DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2015 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
I Want To Follow You, But Not Be Led
Kirk made his way into the officers’ club and smiled at several friends who said hello, but he kept moving toward the bar, finally coming to rest behind the lone empty stool in what was otherwise a solid line of burgundy wool. He started to slide onto it and heard, “That’s saved” in the surly tone that told him Chris had probably said it a hundred times before.
“For me, I hope.”
She started to smile but didn’t look over. “Took you long enough to get here.” She slid him her drink and gestured for the bartender to bring two more. “Catch up, why don’t you?”
He downed it quickly. Single malt. She knew what he liked. She also liked what he liked. “So, Commander Chapel, what’s a nice girl like you...?”
“Not a girl. Not so nice. As you well know.” She leaned in. “What did you and Cartwright have to talk about that took so damn long?”
“Our next mission.”
“As in yours and his?”
“Nope.” He smiled at the bartender as he set their drinks down, then raised his glass to Chris. “As in yours and mine.”
She clinked her glass against his. “I’ll drink to that.” She took a sip, then put her glass down. “So, explain.”
“He thinks you could use a break. He’s got this idea for an ops billet on a ship. A team billet actually, but just a small team, not like I’m hosting the ops flag football team.”
“We play tackle, toots. What’s this flag shit?”
“My mistake.” He grinned when he saw her smile. “It’s kind of a pilot program we’d be helping him with.”
“He told me about that. I didn’t think he’d pull the flagship in on this. Or let us play house while we were piloting his brainchild. I assume that’s where you’re going with this?”
He nodded. “I don’t see why I can’t suspend my ‘not in the nest’ policy since you’ll be a temporary member of the crew—and besides, we’re already together. It’s not like we’d be starting something once you got there. You’re correct: the flagship wouldn’t be the normal spot for this billet, but we’re headed in the right direction for the pilot. It makes sense and moreover, I’m very motivated to cooperate seeing as how you’re involved.”
She was laughing softly.
“Are you tired? Do you need a break?”
She nodded. “I need you, too. I’ve missed you.”
“What’s going on?”
“We’ve just...I don’t know. It’s been a hard few months.” She reached down and took his hand, and he squeezed gently. “Can we get out of here?”
“Yes, we can, because I’ve missed you, too. And we have three whole days on Earth before we ship out.”
“How long will this pilot run?”
“Couple of weeks. Maybe longer. Depends on where he ends up sending us. Emergencies being unpredictable.”
“Right.” She seemed very far away. “He picking the team or am I?”
“Not sure. Ask him.”
“Okay.” She looked down.
“Something I should know?”
“Just wondering when I was going to get to weigh in on this? Not sure I like you both deciding what’s good for me without even bothering to talk to me about it.”
He frowned. This was the downside of Chris—she could switch so fast. If you looked up mercurial in the dictionary, her picture would be there. “We’re talking now.”
“Yes”—she threw back her drink—“after it’s a done deal.”
“Cartwright brought this up, Chris. He is the admiral.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Jim. He’s your friend. And you were a goddamned admiral. Don’t play the rank card with me of all people.” She slid off the stool and headed for the door leaving him sitting.
He motioned the bartender over. “Put it on my tab?”
“It’s already on hers, sir.”
“Oh. Okay.” He hurried out and caught up with her by the elevator. “Are you sure you want me to go home with you?”
“I’m just mad.”
“At me or Matthew?”
“I don’t know. Him, I guess. I’ll deal with him in the morning. Just...” She shook her head and sighed, reaching out for him, and he took her hand and held on, following her onto the elevator.
It was empty, so he pulled her to him once the doors closed and kissed her as tenderly as he could. “I missed you, Chris.”
She kissed him back, her lips sweet. Mercurial could also play in his favor.
She let go of his hand and put her arms around him, a tighter hug than her norm. “I’ve really been missing you this time.”
“I don’t mind that.” He rubbed noses with her, something that always made her smile. “I always miss you.”
“Short on alien princesses, were you?”
“Something like that.” He tucked her arm in his and led her to the door. “I’m assuming we’re staying at your place and not up on the ship?”
She nodded. “I want you all to myself tonight.”
“Not a problem.”
“What is a problem is that I have no food in the house.”
He turned them and headed down the street to his preferred Chinese takeout place. He ordered some of his favorites and some of hers and something neither of them had tried—a tradition they’d been following since the first time they’d gone out for dinner, after he’d left Antonia and rejoined Starfleet to serve at the Academy, back when he and Chris were still just friends.
They sat in a shadowed booth near the door while they waited for their food and kissed like two teenagers on their first date. The proprietor had to cough rather loudly to get their attention, and Kirk knew that he was blushing a little—also knew it was probably too dark for the guy to see how red he was.
“Let’s get out of here,” Chris said, pushing him out of the booth with a laugh.
He carried the food in one hand, his other arm around her, holding her close. “I don’t know if I want to ravish you first or eat.”
She chuckled. “I think if you have to consider, then you might be hungry rather than horny.”
“Oh, desire is there. But so is hunger.”
“Maybe a quickie. Then a light dinner. Then more sex.”
“Then more dinner?” He grinned. He loved Chinese food but it never filled him up for long.
“And then no more sex or we’ll throw up. Sleep then.”
“I think we’re officially old.”
“Speak for yourself, darling.” She smiled as she said it and leaned in to kiss him. “Although I’m so tired now I’ll probably fall asleep if you let me lie down too long.”
“Well, it’s not a recommended position for dining.”
“True.” She turned them into her apartment building. “I put you on access for the door, by the way. Give it a try.”
He felt a surge of pleasure. Felt a bigger one when he palmed open the main door. When they got to her apartment, he opened that door, too. “Wow, all-access pass.”
“It’s true. You have me, I’m afraid.”
“I love the sound of that.” He put the food down in the kitchen and began to strip off her uniform, pushing her toward the bedroom. “You’re overdressed.”
“As are you.” She slowly undid his uniform jacket. “I may have gotten you some new things.”
He peeked in the closet and saw she’d bought him the kind of casual pants and shirts he liked. “I approve.”
“Yes, copying what you already have was very daring of me.” She grinned. “You had nothing here. It was ridiculous to have to bring a bag each time.”
“Did you load me up on underwear, too?”
“I debated. It seemed rather motherly, to be honest.”
“So you bought me clothes but no underwear?” He couldn’t hide the grin. She was usually so pragmatic.
“I have a refresher. You can clean what you have until you buy your own damn underwear.” She leaned in and kissed him. “Now, is this really the kind of sexy talk you want before the pre-Chinese-feast quickie?”
“Actually I find it very comforting.” He closed his eyes as he felt her slide her hand down his belly, down to James Junior, clasping firmly. “I find that even more comforting.”
“Comforting may not be what I have in mind right at this moment.” She led him by his less evolved self to the bed, pulling him down, kissing him fiercely, making what they’d been doing in the restaurant look like child’s play. He reached down, and she closed her eyes at his touch and moaned. He intensified his attack, smiling as she arched her back, as she let go of him, unable to multitask apparently in the face of such a concerted effort.
