her eyes.
He kisses her again. Then he ties the cloth around her wrist. "Try to break free."
She tries to get away. Can't.
"Mine," he says, as he begins to kiss her again. His hands are roaming everywhere, relentless and teasing, never stopping anywhere long enough for her to do more than groan as he touches her. His lips move lower, and lower still. She forgets she is tied, tries to reach for him and can't.
The feeling of helplessness that comes over her leaves her shaken--and even more aroused. She is his. His tongue touches her and she is gone, calling out his name as she bucks underneath his mouth.
Then he is holding her, his lips on hers, his hand gentle on her face. They kiss, and the kiss lasts forever, and she wants to weep at the feeling of being with him again.
She tries to reach for him, can't move her arms and groans--in frustration this time. "Untie me."
He shushes her with his mouth, moving so he is over her, then in her. He is kissing her as she strains at the ties, his body moving harder and faster until she can barely think.
Then suddenly he is moving a little too hard, and she cries out in fear. He stops instantly.
She panics, tugs at the socks and feels tears welling up when they don't give.
"Chris. No, it's okay." He is working the socks loose, tearing them off her hands. "Shh. It's okay."
She is weeping, only it's no longer because she's afraid. She says, "I'm sorry," over and over and over, and he is kissing her and telling her it's all right, and finally she grinds up against him, does it again and again, until he starts moving inside her again. She clenches down, and he calls out her name as he comes, his hands tightening painfully in her hair. But she doesn't protest, just holds him and cries again as he kisses her.
"You're not the only one who's mad, you know," she whispers into his chest.
"I know." He rolls off her, pulling her close and burying his head in her hair. "I love you," he says. "I love you, Chris." His voice sounds a little broken as he says, "You're mine."
She pulls away, and he wipes the tears off her face.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
"You didn't hurt me." She kisses him, desperate, hungry kisses. "I love you, Jim."
He brushes her hair away from her face, stares at her.
"I'm okay," she says.
He nods, kisses her cheek. "Just wanted you so much." He stops, presses his cheek against hers. "Wanted to make you p--"
She holds him close. "Wanted to make me pay?"
"Not very nice." He sounds utterly disappointed in himself.
"No. It's not very nice. But I understand the sentiment." She presses herself against him.
His body is so warm, and they fit together the way they always have. Like every hollow and curve is made just for the other.
"It's all right." She lets her hands roam, getting to know him again. She feels the new scar on his arm, feels another new one on his back. "Where did you get this from?"
He shakes his head.
He laughs. "I rode Caya after you left that day. Took her out and tried to make her jump that damned ravine. She bucked me off. Then she jumped it on her own." He kisses her. "She always reminded me of you. So goddamned contrary."
She laughs. "I love that horse."
"She's yours then."
"Isn't that up to Harry?"
"Oh. Well, I'm sure he'll agree." He smiles and it is a happy smile. He touches her face. "Look, ma. No more anger." He turns away. "I'm sorr--"
"--Stop saying that." She laughs. Kisses him. Loves the feel of it, laughs again. "Neither of us is allowed to say 'sorry' anymore tonight." She kisses him again. "Deal?"
"Deal." He pushes her to her back. "Are you still angry at me?"
She shrugs. She's not being flip. She's just not sure.
"Not right this moment anyway, huh?" He smiles, touches her face gently. "I love you."
They make love again. And again. And again. She picks up the socks, ties him up with them. Rides him as he lies helpless. As she arches back, trying to stretch out the pleasure so it never ends, she realizes he's worked himself loose from the ties, is holding her. She laughs. It doesn't matter--bound or not, he's still hers.
He'll always be hers. Just as she'll always be his.
Sweaty, utterly exhausted at last, they lie quietly--finally together.
Christine feels something on her cheek, swats it away and hears a low chuckle. She opens her eyes, feels Jim's lips touch down on her face again lightly, so lightly they tickle. She smiles as she pulls him onto her and hears him laugh as he settles over her, between her legs.
"Have I ever told you how pleasant you are to wake up," he asks as he begins to move inside her.
"And you're so articulate in the morning." Laughing again, he kisses her tenderly. Then he lays his lips next to her ear, whispers. "I'm so sore."
"I am too," she whispers back. Everything hurts. Everywhere aches. But she doesn't want him to stop.
"We're not young," he says softly.
She laughs, begins to run her fingers over his back, as lightly as he was kissing her, making him shiver. "We're not as young."
"Semantics." He closes his eyes, moves slowly.
Being with him like this feels so good to her even though her body is tired, and she's had a few hours sleep at best. "Don't stop," she mumbles as she kisses him.
"I wasn't planning on it," he says when she finally pulls away. Smiling at her, he runs his hand down her cheek. "I've missed you."
"And I've missed you." Lying under him, being with him again, it is almost too much. She looks away.
"Chris. Look at me."
She does, feels her eyes well with tears.
"I love you," he says.
"I love you, Jim."
He kisses her again, his lips gentle, his tongue moving slowly against her own. Then he pulls back, smiles almost sadly as he wipes her tears away. "How many years did we waste?"
She shakes her head. "Too many." She wraps her legs around him. "I was lonely without you."
She shoots him a glance. "You weren't exactly alone." She tightens her legs.
"No, I wasn't. But do you really want to talk about this now?" He shoots her one of his grins, the kind that light up the quadrant, then he begins to move faster.
Throwing her head back, she arches up to meet him. "I guess not."
"Good." He closes his eyes, moans low, and moves faster still.
She is moaning too, the sound changing each time he moves against her. She closes her eyes, feels herself losing control. The sensation goes on a long time as her exhausted body climaxes under him. He follows her, nearly collapsing on top of her.
"I think I'm dying," he whispers as he moves just enough so his full weight isn't on her.
"I know I am." Her body aches, and she is so tired she feels sick. She lets her eyes close.
He pulls the covers up over them, kisses her, and closes his eyes. "Go back to sleep. It's not a workday."
She's glad he said that. She's so sleepy she can't remember what day it is. "Are you sure?"
"Positive." He nestles against her, and a moment later his breathing changes, his body relaxing against hers. He doesn't let go of her though, is still holding her tightly as if afraid she'll run away.
