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) 2013 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

Demote in Haste, Repent at Leisure

by Djinn

 

 

 

Kirk watched as Vendella Prime began to fill the viewscreen.  He was in for a very long, very boring day being wined and dined by this world’s leaders. 

 

Uhura said softly, “They’re ready for you, sir.”

 

He sighed in an overly dramatic way, and she laughed.  He’d missed space every day he’d spent at his desk in Command, doing things an admiral should do.  But he’d glamorized parts of it in his mind: these diplomatic functions could be a bore whether you did them from a ship in deep space or from an office in San Francisco.

 

“Mister Spock, you have the conn.”  He tried not to glare at Spock for getting out of this.  The Vendellans had extremely high-pitched voices and part of the day would be a presentation of their version of singing.  Which consisted of noises that made a phaser on overload sound pleasant.  Spock had begged off for the sake of his hearing.

 

“Perhaps Doctor McCoy will provide unobtrusive earplugs,” Spock said as he took the center seat.

 

“Good idea.  Then you can go, too.” 

 

“I am not certain earplugs would protect my hearing.  After having been temporarily blind, I am not eager to try deaf.”

 

Kirk shook his head at the logic that could get his friend out of anything he didn’t want to do.  He was too damn glad to have him back to fight him.  But a few months from now, those excuses would no longer work.  “Fine, enjoy my ship while I’m going deaf and being poisoned on behalf of the Federation.”

 

He got on the turbolift, turned and watched his bridge disappear behind the closing doors.  What he wouldn’t give for a red alert about now.

 

The doors opened, and he walked down to sickbay.  McCoy was working with a patient, and Kirk frowned at how slowly he was moving.  “You about ready?”

 

“Hold that thought,” McCoy said to the young man on the table and motioned Kirk into his office.  “I’m not going.  Christine is.”

 

“Chapel is?  I want you to go.”

 

Vendellan singing gives me a migraine.  And I’m not the only doctor in sickbay.”  McCoy leaned back against his desk.

 

“So you pick the one with the worst attitude to go?  Or are you just sick of dealing with her?”

 

“Frankly, I’m sick of you not dealing with her.  I appreciate that you don’t micromanage, but since you were the one who demoted her, you can repair the relationship.  Remember, she can still relieve you of command in the deputy role.”

 

Kirk sighed.  This day was rapidly going to hell.  “She hates me.”

 

“She’s mad as hell at you.  There’s a difference.”

 

“She was Will’s girl.”  Not in the sense of being his lover—at least Kirk didn’t think she was.  But she’d made it clear that she didn’t think much of the way Kirk had gotten his ship back.

 

Even if he had saved them. 

 

Damned, obstinate woman.

 

“Bones, have mercy.  It’s going to be a long day in the hot sun with shitty food and that god-awful caterwauling.  Don’t make me take her.”

 

McCoy patted him onto the shoulder.  “With great power comes great responsibility.”

 

“Quoting Voltaire?  How’s this one: a witty saying proves nothing.”

 

“Okay, this may be more in your wheelhouse:  It is not enough to conquer; one must also know how to seduce.”

 

Kirk laughed.  “You want me to seduce her?”

 

“Use charm, Jim.  I know you have it in you.”

 

“I’ve tried.  She’s immune.  Bones, please.”

 

McCoy shook his head.  “Have a great time with her.  She’s got earplugs.  Make sure she doesn’t conveniently forget to give you a pair.”

 

“I hate you.  Just so we’re clear.”  Kirk stood up straight and took a deep breath, then he walked out of McCoy’s office and over to Chapel’s and coughed gently. 

 

She ignored him.  It was a gift how effectively she ignored him.  He coughed a little louder.

 

She turned.  “I guess you’re stuck with me.”  She didn’t look any happier about it than he did.

 

“There’s more than one doctor on my ship.  You’ll do.”  That last part didn’t come out the way he wanted it to.

 

Her expression, if anything, got stonier.  She stood and handed him a pair of small earplugs.  “Take these now—I’m sure by the time we get to the singing, I won’t feel like giving them to you.”

 

He took a deep breath.  Then another.  “Christine, let’s just try to get along, all right?”

 

“I’ll be a model officer.  We aren’t friends—let’s not pretend we are.”  She crossed her arms over her chest and stared him down.

 

“We used to be.”

 

“No, we weren’t, sir.  Friends call each other by their first names.”  She smiled but the expression didn’t reach her eyes.  “We’ll be late if we stay here debating how close our relationship was.”

 

“Fine.”  He turned on his heel and walked out, not really caring if she was following.

 

Hoping, if he was honest, that she wouldn’t.

 

But he could hear the stamp of her boots on the floor.  Jesus, even her walk was intimidating these days.  They rode the lift to the transporter room and beamed down without saying another word to each other.

 

The Vendellans were waiting.  They had gathered some singers to serenade them as they beamed in—could you really call that music?  There were very large smiles on the faces of their nearly identical hosts—they were bald with skin the color of an old terracotta pot and dark brown eyes—and he tried to return the smiles in kind.  Saw that Chapel was smiling, and this time it was a real expression.

 

She was too smart to give him a reason to boot her off his ship—damn her.

 

“I am Tolfeyan.  I will be your host.  We are so happy to have you here, Captain.  And this is...?”

 

“This is my deputy chief medical officer, Doctor Christine Chapel.”

 

“Honored to be here, sir.”  Her voice was warmer than it ever was around him these days.

 

“You eyes are the most intriguing color, Doctor.  Blue is not one of the colors we are used to.”

 

Kirk glanced at her eyes—yeah, okay, they were a pretty shade of blue.  When they weren’t delivering the Chapel death glare.

 

She smiled again, showing perfect white teeth.  “Thank you for the compliment.  I’m afraid blue eyes are fairly common for humans.  Our chief medical officer has them, too.”

 

“We are used to brown eyes like the Captain’s.”

 

“We call his color of eye hazel.  That little bit of green makes them different than brown.”

 

She cared what color his eyes were? 

 

The Vendellans moved uncomfortably close and stared at Kirk’s eyes until he felt embarrassed, as they murmured, “Yes, green” and “I see it, not quite brown.”

 

She was smirking as she said, “Interesting mix of colors, no?”

 

He stood and waited until their hosts were done examining his eyes and then smiled.  “Well, now that that’s out of the way...”

 

“We have a wonderful afternoon planned, Captain.  Please, you and the doctor come this way.”  Tolfeyan led them off.

 

“Not much personal space needed here, I guess,” she murmured as she fell into step at his side.  “Was that uncomfortable?”

 

“Yep.  Did you do it on purpose?”

 

She shrugged and gave him a smile he couldn’t read.

 

It was going to be a long damn day.

 

--------------

 

Chapel followed Kirk as they were treated to a tour of the city.  It was, as cities go, pretty standard, but they oohed and ahhed appropriately.  Len had said the Starfleet brass were anxious for Kirk to make nice since the Vendellans had a dilithium-rich moon and they were willing to trade unlimited access to it for provisional Federation membership.

 

They rounded a corner and found yet another choir waiting to serenade them.  She moved closer to Kirk, murmured, “If you don’t have your earplugs in, now would be a good time,” right before Tolfeyan turned to tell them of the origins of the song.  Or what passed for a song on Vendella.

 

She looked their host in the eye, saw him once again seem mesmerized by hers.  Baby blues had never been so useful.  She even batted her eyelashes a little and didn’t stop until Kirk had the earplugs in.  Then she lowered her gaze and Tolfeyan, after a moment, turned back to Kirk.

 

The louder the choir got, the more her earplugs blocked the sound, and she was able to smile as if she was actually enjoying the music.  She saw Kirk do the same, then he turned an assessing glance on her.

 

As the choir wound down and their host led them off again, the earplugs returned to their normal neutral state.  She heard Kirk murmur, “Thank you.”

 

“Can’t have you go deaf on my watch.”

 

“When did you put yours in?”

 

“When they were so busy studying your eye color.”

 

He laughed—a quick bark of sound—causing Tolfeyan to turn around.  Kirk smiled at the man until he started walking again, then leaned in.  “So that’s why you did that.”

 

“They seemed mesmerized by my eyes.  I was afraid I’d give offense if they caught me putting the earplugs in when they were watching—and they seemed like they’d always be watching.”  She took a deep breath.  “Did you really think I’d do that to you just to be petty?”

 

“Well, you did seem to enjoy my discomfort.”

 

“Sure.  Once I was committed, no reason not to enjoy it.”  She met his eyes.  “But I wouldn’t do it just to be a bitch.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“You don’t sound convinced.”  She wanted to push past him, but there was protocol to think of.  He was her captain, much as she resented that fact.  Decker was supposed to be.  There wasn’t supposed to be hide nor hair of the holy trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  And yet, here they all were.

 

What the hell was she still doing here?  She knew Kirk wanted her gone, but he couldn’t get rid of her himself, not without cause—not after having demoted her the way he had.  Especially since, if her contact at Command was right, Nogura was looking for a reason to take the ship back and give it to someone else.  Kirk had, from all accounts, played on Nogura’s feelings of relief and appreciation—feelings which hadn’t lasted long once he’d realized he’d been snookered out of his flagship by a man who was supposed to be grounded from here on out.  Nogura had made the demotion to captain permanent—but she didn’t think that bothered Kirk much.


But still, why the hell was she staying?  Was she that much of a masochist?  


She wasn’t staying for Spock, that was for damn sure.  She’d moved on—although she wasn’t going to think of that because it would make her even more of a bitch than she was already being.

 

“Doctor?” Kirk said in the tone that meant he’d asked her something once already.

 

“Sorry?”

 

“Oh, if only you were.”  He gave her a smile that was more a grimace.  Tolfeyan asked if we were hungry.”

 

She wanted to shake her head and run screaming.  Vendellan food was widely known to be some of the worst in the quadrant.  Instead, she gave Kirk and their host her most pleasant smile and said, “If you are, sir.”

 

He gave Tolfeyan the trademark “light up the galaxy” James T. Kirk grin.  She saw the man melt under its weight.  He tried to turn it on her, and she let one side of her mouth go up.

 

“Tough crowd.  Jeez.”  He strode off without her.

 

She followed at a more leisurely pace, and they were soon in a grand square.  Tables that were overflowing with dishes were in the center, and a great many Vendellans were already seated.  Another table sat on a dais—everyone would be watching them eat.  Grand.

 

She hurried to catch up with him as she saw him eye a dish that looked appetizing.  Before he could grab the serving utensil, she murmured, “No.”

 

He turned to look at her.  “No?”

 

“Not unless you enjoy projectile vomiting.”  She leaned in.  “I read up on the foods.  I know which ones are not going to make us want to throw up.  Take what I take.”

 

He eased her in front of him.  At Tolfeyan’s look of confusion, Kirk said, “We have a saying in our culture.  Ladies first.”

 

Ahhh.  Most remiss of me to not know that.”

 

She took very small portions of the safe foods and made her way around the table, managing to still have plate showing when she got done.  Kirk followed her lead exactly.

 

Tolfeyan surveyed her plate with some consternation.  “Such small bites of each.”

 

“The better to savor each one,” she said, heard Kirk make a sound that seemed like a stifled laugh. 

 

She was very glad she’d taken only small bites as she pretended to enjoy what truly was the worst food she’d had in a long time.  She snuck a look at Kirk, saw that he was struggling to get what looked like some kind of potato-ish dish down.

 

“And now, while you enjoy our most famous dishes,” Tolfeyan said with an engaging eagerness, “we will serenade you with our most accomplished singers.”

 

The screeching was horrendous; her earplugs drowned out much of it.  She glanced at Kirk, and he smiled at her as if he was enjoying the music, but she knew it was more likely he was enjoying how well the earplugs did their job.

 

--------------

 

Kirk saw McCoy in the mess the next morning, hurried over to him and set his tray down.  “Next time, you have to go represent us at a Vendellan event.  All by your lonesome.  Or hell, maybe I’ll send Spock for good measure.  Those earplugs would have protected his hearing just fine: they were outstandingly effective.”

 

“I heard all about it from Christine.  Who was in a surprisingly good mood.  I didn’t mean to really seduce her, Jim.”

 

Kirk laughed.  “I didn’t.  I think it was good for us to suffer together.  It was a bonding experience on the one hand, but also you were right, Bones: I have been playing favorites taking you on all the landing parties.”

 

“Yes, I am often right. You usually don’t admit it.”  McCoy studied him.  “Well, whatever you did, you played it just right.  She’s far more pleasant to be around.  Not that she’s ever unpleasant to the staff or the patients.  It’s usually me who gets it.”

 

“Do you think maybe we’re projecting?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“She did something yesterday and I read it all the wrong way.  And I think maybe it’s because I feel guilty over having demoted her, so I assume everything she does is driven by anger.  When this time what she did was purely logical.”

 

McCoy seemed to think about it.  “I guess it’s possible.  I do feel pretty crummy about taking away her opportunity.  I’ve been walking on eggshells around her, to be honest.”

 

“And maybe she’s reacting to that.  You certainly never did that before.”

 

“No, I didn’t.”  McCoy frowned.  “Damn it all, Jim.  I hate it when you’re insightful like this.”

 

Kirk grinned and poured syrup over his pancakes—too much syrup, but he was trying to forget how awful the Vendellan food had been and maple-smothered pancakes with a side of bacon seemed a good way to do it.  “Listen, we’re going to attend a change of government ceremony on Belletia in a few weeks.  Normally I’d ask you, but I think it would be good if I include her in the entourage this time.”

 

“Fine by me.  You know those ceremonies bore the living shit out of me.”

 

“It’s their first democratic election and it will get them in the Federation finally.  The old government is stepping down willingly. It’s a big deal, Bones.”

 

“Oh, hell, I know that, Jim.  But that doesn’t mean I want to sit through parades and speeches.  Take her to all those events.  I’ll go to the ones with the drinking and the ladies.”

 

“You realize that sounds incredibly shallow?”

 

McCoy just laughed.  “I retired, my friend.  I was done with boring ceremonies forever until you pulled me back in.  I think it only fair that I boycott them now on general principle.  Especially when I have a deputy who is, to be fair, more charming than I am when bored.”  He began to laugh.  “And easier on the eyes, too—and don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”

 

“Me?  Pffff.”  But Kirk had noticed.  He’d never been drawn to her when she was on his ship the first time.  The elaborate hairdos, the makeup, the long colorful nails.  It looked like she was...trying too hard.  But her look had changed over the course of the mission.  She’d changed her hair color frequently, but it had tended to get darker the longer she was on the ship, the style more low maintenance, as she’d become less the woman who joined Starfleet to find her fiancé and more an officer.  He’d seen the same thing happen with Rand—another one who hadn’t been happy to see him in charge.  She’d done something about it.  Requested transfer and hightailed it off the Enterprise.

 

Chapel hadn’t done that but could have.  He should cut her some slack.  Especially now that she was almost fresh scrubbed.  Her nails short, her makeup subdued. 

 

Not that he normally spent this much time thinking about it.  But since Bones had brought it up.  Why had Bones brought it up?  He grinned.  “You sweet on her, my friend?  This why you’re so concerned with her mood and making it better?”