“So damn good,” he murmured as he moved over her and into her, closing his eyes as she wrapped her legs around him, then opening them so he could enjoy watching her breasts move as he thrust.
He’d never been entirely sure if he was more a breast man or a leg man, and with her, he had the best of both worlds. Damned amazing chest and long legs. Like him, she wasn’t as trim as she’d been when she was younger, but he didn’t mind a little flesh on the bones, especially when she was so free in bed—he couldn’t help but think of her as an old-time courtesan, all rounded hips and chest, a body made for pleasure like this.
She loved making him happy in bed. She was responsive as hell. She didn’t seem to have any inhibitions if he wanted to try something new—or more accurately, even if the answer was no, she wasn’t inhibited in telling him that. He got a simple no without any judgment that he’d asked.
“Jim, I need you to really let go. Go hard. As hard as you can.” She wasn’t afraid to ask for what she wanted either.
“Are you sure?” They’d done this before. Sometimes it scared him a little how good it felt to let go this way. To almost, but not quite, lose control and bury himself in her. “Tonight?”
“Please, just do it.”
He kissed her deeply. “You know the word to stop me if I go too hard.” It was a silly word, one they would never use during sex normally. Not precisely a safe word since they weren’t really into games, but this particular way of having sex seemed to call for some kind of safety net, something to snap him out of it if he ever went too far.
“Yes, I know it. Now just do it.”
He sped up his pace slowly, enjoying the feeling of taking her, owning her, making her his. He kissed her in a way that was almost brutal. Almost was the key to this. He’d never hurt her, but this came close. And it was what she wanted.
He thought at times it was the only way she could purge all the things she saw on this assignment. All the horrors.
The key for him was to keep control. To never, ever make her sorry she’d asked for this.
He was moving harder now. And she was smiling and nodding and saying, “Yes, Jim. Yes.”
She always said his name during sex. He never had to wonder who she thought she was making love to.
He grabbed huge hunks of her hair and pulled her head back. She moaned but he knew it wasn’t in pain—he’d grabbed large enough amounts of hair that it would barely pull, just create tension.
One more notch to let out. And he did, he let himself go just that much harder and faster, holding her down, telling her how sexy she was and that he loved her and he would want her forever and wasn’t this good, didn’t she love it?
And then she was moaning that yes, yes, she did and he was gone, calling out until she pulled him down to her and kissed him while he tried to catch his breath.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you. I know you have to be careful when you do that.”
They lay together entwined for a long time, kissing softly, telling each other over and over that they loved each other, that everything was all right now that they were together. Kirk tried to make sure she didn’t get chilled—she had a habit of not telling him she was getting cold in bed until it was tough to warm her up.
It was something he wanted to work on with her: this reticence to think of herself outside of sex.
“I love you, Chris.” He kissed her gently. “I’d stay in bed with you forever but I’m starving.”
“I am too.” She smiled. “Time to eat?”
He nodded. “More of this later. Although maybe not more of exactly that.”
“I think once was enough. Do you not like it?”
“I love it, actually. But...it requires a lot of control. And I’m not sure it’s something I’d want to do all the time. It could...overrun things, you know?”
“I do. But it’s good to help me work things out.”
He kissed her on the forehead. “Talking might be good for that, too.”
“Not as aerobic, however.”
He smiled, but it wasn’t really an answer he liked. Just another evasion. She loved him, but she didn’t trust him yet—would she ever? She trusted him with her body, possibly even with her heart, but with her secrets? With her insecurities? Not so far.
He hated it because it made it hard for him to want to share his own with her. Not if it wasn’t a two-way street. He didn’t want this to be all they had. Great sex and fun times and nothing more.
He stretched, trying not to ruin their time together before it even started. “So did you buy me any sweats on your ‘Dress Jim’ excursion?”
“I did, actually.” She slipped out of bed, and he admired her naked form. “Do you want navy or gray?”
She tossed him a pair of gray sweats and a white and gray sweatshirt. “There you go. Oh and here.” She pulled out a pair of slippers, threw them to him too. “You’re all set.”
“Shearling? Wow, how do I rate?”
Her smile was possibly the sweetest she’d ever given him. “I know you’re trying. I know how hard you’re trying, and I know I’m a pain in the ass.”
He made a face and she laughed.
“I love you, Jim. I just...life hasn’t always been good to me. I open up and that’s when doors slam in my face, you know? That’s why it’s easier to have you fuck me like that than to talk about it.”
“You’d rather I battered the door down...?”
She laughed again. “I know this doesn’t make sense. I don’t always make sense. Maybe we don’t make sense, but I like us, and I don’t care if we do or not. I’m happy when I’m with you.” She made a sheepish face. “Even if maybe you can’t always tell that.”
He held out his hand, pulled her down to him. “I’m happy when I’m with you. We’ll figure this out.” He ran his hands down her sides. “And if it requires lots and lots of sex, well, then that will be my cross to bear.”
She grinned. “Our food is getting cold.”
“I know.” He kissed her, a long, sweet kiss. “I don’t really care.”
Chapel tried not to stomp into ops. Tried and failed if the look on Cartwright’s face was any indication. “A word, sir?”
He grinned and gestured toward his office. “Guess Jim told you, huh?”
“Nice of you two to figure out my future for me.” And to pick her goddamn team for her—did he not trust her to do that?
“It’s not your future. It’s just the next few weeks.”
“It’s standard protocol for the team lead to pick the team.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “But you did it for me.”
“That I did. Admiral’s prerogative.”
“Don’t you trust me to do it?”
“Trust had nothing to do with it. This is a pilot project—my pilot project—so I’m going to pick the people. I’ve never been a hands-off guy and you know that.” He pointed to one of his guest chairs. “Take a load off.” When she remained standing, he said, ‘That was an order, Commander.”
She sat, not liking that he didn’t. That he walked to the window and stood admiring the view, his hands clasped behind his back. She knew this trick: it was his way of getting people to start talking, to fill the space.
She wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. She sat back and knew her face was set in a very snotty expression.
He finally turned. “Christine, you need a break.”
“So you talk to Jim about it and not me?”
“I’ve tried to talk to you about it: you haven’t been very cooperative in opening up.”
“I don’t see it that way, sir.”
His eyes narrowed. She could push him but only so far. He took a deep breath, then turned back to the view. “I know things are harder now that Rand is gone.”
“I’m a big girl, sir. I can survive without my friend.”
“Can you? Because the way I see it you’re not talking to anyone else the way I think you did to her.” He took a deep breath. “Is it such a hardship to participate in this trial? To be with Jim for more than a day or two at a time?”
It wasn’t, and he knew that. “That’s not the point. I shouldn’t have to hear it from him.”
“I thought it would be a nice surprise. Obviously, I thought wrong.”
“I can take you off it, you know. Let someone else have all the fun.”
She closed her eyes. “Do whatever you think best, sir.”
“Chapel, god damn it. I’ve been reaching out to you for weeks. It was this or the shrinks. Which would you have preferred? Because frankly the shrinks would have been easier to arrange.”
She felt stung and couldn’t hide the hard swallow that showed fear: shrinks would show on her record, if one knew where to look. As a physician, she was well aware how easy that was to find. He was sparing her—looking out for her. She stood slowly. “I should apologize.”