He doesn't have to worry. She'll never run away. She might kill him, but she'll never run away.
She listens to him breathe for a little while, amazed that they are together, that he loves her and wants her. That he has forgiven her and she has forgiven him.
More or less.
She laughs softly. They still have a lot to work out. But it can wait till she feels human again.
Closing her eyes, she falls back to sleep.
She wakes to golden sunlight and the soft purr of sexy jazz--the kind he knows she likes--out in the living room. The bed is empty, but by the good smells filling the apartment she can tell that her lover hasn't gone any farther than the kitchen. She stretches, feels aching muscles protest but not the way they had been earlier. She looks at the chrono, laughs. Hours have gone by. The sun is going down, not coming up. They've slept the day away, or she has anyway.
Jim comes in with a cup of coffee and sets it down on the bedside table. "Good morning."
She laughs. "I think it's almost evening."
"It is." He grins. "But since we just woke up and since I'm making you breakfast, just pretend it's morning."
She nods and stares at him, drinking in the sight of him in his robe, smiling at her, loving her. After losing him, she knows she won't ever take his presence for granted.
He touches her face. "Why so serious?"
"I keep thinking what if." She feels as if she is going to start crying if she keeps talking, so she reaches for the coffee, sips it. Cream and sugar. He fixes it perfectly.
"What if?" He sighs. "What if this hadn't worked? Or we'd never tried? Or we did and it didn't work out?"
She nods. "All of the above." She sets the coffee down. "I can spin you a hundred what if scenarios. What if you'd told me to go to hell when I came to Idaho? What if you'd never come to ops that day and wanted to talk? What if Spock had stayed dead, and you'd never gotten over it...or I hadn't...or Len hadn't? What if--"
"--I get the picture." He smiles tenderly at her. "I know scenarios are what you live and die by in ops, but there is reality." He pulls her into his arms, holds her for a long moment before kissing her and letting her go. "And reality says I'm about to make you Ktarian eggs."
She grins. "Where did you get those? They're my favorite." And nearly impossible to find.
"I have my sources." He laughs. "And, yes, I remember they're you favorite."
She looks at him suspiciously. "Did you have them on hand for someone else?"
"Antonia hates them." He shakes his head. "And you know they spoil so quickly it's ridiculous."
He's right, they do. If he has them on hand, then he bought them for her. He can't stand them either.
"You had this all planned out?"
He picks up the strand of socks from his side of the bed. "Well, obviously not all of it, or I'd have had something a little more prepared in this department." He tries to undo the socks but has trouble with the knots. "Guess this is recycler bound."
She takes it from him, opens the drawer of the table and drops it in. "We may want it again." She laughs at his grin. "And besides, it's part of our first night back together. I feel very sentimental about it."
He takes her hand and brings it to his lips, his mouth lingering on her skin. "If I do any more than this, we'll never get out of bed."
"Would that be so bad?"
"No. It would be heaven." He smiles as he gets up and walks to the closet. Tossing her a robe, he says. "Come on. Watch me cook your eggs."
Just like old times.
It is the sweetest feeling in the world.
Spock looks up from his dinner, seems to have an expression of extreme satisfaction at the sight of them sitting across from him.
"You're insufferably smug, Spock," Jim says as he pours her more wine.
"I am merely relieved that the two of you have settled your differences."
She looks down, trying to hide her smile. They've been settling their differences nonstop for days now. She's not sure her body will ever recover.
Jim is grinning too. "That's one way to put it."
"I was attempting to be polite." Spock almost smiles at them, then goes back to his meal.
She feels Jim's hand on hers, squeezes it. "So where is Len?" she asks.
"In Georgia. He said he felt the need to reconnect with Joanna after his near-crazy experience." Jim grins at Spock. "Your katra must have been a lot to bear. He's only human, after all."
"And yet he returned my katra to me unharmed despite that. Fascinating." Spock lets an eyebrow rise.
She laughs. He is so much more at ease than when she saw him after the whale probe. And Jim has told her that if she thought he was stiff then, she should have seen him right after the fal-tor-pan.
She cannot imagine how hard it was on Jim. She knows how hard it was on her, having to watch it from a distance.
She sighs, and Jim glances over at her.
He smiles sadly, seems to know what she is thinking. "Bygones," he says softly.
She wonders if it is that easy, is not sure she can ever forgive herself for losing him. Although he seems to be over his anger since he worked it out in sex that first night back together.
For one moment, she was afraid of him that night. But she should have known better, should have known that he would never hurt her.
He'd never be able to live with himself if he did.
It's what makes him better than her. Better than just about anyone she knows. He's a hero, and heroes do the right thing. Heroes forgive.
She's not sure she can be a hero. David's death looms large, and she hates herself for that, hates the Klingons for it, and hates David too. She's not ready to forgive anyone yet.
She forces herself to leave such dark thoughts alone. David is dead. Nothing will change that. She is wasting the moment that she has now, wasting her time with Jim. Which is stupid because he'll be gone soon enough, winging back out into space in his new ship.
"Repairs are moving along," Jim notes.
Spock nods. "The warp engines have been completely overhauled. And the shield enhancements are complete."
"Good." Jim smiles.
She can tell part of him is already gone. Already flying through space in the arms of his other woman.
She is jealous. A little. But she knows better than to dwell on it. This is Jim and he belongs among the stars. He's been miserable on Earth the times he had to stay there for any length of time. Would have been even if they'd stayed together. His destiny lies in space.
She forces herself to smile. She will not be like Carol about this. He has his job, she has hers. They aren't going to be together all the time. But that doesn't mean they aren't a couple. That doesn't mean he's not hers.
"I wish you were coming," Jim says softly.
At times, she does too. They were so happy when they were together on the ship. But she has grown away from that person, or maybe grown too ambitious. Or perhaps she's just become an adrenaline junkie, used to running twenty-four hours a day, day after day--emergencies as drug.
She smiles. "Who'll handle all the crises you cause if I'm not here?"
"I'm sure they'd find someone else. And what do you mean that I'll cause?"
She laughs. Turns to Spock. "Are you looking forward to being a first officer again?"
"I have missed serving with Jim."