 

“She’s like my kid sister, Jim.  Please.  I just don’t want her unhappy.  Or I don’t want to be the cause of her unhappiness, I guess.  Hell, I just want it to be like the old days.”

 

Kirk laughed.  “Me, too.  So no boycotting boring events.”

 

“That’s not what I meant.”  McCoy leaned back.  “I hate to admit this, Jim, but retirement was starting to bore me almost as much as change of government ceremonies do.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

McCoy nodded.  “You can only sit on your front porch or go fishing for so long.  I was seriously considering signing on for a humanitarian mission.”

 

“Well, then, I’m glad I rescued you.”  Kirk felt a pang he hadn’t been aware he’d been feeling die down.  He hadn’t shanghaied his friend back into service.  Or he had, but it wasn’t necessarily unwelcome.  “I needed you, Bones.”

 

“I probably needed you too, you sneaky son of a you-know-what.”  McCoy shook his head.  “God help me, but this damn ship is home.”

 

Kirk grinned.  “I never thought I’d hear you say that.”

 

“And I never will again so enjoy it now.”  McCoy stood.  “You want some more coffee?”

 

Kirk nodded, and as McCoy took his cup and walked to the beverage station, he sighed happily at the lovely taste of maple syrup infused pancakes.  He’d go back to the much healthier oatmeal tomorrow.

 

--------------

 

Chapel wasn’t overly surprised to be included in the landing party for the change of government on Belletia—she knew Len hated these type of events.  She was surprised at how comfortable she felt with Kirk, or maybe it was at how comfortable he seemed to be with her.  His smile was easier than it had been on Vendella, his humor unforced.  She found herself relaxing around him, enjoying the cocktail hour with the main players in the party that was stepping down as well as the party taking over. 

 

Of course it helped that unlike on Vendella, here the food on the expansive buffet table was exceptional.  The booze even more so.  She had to remind herself to go easy.  She’d forgotten to bring antitox.  Stupid.

 

Kirk finished the appetizers he’d loaded up on and gave his plate to a passing server.  “Damn good.  So much better than the Vendellans.”

 

“Amen.  And the music is actually music.”

 

“It certainly is.”  He seemed about to say more but then was distracted by something to her left. 

 

She turned and saw a woman working the crowd, clearly a personage of some importance—or thought she was.  She was lovely.  Tall.  Auburn hair.  Lush figure.  A way of moving through the crowd as if she barely touched the ground.  Chapel always felt awkward around women like that.  They were so graceful and left her feeling as if she was galumphing around them like a draft horse around an Arabian.

 

Tom’s fiancée had been like that.  Pretty and—no.  She was not going to think about Tom and Renee.  No matter what today was.

 

She took a deep breath and heard Kirk say, “You okay?”

 

“Just dandy.”

 

“I won’t ask.”  He seemed to stand up straighter as the ethereal redhead came toward them.  “Good evening.”

 

“Hello, Captain.”  The woman ignored Chapel, her focus all on Kirk.  “I’m Ambassador Levesh.  The new representative to the Federation.”

 

Oh, holy shit—the Federation wouldn’t know what hit it.  Chapel tried not to roll her eyes.  Were courtesans the road to power in this place?

 

“Very pleased to meet you.  This is my deputy chief medical officer Doctor Chapel.”

 

Levesh turned her smile on Chapel.  “A scientist.  I do adore science.  Studied it at the Sorbonne along with history and economics.”

 

“An overachiever,” Kirk said, admiration clear. 

 

“Hardly. I’m a career diplomat unlike the old men that used to be assigned ambassadorships—usually for doing very great favors to the blind and stupid people in charge.”

 

“You don’t think much of the current government?” Chapel asked.

 

“They lost by a landslide.  No one does.”

 

“But they let there be an election.  Surely that is commendable?”  Chapel wasn’t sure why she was arguing, but she couldn’t stop herself.

 

“They let there be an election because free elections are the only way Belletia would get into the Federation.  And the only reason they suddenly were so keen on membership was because the Klingons were sniffing around, talking partnership.  Read: annexation.  Even blind men can hear the wolf at the door.”  She said the last in perfect Standard.

 

“Very poetic.”  Kirk’s grin was on full blast.

 

Chapel smiled, the kind of smile that meant nothing.  “Your Standard is wonderful.”

 

“Oh, I speak ten other Earth languages also.  And I’m studying Vulcan and Andorian.”  She gave Chapel a smile that clearly meant “And what do you speak?”

 

“I was so busy getting multiple science degrees that I never had time for electives.”  It was a catty reply; she couldn’t honestly say why she did it.

 

She heard Kirk chuckle.  “Okay, Doctor, I’m going to let you go get your blood sugar up at the buffet, and Levesh and I will...”

 

Levesh didn’t miss the invite.  “Take a walk.”

 

“Take a walk.  Perfect.”  They moved off together with the confidence of knowing they were the two prettiest people in the room.

 

Chapel closed her eyes for a moment and tried not to see Tom and Renee in their place.

 

She didn’t want to go to the buffet.  She needed to get the hell out of here while she could still be civil.  She had a padd in her room filled with news articles from home that she was behind on.  She hated to admit that she still had “Thomas Frell” as a search alert term.

 

She hated to admit it, but it was true.  After tonight, she’d remove it.  After she had time to mope for a while.  At least there was a beautiful beach in front of the villa they’d been assigned as guest quarters.  She’d mope in style.

 

--------------

 

Kirk lay in bed next to Levesh, wondering why he didn’t feel more satisfied.  The sex had been outstanding.  The woman sparkling and free with herself.

 

She leaned in to kiss him.  “I must say, the rumors about you don’t even come close.  That was wonderful.”

 

He hated when women brought up the damn rumors.  “What do the rumors say?”  They seemed to change daily.

 

“That you are skilled in bed—so skilled that some women never want another lover.”

 

He had to fight to not roll his eyes.  Yes, he thought he was a tiger in the sack, but that hadn’t kept a hell of a lot of women from leaving and finding other, seemingly much happier, relationships.

 

“They say you’ve had so many lovers that you can’t remember them all.  That those you remember must be very, very skilled to make the list.  I wish to be among the handful who were memorable.”

 

She had seemed to be pulling out all the stops; now he knew why. 

 

“I’ve dreamed of this for a long time.  Things to do before I die.”

 

He took a deep breath before he said, “We call that a bucket list.”  At her look of confusion, he said, “Dying is also called ‘kicking the bucket.’  So you want to fill the bucket with accomplishments not regrets before you go.”

 

Mmmm, bucket list.  I like that.”

 

He really didn’t.  “So how high on your list was I?”

 

“Oh, darling, on a world like this?  With Klingons breathing down our neck?  My role as ambassador is a dicey one.  The bucket”—she smiled as she said it, as if pleased by the idea of adding a new idiomatic gem to her lexicon—“looms large.  You were at the top, of course.”  She nuzzled his neck.  “And will you remember me when they ask you to name your most memorable?”

 

Yes, as the one who was dumb enough to be this honest.  “Sure.”  He realized there was way too much rancor in the way he’d said that because she pulled away.  “I mean, of course.  This was truly outstanding.”  He pulled her back and gave her the trademark James “T is for Talented” Kirk kiss—it was what she wanted, after all.

 

Mmmm.  You are the best kisser.  But—and please don’t take this the wrong way—I’m not much of a cuddler.  And I have a meeting in the morning before the ceremony.”

 

Kirk was dozing off and only sort of took in what she was saying.

 

“Darling, I learned from a young man at the Sorbonne that the secret to a great seduction is a speedy exit.”

 

What?  He opened his eyes.  All tenderness had fallen out of her expression.  She looked at him the same way he might look at the person doing maintenance in his apartment back home.  The “Aren’t you gone yet?” stare.  “Ah.”

 

“I don’t really like men to stay the night,” she murmured.  “It’s just...  I mean nothing personal, you know?”

 

He smiled as if her comment hadn’t gone straight to his gut.  Perhaps that was why he wasn’t more satisfied: it was nothing personal, just a goddamned notch on her belt—or fucking bucket.  He leaned over and kissed her quickly then got up and pulled on his clothes.  “I completely understand.”

 

“I thought you would.”  She grinned at him, the kind of grin that he hoped to God he had never given a woman after sex.  Triumphant and so very empty.


As he slipped his boots on, he wondered when the hell that had started bothering him.  He’d just met this woman, had he really expected any kind of intimacy? 

 

“I look forward to tomorrow,” she said as he walked to the door.

 

He wasn’t sure if she meant the ceremony honoring the new government or him leaving.  He decided not to ask.

 

As he walked back to his room in the villa, he saw someone sitting on the beach.  He had to get much closer to realize it was Chapel.  He was going to ignore her until he heard what sounded like a sob.

 

He stopped and stared at her.  She clearly had no idea he was around.  The light from the dual full moons lit the sand, but she was looking down, and a soft glow told him she was holding a padd.

 

He knew he should just go inside and get some sleep, but he walked out to her, apparently not having had his ego shredded enough for one night.  She was sure to be angry if he was catching her crying; he knew he was far from her favorite person these days.

 

She sat up straight as he approached, hearing his footsteps in the sand probably.  “Go away.”

 

He ignored her and settled in next to her, leaving enough room to be safe, but not so much that it wasn’t clear he knew she was hurting.  “Lovely night to be out here.  But you don’t seem to be noticing anything but that padd.  Care to talk about it?”

 

“To you?”

 

He didn’t answer.  He’d expected that response.

 

“I didn’t figure you for a flee after it was over type of guy.”  Her voice was hard and bitter, but she wasn’t looking at him. 

 

“I’m usually not.  She pretty much told me to clear out.”  He wasn’t sure why he was being honest with her, why he was giving her ammunition to attack again.

 

But she didn’t attack.  She just said, “Oh.  I’m sorry.”  And then she handed him the padd.

 

It was a wedding announcement—the ceremony had been earlier in the day.  A Doctor Thomas Frell.  “Should I know him?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“But you did?”

 

She nodded and finally turned to look at him.  “Sometimes, when things don’t work out, we tell ourselves stories, you know?  Like that the person isn’t capable of love.  Isn’t the kind to settle down.  It’s never us, it’s them.”

 

He didn’t look away, just waited to see what else she needed to say.  He had a good idea, though.  He’d felt that way when Lori left him—and then immediately hooked up with someone else.

 

“Clearly Tom could settle down.  Just...not with me.”

 

“I’m sorry.”  He looked at the article again.  It said the happy couple had met at a benefit.  It happened while the ship was in refits.  “Is this why you accepted Decker’s offer?”

 

She nodded.  “I knew I wasn’t ready to be CMO.  But I thought it would be so challenging I wouldn’t have to think about Tom and how he probably had never loved me.  I thought it would suck up everything I had so I wouldn’t have to hurt anymore.”

 

“And then I took it away.”

 

“No.  Well, yes, you did.  But it wasn’t working even before we left.  I was in over my head, but that didn’t stop me from obsessing over what I could have done better, how I could have made Tom love me.”  She took a deep breath.  “How I could have been the woman he wanted to stay with, not leave.”

 

“Sometimes we just aren’t the one they want to stay with.”  It wasn’t Lori he was thinking of this time, it was Carol, and he felt the pang he always did when he had to push David—the very idea that he had a son—to the back of his mind.  Buried under a mountain of reasons he couldn’t see him, but never forgotten.

 

“Says the man who has been left so many times.”  She made a disparaging sound that he realized just might be a laugh.

 

“I’ve been left.”  Presented with a choice that was untenable was more like it.  Forced to choose to leave rather than stay.  Carol’s way—never be at fault.  Janice Lester had done it too, with her constant suspicion of him.  He’d loved her but it had never been enough.  Lori, however, had left him, so he did know all the ways a person could get kicked to the curb.  “I know how much it hurts to watch someone move on.” 

 

“I’m sorry.”  She did sound sorry.

 

He stood, held out his hand to her.  “Come on.”

 

She frowned.

 

“Put the padd down.  We’ll get it when we come back.”

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“For a walk.  On this gorgeous beach.  Under two amazing full moons.”  He stared pointedly at his hand, and she finally took it and let him pull her up, then he let go of her hand.  “Drop the padd, Chris.”

 

“Nobody calls me that anymore.”  She did drop the padd onto the sand, he was happy to notice.

 

“Do you not like it?”

 

“I do.  It’s how I know who knew me when I was in high school.  I went by Chris then.”

 

“Not Chrissy?”

 

“I gave that up when I was fourteen and too sophisticated for such a frivolous name.”

 

He smiled.  “I gave up Jimmy at twelve.”  And if he hadn’t, Tarsus IV would have scrubbed that nickname out of him.  “So when did you meet Tommy?”

 

She laughed softly.  “He never went by that, I’m sure.  Too full of himself.”  She stopped and pulled her boots and socks off, letting them fall into the sand. Then she walked into the surf.

 

He pulled his boots and socks off, too, and followed her.  The water was colder than he expected, but it felt great on his skin.  He rolled up his pants, saw her do the same. 

 

“I met him in med school,” she said as they started walking again, splashing softly through the water.  “We were vying for top in the class.”

 

“Who was in the lead?”

 

“I was.  He was never very happy about that.”  She laughed, and it was a bitter sound.  “His fiancée—wife, I mean—isn’t quite so smart.  I looked her up because I can’t leave well enough alone.  She’ll never give him any kind of run for his money in the brains department.  Pretty, though.  Much prettier than I am.” 

 

He wasn’t going to disagree with her.  The woman in the wedding picture had been stunning.  A little vacant looking though—something in the too-wide smile told him she was the arm ornament type, not someone you’d have a great after-sex discussion with.  “Are you sorry you met him?”

 

“Yes.  No.”  She laughed a little helplessly.  “I mean, I am because I don’t like hurting like this.  I don’t like how unpleasant it’s made me—to Len, to you, to everybody.”

 

“I thought it was the demotion, to be honest.  I never guessed you were heartbroken.”

 

“I didn’t tell anyone about it.  Except Jan, but she’s gone.”

 

“You didn’t tell Uhura?  I thought you two were close.”

 

“She was busy on the ship and I was busy with school.  We sort of lost touch during that time.  We’re close again now, but I haven’t wanted to rehash yet another romantic failure, you know?”

 

“I do.”

 

“I’m not sorry I felt something for him.  I was a little worried, frankly, that the feelings I had for Spock were all I could—would ever feel.  And Spock’s never going to love me back so that would be sad if that’s all I had, wouldn’t it?”

 

“Damn sad.”

 

“So it was a positive thing, to be able to move on.  To be able to really love someone.  But...I’m not very good, I guess, at reading the signs.  I missed the fact that he didn’t love me back.  That it was just sex.  Or maybe...”  She shook her head and walked deeper into the water.

 

“Maybe what?”

 

“He broke up with me right before finals, sir.”

 

“Chris, call me Jim.”  He studied her.  “You think he did that to shake you—to make you do badly on the tests?”

 

“Sometimes I do.  Joke was on him.  I threw everything I had into studying.  I cried after the tests.  I was way ahead of him by the time we graduated. It’s why I thought the CMO job would be good, that I’d be able to do the same thing.  But you can only sublimate for so long.”

 

“This is true.”