“Yes, you damn well should. But I know you and I know that look: your sorry won’t mean a goddamned thing. Get packed, Commander, and I hope to hell you come back in a different state of mind. My next act won’t be so altruistic.”
She knew she was turning red; it was part embarrassment and part anger. “I’ll do my best, sir.”
She was to the door when she heard him say, “Christine?”
She turned and met his eyes.
“I know we all work things out differently. I know we see more shit on this job than any person is supposed to. But you’re not dealing well right now. You need to understand that.”
“I understand that you think that, sir. And that you’re protecting me. You and Jim.”
“Jim had nothing to do with this until I asked him if we could run the pilot on his ship. He was enthusiastic because he loves you. Don’t take this out on him—be angry at me.”
She grinned and knew the expression held a big side of nastiness. “I believe I am, sir.”
He closed his eyes and waved her out, and she felt a moment’s contrition for being such a pain in his ass. He had enough to worry about—and now he was sending her away. She was his right-hand person. He’d have even more to worry about once she was gone and not doing all the things she did to make his life easier.
“I’m sorry, Matthew,” she murmured. He could ignore her if he wanted.
He opened his eyes. “Just...talk to Jim about this, all right? If you won’t talk to me.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
He looked away; this time she saw anger flash. “Get out of here, Christine.”
“Aye aye, sir. Enjoy the extra reports while I’m gone.”
Again the flash of anger. It should have bothered her that she enjoyed it.
It should have but didn’t.
Spock sat in the rec lounge, watching as Jim and Christine danced. It was an interesting feeling to not have to be...careful around her anymore. She wasn’t interested in him; she loved his friend.
He assessed his feelings, as he had learned to do after the reintegration of his katra and body. His death and rebirth had left him struggling to regain all the parts of himself, to put them back in some way that resembled the person others wanted him to be. His brother had helped in that, had given him some kind of freedom to be what he wanted—had let him see he might never be what those he cared for wanted him to be.
It had given him the freedom to be a new version of himself.
It was ironic. He might have pursued Christine finally if his friend had not been involved with her.
His friend who was even now leading her off the dance floor and over to where he sat. “You want a turn with her, Spock?” Jim was grinning, knowing full well that Spock would not ask her to dance, so he did not answer, merely raised an eyebrow, which set her to grinning.
She flopped onto the couch next to him, leaning her head back against the headrest. “It’s good to be home.”’
“Where are our drinks?” Jim asked as he sat down next to her, laughing as he looked at the table next to Spock. “You were supposed to protect them.”
“They were empty, Jim. Or nearly so.”
“Wasting good scotch. Way to not win points with your buddy.” Christine patted him on the knee, then rose, saying, “I’m up. I’ll get more. You want water?”
Jim was smiling, his expression easy and open as he watched her navigate through the crew to the bar. “It’s great having her here.” He met Spock’s eyes. “You doing okay with her? She’s a bit more tactile than she used to be.”
Spock nodded: he had not thought that pat on his knee would be missed by Jim. He decided not to say Christine had always been somewhat tactile with him, at least in the few private interactions they’d had. “She means no harm.”
“You’ve got that right.” Jim’s expression changed. “What did you read from her just then? Is she all right?”
Spock nearly frowned but managed to pull the expression back, surprised Jim would ask him such a personal question about his woman.
“She’s maybe burning out, Spock. I just thought you might have gotten something—but the touch was brief.”
“I got very little. She has learned to shield.”
That seemed to be the worst thing he could say; Jim’s expression changed to something darker. “Yep. Big damn wall between what she feels and the rest of her.”
“Jim, I do not know if that is the case. I did sense a great deal of happiness from her. She is glad to be with you.”
“That I already know—although she was touching you, old friend. Maybe it’s you she’s happy to see.” Jim winked, as if to let Spock off the hook. “I’m just worried about her.”
And suddenly this slightly out-of-order pilot program made sense to Spock. If Jim was worried, Admiral Cartwright was no doubt even more so. “I will pay more attention—if she touches me again.”
“Thanks.” Jim’s smile grew bigger as he looked past Spock to where she was coming with three drinks. “Barmaid, some service?”
She laughed. “You wanna wear this drink, buddy?”
Her grin back for Jim was so open and sweet Spock felt a pang of regret. This could have been his. But they would never have had the back and forth that Jim enjoyed with her. The sarcasm that never seemed to be intended to wound, only to play. Somehow she and Jim had forged a friendship that had turned into love while Spock was not paying attention—or was busy with his cadets and letting friendships tend to themselves.
She put the drinks on the table, pushing Spock’s water toward him, then handing Jim his glass before sitting back down between them and sipping her drink slowly. Her shoulder pressed against his gently as she clinked glasses with Jim.
Spock slowly let down his own shields, tried to see if he could feel any of what Jim was worried about. Christine’s energy was...practiced was the only word he could come up with. As if she had worked on projecting calm and assurance for so long that it was second nature. He tried to reach a little more deeply, and was once again facing a wall: shields that she should not have had the psi skills to build.
She moved away, and he abandoned trying to read her. It was none of his business, anyway. He saw McCoy and Uhura coming their way, both grabbed chairs and dragged them over. Scott and Chekov soon joined them.
He felt himself relaxing, as he often did when there were enough people that his contribution to the conversation would only have to be minimal.
Uhura caught his eye and grinned. “Just like old times, huh?”
He did not think that true, not now that Sulu was on the Excelsior and Rand with him. But he nodded and said, “Indeed.”
It was all she seemed to expect of him.
Chapel sat on the ground with her team, waiting for beam-up. It had been useful having an entire ship at their disposal. Too often her team was dumped onto the world in question by a ship heading their way and then picked up later by someone else going back to Earth—or to the next emergency. Cartwright was angling to eventually have a small fleet of emergency ops vessels, but this was his starting volley on the way to getting that dream funded.
They’d certainly made use of what Jim and the crew had to offer. She could see the merits of having a few small ships for their exclusive use, decked out with the supplies they routinely needed and inevitably ran short of before the emergency was over. Staffed with medical and security officers as well as the regular ops types.
“Commander?” Lieutenant Rovell nudged her. “I think someone wants your attention.” Her eyes were dancing.
Chapel looked up and saw the little boy she’d met during the rescue efforts. He was carrying a bouquet of flowers. Laughing, she got up and walked over to him. “D’len.”
“Commander. I picked these for you.”
“Why thank you, kind sir.” She curtsied as she took the flowers, and he giggled: he was all of six. “I’m leaving soon.”
“I know. I am sad.” He looked up at her with the forlorn intensity only a young boy could muster up.
She ruffled his hair. “You’re going to be a heartbreaker someday.” If his parents tool her advice and moved farther away from the mines that were causing the hills to collapse into the vicious mud slides the ops team had been working in for the last few days. If they didn’t, this cutie-pie might be dead the next time ops was called in.
And it was thoughts like that one that made her push her feelings down until they were so safely entombed it took someone like Jim, who was willing to let go and really push her, to get anything back out.
