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) 2018 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

From Unexpected Places


By Djinn




You're keyed up, sitting in the lounge with no one to talk to. Ny went to bed long ago, Len's off with a new conquest, and you're not in the mood to chat up Chekov or Scotty.


"You're waiting," a husky voice, the sound of your savior—the captain who convinced you to give up ops and come back to the Enterprise.


"Waiting? For you, Jim?"


"Nope." He motions the crewman playing bartender over and orders the same single malt he had in the officer's club when he pitched you this opportunity. "For an emergency."


"Pretty sure those are your department now."


"And therein lies the problem." He holds up his glass and waits until you touch yours to it to say, "I went through this when I left the ship the first time and took a desk job. I kept...waiting for something to happen." His smile is gentle, and you realize he's right, that you were in emergency ops for so long you're not sure how to really just...turn off for the night.


No one's going to comm you in the middle of a dinner, or a date, or a deep desperate sleep.


Unless there's a shipwide emergency. But then everyone's going to get commed.


You're in a science billet now. You don't even have to worry about patients. Just...theoretical stuff. It's...


It's not boring. It's just really different and happens at such a different pace. And it's been years since you did this. Since miniscule changes mattered this much.


"What are you drinking?" he asks.


"I'm not even sure. I just asked for something strong in the whiskey family."


He laughs and tells the bartender to get you what he's having. "So, Commander Chapel, how is it being back aboard my ship?"


"It's different." You study him and see the disappointment in your answer so you grin and say, "You didn't let me finish. And it's like coming home."


"That's what I wanted to hear." He spins his stool so he's facing out, taking in the lay of the lounge. "I missed this when I was retired. So much. But...what did it take to get it?"


You know about his son. Len and Ny both told you versions. You've never heard it directly from him, though. "I'm sorry. Truly."


"I got Spock back. But lost my boy—and his mother. We were..." He takes a sip, his eyes narrowing.


"You were...?"


"I foolishly thought I was going to get my family back. Decades too late but finally. Carol was...open to trying. Until I got our son killed."


"You didn't get him killed."


He waves away the correction.


"No, Jim, I know what happened. That may be a closed file but some of us saw. Some of us know."


He nods but his smile is tight. "He was a lot like me. Took shortcuts." He takes a long sip. "Cheated."


"Now you're talking about the protomatter, aren't you?"


"Dead subject."


"Yes, it is. The Genesis device is too dangerous, so they quarantined the subject. So most people don't talk about protomatter because they don't even know about it. But for those of us who do, those of us who also understand the science behind it, well...it did work."


He looks at you, a question on his face.


"The device went off in a nebula. The base matter was unstable. It was always going to revert. Had it been a planet that met the original criteria..."


"It would have worked." He frowns. "Carol must know this."


"I'm sure she does. But if she's not allowed to play with it anymore, how likely is she to make it easier for someone else to run with her project?" You make a face. "I know her by reputation, Jim. She guards ferociously. Everything she considers hers."


He nods. Then he turns to meet your eyes. "But you know. So why doesn't Starfleet? You didn't tell them?"


"You saw what happened. We're not ready for that. Roger used to repeat Oppenheimer ad nauseam to us when we were headlong in discovery, not thinking of consequences. 'Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.' I don't want to become that. Someday, in the future, when we're ready, protomatter will be used again. I'm sure of it."


His smile is gentle. "Roger should have told that to himself before he tried to replace me with an android." Shaking his head, he laughs softly. "See, you're being nice and I say that. I'm on edge, too."


"Anything I can do?"


"Antonia's handling the sale of our cabin. It's this gorgeous place, up in the sierras. She keeps sending me stuff to sign. It's...got me cranky, I guess. Losing that place."


"I'm sorry." You're not sure what to say. You heard about the woman from all your friends. Gorgeous. Sweet. But ultimately not enough to hold him and not willing to share him with the stars.


What was it with the women he picked? He's in Starfleet. What part about space being part of the job is unclear?


"So," he says with a laugh, "aren't you glad I wandered over here to cheer you up?"


"Actually, yes. I've always felt like you understand me. And you never tease me about Spock."


"He interested?"


"Not a bit."


"Eh. His loss."


"Damn strait, toots."


His grin is gorgeous. "Another round?"


"Why not?"




"Have I told you how glad I am to have you back?" Ny's sitting on your bed, legs curled up under her. You think it's unfair how little she's aged over the years.


"You have. But say it again. I don't mind hearing it."


"Well, I am." She holds out her glass and you pour her some more of the Jevendian liqueur you both fell in love with on the first voyage. "Mmm, this is so good. We need to get Jan up here."


"Yeah, that's not going to happen. Not so long as our beloved captain sticks to his policy about the crew being off limits."


Ny leans back, sighing dramatically, and you laugh. "I think he's going to be getting together with Gillian. The woman who helped us with the whales."


"I know who Gillian is. I sat with her at the hearing. So did Jan. She seems okay."


"Sure she is. Off on a science vessel instead of taking care of George and Gracie—doesn't she realize how important they are? If that probe comes back... Anyway, how in the hell does she rate a science posting?"


You start to laugh.


"What's so damn funny?"


"It's not a science vessel. It's Science Vessel. Remedial training. She's not even really Starfleet." Roger used to make jokes about sending you to the ship when you screwed up something.


"Ohhh. Well, that makes a lot more sense. But still, don't you think she should've stayed with the whales? I mean she hitched a ride because none of us knew anything about humpbacks. Then she just leaves them?"


"Are you annoyed with her on behalf of the humpbacks or because Jim's seeing her?"


"The former. He can see who he wants." She shakes her head at you. "I'm with Scotty, remember?"


It's actually hard for you to remember that because you really don't get it. Scotty's a genius with an engine, but you've never considered him someone you'd want to date. But Ny seems happy and he's devoted to her. "Things going okay with him?"


"They are." She shakes her head slightly, the earrings she's wearing sparkling prettily even in the low light. "He got me these."


"Generous and smart."


"Yep, he's a keeper."


You think she's saying that as if she's trying to convince herself as much as you. You don't point that out.


"You're with Jim a lot." She sounds like she's fishing.


"Yeah, he's fun to talk to."


"But you're still interested in Spock, right?"


You roll your eyes. "Interested, maybe. Chasing him, hell no. I've lived that life once already."


"He might be open to it. He's been through a lot. That can change a person."


"Yes, being reborn will change a person." You laugh at her expression. "Do you want me to be that Christine again? The one that whines about him not loving me?"


"No, but I think you should at least explore the possibility. I might if I wasn't otherwise engaged."


"Mmm hmm." You find yourself yawning, not because she's boring you, but because you're finally settling down—and into this new routine.


A routine blessedly free of constant emergencies.


"I think I need to hit the rack," you say after another yawn hits.


She downs her drink. "I can't believe you're finally going to beat me to bed for once. I was a little worried that you weren't sleeping at all. You took a lot of stims in ops, didn't you?"


"On occasion. We all did. But it's not like we lived on them." And you haven't taken any since you reported in and don't miss them.


"Well, whatever the reason, you seem like the Christine I used to know. Not someone always looking like a flitter was about to run her over."


You decide not to tell her that more than one person in ops has been hit by flitters because they were exhausted or refused to stop trying to help someone in time to get out of the way. Instead, you just smile as she hands you her glass and leaves you in peace.




You sit across from Spock. He's behind his desk and you're in the visitor seat. You're unsure why he wanted to see you.


It's not to woo you, that's for sure. Assessing your feelings, you aren't terribly disappointed.


You think he might want you to fill in the silence, but you've learned not to. So you sit, trying to keep the look on your face expectant, not impatient.


Finally, he says, "As you know, I am in charge of the science section personnel."


As first officer, he's in charge of everyone else, too. You don't say that. "Yes, sir."


"I have had good reports of you."


That's funny, since you've done very little by ops standards. "Good," you settle for saying.


"I believe, however, you are perhaps not as challenged as you could be."


Is he saying you're slacking off? He's right, you are. But is he really saying that? "Sir?"


"Commander Wilson is leaving."


"Oh." Your boss. The head of life sciences. "And you think I..."


"I do. Jim agrees. Do you want this position, Christine?"


Christine. Your first name. But he's still so stiff. "Yes, Spock, I do." He doesn't flinch at your use of his name without the "Mister" you always slapped at the start in the past. Then again, you're going to be one of his section chiefs, so why would he? "Do you want me to want this position?"


He seems to understand what you're saying. "Yes. What you are doing now is a waste of resources."


"I don't disagree." You narrow your eyes. "Was this the plan? Because I've come to realize this posting I'm in now was never going to fulfill me."


"The captain and I both tend toward the long view."


"Were you going to let me in on the plan?" You're irritated and you aren't sure why. This is how things happen. People plan subordinates' futures all the time based on needs and potential and history.


"I believe that is what I'm doing." He lifts an eyebrow.


"And I'm being a jerk about it. Sorry." You lean in. "Yes, I'd like the position. Thank you for your faith in me."


"Christine, my father speaks very highly of your performance on missions he has shared with you. He does not bestow praise lightly."


"Maybe I'm just good with Vulcans?"


He gives you a dubious look.


"Maybe I'm just good with that Vulcan." You can't help it; you laugh. "Can we start this over? I think I've hit rock bottom and have begun to dig."


His expression lightens. "Our history has been...complicated. We will learn to relate in perhaps a more uncomplicated manner this time?"


"Yes. I would like that."


"As would I. Dismissed, Commander."




You see Jim in the mess and stride over with your tray. "This seat taken?"


He laughs. "Given the expression on your face, I'd like to say yes." But he waves you down.


You sit and take the time to get the things you don't want off your sandwich and the things you do want in.


"Wouldn't it be easier to just order it the way you want?"


"You'd think so, wouldn't you? But it's not. Trust me." You see he's eying your tomatoes. "You want?"


He nods and you push them onto his plate, then add the cheese you order extra to the sandwich.


"Why not just order a bacon and cheese sandwich with lettuce instead of a BLT and then go through all this?"


"Different bacon. Not sure why—maybe because a BLT is simpler and calls for higher quality meat. I just know this bacon is better." You sigh happily at the first bite. "So, Spock talked to me."


"Ah. That's what that look was. Are you going to take the job?"


"Of course I'm going to take the job. But why didn't you tell me you wanted me for that job."


"It's going to sound stupid. Spock basically told me it was idiotic, when I told him not to let on to you the position was coming open and you were our first choice."


You wait.


"You left my ship twice, Chris. I wanted to think you were coming back because you like it here, that you like the way I run a ship. I didn't want you returning solely for a really good job." He shrugs and gives the smile that could charm the birds out of the sky.


"Are you that insecure?"


His smile changes to an amused one. "That's your response? You're supposed to be touched." He points at the pickle on your plate. "You going to eat that?"


"No. Go for it."


He spears it with his fork. "Anyway, that's the actual truth. I wanted you here for me and for your friends and because this is a really good ship. Because somewhere in you is loyalty. Not because you're ambitious. But if you are ambitious, that's fine—I like it, in fact." He grins. "Told you it wouldn't make a lot of sense."


"It does, actually. So much of my early success was tied to Roger. I was never sure how much of what I got was due to me and how much was his championing of me. You were the first person after he disappeared to just...believe in me."


"You were convincing." His eyes are gentle. "And your story was compelling. Lost love. How could I not?"


"Some captains would have told me love and career are two different things."


"Well then you picked the right guy to snooker, toots." He laughs. "So are we okay?"


"Of course we're okay. It's a fantastic opportunity."


"Glad we got that settled, then." He's staring at your sandwich. "I'm going to test your theory about the bacon being different. You know that, right?"


"I have no doubt you will."




"Well, you don't look very happy for someone who just saw a newish flame." You sit and motion for the bartender to bring you what Jim's having. It's a testament to how often you've done this that the barkeep doesn't even look to Jim for confirmation he can go into the special stock. "So, Jim, what gives?"


He doesn't answer, just keeps drinking. His expression is the one you've come to characterize as pissy.


"Gillian a no show?"


"No. She showed."


You frown. "You chicken out? Couldn't land the girl? You?"


He laughs. "No. I got the job done."


You sit quietly, nursing your drink, enjoying how good his favorite scotch is, and he finally says, "Sometimes connections are situation specific."


You don't say anything, just lean on your elbow in an "I'm all ears" way.


"It's that feeling when you know there was a spark. You know it. And you're glad to see each other. And the sex is...fine. But..." He sighs. "But there's so little communicating going on that it's not really fine. Whatever chemistry you had when you were trying to accomplish a joint endeavor is gone."


"Was it just you, or her, too?"


"Oh, her, too. We agreed not to give it another try."


"I'm sorry. And I completely understand. We had an acronym for it in ops. EHUs."


He mirrors your position, stretching his elbow out and leaning on his hand. "EHUs?"


"Emergency Hook Ups. Fun at the time. But at the end just a big old 'What the hell was I thinking?'"


He starts to laugh, his normal charm reasserting itself as his grin comes back. "I like it. I might use it."


"You can." You study him. "I wish..."


"You wish what?"


"That I'd heard about it from you before the fact. Not from Len when I asked where you were." You don't tell him you heard it from Ny before that—he has no need to know what you two talk about. "I mean...we've been spending time. I taught you about the great bacon workaround."


He laughs. "You were right about that."


"Never doubt me and bacon. So, I guess—friends tell friends things, right?"


He doesn't look away, even seems to be assessing you. "It felt weird to tell you."


"Weird how? Like I'd judge?"


