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.

Tempest

 

by Djinn

 

 

I.  The Calm Before the Storm

 

 

Chapel's hurt.  She's hurt and he can't get to her.  The alien wants it that way, so Kirk sits back and tries to let go of the rage that's filling him.

 

This is an experiment.  Maybe a test of some kind.  It sickens him to have to sit and do nothing while she lies there bleeding.  But he's tried to break out, and the forcefield he didn't know was behind the bars nearly knocked him out.  The alien took his communicator and phaser, so he can't contact the ship.

 

He's helpless.  She's helpless.  He's not sure what the point of this is.

 

But even helpless she's strong.  She's looking at him the way she has been whenever the alien hurts her, and he doesn't look away. It's the only support he can give her.

 

"It's okay," she mouths, and he doesn't know if she mouths it because she lacks the energy to speak or if she doesn't want their captor to hear.  "Sir, it's okay."

 

He shakes his head, trying to let her know that this is not okay, not okay at all.  He demoted her, he stole the ship from her former captain—a man he's never been sure was her lover or not—and now he's going to get her killed.

 

All because McCoy didn't want to leave a patient and they had the bad luck to run into this asshole of an alien.

 

It's not even personal.  That's what's killing Kirk.  This alien appears to be conducting some kind of research.  It keeps referring to them as subjects.

 

Chapel might understand what it's doing: she's a scientist, even if not the kind who would torture someone in the name of scientific progress.

 

He stands and reaches for the bars, but she says, "Sir, no," and this time she doesn't just mouth it.

 

She should call him Jim, shouldn't she?  He's known her for years, now.  She's his deputy CMO.  Why doesn't she call him Jim when she's trying so hard to let him off the hook?  Even though she's in pain.

 

"Jim, not sir," he says and she smiles, but it's a sad smile, as if she thinks it's a nice gesture but too late. 

 

He closes his eyes and murmurs, "I'm sorry, Chris.  I'm so sorry."

 

The lights suddenly go out.  He's not sure if this is part of the experiment, too.  Disorient them.  Terrorize Chris more by hurting her when she can't see where the attack is coming from.  Make him crazy because he can't help her, can't even tell if she's okay.

 

Then the lights go on, and the alien is on the floor unconscious, and three security officers pull off night-vision goggles and hurry to let him out.

 

He grabs the communicator from the closest one as soon as he's free of his cage, says, "Kirk to Enterprise.  Medical emergency. Beam Doctor Chapel up at once."

 

He hands the man back his communicator and hurries to Chapel.

 

"My hero," she says with a grin that is more wry than he deserves—he is nobody's hero today.

 

"Shhh.  You'll be on the ship in a moment."  He looks around the room they've been kept in.  "We're going to stay down here for a bit.  Make sure this doesn't happen again."

 

"You can't stop every bad thing out there, sir."

 

"Jim.  And I can try."  He feels a rush of tenderness for her, takes her hand and squeezes it gently, trying not to hurt her.

 

"Sir.  They're ready to beam her up."

 

He backs off and lets the transporters and McCoy have her.  He stares at the blood that has pooled where she was lying. She lost more than he could see from where he was being held.  He takes a ragged breath, then turns, knowing his face is probably showing how furious he is.  "Put that alien in restraints and search this place—if it has associates, I want to know it."

 

The men hurry off, and he finds his communicator and phaser, and turns to the cage he was in, firing for a long time, the phaser whining as the bars finally melt away.  He would like to turn his weapon on the alien.  He's got the rage inside him urging him to do just that.

 

Rage he thought would go away once he got his ship back. Rage that started when he was stuck on Earth, with a wife who hated him at the end, a boss who was tired of his moodiness, and a job that was slowly killing him.

 

He takes another deep breath; this time it is less harsh.  Striding over, he grabs the alien and hauls it to its feet, having to support it since it is still stunned.  "Kirk to Enterprise.  Two to beam up. Have security standing by to take custody of the alien."

 

"Security already here, sir.  Beaming you up now."

 

He waits, finally feels the hum of the transporter, then materializes on the transporter padd and thrusts the alien into the arms of a waiting security officer.  Then he is striding to sickbay, the lift taking too long—one more thing to bitch to Scotty about: so much for the great refitted Enterprise—but finally he is out and walking, moving, trying to get rid of this restless energy that filled him long before he was stuck in that cell.

 

McCoy looks up as he walks in, takes one look at his face, and holds up a hand.  "She's fine."

 

"She's not fine.  I saw the blood."

 

"All right, she's going to be fine.  But she's resting.  Let her be, Jim.  You're loaded for bear—that's not what she needs."

 

"Don't tell me what she needs."  He tries to get by McCoy, is shocked when a firm hand brings him up short.

 

He is always surprised how strong Bones can be when he has to be.

 

"Jim, I said let her rest.  And I meant it."  He shifts his grip, pulls Kirk in his wake to his office.  He plonks him into a chair and reaches into his credenza.  "Bourbon is slumming for you, I know, but I'm all out of single malt."

 

Kirk makes the "whatever you have is fine" hand gesture that served him so well on Earth.  Lori told him he drank too much.  Lori was probably right.

 

Bones hands him a glass and studies him, then says, "Something you forgot to tell me about your time at Command?  Like maybe how you're involved with my deputy?"

 

"I'm not involved with her."

 

Bones' eyebrow goes up, and Kirk laughs softly.  When Spock does it, it comes off as elegantly Vulcan.  When Bones does it, it inevitably looks like he's saying "Bullshit" without words.

 

"I'm not, Bones.  For all I know she was with Decker."

 

"She wasn't.  I asked.  And I don't suggest you ever ask her that because I really ticked her off."  He takes a sip of his drink.  "But is it such a stretch?  She slept with one boss."

 

"Not you, though, right?"  Why is this important to him?  Suddenly it is, so he doesn't try to take the question back, just sits and waits.

 

"No, not me.  I'm too...available for her."  He laughs.  "Or too human."  He studied Kirk.  "What's going on with you, Jim?  I know this was a routine mission that went to shit—I get how you'd be mad about that.  But you've been in a shitty mood for weeks.  I thought this ship was supposed to heal all wounds."

 

Kirk throws back his drink.  "You and me both."  He leans back, closes his eyes, and tries to not hear Chapel screaming in his head.  "How badly is she hurt?"

 

"Badly.  But it's nothing permanent.  I've fixed up what needed fixing, and her body will do the rest.  As she rests."

 

"Message received, Doctor.  I'll stay away."

 

"Good.  Because I don't think you know what you want right now.  And she doesn't need..."

 

"DoesnÕt need what?"

 

"I don't know.  To be used."

 

Kirk thinks his own eyebrow is going up, but it's in anger.  "Used?"

 

Bones holds his hand up.  "I'm not saying you'd mean to do that to her.  But you're in a weird place emotionally, Jim, and I'm not entirely sure what's driving you some of the time lately."

 

"Maybe if you'd been around while I was on Earth, you'd understand."

 

Bones doesn't seem to react to the ice in Kirk's voice.  He takes a slow sip of his drink, leans back, and closes his eyes.  Finally, he says, "Oh, you mean when you were in the job I told you not to take?  Married to the woman I told you would drive you crazy?  Why the hell would I stick around for that?  I was adding nothing to your quality of life."

 

"That was a choice you made.  You could have stuck around."

 

"You're right.  I could have.  But I'm not a masochist, Jim.  Especially when you're in one of your moods."

 

"You sound like Nogura."

 

"Is that why he let you keep the ship?  Anything to get rid of you?"  Bones' voice is light, like he's trying to get them back to safer ground.

 

"Yep."  Kirk leans forward, puts his hand over his face, and says, "Why aren't I happier?"  He peeks through his fingers, hoping Bones will offer the wisdom he's usually good for.  But his friend is staring at him with concern.  "This anger.  I...I don't want to hold onto it.  I'm home now.  I have you and Spock, and I'm home."

 

Bones fills his glass back up.  "Give it time.  That's my expert medical advice."  His face changes.  Becomes sterner.  "And leave Christine alone."

 

##

 

Chapel sees Kirk coming down the corridor toward her and waits by the door to her quarters, leaning against the wall, arms crossed.  "Hi."

 

He slows but doesn't seem inclined to stop.  "Hi."

 

She lets him pass then says, "Did I do something?  Other than get tortured in front of you?"

 

She isn't sure if he's going to stop, but he finally does, stands for a moment, then turns and walks back to her. 

 

She can't read his expression. "Are you mad at me, sir?"

 

"Jim," he says so softly she can barely hear him.