She saw the rest of her team standing up. “That’s my cue. I hope your family moves downstream some.”
“Mother has already said we can’t afford to.” His look was pure innocence, as if he didn’t realize his mother had lost friends. Could she afford to lose more? Maybe family this time? Maybe her son?
Chapel forced down her frustration and took a sniff of the flowers. They were lovely, a little like carnations in the spicy scent. “Thank you for these.”
“You’re welcome.” He ran off.
She hurried to the team, heard Rovell say, “Ready now, sir.”
She heard Jim’s voice saying, “Energizing,” and smiled at the thought that he was beaming them up himself. She’d been too busy with the rescue work to sleep with him on the ship. They’d worked in a quickie or two but she knew he was craving more than just sex, and so was she. There was nothing better than waking up in his arms, and she got to do that so infrequently.
The ship appeared around them, and he stepped out from behind the transporter console and nodded to the rest of her team. As she stepped off the padd, he raised his eyebrows at her flowers. “Something you want to tell me?”
“Yes, you have a rival. He’s a little short but...”
He laughed. “That kid? The one who followed you around like a puppy?”
“Puppies are extremely appealing.”
“You sound like Spock.” He took the flowers from her and sniffed deeply. “Good taste, I’ll give him that. In the gift and his lady of choice.”
She grinned and wanted to kiss him, but the transporter tech was hearing everything they said.
Jim seemed to realize what she wanted. He leaned in and gave her a quick kiss, murmuring, “More later.”
She nodded and leaned into him as he put his arm around her, leading her out of the transporter room.
“Was it bad?” He’d been down there but mainly to make sure she had what she needed. He and Spock and Scotty had been busy with the leaders of the planet, trying to make them understand how their chosen form of mining was putting the workers—many of them from other words—in danger. They hadn’t gotten very far from what he’d told her when they’d grabbed a spare minute to reconnect.
“It wasn’t as bad as some.”
She turned to him, unsure what she was doing that he objected to.
“Don’t...belittle how bad it was. Or how it affects you. I know it does. I saw you trying to talk to that boy’s mother. She’s not going to move.”
“No, she’s sure not.” She took a deep breath, could feel something akin to panic rising up and forced it down. “It’s their choice. We can only do so much.” Two of the ops mantras: the things that kept you sane.
She glanced at him. He looked...disappointed in her.
“What do you want me to say, Jim? That the sweetheart who gave me these flowers may be dead by next week if they keep blasting? He will and yes, it breaks my goddamn heart. But what the hell am I supposed to do with that pain?”
He moved them into a corridor that was much less busy, pushed her against the wall, his hands on her shoulders. “Feel it, Chris. Don’t bury it. You’re not a Vulcan. Stop trying to be one.”
She tried to duck away from his hands, but he was too strong. “I can’t feel everything, Jim. Not and keep doing this.”
“Then maybe it’s time to stop doing this. Before you can’t feel at all.” He let her go. “I need a shower. I want to take it with you. Let’s go.”
“I’m sorry.” She pulled him to her and kissed him as passionately as she knew how. “I love you.”
“I know you do. I love you, too. Come on—you don’t need me doing this right now. You’ve got to be exhausted.”
“I am.” She couldn’t remember the last time she wasn’t exhausted.
By Jim’s expression, she thought he was well aware of that.
Spock saw Christine in the corridor and hurried to catch up with her. The irony of the moment was not lost on him, made more so when she glanced back and smiled.
“You stalking me now, Spock?”
“I wish to speak with you. Is that the same thing?” He let an eyebrow go up. A playful expression he’d rarely indulged in with her since she had been so prone to read romantic intent into his actions.
This time she just laughed. “It’s not the same thing. So, you’re safe.”
They walked a few moments in silence, then she said, “So you wanted to speak and that normally involves words, said out loud...” She grinned at his expression. “Oh, man, if I could just go back in time to my old self and tell her some day she won’t care and she’ll have so much fun teasing you.”
He could feel his lips tick up: it was an entertaining thought. “I would have things to tell my younger self, as well.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Well, to check on the fate of Khan would feature prominently.” He felt guilty making light of what had transpired with Khan and later with his own resurrection. Jim’s son’s death still weighed heavily on Spock. His friend didn’t talk about it, but Spock suspected somewhere there was blame, although knowing Jim, he would turn it on himself.
“Yeah, that would be a good one.” She met his eyes and smiled tightly. “What else? Find a way to keep me from ever getting on the ship way back when?” She winked, and he knew she was trying to get them to less emotionally laden ground. Jim had no doubt told her about David. There seemed to be little Jim did not want to share with her.
“I would perhaps tell myself to take another look at what you were offering.”
She grinned. “No? Really?”
He nodded but kept his expression as light as he was capable of.
“Wow, now I really need to go back and tell her stuff.” She took a deep breath. “Do you think I act...Vulcan now?”
An interesting question. Had Jim told her that? And did Spock want to admit he had tried to read her? “You are...much changed.”
“In good ways or bad?”
He motioned for them to go into the observation lounge, waited for her to take a seat and then sat next to her. “The other night, in the recreation lounge, you were leaning against me.”
“I know. I was surprised you let me. I guess that’s what you mean about being more open?”
He nodded. “But I was also trying to read you.”
Her expression changed, became knowing. “Did he ask you to?”
“He may have.” Always the safe answer: he had learned that from his parents. Not a lie, not an admission. The Schrödinger’s Cat response for relationships.
“What did you read?”
“Very little. Have you had psi training since you joined ops? We shared consciousness, and the Christine I knew then would not have shielded so effectively.”
She leaned back and took a deep breath. “We do get some training—help, I guess I’d call it. From Vulcans and Betazoids.” She stopped, and he thought she was trying to figure out how much she could safely tell him. “Our teams are vulnerable. We know a lot of things, even if it’s just odds and ends. Odds and ends—enough of them, anyway—make a story.”
“But...it’s more than just that. I guess...” She turned to look out the viewscreen.
“That I’ve shut down. A bit. Or a lot. Depends on who you ask.” She met his eyes. “I’ve just seen so much, you know? I can’t...feel it—I don’t want to. So I push it down. And people don’t like it. Or some people don’t—Cartwright, Jim.” Her eyes were glistening, and he wondered if she was even aware that she was so close to tears. “I worry that I’ll lose Jim, Spock. Because I’m... Because there’s so little left to me.”
“You will not lose him. He very clearly cares for you.”
“And I love him. I really do.” She reached out and took his hand. “What do you feel from me right now?”
He was hit with a barrage of emotion, but it was still covering the wall. “Pain, Christine. I feel pain.” He tightened his hold on her hand. “And you are exhausted. In body and spirit.”
During the reintegration, he could not have spoken so easily of spirit, of emotions. Time could heal: him and her, if she wanted it to.
“What am I supposed to do? You’ve seen what it’s like in an emergency. People die all the time. And we can’t help them. And people are stupid and go back to doing the things that get them killed.”
“All that is true. You cannot change it. Were you not so tired, you would see that.”
She shrugged, her expression one of near misery. It made him want to help.
“Jim would be happy to have you on the ship full time.”