 

She turned to look at him.  “I can really call you Jim?”

 

He smiled gently.  “Why the hell not?  It’s my name.  I don’t hear it much when I’m on the ship, to be honest.  All the sirs and captains get old sometimes.”  He waded to where she was standing.  “Part of me just wants to dive in.  Uniform be damned.”

 

She laughed softly, and this time there was some actual amusement in the sound.  “Part of me does, too.  But my room is sadly absent a refresher.”

 

“Mine, too.”  He reached down, took her hand and squeezed.  “I think Tom’s an idiot, for what it’s worth.”

 

“You don’t know me.  Not really.  I may be the worst girlfriend ever.”

 

“You haven’t once called him an asshole.”  He grinned.  “Or any other colorful name.  You’re very fair.”

 

“I’m too rational about it.  I don’t know if I’m fair.  I kind of hate him right now.  And for what it’s worth, I’ve called him an asshole in my mind many a time.”  She looked down at where he was still holding her hand.  “I’ve called you that, too.  And I’m sorry.  It’s not your fault that I needed you and Spock and Len to not be on the ship.”

 

He made a face.  “No, but it’s my fault that Len and I are on it.  Spock I take no credit for.”  He realized he should let go of her hand, but it felt good to hold it, so he pulled her back to shallower water and set off down the beach, acting as if the two of them walking hand in hand was perfectly normal.

 

She moved closer, put her head on his shoulder for a moment and murmured, “Thank you.  I was hurting.  I felt so alone.  And then there you were.”

 

“An answer to prayer.”  He looked at her and rolled his eyes, so she’d know he was kidding.

 

“Don’t sell yourself short.  Compassion is a rare commodity sometimes.  And I’ve been such a bitch to you.”

 

“I won’t argue with that.”  He grinned at the look she shot him.  “Let’s start over.  Chris, I’d love for you to be deputy CMO on my ship.  Would you like that post?”

 

She studied him, as if unsure what he was doing.

 

“I mean it.  I inherited you.  Now I’m asking you.  For me.  Do you want the job?  Because you could have your choice of ships at this point and we both know it.”

 

“I could.”  She tightened her hold on his hand.  “I think I’ll stay on the Enterprise and be your deputy CMO.”

 

“Good.”

 

She sighed.  “I’m suddenly very tired.”

 

He turned them back toward where they’d left their boots and socks.  He had to fight a yawn as he did it.  “Me, too.  And we have a big day in the morning.”

 

She let go of his hand as she bent to pick up her boots.  “Was it your idea or Len’s that I come with you to this?”

 

“Mine.”

 

She smiled.  “I like that.”

 

“I thought you might.”

 

--------------

 

Chapel stood outside the door to Kirk’s quarters, trying to steel her courage.

 

“I’m not in there,” a voice said behind her.

 

She whirled, found herself facing a grinning Kirk.  “Oh.”

 

He eased past her to hit the door panel, then motioned her in.  She wasn’t sure if she should sit at his table or stand—she wanted to pace, but that would not be good.

 

“You okay?”

 

“No.  The other night, on the beach...”  She met his eyes, decided to just say what she came to say.  “I...I may have spoken too soon.  About staying.”

 

He narrowed his eyes, then walked over to his credenza and poured two glasses of amber liquid.  He handed her one.  “Drink, then talk.  It’ll make it easier.”

 

“To get it out?”

 

“To be honest.”  He sipped his drink.  “What changed your mind in the day and a half since our talk?”

 

“I was in a strange place that night.  I mean emotionally, not just the planet.  And you were so...kind.  I didn’t expect that.”

 

“You think I can’t be kind?”

 

“Of course I know you can be kind.  I remember how you were when we found Roger.  But that was years ago.  And now, with all that’s happened—I’m Decker’s person and I know that.  And I think both of us were acting on impulse on the beach.  You asking me to stay and me agreeing.”

 

“I don’t make crew decisions on impulse, Doctor.”  He smiled gently, and she realized he was using her title not to distance them but to make some kind of point.

 

“Do you hold hands on impulse?  Wade in the surf?”

 

“I would have asked you to stay on the ship once we got back if we hadn’t been talking about it that night—maybe I should have waited.  But I thought you needed to hear it then, and maybe I needed to say it.  I don’t know if I made it clear, but my pride took a bit of a beating with Levesh.  She kicked me out a little perfunctorily.  Maybe I wanted to know you’d be there.” He waved his hand to the side, as if he could wipe the words away.  “Whatever my reason, it was not an impulse.”

 

“You just said it was, sir.  ‘Maybe you wanted to know I’d be there’?”

 

“I told you to call me Jim, not sir.  And telling you to call me that was not an impulse either, Chris.  Jesus.”  He turned away from her, walked to the viewscreen and stared out at the stars.  “Do you want to leave the ship?  Have I done something to make you uncomfortable?”

 

“No.”

 

“Do you really think CMO on another ship will be a better posting than deputy on this ship, the flagship?”

 

“Your ship, you mean?”

 

“It’s the same damn thing and we both know it.”  He glanced back at her.  “I stole it from the man who put you in the job.  I stole your job along with it and gave it to one of my best friends.  And now I want you to stay.  On the finest ship in the goddamn fleet.”

 

“Not that you’re biased.”  She took a long sip of the scotch—at least she assumed it was scotch.  It had the smoky richness of a very good single malt.

 

“Of course I’m biased.  She’s the best ship and only the best officers serve on her.  End of story.”  He threw back his drink and turned to the stars.  “What’s really bothering you, Chris?”

 

“I don’t want to get stuck here, the same old Christine.  People will think I stayed for Spock.”

 

“So date someone else.”  He turned to look at her.  “Show them—whoever they are—that you’re not interested in him.”

 

“You make it sound so easy.”

 

“Maybe because it is.”  He put his glass back on the credenza, then said softly, “Have you eaten yet?  Because I’m starving.”

 

“You want to have dinner?”

 

“It’s usually what I do after shift, yes.”

 

“With me?”

 

“I’m not asking you to marry me, Chapel.  I’m asking you to sit with me in the mess and eat the not very good stuff that passes for food there.”

 

“It’s better than the Vendellans.”

 

He laughed.  “I don’t think there’s much that isn’t.  So, was that a yes?  And if so, drink up so we can go.  I skipped lunch and I get cranky when I don’t eat.”

 

“Oh, is that your excuse?”  She threw back her scotch, handed the glass to him, then followed him out to the corridor.  “Can I ask a stupid question?”

 

“Supposedly there are no stupid questions.”

 

She grinned.  “We both know that’s not true.”

 

He laughed.  “Sure, ask away.”

 

“Is this a date?”  She blushed just asking it.

 

He glanced over at her.  “Do you want it to be?”

 

“That is unfair.”  She sighed.

 

“Chris, I don’t know what the hell this is other than dinner.  And maybe people seeing you with me so they don’t think you’re after Spock.”

 

“Because going for you is so much more logical, Mister ‘Not in the Nest.’”  Jan had left because of that very rule.

 

He led her onto the turbolift, waited for the doors to close before he murmured.  “That may have been the old me.  At any rate, act like a doctor and attend to your captain when his blood sugar’s low.  Make sure I get some chow.”  He grinned but it didn’t go all the way to his eyes, and she realized he looked very tired.

 

“Are you sleeping?”

 

“Don’t take the doctor thing too far.”

 

“I’m serious.  Are you?”

 

“I’m fine.  It’s just been a long week.”  He let her get off the lift first.  “Do not think you are going to tuck me in and give me a hypo of anything.”

 

“You really are the world’s worst patient.”

 

“Someone has to keep you on your toes.”  He looked over.  “Does this mean you’re staying?”

 

“I don’t know, Jim.”  His name came out without thinking, and he smiled and looked very satisfied.  As if that was all the answer he needed.  “Don’t push me.”

 

“Wouldn’t dream of it.  We’ll stick to safe topics for dinner.”

 

He was as good as his word.  They stuck to things they were both interested in, and the meal passed much more quickly than she thought it would.  She was sorry when it was over.

 

--------------

 

Kirk sat with Spock in the rec lounge, trying to pay attention to the chess board but distracted by Chapel, apparently taking his advice and going on a date.  Or something.  She and Lieutenant Dempsey looked very chummy.

 

Spock murmured, “She has changed a great deal since she left the ship the first time.”

 

“Yes, she has.  Not being interested in you is a biggie.”

 

Spock frowned slightly, and Kirk couldn’t tell if the statement bothered him for the actual content or for the slightly snotty way he’d said it.

 

“Sorry, that came out wrong.”

 

“Is she truly no longer interested?  V’ger has left me...open to new possibilities.”

 

“Trust me, Spock.  She’s over you.”  He saw Dempsey put his arm around her, wondered why she thought she had to let him move so fast.

 

“Are you interested in her, Jim?”  Spock was studying him, an almost amused expression on his face.  “The look you had just then was most...enlightening.”

 

“No, I’m not interested in her.  Chapel?  Come on.”  He forced himself not to look over when a burst of laughter from the group Chapel and Dempsey were with sounded.  “She can date whoever she wants.”

 

“Would that include you?  You have always been quite stringent about that in the past.”

 

“Would it be a bad thing if I said that I see now that my rule was perhaps a little...rigid?”

 

“It would depend on the person, whether she was in your direct chain of command. Doctor Chapel is more or less independent.  She can, after all, relieve you of command.  You are, of course, my supervisor and I am her secondary rater so there is the question of undue influence, but we both know that would not happen.  I will rate her as she deserves no matter what your preference.”  Spock let his eyebrow go up.  “And you know that Doctor McCoy is her primary rater.  And he will do exactly as he sees fit, no matter how much you or I try to influence him because he is extraordinarily stubborn.”

 

“So I have your blessing, mother?”

 

“I am unsure, Jim.  In all seriousness, I was considering the wisdom of pursuing her.”

 

“Don’t.”  It was out before he could stop it.  “I mean—”

 

Spock held up his hand.  “You are quite vehement.  I shall respect your wishes.”

 

Kirk nodded.  “Good.  Then it’s settled.”

 

Spock studied the board for a moment then eased a pawn forward, a move Kirk hadn’t seen and that threatened any number of key pieces.  Shit.  Rookie mistake. 

 

“Jim, I must note, however, that if you opt not to pursue her, I will.”

 

“Are you kidding?  How much time you going to give me?”

 

“You normally need very little to get what you want from a woman.”  Spock seemed to realize how that came out.  “I mean, you are quite adept at charming females.”

 

“I got what you meant.  This isn’t a simple hook up.  If I were to decide to consider to pursue her, it would be a slow thing.”

 

“So many caveats.”  Spock almost smiled.  “I have never heard you so cautious before when it came to matters of romance.”

 

Kirk shrugged, not willing to tell Spock he had it all wrong.  He’d never heard him so cautious when it came to matters of sex.  His last romance had ended up in a term marriage that ended abruptly—he’d only found out it was over when the moving company came to pack up Lori’s things.  And people thought he was love ‘em and leave ‘em?  Romance was not something Kirk considered himself good at.  Lust, he got.  Love...that was so much harder.

 

But he wasn’t sure he was going to do this.  Chapel might have been right.  They both might have been in a vulnerable state that night on the beach.  And when he asked her to the mess for dinner, he’d done it because she’d made him mad.  It had been a challenge, and he could never resist those.

 

Did he even like the woman?  Did she like him?  Did one lovely night sharing pain on a moonlit beach qualify as a good start?  Did a decreasingly awkward dinner in the mess equal a first date?

 

He looked over at her again, saw Dempsey grab her a bit roughly, try to kiss her when she clearly did not want to be kissed.  He started to get up, was surprised by Spock’s hand on his arm. 

 

“Jim, she is fully capable of handling that.”

 

He realized his fists were clenched, sat down slowly.  “You’re right, Spock.  I’m not sure what I was thinking.”

 

He saw Chris get up, say something that looked rather cutting to Dempsey, and storm out of the lounge.  He couldn’t hide the smile on his face.

 

Spock lifted an eyebrow slowly, then went back to the chess game.  Kirk realized he was in check no matter which way he turned.

 

Damn it all.  Women, as wonderful as they were, at times could be a curse.

 

--------------

 

Spock was meditating when his chime sounded, and he forced his mind up from what had been a very productive session to say, “Come in.”

 

It was Doctor Chapel.  She looked uncomfortable.

 

He decided to make her more at ease by using her first name.  She might soon be with his best friend, so he should probably become accustomed to a less formal mode of address for her.  “Yes, Christine?” 

 

She frowned.

 

“Did I say something wrong?”

 

“You called me by name.  You never do that.”  Her eyes were hard.  It was difficult to see the nurse he’d known before—the woman who had adored him no matter how he dismissed her.

 

As she continued to stare at him in a rather hostile manner, he found himself growing defensive.  “You came to me, Doctor.  Why?”

 

She laughed, a tiny puff of air that was filled with a bitter confusion even he could recognize.  “Well, the captain told me I should.  He said I should talk to you.  Said maybe you had something to tell me.”

 

Why would Jim send her to Spock when he’d made it so clear the night before that he wanted Spock to keep his distance?  Unless—Jim was a man of good character and strong conscience, and last night he had decided for Christine what was to be without giving her any choice in the matter.  That would weigh on him.  Jim would not like to think he had deprived her of something—or someone—she really wanted.  “Jim said you should do that?”

 

“No, the other captain told me to do it, Spock.  Yes, of course it was Jim.”  She said his first name with no apparent difficulty.  Interesting.

 

“Did he say why?”

 

“If this is a goddamn practical joke, I will kill both of you.  Just so we’re clear.” 

 

He did not doubt her.  He had seen that look in his mother’s eyes and it never bode well for his father.

 

“Was he wrong or what?”  She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him with eyes that had never seemed so piercing before.

 

“You have changed a great deal.”

 

“Is that what you wanted to tell me?  Because I know that.”

 

Changed too much.  He did not know how to deal with this much anger—this much bitterness.  The woman he’d been considering pursuing was the one he remembered.  Soft and willing and...sweet.

 

“I did express regret to Jim the other night, Christine.”  He took a deep breath.  Lies were problematic; he must phrase this in a way that, while not what he might have wanted to tell her before, still held some semblance of truth.  “In the past, I was dismissive of you.”

 

“In the past, I stalked you like a crazed teenager.  You had your reasons for being cold.” 

 

He was not expecting her to give him an out.  Or to still look so angry when doing it.  “Nevertheless, if I was ever...unkind to you, I wish to apologize.  The meld with V’ger left me wishing to make amends.”

 

She looked surprised.  “Spock, you were the victim, not me.  I chased you.  Like a wise antelope seeing a lion approaching, you ran.”

 

He was not sure he thought the analogy apt, but decided to keep his mouth shut and listen.

 

She looked down.  “I’ve also had a lot of time to think.  I want to apologize for how I acted during our first voyage.  I imagine my rather embarrassing welcome when you showed up last month made you think nothing had changed.  But it has.  I’ve moved past that crush.  Things have happened and...”

 

“Things?”  Was she referring to Jim?

 

She met his gaze.  “I fell in love before I reported to the Enterprise.  He left me.  But the point is more that I fell in love, not that it didn’t work out.  I finally moved on.  Enough to have my heart broken, which never happened before.  I’d find someone and not really care very much what happened, because I only saw you.”