She does not doubt that is true. Jim smiles, clearly touched that Spock chose to answer the question that way.
She thinks Jim has no idea how much Spock loves him. Even after all these years. Even though she has always known. She looks over at Spock, meets his calm, even affectionate gaze, and knows that he is aware she knows.
Neither of them seems to mind that he is probably in love with her lover. It seems....natural, somehow. Just the way things are.
And Spock's love is so quiet, so non-intrusive in its constancy. She finds it difficult to feel threatened.
Besides. He appears to love her too. Her good friend Spock--who would ever have believed it?
Christine looks around ops, trying to figure out if she has forgotten to do anything. She has a day of leave coming up, one last day to spend with Jim before he beams up to his new Enterprise and disappears for a while.
"You okay?" Janice asks, glancing up from her console.
Christine nods. "But I think I'm missing him already." She shakes her head. "Is it possible to love someone too much?"
"Only if they don't love you back just as much." Jan smiles, and Christine realizes that any angst her friend had over Jim is gone. "And that is clearly not the case here. The man is crazy for you."
"Yeah." Janice smiles and goes back to the comms.
Christine looks at the messages already queuing up in her system, and checks to see if any are important. One draws her attention. A personnel notice. Ops is getting a cadet on her last summer interim tour. She scans down, sees it is Valeris and smiles. Ops is no place for a youngster--unless you happen to be Vulcan and riding head and shoulders above your classmates. The evaluations that accompany the assignment notice are glowing.
Valeris will report in a few weeks. Time enough to deal with it later. Christine closes the message, scans a few others and is replying to one when she hears Jim's voice at the entry way.
She gestures for him to come over. He looks at Janice, gives her a huge grin.
Janice stands up. "I guess this is goodbye, Jim."
Christine smiles. She cannot remember Janice ever calling Jim by his first name.
He looks a little surprised, but recovers nicely, his grin growing larger. "I guess this is, Jan." He gives her a quick hug. "Have I told you how proud I am of you?"
"Not recently, no." She grins, then looks over at Christine. "Go. Sign off and get out of here. Or I'll take off with him myself." Her smile is easy; the joke is a real one.
Christine signs off. "I'll see you."
Christine glances over at Matthew's office. It is dark. He's actually taken an afternoon off.
"We'll be fine. Now get out of here."
Jim takes her arm, urging her toward the door. "Come on, Chris. Let's go."
As they head for the main exit, he says softly, "Jan's come a long way."
"Yes. She has."
She suspects that neither of them means in her career.
"I've always wondered if she left the ship because of us," he says softly.
She has never shared that with him, decided to let Jan's pain stay Jan's. "If she did, she's over it now."
He nods. "You know Sulu's going to get the Excelsior."
He's probably just guessing. Unless Morrow told him that. She, on the other hand, has it from the best hallway rumor network that Sulu will indeed get the Excelsior when Command finally manages to pry Style's hands off her. She wonders where Jim is going with this, looks over at him quizzically.
"A man needs people he can trust on his ship. Hikaru should think about Jan."
She smiles. It's her opinion that Sulu thinks about Jan a whole lot more than anyone guesses. He sure seems to make it a habit to hang around ops when Janice is on shift. He doesn't come in when it's just Christine and company.
But she keeps that nugget to herself. "You going to suggest it to him?"
He nods. "I think I will." He turns to her. "It's our second to last day. What do you want to do?"
She smiles, wondered if he would ask her or if he would make plans for them on his own. "It's sort of silly."
"I'd like to go to Idaho and ride."
He grins. "Okay."
They head for her place. He's moved the things he doesn't need on the ship out of his apartment and into her closets. She knows that when he's gone, she'll be glad they are there. A reminder that he's with her again, even if a whole quadrant separates them.
They change clothes quickly, head for the nearest transporter station, and Jim uses his charm to get the tech to beam them directly to the ranch rather than just the nearest station.
Harry is sitting on the porch when they walk down the drive, his hat covering his eyes. He pushes it up, grins when he sees them. "Well, if you two aren't a sight for sore eyes."
She smiles. "Hey, Harry."
"Christine." He looks at Jim. "Seems you came to your senses, boy?"
Jim just laughs.
"You gonna take that from him, sweetheart?" Harry asks.
She nods. "He's shipping out tomorrow. I'm indulging him."
"Well, don't indulge him too much. You'll spoil him." He pushes his hat back even more. "You two come to ride?"
Harry starts to get up but Jim says, "It's okay. We can manage."
"You want some food to take out with you?" He winks at Christine. "Or do you two just want some alone time?"
She can feel herself blushing.
He nods knowingly. "At least grab some canteens from the cooler." He pushes his hat back over his eyes. "Caya could do with a good run, Christine."
"I sort of gave Caya to Chris," Jim says.
"Mighty generous with my horse, Nephew." Harry doesn't sound as annoyed as he's pretending to be.
"I didn't think you'd mind, seeing as how you're such a fan of my girl."
She smiles at the term. So silly. So sweet.
Harry peeks up through the hat at them. "She oughtta be your wife by now, Jim. When you going to make an honest woman of her?"
Jim's smile fades somewhat, and she hurries to say, "How about you let us feel our way through this, Harry?"
"Suit yourself, Christine." He waves them away. "Just an old man making a simple suggestion."
"Ignore him," she tells Jim, as they walk to the corral.
He nods tightly.
Maybe he's not as over his anger as she thought.
She sees Caya at the far end of the corral. "Here, girl."
To her surprise, the mare trots over and nudges her. "Maybe she knows she's mine now?"
"Maybe she recognizes another crazy woman when she sees her." Jim is smiling again.
She grins in relief. "Maybe so."
They get saddled up quickly, and she grabs a couple canteens of water, handing him one before looping the other over her shoulder and mounting.
Jim is back on his dark bay, leading the way at an easy trot, then a canter, then they are galloping. She realizes they are headed away from the ravine and smiles. Their progress turns into a race, and she urges Caya on. The mare pulls up with his more elegant horse, then she turns her head and nips at the bay before pulling ahead.
"You really are a bitch," Christine whispers to her horse as Jim pulls alongside then passes her.