“As a doctor? I’ve done that. I’ve got the fucking t-shirt.”
“Sorry, it’s a saying...we have a lot of them in ops.”
“You are not solely ops or a doctor. You were a scientist before any of those things. Before being a nurse, even. Yet, you have never filled a science billet, have you?”
“Science seems very far away these days, Spock.”
“Well, perhaps you should change that. We will have several key billets open in a few months. Suitable and challenging.”
“You’re offering me a job? On Jim’s ship?”
“I believe he would thank me.”
“We’ll find out. I’ll mention the idea to him.”
“As something you consider a joke or a valid career choice?”
“Both, maybe? The idea of you wanting me back on the ship is pretty funny.” She pulled her hand free. “And thank you for letting me think you’re interested now. It’s awfully sweet of you.”
He nodded, even though it had not been sweet of him: it had merely been the truth, even if he would never act on it while she was with his friend.
Kirk finished up his last report and leaned back in his chair. Where the hell was Chris? He was about to throw back his scotch and go look for her when his chime went off. “Come.”
She came in smiling in a way he wasn’t used to. She looked almost happy. “Sorry I’m late. I was talking to Spock.” She went right for the bar, brought the bottle over and refreshed his drink, leaned down and kissed him very thoroughly, then slipped out of his arms to go pour herself a generous helping.
“Something I should know?” She hadn’t tasted of booze so she hadn’t been talking to Spock in the lounge.
“Yes, we’re going to run away together.” She started to laugh and rolled her eyes. “Actually, I think he offered me one of your science billets.”
Kirk laughed. “Good for him. Looking out for his captain. Well, and you.” He held his glass up. “To Spock.”
“You don’t mind him giving away billets?” She eased onto his lap and kissed him—the kiss was a lot more tender than he was used to from her.
“I don’t actually meddle much in the science department unless I have someone I want him to know about. He hires who he wants. It was that way before, too.”
“I didn’t realize that.” She put her drink on his desk and nestled in. “Why didn’t you throw my name his way?”
“I didn’t think you were looking?” Or that she’d want to hear it from him. She already thought he and Cartwright were scheming, and she wasn’t wrong. But Spock hadn’t been in on that, so this was perfect. “Are you looking?”
“Will having me here crimp your style?”
He pulled away to see if she was serious. She was sporting a big grin so he nodded and made a sad face.
“I’d have to be extra nice to you.” She took the drink out of his hand and put it on the desk, then slid her hand between them.
He moaned. It was so nice having her here, on his ship, spending time together, not something they only got a taste of and then they were ripped apart again. He pulled her hand up, and she raised an eyebrow in a creditable imitation of both Bones and Spock. “I want you here. Let’s be clear on that.”
“But do you want to be here?” He held her face gently, making her really look at him. “What’s right for you?”
“You don’t think this is right for me?”
“I think it’s right for us. It’s terrific for me. But...Chris, you don’t talk to me. I don’t know what you’re feeling most of the time when it comes to your job.” He put a hand over her mouth to stop what was sure to be a sharp retort. “I know you’re burnt out. I know you’re sick of the death and the futility of what you do at times. I know you’ve buried it so deep inside—trust me, I had to do that when I was a kid, to forget what I saw on Tarsus IV. But there’s a price to that.” He let go of her so she could talk.
“I don’t know what I want, Jim. In the past, I would have known. Before you and I started up. Before I hit this string of...bad emergencies. As if any are good but—”
“I know what you mean.”
“Part of me would love to stay with you here. To have...normal be our everyday. Or as normal as it gets on this ship. But I do have to point out, if I’m not in medical, I’m not independent.”
“I don’t care. You’re mine.” He was surprised at how quickly he answered, how sure he felt inside. It would break every rule he had and he didn’t give a shit. “That’s how much I love you. That’s how much I want you here with me.”
“Good thing Janice is with Sulu, or she’d be really mad at me.”
“Are they together? I knew he liked her, but she never seemed to notice.” It was a relief to think of Janice happy. And a bit of a burn that Sulu apparently didn’t care where he laid his blanket.
“She finally noticed.” She brushed back his hair. “Just like I noticed you.”
“Uh, I noticed you first.”
“We were both drunk and dancing in San Juan. I think it was a mutual noticing.”
And a quick walk to his hotel room—hers never was used that vacation. They’d been friends for a long time. He’d wanted her, but he knew she liked Spock so he hadn’t pushed it. But then she pushed it. “Maybe it was you.”
“Of course it was. I’m never wrong. The world would be a much better place if everyone believed that.”
He laughed. “We don’t have to decide your future tonight, do we? Because I have other things in mind.”
“Are they nasty?”
He nodded, knew his eyes would be gleaming the way she liked.
“Are they fun?”
“If we do it right.” He pushed her off his lap. “You’re overdressed, Commander. Computer, engage privacy notice.”
“Privacy notice engaged.”
“There. Barring an alert, we’re good for the night.” He reached for her top. “Now, how can I help you with this clothing issue.”
She made it very difficult to undress her; they ended up in a tickling match on the bed, and she was laughing in a way he wasn’t used to. Open and happy with very little snap to it. At one point, she had him pinned, and she looked down and said, “I think I will love you till the day I die.”
“I think you’re right.” He laughed as she let him go and attacked the ticklish spot on his back, just behind his side. “Wait, wait, I meant, ‘Same here.’” He rolled her off him, got her on her back, pinned beneath him, and stretched her arms over her head. “You’re mine.”
“Yes, I am.” She wiggled free and began to undo his uniform. “Now, let’s get naked, shall we?”
Kirk waited to see if Spock was going to tell him he’d offered Chris a job. When he didn’t, he said, “Mister Chekov, you have the conn. Spock, you’re with me.”
Spock stood and straightened his jacket, his eyebrow lifting, but he walked quickly to join Kirk in the lift.
As the door closed, Kirk tried to hide a grin. “So, when exactly were you going to tell me that you tried to recruit Chris?”
“Only tried? She seemed interested.”
Kirk shot him that glance he always did when Spock sought to scoot around the issue this way.
“Ah, not the point, I take it.”
“Oh, we’ll circle back to that in time. But...I’m just curious if you were going to tell me.”
“You have given me great latitude in the past to staff life sciences as I see fit—barring medical, of course.”
“And I see no reason to change that now. But this is my...” Shit, what did he call her? His girlfriend sounded so trite. His woman was awfully caveman, but Spock would probably resonate.
“I know, Jim. I am aware she is yours. But apart from that she is also a highly skilled scientist who may very much need a change of pace.”
“No argument from me there.” He finally dropped the mock-mad act and grinned at Spock. “It never occurred to me to ask her. I thought she was going to retire out of ops, not leave it voluntarily.”
Spock seemed about to say something, then turned away, staring ahead of them, at the corridor that was surprisingly empty for this time of shift.
“What? Spill it, Spock. I recognize the signs of you knowing something you think won’t make me happy.”
“She is...” Spock took a breath. “Overwhelmed and for some reason trying to deal with it as a Vulcan would. She has sublimated a great deal. I thought I had a solution to that, so I told her of the billets—Lazaro’s and Tre’ill’s.”