"No." He sighs. "Weird I don't know. Just weird."


"Hmmm. I recognize we're new friends, and I have no need to know your business. But..." You look away. "I wanted to know."


He doesn't say anything as he cocks his head and studies you, his expression one you can't interpret, but he doesn't look annoyed.


"Jim, maybe now is when you tell me to back off, grab a little of that ops professionalism you liked so much before you brought me on board, and remember you're my captain first."


"I am your captain first. But backing off? No, don't do that."


"I could read that a lot of ways."


He starts to smile, a one-sided smirk that you decide you like because it's good natured and amused rather than creepy. "I like you. I'm glad you're here to help me bury my hopes around this."


"Hopes, huh? How far did you think you and Gillian were going to go?"


"I don't know. Farther than we did." He puts his head down on his arm. "I have shitty luck, Chris."


"My romantic resume isn't exactly a 'how to' manual, either, Jim." You set your hand on his back for a moment and feel him press back into your touch. "I'm going to leave you. I'm beat." And you think it's safer to go. Because you know his rules and you don't want to start feeling things that can't go anywhere.


"Good night, Chris." He throws back his drink and calls for another


You leave him to it.




You make your way to sickbay. You've been enlisted as temporary staff during this shipwide epidemic and you're dead on your feet.


Len looks up as you come in. He looks like shit. You know you do, too. "All done?"


You nod and collapse into one of the chairs that's been moved into the main bay.


"You're still the fastest hypo in the west." He grins. "LaNella and Sanvok haven't finished yet."


"Yay, me."


He walks over. "One more shot and then I want you to collapse."


You nod. "Who's the victim?"


"Our esteemed captain." At your face, he laughs softly. "It hasn't escaped my notice that you two spend quite a lot of time at the bar. He'll listen to you—hell, I listen to you and I'm the world's worst patient."


You hold out your hand for the hypo he's filled.


"Try and get him off the bridge and to his quarters because he needs sleep—I may have added a cough suppressant that will definitely cause drowsiness. Spock's fine; he's got it under control."


"As we'd expect from our first officer."


"You seem over him. You're too tired to be cagey about liking him, and there's no rise out of you when I mention him."


"Even I can grow up, Len." You force yourself to your feet and head for the lift, riding it to the bridge. Jim smiles when he sees you.


Spock actually looks relieved and stares pointedly at Jim as if you don't know who you're there for.


"You look like crap," Jim says when you're close enough for the words to be just between you—and probably Spock. Damn Vulcan hearing.


"Thank you," you say just as softly. "I'd return the favor, but even sick you look like a god."


He grins, but it's an exhausted one.


"What say you give Spock the conn, and we mosey on down to your place where I'll shoot you full of antiviral goodness?" You're trying for funny but you're too damn tired, trying and failing to hold back a yawn.


And that seems to be the thing that gets him moving. "Spock—"


"Aye, Captain." He doesn't even let Jim finish, just nods to you as he takes the chair. "Commander."


"He wanted me gone hours ago." Jim sags against the wall of the lift. "Damn, I'm beat."


"Me, too." You want nothing more than to sink to the floor of the lift and curl up and sleep for days. But that would be stupid and who knows what's on the floor.


You follow Jim out of the lift and to his quarters, and he's wearing the uniform shirt you really like, the white one that shows off his arms, so you can just give him the shot without having to roll up long sleeves.


"You really are exhausted," he says softly.


You nod, suddenly too tired to form words. The walk back to your quarters seems endless.


He steers you to his personal area, pushes back the cover, tells you to take your boots off, and leaves you to crawl into his bed while he uses the bathroom.


When he comes out, you're still sitting on it. "I shouldn't sleep here."


"Then, don't. But I'm not rescuing you if you only get halfway to your quarters."


You figure both of you are too tired for something to happen that would damage your friendship, so you crawl into the bed and roll to your side.


He gets in and pulls the covers over you, staying carefully, you think, on his side of the bed.


You're out in moments. When you wake, Jim is spooning you, and you think how nice it feels to be this way with him.


And then you fall asleep again and the next time you wake up, Jim's out of bed and sitting at his desk working.


"Sorry," you say, as you free yourself from the covers. "I should have been out of here already."


"Don't be silly. You needed the sleep." He looks up at you, as you try to decide what your next move should be. Then he smiles. "You're pretty when you wake up."


You're relatively certain the small amount of makeup you dashed on the day before is smeared all over your face. "You're obviously an easy grader."


"Actually, I'm not."


You know you're blushing. "I'm going to go. Have a job to get back to."


"Are you still tired?"




"Then go back to your quarters and sleep. If Spock has a problem with that, tell him his boss said it was okay."


"I will if you'll stay in here and rest."


"I was just about to crawl back into bed." He's not looking at you as he says it, but you feel the words landing heavily in the space between you.


"Okay, I'm going now."


"Right." He looks up and studies you. 'I'm really glad you came back here, Chris. To the ship. To...me."


"Me, too." Then you flee before you lose your mind and crawl back into his bed with him.




You're sitting with Ny and Scotty, trying to figure out if she's really in love with him. They remind you of high school, after someone you weren't already dating asked you to prom, and you felt compelled to act like there was more than just a dance between you. For a week or maybe two there was the weird waltz of "We like each other" until you realize you didn't want to be anything more than friends, and everything went back to normal.


Except it's been a while, and she's still with Scotty.


"Lass, are you glad to be back on the finest ship in the Fleet?" Scotty's well into his cups.


"Oh, am I on Excelsior?" You laugh at his expression. "Kidding. Of course, I am. Best ship, best crew, best captain."


"Aye, you've got that right." He gets up. "Another round, on me."


You nod but Ny says, "I'm switching to ginger ale."


Once he's out of earshot, she leans in. "So, what's going on?"


You hate loaded questions like that. She's a pro at it. You used to fall for it. General probing becoming an actual issue once you address something for her to latch onto. So now you just say, "With what?"


"With you?"


You almost laugh. She's so good at this. "What do you mean?"


"Christine. I was on the bridge the other night when you got the captain to finally rest."


"Oh, God, Ny, I'm sorry. I was exhausted. Len sent me up to get him and that was all I could see. I just wanted to collapse and sleep." Not a lie. And you did just that—just not in your bed.


"You saw Spock, too. Just not me or Sulu. I guess you're used to that now? The brass are more interesting than us regular folks?"


She thinks you're brown nosing? You suppose that's better than her knowing you spent the night with the guy who supposedly doesn't do that sort of thing. "I was wrecked, Ny. I'm sorry I didn't see you. It wasn't because of their rank. I just wanted to make sure Spock was doing all right before I left."


She smirks, but this is more like old times. "Now, that I believe. Speak of the devil."


Jim and Spock come in and head to the table with their chess board. Spock looks single minded, but Jim scans the room, stopping when he sees you.


His smile is sweet. Super, duper, make-your-toes warm sweet.


"Well, well. I know a certain blonde friend of ours who's gonna kill you."


"He's just making sure I'll stay on the ship this time." You roll your eyes at her expression.


"Don't lie to me. Do you like him? You think Scotty hasn't told me how often you end the night drinking with the captain?"


"Of course I like him. He's James T. Kirk. But he's not..."


Jim looks over at you again. You think this time he might not be aware he's doing it.


"Christine. Please." She seems...fine with it. But she's a master of sounding calm and composed.


"I'm honestly not sure what's going on. But yeah, I like him. We're having fun getting to know each other again. Talking. That's probably all this is. He'll move on."


"You do realize all his girlfriends have been scientists, right?"


"Not all. There was that lawyer woman." And Miramanee, but that wasn't Jim in his right mind. And Edith, but that seems too sad to bring up.


"Fine. A large percentage of his significant others have been scientists."


You cannot argue with this statement and she laughs as you do the shrug-nod of Chapel surrender.


Scotty comes back with the drinks. "What did I miss?"


"Not a thing, Sugar."


You wonder how much they'll talk about this when they're alone.




The lounge looks like a wonderland. Little lights are everywhere, some anchored, others floating. There are flowers and even a little fountain. The dance floor is crowded with crew in formalwear.


"Wow, this is amazing, Ny."


She looks smug and she should. You've never seen a lounge look better and you've been to a lot of shindigs in your time.


"I just wanted to dress up and dance, you know? In a magical place." She spins to take in her handiwork—or more accurately, the vision she had others implement. Her dress is gorgeous and pieces of crystal pick up the light.


"Fair lassie," Scotty says, looking dapper in his kilt. "Might I have this and many other dances?"


She pretends to have to think about it, then giggles as he hustles her to the dance floor.


"I wouldn't have seen that working, Nyota and Scotty," Len says in your ear as he presses a glass of something amber into your hand. "But they seem really happy."


"They do." You take a sip. "Rye. You remembered."


"That you're some kind of northern heathen who doesn't appreciate bourbon?"


"George Washington made rye. He lived in Virginia. And when haven't I ever appreciated bourbon?"


"That's true. I just like getting digs in."


"Old news there, Len." You study him. "No new conquest?"


"Oh, there is. Just not here yet."


"You ever going to settle down?"


"I did that once, remember? She took me for all I was worth. Now, I just play." He seems to be studying you. "I'm not the settling down kind. Unlike, say, our captain."


You force yourself not to react.


"I saw you coming out of his room the other day. You were just supposed to deliver the hypo, not..."


You laugh. "I fell asleep—you know I was dead on my feet. It wasn't...that."


He nods as if allowing your version into his personal reality. "But you like him. And he likes you. I've seen the two of you chatting it up."


Your turn so you can really see him. "What are you doing?"


"I don't want him leaving this ship anytime soon. Not now that I have all my marbles back and none of Spock's." He grins. "And the thing he's lacked up to now is someone on this ship keeping him happy so he doesn't do some fool thing like retire or take a desk job."


"Perhaps he lacked that because he doesn't mess in his nest."


"In the past, sure. But now? Things change." He grins. "Why, here he comes. Want to wager on which of us he's going to ask to dance?" He takes your glass. "Jim, she'd love to dance."


"Thanks, Bones." He's got you by the hand, gently easing you onto the dance floor, murmuring, "Did you want a say in this?"


"Nope, I'm good." You laugh at his smile. God damn this man is handsome. Why didn't you have a crush on him when you were both young?


"I didn't expect peach to be the color you'd be wearing. But you look beautiful."


The dress is an old one. But it's a favorite of yours. Flattering in the way it hides problem areas. Pleated like an old Grecian gown with ivory accents.


He holds you like you've done this before. Dancing with him is easy and you relax into him.


"The captain has to dance with whoever asks, right?"


He nods. "And find the shy ones who don't ask so they don't feel left out. I'll be a busy man." He makes a self-sacrificing expression.


"What you do for the mission." You squeeze his hand gently and he squeezes back. "My loss."


"Oh, I'll be back for you. More than once."


"Repeated dancing might send a message you don't mean to send."


He pulls you a little closer, his breath warm on your ear. "Who says I don't want to send that message?"


"Why Captain, you'll make a girl think you're serious."


"If you were a girl, and not a woman I like very much, I wouldn't be serious." He sighs as the music winds down. "I'd like to keep dancing with you."


"I'd like that, too."


"I'll see you in a while. Keep your dance card open. Consider it an order."


"Aye, aye, sir."


You can't see Len, so you make your way over to where Spock is standing since he's holding a glass of what looks like rye. You assume Len saddled him with your drink. "Are you the designated coaster?" You point to the glass.


He hands it over. "Doctor McCoy indicated you would want this."


"He's rarely wrong when whiskey is the subject."


"Indeed." Spock's in a robe instead of his uniform, but looks as uncomfortable as you remember from past voyages.


"You learn to dance since we last served together?"


"Assuming I do not know how to dance simply because I do not participate is an erroneous leap in logic I would not expect from you."


"Mom insisted you learn, huh?"




You laugh. "Relax, Spock. I'm not going to proposition you or ask you to dance."


"It is not you I am worried about, Christine. There is a young ensign in supply who is quite determined."


You take a long sip of your drink. Mmm, damn good stuff Len's picked for you—you'll have to ask him what it is. You've mostly been drinking Scotch when you and Jim are at the bar. "So I've lost my role as your chief stalker?"


"So it would seem." He almost sounds disappointed, but you assume that's because his new stalker puts you to shame in the obsessed department.


"So is this ensign male, female, or other?"


"The latter. A Tralaxian."


"I've heard good things about them." You laugh at his expression. "Which I'll keep to myself."


"Thank you. They are transferring off in a few weeks so my discomfort will be short lived." And then he asks you about the section and how you're liking being chief and for the next half dozen or so songs, you're content to just talk science with him.


But then Jim is back. "Can I steal her?"


"That would assume that I have some sort of possession of her, Jim."


"Just say yes, Spock." He rolls his eyes and takes your hand, pulling you back to the dance floor, but he stops just short of it. "Should I be worried? You liked him first." He's teasing but there's something serious in his eyes.


And suddenly you want nothing more than to put his mind at ease. So you opt for no joking, no flirting, no coy misdirection and simply say, "Nope. Don't worry."


His grin is gorgeous as he pulls you into his arms to dance. "Damn good answer, Chris."




You take a long sip of scotch as you wait for the comm terminal to connect you to Jan. Going through your mind is "Please don't be mad. Please don't be mad. Please don't be mad."


"Hey, you." She's smiling, but the smile slips as she studies you. "What's wrong?"


"Nothing. I'm good. You?" God, could your voice go any higher?


"Chapel, what is it?"