Caya takes off after him, and they race for a stand of trees. She catches Jim's horse, and they ride abreast, neither gaining ground until Jim finally pulls up as they enter the shade. She eases Caya back too. They walk through the patterned shadows, and Caya tries to bite Jim's horse again.
"She is a menace," he says, moving his horse closer so he can take Christine's hand.
Caya goes for another nip, but Christine yanks her head back.
"Thank you." Jim pats his horse's neck. "From both me and Kaiser."
They walk until the horses have quit blowing, then Jim leads them over to a spot on the edge of the grove. It is warmer here, but still in the shade. Dismounting, he ties his horse to one of the trees.
She jumps off and ties Caya out of reach of Kaiser. "What now?"
He pulls a blanket out of his saddlebag, winks at her. "I thought we might want to lie down?"
She laughs. "You did?"
He spreads the blanket half in and half out of the sunshine. Then he sits down and holds his hand out to her. "Come here."
She walks to him, sinks down onto the blanket, into his arms. He kisses her and she closes her eyes and tries to memorize every feeling. It will have to last her for a while.
He pulls away, stares at her. His look is troubled.
"What?" She wonders if he is thinking about Antonia? Was it stupid to come here?
"It's not that I don't want to marry you."
She waits for the rest of the sentence but he doesn't finish it. "Okay."
He smiles. "No, I mean, it's not that I'm ruling that out. I'm just not ready yet."
He laughs but his look is more uneasy than amused.
"Still mad at me?" she asks softly.
"No, I don't think so." He strokes her face. "In fact, I know I'm not mad. And I do love you." He sighs. "I'm just not sure I trust you completely yet."
"You may never trust me, Jim. Have you considered that?"
"I have. I have to figure out if I can live with that."
She swallows, is suddenly cold. Pulling away from him, she gets up, walks into the sunlight.
It doesn't help with the cold.
She doesn't turn around, just stares out at the dusty horizon. She can hear him getting up, coming toward her.
"I do love you," he says.
"Uh huh." Her tone is sharp, almost mocking.
He turns her, quickly, almost roughly. "Don't."
"Well, what do you want me to say? How many more ways can I say I'm sorry?" She starts to move away, but he grabs her arm.
"I don't want you to say anything. It's just going to take time."
"You can forgive, but you can't forget, is that it?"
He shrugs, drops her arm.
"Maybe you wish your sweet little Antonia was here?"
"Well, she wouldn't be goading me." He yanks her to him. "And she wouldn't be making me want to do this."
He kisses her hard, passionately, pushing her back toward the blankets.
She is pulling off his clothes even as he does it. She is angry, now it is her turn to be filled with rage, to make him pay for the guilt that never leaves her. "I may do it again, you know. Maybe you don't trust me because you can't."
"Maybe." His lips are bruising hers, he yanks her shirt over her head, lets it fall in the tall grass.
She is crying, but her anger won't let her shut up. "So when do you say you're sorry, Jim? When do you apologize for screwing her before our relationship was even cold?" She tries to pull away from him but he won't let her. "You cheated on me." She is hitting him now, her fists ineffectual because she doesn't want to hurt him, even if she does want to make him pay.
She pulls away, drops her hands. "You cheated, Jim. Was this a favorite place? Did you have her here too?"
"No." He pulls her back to him, kisses her. "I'm sorry for what I did to you. I'm sorry I cheated. It was wrong, but I was hurt. I can't excuse it. But I thought you were seeing someone else. And I was mad."
"And she was here."
"And she was here." He kisses her gently. "She and I never made love in this spot. You know me better than that."
"I'm sure." He kisses her again, then lays his lips on her ear, whispers, "I'm so sorry. Forgive me."
"No. Say it."
"I forgive you."
"I love you, Chris. We may kill each other before this is over, but god help me I'll die loving you."
"I know. Stop talking now, okay?"
He smiles and kisses her again. She pushes him down, mounting him and riding him as if he were Caya and they were still in that race. He pulls her down to kiss him, his lips moving off her lips and along her cheeks. She realizes she is crying again, that he is kissing away her tears.
"Chris," he says, and she slows. He holds her as they move carefully now, gently.
His lips are tender on hers, and he rolls her over, moves above her, controlling the pace.
She sobs, looks away, but he forces her to look at him.
"I love you." He kisses her and it is a kiss so filled with love that she sobs again. "I do love you."
"I know." She shakes her head. "What if we can't trust each other?"
"What if we don't try to figure it out today? What if we let time answer that for us?"
She doesn't say anything, but then Caya whinnies softly.
"See, she agrees with me?" He smiles, moves faster.
Moaning, she closes her eyes. "Okay."
He reaches down, his fingers touching her in ways he knows will make her crazy. "Okay?"
She laughs. Nods again. Then she can't do anything but feel for a few moments. Neither can he.
They finally pull away enough to get comfortable on the blanket, limbs wrapping tightly around each other.
She is no longer cold. "I wish..."
He opens his eyes, waits.
"I wish I could go back and do it over again."
She sighs. "I love you so much it hurts."
He kisses her. "I know that too. Right here." He touches her abdomen, under her ribs, then lower.
"Yep. That's the spot."
"For me too. Don't think you're alone in this, Chris." He sighs. "I'm going to miss you. I wasn't kidding when I said I wished you were coming with us."
She nods, burrows her head against his chest, unwilling to face the waning sunshine.
She forces tears away. She can handle this.
"What do you want to do tomorrow?" he asks softly.
"Be with you."
He kisses her cheek. "That's a given, Chris."
She turns so that his next kiss lands on her lips. They kiss for a very long time.
"What do you want to do?" she asks.
He touches her face. "Be with you." He traces her eyebrows, then the curve of her cheek. "Let's sleep late."
"And let's finish our ride now." He pushes her away gently.
They pull on their clothes, but she can't find her shirt. He grins, walks through the grass to where he dropped it and brings it back to her, pulling it over her head. "Now how did that get over there?"
"It couldn't be that you got me all riled up? You'd never do that."
She grins. "Never."
"Right." He kisses her again, then they mount up and ride out into the sunshine, enjoying a lazy pace and holding hands.
On the way back to the ranch, they race.