 

"Jim."  She takes a deep breath.  "What did I do?"

 

"You didn't do anything, Chris.  I'm just...busy."

 

"Too busy to let me buy you a drink?"

 

"Why would you want to?  I didn't do a damn thing for you when you were being tortured.  I...watched."  He turns.

 

She stops him, and by his look of surprise, she thinks he didn't realize how strong she is.  "It wasn't going to be a thank-you drink, dummy.  I was hoping to cheer you up.  Or work my way out of whatever doghouse I've managed to get myself in."

 

"You're not in any kind of doghouse."  He moves closer, and he's meeting her eyes with a look that is both intense and astoundingly helpless.  Chapel suddenly realizes why Janice had a crush—and is very glad her friend transferred off the ship as soon as it was clear Kirk was staying. 

 

He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, seems to be trying to let go of something else.  She can't read him very well, but he seems pent up, full of energy that isn't the most positive.

 

"So, rec lounge?"  She pantomimes throwing a drink back.

 

"I'm not in the mood to be 'on.'"

 

That she can understand.  "I have booze in my quarters.  I'm not always in the mood to be on either."

 

He smiles.  "Do you have single malt scotch?"

 

"I'm more a wine or tequila kind of gal."

 

"I have tequila.  And scotch."

 

She takes his arm, sees surprise again on his face, and laughs.  "I'm sick of you avoiding me.  Now walk."

 

He does what she says, even puts his hand over hers where it lies on his arm, and as he palms them into his quarters, he does a little bow, murmuring, "My lady," which makes her laugh.

 

His smile is lighter, less tight, and he says, "You have a pretty laugh."

 

"I have a goofy laugh.  But if you want to think it's pretty, feel free."  She wanders around his quarters.  These were Will's.  She knows a lot of the crew think she probably shared them with him.  She didn't.  She and Will were just friends—his father had been tight with Roger.  Their mutual losses, men they cared about taken by space, had cemented an already strong bond.

 

She cried the night he disappeared into V'ger and Ilia.  Her friend was gone, her life was nothing like what she wanted it to be, and she had no idea what to do with her future.

 

She realizes that Kirk is studying her, and she sees the question in his eyes.  "I wasn't his lover.  And I take tonic with my tequila if you have it.  Otherwise I can sip it."

 

He smiles, the expression growing easier the longer they are alone.  She doesn't know if it's her presence making him relax or just being able to stop being the captain for a little while.  She can't imagine how much time he has to spend being everything to everyone on board.  "I have tonic," he says.  "And I did wonder."

 

"Everyone does."  She shrugs.  "And why wouldn't they?  I guess it's common knowledge I was engaged to my boss once.  Why not fish that pond again?"  She tastes the drink he's made for her.  He's found the perfect ratio of tequila to tonic—harder to do than most people think.  "This is good."

 

"Not a drink I tend to order.  Glad it meets with your approval."

 

"Is there nothing you can't do well?"

 

"Rescue you."  He pours himself some scotch and takes it to the viewscreen.  "I'm sorry.  I–"

 

"Jim, stow it."  She hasn't called him Jim since she was lying on that floor, but somehow in his quarters, alone with him playing bartender extraordinaire, it feels right.  She waits till he turns to look at her to say, "Nobody could have rescued me if they were inside that cage.  And it could just as easily have been you on the floor and me locked up.  I don't think the alien cared what gender I was." She sees him processing that, then nodding in an almost grudging manner.  "See, I can be practical."

 

"When aren't you?"

 

"I think there's a Vulcan who might say I was mighty illogical in my pursuit of him."

 

He doesn't smile  "Are you still interested in him?"

 

She doesn't smile back.  "Are you asking as the captain or as Jim?"

 

His serious look gives way to a grin.  "As the man."

 

"He came to me, after V'ger."  She sees his look of surprise.  "He wanted to try.  I wanted to try.  We tried.  It was...not very good.  We don't work.  I mean the sex was fine, but everything around it was just so awkward.  I thought maybe in time we'd grow more comfortable with each other, but it just got worse.  We lasted a week."

 

"How did I not know this?"

 

"Well, he was emotionally off his game.  You were giving him a pretty long leash.  He had the freedom to indulge, so he did.  And now...it's over."

 

"No hard feelings?"

 

"Have you noticed any?  I think he's interested in Ny."  She sees the question before he asks it.  "And I'm fine with that."

 

He moves closer.  "So you've moved on?"

 

"I wouldn't say that."  She smiles in a way she hasn't since she was first trying to seduce Roger.  "Present company excepted, of course."

 

He laughs.  "Wow.  And they say I can turn it on at will."  He holds out his glass.  "To...us."

 

"I'll drink to that."  She clinks her glass against his and takes a sip.  "What exactly am I drinking to, though?  You didn't want to be seen with me in public."  She winks to take some of the seriousness off that statement.

 

"To...getting to know each other."  He nods toward the couch.  "Sit with me.  Talk to me.  We don't really know each other even after all these years."

 

"No, we don't."  She sits and as he turns to her, she thinks whatever energy made him look like he was going to come out of his skin is gone.  He seems almost...at peace.

 

"Do we need to talk about the demotion?"  His eyes are easy, his smile not a false one.  He will talk about this if she wants, and she appreciates that.

 

"No.  I know why you did it."

 

"Okay."  He leans back and closes his eyes.  "I hated being on Earth."

 

"So I gather from what Len has let slip.  You and I didn't run in the same circles."

 

"Luckily for you.  I was quite the son of a bitch.  Angry.  Divorced.  Rock bound."  He shakes his head.  "I didn't like who I became."

 

"Well, now you're here. So don't be that person."

 

He laughs.  "You make it sound so easy."

 

"You got what you wanted.  Allow yourself to enjoy it."  She holds her drink up.  "To no longer Admiral Kirk.  A much happier man."

 

"I'll drink to that."

 

##

 

Chapel has just settled in for the night when her chime rings.  She smiles as she opens the door, is not surprised to see Jim there. 

 

He holds up a bottle.  "I come bearing gifts."

 

"That's scotch."

 

He grins, a heart-stopping expression, made more so that it seems to be spontaneous.  He likes being around her—and she likes being around him.  "I didn't say it was a gift for you, toots."

 

She laughs and lets him in.  "So...?"

 

"So, maybe it's nice to have a place to drink where no one can find me."

 

"Oh they could find you here, they just won't.  No one will expect you to be throwing back booze at Chez Chapel."  She grins, to let him know she's not upset by what she's just said.

 

"Well, they're idiots, then."  He looks around.  "Where do you keep your booze?"

 

"These quarters aren't big enough to have a designated bar, Jim.  Where do you think I keep it? " She points to a cabinet at the bottom of the shelving unit all the senior officers' quarters come with.

 

He smiles and pulls a smaller bottle out from behind his back, under his shirt.  "This is very good tequila.  You can sip it all day."

 

She takes the bottle from him and can feel her eyebrows going up.  This isn't just very good tequila: it is the very best there is.  "You do come bearing gifts."

 

"See, oh ye of little faith."  He pulls out two glasses, pours his scotch then holds his hand out for the tequila.  She hands it over and he pours out a decent amount, then takes a seat in one of the two comfy chairs that Starfleet decided to upgrade these quarters with.  "I love this part of my night."

 

"A glass of scotch, a bit of peace, and me?"

 

He takes a sip, exhales and seems to be letting a lot more than air go.  He's relaxing before her eyes. 

 

She smiles and takes a sip of the tequila.  "Oh my God, this is good."

 

"I would not bring bad gifts."

 

"Good to know."  She curls her legs under her and leans back.  "This is my favorite part of the day, too."

 

"I like talking to you."  He says it with such an open expression on his face that she knows it's more than a statement of fact, it's also a gift.  He's letting her know so much.

 

"Did you have a good chess game?"

 

He laughs.  "Yeah.  I won.  Two times.  First time since I stole the ship back."

 

"You need to stop saying it that way.  Got it back.  Was given it back."

 

He looks like he's not buying it.

 

"Jim, if I can tell you that, it's true.  I wasn't just one of Decker's people, but you demoted me to get your own choice in."  She holds up a hand when he's about to object.  "That was not a complaint.  It's a statement of fact."

 

"I wasn't going to debate the demotion.  I was going to object to you saying you were one of Decker's people.  You were mine, Chris.  Long before you were on his crew."

 

"True."  She closes her eyes and concentrates on the extraordinary drink in her hand.  "So, did you have this on hand?  For some guest who loves tequila?"

 

"Nope."  He is grinning.  "Special ordered it just for you."