She's seen you at your best and at your worst and at every stop in between. She knows you too well for you to hide anything from her. And she only calls you Chapel when she's intent on getting the truth out of you.


"You remember a long time ago when we promised if either of us ever—"


"No way." Her voice is amused, not mad. "Kirk?"


"Nothing's happened." You meet her eyes. "But..."


"But it might?" She leans in. "Did you start this or did he?"


You think about it. "He did. Well..."


"Okay, if you don't know then it must be the real thing." She holds up a hand. "Hang on. Let me get my drink." She disappears and then reappears with an entire bottle of wine but no glass.


You break out laughing.


She grins and pulls out a glass. "Okay, so I'm only going to say this once. If you hurt him, I'll kill you."


"If I hurt him?"


"Yep. I'll tell him the same thing someday too if this really becomes something. And if I ever see him. I should have been the one to transfer. Shit."


You laugh because she's making this so easy.


Wait, why is she making this so easy?


"What aren't you telling me?"


She shrugs in that way she does when she wants you to guess.




"Okay, fine. Remember Jack, that consultant that we both thought was super handsome and smart and funny."


"Uh yeah."


"Well, we're dating. I ran into him and one thing led to another..." She smiles and looks really happy. "So you're off the hook, lady. But man, timing is everything, huh? Because I'd be clubbing you over the head with this bottle otherwise."


"I'm sorry."


"No, you're not." She leans in. "Is he a good kisser?"


"I don't know."




"It's early. We promised we'd tell the other as soon as we suspected."


"How do you know it's anything if there's been no kissing. Or did you have sex with no kissing? Is he against kissing? Does he have a lip phobia?"


You're laughing so hard you can't answer.


"Seriously, Chapel, you're off your game. Go kiss the man."


"Howzabout you let me run my romance at my speed?"


"Fine. Be that way." She pours herself a glass of wine. "Okay, I want all the dirt on everyone. Is Ny still with Scotty?" She makes a little face that you think you're probably mirroring back as you nod.


You settle in to get her up to speed on all the gossip and let her fill you in on the ops goings on.


"I really miss you," you say as she finishes telling a particularly funny story about a captain you both despise.


"I miss you, too, kid."




You're in your office when you hear a soft knock on the wall and see Jim standing in the doorway. "Come in, sir."


He smiles and you think it's because on duty you don't use his first name. "Commander." He sits. "I need a science officer for the upcoming signing ceremony at Fohlara. I'd like to take you."


"Spock busy?"


"The signing ceremony will include a barbeque that will put Bone's brisket to shame. And as you well know, Spock doesn't eat meat."


"Durrance has been in place longer than I have."


"A month or so, that's all. Also, he's not the most sociable of fellows."


You try to bite back a smile and fail. The section chief of physical sciences makes Spock look like a screaming extrovert. "Fine, I'll go."


"Good." He doesn't get up, just sits, looking at you intently.




He stands and hits the switch that closes your door. "I'm not going to sneak around. If we're going to pursue this."


"If? Are you unsure?"


"I'm not. Are you? I'm your captain. I don't want this to seem...like I'm forcing it. You tell me to slow down or stop, and I will." He's pacing, like he's actually worried you might feel pressured.


"I appreciate that. But I'm enjoying spending time with you." You smile when he turns. "I'd like to do more. But...can I ask why it's suddenly okay? It wasn't before. Your rule was well known among the crew."


"I suppose you got an earful from Janice?"


You shrug—no way you're discussing her with him.


He sits and takes a deep breath. "I lost everything, Chris. My son. My ship. Before that my two best friends were dead or going mad. Then I had Spock back but...he wasn't like he is now, and the rest of us were exiled on Vulcan for three months. I was going crazy. I was sure I'd spend the rest of my days in the brig if I ever returned."


"I know. It's why I called Sarek for you."


"Why did you do that for me?"


"Jim, I know I left the ship—and you take that personally—but you shouldn't. I cared for you. As a captain. As a man I'd seen hurt in sickbay. As the man who lost his wife and child—and then lost his son years later. As the man who covered up what Roger had become. Even if I didn't think so highly of you, I'd owe you for that alone."


He nods and for a moment looks down. Then he starts talking again, softly. "They didn't throw me in the brig. They gave me this ship. Again. The Enterprise. And I realized that they weren't going to take it away—and even if they did, I'd survive it. So if I think I've found someone really special that I want to break my rule for, I'm going to do it."


"An uncharitable person might say I was a rebound. From Carol, then Gillian."


"Do you feel like a rebound?"


"You haven't even kissed me yet."


"Exactly. We have time, Chris. We're here, not in different spaces trying to cram a relationship into a few shared days. I'm not rebounding. I'm exploring. Finding out who you are. Who we are together. If this works."


"It would have worked better if I were still in medical." You grin to show him you're okay that it's a little trickier now that you're not independent.


"You have a reputation for doing what's right, even bucking the brass if it's needed to get the job done. And you work for Spock. How much do you think I can influence him? He's as stubborn as Bones." He takes your hand. "We can transfer you to medical if it'll make it easier." He has a silly look on his face and is clearly trying not to laugh.


"That's okay. I like this job."


"Good. It suits you. So if you're up for this outing, dress uniform at the end of shift? I know it'll be a long day but the meal will more than make up for it. And they hate lengthy speeches so it shouldn't be too boring."


"Even if it is, I'll survive." After slogging through mud—or worse, bodies—this would be a cake walk.




As you hide behind a metal holding tank, you're desperately wishing you had a phaser. "I thought you said this would be boring."


"I thought it would be." Jim pushes you further under cover as he comms the ship. "Kirk to Enterprise. What's going on up there?"


Spock answers. "It would seem the Klingons take issue with the signing ceremony, sir. We are dealing with them."


"Deal faster. Kirk out." A few more blasts come raining down from the sky, then it goes quiet. "Thank God."


You're facing the opposite way he is and don't like what you see. "Crap, Jim, come on!" You pull him with you and he doesn't even question, just follows, until he must see what you do and starts to outrun you. He's pulling wreckage from the pavilion that was erected over the signing table. A pavilion some had taken shelter under.


You're helping him and you see Fohlarans rushing in to help also. Several dignitaries crawl out from the rubble, but you see another further in and not moving. "Don't let that thing fall on me," you say as you crawl into the space.


You feel Jim pushing something into your hip and reach back. It's a device the Fohlarans use that seems to serve a wide range of purposes, including a flashlight.


You hear Jim say, "Clear this carefully," as you continue to crawl toward the woman who is awake but clearly pinned down.


"It's okay. I'm a doctor." You play with the device and thank whatever deity looks after these people that science is their passion because there's a medical scanner among other sensors. You run it over her. Her leg is crushed and will require massive reconstruction but it's free of whatever hit her. It's her upper torso that worries you, a beam has fallen on her side, angled up so it's full weight isn't on her but still even partial crush injuries on vital organs are tricky, so you want that area freed as quickly as is safe. Her head and lower torso only seemed to be hit by small rubble. "Jim, clear the right side first."


"Roger that."


"Just hold on," you tell the woman, and then back away so you can help clear the area.


"Hell of a first date," Jim whispers as you work next to him.


"Is that what this is?" With a wry smile, you shake your head. "Seems like old times. I thought I'd left this behind."


"I know. Sorry. Although not sorry because you're the person I'd want with me for this."


You nod and stop gabbing, concentrating on getting the debris clear, and when they get closer to her, you're about to crawl in but one of the Fohlarans beats you to it. "The beam that's angled up across her?"


He nods.


"Make sure it doesn't come down if we loosen it—let us know if it starts to go." Fohlarans are stronger than humans so this isn't unreasonable to ask him to shore it up.


"Spock to Kirk."


"Can you get that, Chris?"


You grab the communicator off his belt and say, "Chapel here."


"The Klingons have been routed. Do you need assistance?"


The man inside the rubble is calling out, and a moment later he gingerly moves the woman to the opening.


"We're okay, Spock." You realize that's not really your call to make, even if it feels like old times when you were in charge, and hand the communicator to Jim with a sheepish smile.


He takes it with a grin, going off to talk to Spock without a lot of Fohlarans listening in, but you stay to help them with the woman.


A Fohlaran healer pushes through, and you introduce yourself and brief her on what you've seen. She nods as you talk, scanning with a device more elaborate than the all-purpose one you've been using.


"If you don't need me...?"


"We'll be fine. Thank you."


You wander the area, using the device to make sure there aren't others buried but most of you were lucky—or else the Klingons weren't trying that hard.


Although Jim should have been under the pavilion just about when they fired along with the Fohlaran prime minister. And they hate him after Genesis. Maybe this was more about him and less about the accord he was supposed to sign.


You turn to watch him, and he seems to sense your eyes on him, glancing around as he talks to Spock, his smile tight but still there.


You suddenly care very much that the Klingons might want to hurt him.


He stows his communicator and walks over to you. "I don't like your look."


"They could have done more damage. They were aiming for the pavilion."


"Yeah. Must have gotten wind I was here. Never going to forgive me for stealing one of their ships and then saving Earth with it." He gives you a breezy grin as if this is no big deal. "I thought we'd worked out some of our issues after Nimbus III. I guess I thought wrong." He takes your hand and pulls you out of the way of some men with an antigrav stretcher. "I saw you checking—anybody else hurt?"


"Nope. I'm glad you weren't up there."


"If the prime minister hadn't wanted to discuss a private matter, we would have been."


"What was his private matter?"


"If I thought there might be a market in the Federation for a Fohlaran spirit. It's mediocre but I find myself remembering it fondly since it was a literal lifesaver." He takes a deep breath.


"Captain, forgive the urgency, but I think we should dispense with ceremony and simply sign, don't you?" The prime minister gives him a harried smile. Once Jim's put his thumb over the signature block, the prime minister motions for a servant holding a bottle of orange liquid to come forward. "You seemed to enjoy this."


"Thank you." Jim even sounds sincere.


"Unfortunately, our food pavilion was hit during the attack. I regret there will be no meal to enjoy."


"Another time, then, sir. I look forward to a less exciting party the next time I'm here."


The man laughs softly but then his expression turns somber and he turns to his people, hurrying away.


"Let's get out of here." Jim takes your hand as he leads you to a spot well out of the way of the cleanup. "Enterprise, two to beam up."


"Two to beam up, aye, sir."


The familiar feel of the transporter takes you. Once out of the transporter room, he says, "I need to get up to the bridge."


You realize your uniform is torn—you must have caught it when you were crawling in the rubble cave. "Do you need me?"


"No, go get changed. I'll pop in later after I've washed off this dust." He hands you the bottle. "See if you can figure out a way to make this better than mediocre."


You laugh and head for the far lift while he takes the closest one to the bridge. Once in your quarters you strip, throw your clothes in the recycler and take a quick shower. Then you throw on comfy sweats and a t-shirt and assess the bottle Jim's given you.


It smells a bit bitter, and when you pour out a bit to taste, you decide it reminds you of the amaro your roommate in college used to bring back from trips to Italy. It's not as bitter to taste as to smell.


Your chime goes off and you say, "Come." Jim comes in, hair wet, in clothes that look as comfy as yours do. He sees you with the bottle and asks, "What do you think?"


"I have an idea." Also courtesy of your time in college. You pour some rye into glasses add a third as much of the Fohlaran spirit, then shake in some bitters and ice. "If I do this right, it should be like a Black Manhattan."


As you're stirring, he comes up behind you, his arms stealing around your waist. "I knew you could come up with something." He laughs as you lean into him, then you feel his lips on your neck.


"You're messing with perfection, buster."


"Shut up, I'm busy."


You laugh and finish making the drinks, then you try one. "Mmmm."


He turns you and you hold the drink up to him. His eyes widen as he tastes. "That's really good."


"Oh, ye of little faith." You share the glass because he doesn't seem inclined to let you go, then he puts it down on the table and pulls you closer. "I haven't kissed you yet."


"Yes, I know. I've pointed out this sad deficiency."


"Mmmm." He's grinning. "Kiss me."


"Why do I have to do all the work? 'Make me a drink, woman. Now, kiss me.'" But you lean in and kiss him, trying to make it a sweet kiss, not a "tear my clothes off this minute" one.


His smile is a lovely thing as you ease away. He grabs the other glass and pulls you with him to your bed, putting the drink on the nightstand—on the coaster you have so your water bottles don't leave a ring—and urges you onto the bed, but not to lie down. To sit up, backs against the headboard, sharing the drink slowly. Kissing carefully.


You think neither of you want to rush this.


And then talking. About nothing. About everything.


And more kissing.


You get up to make another drink because he claims to not be able to follow a recipe, which you think is bullshit, but you don't mind. You like to play around with cocktails and cooking. You hand him the glass and then crawl back onto the bed.


"I really, really like you, Jim."


"I really, really like you, too."


Eventually, you end up cuddled around each other, and you wake when your alarm goes off. "Someone fell asleep here."


"Someone doesn't care." He nuzzles your neck. "This was nice."


"It was."


He pulls you around and kisses you. "Dinner tonight?"


"Sure." Then you grab his arm as he starts to get up. "More kisses."


"Oh, fine, if you insist." His laugh is almost a giggle as he lets you pull him back down.


You think it's one of the best sounds you've ever heard.




You're on a frontier planet, in a bar charmingly called The Last Outpost, waiting for Len to get his butt down to the planet so you don't miss your dinner reservation. Jim's chosen a table in the corner and sits with his back to the wall. You chose the seat next to him and it affords you a good view of who's coming and going.