It's a dead heat.
Their apartment is an oasis of calm, and they lie in bed, curled around each other. Christine sighs, wishes she could bottle how it feels to be next to him so she can pull it out once he is gone and re-experience the love.
"You okay?" He kisses her cheek, pulls her closer.
"Just thinking sad thoughts." She smiles as he kisses her again. "I'll miss you."
"I know." Running his hand down her arm, he sighs. "I wish we had more time."
"Me too." She turns so she can see his face. "But I'm glad we had this."
"I am too." He kisses her again, this time on the lips. His touch is soft and full of the old exquisite tenderness.
They don't completely trust each other. They aren't completely over their anger at each other. But they love each other--at the subatomic level, it seems. She knows that neither of them is in any doubt of that anymore. They belong together, however they happen to define togetherness.
She closes her eyes, gives herself up to his lips and hands and the way his body presses against her.
"You feel so good," he murmurs.
She laughs softly. "There's more of me to feel." Opening her eyes, she sees that he is grinning.
"I'm not going to call the kettle black for that one." His grin grows.
"Just more of you to love."
"Ditto." He runs his hands down her chest. "And I must say, if you've put on any weight, you've done it in a very nice way. And in some very nice places." He kisses his way down to where his hands already are.
She closes her eyes again. His mouth makes her crazy. He seems to understand her body better than she does, knows exactly the right pressure, how hard to suck, where to stroke to make her crazy. She arches as his mouth pushes her harder, as the movement of his fingers becomes more deliberate. She closes her eyes and just rides out the pleasure he gives her. Loudly.
She hopes the neighbors aren't home. There has been intermittent loudness coming from the bedroom all day.
She opens her eyes, sees that he is watching her.
"I love you," he says. "I don't always understand the way I'm drawn to you."
"I know. I don't understand it either. The whole time you were gone, I felt empty. As if some vital part of me was missing."
He nods. "I know. And having Antonia didn't make that better. She filled her own space, but it wasn't the same." Frowning slightly, he says, "You own me at some fundamental level."
"Maybe it's like Plato said. Maybe we are all looking for that part of us that was split apart?"
He smiles, an amused grin and she guesses that Antonia didn't discuss Plato in bed. Or probably at all.
At least it makes her feel better to think the other woman didn't.
"Soulmates?" He kisses her, pulls her onto him. As she sinks around him and moves slowly and very deliberately, he sighs, a slow smile turning up his lips. "When we make love, I believe it. The connection..."
She leans down so she can kiss him. "It's overwhelming?"
"For me too. It scares me sometimes, Jim."
"Because I lost you once and I know how hard it was to get through that. What if I lose you again?"
"Well, you'll just have to do your best not to let that happen." He grins, but his eyes are not laughing.
They both know anything can happen in space. They both know they aren't even that safe on the ground if left to their own devices. There is no place that is not dangerous for them.
"Do you think love goes on?" she asks.
"After death you mean?"
"I hope so." He smiles, a teasing look. "Just don't rush to test that out, Chris."
"I won't." Moving faster, she watches as he tenses, then calls out, his body pushing up over and over as if seeking some even deeper connection. She smiles as she watches him come down, feels him relaxing inside her. "But I'm fairly certain that I'll love you until death and beyond."
He sighs. "Love me in life. I don't want to think about death."
They've both seen so much of that lately. She kisses him as she slips off him, cuddling around him. He pulls her closer. There is no such thing as too close for them right now.
She thanks whatever god is in charge of reconciliations for that closeness. It is not something she thought she would ever have back.
They lie in silence for a long time, the only noise the sounds from the street below them.
"We've never talked about him." Jim's voice is a bit shaky. "We never mention David."
She tries not to tense.
He rubs her arm, as if reading her apprehension, wanting to ease it. "I don't mean fight about him. I mean 'talk' about him."
She moves her head back a bit on his shoulder so she can see his eyes, read his mood. He looks unbearably sad.
"If you want to talk about him, we can." She strokes his face. She'd do anything to make his terrible sadness go away.
"I got to know him a little." His smile is tentative. "You knew him much better, I think."
She nods, waits for him to go on.
"He seemed so bright. He was, wasn't he?"
She smiles. This is an easy one. "Oh, yes. I've never met anyone as bright. Never seen a mind that could turn so quickly, find answers so easily in the most unusual places. He was brilliant, Jim. Truly brilliant. And incredibly creative."
"Did he ever wonder about me? I mean about who his father was?"
"If he did, he never talked about it to me." She wishes she could give him a happier answer. And she could, if she lied. But she doesn't want to do that anymore.
He looks disappointed, but not surprised. "I think Carol was enough for him."
"I think she was." She snuggles closer. "I wonder what her life is like now? David was her world. And Genesis. Now she has nothing."
He just nods.
"Jan saw you with her coming off the ship. She said you two seemed...together. Were you?"
"I thought maybe." He smiles sadly at her. "It was like a dream--a bad dream because of Spock's death. But I had a family suddenly. Carol and David. In my life. It was wonderful."
"But it didn't last. David went to the Grissom, and Carol and I stayed here, and without him for us to bond over there was nothing left between us. It was over before it even began."
Christine wonders if that is true, but decides she doesn't want to know if he slept with Carol or not. "You know she set us up, right? She arranged for you to take that tour when she and David were gone and I was there."
He nods. "I figured that out." He sighs. "She's was always obsessed with her way--and her work. You were important to that. I can see her doing just about anything to keep you in her world not mine."
"No, I think she wanted me in David's world."
He shoots her a strange look.
"I don't mean like that. I mean for the sake of the project, and because he and I just sparked when it came to work."
His eyes are shuttered when he asks, "Did you spark in other ways too, Chris? I remember how intense you two were in that coffee shop. Even looking back, it looked like more."
"We were arguing over protomatter. I was about to leave the project, and he talked me out of it." She smiles at the look of relief that comes over his face. "He didn't want me that way. I wasn't his type."
"Too brainy?" He grins. "Too much competition?"
She laughs gently. "Too feminine, I think."
"Oh." He shoots her an incredulous glance. "Why didn't you just tell me that back then?"