 

Roger used to do things like that.  Not with tequila since he was something of an abstainer, but flowers he knew she liked, exotic foods, candles that smelled up the apartment in ways he often wrinkled his nose at.  He indulged her and she liked it.

 

"Thank you," she says and he nods.

 

"We don't have to stay in our quarters, Chris.  I think I need to say that."  He is watching her, as if he's trying to figure out what she'll say.  "If you want to, we can talk in the mess or in the lounge."

 

"Have a meal together?"  At his nod, she makes a "Wow" face and he grins.  "I'd like that."

 

"Me, too."

 

They sit, looking at each other as they sip their very good booze, and she thinks she could stay like this forever.

 

##

 

Kirk watches Chris as she wanders across the planet, surveying for—shit, he doesn't know what she's scanning for.  Spock gave out the assignments.  She's here as a doctor, but she gets bored, and Spock doesn't seem opposed to taking advantage of her scientific background.

 

Spock wasn't opposed to taking advantage of more than that.  How could Kirk have missed that?  And why in the hell didn't it work for them?  He's finding it hard to keep his interactions with her just friendly.  She gets him.  She seems to fully understand who he is and likes him anyway.

 

And he can feel the anger that's coursed through him since he gave up the Enterprise and stupidly thought being an admiral and a husband would take away the sting finally dying down.  Because of her.

 

He wants her so badly he is almost sure he's telegraphing the desire by the expression on his face, so he turns away, staring out at the view: mountains and trees and a field of violet flowers in the valley below.  He wonders if they smell good.  He can imagine lying down with her, pulling her clothes off.

 

"What is so interesting out there?" she asks, her voice soft behind him.

 

He nearly jumps, is sure if he turns around she'll see how much he wants her.

 

"Jim?"

 

He pulls her around, so she is facing the flowers as he is, then drops his arm.  "See those flowers?"

 

"Pretty.  I love that color."

 

"I was thinking of us.  There."  It's the first time he's taken them past the friend boundary, and he's not sure what she'll do with the soft lob he's tossed her.

 

"Weeding?"  She laughs and leans against him, peeking around to look at his face.  "Ohhhhhh."  She doesn't really sound surprised that she sees desire on his face; he loves that she can tease him this way.

 

"Weeding would be a good code word.  Doctor Chapel, can you meet me in an unused science lab for some mission-critical weeding."

 

She laughs, and he doesn't care what she says, it's a pretty laugh.  It makes him feel light and happy, and he's not sure when he last felt those things.

 

He tried to do what Bones said.  First he avoided her but she put that to rest in the corridor when she asked him what she'd done wrong.  And then the talks in his quarters and hers after shift, after dinner, just the two of them.  But he didn't like sneaking around, didn't like what it said about how he regarded her.  He wanted her with him.  All the time.

 

He wants her more than anything else right now.  But then he has everything else back.  His ship.  His friends.

 

Just one thing missing: a woman.  One who will be his for real, not for some goddamn term marriage that wasn't worth anything except more frustration and anger.

 

He sighs suddenly. 

 

"What?"  She is so quick, seems to ride his moods right along with him and knows when they've changed.  "What's wrong?"

 

"I think IÕm lonely."

 

"Lonely as in any port in a storm will do?  Because that answer is going to tick me off."

 

"Not lonely like that. Lonely enough to break my rules."

 

"Well, your rules are stupid, Jim.  So...big whoop."

 

He laughs.  She can be so blunt, but her candor doesn't cut him the way Lori's did.

 

She points down to those flowers.  "I'd love to be down there 'weeding' with you.  I don't give a shit about your rules.  This should come as no surprise since I was sleeping with my advisor.  Let me know when you want to discuss flowerbeds—or any other kind of bed—some more."  She grins at him, making light of the situation in a way that tells him he is, indeed, an idiot, but she likes him anyway.

 

Then she heads off to go scan something else.

 

Spock wanders over.  "Jim."

 

"Spock."  Wow, this is awkward.  Should it be awkward?

 

"She is a fascinating woman."

 

Really?  Spock is going to do some kind of "I got there first" thing?

 

"Yes, yes she is, old friend."

 

"For what it is worth, Jim, she is no longer interested in me."

 

"And you her?"

 

"I have moved on."  Spock turns to look at her.  "Directly after V'ger, you were filled with an energy that was not always the most constructive.  I have noticed that has changed of late."

 

Kirk shrugs, but in a "maybe so" way not in a "butt out of my business" way.

 

"If she is the cause, then I wish you both well."

 

"I don't actually need your blessing, Spock."  He grins as he says it, but underneath he feels something darker propelling the words out of him.  Spock left him—who the hell is he to approve or not?

 

Something changes in Spock's expression, as if he can feel the undertone of anger.  "I will get back to work."

 

Is he implying Kirk is just loafing?  Which, he sort of is, but still.

 

"That energy I referred to seems to be back, Jim.  I know I have not talked about my reasons for going to Gol—"

 

"I don't give a shit why you went.  You abandoned me."  It's out before he can call it back, and he says it with an acid undercoating that's more Bone's style than his.

 

Spock actually steps back.  "I believe someone needs me."  He turns and is gone, and Kirk can't believe he's making up an excuse to get away from him when they are finally talking about it, but then he sees a crewman walking toward Spock and realizes someone really did call for him.  Human ears didn't hear it; Vulcan ears did.

 

What the hell is wrong with him?  He prides himself on his ability to work a conversation—why would he just blurt out his feelings that way?

 

He sighs.  This is how he was on Earth.  Angry and with no filters.  Was it any wonder Nogura and Lori were so eager to send him into deep space again?

 

##

 

Chapel sits in the mess with Ny, watching as Jim and Spock eat but don't seem to talk.

 

"Ummm, are you still doing that?"  Ny has an expression somewhere between annoyed and embarrassed.  "Looking at Spock, I mean.  You said you were over him."

 

"I am over him.  I'm watching Jim."

 

"Oh."  Ny's face changes.  "Jim?"

 

"Yeah.  Nothing's happened.  We've just been spending time together." And if Ny was in the mess more and cloistered with Spock less, she'd know that.

 

"Oh." 

 

Chapel turns to look at her.  "You have something to say about that?"

 

"Just I'm not going to be the one that tells Jan."  She holds her hands up.  "I'm not disapproving.  I'm just...surprised."

 

Chapel decides not to follow that up.  It's not like she's ever shown any interest in Jim before now, so she can see Ny's confusion.  But she doesn't want to hear how it's surprising because Ny doesn't think she's Jim's type.

 

"They're not getting along the way they used to," Ny says, her voice really low.  "I'm a little worried.  I talk to Spock about it—give him tips.  I mean he did run off to Gol and all.  Maybe you could work on the captain?"

 

Chapel smiles.  Maybe she can.  But he has the tight look she doesn't like and maybe it's not something either Ny or she should be meddling with.  Jim has a right to be mad.  "Maybe we should let them sort it out."

 

"Why?  They're doing a crappy job at it.  They're boys, for God's sake, Christine.  They do not have our innate feminine ability to talk things out."

 

Chapel laughs.  "Their loss.  I'll think about it."

 

"Things would be fun if they were more comfortable with each other and you were with the captain."  Ny grins.  "We could double date."

 

"We could.  But we're just friends."  Although after the landing party and the conversation about the flowers, she thinks they might soon leave that label behind.

 

"What's he like?  Alone, I mean?"

 

"He's fun.  He's funny.  He's sweet.  He's...him."

 

"Mmmm."

 

"What's Spock like when he's actually happy?"

 

Ny laughs gently.  "He lets me tease him.  He seems to like it.  And he's...tender."

 

Chapel sighs.  Spock was never tender with her.  Then again once she realized they weren't working as a couple, she was hardly tender either.  "I'm glad you're happy with him."

 

"And I'm glad you're happy with Jim."  She makes a face.  "Feels so weird to call him that.  Wonder if he'll ever tell me to?"

 

Chapel shrugs.  She's not trying to be mean: she really doesn't know.

 

##

 

Kirk is pacing his quarters, unsure why dinner and chess with Spock was so unsatisfying.  He hears his chime go off, says, "Come," in a voice that really means, "Go the hell away."

 

He hears footsteps, familiar ones.  Chris.  He turns, smiling.

 

She's not.  "You okay?"

 

He nods.

 

"You didn't sound okay.  You sounded angry."

 

"I was.  You're here.  I'm not now."

 

She laughs, a soft laugh, almost just an exhalation.  Her smile is sweet and tender, and he opens his arms without thinking.

 

She goes into them, wrapping her arms around him, and he hugs her tightly, hiding his face in her hair, which is down and wavy and so very sexy. 