You bristle when you see a familiar face, and Jim seems to know it instantly.


"Who's that Romulan?"


"Pardek." You turn away and look at Jim. "He's in charge of Romulan support operations."


"Support for whom?"


"Great question. But...humanitarian. Wow that word really doesn't work in this case, does it?" You grin, but your smile fades as Pardek walks over.


"Commander Chapel. Such a pleasure to see you." He smiles less tightly at Jim. "And you, of course, need no introduction, Captain James T. Kirk. I am Special Envoy Pardek."


Jim ducks his head in the kind of greeting that's respectful but not overly friendly.


"Did she tell you we've often run concurrent operations?" He sits without being invited. "She's so...idealistic, this one. Thinking Starfleet's motives are purely to help."


"You think they're not?" Jim asks, his tone carefully neutral.


"I think they're exactly as ours or anyone else's are. Grateful people are often supportive people. They have good memories of who helped them. And it's no secret that the Federation prioritizes resource-rich planets before the poor."


"That's not true," you say quickly, then regret letting him pull you in again. "This is an old and boring argument."


"I don't think so. Do you, Captain?"


Before Jim can answer, you see Spock walk in, his eyebrow going up when he sees who you're sitting with. He walks over.


Pardek turns to see what you're looking at and then stands. "Ah, a man I have heard even death cannot hold. We're hard to kill, are we not, cousin?"


"We are not related." Spock looks over at you and Jim. "Doctor McCoy has an emergency patient. He said it was nothing for you to worry about but to go on without him."


"You want to come? We have an open seat?" You realize your mistake as you ask. Your reservations are at a place that specializes in exotic meats.


"I think not."


"Commander Spock. Perhaps you would sit and talk with me. As you say, we are not blood relatives, but our people do have much in common. I would enjoy...speaking of these things with you."


Spock looks slightly intrigued.


You're trying to figure out how to tell Spock that Pardek's an asshole, if a charming one, when Jim gets up. "Pardek, Spock, if you'll excuse us, we have a dinner reservation we don't want to lose."


"It was a pleasure to meet you," Pardek says, his charm more in evidence now, but you think he's trying to charm Spock, not Jim.


As Jim hustles you out, you mutter, "I don't like leaving him with that jerk."


"Spock's fully capable of ending any discussion that becomes unpleasant. And the bar's full of our people. Pardek can't pull anything if you're worried that's what this is?"


"No, I'm—I'm not worried. He's just an ass."


"Do you two have a history that goes beyond emergency support?"


"Ewww. No."


He laughs. "Well, you like pointed ears."


"I like Spock's pointed ears. Because they're part of Spock. I don't like them categorically."


"Okay, good."


He holds the door for the restaurant and you enter, and immediately moan at the tantalizing aromas coming from the kitchen and tables. "Oh, wow."


"Yeah, never eaten here. Gets great reviews. Bones is missing out. But I don't mind having you to myself."


"Me either."


"Is that why you invited Spock to join us?"


You study him, trying to assess if he's curious or something else. But his expression is unreadable. "We had the seat."


"We did." He seems to let it go and checks you in at the reception desk, letting the host know there'll be one less than you thought.


Jim puts his arm around your waist as you wait, just a casual move, natural and easy and you love it. You don't have long to enjoy it before the host is gesturing for you to follow him.


The restaurant has regular tables in the middle but set away in corners and side halls are semi-private alcoves for two, and he leads you to one. "I hope you don't mind not being in the main space?" His smile says he knows you won't.


As you settle in, you peruse the menu for a bit, then let Jim order whatever kind of wine he wants and agree that trying a little bit of lots of things sounds great. You lean back, enjoying having him all to yourself—and how much fun he's having picking out the food. A sommelier brings the wine and makes quite a production out of opening it. It's really good wine, so you don't mind.


Once the server leaves, he leans in. "So this Pardek. If he wasn't an...EHU, was it?"


You nod and laugh. "Then why do I dislike him so?"


"Yeah. Jan didn't sleep with him, did she?"


"God, no. He's just...underhanded. And he oozes that annoying charm like butter wouldn't melt and then you find out that say the newest pleasure drug circulating on a world where the Romulans are also there—supposedly providing relief—is from Romulus. The Romulans keep the prices artificially low until the population is good and hooked. That kind of shit." You sigh. "I've seen him gain more and more authority. Clearly his methods are not frowned on back home." You take a deep breath. "Jan saw him doing crap like that, too. So there's no way she'd ever say yes to him. I think he prefers males, though, anyway. From what I've observed."


"Maybe he has a crush on Spock?"


"Could be. Maybe that dippy female commander wasn't so dippy. Maybe he's irresistible to them and she couldn't help it?"


Jim laughs. "Kinda harsh to her, isn't it?"


"Really? I mean sure, it's no fun to be betrayed by someone you love. But she'd known Spock for five minutes. And he was the enemy. I'm not saying this because she was 'an emotional female.' I've seen men just as stupid move up in Starfleet. Generally, it's a personal connection to someone important."


He nods, and you laugh and both say "Styles" at the same time. "How he got the Excelsior I will never understand, Chris."


"Me neither. He can't stand me. Just in case you have to host him or something and want me to make myself scarce for the duration. He made the mistake of slapping that goddamned crop down on my desk when I was doing something more important than listening to whatever he wanted."


Jim starts to laugh. "Well, you're not in the brig, so you didn't sock him."


"Nope. But I told him where he could stick his crop and when he went in to put me on report with Cartwright, he told him where he could stick it, too. We were working on post whale-probe damage. We really did not have time for his petty bullshit."


He's grinning in a funny way.




"I like that you've had a life away from the ship. There's things I don't know—facets to you I'll get to know."


"I hope you like them." You take his hand. "I really like being back on the ship."


"I'm glad. Means you'll stay."


"Well, I kind of like the captain so..." You grin at his expression.


"I've heard"—he leans in, his eyes shining—"that the captain kind of likes you, too."




He nods.


"I'm a lucky girl." You see servers coming with plates so you lean back and let them set them around the table.


The two of you abandon talking other than saying things like "Oh, God, try this one." The food is amazing and you think Len missed out big time.


When the plates are empty, he sits back, sighing happily. "We're going to be on Earth for maintenance in a few weeks. I thought we could go somewhere."


"That would be nice. Ny and I are meeting Jan for dinner but she won't be back until the end of our leave." You see his look and smile. "She knows about us."


"You told her?"


"We had a pact. If something weird happened"—you laugh at his expression—"and she got together with Spock or you and I decided we liked each other, we promised to tell the other."


"Very adult of you."


"Real friends don't hide shit from each other just because it's uncomfortable. Or she and I don't, anyway." You're not sure Ny would do the same. Jan never suggested you extend the pact to her, so you think she wasn't sure of Ny, either. "As it turns out, she's dating a guy she's crazy for, so my timing was perfect. She's fine with it."


"Good. I'm a fan of hers—you know that, right?"


"I do. And she's a fan of yours. In ways other than romantic." You study him. "You could have looked her up when you left the ship the first time. Before you married Admiral Ciani. But you didn't, did you?"


"I didn't. To be honest, as soon as I met Lori, I was hooked. I wasn't looking for anything else. And then once it was over—well, I was a real son of a bitch. You saw it. Jan deserved better—and I knew she was assigned to the ship, so what was the point of pursuing anything?" He stops talking as servers gather up the plates. "Dessert?"


"I'm stuffed."


"I'll just settle the bill." He tells the server, then presses his finger into the pay screen the man hands him. Once you're alone again, he asks, "Do you think Jan and I would have been a good match?"


"I don't know." It's something you've thought about lately. "You like a certain kind of woman, I think. I'm not sure she's it."


"Are you saying she's not intelligent enough for me?"


"No. Because she's whip smart. But she doesn't always know it. I think she's not...confident enough for you. In what she knows. In who she is."


"I think that's a fair assessment. And I do tend toward a certain type. I like my women bright, and shrinking violets need not apply."


"What was Antonia like?"


"She was an outlier, I think, if you stack my women up. But she was what I was looking for at the time. She loved horses and dogs. She was fearless and athletic and she...adored me. She adored people, to be honest. She used to say that I looked up and she looked out, and she was right."


"Looking up isn't a bad thing. Especially given where we work."


"It was to her. She grew to hate it when I looked at the stars. She took it to mean I wanted to leave her. Eventually I did."


"Looking up would imply you don't care about the people around you. That you don't notice things. I think she was wrong. You see everything, Jim. You see everything and still look up. Maybe that's hope, you know?"


He's smiling at you sweetly. "Maybe so. You ready to go?" When you nod he gets up and holds his hand out to you. Once you're outside, he pulls you against him, his arm around your waist again. As you pass The Last Outpost, you both peek in. Pardek is inside with some Romulans; Spock's nowhere to be seen.


"Either he's back on the ship or they've kidnapped him."


"Do you want to call him?" You laugh as you ask.


"Nyah. I have faith in his ability to identify an asshole after a few minutes. He may seem socially inept, but he's actually a good judge of character." Once you're in the plaza, he comms the ship and requests beam-up. As you leave the transporter room, he murmurs, "Stay with me tonight?"


"Big move, Jim. Are we ready for that?"


"Well, not to sound uninterested but I've found a big meal and overly athletic sex to be a recipe for—"




"I was going to say disaster. Silly me—forgot I was talking to a doctor. But yes." He nuzzles your neck as you get on the lift. "But sleep with me. Morning sex is nice."


"It is."


The lift opens and he stops at your quarters. "Do you want to grab anything?"


You love that he thinks that way. That he gets you might want things. "Yeah, I'll be there in a sec." You palm your door open, and grab a few things that you throw in a little bag, then hurry down the hall.


You ring the chime and instead of Jim answering, Spock comes out with Jim behind him, holding the door open. "Christine. I trust you had a pleasant evening?"


"I did. Thanks." You try to hide your little bag behind your back but you know he saw it.


But what difference does it make? It's not like he'll care.


"You escaped Pardek."


"A curious individual. I am uncertain as to his motives, but he seemed intent on making a favorable impression on me."


"He's a jerk."


"So I gathered from your expression. It was interesting talking to a Romulan who did not appear to wish me ill." He raises his eyebrow in a sardonic way and you and Jim both laugh. "I have kept you too long. Goodnight."


"Goodnight, Spock." Jim says as he draws you into the room and lets the door close. He pushes you up against the wall and kisses you deeply.


"Mmmmm." You reach down, feel how ready he is for you, and ease away, walking to his work table and dropping your bag on it, then pulling the chair out so it's facing way from the table. "Sit."


He grins and does what you say.


You ease over him, straddling him, and kiss him, and the way you two are touching each other is different. Not so sweet, not so careful, not in a way that has to be stopped.


"Staying upright and going slow is a good way to avoid heartburn," you say between kisses.


"I'm all for that."


You unfasten his pants and then he lifts you up so he can reach under your skirt and pull your underwear off, then pushes his own down enough for you to slide onto him.


As you move slowly, he closes his eyes and says, "I'm going to think of this every time I sit here now."


"I think of doing it with you in one of the labs."


He pulls you down for a kiss and reaches between you, finding the sweet spot. "I think of doing it in the big chair."


"We'd have an audience," you say, then nip his low lip very softly before releasing it. "The bridge is never empty."


"It's during refits or something. It's my fantasy. We're alone up there." He's watching you as he touches, smiling just as you begin to feel it, the long climb up and up and up and then falling.


"God damn."


"Slow and vertical is nice." He's thrusting up slowly, and once you can think again, you begin to match his movements, until he too is gone. He presses his face into your chest as he comes, then a few moments later, says, "I haven't even seen your breasts," and begins to untie the wrap shirt you picked just for the easy access.


"Pretty," he says, as he takes in the gray bra that matches the panties he barely looked at. Then he reaches around and undoes it, pushing it up, playing, kissing.


"I guess you like the girls, huh?"


"I love the girls."


He pulls you down for a long kiss, rubbing lightly on your back, making you shiver. "Are you going to call me a sad old man if I tell you I'm really sleepy now?"


"No, I'm going to call you a satisfied and stuffed older man. And I'm sleepy, too." You ease off him and just as you begin to wonder why you didn't grab a nightshirt, he gets up and grabs a t-shirt, taking everything else off you before pulling it on over your head.


"I've been thinking about you wearing this." He's stroking and reaching under it, finding you again, pushing you back against the table, relentless as he touches you just enough to send you off again.


"I'm going to sleep like a goddamned baby."


"Yes, you are. I can't wait to wake up next to you."


You lose yourself in kissing him. "Me neither."




You wake to the feel of him spooning you, his arm tight around your waist. You're still sleepy and the lights haven't come on, but he feels so good against you that you don't want to just close your eyes and go back to sleep.


"Jim," you whisper, to see if he's awake, and when he doesn't answer you begin to squirm against him, hearing him groan, then tighten his grip on you.


"Mmmmm," is all he says as he turns you over and kisses you deeply. "What time is it?"


You glance over him to the chrono. "We have hours."


"Three lovely words." Then he kisses down your body, and you thank whatever deity in in charge of generous lovers that he likes to make you come as much as he does.


You don't know if it's his skill or the circumstances or how you feel about him or some combination of all three, but he has you off fast and hard and clutching at him as he kisses his way back up your body and calls for lights at fifteen percent.


"I love to watch you come down from that," he says softly. He's smiling in a way you're not sure you've ever seen, like a boy that's gotten away with something.




"The ship didn't explode or anything. I guess...I wasn't sure she'd share."