 

“I see.  Then we are fine?”


“We are perfectly fine it would seem.  No more apologies needed on either side?”

 

“Agreed.”  He saw she was about to go and said softly, “Christine?”

 

She turned.

 

“Is Dempsey someone you could fall in love with?”  He saw her frown and before she could react, he said, “Last night, Jim seemed especially interested in who you were with.”

 

“Jim...the captain did?”

 

“I believe we have established that is the Jim we are talking about.”  He lifted an eyebrow at her.  “He does not normally become so distracted during chess.”

 

“Why are you telling me this?”

 

“Because he is my friend.  Because he sent you here and I am not sure why, but I think it may have been to make sure you were not still in love with me.  He would not want to get in the way of what you really desire.”

 

“Did you say something to him?”

 

His eyebrow went up again, this time against his will.  He did not expect her to make that leap in logic.

 

“Spock?  Why else would he send me here?  Even I can tell you pulled that apology out of your oh so logical Vulcan ass.”

 

And he had thought he’d done rather well—clearly, he was rusty on prevarication.  “I may have expressed interest in you last night.”

 

“Hmm.”  She was frowning.  “I’m over you.”

 

“So you have said.” 

 

“What?  You don’t think I am?”  She took a step toward him.

 

“I was not disagreeing.”  He suddenly wanted to move back; she looked rather fierce.

 

“I am fucking over you, Spock.  Check your goddamn ego at the door.”

 

He decided not to try for a reasoned response.  “I am sorry.  I was presumptuous.”

 

“Damn straight.  And so was he.  I’ll be with whoever I want to be with.  You two don’t get to decide that for me.”

 

“Of course not.”  This was going rapidly downhill.  “Christine, I do not think he was trying to decide anything for you.  I think he sent you here because he was sorry for warning me off you.”

 

He regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth, but they seemed to calm instead of infuriate her. 

 

“He warned you off?”  There seemed to be amusement and admiration in her voice.

 

“Indeed.  In no uncertain terms.”  He would go down this path since it seemed to promise the least vitriol.

 

“Hmm.”  This time her voice was appraising.  “Well, this has been very enlightening.  Thanks for the talk.”  She turned and walked out.

 

He stared at the closing doors: it was after interactions such as these that he feared he would never understand humans.

 

--------------

 

Chapel decided not to do anything about what Spock had told her.  For all she knew, he’d completely misunderstood Kirk’s intent.  And she’d meant what she said—if anyone was going to decide who she was going to see socially, it was going to be her, not these two yahoos.

 

And was she supposed to believe James T. Kirk, Casanova of the quadrant, was suddenly interested in her?  Or that even if he was, he’d relax his “no fishing in the crew pond” stance?  Because if that was the case, Chapel should call Janice and tell her to haul ass back to the ship, not jump at the hook herself.

 

No matter how nice that walk on the beach had been.  No matter how kind he’d been to her.  No matter that she’d occasionally found herself watching him when he played chess with Spock.  Fortunately, Ny never noticed—she just thought Chapel was mooning over Spock again.  Especially now that Chapel had told her about Tom.  She’d warned Chapel not to let heartbreak send her back into a hopeless crush.

 

Well, according to her former hopeless crush, the person she just might be obsessing a bit over actually liked her back.  How fucking novel.

 

Her comm channel was flashing when she got to her quarters after shift.  Dempsey.  The man was relentless.  The more she said no, the more he pushed.  She sent back a reply to his invitation to dinner that said “Sorry, I’m busy,” when what she really wanted to tell him was to pound sand.

 

Why was she being nice?  The man was an ass.  Spock had said she’d changed, but she didn’t think she’d changed enough. 

 

She headed down to the main mess to grab something to take back to her office; she had evals to finish.  She was in line trying to figure out what to have when she heard, “Thought you were busy?”

 

Dempsey’s voice was a long way from seductive.

 

She didn’t turn around.  “I am.  I’m getting dinner to go.”

 

“Whatever you’re doing can wait.”

 

She turned to stare at him.  “Are you for real?”  She saw Kirk and Spock walk in, turned back around before they could all make eye contact.

 

“Christine, does this hot and cold routine work on other men?  Because where I come from, we call a woman like you some rather harsh names.”

 

Hot and cold?  When the hell had she been hot?  Lukewarm at best.  She ignored him and prayed he’d take the hint.

 

He finally seemed to.  “I think I’ll go where I’m welcome.  There are some nice women in the auxiliary mess who won’t ignore me.”

 

She resisted the urge to send him off with a snotty comment.  What the hell had she been thinking even saying yes to him?  Was it that after being with Tom, someone who was so clearly ready to pursue her felt good?  Even if he was a jerk?

 

She got her meal and turned to leave, greeting Kirk and Spock with a smile and a murmured, “Have a good evening.”

 

Spock merely nodded, but Kirk gave her a searching look and she realized he’d been watching Dempsey and her.

 

“Everything okay?”  His voice was pitched low, only for her—and Spock with his damned Vulcan hearing.

 

“Everything’s fine.”

 

“He wasn’t bothering you?”

 

“I’m hardly going to say yes, sir.  You’d have to do something about it, wouldn’t you?”  She saw him frown and wondered if it was because she’d used his title instead of his name.  Had he meant she could call him Jim in the middle of a crowded mess hall?  She’d thought he just meant in private.

 

Not that they had that many private moments.

 

She laughed, tried to make it a real one but it came off brittle.  “He’s gone now.  It’s handled.  I’m going back to sickbay.  Goodnight, sirs.”

 

He frowned again but said, “Goodnight, Chris.”

 

She hurried away before the conversation could devolve into God knew what.  And she had to force herself not to look back at him when she got to the entrance.

 

She was not goddamn interested in the captain of this ship.  And he was not interested in her. 

 

But if that was true, why did she suddenly feel like she was back in her high school cafeteria finding out that the cutest guy in school had a thing for science fair winners?

 

--------------

 

Kirk waved off the doctor on duty and walked to Chapel’s office.  The door was closed; she was probably working on evals like every other manager on his ship.  Hell, he should be working on them, not lurking outside her office working up the courage to hit the chime.

 

Oh for God’s sake, why did he need courage to talk to his deputy CMO?  He hit the chime a little more forcefully than was necessary.  Great, now everyone is sickbay was probably staring at him.  Were they staring?  He glanced around, an innocent smile ready, but no one was paying him any attention.

 

Chapel’s door slid open and she looked up from her desk.  “Sir?”

 

“Are you boycotting my name?”  He walked in and sat on one of her guest chairs before the moment turned awkward and he’d be stuck standing in the doorway looking stupid.

 

Now he could look stupid in comfort.

 

“I guess I wasn’t sure if you really meant for me to call you by your first name...on the ship.”

 

“What?  Only on moonlit beaches.”  He grinned, was happy to see her expression soften.  There was the woman he’d come to see, not the daunting one who didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass that he liked her.

 

Then again, maybe she hadn’t figured that out?  He hadn’t really told her.  And he’d sent her off to Spock like an idiot—but his damn conscience hadn’t been going to give him any rest if he told Spock to leave her alone and never gave her any choice in the matter.

 

Spock had mentioned she’d stopped by.  He’d said they had an odd conversation and apologized for past misunderstandings.  Then he’d stared pointedly at Kirk and asked if he had expected more from the visit than that.  Kirk had tried very hard not to let relief show, but he knew Spock missed nothing—and his damn meld with V’ger seemed to have left him more savvy to social interactions and the intricacies of same.

 

He heard Chapel start laughing softly and realized he’d sort of zoned off and left her hanging.  “What?”

 

“I asked you what you’re doing here?”  She looked entirely too amused.

 

“I don’t know.”  There, see what she did with honesty.

 

Her amusement seemed to grow.  “So I take it you don’t have a medical problem?  Maybe something the lovely Levesh left you with?”

 

Mrowww.”  He started to laugh.  “And if I did, I think I would not tell you.”

 

“Why not?  I’m a professional.  I won’t treat and tell.”  She narrowed her eyes, seemed to be studying him the way she would something in a petri dish.  “Seriously, Jim, what do you want?”


Such an excellent question.  He saw an eval up on her screen and smiled gently.  “To rescue you from those?”

 

“Rescue me how?”

 

“I’m not sure.  A walk maybe?”

 

“There’s no beach here.”

 

“There are however many corridors.”  He looked down, then back up and held her eyes—an old trick that usually worked.  “Unless you don’t want to take a walk with me?”

 

“Ooh, that was good.”  She grinned and the look was infectious—and made her look years younger.  “The little shy thing with the staring at the ground and then wham!  Intense eye contact.  Practice that in the mirror, do you?”

 

“I may have practiced it a few times.  I’ve got a reputation to uphold.”  He frowned.  That was probably not the smartest thing to say.  His reputation was that he was a big man slut.

 

She leaned in.  “I will go for a walk with you on one condition.”

 

“I’m listening.”

 

“I’m having trouble with this eval.  The doctor in question has gotten stellar marks from previous supervisors but I’m not seeing the same behaviors that they did.”

 

“Have you talked to him or her about it?”

 

She nodded.  “I know that an eval should not be the first time he hears about deficient performance.”

 

“If it’s truly deficient and he hasn’t shown any improvement, write it up as such.  If he just isn’t living up to his potential, put in the eval what you want to see from him over the next six months as well as what he’s doing right.  That way you’re not an ogre, you give credit where it’s due, and you’ve documented growth areas as goals—but it’s also clear those growth areas are verging on deficiencies for next time if they aren’t met.”

 

“Clever.”

 

“Do you want my other secret?”

 

She nodded.

 

“Show him the draft informally.  Don’t put it in the system until you’ve done that.  That way you can work out any issues ahead of time.  Save yourself the back and forth of objections.  Better for you, better for your subordinates.”

 

“I actually do that already.”  She grinned at him.  “I like to give an option to let me know if I’ve missed any accomplishments I should have highlighted.  This is the first not-so-great one I’ve had to write.”

 

“We don’t get that many mediocre performers on this ship, fortunately.  But I remember what it was like on the Farragut.  And I was new at the whole evaluation game.  Had no idea what I was doing.  Probably ticked off a whole lot of people.  Till I realized I didn’t have to be so formal about it.  Sure, once it was in the system, it was formal, but up to that point, I could do what came naturally—talk to someone, not at them.”

 

She was smiling.  “Yep, that’s why I do it, too.  It’s tricky with the nurses—some of them were peers before.”

 

“That’s always weird.”

 

“I went through this when I was with Roger, too.  Bypassed some fellow grad students to become part of his staff rather than just a postgrad slave, and then had to write the postgrad evals.  Only that time, I had the added stigma of being the boss’s lover and everyone knew it.  Even if he legitimatized it with a ring eventually.”

 

“Stigma.  I’ve never heard you refer to your relationship with him as something you weren’t proud of.”

 

She laughed, and it was a strange laugh.  “I didn’t say I saw it as a something to be ashamed of.  But others probably did.”

 

“Ah.”  He sat back.  “Do you ever feel like he gave you preference?”

 

“Roger?  Oh my God, no.  I mean sure, he took me home at night, but he ate students for breakfast, Jim.  He did not suffer fools—even the mostly competent were let go.  He wanted the best and if you didn’t perform, you were out.  I could have been the best lover ever and it wouldn’t have helped me progress under him if he hadn’t thought I was brilliant.  He still might have proposed, but I certainly would not have been working in his lab.”  She seemed to think about it.  “And actually, he probably wouldn’t have proposed.  Might have kept me around for recreational fun until he found someone smarter he could marry.  I don’t think Roger could have stood a stupid wife.”

 

“Well, you are certainly not stupid.  He had good taste.”

 

“Well, I thought he did.  And thank you for being so careful about not mentioning the little mechanical geisha.”  She smiled, a rueful expression.  “I knew her, did I ever tell you that?”

 

“Knew Andrea?  There was a real one?”

 

“Oh, yes.  Another grad student.  One he got rid of after her first week in the lab because she just didn’t cut it.  But I have a feeling she cut it in other ways.  Why else make her when it came time to design a blow-up doll?”  She looked down.  “Do you know how much it hurt to know his fantasy woman was the polar opposite of me?” 

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“And those ridiculous coveralls with the straps and nothing else.  What the hell was he thinking?”  She seemed to take in his expression as he remembered that intriguing outfit of Andrea’s.  “Never mind.  Clearly it’s a guy thing.  I would not have looked as good in it.”

 

“Are you offering to model it?”  Whoa—that was probably not a good thing to say.

 

But she burst out laughing and leaned over to save and close the eval she’d been working on.  “Let’s get out of here.  But instead of a walk, can we just go to the lounge?  I could really use a drink.”

 

“The lounge it is.”  He wondered if she was testing him, seeing if he was willing to be seen with her.  But her expression stayed even and he realized she might really just need a drink.  “So what is going on with Dempsey?  Is he the reason hooch sounds good?”

 

“Hooch always sounds good.”  She followed him out of her office and to the lift.  “And you should quit worrying about Dempsey.  He’s not going to bother me.  I’m too much work.”

 

“Anything worth having is worth working for.”

 

“He missed class the day they were teaching that.  And I really don’t care one way or the other about him.  I’m not sure what I was thinking when I said yes to his first invitation.”  She bumped up against him, a move that left him feeling warmer since it seemed to be spurred by nothing more than affection.

 

“I like talking to you,” he said, blurting it out like a stupid teenager and feeling his face turning red as he did it.  So much for finesse.

 

But she just smiled at him.  “I like talking to you, too.”

 

--------------

 

Chapel was sitting with Nyota at lunch when she saw Jim walk into the mess.  He walked over to their table, gave her a sweet smile and she knew she was smiling back without the sneer she’d been wearing lately.

 

“Ladies,” he said, the smile growing bright.  “Enjoy your lunch.”  He was smiling at them both, and then he met her eyes and the smile changed right before he turned and headed for the line.

 

“Okay.  Spill,” Nyota said.  “First I see you at the bar last night—and why am I noticing you, you should be asking yourself, when I was on my third date with the very handsome new deputy chief of engineering?”

 

“How was Commander Stevens?  And third date—did you...?”

 

“Delightful.  And what I do with the divine Russ is none of your business.  Do not change the subject.”

 

“That was the subject.  Or part of it.  You should use simpler sentences.”  Chapel laughed softly.

 

“My point is that you just got the smile I love the most.  And yes, I have inventoried the captain’s smiles because sometimes it’s really boring on the bridge.  He has the fake ones and the real ones and then there’s that one.  The ‘aw shucks, I’m really happy to see you’ smile.  What is he doing giving you that one, missy?”

 

“Ny, it’s probably nothing.”

 

“Were you looking at the same smile I was?  And oh by the way, you were giving him the same damn smile back, Miss Call Me Grumpy.”  Nyota narrowed her eyes.  “Something else you forgot to tell me along with Tom?  Like maybe when you were both on Earth, you and the captain...?”

 

“Ny, no.  I swear.  This is new.  And I’m not sure what it is.”  She looked over at where he was standing; he was joking around with some crewmen—damn, the man was handsome when he laughed like that.  “I don’t want to read too much into it.  He may just be sorry he demoted me.  I think he’s on a ‘make Christine happy despite the fact I took her job away’ kick.”