 

"What is it, Jim?"

 

"I feel..."  What difference does it make?  He needs to get over what he feels.  Spock abandoned him, but he's back.  Len stayed away on Earth, but he's back, too.

 

She's running her hands down his back, rubbing up against him in other ways.  Her voice is soft as she asks, "You feel what?"

 

"Well, you.  Doing that."  He tries to pull back so he can kiss her and stop the line of questioning, but she holds him in place.

 

Strong.  So strong.  He lets himself imagine how strong her legs will be wrapped around him, and hears her chuckle and press against him even harder.

 

"Seriously, Jim.  What are you feeling?  You didn't sound happy."  When he doesn't answer, she rubs her hands under his hair, and he moans.  "I saw you at dinner.  With Spock.  You didn't look happy then, either."

 

He takes a deep breath.  He has not shared this with her.  This anger he has that just won't go away.

 

She lets go of him and lifts his chin, studying him.  "Tell me.  I want to help."

 

He does kiss her then.  He can't not.  Because she's here, and she's kind and warm and fun, and she does want to help.  It's who she is.

 

And she kisses like an angel.  What the hell was wrong with Spock?

 

When they finally pull away, she smiles and nuzzles his neck, whispering, "That was definitely worth waiting for."

 

"I agree."  He closes his eyes, doesn't realize he's sighed again until she whispers, "Tell me.  Please?"

 

"I'm so mad at them, Chris.  They left me alone."

 

She takes his hand and leads him past the couch and to his bed, crawling onto it and pulling him down with her.  They cuddle together and she rubs his arm.  "I left you alone, too.  So did Ny.  And Sulu.  Right?" 

 

"But they were different.  I let them in.  And then...where were they?  My best friends.  Spock...Spock ran off to Gol and still can't tell me why.  I mean he explains it but..."

 

"I know.  He tried to explain it to me too.  It was weak.  Something about feeling he was becoming too human."

 

He nods.

 

"And I wasn't really part of his life, other than the stalker he never asked for.  You were part of what made him human.  A big part."

 

He nods again.  She understands.  He almost sags in relief against her.  Lori never got it, just told him to get over it.  That friendships were fluid, and you couldn't cling, and other gems of her pseudo-zen nonsense, which didn't make sense till she showed him that term marriages were also fluid, and she not only didn't cling, she fled.

 

"You know, maybe you should stop thinking you have to forgive him.  Maybe you should just give it time and see if you get to the point where you want to forgive him." 

 

"You're very wise."  He pulls her closer and says, "What about McCoy?"

 

"I think maybe you need to talk to him.  He didn't leave you in quite such a final way."

 

"No, he was just an utter ass.  Constantly with his 'I told you so' comments about leaving the ship and marrying Lori being my dumbest moments."  He takes a deep breath.

 

"Don't.  Don't hold back.  You can be angry around me.  I'm not afraid."  She strokes his cheek.  "Are you mad at me?"

 

"Why would I be mad at you?  You left the ship for reasons I understood.  With my blessing."

 

"And a nice recommendation for med school."  She grins and kisses him.  It's a quick kiss but so full of affection he pulls her back and gives her his own version of it.

 

She laughs, a happy sound he doesn't remember that much from the first voyage.  "This is nice."

 

"It is.  You're nice.  What the hell was wrong with me that I didn't see it before?"

 

"I wasn't looking your way, either, Jim.  Maybe now is our time?"  She runs her hand down his side, then lets it drop, a devilish look on her face.  "Do you want to keep taking about anger and forgiveness, because I'm game.  Or do you want to table that for later and move on to...other things?"

 

He laughs.  "Gosh, now, that's a hard decision to make."  He pulls her hand down the rest of the way, presses it against him, letting her feel how hard.

 

"Let me know when you've made it."  She is almost laughing as she runs her other hand through her hair, then slides her index finger over her lips, then into her mouth.

 

"Mother of God, woman.  What the hell do you think I want?"  He pushes her to her back and kisses her, nothing quick about this one.

 

She is easing his shirt off, and he helps her then goes back to kissing her, grinning against her mouth as she pulls off his pants and still manages to kiss him back. 

 

He pulls away and touches her face, running his fingers down to her throat, then her breasts.  "I love you.  It's the craziest thing, isn't it?"

 

She nods, and her eyes are sparkling as she says, "I love you, too.  I think crazy might be highly underrated."

 

He begins to take off her clothes.  "I'd argue that with two words:  Janice Lester."

 

She starts to laugh.  "Oh.  Right.  Okay, no crazy here." 

 

And she's right.  As she helps him shuck her clothes, as she pulls him onto her, as her legs come up to hold him just the way he thought they would, there is nothing crazy about her.

 

"Some days we're the only thing that makes sense to me, Chris."  Then he stops talking and puts his mind to making her feel good, to losing himself in being with her.

 

Here.  On his ship.  He barely thinks about the rules he used to live his life by.  Never in the nest.

 

"I love you," he says again as she comes down from where he's sent her, as he goes faster and harder and she urges him on and finally he's gone.

 

And she's there to catch him, to hold him as he rides the bliss all the way.  To kiss him and rub his back the way he likes, and do that thing she does to his hair that makes him want to purr like a contented cat.

 

"Thank you for being here," he says as he rolls off her.

 

"Yes, I'm a real humanitarian."  She grins and guides his hand down her body.  "Such a giver."  She throws her head back as he plays.

 

"Taking's good, too," he says with a laugh, and then he proceeds to show her just how good it really can be.

 

##

 

Chapel wakes and for a moment doesn't know where she is.  Then she hears Jim moving beside her, and she smiles and turns.

 

"Good morning," he says as he hits his alarm and turns back to her, pulling her into his arms and kissing her.  "I should have set that thing to wake us up early so we could do more of this."

 

She glances at the chrono and frowns.  "I'm due on a landing party in about twenty minutes.  I forgot to tell you last night—you had me so distracted."  She smiles to let him know being that kind of distracted is fine in her book.

 

"Tell Spock to take Bones."

 

She laughs.  "He doesn't take orders from me.  You tell him."

 

He pretends to lean toward the comm terminal near his bed, and she laughs and stops him.

 

"I'll be back, silly.  Unless this was just a one-time deal?"  She gives him her best mock-stern look, then laughs as he nods and makes a "what can you do?" sort of gesture.  "Love 'em and leave 'em.  So the legend is true."

 

His face changes, and she knows she's said something very wrong.

 

"That was a joke."

 

"I know.  Chris, I know."  He pulls her in.  "It's more like they leave me.  Or force me to leave."

 

She frowns and studies him.  "Who?  Lester?  Wallace?  That lawyer woman?"

 

"Areel Shaw."

 

"Yeah.  Her."  She laughs at the acid she's put in her voice.  "Wow, look how jealous I am.  A month ago I wouldn't have cared."

 

"I know.  It's great."  He rubs her nose with his.  "There was someone else.  Do you know Carol Marcus?"

 

She makes a face before she can think better of it.  "Everyone knows her.  Everyone in biochem, anyway."

 

"I was with her.  I have a son with her.  He's...I'm not allowed to see him."

 

"Why the hell not? "  She's not sorry she sounds so ticked off.  Partly it's for him, and partly it's because Carol is such a prima donna. 

 

"She made me choose when she found out she was pregnant.  Them or space.  I chose space."

 

"It doesn't have to be either/or.  Plenty of families live lives apart and do fine.  Have you ever seen him?"

 

"Seen?  Oh sure.  From afar.  Talked to?  No."  His mouth tightens, and she decides Spock and the landing party can wait.  Jim needs to talk about this.  "When I was on Earth, after Lori left me and I realized that my dream of kids and a dog and horses in the country were not going to come true, I went to see Carol.  I told her I was back.  I didn't see why I couldn't be introduced to David."

 

His jaw tightens even more and he looks away.  "She told me I wouldn't stay.  That she knew me and I would find my way back to the stars.  That she wouldn't do that to our son, give him a taste and then let me yank it away.  I said some horrible things to her, about how wrong she was but...she wasn't."

 

"Even if she wasn't, you're a good man.  I'd be so proud of you if you were my dad.  I think her rules are idiotic."

 

"Me, too.  Unfortunately, he's her son far more than he'll ever be mine.  I can't dispute custody—no kids on a starship.  And I don't want to put him through that.  It's her way, and her way is all or nothing."

 

She relaxes against him and rubs his hair the way she's learned he likes.  "It's wrong.  That's all I can say.  And David's being robbed.  You're remarkable.  He should know that."