Kirk nodded. He’d figured those would be the ones. Commander grade. Department heads.
“She told me she would tell you I had offered her those jobs. I had no reason to think that she would not. Therefore telling you myself would have been redundant.”
Kirk laughed. “You can spin logic like nobody’s business.” He let his smile fade. “Do you think she’ll take it?”
“Surely you are in a better position to judge that, Jim?”
“I wish.” He gestured with his head toward the corridor that led to hydroponics. It always helped him think, there among the plants. He might have been dying to leave the farm and Iowa, but some part of him was always comforted by growing things: provided they were growing on his ship and not on some piece of Earth he was exiled to. “She’s...reticent. And I don’t have your handy-dandy touch telepathy to help me feel my way with her.”
“She is not reticent, Jim. We both saw her on the last mission, speaking her mind quite effectively. She is...shut down when it comes to her emotions. I recognize some of what she is going through because at one point in the reintegration process I too felt as if my emotions were buried and possibly beyond my reach. However, in my case, I was actively trying to find the emotions and memories I had lost. In her case, she buried them herself.”
As they entered hydroponics, and the smell of roses and other flowers hit him, Kirk said, “I’m going to ask you a hard question. This is a personnel issue: you will not repeat it.”
“Is she fit for duty with us? There are times I...worry. Bones thinks she just needs a break, a chance to start fresh. But he’s always had a bit of a blind spot about her.”
“He thinks of her as family—a younger sister.”
“And you know this how?”
Spock didn’t seem troubled by the question. “My katra was in his mind, Jim. There was some transfer. I believe I know Leonard much better than I did.”
“Which I guess means he understands you better, too?”
“I have not seen much evidence of that.” Spock’s eyes were gleaming the way they did when he was joking.
Kirk laughed. “Spock, answer my real question. Is Chris all right?”
“I would not have offered her a position simply out of friendship or compassion. This is the flagship and I have a responsibility to staff it accordingly. She is fit. But...she needs to open up.”
“To life, Jim. To emotions. I believe you are the best way to get her there. She cares for you deeply.”
Kirk smiled. “I’m crazy about her.”
“Then convince her to stay. I had a chance to read her last night. She is not happy that she has buried so much. She wants to change. She just doesn’t know how to exit ops gracefully. She is much like you, Jim. She will not back down from a challenge if it means losing face.”
“I’m not like that.”
Spock’s made the expression that meant if he hadn’t been Vulcan, he’d be throwing down the bullshit flag.
“Okay, I’m like that. And so’s she?” It wasn’t how he’d pegged her, but he probably should have. She was ambitious, but she’d stayed in ops to make a difference—and those were the kinds of situations that were hardest to walk away from. Where you felt needed and essential. “Well, I better get to work on her.”
“So you are not upset with me for...offering her a billet?”
Kirk had the feeling Spock was really asking if he was mad at him for reading his woman. “Nyah. I’m still in ‘Thank God, you’re alive’ mode. Even all this time later. You can coast.”
Spock almost smiled. “I do not know that I have adequately thanked you for what you did. The tremendous sacrifices you made for me—and I did not even know you at first.”
“But you know me now.” Kirk reached out, touched Spock’s shoulder, and smiled at the warm solidity of his friend. “And that’s all that matters.”
Chapel walked alone, down in the bowels of the ship, the way she used to do on the previous Enterprise. It had always been a good way to clear her head with no one stopping her mid-epiphany.
Although epiphany was too strong a word. She was burnt out and had been for months now. Jim knew it, Cartwright knew it—hell, even Spock knew it. In fact, it may have been Spock’s death that started her down this road.
He’d been so important to her for so long. She’d always thought he’d outlive her—in her old fantasies where he actually loved her back, she’d had to block out the fact that she’d age so much faster than he would. But she’d watched Amanda change over the years as Sarek hadn’t. It was a fact of life for humans with Vulcans.
And then Spock had died and some fundamental belief that kept her course in ops true had floundered.
Or maybe it was seeing Jim so leveled by grief and pain. First for Spock, his worry for Len, and how strange he was acting, then losing his son and his ship. Being exiled on Vulcan for three months—months that she’d snuck away ostensibly on leave and and found less than scrupulous captains to carry her to Vulcan. Cartwright had to have known where she was going, but he was the last one who would censor her.
Whatever the reason, she felt...right here. On this ship. With her lover and the man she used to love, who she thought might be turning into a friend.
The problem was she still felt like there was work to be done in ops. But that was sort of the point of emergency ops: no matter how advanced or peaceful people became, shit still happened. It would happen long after she was gone. She’d served longer than most officers.
There was no shame in leaving.
So why did she feel like she was giving up?
She turned and headed for the lift, rode it up to sickbay and sauntered into her former stomping ground—well, on the old ship, anyway—and saw Len in his office. “Do you have time to talk?”
His smile was huge, the welcome he’d been giving her since she came on for this mission. “Take a load off, darlin’.”
“I need your advice.” She’d relied on him so much during their first voyage, and even on the second, when she’d finally left to try something else. She’d been sure he’d give her shit about ditching medicine after working like a dog to get her degree, but he hadn’t. Had only said, “Christine, I don’t think this was ever about you being a doctor: I had you doing things far beyond regular nursing. It was about getting yet another degree. Checking a box and moving on.”
And he’d been right. A staff job working medical planning had led to her meeting Cartwright and the job in ops. Jim was Cartwright’s friend and she’d been invited to dinner with them when he left Antonia and came back to Starfleet. The rest, as the saying went, was history.
“You need my advice on what?” Len was waiting patiently, as he often had done when she’d had to work her way to what she really wanted to ask.
“Spock may have some positions in life sciences that I’m suited for. Is it okay to abandon ops?”
“Wow, way to phrase it in the most damning way possible, Christine.” His smile was extraordinarily gentle. “Abandon? You’ve worked there a long time. It’s not like you’re leaving short of tour.”
“I know. But...I’m not sure I’m done contributing.”
“Well, you must be close. Or you wouldn’t be asking if you could leave. What’s changed?” His eyes were gentle as he said, “Jim maybe?”
“I wasn’t sure he and I would last.”
“I don’t know why. You two are exactly each other’s type, once you get the big green lug out of the mix.” Len started to laugh. “Hell, you could probably throw him in the mix and you’d still be Jim’s type. Wouldn't he be yours?”
She nodded. “I like powerful, smart men.”
“Like I said.”
“I can do emergencies in my sleep.”
“But do you sleep after an emergency?”
“I do. If I had any of the standard symptoms, I’d move on with a clear conscience.”
“There it is again. A ‘clear conscience.’ Why in the world would your conscience be anything but clear? You’ve saved a lot of people; you’ve helped a lot of worlds. Move on, Christine. You lasted a whole lot longer than I thought you would, and I’m incredibly proud of you for doing that. But...accept reality. All things have their time, and I think your time in ops is over.”
She smiled and knew the expression was more wistful than happy.
“And Christine, you’re needed here. Jim has a really annoying tendency of leaving his ship and taking up with unsuitable women once he gets lonely. I like him with you. I like that he can be here, in space, with you. I know he’ll break his rules for you. As a CMO, I can only give a big thumbs up to anything that makes my captain a happier and more productive officer.”