 

“You’re an idiot.  And Jan is going to kill you when she finds out.”

 

Chapel sighed.  “I know she is.  What would you do?”

 

“If he was interested in me?  Oh, honey, Jan has surrendered the field as far as I’m concerned.  She shouldn’t have transferred off.”  Nyota frowned.  “But I’ll let you tell her that if you end up with him.  Because she’s not going to take it well.”

 

“I really don’t think there’s anything to take.”  She saw Jim walking back with his lunch.  As he passed her, he gave her another smile. 

 

She grinned back like a goddamned fool.

 

“No, there’s nothing at all going on.”  Nyota smiled.  “Well, at least you’re not mooning over Spock anymore.  You can start the discussion with Jan that way.  I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news...” 

 

Chapel shook her head.  “She’s going to kill me.”

 

“Yep.  She sure is.  You’re lucky Russ is such a very good lov  Oh wait.  I said that wasn’t any of your business, didn’t I?”  Ny’s smile was evil.  And very satisfied.  “You’re lucky I like him, or I’d be pretty put out with you, too.”

 

“End the friendship level of put out?”

 

Nyah.  No guy’s worth that.”  Nyota grinned at her.  “Besides I can’t remember the last time I saw you actually look happy.  This is a nice change.  And you know he’ll be better in the sack then stupid Tom.  I can’t decide if I want gory details or not.”

 

“If he and I get to that point, which as I said we might not, I doubt he’d want me sharing the details.”

 

“Yeah.  But I’ll worm some of them out of you anyway.  If I decide I want to know.  Sometimes it’s good to preserve the mystery.  I mean...what if he’s terrible?”


Chapel started to laugh.  “The odds of that are pretty low given how often he’s seduced us all to safety.”

 

“What’s that going to be like?” 

 

“What’s what going to be like?”

 

“Watching him do that?  Shit.  I didn’t think of that when I made up my secret fantasy life where he and I are married with five beautiful kids.”

 

Chapel chuckled.  “At least, unlike Roger, he’ll be doing it for a good cause.”

 

Nyota smiled but didn’t look convinced.

 

Chapel shrugged.  She remembered the look on his face when he’d told her Levesh had kicked him out of her bed.  She’d felt for him that night; she knew how it hurt to be made to feel like a thing.  Despite his reputation, he seemed like a man who craved intimacy and didn’t find it very often.

 

And he’d never given Levesh the smile he’d just given Chapel.  Because fool that she was, she was starting to inventory his smiles, too.

 

--------------

 

Kirk walked into sickbay, trying to act casual, like he didn’t mind getting yet another physical.  He suspected Nogura was ordering these just to tick him off.  And because he knew Kirk tended to put on weight when he was happy and on his ship.

 

There was a price for stealing a ship, even if he’d done it in the open.  Nogura didn’t like being snookered and Kirk had sold him the “Why don’t I take on V’ger for you?” plan as a temporary gig.  He’d only been able to keep the ship because Will had merged with the big killing machine and Kirk had gotten the credit for coming up with the idea.  Nogura couldn’t very well take the ship back when the entire Federation wanted to cover him with laurel wreaths.  But he could order extra reports, special physicals for the captain of the vessel, and any other damn thing he could think of to make Kirk’s life a living hell.

 

Then again, if rumors were true, Nogura was going to retire in two months and Kirk could finally rest easy.  And gain some damn weight if he wanted to.

 

“Bones, I’m here as ordered.”

 

McCoy looked over at him from where he was working with a patient and gave him a “oh my God, look who darkened my door” look.  “Go talk to Christine.  I’ll be with you when I’m done here.”

 

Kirk had figured he’d hear about drinking with Chris at the bar in full view of McCoy.  This was actually pretty mellow compared to the teasing he expected.

 

Could his friend be in favor of this match?  McCoy had given Chris such crap over her crush on Spock, but maybe he could tell Kirk liked her back.  He wondered what McCoy would say if he knew Spock was interested in her—or had been.  Spock didn’t seem to be showing signs of wanting to pursue Chris since they’d had their talk, a fact Kirk found comforting on several fronts.  He didn’t want to lose Spock over a woman.  He also didn’t want to deal with a woman who would rather be with another man.  He’d had his fill of that with Lori, who he’d kept seeing at functions after she’d moved out, generally on the arm of the same admiral.

 

It wasn’t that Lori didn’t want to be in a relationship: it was that she didn’t want to be in a relationship with Kirk.  He’d known exactly what Chris was saying that night about her former beau getting married and why it hurt.  It was so much easier to think it wasn’t personal, that the other person couldn’t love.  But then to see that they could, to know you were wrong.  It stung.

 

He’d heard Lori was engaged to the admiral.  A real engagement, not some term marriage crap.

 

That hurt, too.

 

He realized Chris was standing in her doorway, watching him as he obsessed over his ex-wife.  “Hey,” he said softly.  “I’m supposed to talk to you per your boss.”

 

“Poor you.”  Her smile was exactly what he needed.  “You okay?  You looked so...well, I hate to use the word pitiful, but it sort of fits.”  She moved aside so he could come in.

 

“I was thinking of my ex-wife.  She’s engaged.”

 

“Oh.  I’m sorry.”  She touched his hand for a moment.  “You know I can sympathize.”

 

“I do know that.”  He sat down.  “If only I were just the man the rumors make me out to be.”

 

“The shallow, will screw anything with a pulse man?  You want to be that guy?”  She laughed gently.

 

“No, the ‘can’t be hurt’ guy.  I want to be him.”

 

“I think if you can’t be hurt, then you can’t feel.  And then how would you love?”  She took a deep breath.  “I had to have this very same talk with myself after Tom.  Because it hurts to be the one left behind.  But maybe we learn something?  That’s what I’m hoping, anyway.”

 

“I hope so, too.  I know what Lori taught me—don’t move so damn fast.  And I stayed with Janice too long—I kept trying to explain away her moodiness and jealousy.  But I’m not sure what I was supposed to learn from Carol.” 

 

“Her decisions, Jim—I don’t understand them.  How can she keep your son from you?  I mean, sure, people fall out of love—my parents divorced, so I’m no stranger to that.  But they both stayed my parents.  To not even give you the chance to be in his life...”

 

“I know.  I’ve buried it for so long, it feels weird to talk about it.”

 

“We don’t have to.  I’m sorry if I went too f—”

 

“No.  It’s fine.  Weird isn’t bad.  I like being able to talk about it with you.”  He studied her.  Just being with her soothed him in ways he wasn’t sure he could explain.  Especially since she’d intimidated the hell out of him when he’d been feeling guilty over demoting her.

 

“Do you think everyone has the capacity to be happy in a relationship?”  She looked away, her eyes narrowed.  “Is being compatible with someone else a talent you either have or you don’t?  Or is it a skill that some people are just more developed in?  But the rest of us can get better at?”

 

“Well, you’re assuming the onus is all on you.  That being compatible is a matter of will not of chemistry.”  He reached out, twined his fingers with hers, and smiled at her look of surprise.  “I decided to reach out—so that’s a matter of will—but I’m feeling some things I didn’t expect.”

Especially in parts of him that these new uniforms did not hide very well.

 

“So that’s chemistry?” she asked.  “Not just your desire to find that feeling?”

 

“I don’t think you can manufacture that feeling.”  He let go of her hand.  “But it can be one sided.  Was I the only one feeling it?”

 

She didn’t look away as she said very softly, “No.  I was feeling it, too.”

 

“Good.”  He knew his look was intense, was interested to see what she’d do about it.  She finally smiled and looked away, as if a little embarrassed at the attention.  He found that charming.  “What about Spock?  Do you still feel it with him?”

 

“You need to stop worrying about him.  He and I are just fine being basically nothing to each other except colleagues.  Maybe friends someday, if we work really hard at it.”  She winked.  “I can’t believe you’re threatened by him.”

 

“I didn’t say I was threatened.”

 

“Oh.  My mistake.  Only you aren’t asking me about any other man on the ship and how I do or don’t feel about him.”

 

“Should I be?”  He grinned.

 

She shrugged and gave him a very mischievous look.

 

McCoy popped his head in the door.  “You ready, Jim?”

 

“Do I have to, Bones?”  He screwed his eyes shut and murmured, “There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.”

 

Chris laughed.  “Sweetie, that’ll take you to Kansas, not Iowa.  And anyway, you don’t want to go home.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say you are home.  Don’t you like it here best?  Among the stars?”  Her voice was so sexy—why had he never noticed that?  Especially when she was saying he loved the stars and not sounding jealous about it the way Carol had—the way Janice had, too.  And Lori at times. 

 

“You’re right.  You know me quite well, Doctor.”  He opened his eyes and stood, giving her the best grin he could before following McCoy out to the diagnostic bed.

 

“Are you going to ask my permission to court her?” McCoy asked with a laugh.

 

“You’re okay with it?”

 

“Oh, hell yes.  She’s been so damned pleasant the last few days, I’ve felt like I had the old Christine back.  Only without the annoying hopeless crush.”

 

“Why did that bug you so much?” 

 

“Because she deserves a real relationship.  With someone who can love her back.”

 

Kirk studied him.  “You’re sure you’re not interested in her?”

 

“Jim, get up on the table and stop asking stupid questions.”  Once Kirk was lying on the table, he leaned in and said, “Court away, my friend.  I’ve got my eye on a lovely lieutenant in hydroponics.  Or astrophysics.”  He grinned.  “There are several, let’s say, in the running.  And Christine is not one of them.”

 

“Good.”  Kirk smiled and tried to relax.  And he succeeded until McCoy murmured his weight—he’d gained two pounds.  Damn it all.

 

“Oops,” McCoy said.  “Fumble fingers me just entered your old weight in.  Oh well, I doubt Nogura reads these medical reports.”  He winked at Kirk.  “But just between us, I want to see some salads on your lunch tray.”

 

Kirk made a face.

 

“Big baby.  I’m not going to lie for you forever.”

 

“Rumor is Nogura’s retiring soon.”

 

“Yeah, I heard that one, too.  From the doctor who’s going to give him his exit physical in three weeks.”

 

“Three weeks?  I heard two months.”

 

“Well, glory be.  I have better sources than the great James T.”  McCoy laughed softly and patted him on the shoulder.  “Why do you think I’m willing to lie for you?  Will you finally relax once he’s gone?  He’s not going to take your girl away from you.”

 

Kirk smiled and felt something inside him finally settle down.  Not just because Bones was right, but because his girl could mean two things now—both of them nice.

 

--------------

 

“You ready?” Jim asked her, and she stared at the trail—the thing he called a trail, anyway—with dismay.

 

Why the hell had she agreed to go hiking?  Why couldn’t she have countered with shopping?  Or eating—they both liked to do that.

 

But there he’d been, standing in the door to her office, wearing that damn sweet smile, and asking her if she had shore leave plans.  And then he’d said he wanted to go hiking the first day.


And she’d said yes.  Not knowing that one of the requirements was to be part mountain goat.

 

“Chris?” he asked as she stared up at what might be her doom.  “Are you okay?”

 

“It’s a lot steeper than I expected.”

 

He handed her one of the two walking sticks he carried.  Then told her to lift her right foot up and he affixed some kind of sticker to it, then did the left.  “For traction,” he said.  “You’ll be fine.  I’ve seen you in the gym.  You have plenty of stamina.”

 

“You watch me in the gym?”  She grinned at that idea.

 

“I particularly like those dark blue shorts you wear.  They curve just perfectly on the backside.”

 

She laughed.  “I’ll remember that.”  She eyed the trail again.  “So...what’s at the top.”

 

“I’m not going to spoil it.  But part of the fun is the journey, not the destination.”

 

“But there is a destination, right?  A reason to go up?”

 

“Oh, yes.”  He grinned.  “Can we head up now?”  When she nodded, he started up the trail.  “It’ll be an easy grade for the first quarter mile.”

 

Easy?  This was an easy grade?  Oh, holy shit.  “Great,” she managed to squeak out.  Then she shut up, quit thinking about how awful this might be, and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other without killing herself.

 

The stick helped a lot.  So did the little stickers he’d put on the sole of her boots.  She started to relax, started to climb with more assurance.

 

He glanced back, and she saw approval in his eyes. 

 

The trail grew steeper and she saw that the first part had, indeed, been much easier.  But she was in good shape—possibly the best shape of her life since she’d thrown herself into working out when Tom dumped her—and she found the climbing sort of therapeutic.  Plenty of time to think—or just be.

 

Time to talk if they wanted to also, but no energy to do it when all her breath and intent were going into climbing.  She could tell Jim didn’t mind.  She could also tell he was looking out for her, occasionally slowing to make sure she navigated a difficult patch without trouble, then calling for a rest stop at a bluff that looked out over the valley.

 

As they sipped water and munched on some nuts and dried fruit, she marveled at how far she could see. 

 

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”  He was standing very close to her.  Almost touching. 

 

“It’s glorious.”

 

“Great word for it.”  He sighed—happily, she thought—and rested his head against hers.

 

“I’ve never done this before,” she said softly.  “Why haven’t I done this?”

 

“I’m glad your first time is with me because I’ve never had anyone to take hiking.  And I love having you with me.”

 

She turned to look at him and grinned.  “Are you saying you like me?”

 

“I like you very much.”  His smile was so gentle and amused she had to reach out, to touch his cheek, trace his lips.

 

His look changed and he pulled her closer and kissed her slowly and very thoroughly.  “I have been wanting to do that for a while now.”

 

“I have been wanting you to do that, so we’re even.”  She leaned in, kissed him the same way he’d kissed her.  “And do that.”

 

“Kissing you feels right, Chris.”

 

She nodded.  He went in for one more quick buss, then turned back to the trail.

 

“Come on, lazybones.  We’ve got miles to go.”

 

“And then we have to come down again?”  She knew downhill was way harder on tired legs than up.

 

“It’s possible I’ve arranged for another way off the mountain.”

 

She looked at him suspiciously.

 

He shrugged.  “You have to get up there to find out.”

 

“I may officially hate you by the time we get up there.”

 

“I accept that.”

 

They spent the morning climbing and stopping to check out breathtaking views.  It only made the hike more pleasant that kisses were included at each break.  He never pushed it, never manhandled her the way Dempsey had.  But he also managed to drop the wall she was starting to realize Tom had always kept between them.  She’d thought they were close, but had he ever really let her in?

 

This man was letting her in.  The way he looped his arm so casually around her shoulders, the way he pulled her in and kissed her on the forehead at one particularly stunning vista.  The way he looked at her when he’d glance back to make sure she was still doing okay, the hearty grin the closer they got to what she hoped to hell was the last big push.

 

They were both breathing hard and sweating when she crested the rise and saw—people.  People everywhere.  In front of a huge building on top of the mountain.  A building that had a big transport sitting in front of it.

 

“There’s a bus up the mountain?”  She turned to him. 

 

He was laughing.  “It also goes down the mountain.  We can sit in the back and make out.” 

 

“Why the hell did we climb if we could have ridden?”  But she was laughing, feeling a sense of superiority over the clean and sweat-free people getting off another transport that had just pulled up.  “Bet they couldn’t climb.”