 

He pulls her close, murmuring, "I never talk about this."

 

"Thank you for sharing it with me."

 

He lets go and gives her a quick kiss.  "This is not me brushing off our closeness, but I do not want a lecture from Spock about holding you up.  Even if I am breaking all my rules for you."

 

She nods and gets up, pulling on her clothes, then darting back onto the bed to give him another kiss before taking off, hurrying to her quarters—fortunately very close to his—and pulling on a uniform then throwing her hair up into a bun.

 

It's only when she gets to the transporter room that she realizes that to a Vulcan she must reek of sex. 

 

He doesn't say anything, even though the others are all assembled.  She's not really late, just not the five minutes early everyone else is.

 

She follows him onto the padd, waits as he assigns tasks once they are on the planet, but he doesn't hand her one of the two remaining padds.  "I'm just being a doctor today?"

 

"I was hoping we might talk."

 

"Because we've done so well with that up till now?"  She sees his expression change to something of actual frustration and laughs.  "Fine.  Talk away."

 

"You are with Jim."

 

"Is that a question?"

 

"No."  He wrinkles his nose, and she starts to laugh again—she wasn't wrong about smelling like sex.

 

She follows him as he gets them out of earshot of the others, not really caring if he can smell Jim on her—can he smell how happy she is?  Happiness should have a scent all its own. 

 

"I do have an assignment for you.  This talk will not take long."

 

"Okay."  She folds her arms over her chest and waits.

 

"I would appreciate any help you could give me with Jim.  I know he is angry at me."

 

"How do you know I'm not?"

 

He looks mildly exasperated and she holds up her hand.  "Fine, go on."

 

"Advice would be appreciated. You know Jim's feelings better than I do right now."

 

"You left.  How do you think he feels?"  She moves closer.  "Abandoned.  Rejected.  Betrayed."

 

"Ah, just as you did when I left?"

 

"I didn't feel those things.  I was gone, at med school.  You were a crush, nothing more.  We weren't—and still aren't—friends.  I know how it felt because of Roger."

 

"Are you saying Jim had feelings for me?"

 

She hits his arm before she can think better of it.  "No, you big dolt.  Roger wasn't just my lover.  He was my partner in science.  He was my advisor, but I was his sounding board.  When he disappeared, I lost everything.  And then I found him and he'd replaced me with my polar opposite.  I wanted to think he was missing me, but he didn't create me as his android pleasure toy."

 

"How is this relevant to my friendship with Jim?"

 

"You didn't come back for him.  You came back for V'ger.  He knows that.  Everyone who was on the bridge when you got back knows it."

 

He swallows hard, and she's shocked that he's showing her that sign of weakness.  Of fear.

 

"He needs to know you're really back, Spock.  He needs to trust you again.  Give it time.  Okay?  That's all I can tell you."

 

"Nyota thought you would be more help."

 

"Well, Ny was clearly wrong.  And I'm not going to risk my relationship with him by wading into the middle of this."  Which was only true when it came to helping Spock: she'd gladly help Jim.  "If you're ever in doubt where my loyalties lie, Spock, they're with him."

 

He looks down, nods as if she has said something wise.  "Understood, Doctor."

 

"You said you actually have something for me to do?"  She holds out her hand.

 

"You are quite fierce where he is concerned."  He hands her a padd.  "He will value your loyalty highly."

 

She resists a smart-ass comeback because she imagines he is right.  Given what Jim went through on Earth with his friends, his wife, and the mother of his son, he will place loyalty above just about everything right now.

 

##

 

Kirk is off the bridge, walking the corridors, talking to crewmen, getting to now those who are under his care.  A young ensign charms him, the man so full of enthusiasm for life.  A lieutenant tells him she only asked to serve on the Enterprise after Kirk took over.  He feels a flush of pleasure: he's so used to thinking everyone is viewing him as the usurper, the guy who got their real captain killed.

 

He finally makes it down to sickbay, sees Chris, and smiles in a way he is pretty sure is hers alone.

 

She grins and then goes back to work on a patient.

 

Bones looks up and waves him in.  "To what do we owe this pleasure, Jim?"

 

"Just doing a walkabout.  Meet the crew.  Can't just be a person on the bridge they never see."

 

"That explains why you're off the bridge, but why are you in sickbay."  There is a knowing look in Bone's eyes.  "Oh, wait, could it be for my lovely deputy?  The one I believe I told you to leave alone."

 

"I don't answer to you, Bones."  He realizes that his voice lacks any trace of rancor despite the words.  He's just stating a fact.

 

"No, Jim, you sure don't.  Well, treat her right or we're going to have words."

 

Kirk smiles and sits down.  "I plan to."  He leans back, meets Bones' eyes and says, "I need to say some things."

 

"Do you want me to close the door?"

 

He nods, so Bones calls for privacy.

 

"You were right.  About me giving up the ship.  About me marrying Lori.  You were right." He sees Bones begin to smile with an annoying amount of satisfaction and holds up his hand.  "Let me finish.  You were right but you were an asshole about it.  I was floundering, and you knew it, and you weren't there for me."

 

"Jim, you weren't exactly there for me, either.  Not once the lovely Lori came into the picture.  Suddenly there were no more fishing weekends, no more nights on the town to meet ladies.  Nothing.  You abandoned me, too, you know."  Bones leans back and shakes his head.  "I wanted to be there for you.  But I was mad at you for getting us all back to Earth.  And then for not being there."

 

"Just because I left the Enterprise didn't mean you had to."

 

"Like I was going to stay if you were gone?  Give me some credit, Jim.  I'm your CMO."

 

Kirk isn't sure what to say, so he just sits, thinking about what his friend has said.  Finally he nods and gets up.

 

"That's it?  That's how we talk about this?"  Bones sounds mad now.

 

"I just...hadn't considered that you felt abandoned, too.  I'm sorry."

 

All the fight goes out of Bones.  He grins and says, "I'm sorry, too, Jim.  Sometimes stubbornness is not a virtue."

 

"Sometimes?"  Kirk laughs.  "We'll be okay, Bones.  In time, as long we're there for each other again.  I think we'll get there."

 

"I sure as hell hope so.  I'm staying on this deathtrap for you, you know."  He grins and ends the privacy protocols.  "Drinks?  You, me, Christine?"

 

"I'd like that.  I'm sure she would, too."

 

"Okay then."

 

He turns and walks out, looking for Chris.  She's in her office, and she waves him in with a very sexy smile.  She calls for privacy, and they put it to a very different use than what Bones and he wanted it for.  A quickie never felt so good.

 

He's grinning like a fool when he walks back out.  Bones is in the main area and takes one look at him and gives him a good-natured eye roll.

 

Kirk's too happy to bother thinking up a snappy retort.

 

##

 

Chapel hangs back as Jim and a team of security officers begin to hack a way through a jungle that according to Starfleet was cleared.  The atmosphere is not conducive to beaming, so they used the shuttlecraft, and landed in the closest spot to where Starfleet had noted moderate dilithium reserves.  After V'ger's destruction of existing bases and mining planets, Starfleet was very interested in establishing new ones before the Klingons and other enemies of the Federation realized they were in danger of running low on some rather strategic resources.

 

"Someone made a wee error in their calculations, I'd say," Scotty murmurs to her. 

 

"Aye."  She does a creditable imitation of him, and he chuckles.  She's not sure why he's on the landing party, but he's probably wondering the same thing about her.

 

"Should we give them a hand, lass?"  He holds up the machete Jim gave him.

 

She can see Jim is sweating, that he's taking what looks like a whole lot of frustration out on the vines and bushes in his way.  She thinks it looks like good therapy for him, so she shakes her head and says, "We'll be the second shift."

 

"If you say so, Christine."  Scotty takes a deep breath.

 

"Why are you on the landing party?"

 

"Oh, the dilithium beyond this rain forest is plentiful, but we're having trouble getting a reading on the purity—too much sensor distortion.  Someone had to come down and test it, and Mister Spock thought I might like an afternoon away."

 

"Lucky you."  She turns back to watch the others work.  "I think I'll be treating a torn rotator cuff or two if they don't slow down."  She debates telling them to take it easy, decides Jim won't appreciate it, and it's relatively easy to fix what will ail him when he gets done whacking the hell out of the foliage.

 

He's supposed to play chess with Spock tonight.  He'll be much less angry with him if he's worked out some of his "everyone left me" aggression down here.  Not that she blames him for being angry, but even she can see that he needs to move past it.

 

He turns as if he knows she's thinking of him.  "Enjoying yourself?"

 

She laughs.  "An excellent view from here."  She waggles her eyebrows and hears Scotty chuckle. 