She started to laugh. “Wow, you’re making me sound so altruistic for loving him.”
“I know. It’s a gift. That’s my answer: come back.” He stood. “I’m starving. You free for lunch?”
As he came around the desk, she stood and hugged him. “Thank you.”
“I didn’t do a damn thing, darlin’. Now, since my advice is in such demand, follow this suggestion: do not order the chili. I don’t know what they’ve done to it, but it’s horrible.”
“Even I can fix chili.”
“I know. The recipes they’ve got in the synthesizers are a crime against humanity—or at least this crew.” He squeezed her shoulder and then let go. “So, I’ve got my eye on a certain lieutenant commander. I was wondering if you could subtly find out if she’d be receptive.”
She grinned; she’d done that so many times for him during their other tours. “I’m not on the ship yet.”
Kirk lay in bed with Chris, enjoying the feel of her in his arms, no rush, no need to try to package as many experiences into the time they had. “I love this,” he said softly.
“I do, too.” She ran her hand down his chest, so lightly it caused shiver. “I’m going to take Spock’s offer.”
He tipped her chin up so he could kiss her. She’d be here all the time. This could be theirs for as long as they wanted it. “What made your mind up? I thought you’d take longer to think about it.”
“I talked to Len. He had good things to say.”
Kirk felt as if she’d thrown cold water over him.
She must have sensed that because she pulled back so she could lean on her elbow and study him. “What? What did I say?”
“First you talk to Spock. Then to Bones. Why won’t you talk to me?”
She looked like he’d hit her. “I’m talking to you now. I thought you’d be happy.”
“I am happy. That you’re staying. But this is just more of the same. You never share what’s going on inside here with me.” He tapped her forehead gently. “I get your body—and I’m pretty sure I have your heart—but what you’re thinking and feeling, you just won’t give it to me.”
She sat up, the covers falling off her, and he tried to not be distracted by her nakedness. “How much of me do you want?”
“What kind of question is that? I’m not asking you to tell me everything you think and feel. But this is big, this is a life decision, and so far you’ve made it without me. But you didn’t do it alone—because that I could understand. You let Spock and Bones in—why not me?”
He could see her shutting down in front of him. He could see it and he knew how to stop it. To tell her it was all right. To distract her with a kiss and his hands finding all the places she liked to be touched.
It’s what he would have done in the past. When a day or two was all they had. But not now. This had to change.
“Are you jealous?” she asked, some bitterness in her voice.
“Yes. Because I didn’t fall in love with you because of this.” He gestured to the bed, to his body and hers. “I fell in love with you because you’re smart and you make me happy when I’m with you because I can talk to you. When did we stop talking?” Only he knew the answer to that. About the same time she’d started to seem burnt out.
She got out of bed, pulled on her pants. “I think I’ll sleep in the guest quarters I was assigned.”
“You’re just going to run away?”
“That’s not what I’m doing.”
“Should I assume you don’t want me on your ship if I’m not your lover?”
“We’re having an argument, not breaking up.” He climbed out of bed, did not want to do this sitting down. “Or are we? Is there someone else? You’ve been pretty tactile with Spock, and he told me he read you again the other day. Is it him? Do you want him?”
“I’m in love with you.” She was staring at him as if he was some kind of idiot.
“Then prove it. Talk to me.”
“I do talk to you, Jim.”
He bent down and grabbed her shirt, tossing it to her. “Maybe guest quarters is a good idea for tonight.”
“Fine.” She pulled the shirt on—inside out, but he didn’t feel like telling her that—slid her feet into her shoes, and hurried out.
He sat on the bed, rubbing his forehead and murmuring, “Fuck,” over and over.
Chapel stood in the guest quarters she’d never used—all her goddamned stuff was in Jim’s quarters. What the hell was she supposed to do in here?
She went into the bathroom to see if it was stocked with toiletries for visitors. It was. But still, all her clothes were in Jim’s room. She glanced at herself in the mirror—shit, was her shirt on inside out? He let her leave like that?
She fixed her shirt, then slammed her hand against the door panel and stormed out to the lift, riding it to the rec lounge, where she bellied up to the bar and ordered a double scotch rocks.
She took her drink to a corner of the lounge and glared at anyone who looked like they might be dumb enough to try to talk to her.
Unfortunately, Spock didn’t get the hint. He sat down across from her, sipping water as he studied her.
“I am surprised to see you in here.”
“Without Jim, you mean. In here without him.”
“Yes, that is what I meant.” He leaned back as if it was every day they just sat around shooting the shit.
“What the hell are you doing in here? You hate it in here if you’re not playing chess.”
“That is not precisely true.” He took another sip of water and she thought he was stalling. “I came here tonight, however, because I thought that Jim would be with you. It is good to have a senior officer here and both Doctor McCoy and Mister Scott are otherwise occupied.”
“So you were stuck.”
“If you wish to view it as that, you can. I have come to accept it as part of the duties of command. I certainly told my cadets frequently that their presence at day-to-day events would be exponentially more valuable than any number of all-hands communiqués. It would be hypocritical of me to do otherwise.”
She took a long hit of her scotch. “Lot of expectations the higher we get.”
“Yes, there are.” He frowned, not a large one but still more than he would usually do, she thought. “Why are you here without Jim? I am relatively certain he did not have another engagement.”
“You’re not wrong.” She got up, leaving him sitting as she walked to the viewscreen, but he followed her like a goddamned bloodhound. “Spock, what?”
“You are clearly upset.”
“You being the master of emotions.” She gave him her snottiest smile.
“I have come to understand them better than I once did.”
“Which may not be saying much.”
“Granted. But am I incorrect or is something wrong?”
She turned to him, studying him the way he had her; it didn’t seem to faze him. “How do you do it? How do you bury emotions and still be able to call enough of them up to...let people in?”
“It has been something I have struggled with most of my life, Christine. You know this.” He took a deep breath. “At times I think I overcorrected. I was so unwilling to let my human half take hold that I denied myself the pleasures most full Vulcans enjoy. Growing up, I had my mother to talk to about this, but as an adult, I find I do not confide in her the same way.”
“I understand that.” She smiled. “This has been helpful.” And Cartwright was right, damn his eyes.
He met her eyes. “Do you wish to elaborate?”
“I do.” She touched his hand, letting her hand linger a moment before pulling away. “But I think I need to do it with the man who just kicked me out of his quarters.”
His eyes were extraordinarily gentle. “That would undoubtedly be an excellent idea.”
“Thank you for being so nice to me.”
“Thank you for allowing me to be.”
“Kind of ironic. Isn’t it?” She didn’t want to say why, didn’t want to give any more weight to what she thought she was reading in his gaze, but she also didn’t want to ignore it.
“Most ironic.” He nodded almost formally. “Enjoy your evening, Christine. I am sure he will welcome you back.”
“We’ll see. He has a right to be mad.”
“I will leave you to make whatever amends you feel necessary.” He nodded again, then headed off toward a group of junior officers, all of whom smiled at him as if he was an old friend.