"Well, to be fair, she is pretty new. Who knows how fond she is of you at this point? The old Enterprise might not have been so copacetic."


He traces your lips, the curve of your smile. "That's true." He moves up and over you, then into, slowly, and you groan. "I really love waking up next to you."


"I really love it too." You clutch his back and moan as he hikes your legs up. "It's okay to let go. I like it, knowing you want me."


"Wanting. You. Isn't. Even. In. Question." Each word is punctuated by a thrust, and you laugh as he does it, enjoying him as much as the sex. And then he's less in control and he's making sounds that don't sound like words and he's gone. He collapses onto you, but you can tell he's trying to keep his weight off you, and you say, "Just relax. I'll tell you when I'm tired of it."


So he does, no arguments, just a sigh of something good—relief or satisfaction, you're not sure and it doesn't matter. You rub his back as he lies still.


Finally, he rolls off and pulls you against him, kissing you in a tender way that you think will be your favorite of all his kisses. "So about our leave. I want to take you somewhere special."


"I've spent years in shitty places, working in horrible circumstances. You could take me to the worst motel ever and it'd probably be a step up."


"What about camping?"


"The place would have to be worth it. I think I might have had my fill of bugs and mud and dust and hard ground."


"Camping's probably out, then."


You study him. "Is that a dealbreaker?"


"God, no." He rubs your nose with his, a sweet gesture that melts you a little bit. "Gotta leave me something to do with the boys, right?"


"Does Spock like camping?" You know Len's up for anything if there's bourbon and a campfire at the end.


"It's growing on him." He snuggles closer. "Where have you always wanted to go—on Earth, preferably, since I may get called back for meetings. I hate that, but it happens."


"Hmmm." You reach down as you think, and he laughs as you play. Then he makes other sounds as you slip down to take him into your mouth.


"Or we could just stay in here. Never leave." He's stroking your hair as you go, saying, "Chris, if you want me to finish anywhere but there, now would be the time," and you mouth, "It's okay," which makes him laugh but the laugh turns into a groan, the happiest of them, long and low, and when you come up, he kisses you.


"Tahiti," you say when you finally ease away.


"Wow, you can multitask doing that, too?"


"Like you can't." You kiss him slowly, enjoying the way he holds you, not too tight, not too loose, like you're with him but he doesn't think he owns you. "Have you been to Tahiti?"


"Once with Lori."




"No, we can still go."


"I'd rather this first time was new for both of us. We can do Tahiti some other leave. Let me think." You relax into his arms. "I like beaches. Do you like beaches? Or should I be thinking mountains or a city?"


"I love beaches."




"I haven't been there."


"They have those huts over the water. Private pools and the ocean just beyond. I've heard the bed looks out onto the water—very private."


"You had me at bed." He reaches for the nightstand, opening the drawer and pulling out a padd. "Let's see."


He scrolls through resorts until he finds one you both go, "Oooh," over. He has the place booked and reserves some spots in the tourist transporter queue before putting the padd back.


"Okay, so I guess I can't break up with you before our trip."


"Were you going to break up with me?"


"Yeah, this just isn't working." You giggle—giggle? When in God's name have you done that lately?


And he seems to be charmed by the giggle. "Yeah, it's not working for me, either."


"We suck."


"We do." He's sliding his hand down and down as he says it. "Sex is a bust, that's for sure."


"I know. So sad." He's already got you wriggling under his fingers. "I wish you moved me."


"Yeah. I need to work on that." He's laughing as you clutch at the covers, as you arch and cry out. As you settle back, he kisses your neck, up to your ear. "Sorry I can't make you come."


"Oh, well. I'll love you for your mind."


"Yeah, same here." He's yawning and it makes you yawn, so you turn and snuggle in, snaking your arm over his waist. He kisses your forehead. "I'm so tired, Chris."


"Me, too. Go to sleep." You fall asleep before he does. That's unusual for you. Then again, the last few years you were often picking Mister Right Now and not Mister Right so the trust was minimal.


Trust is a wonderful thing.




"Mmmm, I don't want to let you go. Call Jan and cancel. Say there's an emergency." Jim nuzzles you as you sit in the park, close enough to watch a game of baseball between two groups of kids but far enough away that you can be affectionate without it getting weird. Your time in the Maldives was amazing, and you feel as if the two of you have really settled into each other, how to touch, how to cuddle, how to snuggle for the best sleep.


"You know I can't. First, Jan works emergencies so she'll know I'm lying. Second, Ny will be there so she'll know I'm lying, too."


"Grrrr." He laughs. "I wish we were back in our hut. I'd like to take your clothes off and enjoy the lack of any tan lines."


You're both tan and your hair has reddish highlights from the salt and sun. Jim keeps playing with them, teasing the lighter strands out, twisting them gently around his fingers.


He pulls you close, his arm around your shoulders, and turns back to the game. "I saw David play once."




"He was just a little kid. I knew Carol was away. The sitter didn't know me." He sighs. "I just stood at the fence for a while and watched him play."


"What position was he?"


"Third base."


"I used to play that. Hated it. Running for those damn fouls."


He laughs. "I was pitcher."


"Of course you were." You reach up and squeeze his hand. "I think he missed out. Obviously, you did, but I really do think he did. I think you'd be an extraordinary dad."


He looks sincerely touched. "You had a good father. I remember when your folks passed."


"Yeah, that was so hard. They were great parents." You nuzzle against his cheek. "I'm sorry. I brought the tone down."


"I'm the one who brought David up. And I like that we can talk about things. All kind of things. We're not just happy, shiny people, Chris."


"No. We're a bit broken." You smile. "In Japan, they have this tradition called kintsugi. When pottery is broken, they fix it with a golden glue. To highlight the damage, not hide it. Because it's our damage that makes us unique."


He nods. "And survivors."




"I'm plenty gold, then." He leans his head against yours. "I don't feel damaged right now. The best part of this week is knowing it doesn't end when we go back to the ship. That...we're a couple on leave and at work. I've never had that."


"I had it with Roger. I loved it."


"I can see why. It's delicious." He brushes back your hair. "Your eyes look so blue when you're tan." He pouts as the chrono on your communicator chimes. "Time to go?"




"I can walk you partway."


"I'd love that."


He stands and holds his hand out, and you let him pull you up. You walk hand in hand like a couple of teens and it makes you smile, how sweet he is. It's the best part of getting to know him this way: finding out he's not just passion or intensity. He's truly a nice man.


"The restaurant is thataway." You gesture with your head.


"And Starfleet's the other way. Well, I'll see you on the ship, then." He kisses you and you wrap your arms around him, wishing you could just go with him to the ship instead of to dinner.


You hope this never gets old.


With a last kiss, you separate and you hurry the few blocks, seeing Ny round the opposite corner as you make your way. She waves and before you can ask her how leave was, she opens the door and gestures you through into a bistro Jan swears is fabulous.


"Well you look tan and happy." Jan's grin is a welcome sight as she hugs you, then she turns to Ny. "And you're as beautiful as ever. Do you never age, woman?"


"Good genes, sugar. And yeah, she's sickeningly happy." Ny's laugh is a little off as she gives Jan a hug.


"Aren't you happy, too, Ny?" Jan shoots you a look and you do your ops shrug that's shorthand for "Hell if I know."


"Oh, yeah, Scotty and I are fine."


Fine doesn't sound great and you can see Jan take it in. You've wondered if something was going on with Ny and Scotty, but haven't followed up on it.


You've been busy with Jim.


"What's wrong?" Jan asks once you're at the table and have ordered. "Didn't he take you to Scotland?"


"He did. It was...really nice but..." She shakes her head. "Look, I refuse to be a downer when we're here finally all together. Catch us up on what you're doing with your new man."


"He's someone else's new man." Her smile dims a bit.


You realize the one she wore to greet you may have been a mask. "What?"


"He's not what you'd call a one-woman guy. I found this out the hard way when I got back early this week."


"Oh, shit." You look at Ny. "Dinner's on us."


"Well, it's on you. You're the only happy one."


Jan turns to her. "You said you were fine. Now you're unhappy?"


"I don't know."


Fortunately the drinks come just in time to help Jan forget her pain for a while, Ny become more forthcoming, and you to relax and stop thinking about Jim. You smile at the server and tell her, "This is on me."




Jim's off the ship for a conference, and you're at loose ends. It's ridiculous; you've been single forever. He's gone a few days and suddenly you feel more alone than you did when you were actually living by yourself.


Fortunately he's coming back tonight.


You're sitting at the bar in the lounge, and it's late so it's quiet, but you hear a voice you don't expect say, "You miss him."


You turn and nod. "I do, Spock."


"As do I. You and I are in each other's lives now as more than just shipmates or in each other's chain of command. Jim is important to us both. Perhaps it would behoove us to learn a new way to interact?"




"I would like to get to know you better than I do. I have found it is often easier to do that—for me, at any rate—when also occupied in an activity. Do you play chess?"


You laugh and shake your head. "But I like your idea. How's your counting ability. Say, to fifteen?"


"You wish to play cribbage?"


You nod.


"I must warn you, I am quite skilled."


"This isn't chess. There's an element of luck to it all."


"Most fortuitous. You will not have to feel inadequate when I win."


You laugh in surprise. "Oh, it's on." You go to the games replicator to get a board and deck of cards then join Spock at the table he's chosen. "Cut for deal. Low card wins."


"I am familiar with the rules, Christine."


"Uh huh. And we're not playing muggins. The goal of this is to get along better for Jim's sake, right? So stealing points is not the way to go."


"Agreed. I will, however, point out if you miss any points."




You fan the cards out face down and grab a three. He pulls an ace, though, so you sigh as he deals. You hope this isn't a harbinger of how this game will go.


You're even more worried when you look at the cards he dealt you. You pray for a decent cut card but it fails to materialize.


You manage to pull eight points pegging though, which makes you happy. You lay out your hand, saying, "Nineteen." As you look at your worthless hand, you peek to see if he'll get the term.


"I am aware that is an impossible score. But I have never understood why it is so universally used to denote a null value when twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven and anything above twenty-nine are also impossible to achieve."


You try to lift your eyebrow in some approximation of his usual gesture. "Because it's the sexier number."


"Sexier? In what way?"


"It just sounds sexier."


"I will never understand some aspects of humanity." And then he lays down a crap hand and says, "But I will embrace it. Nineteen."


His crib is better. Not great but at least he pulls ahead. As he passes you the deck to deal, you ask him, "Do you think the Klingons who attacked Fohlara will try again."


"You believe they were trying to kill Jim?"


You nod. "Don't you?"


"I do. I am just...surprised you would realize that."


You give him the glare of "Might want to rephrase that..."


"I realize that you have worked many emergencies, and that you have probably grown proficient at evaluating a variety of scenarios. But I tend to think of you as a scientist. Not aware or interested in politics."


"Well, it's Jim, so I do care. But I'll admit, it's nice to not have to pay so much attention anymore." You smile as you deal the cards and assess your picks. What to throw—all of them so good. Nice problem to have. "You didn't answer my question, though. Will they try again?"


"I do not believe so. The Klingon High Council denounced the actions of the perpetrators. I believe the attackers were a rogue element who have no doubt been dealt with by the council. Or if not rogue, then they will not try something so direct again."


"So they may try."


"There are always risks. One cannot, however, become mired in the possibility of what might occur."


"I don't believe for a second that you're not doing everything you can to prevent that from happening again."


He lifts an eyebrow. "You may be correct."


"Damn right I am." You lay down a card and watch him make the same mistakes he's made in the last hand. He underestimates your play the same way he underestimated your ability to read a situation. Well, if it lets you out-peg him every hand, you'll win the game. Pegging has always been your secret weapon. Playing by your gut.


You imagine Jim's good at this game for the same reason.


The game goes quickly. You win and he looks...annoyed.


You can't wait to see how ticked off he'll get when you skunk him. "Wanna try for two out of three?" you ask, enjoying the opportunity to play a game you love and talk to him in such an easy way.


"Yes." He meets your eyes and the look in them is...respectful. "I misjudged you again."


"Learn from your mistakes, sir." You wink as you point to the deck. "Loser deals."


"That is an arbitrary ruling."


"I know. But it annoys you so I like it."


He lifts an eyebrow as if to protest, but he picks up the deck and deals like a good boy.




You're almost asleep when you feel someone slip in behind you. "That better be you, Jim."


"It is." He nuzzles your neck. "Is that my pillow?"


"Yes. I missed you. I wanted your smell." You feel stupid saying it.


But he laughs gently and says, "You're on the door to my quarters for a reason. You could have left the pillow there and slept in the bed."


"They're the captain's quarters." You tell the computer to turn the lights up to ten percent and turn so you can see him. "I wasn't sure we were there yet."


"Then you're a dummy." He grins. "I missed you, too." He seems to go very still, then leans down and whispers in your ear. "I love you, Chris."


"I love you, too."


"Well, I'm glad we agree on that."


You pull him down so you can kiss him, then reach down, smiling into his mouth as you hear him groan.


"He loves you, too."


"I know." You move so he can strip off the pajamas and tank you're wearing and you pull off his uniform, and then he's inside you and you exhale far more than air. Such a short time to miss him this much.


And then you give up thinking and just enjoy being with him, being the focus of someone with this much intensity and pure raw life-force.


When the two of you finally lie still and you're writing nonsense words on his back with your finger, he murmurs, "Just move in with me, okay?"


"To your quarters, down the hall?"


"Yeah. Let's make them our quarters."