"Would you have believed me? Or would it have just been another excuse? You didn't even know it was David at first. Would you have believed it of some random rival?"
"Maybe not." He sighs. "What a mess we made of this." He kisses her hair. "Did you love him?"
She nods. "He made me feel alive. He was like something out of myth." She smiles. "Which is fitting because look at his father." She doesn't say that while Jim is Jovian in stature, David was more like Mercury--the eternal trickster.
"Myth." He shakes his head. "It's no myth that he died before I could really get to know him."
"Did you love him, Jim?"
He starts to answer, then stops. The look he turns on her is full of pain. "I don't know." His voice is hoarse with the truth he gives her.
"You would have loved him. If you'd just had more time." She is not so sure of that. But it seems the best thing to say. For all of them.
The air in the shuttle is dank and getting thinner by the second. Lieutenant Walters looks back at her. "I don't think they see us."
They are hiding from the Klingons. Tucked into a pocket of asteroids, running in silent mode, even life support is turned down to practically nothing. They were trying to return to the Cascade from Chyvria when the Klingon ship decloaked and fired on them.
Christine had a moment where she regretted that they chose not to use the transporter. But none of them wanted to chance it with the interference that the planet itself seemed to generate. Even the Klingons didn't tend to beam down to Chyvria's various ports of call if they could help it, and Christine has heard horror stories about some who had--it was the last thing they ever did.
She closes her eyes. It's so easy to remember Lori, the way she died so long ago. Jim told her that she was beaming up for a final inspection, that when she had talked to him earlier that day, there had been no warmth in her tone. He said that if you hadn't known that they'd been married, you wouldn't have guessed it from the interaction. Lori might as well have been a stranger. Certainly, he didn't seem to grieve terribly long. She thought it was because he'd already come to terms with losing Lori. The tragedy in the transporter didn't change anything.
The ship moves slightly as its deflectors--set to minimum--kick away a small hunk of space rock. She hopes Walters is good at figuring minimum safe levels on the shields, has no desire to die when one of those cosmic boulders pops through the shuttle's hull.
She sighs, then wishes she hadn't. She is wasting oxygen, exhaling before she needs to.
She wonders how the battle is going. They can see nothing from here, and their sensors are locked down to bare minimums too. She almost wishes they were in a better ship, one that could take on the Klingons. She'd rather be in the thick of things. Not waiting out the battle the way they were ordered to--quietly, not taking any unnecessary risks.
She smiles. Jim has rubbed off on her. There was a time she would have preferred hiding where it was safe. Until she was needed for the inevitable clean up.
She looks back at the young man sitting so quietly next to Valeris. Toral was the heir to the throne, now he's the ruler of Chyvria, has been since his father fell to the virus that is running rampant across the planet. He has found himself in a role he did not plan to assume for years. But one he was ready for nonetheless. His first act was to ask for Federation emergency help.
The Federation was delighted to send medical and emergency assistance to such a dilithium rich world.
As soon as the Cascade arrived in orbit, Toral's second act was to expel the Klingons who viewed his world as a sort of shore leave planet when they weren't lifting dilithium and forgetting to pay for it.
His next was to apply for Federation membership.
To say he's not a popular man on Q'onos is to put it mildly.
The Klingons attacking them were some of the ones Toral ordered to get off his world. They sure didn't go far. She's not sure how they know Toral is on the shuttle--spies in his household perhaps. At any rate, they're gunning for him now.
Nothing like an assassination to put things back the way you like them.
She checks on Valeris, feels guilty as she looks at the woman. She did not mean for Valeris's last away mission during her summer assignment to be so exciting.
Valeris turns to look at her, her eyebrow lifting in what looks like an expression of enjoyment. Is the woman having fun? "Quite the adventure," she murmurs so low that only Christine and Toral can hear her.
Christine smiles. "You find this fun, cadet?" She supposes it is more fun for Valeris, she isn't struggling to breathe the way the rest of them are.
"Fun is an emotional response, Commander." Her eyes sparkling with the devilment Christine has learned to expect from her, she lifts her eyebrow again. It is a perfect imitation of Spock's, even down to the faint lifting of her lips.
Is it a Vulcan trait then? Or does she mimic her mentor out of flattery--or some other, more complicated, emotion?
Toral shifts, coughs slightly.
"Try to limit your movements," Christine tells him. She knows she is using up air by talking, sits back in her seat and sets the example she is supposed to by waiting in silence. She tries to distract herself with thoughts of Jim out on his own ship. She'll see him again finally in a few weeks, when they take leave.
Walters turns to her and gives a thumbs up; the battle is short lived. He brings the shuttle back to life, and as fresh oxygen begins to pour in, she relaxes, breathing deeply.
The Cascade hails them, and Walters looks at Valeris. "Didn't you say you wanted a chance to fly one of these?"
Christine can feel her own eyebrows going up. "Into the shuttle bay?"
He winks at her. "How much scarier can it be than trying to outrun a Klingon bird-of-prey in a shuttle?"
He has a point. She looks over at Valeris. "Go on. You know you want to."
A human would jump up and rush to the front seat. Valeris rises gracefully and takes her time getting to the copilot's seat. "Thank you for your confidence in me."
"Oh, cut the crap and let her rip." Christine laughs.
Valeris looks back at her, eyes shining. Then she turns around and follows the directions Walters is giving her. He may appear not to care that she could crash the damn thing and kill them all, but he sure is taking his time getting Valeris set.
"I believe I have the concept down, sir," Valeris finally murmurs. "I have taken basic shuttlecraft operations." Valeris is doing so well at the Academy that she can probably take any class her Vulcan heart desires.
Walters lets her take them in. Christine forces herself to breathe normally. Valeris will get them home safely.
And of course she does. It is a picture perfect return to the shuttle bay. As she turns the engines off, Valeris turns to Walters. "Thank you, sir."
He nods, clearly pleased with her performance. "Just wait till you fly a real ship." He grins.
"I will not have to wait long." Valeris already knows her first assignment once she's done with her final year--probably had people fighting over her. She'll be helm on the Portofino. It's not a starship, but it is one of the new class battlecruisers, more maneuverable. Valeris is likely to find herself in combat as the Portofino's crew patrol the area along the neutral zone. Christine has no doubt she'll excel there too.