 

Jim grins and says, "Yeah, wait till it's your turn to hack and slash."

 

She loves that he's not trying to hide that he's with her.  That his playfulness can extend to afternoons like this.  That he's enjoying her even while trying to outdo three security officers who are all at least fifteen years younger.  He gives her another grin and turns back to the jungle.

 

"So, I was a wee bit surprised.  You with him.  I always figured you for Spock."

 

"Not really my type."  Which is something she wishes she could go back and tell her younger self. 

 

"Well, you both seem happy and that's never a bad thing."  He takes a deep breath and says, "I cannae just let them do all the work."  And with that, he wades into the fray.

 

She opts to wait for second, or even third shift.  She can use a laser scalpel like nobody's business, but she's not so sure a machete and her will be a good match.

 

"I see daylight," Jim says, his voice triumphant.  He turns to look at her.  "Feel free to help."

 

"Oh, fine."  She takes a few practice whacks, notices he moves away a little.  She hits the vines and her blade skids along and nearly ends up in her leg.  "Really?  There's not an easier way?  Like, say, phasers?"

 

Jim takes her by the shoulders and turns her away from the vines.  "Howzabout we don't have you hack anything off today.  And we can't use phasers. Not for prolonged bursts.  They'll interact with some of the gases in the atmosphere and mask the dilithium.  We'd probably have to wait at least twelve hours for the readings to clear enough for Scotty to test the purity and for a team to start mining what we need.  We are, unfortunately, on a very specific timeline.  So we do this the hard way."

 

He takes a healthy swipe at the vines, tears right through them.

 

"You're enjoying yourself, aren't you?"

 

He glances back and nods quickly, his eyes glinting. 

 

"Is your shoulder hurting yet?"

 

He makes the face she's learned means, "Oh, hell yes."

 

Laughing, she says, "Good thing you're tight with a doctor."

 

"Damn good thing.  Now, back away a bit.  I donÕt trust you with that thing."

 

"My devious plan worked.  No heavy labor for me."  She wanders back and starts scanning, trying to see if she can get a reading on anything.

 

The sensors really are screwed up.  She has to be nearly on top of something before it even registers.  Even the life signs of the crew in front of her are muddy.

 

She puts the tricorder back over her shoulder and tries not to replay the conversation she had with Ny at breakfast.  Well, conversation would imply something two way, and this was more Ny being irritated and Chapel listening to her.

 

"Why couldn't you help Spock out?"  Ny's face was not the least bit understanding.  This was the mama bear that Chapel knew from the first voyage.  The Ny who had given more than one gossiping crewman a piece of her mind after some of Chapel's stupider moments pursuing Spock.  She'd never had it turned on her.

 

"I told him to give it time.  It's the best advice I can give him, Ny."

 

"You told him your loyalty was to the captain."

 

"So?  Shouldn't it be?  I'm with him every night."

 

"And day.  And afternoon."

 

"Oh, you should talk.  This is the first breakfast we've had together in weeks."

 

At least Ny had the grace to look sheepish.

 

"Let's make a deal, Ny.  We don't take out their battles on each other, okay?"

 

Ny took a deep breath but her expression was one of surrender.  "Fine.  But just...be nicer to him."

 

"How much nicer?" Chapel asked with a leer, earning a slug in the arm and a very stern look.  But it turned Ny onto other subjects.

 

"Yo, 'First do no harm' girl."

 

She looks up.  Jim is laughing.  "You have one job to do here and you're daydreaming through it?"  He points at Scotty, who is holding his shoulder and wincing.

 

"On it."  She pulls her scanner and regenerator out and goes to work.  Trouble is, she knows he's probably going to reinjure it as soon as he goes back to cutting. 

 

But Jim is making them narrow the path down to something they can take turns on-and gracefully letting Scotty sit it out.  She winks at Jim, and he grins.

 

Then they are through, and she follows as they start testing the deposits, running her own scans to see what else lies on and below the surface on this planet.  "Jim?"

 

He walks over.

 

She shows him the tricorder.  "This plant is used to fight Aldebaran Hemorrhagic Fever.  It's incredibly rare."

 

He looks proud of her.  "Requisition what you need, Doctor.  I assume it will travel?"

 

"Oh yeah.  Starfleet Medical is going to be very happy with me."

 

He touches her arm, a quick squeeze but his smile says more will come later.  "Not as happy as I am with you."

 

She wants to kiss him.  She settles for a very big grin.  Then goes on to see if she can find any other hidden gems on this crappy planet.

 

##

 

Kirk can feel Spock at his side as they walk down the hallway of the Denitran ministry.  It feels so familiar, having him there.  And yet he still has to fight the urge to glance over, to make sure Spock's really there—to make sure he's staying.

 

Not that Spock's given any indication he wants to leave.  He's with Nyota, and they seem happy.  He has taken over his duties with an energy that should mean he wants to be on the ship.

 

With Kirk.

 

But he looked that way right before he went to Gol, too. 

 

Kirk knows he has to let this go.  Even Chris is telling him that in her gentle way.  But is it forgiving if he can't forget?  If he is constantly moderating how much he gives to Spock in terms of time and energy?  He will not be left behind again in such a blindsided way.  He knows that's the problem in a nutshell.  He doesn't trust Spock not to leave again.

 

He forces his problems with Spock out of his mind and focuses on their hosts, who have petitioned for Federation membership.  This tour will be the first of many inspections and meetings.  These things often bore Kirk out of his mind, and he sees no reason to think this will be any different.

 

Hours later, he knows he is right.  The planet is lovely; the people are nice. But you can only see so many schools and power plants and shipyards before you want to cry uncle.

 

Even Spock looks bored.

 

"Thank you, Representative C'Larthe.  I look forward to tomorrow's meeting."  Which is a complete lie, but he manages to sell it.

 

As he calls for beam-up, he glances at Spock, who is studying him closely.  "Something you want to say?" he asks, and once again there is more acid in his voice than he means there to be.

 

"How long must I pay for leaving you, Jim?"  Spock actually sighs.  "It has occurred to me that perhaps you would be better served by a first officer you could fully trust."

 

Really?  He's going to leave again?  "Hold that thought," he says as the transporter takes them.  Once back on the ship, he snaps out, "My quarters.  Now," and hurries off the padd, not caring if Spock is following.

 

But of course he is.  He does not, as a rule, disobey orders.

 

Safely inside his quarters, he turns on Spock.  "So you want to leave?"  There is hurt in his voice that he wishes he could hide.

 

"I did not say that, Jim.  But perhaps you wish I would."

 

"Why in hell would I want you to leave?  You leaving is the problem."  He paces for a moment, then goes to the viewscreen, staring out at the stars that are usually a solace.

 

"I have tried to explain my reasons."

 

"And I have tried to understand them. But I don't."

 

Spock takes a deep breath, as if trying to gain strength for something he doesn't want to do.  "There is a Vulcan saying.  Kaiidth.  What is, is."

 

"I'm well aware of that saying.  You used it every time you didn't want to change."

 

Spock's eyebrow goes way up.  "I have changed, Jim.  I changed at Gol, and then again, after the meld with V'ger.  And I believe I am continuing to evolve—my relationship with Nyota, for example."

 

"And your failed one with Chris?"  Oh, shit, had he said that out loud?

 

Spock closes his eyes.  "She is with you.  She clearly loves you.  And her loyalty is fixed—I have asked her for help with you and she came very close to telling me to...go to hell is how I believe you would phrase it."

 

Kirk smiles at that.  Can imagine her bristling at Spock on his behalf.  And maybe a little on her own.  "Fine, we'll leave her out of it."

 

"I now know that going to Gol was not my path.  But at the time, it seemed the best option for me.  Jim, did you not experience the same thing on Earth?  Your promotion, your position at Command, your marriage?  Why are you allowed to make bad choices and I am not?"

 

"My bad choices didn't affect you.  You were already on your way to Gol."

 

"Nevertheless, the question stands."  Spock takes a deep breath.  "If you cannot forgive me, I believe working with you will become untenable.  Therefore I must consider my options. I have many, as I am sure you are aware."  He heads for the door.

 

"And Nyota?  Will she go with you?"

 

Spock stops but doesn't turn.  "I believe she will."  He takes a deep breath.  "I am sorry that my leaving hurt you.  It hurt my mother, as well.  It hurt me, if I am honest about it.  But I cannot undo it.  And honestly, I would not, because the man I was before I went to Gol had no peace, and that is not the case now."

 

"I'm so glad you found your bliss."  He sounds like a bitter teenager, and he knows it.