You realize he's probably lived with someone way more than you ever have. You couldn't live with Roger when you were his grad student, and then he left on his exploration so soon after your engagement that the two of you barely had to get used to sharing space. "Can I keep these quarters in case I need some 'me time'? I'm not sure how great a roommate I'll be."


"You can keep them in case I need some 'me time.'" He laughs at your expression. "You never know." Then he pulls you down. "I checked in with Spock before I came here. He mentioned you two played cribbage."


"Yep. His play needs some work."


He laughs silently, but it makes his chest under your head shake and you ride out his amusement.


"He missed you enough that he made due with me." You begin to slide your hand down his body, but he grabs it, stopping you, saying, "Give an old man a moment."


"Old man, my ass."


"Is there a reason you need to distract me when we're talking about Spock?"


You go still. Did you hear him right? "What?" You lean on your elbows so you can see his face. He doesn't look jealous. Just...curious.


"I was trying to distract you because I want a couple more orgasms, if you must know."


"Only a couple?" But he laughs. "It's possible Spock's realizing what he could have had. Does that interest you?"


"You're asking me this after you tell me you love me and to move in?"


"Yes, I am." He reaches out, stroking your cheek. "Do you want him, Chris?"


"Not instead of you—because that's what you're really asking, isn't it?"


"So you do want him a little?"


"I know you're not going to hold that against me. To be honest, I probably never stopped. But it doesn't change what we have. And if he decides he's got to have me, well, too damn bad. He had his chance, Jim."


"Okay." He pulls you down for a kiss then lets you go. "I like to know the landscape, Chris. I know you're the same way or I wouldn't have asked so directly. He's going to be in our life. You're going to be in his. I needed to know, that's all."


"Well, now you know. And for what it's worth, one night of cribbage does not interest on his part make. If you thought you saw any, I think you misread." You reach for his hand, pull it down your belly to...there. "I may have not indulged myself while you were gone. I wanted to be extra needy when you got back. Was that a bad idea?"


"God, no." He's already moving his fingers and it's in the way he has that means he won't just take you over the cliff once. You love how responsive he makes you—being with Roger was heady intellectually and good for your ego, but the sex wasn't that exciting.


"Lie very still," Jim says, capturing your leg with his and pulling it just enough. Then he begins to touch you.


"Oh, fuck."


You don't lie still for long, but he makes you quiet down once you've come, and he doesn't let up on you, seeming to know exactly where to touch you to keep the high going without it being too much, until you feel it intensifying again, and you ride it over the cliff for a second time.


Doing that to you always makes him crazy. He proves he's not such an old man, after all, finally lying bonelessly in your arms, murmuring your name as he comes down.


You're so glad he's back.




You're moving some of your things down to Jim's quarters when Ny comes out of Scotty's. "Oh." She actually frowns. "You're...moving in with him?"


"Yeah. I mean, no, not 'officially.' He has meetings there sometimes, so I still have my quarters to retreat to if I need to. They really need to give the captain a room of his own, you know? Like...near the bridge. Having a meeting in a room with a bed in it is just weird, isn't it?" You realize she's still frowning. "Is something wrong?"


"Would you care if there was?" She sighs and holds up a hand. "I'm sorry, Christine. I just got some bad news today and Scotty wasn't as comforting as I'd hoped. Do you want some help moving stuff?"


"No, it's okay. Is there anything I can do...?"


"No, it's just... No." She pulls you in for a quick hug. "I'm happy for you. Really." Then she's heading down the corridor toward the section both your quarters are on.


You should go after her and find out what's eating her.


But the door opens and Jim's standing there grinning at you. "There some reason you're just standing out there when you could be in here with me?"


"I'm an idiot?"


"Copy that." He holds out his hand. "My lady, welcome to your abode."


You let him pull you in, hang up the little bit of clothing and put away the things—fewer than you may ultimately need but you didn't want to overdo it—in the drawers and cabinet he's cleared for you. As he pulls you back against him, you murmur, "Will you be mad if I tell you I need to go be a friend to someone?" You turn because you want to see his face.


"Of course not." He brushes back your hair. "Should I know who?" His expression sort of...tightens. "Cribbage with Spock?"


You laugh. "Like that would be worthy of getting me out of here on the day I move in? No, it's Ny. She said she got bad news. I—I'm not even sure what it's about. Do you know?"


He shakes his head and looks relieved. "Go see what's wrong. And then come back to me. I'll be stuck here writing reports when I could be making love to you in our bed."


You pull him to you for a quick kiss. "I'll be back soon."


Then you head to Ny's quarters, ringing for admittance, and she answers it, and you can tell she's been crying, and the worst part is how surprised she looks to see you there.


You open your arms and say, "Oh, honey, what is it?"


And she goes to you and let's you hold her, and you're standing in her doorway, the door thumping on your hip, but you don't care. "Shhhh. It's all right."


"I wanted to cry with Scotty," she says as she finally draws you into her quarters, letting the door close, locking the world out. "But he's so practical. And all it made me was mad. Why do men always want to solve things instead of just listening?"


"Because they're hard wired to do that?" You smile gently. "I'll listen."


"I put in for the Senior Seminar."


"Wow. You didn't tell me that." It's a coup to get into the program. It's only for commanders. A good indicator that you're considered to have potential to get to the next level: captain. It's a small program, only twenty or so officers admitted for two runnings per year. But the seminar lasts three months and you get to visit sites most people never see, get to have face-time with the brass. "Did they tell you why?"


"Been in one job for too long. They told me I was a strong candidate but to apply again when I find a different assignment. That's not fair."


"I'm so sorry." You hope she doesn't realize you haven't really agreed with her that it's not fair. She has been in the same job for a really long time. She's great at it, but she can do it in her sleep and there are other officers she's keeping from having the opportunity. You wonder if Jim's ever offered her anything else on the ship, but this is where the line crosses. As his lover, this is none of your business. As the head of life sciences, this is none of your business. As her friend, you want it to be, but it's not.


"Jim gave me a recommendation. So did Spock. I'll have to tell them I didn't get in."


"What can I do?"


"I bet you know half the selection committee. Go tell them to change their minds."


"I've pissed off my share of the brass." Well, Styles, anyway, if he can be counted as the brass. She's right: you know a lot more people since your stint in ops than you would have otherwise. But you doubt you'd just be rubber-stamped through if that's what she means. You've never put in for the seminar because you didn't have time, but if you had, you wouldn't have been surprised to be turned down.


"So what did Scotty suggest?"


She laughs. "That I get a new job."


"On the ship or off?"


"Oh, on. God forbid I leave him." She sounds so bitter you almost cringe. "But you know, broaden my skills. Take a chance. Put my fear behind me. I'm not afraid. Do you think I'm afraid?"


You shake your head. Complacent and set in her ways, maybe. But not afraid.


"What do you need me to do? Get you drunk? Go with you to the mess and have lots of chocolate? Watch a lame vid and make fun of it?"


"Jim's waiting for you, Christine. Isn't he?"


"He's working on reports. He can wait a little longer. Let's go get those chocolate mousse cakes we like, the ones with the white chocolate layers?"


"Oh, we love those."


"Yes, yes we do." You wipe her face. Even crying, she's still so lovely. You ugly-cry and wish that wasn't the case. "Come on. Let's go have some goddamned 'The selection committee are idiots' cake."


"Thank you."


"You'd do the same for me."




The party in the lounge is going strong and you look out where Jim's dancing with a new lieutenant. She's young and curvy and auburn haired and for a moment, you're back in those caves, watching as Andrea holds on to the thing that thought it was Roger.


Why did he make her? You've never known. You turn away and beckon the bartender to refill your rye. Jim's ordered your favorite brand and you aren't skimping—in fact, you really don't need another refill but the wonders of antitox will make it all better.


You see Spock sitting by himself at the least populated part of the bar and take your drink and walk down to him. "Wishing for a chess board?"


"Or a cribbage board." His eyes are light—almost grateful that you have come to talk to him. He mingles well at the beginning of these parties but once the drinking really gets going, he's less comfortable.


You should be mingling, but you're tired and you glance over when the music changes to see who Jim will dance with next. It's the same woman. "Spock, did the music change just now?"




"Fuck, I'm drunk." You follow up that statement by taking another sip.


"Would not antitox be the preferred route at this juncture than more alcohol?"


"If one were logical, yes. But, my friend, the beauty of antitox is there's no point of no return." No bed-spins, no throwing up for hours, no dehydration headache in the morning. Unless of course you pass out before you can take the antitox and don't have a friend handy to jam a pill into your mouth—water optional. Truly a miracle drug.


"Is there not, however, a point of no return with what one might say when intoxicated? Can words spoken unwisely be taken back?"


"Wow, you're getting really existential with someone as wasted as I am." You laugh and lean in. "And yeah, yeah there is a point of no return for that."


"How often have you crossed it?"


"It might surprise you to know, oh ye of little faith"—you poke his upper arm as you say it—"that I rarely cross that line. Even now, I'm fine."


"I believe that is debatable."


Before you can answer, you feel hands on your arms, and Jim saying loudly enough for Spock to hear, "I think we can call it a night if we want."


"Are you sure you don't want one more dance with the Andrea clone?" Wow, you sound bitter. Shit.




"As I noted, Christine, the music did not change." Spock looks at Jim. "I believe she is under the misconception that you danced twice with Lieutenant Lavorna." He lifts an eyebrow. "You avoid multiple dances as it might lead to a crewmember getting the 'wrong idea.' Other than Christine, of course, with whom you may dance as much as you wish."


"I did not need you to say all that." You feel like slugging him but Jim's still holding your arms. "What is this cave man thing?"


"I'm ready to leave. Let's go." He sounds...tired, and you're immediately contrite.


"I'm sorry, Jim. Too much to drink. And I forgot the antitox."


"We have plenty."


"I know. Damn good thing, right?" You look at Spock. "Good night."


"Christine. Jim." The look he shares with Jim is one you've never been able to read. What is it between them? Friendship or...more?


You ride the lift in silence, follow Jim to his quarters—you're having trouble thinking of them as yours yet—and instead of heading for the medicine cabinet like you should, you snake your arms around his neck, rubbing the way he likes.


Normally, he'd be pushing you to the bed or hiking you up onto the nearest piece of furniture. Instead he narrows his eyes and says, "Spock get you all revved up?"


You let go of him. "What?"


"I asked you once, early on, if I needed to worry about Spock, and you said, and I quote, 'Nope.' So do you want to revise that?"


"Why? Did your little slut of a lieutenant make you not want me?"


His eyes narrow dangerously. "I dance with the crew. You know that. One dance and I move on. And this time I had to move on to you since I wasn't sure what was going on at the far end of the bar with you and Spock."


You get up in his face, in a way you really haven't up to now. "And who were you jealous of? Him having me or me having him?"


"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"


"Jim, you think there aren't rumors about you and him?"


His eyes goes dead. His mouth is tight. He's holding himself so still it almost frightens you. "Go take some fucking antitox right goddamned now."


And you do. Because that's the voice of the captain, not your lover.


You hold out the container and he shakes his head. "Unlike you, I remembered to bring some." He paces to the viewscreen and back. "Just sit until you're sober."


And you do, feeling sicker—at heart, not in body—with each passing moment. "Jim, I'm sorry."


"I believe that. Because you're not usually mean. I get that this lieutenant might have made you think of Andrea. I get that might bring up bad memories. But...what Spock and I have is between Spock and me. And it's nothing that threatens this relationship. But...can you say the same?"


"You're jealous?"


"You touched him more than once."


"I do that when I'm drunk. It means nothing."


He laughs but it's a bitter exhalation of air and not a real laugh. "He's a Vulcan—there's only so much he's going to tolerate from a drunk colleague."




"Yeah. I can be a bitch, too, Chris." He lies down on the bed, laying his hands over his eyes. "I saw you with him. I just reacted. I'm...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so..."


"Me want woman. Me take woman now." You laugh in relief as he smiles. It's a small smile, but it's something. "I'm sober now. Can I come over?"




You move slowly, easing in next to him, winding your arm over his chest. "He looked uncomfortable. I was drunker than I should have been. I won't do that again, I promise. I know I represent more than just myself now."


"You do."


"But, Jim, Spock and I are...friends, and new ones at that, so this is surprising me. Even after all these years. I didn't expect you to get jealous."


"You can but I can't?" He lifts his hands to look at you.


"No, it's not that. I just didn't expect I'd be someone you'd get jealous over. And...I like that I am."


"Of course you are, Chris. Jesus. You're living with me on my own damn ship."


You touch his cheek, touching gently. "Whatever is between you and Spock. Friendship—or more. I don't care. I know you love him. I know he loves you. I see it all the time—how much you'd do for each other—and it's a good thing. I really was way more pissed over the lieutenant than anything you might feel for Spock."


"Okay. But in my defense, the music didn't change." Then he starts to laugh. "The tempo did change, though."


"Aha—I knew something was different." You laugh and nuzzle him. "I'm sorry. I was an idiot."


"Well, you're my idiot. And I'm sorry, too." He pulls you to him and kisses you, and while he might think you're an idiot, it's also very clear in the way he's holding you and how he wants to take you that he does, indeed, consider you his.


"Repeat after me," he says as you lie quietly together afterwards. "I will not forget my antitox."


"I'd like to change it to I will not drink so much I need antitox. Not like I did tonight. How's that?" Then you think about the social functions that often require way too many toasts no matter how much you might like to practice moderation. "And I will not forget my antitox."


"Good." He studies you. "I was jealous. I didn't like it."