 

“See, now you’re getting it.”  He pulled her close and they walked to the building, sitting outside and taking in the view of the mountains as they cooled down.

 

“There’s a really good restaurant here.  Casual, obviously, but delicious food.  This trail mix is great and all, but I bet you’d like a real meal?”

 

“I would love a real meal.” 

 

“Ooh, they’re daring.”  He pointed to the other side of the building, where a couple was emerging from the woods.  “That path is probably ten times harder than the one we just did.”

 

“You’ve done it?”

 

“Once or twice.”

 

“With someone?”

 

He gave her a serious look.  “I told you.  I don’t usually hike with a partner.”

 

“You mean I’m the first woman dumb enough to agree to your death march?”

 

He nuzzled her neck, then whispered in her ear, “I mean you’re the first woman I wanted to bring on my death march.”

 

“I like the way you put it.”  She sighed happily as he went back to nuzzling.  “And I must note we agree on the death march concept.  Surely there are some less vertical hikes in our future?”

 

She realized that could be taken a couple of ways and started to blush.  She heard him laughing as he kept kissing her neck, then he murmured, “Thinking about getting horizontal?”

 

“Will it get me out of hiking?”

 

He laughed again.  “Not a chance.  But I’m still very interested in the idea.”  He pulled back, met her eyes.  “I’ve taken this really slow.”

 

“Yes, you have.  And for what it’s worth, I’ve done the same.”

 

“I know.  I like it.”

 

“Me, too.  I rushed in with Tom.”

 

He nodded.  “I more than rushed in with Lori.  I think we were married before the sweat dried from our first time in bed.”  He shook his head.  “Stupid.”

 

She decided he deserved some nuzzling, and found a particularly good spot on his neck that if she combined with rubbing underneath his hair made him moan in the most lovely way.  “Can I point out that I took my time with Roger, knew him for a year before I did anything, and that still ended badly?  Maybe it’s not the time you take but who you take it with?”

 

“Or maybe we’re both just doomed?”  He was laughing and leaning back into her hand.  “Damn that feels great.  Are you this good in bed?”

 

“That’s so subjective.  One person’s best lover ever is another person’s ho hum.”  She pulled away.  “I don’t think you’d be ho hum.”

 

“I don’t think I would either.”  He laughed, a funny high-pitched laugh that she realized was him being really amused.  And silly. 

 

She grinned.  “The right response is...?  Class?  Anyone?”

 

Ohhhhhh.  I meant to say I don’t think you would be ho hum, either.”  He laughed again, the silly little giggle she would have bet money he couldn’t make.

 

“I love that laugh.”

 

“I can’t fake that one.”  He sighed and it was a sound of pure contentment.  “Hungry?”

 

“Yes.  For multiple things.”

 

He stood up and pulled her up with him.  As they walked to the entrance, he said very softly, “I’m tired of going slow?  Are you?”

 

“Oh, God, yes.”

 

“Good, we’re on the same page.”  He took her hand, pulled away a little bit with a very wicked grin.

 

“Does that mean we’re going to...?”

 

He shrugged and dodged when she tried to whap him.  “I didn’t say we were going to stop waiting.  I just wanted to know you were ready.”

 

“You are so bad.”

 

“No, Chris.  I’m actually really good.”  He pulled her a little faster.  “Now, come on.  I see another bus coming and I want to beat them to the restaurant or we’ll be waiting for a table forever.”

 

--------------

 

Kirk had his arm around Chris and was dozing in the back of the bus as it wound its way down the mountain when his communicator buzzed.  He pulled it out of his pocket, saw that it was a text from Command and sighed.  Nogura needed him at a meeting tomorrow.  So much for breakfast at his favorite diner followed by wandering the city.

 

“Bad news?”

 

He loved that she didn’t try to read what it said.  “Meeting tomorrow.  Right in the middle of the damn morning, too.  God knows how long it will run.  This is what I hated about being an admiral.  The endless meetings.”

 

“We can meet up afterwards.  I’ll probably still be sleeping off this hike.”  She snuggled in closer. 

 

He realized she wasn’t mad.  Carol and Janice would have been livid: Starfleet taking personal time away.  Lori would have understood, but then by the end she hadn’t seemed to care if he even came home.

 

“I really wanted breakfast at Zellini’s.”

 

“Oh, I love that place.  I used to go there to study late at night.”  She nuzzled him in a spot on his neck that seemed to have an effect on other parts of his anatomy.  Her voice was very husky as she said, “I bet I could convince Daniel to make you breakfast any time of the day.  He always let me order it whenever I wanted.”

 

“Daniel, is it?”  He grinned.  Mister Zellini was in his sixties.  “Is he sweet on you?”

 

“It’s possible.  Or he just wants to know a doctor owes him a favor or two?  There’s some odd stuff going on in the back of that place.  I’m not sure what all he’s up to.”

 

Kirk laughed.  He’d always wondered about the weird deliveries he’d seen when he’d wandered into the place late at night.  “If you can get me breakfast for lunch there, I’ll be in your debt.”

 

“I like the sound of that.”  Her voice grew even huskier.  “Do I get to pick the method of repayment?”

 

“If you like.”

 

“I’d tell you what it is, but since you’re so keen on waiting...”

 

He laughed, louder than he meant to, and saw a couple of people turn around.  Chris was a surprise.  Sexier than he’d ever given her credit for.  He imagined he was sappier than she’d expected—it wasn’t something he liked to advertise.  “I wouldn’t say waiting is in my top ten things to do.”

 

“They why are we?  There are lots of lovely hotels with big bathtubs we could soak off the hike in.”  She whispered in his ears.  “Naked soaking.”

 

He smiled.  “Tell me more.”

 

“Well, I hate to expend all this effort and creativity if you’re just going to tell me patience is a virtue.”

 

“I would never tell you that when the words ‘naked soaking’ are in play.  Please, proceed.”

 

She gave a low, throaty giggle that he decided was the sexiest sound he’d ever heard.  “I bet they have beds in these hotels.  Soft, fluffy beds in which two people, if they really liked each other, could put their heads together.  Maybe other parts, too, if the man was really, really lucky.”

 

“Do you have a hotel in mind?”

 

She didn’t answer right away and he pulled back so he could see her expression.  She shook her head, her smile slipping a little.  “I was doing so well at femme fatale up to that.”  She sighed.  “I must confess I don’t really know if the hotel rooms have big bathtubs or not.”

 

“It’s not a bad thing that you don’t know that.”  He kissed her gently.  “I do know a few that do.  Is that a turn off?”

 

“No.”  But there was something in her expression he didn’t like.

 

“What?”

 

She suddenly looked out of the window, as if she couldn’t say what she wanted to say to his face.  “Seduction’s a tool for you.  I guess I’m going to have to get used to that.  Seeing you with women like Levesh.”

 

He had wondered when this would come up.  She’d managed to not touch it for a very long time.  “For the record, women like Levesh will not even be a factor.  They might hit on me, and I might flirt back because I’m afraid flirting comes as natural as breathing at times.  But if I’m with you, Chris, I’m with you.

 

“But if the safety of the crew requires you to sacrifice your virtue?”  Her smile was a little off still.

 

“I’ll try to fight my way out rather than seduce.  How’s that?”  He touched her cheek.  “I know what people say about me, Chris.  I know what people think I am.  But maybe they’re wrong.”

 

“I’m willing to believe they are.  I guess...things got serious just then.  Me trying to be sexy...not sure that works.”

 

“Oh, believe me, it works.”  He glanced down at his lap, was happy to hear her laugh.  “But maybe it’s scary?  Opening up means risking being hurt again, right?”

 

She nodded.

 

“So do you want to wait on that hotel room?”

 

She shook her head slowly then leaned in and kissed him.  It was a different kiss than before, the lightness was gone.  This kiss was a promise.

 

He touched her cheek.  “I will try to never hurt you with what I do or with how I act.  Accept most of what you hear and see as what it is, Chris—a big act.  You have the real me.”

 

She didn’t answer right away, seemed to be processing the idea and he loved that about her.  If she agreed, it would mean something.  She finally said, “Okay.”  Then she snuggled in again, took his hand in hers, and asked, “Which hotel.”

 

“I like The Sunset.  They have amazing views from the bed and very big bathtubs.”

 

“Sounds good.”

 

He pulled their joined hands up, kissed the top of her hand, letting his lips linger.  She let out a little sound, somewhere between a sigh and a moan.  She sounded happy and sleepy...and more than a little aroused.

 

He suddenly wanted to tell the transport driver to stop, to let them off right there where he could push her into the trees and make love to her.  But she was falling asleep in his arms so he let her doze as they made their way down the hill to the transporter station.

 

He would let her rest now; he did not plan on ether of them sleeping much that night.

 

--------------

 

Chapel had never stayed at The Sunset but she’d met Tom for drinks at the bar there a few times.  He’d told her he always wanted to stay there but it was too rich for his blood.  She was very glad it wasn’t too rich for Jim’s.

 

He checked them in, then reached for her hand as they moved to the elevators.  She’d never have imagined how sweet he could be—passionate, sure, but this easy affection she felt coming from him was more alluring, after all she’d been through, than he could possibly know.

 

And the thing was, she didn’t think he was actually trying to be that way.  He just was that way.  When he let his guard down, anyway, which he clearly had with her.  How had he put it?  She was getting the real him.

 

And she was rapidly falling hard for the real him.

 

He opened the door, let her go first, then locked it after them.  She suddenly felt awkward so she walked to the floor to ceiling windows and stopped, caught off guard by the amazing view.

 

And also by the complete lack of curtains.

 

He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.  “The windows are specially treated.  We can see out, no one can see in.  And there are blinds that come down if you want it dark.”

 

“Come here often?”  She thought that came out wrong.  “I don’t mean with someone.  I mean—”

 

“I know what you mean.  I used to stay here sometimes once Lori moved out and I didn’t want to be in our apartment.  I liked the bathtubs and the view—and the total lack of anything personal.”

 

“So you’ve never had a woman here?”

 

He seemed to tense.  “I didn’t say that exactly.”

 

She turned and stared up at him.  “Relax.  I know that I brought up other women on the transport, but I’m not going to obsess over things that happened before we were even together.  We both have a past and it includes other people.  You think I didn’t make some bad choices after Tom?”

 

He relaxed against her.  “Sorry.  I just...I would like this to be special.”

 

“It is.  But we’re both adults and we’ll probably run into ex lovers from time to time.  And we can be idiots about that or we can just acknowledge the elephant in the room and move on.”  Even if in his case, it might be a whole herd of elephants.

 

Not that she hadn’t had her wild periods.  Before Roger and after Tom. 

 

“Good plan.”  Jim pulled her away from the window and into the bathroom. 

 

She started to laugh at the enormous tub.  “I think that’s technically a small swimming pool.  You could fit five people in there if they were very close.”

 

“They cater to Deltans.”

 

“I see.”  She checked out the various bath accoutrements while he got the tub filling.  The first one was too girly, the second too stinky, but the third was just right.  She held it out for him to smell and he nodded. 

 

Hinoki.”  She poured in some bath crystals, let the smell of Japanese cypress fill her nose.  “I spent time in Kyoto when I was an undergraduate.  It’s against my religion to get in that bath without a shower first.  You soak a clean body, not a dirty one.”

 

“Thank you for putting that so gracefully.  ‘Hey, fella, you stink’ would not have gone over as well.”  He turned the hot water up a little.  “This’ll keep it warm while we’re in the also very nice shower, then.”  He set it to shut off when it was done filling then turned to her.  “So.  Doctor.”

 

She laughed, suddenly nervous.  “So.  Captain.”  She moved closer, wrapped her arms around him.  “Have I told you how much I enjoyed the day?”

 

“You have not.  I enjoyed it, too.  You think we’ll enjoy the evening?”  He began to unbutton her shirt.

 

“Oh, yes.”

 

“I do, too.”  He eased the shirt off, then her bra and looked at her.  Really looked and she could feel herself blushing.  “Lovely,” he finally said as he pulled her to him and kissed her.

 

She pulled his shirt up, made him stop kissing her long enough to put his arms up so she could get the shirt off him.  Then he pulled her back so they were skin to skin.  She reached down and unfastened his pants, felt him doing the same to her.  Underwear was torn off and he was pushing her back against the counter, then hiking her up.

 

“I don’t want to wait,” he said and she managed to get out, “I don’t, either,” as she pulled him back for a kiss, as he pushed into her, and they both groaned.  He began to move, and she wrapped her legs around him, smiling as he said her name over and over as he thrust.

 

He reached between them, found the sweet spot and she was gone, crying out his name—although rather inarticulately—as she came.  He was smiling fiercely as he finished, too, as he clutched at her and cried out.

 

He collapsed against her and she held him tightly. 

 

He started to laugh.  “That was really not how I planned to do this.  I was going to seduce the hell out of you.”

 

“Seduce the hell out of me later,” she said as she kissed his neck.  “I like that you had to have me.”

 

“You have no idea how much I’ve been thinking of this.”  He eased out of her, helped her off the counter. 

 

“It may have crossed my mind a time or two also.”  She followed him into the shower. 

 

He got the water going—there were nozzles and body sprays everywhere, and she relaxed into the streams.  He pulled her closer, began to rub soap across her body.  “Were you doing anything in particular when you were thinking of being with me?”

 

She bit her lower lip, smiled and nodded.

 

He turned her so her back was to his chest, then reached around.  “Were you doing...this?”

 

Her legs nearly buckled, but he supported her.  “Yes, I believe I was doing that.  Please don’t stop doing that.”

 

“I have no intention of stopping.”  And he didn’t, not until she had cried out again and leaned hard against him.  He went back to soaping her up.  She turned, found the shampoo and washed his hair, then they traded and she soaped him while he lathered her hair.

 

She kissed him as they let the multiple streams of water rinse off all the soap and shampoo.  With her eyes closed, she got to know the feel of him, heard him laugh as she reached down for one particular part of him.  Then his laugh changed to a moan, then to something more strident as she didn’t let up on what she was doing until he relaxed against her.

 

They finally left the shower and made it to the huge bathtub, where they made love again and then soaked and talked for several hours, until she warned him they were going to prune up forever if they didn’t get out.


There were bathrobes hanging on the back of the door, and he wrapped her up in one, the thick fabric absorbing the water from the bath, then he slipped the other one on.

 

He put his arm around her, drew her with him to the desk, and called up the room service menu.  “I don’t know about you but I’m hungry.”

 

She nodded, helped him pick out some things that looked good, and smiled when he added a bottle of very expensive champagne to the order.  With a grin, he turned off the terminal, bent her over the desk and pulled up her robe and took her that way, taking his time, making her feel everything he did, then finishing a few minutes before the door chime sounded.

 

He adjusted their robes, then let in the server, who made a production out of opening the champagne and explaining each dish.  Jim finally grabbed the padd out of his hand, added what looked like a huge tip, and hustled the man out of the room.  “Jesus, I think he wanted to be invited to join in.  No one has that much to say about room service.”

 

She laughed and held up her champagne glass.  “To us.  Just the two of us, not him, too.”