Walters nods to her as he exits the shuttle. Valeris is still sitting at the controls.
"You going to move in here?" Christine asks, as she gets up. She turns to Toral. "Can I offer you some good old fashioned Federation hospitality?"
"Yes, thank you, Commander Chapel."
Christine waits for Valeris to join them before leading Toral off the shuttle and to the quarters Captain Nichols has assigned him.
Toral sinks into one of the chairs, looks at her. "You said that the Federation representatives are here already?"
"I wish to get this done quickly. I am needed on my world."
"There is no reason the negotiations for membership should take undue time," Valeris says softly.
"Good." Toral rubs his eyes. As he does it, Christine notices a long scar on the top of his hand. He smiles bitterly as he follows her gaze. "A memento of my childhood. A constant reminder of why it is a bad idea to let Klingons drink bloodwine at an official banquet." He touches the scar. "And why you should never touch a warrior's bat'leth without his permission."
"A weapon with a curved blade, held like this." He demonstrates.
Christine realizes she has seen them among the dead warriors on those border worlds the Klingons were raiding back when she and Jim were on the ship together. "You're lucky you didn't lose your hand." She shudders.
He shakes his head. "This wasn't from his bat'leth. It was from the meat knife we had so kindly provided him. I think he just meant to teach me a lesson."
"You were only a child," Valeris says, and there is something harsh in her voice. Some measure of her distaste at the idea of such brutality to a child.
"I doubt they viewed it that way. Klingon children grow up fast." Toral shrugs. "It is no matter now. And hardly grievous when compared to nearly losing my life to them today." Sitting up straighter, he says in a resolved tone, "They will never find a welcome on Chyvria. I plan to live a good long time."
"Long enough for Federation membership to become inured in the minds of your people?" Christine asks.
He nods. "Long enough to make my world a safer place."
"It is an admirable goal," Valeris says.
"It is the only goal I have." He turns away.
"We'll let you rest." Christine motions for Valeris to come with her.
As the door close, Valeris says softly, "They will try to kill him again."
"Probably." Christine sighs.
"Admiral Cartwright will want to know what happened here."
Christine smiles. "You think I don't know that? Like he needs one more reason to obsess over the Klingons." If anything, Matthew's passion for bringing down the Empire is just growing.
"Perhaps he is right to obsess. I am unsure if Starfleet Command and the Federation leadership fully understand the kind of threat that the Klingons pose to stability in the quadrant."
"That's a very logical way of saying you've jumped on Matthew's bandwagon." She grins at Valeris. The young woman seems to idolize Matthew. Not that Christine blames her. He's a good man, and a talented one. And he and Spock are friends. Any friend of Spock's appears to be a friend of Valeris's.
Christine often wonders if that is why Valeris appears to like her so much too. It's not very flattering to the young woman, or to herself. Not when Christine knows she has opinions and likes of her own.
"Well," she says, deciding not to worry over why Valeris likes her, "this is sure an exciting way to finish out your interim in ops."
"It has been a most enlightening tour. I have"--she almost smiles--"enjoyed my time in Emergency Operations. And I will miss you, Christine." Valeris's tone is warm.
Christine smiles. She's not sure what to think about Vulcans anymore. Spock, Valeris, even Sarek, seem to give lie to the cold, unemotional stereotype. Even if they hide their feelings well, they do appear to have them. Frequently.
"I'll miss you too, Valeris."
She doesn't think Janice will though. For some reason, Jan has never warmed up to Valeris. She asked her about it once.
Janice looked sheepish as she said, "It's not rational, Christine. There's just something I don't trust about her. And no I'm not just jealous that she's brilliant, beautiful, and could squash me like a bug in a game of tennis."
Janice is usually a good judge of character, better than Christine is, in fact. But she's wrong this time. Christine only feels a deep affection when she looks at Valeris. And she's gotten better at hearing those warning bells since Carol betrayed her. Valeris is a fine officer. And she's Christine's friend. One who Christine would trust with her life.
She opens her eyes slowly, sees that Jim is watching her. It is a wonderful coincidence that she needed a ride out to Denela and he was there to offer her one on the Enterprise, especially after just seeing each other on leave.
"So," she asks, moving closer to kiss him, "do you give all your passengers this kind of treatment? Dinner in the mess and a night in the captain's quarters?"
He grins as he begins to touch her. "Only the ones I'm in love with."
"And how many are you in love with?"
"'Bout a half dozen or so." He laughs--he is aware of his reputation. "I'm holding auditions soon. Would like to get it up to an even dozen."
She groans as he moves into her. "And would that be a baker's dozen or just the garden variety kind?"
"Thirteen is bad luck, remember?" Smiling, he kisses her again, and they stop talking as their mouths find other things to do.
A little later, she sighs as she shifts in his arms. "So Sulu is filling in for Spock?" She was surprised to see the science station without Spock sitting there, to see Sulu as acting first officer.
Jim nods. "Spock's off on some hush hush mission. He's been pulled off a number of times lately." He nuzzles her neck as he talks, his lips touching down lightly on her skin. "It's good experience for Sulu, will get him ready for his new lady. And sooner rather than later, I think. Have you heard anything about Styles leaving?"
"Just unsubstantiated rumors."
He laughs. "Yes, but your unsubstantiated rumors come from admirals, not from the bowels of my ship."
"True." She giggles as he finds a sensitive spot on her neck. "Word is Styles is accepting promotion in six months."
"Then I'll need a new helmsman. I'm happy for Sulu..."
He sighs. "I'm losing my crew, Chris. It seems like we just launched, but I know before I'm ready for it, we'll be standing down--whoever of us is left to stand down."
"I know." She's wondering what he'll do when he stands down. Will Earth ever be enough to hold him, to make him happy?
"I miss Spock," he murmurs, sighing. "I'm losing him to diplomacy."
"It was just a matter of time. Look at Sarek. It's in his blood."
"I suppose. I'm just not used to him not talking to me about things."
"And your experience with that is less than stellar." She turns to look at him.
His eyes are bleak. "I wasn't going to say that."
Kissing him, she strokes his face gently. "Spock won't betray you. It's not Genesis all over again."