"You're my jealous boy, then. Mine."


"Yeah. Yours. God help us both." But he's grinning as he says it, so you relax into him and fall asleep.




You're at the bar in the main lounge in Starbase 18, sitting between Jim and Len, and you and Len are deep in discussion over an experiment you're conducting together. It's fun working with him again, and this time as an equal, not someone in his own department. Jim's paying attention, but he's being hailed by a lot of people he knows, so you let him do his thing and just enjoy science and Len at his smartest.


"Well, look what the cat dragged in." Len's looking past you, and you hear a familiar, and gratingly sweet voice—why didn't you notice that the first time you met her?


"Jim. What a surprise!"


You wonder how it can be a surprise when the Enterprise is the biggest thing in orbit. He doesn't say that but as he says hello to Gillian, he reaches under the bar and sets his hand on your knee in what has become his warning touch—he knows you too well.


"Oh, I can't tell you how much I've wanted to see you. To...I wasn't at my best the last time and I really regret how we left things. The ship I'm on—it isn't exactly what I thought it would be."


You turn to look, and Gillian smiles at you, gives Len a much nicer smile, then she turns back to Jim. "I know last time wasn't what we wanted it to be." She's pushed in close, the way she did when she kissed him goodbye in the middle of the tribunal floor. "I've got some time if you do too? Your ship is here, right? Your real one, not the Klingon thing. I'd love to see it."


You can practically feel Jim bristling at how she's describing the bird of prey you know he got quite fond of during his exile and trip to the past.


"You gonna step in?" Len murmurs in your ear.


"Oh, fine." You lean into Jim. "I hope you're going to hang a sock on the door or something if you plan to take her up on that offer." Your tone is light; your smile is as guileless as you can make it. Then you lean in, your hand sliding to the small of his back. "Didn't you have that thing in a little bit?"


"I do have that thing." His voice is so neutral it's painful—for Gillian.


"Yeah. Unless you'd rather call it off and go with her...?"


He turns to look at you, his gaze assessing, so you whisper in his ear in your sexiest voice, "Do whatever you want, Jim."


He laughs and murmurs back, "Right. Only a very stupid man would believe that." Then he turns to Gillian, "You met Chris during the tribunal, right?"


Not Commander Chapel. Chris. You have to bite back the smile.


"I uh. I didn't realize the two of you..." She looks uncomfortable so you take pity on her.


"Oh we weren't back then. No worries." You try to give her a smile that's at least sort of nice. "I'm on his ship now. Head of life sciences."


"Oh. So I guess when I was going on about Science Vessel during the tribunal, you knew exactly what I was in for?"


"You seemed excited. Who was I to piss on your parade?" You choose to phrase it that way on purpose and Jim looks down, but the slight shake of his shoulder gives him away. He's never seen you in full-on alpha-bitch mode and you think he's pretty amused by it.


"Well," Gillian says, "it might have been a nice gesture."


"True. Honestly, though, I was trying to figure out why you were abandoning your whales. You are the only cetacean biologist in the—well, anywhere on Earth."


"The Manixans have them well in hand—or flipper, I guess," Jim says as he tightens his grip on your knee in an unmistakable sign of "Crank the hostility down a bit."


"Yes, your whales are fine." You smile, a real smile this time. "So no harm done."


By her face, your attempt to make it better falls flat. "So you're head of life sciences." She smiles. "I'm a biologist. And...well, I have to admit I'm less than challenged on the ship I'm on." Her smile changes, becomes more like the one she gifted Len with. "I've heard Jim has wide latitude in bringing on civilians and even interns. And it'd be your section, wouldn't it? We female science nerds should stick together."


You raise an eyebrow in a way you think Spock would be proud of. You hear Len whisper, "Ballsy move."


For once you're not sure what to say.


Jim fortunately doesn't have that problem. "I'm afraid the ship's at full capacity. It's the flagship, after all. A plum posting. People vie for a billet."


You can hear the unheard "qualified people" in how he puts that.


So can Gillian by the way her face falls. "Of course they do. It's just that I thought I could learn so much more from you and that brilliant Mister Spock. And Engineer Scott impressed me so much, as did you Doctor McCoy."


She's left you out in such an obvious way you almost laugh.


"We don't have any training programs. It's why you're where you are. Stick with it. Or ask to go back to Earth to the whales." Jim's voice is testing.


You know why. He values loyalty beyond almost anything, and she abandoned her whales nearly the moment she got to Earth. You wonder if there was a whole lot more of her ego bound up in how much she cared about them and saving the ocean life of Earth of old than there was actual concern.


"Sure. I have choices." She's sounding put out now. But she's never going to give in and you think that's why Jim was drawn to her. Willpower is sexy to him. "Well, I guess I should probably go." She lets the last word linger, as if Jim might change his mind with you sitting right goddamn next to him.


"Probably a good idea." You reach over and help yourself to Jim's scotch since your glass is empty. "I'm pretty sure a quickie with him is out of the question."


You hear Len snicker softly behind you.


Jim lets go of you and gets up, giving Gillian a hug that doesn't look all that warm. You smile and wave goodbye, and once Gillian's out of range, Len says, "God almighty, woman, can you turn on the ugly or what?"


"Oh, I wasn't that bad. Besides, Jim probably loved having us go at it over him." You lean into Jim and whisper in his ear. "Do you want her? You could still go get her?"


"I'll stick with the devil I know." He's grinning as he says it, and he surprises you by pulling you in and kissing you quickly. It's chaste by any standards but the lounge is packed.


Len looks surprised too. "Well, well."


"I'm crazy about this woman, Bones. Even if she is a bit of a bitch at times."


"Just a bit?" you ask with a grin. "I must be slipping."


"Besides, I think Gillian wanted the job more than me." Jim waves the bartender over. "Another round." He looks at you and Len. "It's on me if we can talk about something other than your experiment or the woman who just left."


"Oh, fine," Len says. "Where's our next shore leave? I've got a lovely lady I'd like to pamper with dinner and who knows what else."


"They say I get all the action but you, Bones, are the smooth operator." He grins at you. "I'm stuck in this domestic bliss"—he laughs when you stick your tongue out at him—"and you're out breaking hearts and taking numbers."


"Pffff." Len looks sad for a moment. "I'd actually like to have what you two have. Just, not with either of you." He laughs at his own joke. "True love is destined to run like hell when it sees me, I think."


You laugh. "Maybe it's scared of you. You can be pretty mean when you're in a bad mood."


"Mean? Why I'm a southern gentleman to the core."


"Sure you are, Bones." Jim sighs happily and sips his drink. Then he says. "I did like seeing you fight for me, Chris."


"A quickie in quarters we share? In your dreams, Jim. Maybe I just didn't want her on my side of the bed. Or getting into my stuff. This might not be about you at all." But you're grinning like a fool. "Was I too much? I can tone it down the next time one of your old flings wants to ravish you in our quarters."


"No, I'm okay with the level of possessiveness. Especially when they may just want a leg up career wise." He moves his hand a little higher on your thigh—nothing too daring if anyone sees the movement, but a very clear message that he's not mad. "Good for my soul—and as you say, my ego."




It's the end of a routine mission and you've decided to mosey down to the transporter room to meet Jim and Spock and Len. You see Spock coming out of the transporter room, Len hurrying after him, nearly shouting. "Spock, goddammit, wait a minute."


You rush to catch up because Jim's nowhere in sight. "What's going on?" You don't like the look he gives you. It's the same one he had when Jim was lost with Miramanee and her tribe. "Len, where is he?"


"There's interference down there. It's playing havoc with our sensors. And...a force of some kind."


"Of what kind?"


"Like a transporter or a wormhole or, God I don't know, ask the blasted Vulcan who won't slow down."


You can see he's winded, probably from whatever happened on the planet, so you run to catch up with Spock. "I want to help."


"You are not a physicist."


You feel stung. "This isn't just physics if what Len told me is right."


Spock stops and he looks—oh holy crap, for a Vulcan he looks panicked. "You are now acting head of the science section while I take over command of the ship. If you wish to help, assist me in that way."


"Of course." You meet his eyes. "Do you believe he's alive?"


"I have no reason to believe he is not. I just have to find where he has gone." He's looking at you in a way that clearly says, "Please, do not get in my way. And do not ask me to comfort you."


So you nod and say, "I'll be in my office if you need me."


You turn to go and he stops you, his hand grasping your shoulder strongly. "If I find him, I will inform you."


"In whatever state, okay? Don't sugarcoat it. I've worked too many emergencies to have you try to spare me."


"Of course." And then he's gone and Len's following him, and you turn on your heel and head to the science section.


Spock has found the time to inform the staff that you're acting chief. You take a deep breath and try to figure out if he has any reports due. He's done them all, thank whatever deities impart efficiency to Vulcans. He's answered every comm.


Which means you can concentrate on your job.


Which you do for an hour, then another. You give up and skip the mess because you're not hungry, but when you try to sleep you can't. The next day you're groggy, and you actually pop a stim for the first time since you left ops, and later you drink too much in hopes you'll sleep but only end up crying at Jim's table like someone who's giving up, so you pop some antitox and go back to your office.


The third night, you're standing in the lounge, staring out at the star stream, trying to feel Jim somewhere on the planet below you. He can't be dead. This can't be like Roger—not when you've just found each other.


You sense another presence beside you, standing close. "We will find him, Christine." To your surprise, Spock pushes against you, his arm a slight pressure on yours. "Starfleet would prefer I take the ship and allow a rescue team to work on Jim's recovery, but unfortunately my reply was garbled as were their subsequent comms. It would seem the ship is having periodic communications outages." His eyebrow goes up but there is no humor in it—more like anger, but not at you. At Starfleet, for making him leave. You remember he did leave him that other time, long enough for Jim to make a life. To make a child.


But you can see he won't do that again. Maybe it's because he died. Maybe he no longer cares about rules over friendship. "You're not leaving him?"


"I am not leaving him. He would not leave me. He has more than proved that, has he not?"


You nod, because of course he did. Jim gave everything to save this man in front of you. "Thank you."


"You need sleep. Jim would want you at peak efficiency if we need to mount a rescue."


"I won't be part of that rescue. It's driving me crazy not to do something—anything."


"You are an essential part of his rescue because you are undoubtedly one of the primary motivators he has for staying alive. He cares for you deeply, Christine. And it will not be a satisfactory reunion if you fall asleep when you finally have him back."


His eyes are so tender you want to reach out, to touch his cheek. To show him how thankful you are that he's here and he's Jim's friend and now yours. "I'm exhausted."


"Sleep, Christine. We will find him. I promise you that."


You know a Vulcan would never promise what he could not deliver, and you feel a peace fill you. Jim will be okay because Spock will make it so. You do reach out, your hand on his for a glancing moment, and he closes his eyes.


"Goodnight, Spock."


"Goodnight, Christine."


You have ever intention of lying down the minute you get to the bed you share with Jim. But when you walk in, when you reach into the closet and smell his cologne on his robe, the fear that the truth and what Spock believes may be very different things practically suffocates you.


You ignore the bed and head for the labs. There are interesting experiments going on. Maybe you can lose yourself in progress reports.




It's been four days. You're beyond exhausted. Ny gives you pitying looks every time she sees you in the hall. At her side, Scotty seems to eye you a bit differently. Does he view you as some kind of Typhoid Christine? The woman whose love is a curse? You've always suspected he thought you were with Decker. He never came out and said it but it was the way he'd look at you, like "Aye, she's a starfucker, that one."


Only you really have no idea if he thinks that. You've just been hearing Ny bitch more than wax rhapsodic about him lately and you're internalizing that. Preparing to side with your friend.


You're amazed she's lasted this long. He'd drive you fucking crazy with his just-shy-of-desperate devotion.


You're pacing Jim's quarters, exhausted but not willing to lie down, not when it's been too damn long. You're feeling mean and ready to fight, but there's nothing to attack.


His door chimes, and Len and Spock come in. Before you can assail them with questions and "Have you thought of this?" suggestions, Len holds up a hypo. "Nighty-night time."


"I'm not tired."


"No, you're not. You're so far beyond tired I don't know that we have a name for it." Len motions in the general direction of the closet "Go get changed. I promise if we find him while you're sleeping, we'll give you a reversal."


"Are you going to make Spock sleep? Pav or Ny or Scotty? Anyone but me?"


Spock steps between you. "Your performance is suffering, Christine. Please, do as Leonard says."


You think you've never heard Spock call him that before. Then you realize what he's said. "You're going to make this about the job?"


"Yes, because I believe it is the only way you will listen."


You try to stare them down. Give them the full-on bitch of ops, but neither of them is moved. Finally, you stomp to the closet, grab your pajamas, and go into the bathroom to change. When you come out, they are in the same place, their faces carefully neutral. You climb into the bed and hold out your arm, hating the sound of the hiss that means oblivion.


"If I have nightmares, it's your fault."


Spock turns to Len. "Doctor, do you need an escort to your quarters or can I trust you to take the same remedy?"


The look Len gives him is probably a mirror for how you're looking at them both. "I don't want to leave her just yet."


"I will stay until she falls asleep." Spock's tone brooks no argument.


You can already feel the drug working. You hate to admit it, but finally letting go feels like heaven. "Go, Len. You need this as much as I do."


"We'll find him, hon'."


You wait until the door closes behind him to say, "Sure we will."


Spock moves to the bed, sitting next to you. "Do you not believe we will?"


"My history would say otherwise."