 

Jim grinned.  “To us, Chris.”

 

--------------

 

Kirk woke up to Chris cuddled against him, her hand on his thigh.  He studied her as she slept; she looked peaceful. 

 

He glanced over at the clock on the nightstand, saw that they had very little time if he wanted to make it back up to the ship to get his uniform and then get to his meeting.  He’d been so focused on her—on what they were doing—last night that he’d forgotten to set the alarm.

 

“Wake up, Chris,” he said as he kissed her gently.

 

Mmmm, nooooo.”  She batted at him and he laughed.  Someone was waking up a little cranky.

 

So he abandoned her face and slid under the covers, finding another place to kiss.

 

Ohhhhh.”  This time the sound was a happy one and she didn’t try to knock him away. 

 

A few seconds later, she seemed to be fully awake, writhing underneath him and calling out.  He grinned as he crawled out from under the covers, eased her legs up onto his shoulders, and pushed into her.

 

She closed her eyes, murmured, “No by your leave.  No—”

 

She quit talking when he started thrusting. 

 

“Did you want me to stop, Chris?  I’m not quite clear on that.”

 

“Stop and I’ll kill you.”  She had her eyes closed, her head thrown back, mouth slightly open. 

 

Sexy as hell.

 

He couldn’t last, collapsed on her and let her move her legs.  “Good morning.”

 

“Good morning, Jim.”  She pulled him down for a kiss.  “What a wonderful way to wake up.”

 

“I wish we were going to Zellini’s.  Breakfast would be wonderful, too.”

 

She glanced at the clock.  “No time.  We need to get you to your meeting.”  She gave him a quick kiss, then got out of bed and went into the bathroom, coming out with a handful of clothes—hers and his.

 

They got dressed, fixed the extreme case of bed hair he was sporting, and headed for the transporter to beam back to the Enterprise.  Once they got up there and on the deck their quarters were located, he pulled her to him for a quick hug. 

 

“I’ll see you at lunchtime.”

 

She nodded.  “Ping me when you want me down there.  I’m going to sleep a little bit more.”

 

“Lucky girl.”  He turned and headed for his quarters, took the world’s shortest shower and got ready in record time.  Then he was transporting directly to Starfleet Command, and to the conference room outside Nogura’s office.

 

A conference room that was empty save for Nogura and...Levesh?

 

“Ah, Jim, you remember the Belletian ambassador?”

 

He nodded, held his hand out to Levesh and she laughed and knocked it away, pulling him instead into a very tight hug.  “Oh, okay.  A hug is fine.”

 

Nogura gave Levesh a real smile, but the one he turned on Kirk was definitely for show.  “Ambassador Levesh is just settling in.  She told me what an impression you made on her and here you are, on Earth, ready and willing to show her the sights as she gets settled.”

 

“Ready to...what now?”

 

“I need a guide to get acclimated, Captain Kirk.”  One side of her mouth went up—the side Nogura couldn’t see.  “I want you to be that guide.”

 

Kirk met Nogura’s eyes.  “I’m honored, but Protocol has people much better versed in transitioning diplomats to Earth.” And he was on leave, he wanted to say.

 

Nogura waved off the idea of having an actual expert on relocation relocate the ambassador.  “Jim, I love how you step up.  Go have fun, you two.”  He motioned for Kirk to move closer.  “I expect you to give her all your time until you ship out again. Got it?”

 

He was going to have to spend all four remaining days of his shore leave with this woman?  And not with Chris?

 

Levesh took him by the arm.  “Admiral Nogura was telling me how you love to eat breakfast at Zellini’s.  I’m famished.  Why don’t we go?”  Her smile was a winning one—the smile of a woman used to getting her way.

 

Nogura was watching him.  He murmured, “I’m not gone yet, pardner.”

 

Kirk nodded and led her out of the conference room.  As soon as he got her around two corridors, he stopped and said, “Give me a moment, okay?”

 

“You can have as many as you need.  I’m going to monopolize you as soon as we leave this place.”  The way she said monopolize sounded far too sexy.

 

He was not going to sleep with her.  But he had a feeling he was going to have to play this carefully.  Levesh was not going to want to hear the truth.

 

“Kirk to Chapel.”  He was speaking into his communicator very softly.  Heard her come on just as softly, “Chapel here.”

 

“Do we have privacy?”

 

“Yep.”  She sounded happy.

 

I’m going to be...detained.”

 

“Oh, so no lunch?  Well, I’ll see you when you’re done, then.”  He could hear the good humor in her voice—good humor that would soon be draining away.

 

“No, Chris, Nogura assigned me as escort for Levesh.  Full time escort.  She apparently sort of asked for me to help her as she transitioned to her post as Federation ambassador.”

 

“Help how?”

 

“Not like that.  But, he expects me to spend my entire leave at her beck and call.”

 

“Oh.”  She sounded like she was trying to be sympathetic, but some anger came through.  “So, no breakfast for lunch?”

 

“I’m going to get breakfast for breakfast.  She wants to go to Zellini’s.”

 

“Take her someplace else.” 

 

He took a deep breath.  “Chris.  I can’t.  She mentioned it by name.  This won’t happen again—this is just Nogura using his last week to torment me.”

 

“Yes, because escorting a beautiful woman around is such torment.”  She was definitely angry.  Shit.

 

He wasn’t sure what to say to make it better and was pretty sure whatever came out of his mouth would make it worse.  “I’ve got to go, hon’.”

 

“Are you coming back here to sleep?”

 

“Of course I am.  I’ll see you tonight.”  He pitched his voice even lower.  “I miss you already.”

 

“Right.  Okay.”  There was an awkward silence and then she said, “I’ll see you when I see you, I guess?”

 

“Tonight, Chris.  It may be late, though.”

 

“Wake me up if you want.  I’m fine with that.” She didn’t sound fine.

 

“Okay.”  He heard Levesh calling him, hoped Chris didn’t hear her, too.  “I’ve gotta run.  Kirk out.”  He closed the communicator before he could make her any madder—or disappoint her even more.

 

“Ready, darling?”  Levesh probably would not take Kirk’s sudden unavailability well—might even go to Nogura about it and Kirk wasn’t sure what Nogura would do.

 

He took a deep breath.  He could flirt and evade.  Should be easy.  “Ready,” he said.

 

--------------

 

Chapel had given up waiting for Jim, was half asleep in bed when her chime rang.  “Come,” she mumbled.

 

“I’m sorry,” was the first thing out of his mouth.  “This is not how I wanted our first shore leave to go.”

 

“Come to bed,” she said, moving over and opening the covers to him.  The fact that she was naked seemed to make him happy.

 

He stripped off his clothes, crawled into bed, and pulled the covers back over them.  “Missed you,” he said as he leaned in to kiss her.

 

She pulled him onto her.  He was already hard.  His kisses were fierce.  She kissed him back, trying—and failing—to get the image of Levesh out of her mind.

 

That beautiful woman.  That beautiful woman he’d been with all evening.  That beautiful woman who had kicked him out of her bed before he was ready to go the last time he’d seen her.

 

Chapel let go of him, and he seemed to sense her change of mood immediately, eased away and studied her.

 

“I’m sorry.  Please don’t be mad.”  She tried to look away, but he said “Chris, look at me,” in the most gentle voice possible.

 

“I don’t know who you’re seeing when you look at me right now.”

 

He closed his eyes.

 

“I trust you, Jim.  I do.  But you’ve been with her all evening and you come to me ready for sex.  Is it because of me or her?”  She ran her fingers through his hair as he slid off her.  “I’m not saying I think you cheated on me.  I’m not saying that at all.  I’m just saying...”  She sighed and tried to turn away but he held her.

 

“You’re just saying...?”

 

“This is new.  And I’m not at my most confident after Tom.  I’m not saying I’ll feel this way every time.  But I know myself, and I’ll doubt, and I’ll question, and it’ll start to be a problem.”  She nuzzled into him, trying to show him she wanted him in her bed, in her arms.  “Make love to me in the morning, when Levesh isn’t so fresh in my mind.”

 

“In your mind, not mine?”

 

She nodded.  “I mean it when I say I trust you. I wouldn’t have opened the door if I didn’t—I would have just pretended to be asleep.  But I don’t trust myself not to obsess.  Why go there if we don’t have to?  Sleep with me.  Kiss me if you want.  Hold me.  Just don’t fuck me right this minute.”  She pulled back so she could see his face.  “Have I lost you?”

 

“No, you haven’t lost me.”  He smiled gently.  “I was thinking of you—I’m seeing you—but I can see how that might not be clear.  If you spent the evening with Spock and then wanted to screw me before we’d even said ten words to each other, I might be a little insecure, too.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yes.  Do you know why I sent you to talk to him?”

 

“I have some idea.”

 

“Let me make it crystal clear.  He said he was interested in you and I told him to back off.  And then I felt bad about it—you loved him first; who was I to take that away from you?”

 

“He and I...we’re nothing.”

 

“And Levesh and I are nothing.  But tell that to wounded hearts, eh?”  He pulled her closer, kissed her tenderly—quick, soft kisses that didn’t promise sex was in the offing.  Darting touches that made her feel more loved than aroused.  “I’m sorry this got so screwed up.”

 

“You know, I heard through a friend of mine at Command that Nogura was mad at you for finagling the ship after V’ger.  I guess he really is, huh?”

 

“He’s livid.  I know he wanted to give it to Caruso—that was his second pick after Will—but I came back a hero and when the Council asked me to name my next posting, I said I wanted the Enterprise.  You should have seen his face.”

 

“I’m still unclear how Levesh is a punishment.  Does he know we’re together—or that she kicked you out of bed?”

 

“I don’t think it has anything to do with her, and I’m relatively sure he doesn’t know about us—not that I’m going to hide that we’re together, in case you were worried?”

 

She had been wondering.  She kissed him slowly, trying to say thank you with the caress.

 

“He knows that shore leave is when I decompress.  I climb mountains and ride horses and find a deserted beach—and I do it alone.  Or sometimes I take Spock and Bones and we go camping.  But shepherding a needy diplomat around the city I hated living in when I was assigned here?  He knew that’d be torture.  Does that make sense?”

 

“It makes perfect sense.  I’m sorry I’m so—”

 

“Belay whatever you’re going to say.  Don’t be sorry because I think you’re wonderful.  And you’re honest.  I may not like hearing that you aren’t sure who I’m thinking of, but I do like knowing you’re going to tell me hard things.  Lori never did— she kept things from me right up to the moment she walked out.  Carol didn’t either—I didn’t know she was pregnant until she started showing.  Honesty means everything to me.”  He brushed back her hair, stared at her in a way that made her feel safe.

 

With a smile, she pushed him to his back and climbed on top of him.

 

“I thought you said...?”

 

“Maybe a little conversation is all we needed.  Conversation about us.  Conversation that grounds us.  Does that make sense?”  She positioned him where she wanted him, but held herself off him.

 

“That makes perfect sense.”  His smile was a beautiful thing—and it grew more so as she slid down onto him.

 

“Oh, holy shit, Chris.  You are all I was thinking about, I swear to God.” 

 

She moved on him the way she’d learned he liked when they were in the bath, and he played with her chest, sending sensation everywhere.  Then he dropped his hands lower and she was lost.

 

He was grinning when she finally opened her eyes, then he pulled her down for a kiss and held her on top of him.  They lay like that for a long moment and then he pushed up, hard and the next time he did it, she met him.  He didn’t let go of her, held her upper body immobile as they thrust together and kissed.  Then he was gone, his fingers digging into her, murmuring, “Chris, Chris, Chris” as he came.

 

She lay enveloped in his arms, groins still pressed together, and he said, “Don’t get off me just yet,” so she relaxed, let him and her knees support her.

 

“I had nice things planned for us this weekend,” he said softly.  “I promise this won’t—”

 

She put her hand over his mouth.  “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Command may do this kind of shit again.  I’ll learn to be flexible.  Especially if shore leave isn’t all we have.”

 

“It’s not all we have.  But I don’t want to never have time with you off the ship.” 

 

He rubbed her back gently, and she sighed and said, “Scratch it?”  He began to run his nails lightly over her skin and she closed her eyes and smiled.  He was so tactile.  So affectionate.

 

So fucking good.

 

“What happens if I fall in love with you?” she asked softly enough that he could ignore it if he wanted to.

 

He grinned. “I fall in love back?”

 

“That’s a very good answer.”  She could feel her eyes closing and eased off him, ended up cuddling in his arms.  “I could get used to this.”

 

“Do get used to it.  I will, too.”  He took a deep breath.  “What are you doing tomorrow?”

 

“Ny and I are meeting Jan.  I need to tell her about us.  I don’t want her to hear it from anyone else.”

 

“I like that you weren’t so annoyed with me you don’t want to tell her.”  He grinned.

 

“I’m annoyed with Command, not with you.”

 

“Too bad that won’t always be the case.  Or can I blame them whenever I tick you off?”  He laughed, then he grew more serious.  “Jan’s not going to be happy with you, is she?”

 

“No, probably not.  The real question is will she be happy for me, I think.  I hope she can get past the hurt to be a supporter.”  She studied him, decided to ask him something that she maybe didn’t want to know the answer to.  “Did you have feelings for her?”

 

“Not the kind she wanted me to have.  I certainly wasn’t going to break my rule about sleeping with crew for her.”

 

“The way you are for me?”

 

“Exactly.  Try not to rub that in when you tell her about us.”  He smiled sadly.  “She’s a good person.  She just wasn’t for me.”

 

“You’re a good person, too.”  She let her smile grow teasing.  “Even if you did go to Zellini’s without me.”

 

“If it’s any consolation, I was so irritated the food didn’t taste very good.”

 

She laughed.  “It is a consolation.”  Which meant she was doing exactly what she was hoping Jan wouldn’t do—be happy when things didn’t turn out so great.  She needed to give Jim a break, this was who he was.  If she wanted someone who wasn’t social, she should have stuck to mooning over Spock.

 

“Are you meeting Jan at Zellini’s?”

 

“Nope.  I’m saving that place for you, my dear.”  She kissed his cheek.  “We’re meeting Jan for lunch at Fusaichi’s.”

 

“Love their sushi.”

 

“Me, too.”  She shifted so she was more comfortable next to him—she had always thought that was the most difficult part of a new relationship: finding out how you fit when the sex was over and the cuddling began.  “I’m not just going to sit and mope when Command interferes with our personal time.  I’m a big girl and can amuse myself.”

 

“I love that.”  He laughed softly.  “As long as you don’t amuse yourself with Spock.”

 

“I told you—”

 

“I know what you told me.  But I’m still jealous.  Don’t you kind of like that?”

 

She laughed softly.  “Yeah, I kind of do.”

 

--------------

 

Kirk woke and for a moment had no idea where he was.  Then he felt Chris next to him, remembered that he was in her quarters.  He smiled when he saw she was still asleep.  A quick glance at the chrono told him they had an hour or so before he had to get up and get back to Levesh.

 

Damn the woman for making so much over him that Nogura had been able to do this.  She’d come on strong last night, too.  Had wanted him to do more than just walk her back to her hotel, had rubbed up against him and kissed him goodbye the way an old lover would.