 

"I will let you tell me what you want, Jim.  The ball is in your court, as the saying goes."

 

He walks to the door and leaves.

 

Kirk closes his eyes and tries to find the flaw in what Spock has just said.

 

He can't.  Spock is right about everything.  But that doesn't make Kirk any less angry with him.

 

##

 

Chapel rings Jim's chime for admittance.  He's put her on the door, but his quarters double as his office, and she doesn't want to bust in on the middle of a private discussion.  He's on her door, too.  She loves that they are both willing to be that open.  If she wants to barge into his rooms, she can.  She just doesn't see the need.

 

The door slides open, and she sees him standing at the viewscreen, a glass of scotch in his hand.  She can tell by the way he's standing that he's angry.

 

"Bad time?"

 

"Never for you."  His words are gently said, but they don't match his body language.

 

She stops, unsure for the first time how to deal with him.  She's never seen him quite like this.

 

"Come here."  Again his voice is soft, but the way his hand juts out and waves her over is harsh.

 

She goes to the bar instead, pours herself a drink, and says, "I'd ask you if you want a refill, but I think booze is the last thing you need right now."

 

"Meaning what?"

 

"Meaning you seem to be in a hell of a mood."  She joins him at the viewscreen, doesn't look over at him, just stands, staring out the way he is, sipping her tequila.

 

"Take your clothes off." 

 

She glances at him; he's still not looking at her.  "I'm fine for now."

 

He does turn at that, and his eyes are harder than she's ever seen them.  "Take your clothes off."

 

"Take them off for me."  It's what she normally says when he tells her to undress, and his usual reaction is a grin and then a quick—or not—shedding of her clothes.

 

This time he walks away from her.  "I'm not in the mood."

 

"But you're in a mood, Jim.  A foul one.  What's happened?"

 

"Why does something have to have happened?  Maybe this is how I am.  A real son of a bitch with moods you won't like.  Maybe you don't know who you're really with."

 

"Ah, so this is 'stuck on Earth' Jim?"  At the way his eyes narrow, she's sure she's right.  "Can't say I'm a fan."  She walks to the bar, puts her drink down, and turns for the door.

 

"Too much for you? "  His tone is almost spiteful, but she thinks he's angrier at himself than her.

 

"What?  You think Roger didn't have his moments?  My God. He was horrible some days."  She gets to the door.

 

"So you're leaving?"

 

"Yes, Jim, I'm going to my quarters.  I'm not abandoning you.  I just don't feel like being your punching bag for the night.  If you picked me because you thought I was a nice doormat, think again."

 

She doesn't wait to hear his reply, just walks out as fast as she can without looking like she's fleeing and goes to her room.

 

She figures it'll take him about an hour to come to her.  He surprises her.  He's there in twenty minutes.

 

"You didn't take me off the door," he says with a sheepish grin.

 

"Of course not.  I love you.  I want you to be able to come in here whenever you want."

 

He pulls her out of the chair and into his arms.  "Even when I'm a jerk?"

 

"Especially when you're a jerk.  Making up can be fun."  She smiles, and she thinks he's surprised at her.  She's not sure why.  She put up with Roger's obsessions of the moment and Spock's disinterest with a frightening reliability.  Jim's easy compared to that—he actually cared that she was gone.  Sometimes it would take Roger hours to realize she'd even left, much less was annoyed with him.

 

Jim draws her to the bed, strips her clothes off, and murmurs, "Can we start over?"

 

"Yes, please."  She kisses him, making her touches as tender as she can.  "What happened?"

 

"Spock said some stuff.  It was probably...accurate.  And it ticked me off."

 

She smiles.  "Oh, well.  Even a broken watch is right twice a day." 

 

He laughs.  "No, he was being pretty insightful, and I was being more or less an obstinate ass.  I just...do I want to hold onto this anger?  And why? "

 

She pulls his clothes off and then pushes him down to the bed, under the covers where they can cuddle up.  "When Roger left me behind, I was the biggest bitch you could ever meet.  I took my unhappiness out on everyone around me.  I felt abandoned.  It was almost a relief when he disappeared and I could finally do something—search for him and pretend he never left me behind in the first place."

 

"Why did he leave you behind?  I've never understood that.  You were working together, right?"

 

She takes a breath and meets his eyes.  "I was pregnant.  I lost the baby about two weeks after he left.  So I could have gone, but he wanted to keep me safe, he said."  She looks down.  "The android Roger asked about the baby, Jim.  It's why I had no idea it wasn't really my Roger.  It was the first question he had for me once we were alone.  Why would a machine care about that?"

 

"I'm sorry, Chris."  He pulls her closer.  "And I'm sorry I took my mood out on you."

 

"I'm not.  It's our first fight."  She kisses his chest, sinks into his touch as he runs his fingers lightly up and down her arm.  "We're a real couple now."

 

He laughs.  "I guess we are."  There is a long silence, broken only by her happy moans, and then he says, "I need to let it go.  I need to let him back in."

 

"Yeah, you do."  She doesn't think there is more to say than that, so she just nestles against him and lets their bodies do the talking.

 

##

 

Weapons-fire flashes around them as Kirk huddles next to Spock and says, "I thought these people were pacifists?"

 

"Clearly something has changed since Starfleet Diplomatic's last report."

 

Kirk laughs; Spock is, as ever, the master of the obvious.  Although he's finally finding him funny again, so maybe that's a good sign.

 

The firing intensifies, so they make a break for a larger group of rocks, dirt kicking up behind them.  Fortunately whoever is shooting at them has lousy aim.

 

He pulls out his communicator.  "Sulu?  Please tell me you have a lock on us."

 

"They are jamming from the planet.  Mister Scott is working the problem."

 

Kirk looks over and gives Spock his look of old, the one that says, "Why does this happen?"

 

Spock lifts an eyebrow: his old answer.

 

With a grin, Kirk says, "Tell him it's an emergency.  Unless he wants to be temporary captain.  Then it's not."

 

Sulu laughs.  "He's working double time."

 

"Of that I have no doubt.  We'll be here, trying not to fire on the rather unfriendly natives.  Kirk out."  He peeks over the rocks.  Whoever was firing has stopped and he can't see anyone coming their way.

 

Spock gets up and checks from the other end of the hill of boulders they've taken shelter behind.  "I see no activity, Jim."

 

"Me, neither.  Well, this is a fun day."  He backs up so he's less in view but can still keep an eye out and says, "I've been thinking about what you said."

 

Spock doesn't answer; Kirk imagines he's unsure what the right response is.

 

"You were right.  We both made bad choices."

 

Again there is silence.  Now he's probably afraid to agree and set Kirk off again.

 

Kirk laughs softly.  "It's okay to say something, Spock."

 

"I do not wish to leave."

 

"Good.  Because I don't want you to leave.  And I'll try to be more the Jim you remember."

 

"Be the Jim you are now.  Just be a little..."

 

Kirk laughs.  "Nicer?"

 

"That is what I was going to say.  It sounded somewhat childish, though."

 

"Hey, just because we're adults doesn't mean we aren't big babies when you hit our hot buttons.  I have abandonment issues and you expected to be welcomed back with open arms once you set out on your latest path. I get it."

 

"I do regret hurting you."

 

"It wasn't just you, Spock.  It was Bones.  It was Lori.  It was Carol. And it was me.  I fucked up more than any of you.  But maybe, like you, if I hadn't tried it and figured out it was the absolute wrong path for me, I'd have always wondered.  Now, I know what I want.  And I've got it so I should probably settle the hell down."

 

"You have Christine.  She loves you."

 

He glances at Spock.  "Jealous?"

 

Spock meets his eyes.  "A little, yes.  I expected, when I finally let her in, to find harmony.  But we did not.  It was most curious—for her as well, I think.  All those years she pursued me and I held her as a possible mate in my musings, and it ended so dismally."

 

"I'm sort of glad it did."  He laughs at Spock's expression.  The movement in the distance catches his eye.  "Shit, what now?"

 

"Captain Kirk?"  The voice is that of the ambassador they first spoke to.  "There's been a huge misunderstanding.  I hope you and your first officer aren't hurt."  He is being followed by a group of men and women.  A row of weapons stand propped up against the trees behind them.  "My people are very sorry for shooting at you."

 

"You buy his story?" he asks Spock, in the old way, and he sees Spock's expression lighten.

 

"It is possible.  Mistakes do happen. And his people look suitably contrite."

 

"Well, if it is a trap and they kill us, I'm glad we made up before it all goes to hell."  He shoots Spock a grin.  "We did make up, right?"