"A case study of one? Unless you have lost other partners I am not aware of?" His look is gentle. "Hardly valid scientific analysis. Moreover, Jim's history would indeed say we will find him. His will to live is..."




"Yes. Exactly. The odds are meaningless in his case."


You curl up, pulling Jim's pillow to you. "It smells like him."




"Yeah. The real thing would be more so." You reach for his hand and hold on. "Thank you for being so nice to me."


He doesn't jerk away. "It is no hardship to be kind to you, Christine."


You can feel yourself slipping away, so you laugh and say, "Yeah, tell that to the old me."


You're still lucid enough to hear him say, "Unfortunately, I cannot." And then you slip into oblivion.


When you wake the next morning, you feel worlds better. You're halfway through breakfast when Len comes running into the mess.


You smile. "You found him?"


"Well, Spock did. Naturally. You and I were too busy sleeping."


"Since Jim might be hurt and we're two of the best doctors on this ship, having us rested is an eminently logical thing for Spock to do, isn't it?"


"It sure as hell is. Listen, I have to go. I'm going down with Spock to get Jim. We have to limit—"


You wave off whatever he's going to say. "I know. Just...just tell me when I can see him."


"Be at the transporter room. Loiter all day if you have to." He grins. "He's coming home, Christine."


"He's coming home."


You want to cry but find yourself laughing softly instead. You're not a curse, after all.




You're pacing outside the main transporter room and hear the door hiss open. You whirl and you think your smile must rival Spock's the time he found out he didn't really kill his captain. "Jim!"


He's being supported by Spock and Len, so you don't try to hug him. But you do touch his face, making sure it's really him, not some sick illusion.


"Sweetheart, I'm okay."


"He's not, but he will be once I'm done with him," Len says. "Let's get him to sickbay, okay, Chris?"


You follow close behind, pinching yourself to make sure you're not still drugged and asleep. But it hurts, so you smile.


He's alive and he's back.


Spock and Len help him onto a biobed and you stand back. This isn't your sickbay. You're not even practicing. But Len says, "He's managed to stay hydrated but he's in need of nutrients. Can you get the flavor he likes, Christine?"


And you smile, because a long time ago you knew the flavor everyone liked and it was a joke between you two that you could remember that. Len looks up and smiles gently and you smile back the same way. "On it."


You find where the nutrient gels are stashed and search for lemon, but have to settle for orange. Lemon's always gone first; it tastes so much like lemonade that you think it might bring happy memories as well as much-needed calories.


You bring it back and hold it to Jim's lips while Len and the nurses work. When he finishes, you whisper, "Had us worried, Mister," and rub some moisturizing balm on his chapped lips.


"Had myself a little worried, too." He glances at Len and the nurses, who are focused on healing his abrasions and cuts, then mouths, "Kiss me."


You do, making it quick but satisfying. You mouth, "I love you," as you pull away and he mouths it back.


"If you're done making out with our patient, do you want to help out with these cuts, Doctor?" Len sounds way too amused.


"What if she's not done making out with me?" Jim winks and you think that's the best sign ever. That he can make jokes and sound so light—much better already then he did in the corridor when you first saw him.


"Leave 'em wanting more." You laugh at his expression and go find a regenerator and get to work.


During a moment where the nurses have stepped away, Len murmurs, "I wanted you to see that he's not as hurt as we thought. He'll want to be close and that's okay."


You're touched that he's thinking of you this way—of both of you. You lean in and give him a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you."


"You don't have to thank me. You're both my friends." His smile is sweet as he continues working.


Jim's watching both of you so fondly it makes your breath catch. You thought you'd never see that look, the smile he gives you, the way he breathes out when he's relieved—and you can see he's letting go of whatever fierce spirit kept him alive.


"I need to log what happened," he says, even though you can tell he's having a hard time keeping his eyes open.


"Later, Jim," Len says. "Spock determined how to avoid the disturbance when he figured out how to find you.  No one else is going to get caught up by it."


Jim nods. "Of course he did." Then he smiles and quits fighting the inevitable.  He closes his eyes and goes to sleep.




You're lying next to Jim, days away from his being lost, but still holding maybe a little too tightly. He doesn't complain, though, and he holds on just as tight.


"We need to talk about something," he murmurs into your ear.


You ease back so you can see his face. There's something in his voice, something that tells you this won't be a conversation you like."


"I had a lot of time to think while I was down there alone." He reaches out and brushes your cheek. "Mostly about how unfair it was to die when I'd just found happiness."


You nod, because you don't want to give the idea of him dying voice.


"But, Chris. We never know when it's our time. And I don't want you to think you can't find love again."


"Jim, I can't talk about this right now."


"We have to. When I was down there, I tried to envision your future. And I saw it—I saw it with Spock."


"There's nothing going—"


"I know. This isn't about me being jealous anymore. I trust both of you. But I've seen how he looks at you when he thinks I'm not paying attention. I truly think he cares for you."


"Maybe it's just relief. That I'm not chasing him. That I'm fun to be around. That he approves of your girlfriend."


"Chris, I've watched the two of you become friends and it's made me so happy that two of the people I love most in this world have put aside old discomfort and found a connection. And it would be a small step to go from friends to...more." He tips your chin up. "What I'm saying is it's okay. If you don't mourn forever. If you find love again. And if it's with him."


You don't want to have this conversation, not right after getting him back, but you see how much it matters to him. What he went through on that planet, the demons he faced alone, he thought of you. Now you need to return the favor.


"And if I go first, Jim, the same applies. Find someone. Be happy." You run your fingers through his hair the way he likes, the way that makes him close his eyes in pleasure. "Just...I don't want to think of either of us dead, Jim. I want to think of a long, happy life. I want to think of us old and occasionally crotchety the way only a long-term pair can be. I want to love you forever."


"I know. Me, too." He kisses you, slowly and thoroughly. "And I'm not trying to borrow trouble. But...we just never know, do we?" He looks down. "I lost David before I really got to know him. I don't know if he had any pets—if he was a dog person like I am. I don't know his favorite sport or color or food. I don't even know if he was ever in love. I hope so. I think maybe he and Saavik had something but I never knew for sure."


He rolls to his back and stares up at the ceiling, but he reaches for you, his hand landing softly on your hip. "We just don't know when our time will come. He was a civilian scientist that Carol kept far, far away from me and Starfleet. But that didn't stop him from being murdered on a mission."


"I know." You close your eyes. "What you say makes sense. Maybe it's cowardly, but I don't want to think about it right now."


"Okay. I've said it. You'll remember if it you need to. We don't need to discuss it again."


You like that idea. You don't want to think about losing him or not being here yourself. Not after all you just went through.


Not now that you're back together, here, in this bed, making happy memories.


"I love you, Jim. I feel like I can't possibly say that enough—or make it clear how much I mean it."


He pulls you in and kisses you tenderly. "Believe me. I feel the same way."




You walk into an auxiliary mess you usually never eat in, grab some food, and then look for Ny.


"Christine, come sit down." She's in a booth in the corner.




"I just don't want to run into him, okay?" She stabs her food angrily enough a casual observer might think she was the one who'd been dumped. "When he and I started, we agreed that if it didn't work, we wouldn't make it awkward. Why's he making it awkward?"


"Because he's Scotty?" You grin in the most supportive way you can. "But it's going to get better. It's always awkward at first." And exactly why you never, ever dated anyone in ops. You didn't want this kind of bullshit going on when you were in an emergency.


"Do you really think he'll go back to normal? I mean Mira and Carolyn both left the ship after they broke up with him."


"I don't think the two were related." Carolyn was pregnant by a god, after all, even if you and Len honored her wishes and kept that quiet. Still, Jim reported it to whoever in Starfleet you report that kind of stuff to, just in case Olympians spawn godlings, but the kid seems normal. He's in Starfleet now and you've checked up on his readings from time to time out of curiosity.


Mira, on the other hand, did seem grateful to get away from Scotty but not in a "he's a stalker—get me off this ship!" kind of way. More just a general ennui regarding him.


Ny can't do that. Although you both know it would be good for her career to go do something else somewhere else. But you know she won't, so you don't bring it up. "It'll be fine, really."


She finally seems to calm down. "I wanted to love him, you know?"

"I do. I've met some men I wanted to love, too. But you can't force it."


She sighs. "Sybok made us feel so much. It was heady and I'm not sure without that push he gave us, we ever felt the same again. But we kept trying. Until I just couldn't."


"It's not a crime to break up with someone, Ny."


"Tell that to Scotty."  She frowns and fake-shakes, as if she's leaving that subject behind—violently, if she has to. "So, how's it having your man back?"


"Wonderful." You can't hide the smile that's breaking out. "I thought he was de..."


"I know. I thought maybe too. But we're both stupid. Nothing's going to take that man down."


"Damn straight."


"Would you have stayed if he'd...you know?" 

"I don't know. I want to say yes, that this is about you and Len and Spock. But to be here now without him. I just don't know." You meet her eyes. "Would you hate me if I left?"

"One of us probably will leave eventually. And no, there will be no hate." She smiles, a little sadly. "One of us has to be happy."


"I'd really prefer that both of us were."


She reaches over the table and squeezes your hand. "Have I told you how glad I am that you're here?"


"Once or twice."






You sit with Spock, assessing his play. He's gotten better at knowing what you'll do when you peg, and what kind of hands you love to make. Every player has their pet plays and you've shown him yours.


This game isn't all luck, after all. As he said, when you first started playing.


You glance up and see he's looking at you with an expression you can only categorize as tender. You think he's overachieved on forging a new way to relate to you, but you're not going to mention it. Especially since you're so happy with his best friend,


For Spock, "You snooze, you lose" may be the lesson of the day, but you're never going to say that to him.


What you do say is: "Thank you for taking such good care of me when Jim was lost."


"I told you then it was no hardship."


"It would have been to the Christine Chapel you used to run from." You play a ten on his, counting a double.


"You are no longer that woman." He lays another ten down, pegging six ,and then has the ace to make thirty-one. "Your play is compromised. Perhaps you would rather be with Jim?"


Is there a note of...longing or regret in the way he's saying that?


Shit, you need to stop. Whatever he feels, that's on him. And you know he's only feeling it because it was safe to let you in and get to know you. If you were still single, he never would have.


"It was the best play at the time." Your other cards are all face cards, and you were sure he had the same thing, so you didn't want to give him something to make a run with. Caution brings its own cost. "And no, I'm fine right here, playing cribbage with you. If I wanted to be with Jim, I'd be with Jim." You say it so firmly it's as if it's a declaration of war and immediately feel stupid. "I mean—"


"I understood your meaning, Christine." His voice is extraordinarily gentle.


It's less so when he pegs out. His eyes are glistening. "Loser deals."


You grin, and lose yourself in the game rather than worrying about what he's feeling or not, and win the first few hands.


A little while later, you hear Jim behind you. "You want a refill?"


"Yes please." You lift your chin so he can kiss you. "I think just some club soda with lime."


He smiles. You've both been drinking less lately. "You've got it. Spock? Refill on your cran-soda?"


"Yes, Jim. Most kind."


Jim's back quickly with your drinks and one for him, carrying them like a pro. "Didn't know I used to wait tables when I was a teen, did you?" He grins and sits down next to you. "Mind an observer?"


"No," you turn and make the move halfway to him that allows him to close the gap and give you a sweet short kiss.


"Spock?" He grins at him, but you hear something else. Something that says, "I get how you feel about her, but she's mine."


You think Spock hears it, too. "Not at all, Jim. We are currently tied with a game each."


"Be warned, he pegs like a little old lady."


Jim laughs. "My grandmother played this game at tournament level into her nineties. Little old ladies can peg like fiends, Chris." He winks at Spock. "Gotta protect my bud."


"Thank you, Jim."


"Boys," you mutter, as if you're put out, but you're grinning so you know they both can tell you're not.


"So we're going to be on Vulcan in a few weeks, Spock. Chris hasn't seen it. You want to show us around or do you have family obligations?  And either answer is fine."


"I would enjoy showing you both my favorite places."


"Exellent.  Chris, perhaps someone will teach you how to make that soup he likes." Jim's laughing and you pretend to elbow him in the ribs.


"I like cooking, but I'm not cooking that. The chilies nearly burned my skin off. Please tell me not all Vulcan food is that hot, Spock."


"It is not. My region tends to favor hot dishes but there are specialties from other areas that are quite mild."


"Good." You let Jim see your hand.


"I said he could observe, not play." Spock's eyes are gleaming in a good-humored way. "The two of you are formidable."


"I like that, honey," you say, not pulling the hand away from him. "Spock thinks we're formidable."


"He's goddamned right." He points to two cards. You try to figure out why he wants you to discard them, then smile. "Interesting."


"I must protest. Or demand equal time if you wish to assist rather than just watch."


"Spock, she must be awfully good if you don't think you can take on two humans."


"Sadly, she is." He fixes you with a stern look. "But I am learning her plays."


"He is, too. It's annoying." You smile and discard the ones Jim said to. "So why not mix it up a little?"


Jim laughs, but then Scotty comes over, asking him if he'll come have a drink with some newly reported engineering staff. "Who am I to say no to that, Mister Scott?" He leans in, and whispers, "Lead with the nine."


You glare at him.


"Fine, play it your own way. This is your two's game." He winks at Spock, then leaves you.


"We should have a three-way tournament. He makes interesting choices."


"He chose you, so I would agree."


"That's so sweet of you. Also a way to try to throw me off my game being all mushy. Not going to work, mister." You lay down your first card. The nine, as Jim suggested.


It works like a charm.