He nods, but doesn't look convinced. She gives up trying to make it better, knows that she can't. Things change, including perfect crews under perfect captains. Jim's world is breaking apart naturally, and there is nothing either of them can do to stop it. Nothing either of them should do.
"I've missed you," he says, and she feels him relax against her.
"I've missed you too."
His breathing changes, becomes the long, deep breaths of sleep. She turns to look at him, studying his face. Still so handsome to her even though he is no longer young. But then neither is she.
Pretty soon it will be time to step aside, to make room for younger officers who haven't seen and done it all. She's ready to make the move whenever he is. Ready to pack it all in and try the quiet life. The rockbound life. She hopes this time they can settle down together and make it work.
Christine looks around the room, watches as Janice blushes at something Matthew says. It is a joint goodbye. He's moving up, and she's shipping out to the Excelsior--Sulu listened to Jim and lured Jan away. Not that it probably took much convincing. Sulu's here now, looking proud and a little territorial every time his eyes rest on Janice.
Christine knows that look. She wishes them luck, hopes they are as happy as she's been with Jim. She also hopes they never know the heartbreak she and Jim have known. But she thinks maybe they won't. They've waited so long, and neither of them is particularly volatile. Not that Christine thought she was, until she learned otherwise through loving James T. Kirk. Certainly she is very different than the unassuming nurse who first went out to look for Roger.
She thinks Roger would not like her much anymore.
Jim, however, only seems to love her more, no matter how strong--and incendiary--she becomes. But then Jim isn't afraid of a challenge.
"Nice party, Christine." Matthew hands her a refill on her champagne. "Thank you."
She smiles sadly--ops will be a lonely place without him and Janice. "Who better to throw it than someone who knows all your faults?"
"You said there wouldn't be a roast."
"I did?" She laughs as his expression changes, becomes a lot less complacent. "Relax, Matthew. Toasts only. And best wishes and congratulations. A billet on the CINC's staff is quite the plum assignment." Winking, she leans in, says in a whisper, "Think of all the ways you can foil the Klingons from there."
"Very funny. Someday, you'll be glad I'm out there foiling the Klingons, Christine." He holds up his glass to her. "To shared emergencies. There's no one I'd have rather spent a crisis with than you."
"Ditto, Matthew. And to you, for saving me all those years ago when I didn't care what happened."
"I didn't save you," he says, but he clinks his glass against hers anyway. "You saved yourself. I just pointed you in the right direction."
"I don't think so. But okay." She sees Janice coming over with Sulu, smiles to include them. "So how does it feel having a ship of your own?"
Sulu grins as if he's just been given free run of Risa. Janice looks a little nervous, even if she is smiling gamely.
Christine knows she'll be fine. And she knows Janice will figure that out sooner rather than later. Her friend takes no crap off anyone, and her competency is off the scale. If she lacks confidence, a few days doing well in the job will fix that.
"Here's to you, my friend," she says softly, holding her glass out.
Janice lifts her glass and taps it lightly to Christine's. "Is it bad to throw up at your own party?"
"Yes." Sulu laughs at her. "Why are you so nervous, Jan?"
"Why aren't you?" Glaring at him, Janice turns back to Christine. "And how about you? Emergency Ops is going to be mighty lonely."
Christine shrugs and feels Matthew nudge her.
"I think she's waiting to see what Jim does before she makes any commitments." Matthew grins at her.
"Maybe I'm just waiting to see who my next boss is? I mean I just got you trained and now I have to break in another?"
"That's the life of a Starfleet officer. One new boss after another." He lifts his glass. "To good times. And bad ones. All spent together. In this room. Possibly in these same uniforms."
They murmur "here-here's" and "To good times," before Sulu and Janice wander away to mingle more.
"So, you really going to retire if Jim does? Whither thou goest, and all that?"
"That's the plan. He has a while to go in the center seat, fortunately."
"And you'll stay here?"
"It's in my blood, I'm afraid."
"I hear that. I think I'll miss this place more than I even realize once I'm up in the CINC's pretty offices."
She laughs at that. "You'll be loving life. Think of the access." Glancing over at him, she laughs harder. "You're practically salivating, Matthew."
He shoots her a glance that is more penetrating than she expects. "It's a chance to do some real good, Christine." He puts a lot of emphasis on the word "do." "Can you understand that?"
"I have no doubt you'll do good," she says breezily and sees immediately that he is disappointed in that answer. "What?"
He sighs, shaking his head and looking down.
"It's nothing. I'm just emotional, I think." Smiling, he looks around the room, seems to be taking in all the faces, stopping at some of the ops old-timers. "I'm going to miss this."
"And we're going to miss you." She hands him a small package, laughs as he frowns. "It's not from me, it's from Jim. He doesn't care if you said no gifts."
"Typical Kirk behavior. Rules don't apply." He is grinning though as he tears off the wrapping to reveal a bottle of stimulants, the kind normally used by Academy students in the middle of exams. "For all the boring meetings," he reads, then laughs. "Wow. I'm touched." But he does look tickled at the gift. "He made you schlep this here?"
"He sure did." Not that she'd needed much convincing. Anything that made Matthew laugh was worth the effort.
"I think this is his revenge for my having asked you out." He winks at her. There is nothing wistful in his expression, nothing sad in his voice. Whatever he feels for her these days outside of friendship, he seems to be at peace with it.
"You should find someone, Matthew." She grins. "I'm happy. I want you to be too."
"Can't just go looking, Christine. Someone has to sort of stumble into your life. Or at least that seems to be the way it works."
"You may be right," she says, thinking of that cramped shuttle, the terrible virus that brought Jim and her stumbling into collision. Nothing has ever been the same since that moment.
And she is glad for it. Can see how far they have come. Through tragedy and triumph and soon inevitable retirement. In love, always in love, even if not always together.
But they're together now. Perhaps not physically, but their hearts--maybe even their souls--are joined. It's a whimsical, intense thought, and not one she would have been given to before she met Jim.
He's made her reconsider everything. He's made her a believer in true love.
Even though, at times, true love can rip your world apart--and your heart with it.
She'll risk the pain.
For him, it's worth it.