His former cadets, she realized. His legacy.
What the hell was hers?
Kirk was sitting on his bed, knees drawn up, drinking his third scotch when his chime went off.
“Come,” he said, hoping that whoever it was would hear his tone and come back later.
Chris walked in, took one look at him, and stopped midway to the bed. “Am I welcome?”
“I don’t know. Plan on sharing anything other than your body?”
She seemed to take a deep breath and then nodded.
“Yes. If you want to hear it, then yes.” She had a scotch in her hand and walked around to the other side of the bed—her side as he’d come to think of it—and joined him, scooching closer until they sat shoulder to shoulder.
“You went to the lounge instead of your quarters?” He smiled at her look. “The glass is from the lounge.”
“I don’t have anything in my quarters, Jim. I unpacked here.” She laughed softly.
“Oh, shit, I’m sorry.” He leaned against her and sighed.
“So...you’re right. I haven’t been talking to you. And I need to explain that. But it may take a while.”’
“Well, barring an emergency, we’ve got all night.” He turned and pulled her to him, careful not to spill their drinks as he kissed her quickly. “I love you. Now talk.”
She pulled him back for another kiss, then eased away, taking what he thought might be a fortifyingly long sip from her drink. “This goes back a ways. To my only real relationship.”
She nodded. “I’ve had other lovers, but he was the only one I was...with. Really with. You understand?”
“Roger wanted me to be his partner when it came to the work. I was expected to let him know my concerns about any of the projects we were doing—but he really wasn’t interested in how I was feeling about the work or myself or him. He...didn’t have time for that. Our private time was for sex and sleeping and eating. Our work time for science. The sharing sometimes felt minimal. But the other part was so good, I didn’t care.”
She put her drink on the nightstand and took his hand, snuggling into him. “When I was first on the Enterprise, especially after that damn virus, it was fun. I had friends. Ny and Jan. We were confidants. Friends were something I hadn’t had with Roger. When you leap over your peers and start sleeping with the professor, well...”
She took a ragged breath, and he put his arm around her and pulled her closer. “I never judged you for sleeping with him, Chris.”
“You never seemed to. But a lot of others did. The ring on my finger didn’t make up for me ‘sleeping my way to fame,’ as some thought I was doing.” She laughed, a very bitter sound. “Fame. I never wanted that. I just wanted him. And to make a difference.
“When you first knew me, Jim, I wasn’t this shut down. I was enjoying spreading my wings even if I spread them in the direction of a man who didn’t want anything from me. I had friends. I had work that wasn’t terribly taxing. I was having fun.”
“Fun’s been in short supply for you, hasn’t it?”
“I think it has. I always seem to be working toward something. My PhDs, my medical degree, fixing emergencies. The last time that I had fun was when I was a nurse on your ship.” She glanced at him, a worried look on her face, as if she expected him to be mad. “I mean, I have fun with you—”
“Chris, I know what you meant. You mean fun for any length of time.”
“Exactly.” She snuggled into him again and was silent for so long he checked to make sure she was all right. She smiled and said, “When Decker picked me for his CMO, I thought he was nuts—and I knew what others would think: that I was sleeping with him. He didn’t care. We were friends from way back, and he wanted me to be on his new ship. He was so excited, so I buried all the feelings of inadequacy and just tried to be the best CMO I could. But then you showed up and demoted me and I was so fucking relieved.” She laughed and wound her arm around his waist. “He was so mad and I had to pretend to be, but deep down, I wasn’t. And even though I hated that he was taken by V’ger, I was so glad to not have to be CMO. I wasn’t ready.”
“You never said that. Then again you never seemed terribly upset either. I guess you weren’t.”
“I wasn’t. When I left for Starfleet Command, the jobs were challenging, but not so much that I felt overwhelmed. Ops was never a problem...until Jan left.”
He met her eyes. Of course. He felt so stupid for not having seen it.
“She was my confidant. We told each other everything—well, I didn’t go into specifics about what you’re like in bed, but other than that.” She swallowed hard. “There was kind of an emotional pile-on even before she left. Spock died. Len was crazy. You were...leveled. And Carol Marcus was back in your life and I didn’t know where that left me. Then your son died and Spock was suddenly alive and I couldn’t get to you. And meanwhile, back at the emergency ops ranch, I was a senior officer. I got the hardest emergencies and I was expected to lead others who needed me to be strong. Not to show them how...broken I was inside. I just kept shutting down. Jan would have kicked my ass if she’d been there to do it. But she wasn’t.”
“You really thought I would leave you for Carol?”
“Jim, I knew I wasn’t letting you in the way you wanted. You had a son with her. She was the one who got away.”
“Sweetheart, there have been a lot that got away. I don’t tend to be the one who leaves until my partner makes it unbearable to stay.”
“I didn’t think of it that way. But...she’s brilliant and she has command presence and you loved her once.”
“And she took my son away. And do I really need to point out that you’re brilliant and have command presence, too? I love you now, not long ago like I loved Carol, but now.” He put his drink on the nightstand, and pulled her closer. “I’ll be happy to take Jan’s place and kick your ass if you start shutting me out again.”
“You asked me if I was jealous. Of Spock I kind of am. He can read you, Chris. When I can’t.”
She lifted her face to his, kissed him very gently. “He can only read me if I let him. And he’s not the one I want close to me.”
“Even if now he might be willing?” He hated saying it but it needed to be said. Spock was clearly rethinking his position on her.
“Sure, now that I’m with someone, he wants me.” She laughed and pulled him down so they were lying curled against each other. “I love you. He wouldn’t have kicked me out of his quarters.” She laughed again, a sweet, open sound that he loved to hear. “See, you’re already acting like Jan.”
“I guess I am. I felt sick inside, though. I kept thinking of you with him or Bones.”
“With them? You mean cheating on you?”
“Or just talking to them. I think that hurts worse than you having sex with them would.” He stroked her hair back. “We’ve both been through hell. We love each other anyway. Let’s make this work, Chris. Let’s be on this ship together. I want normal. Don’t you want normal, finally?”
“I do want it. It just may take me a while to settle down and let normal have me.”
He laughed. “Well, we’re still the flagship. It won’t be boring. And the science posts are good ones.”
“I know. I want Tre’ill’s.”
“Well you’ll have to talk to Spock about that.” He laughed, realizing how ironic that sounded after their fight. “Talk to me about other things. Like how you’re feeling. What you want from the position. How I can make it better.”
“And how we’re going to explain to Cartwright that his big plans led to me defecting?”
He chuckled. “I don’t think he’ll mind. He’s been worried about you. And he knows you’ve been so busy taking care of him that you wouldn’t open up about your own things.”
She nodded. “He’ll have to find someone else.” She grinned and leaned in to kiss him, the kiss starting out tender but turning passionate quickly.
He had her clothes off her and pulled off his own, then eased her on top of him.
She had a silly grin. “Does this mean you don’t want to really let go with me anymore?”
“No, it doesn’t mean that. That just shouldn’t be the only way you let me in.”
“It won’t be.” She leaned down, kissing him gently as she moved her body in a way far more sensual than sweet. “I promise.”