 

He’d said no.  It hadn’t been a question.  But Chris had been right.  He’d come up to her aroused from what Levesh had done.  Just because he didn’t want her didn’t mean he wasn’t human—that she wouldn’t have an effect on him. 


That other women wouldn’t, either. 

 

He had to remember not to bring that back to Chris.  To connect with her the way they had last night when they were just talking before he ever touched her if he’d been with someone else.  But hopefully, in time, she wouldn’t care about the other women he might have to spend some time with.  Hopefully in time, she’d know he was with her.

 

She’d recovered pretty damn fast last night.  He smiled as he thought of her straddling him, that smile he loved on her face.  She’d let her hurt go quickly.

 

He loved her for it.

 

He’d probably be in love with her very soon—if he wasn’t already.  He liked how she made him feel; he liked how she smiled when they were together, like she was finally having fun again.

 

And he loved this, waking up next to her, just watching her, leaning in and waking her with slow kisses.

 

Mmmmm,” she said, her lips curling under his own.  “Someone woke up happy.”  She was already reaching to see just how happy and he laughed as she made contact.

 

He was very, very happy if that was how you defined it.

 

“So, Captain Kirk, if I wanted to make you think about me all day while you’re with that annoying woman, what should I do with this lovely part of you?  Where should I put it?”

 

He laughed.  “Oh, so many options.”

 

“I have an idea.”  She patted her chest.  “Sit right here.”

 

He did as she said, adjusted himself forward when she asked, so she could take him in her mouth and—oh, holy God.  “Chris.”

 

He tried to reach back to touch her but she grabbed his hands and made a noise that was clearly a “No.”

 

“You don’t want me to help you out?”

 

She let go of him long enough to say, “Enjoy the show,” and then recaptured him.

 

And a hell of a show it was.  He was in the perfect place to watch himself disappear into her mouth as he thrust gently.  It was so sexy; he knew he’d be thinking about it for longer than just today.

 

He didn’t last long, and he wasn’t sure if he should pull out but she held him in place, let him finish where he’d started.  He sat for a moment, eyes screwed shut, breathing a little hard. 

 

She released him and laughed gently.  “Good morning, sir.”

 

“You,” he said, as he got off her, as he kissed his way down her body, “are wonderfully skilled.” 

 

“So you’ll think about that?”

 

“I will.”  He grinned at her.  “Let me give you something to think about.”

 

She was writhing in no time, arching and crying out and he teased her a little after, licking gently where she was sensitive, causing her to buck beneath him.

 

“I’m a lucky girl,” she mumbled—at least he thought that was what she said.  He liked the sentiment, so he decided to keep thinking that until he found out otherwise.

 

She pulled him up to lie next to her, kissed him lazily and he relaxed and stroked her hair.  She had such soft skin; he liked that about her.  It felt good to touch her.

 

She glanced behind her at the chrono and pouted.  “It’ll go off soon.  And then you’ll be gone.”

 

“Yes, that is how mornings work.”  He rubbed noses with her.  “But then the day ends and I’ll be back.  Or you’ll be in my quarters.”

 

“Your quarters are nicer.”

 

“These aren’t bad.  You did keep the CMO suite, after all.”

 

“Nobody told me to move.”  She grinned at him.

 

“Oh, hell.  You think Bones and I were going to go there?  You’re very intimidating, you know?”

 

“Me?  Pfffff.”  She laughed at his expression.  “You’re serious?”

 

He nodded.  He didn’t find her very intimidating at the moment, all naked and happy from his touches and kisses.  “Bones never said anything about it.  He may not realize he has the deputy’s quarters.”  He frowned.  “Who should have had those quarters?”  He suddenly realized it wasn’t just her he demoted.  He’d never considered that there must have been a ripple effect.

 

“Doctor Patel.  He left the ship, though.  He was Will’s friend.”

 

“Ah.”  There had been several who’d done that.  Conveza in Engineering had done the same thing, which meant Kirk could transfer Stevens on.  The man had impressed him and Scotty liked him a lot.

 

Nyota seemed to like him a lot, too, if he was reading the signs right.  Good for her—she needed to grab some happiness.  He’d never figured out why she hadn’t found someone to nest with; she seemed like the nesting type.

 

He hoped she wasn’t waiting for him.  He loved her but not that way.

 

“I didn’t really care for Patel,” Chris said.

 

“Didn’t you pick him?”

 

“I did.  Sort of.  Will had served with him and I had less choice than you might think.”

 

He knew how that went.  “Well, then good thing he left.”

 

“I’ll say.”  She cuddled in.  “I was thinking of leaving, too.  I’m glad I didn’t.”

 

“I’m very glad you didn’t, too.”  Jim Junior was also chiming in approval of her continued presence, so Kirk pushed her to her back and followed her over.  “We still have a little bit of time if you want to make some more memories?”

 

“Oh, if we must.”  She laughed as she rolled her eyes.

 

“I know.  It’s a trial.”  He began to move a little more roughly than he had before, watched her carefully, ready to back off if she didn’t like it.

 

She seemed to really like it.

 

“You’re a saint, Chris, for indulging me.”

 

“Yes.  I’m a saint.  Harder, please.”

 

He smiled and obliged her.  Not the request one expected from a saint.  What would she be the patron of?  Naughtiness?

 

He shifted so he was hitting a little differently, saw it work as her breathing changed, as she began to clutch the covers and did that sort of freeze that meant, “Stop what you are doing, and I will kill you, because I’m about to go.”

 

And then she was arching up, going very loudly, clutching him as he finished while she was still coming down from the place he’d sent her to.

 

She smiled, a silly, happy smile of the recently orgasmed.  “I hope these walls are more soundproof than on the last ship.”

 

He laughed.  He hadn’t been quiet, either.  “Me, too, Chris.  Me, too.”

 

--------------

 

Chapel and Nyota walked down to Fusaichi’s from the transporter station.  They saw Jan waiting for them, and Nyota waved.

 

“You nervous?” she asked and glanced over at Chapel.

 

“No.  Why should telling her that I am seeing Jim make me nervous?”  She closed her eyes for a quick moment.  “Oh, God, can I throw up?”

 

“She’ll be an adult about it, Christine.  Eventually...”  At Chapel’s look, she grinned.  “Just get some food into her before you tell her.  You know how bitchy she gets when she hasn’t eaten.”

 

Chapel nodded and took a deep breath.  This would be okay.  Jan would not stab her with chopsticks.  But it might be how Jan would feel, so Chapel had to think about that—how to say this best.

 

She’d practiced it about ten times in the mirror.  It was not a good talk no matter how she broached it with her reflection.

 

What was so bad about letting Jan find out on her own?

 

“Breathe, Christine.  I am not going to pick you up if you pass out.”

 

“Some friend.”  But she laughed at Ny’s expression and nodded.  “This will be okay.”

 

They got to Jan and there was a round of hugging before they went in and got a table.  They ordered and then Jan started telling them the latest from Command.  Chapel heaved a silent sigh of relief—the longer she could put this off, the better.

 

“And oh yeah, I saw our fearless captain.  With a woman—what a shock, I know.”

 

Chapel stiffened.  “He’s not with her.  Not really.”

 

“She was hanging on him but now that you mention it, he didn’t look that into it.  Who the hell is she?  Not a flavor of the week?”

 

Nyota looked at Chapel.  “Yes, Christine, tell us who she is.”  She knew, having heard the story—a discreet version, anyway—the day before at dinner.

 

“She’s the new ambassador from Belletia.  She likes him.  He doesn’t like her.  But he’s stuck shepherding her around until leave is over.  He’s not happy about it because...”  Oh God.  This was it.  “Because he and I were supposed to spend some time together.”

 

That was worse than any of the practice sessions in the mirror.  Why did she just blurt it out like that?  She should have softened Jan up a little.  Talked about feelings and chemistry and how things just happened sometimes.

 

“You’re with Jim Kirk?”  Jan looked at Nyota.  “Is she serious?”

 

“She is.  Not delusional in any way—or yanking your chain.”

 

Jan didn’t seem upset, more confused.  “What happened to Spock?”

 

“I got over him.”  Chapel slowly let the breath she’d been holding out.  No explosion so far.  This was going better than she’d thought it would.

 

“I meant more with the captain.  I always thought the two of them...?”  Jan looked from her to Nyota. “No?”

 

“Well, unless they’re carrying on really stealthily, I’m pretty sure they’re not together.”

 

“Shit.  I left because I couldn’t compete with a guy—especially a Vulcan guy.  Especially that Vulcan guy.  But I could have competed with you, Christine.”

 

Chapel wasn’t quite sure how to take that.  She decided not to get offended unless Jan got meaner than that.  Her blood sugar was probably low—what the hell was taking the waiters so long?  Edamame didn’t take that long to prepare.

 

Jan was studying her as if she couldn’t quite figure out whether what Chapel was saying was the truth.  “You?”

 

“He does like scientists,” Nyota said, her tone at its most helpful.

 

“That’s true.  Except for that lawyer woman, they were all scientists, weren’t they?  Well, I was doomed then.  No way I’m going back for a degree.”  Jan shook her head.  “I gotta tell you, Christine.  I’m not sure you’re going to enjoy being his girl.  I mean...if what I saw was any indication, you’re going to be living with a whole lot of jealousy.”

 

Chapel tried to keep her face as expressionless as Spock would have.  “I trust him.”

 

“Well, trust only goes so far once your heart gets broken.  What happens the first time he has to seduce some alien to save his real love: that damn ship?”

 

“Jan, don’t be so negative.”  Nyota’s voice was the one they didn’t argue with.  “Christine knows what she’s doing.  And if you saw them together, you’d see that he really likes her.”  She sighed.  “This was really hard for Christine to tell you about.  She knows how you feel.”

 

“What are you?  Her interpreter?  Jesus.”  Jan looked up at the waiter who had finally appeared with the edamame and bowls of miso soup for each of them.  “’Bout damn time.”

 

“Are you really mad?”  Chapel ignored her soup, just focused on the friend she felt like she’d let down.

 

“Really mad?  No.  Irritated?  Yes.  You were always after Spock.  Wrapping my mind around you being a rival for the captain—that just hurts my head.”

 

Chapel started to say something but felt Nyota’s hand on her leg, squeezing in a way that clearly was saying, “Let it go.”

 

So she did the smart thing and kept her mouth shut.

 

They all managed to find other topics to talk about for the rest of lunch.

 

--------------

 

Kirk sat watching Levesh dance at the club she’d insisted they come to and thanked every deity he could think of that this was his last day of shore leave.  She shimmied over to him, started to crawl onto him—what the hell?  Did she think she was going to give him a lap dance? 

 

Not that it would be that unusual in this club.  The patrons were all over each other.

 

He pushed her away.  Levesh, you’re a nice woman.”  That was stretching it.  She was smart and funny at times but probably not in the vicinity of nice.  “But sex is not happening.”

 

She cocked her head to the side and studied him.  “You liked me a lot the first time.  And I kicked you out of my place.  That usually ensures a man will want to get back in.”  She smiled coyly when she said “get back in” but he ignored it.

 

“My situation’s changed.  I’m with someone.”

 

“Well, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, Jim.  Besides, didn’t Admiral Nogura order you to show me a good time.  What’s he going to think if I tell him you left me high and dry?”

 

He sipped his drink and then said, “I don’t really care what he thinks.  I’ve shown you around the city.  For hours longer than is reasonable.  I’ve eaten with you.  I’ve taken you to the goddamn park and the waterfront and anywhere else that seemed like a place you should see.  I got your Federation credentials expedited.  Seems to me, I’ve left you very far from high and dry.  I’m a starship captain, lady.  Not a damn gigolo.  You want to find someone to go home with, start working the crowd—I’m sure there are a few men here who won’t say no to a gorgeous woman like you.”

 

“Wow.  That was quite a speech.  You should transfer to diplomatic.”  Levesh’s expression changed and she sat down in the chair next to him.  “You’re with someone?”

 

He nodded.

 

“Who is it?”

 

“Right.  I tell you and you tell Nogura.”

 

“He’s kind of a pompous ass.  I don’t believe I’ll be telling him anything except that you showed me a wonderful time and were a perfect gentleman.”  She sighed.  “Why didn’t you just say you were with someone?  I’d have backed off.”

 

“I didn’t think you cared.”  He took a deep breath.  “Look, this kind of thing is part of my job.  I just didn’t expect to have to do it here.  Giving a tour of my ship is so much easier.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I love the ship—and there’s only so much of her to see.  The tour’s over pretty quickly.”

 

She laughed.  “Okay, so clearly we need to work on our communication skills when we run into each other in the future.  Maybe you won’t be with whoever you’re with when that happens.”

 

“I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.”

 

“Bet the what now?”

 

He laughed.  “A saying I heard growing up in Iowa.  There’s a lot of agricultural production there.”

 

“Ah.”  She said it in the way that meant she still didn’t get what he was saying, but wasn’t going to probe any further—although she’d probably look it up later.  She glanced at her watch and said, “You know, there are still some hours left in the evening for fun.”

 

He nodded, resigned at this point to whatever she picked. 

 

“You should call that person you’re with and do something fun.”  She stood up, leaned over, and kissed him gently on the cheek.  “I did this because I wanted to make up for asking you to leave that night on Belletia.  I was kicking myself that next morning.”

 

“You don’t have to apologize for that.  It probably got me the person I’m seeing.”

 

Ahhh.  Doctor whatever her name is.  She’s not as pretty as I am.  Is she smarter?”

 

“Well, you’re pretty smart, my dear, but yes, she has you beat.”  And for the record, he thought Chris was more appealing than Levesh, even if Levesh won on looks alone.  But everyone was a mix of personality and looks.  He’d known beautiful people that became less attractive the more you got to know them, and the reverse held true also: plainer people began to sparkle if they had wit and charm.  Not that Chris was plain.

 

“Thank you for showing me around, Jim.  Stay safe out there in space.”

 

He nodded and watched her leave, then found a quiet spot to comm Chris.  “Kirk to Chapel.”

 

“Chapel here.”

 

“What are you wearing?”

 

She laughed.  “Just a few more hours and you’ll be free to come see for yourself.”

 

“I’m free now.  Levesh turned in early.  We can do anything you want until morning.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yep.  Sky’s the limit.  Well, all right, so is my credit balance, but mostly the sky’s the limit.”

 

Her laugh was a beautiful thing.  “Where do you want to meet?”

 

“Are you hungry?”  Levesh liked to eat late so they hadn’t gone to dinner yet.

 

“I am.”

 

Zellini’s?  You can sweet talk him into breakfast for me.”

 

“I’ll meet you there.  Oh and I’m sending you something I think will make you happy.”

 

He saw an article attached to her text, opened it and saw that Nogura had retired, effective noon today.  Monroe had replaced him.  Monroe who liked Kirk a lot and had grinned when the Council had decided to give him his ship back.

 

“This is great.  Thank you.”

 

“I’ll see you soon.”

 

He left the club, ignoring the very pretty women—and some not-so-pretty ones—who tried to catch his eye.  He was meeting his woman at his favorite diner.  And then he would take her back up to his ship and make love to her, and talk to her, and fall asleep next to her. 

 

They would be together.  On his ship.


Life just didn’t get any better than that.

 

FIN