 

"Affirmative."  Spock says, moving closer and not putting his phaser away. 

 

Kirk is touched.  Seems like his friend isn't ready for life to end.  Of course that could be as much because of Nyota as anything Kirk's said, but for now, it makes him happy to think Spock wants to fight for their friendship.  "Okay, we're coming out.  Starfleet will be most upset if you shoot us."

 

"I assure you, Captain.  Shooting you is the farthest thing from my mind."

 

"Heard that before."  He nods to Spock.  "Let's go."

 

They come out from the rocks.  The ambassador bows over and over, clearly upset.  No one shoots them.

 

And he and his friend are actually talking.

 

It's turning out to be a better day than he thought.

 

##

 

Chapel walks by Len's office, hears him say quietly, "Can I have a word?"

 

She stops and backtracks, comes in and gestures at the door. "Open or closed?"

 

"Closed."

 

"Yikes."  She grins; she's not really afraid this is going to be some dressing down.  Len and she work great together, even better as peers than they did as doctor and nurse.  It sort of surprises her, but it's a happy surprise.

 

She sits and he leans in, his expression not one she's used to seeing: it's filled with some kind of secret merriment, like he's got something on her.  "What?"

 

"You're with Jim."

 

"Yes, this is no secret. You've spent time with us."

 

He laughs, the slightly mocking laugh she never liked much as a nurse.  "Learned that with Roger, did you?  The boldness of honesty."

 

"How is this your business?"

 

"Well, see, I warned Jim off you."

 

"What?  When?"

 

"When you were recuperating from being tortured."  He reaches into his credenza and pulls out a bottle of bourbon.  "You learn to drink real alcohol yet?"

 

She laughs and shakes her head.  He reaches in again and slides her a bottle of tequila.

 

She slides it back.  "I don't actually need a drink."  And she definitely wants to have this conversation sober.  She's not sure where he thinks he's going with this.  "So, why did you warn him off me?"

 

He grins and finally it's the silly grin that's always been her favorite.  "Because I knew it would guarantee he went after you.  Or that you would force the issue if he avoided you instead.  Which was it?" 

 

"The second one."

 

He holds up his glass.  "Here's to knowing my friends better than they know themselves, darlin'."

 

She isn't sure whether to toast or not.

 

He frowns, and it's the expression that means he's disappointed in her.  "Really?  Are you happy with him or not?"

 

"I am."  She never thought she'd be this happy again.  Especially not after she and Spock fizzled so spectacularly.  She feels like she used to when she was first with Roger. "Fine."  She holds up an imaginary glass.  "To you."

 

"Actually to you and Jim.  He was headed your way, I think, without any interference from me.  I just wanted to lock things down."  He laughs softly, but then his expression changes.  "See, you weren't part of what went wrong for him when he was on Earth.  I was.  Spock was.  His bitch of a wife was."  He shakes his head.  "I cannot stand that woman."

 

She shrugs.  She only knows what Jim has told her, and he doesn't tend to badmouth Lori much.  She likes him so much for that.

 

"See, that's why you're perfect.  You're part of his past but not.  He trusts you and you never saw him at his worst.  And boy howdy when he takes a dip into the 'I'm a son of a bitch' pool, he goes for the highest diving board."

 

She laughs even though it feels a bit unfair to Jim.

 

"I didn't make things better for him.  And I probably could have, but I was so sure I'd been right, that he shouldn't have taken that desk job, and that's pretty much all I could say.  Because I was having a bit of an existential crisis myself.  And I wasn't at my best for me, much less for a friend in need."

 

"You?  I thought you were loving the life of the doctor at leisure."

 

"Was bored shitless.  I kid you not, darlin'."  He finishes his drink and puts the bottle back into the credenza.  "And Spock—well, he left.  Jim was hurting and we weren't there for him.  Both Spock and I have sort of been feeling our way back to him.  But...it's a lot easier now that he's happy."

 

"Ahhhhh.  Finally something that makes sense.  This is all for your benefit."

 

"Well, it didn't start out that way.  But it ended up that way.  And I don't mind."  He smiles at her.  "Even Spock likes having you around."

 

"That's because he and I found out we were dismal together."

 

"Could have told you that.  Why do you think I rode you so unmercifully?  You two were not right.  You and Jim on the other hand: you like charismatic, powerful men and he likes quick-witted scientists.  Match made in heaven, as far as I'm concerned."

 

She laughs.  She's never thought of it that way, but he's probably right.  She's met four of Jim's ex flames and three were scientists.

 

"And you wanted to tell me all this why?"

 

"To let you know I approve.  That I'm not going to be a bastard about it like I was with Spock.  And to let you know I'm glad you're here and happy.  I wanted you to stay but wasn't sure you would.  I took your job, after all."

 

"Yeah, well, nobody's perfect."  She gets up and walks around his desk, giving him a kiss on the cheek.  "Interfere in my love life again and I'll make your life a living hell.  Got it?"

 

"Got it.  But hopefully your love life is set for a while.  He's fully capable of being faithful when he's in love."

 

She smiles because she knows this.  Roger probably wasn't capable—little geisha doll Andrea seemed proof of that.  But she believes Jim is.  Even if she knows he might have to cozy up to some pretty alien now and again to save the ship.  He'll come home to her.

 

"I'm going to go back to work.  I'm not going to tell Jim what you've just told me."

 

"I appreciate that.  He won't be as copacetic as you are."

 

"No, he won't."  She laughs.  "And now I have this to hang over your head every time I want special treatment."

 

He rolls his eyes and waves her out.  But she knows he believes she might do just that by the sheepish grin he can't hide.

 

##

 

Kirk walks into his quarters and sees Chris lying on her back on the floor.

 

She laughs as he walks over to her.  "You're probably wondering what I'm doing?"

 

He nods, decides to lie down next to her.  "Why aren't you lying on the carpet?"

 

"Because I wanted to feel her.  The ship."  She turns to her side and strokes his face.  "The way you do.  But I don't think I do."  She smiles.  "But I feel something."

 

He's charmed that she's even thought of doing this.  He can't imagine Carol on his floor trying to commune with his other girl.  Janice Lester would have tried to take her over without ever getting to know her.  But Chris...she just lies quietly and listens.

 

"I love you.  And Spock and I made up.  We got shot at.  Talked some things out."  At her look, he shrugs.  "Guess you had to be there."

 

She slides closer and kisses him.  "I'm glad you worked things out.  Everything's going to be all right now."

 

"You're psychic suddenly?"  But he smiles, because he likes the idea of things working out.

 

"I am.  Didn't you know?"  She pushes him to his back.  "I know, for instance, that right at this moment you would like me to undo your uniform pants and have my way with you."

 

"I actually think about that all the time, not just right at this moment."  He laughs at her expression.  "Sorry, Madame Blavatsky, go on with your show."

 

"No.  Not if you're going to be a skeptic."  She does undo his pants and have her way with him, though, so he doesn't care in the least that the prognosticating is finished. 

 

He is loud as he finishes, and she looks very pleased with herself as she comes up to kiss him.  "I love you, Chris."

 

Her expression is the mock-stern one he loves.  "Right.  Who wouldn't you say that to after a big, fat orgasm?"  She lets out a breath.  "But I love you too, Captain Kirk."

 

"Come here."  He pulls her down, returns the favor, sliding down her body, easing off her clothes, and making her writhe underneath him.  He likes this: lying on the floor, giving her pleasure, his ship underneath them both.  Chris is sharing him at the most primal level.

 

"I love you," she says after she comes down.

 

"Sure, like I'd believe that after your big, fat orgasm."  He gets up and pulls her with him, drawing her to the bed.  "Let's stay in tonight."

 

"That's how we started, staying in, talking."  Her smile is luminous as she slides onto the bed, her eyes so very soft.  How in the hell did he not notice her before?

 

"Actually we started with you on the floor—but much less comfortably.  I think I fell in love with you then.  Is that weird?"

 

"If it is, I'm not complaining."  She pulls him over, urges him to take her, so he obliges her.  "Every time he hurt me, I'd look at you.  You never looked away.  He was hurting me and I was so afraid and you were there."

 

"I'll always be there.  Only hopefully in a more helpful capacity if you ever need me to save you again."  He stops moving, wants her to really hear what he's going to say next.  "You saved me, Chris.  These last few months.  You saved me...from myself."

 

"You would have saved yourself eventually, Jim."

 

He's not so sure she's right, but he's willing to let her think so.  "I'm going to really let go," he whispers.  "Tell me if it's too much."

 

Her smile is sensual and unafraid.  "I will."

 

And he knows it's true.

 

FIN