DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2013 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
It All Depends on Where You’re Standing
I. New Beginnings
Lori Ciani watches as the golden boy walks by in the cafeteria. He’s only been off his ship for a few weeks and still doesn’t look completely at home here at Command.
If a man can be beautiful, Kirk is. They’ve crossed paths a few times in the past but never in any meaningful way, never in a way that’s let her try to figure out what kind of man he is other than blessed with good looks. She’s getting to do that now as she watches him trying to fit in with the rest of the brass.
She knows he’s strong. She knows he’s smart. She also knows he has a reputation that precedes the hell out of him. One he doesn’t react to if it’s brought up, no retorts or anger, but she thinks he doesn’t like the fact he has it. She sees some sort of sadness in his eyes at times, and she imagines a woman is the cause of it.
So far, he’s defied the “Casanova of the Quadrant” rumors. He hasn’t hit on her as they wait for Nogura to arrive for the morning briefing. He just smiles and sometimes pours her a coffee from the synthesizer the old man put in his conference room to keep people from sneaking out of his staff meetings for a refill and never coming back.
Lori doesn’t drink coffee normally. But she lets Kirk get it for her and nurses it along. He can’t see how much she’s really drunk since Nogura got tired of people leaving their mugs for his assistant to clean up and now insists on recyclable cups with lids.
Caffeine is a weakness. She used to drink it but found that if she slept in, she would invariably get a headache from missing her morning cup of joe. That’s dependency—physical if not true addiction. So she gave up coffee and hasn’t missed it. And when everyone is rushing for their first cup, she’s catching up on the morning comms.
Always one step ahead. It’s how she got to be admiral at such a young age.
She knows she’s not terribly well liked by some of her peers. She doesn’t care. Her subordinates love her, and she’s worked hard to make sure she’s developed the talent entrusted to her.
Good officers should be cherished. Dependable general crew even more so—the service lived or died on their backs.
She thinks Kirk is much the same as she is when it comes to his crew. She’s talked to very few people who have served under him who haven’t sung his praises.
He turns, his lunch tray not very full, and seems to be looking for a place to sit. She smiles when his eyes meet hers, and he smiles back.
Yes, she can see why he’s charmed so many people.
He walks over. “May I?”
“I’d be insulted if you didn’t.”
He laughs. “Well, never let it be said I’d insult a lady—or a fellow admiral. Especially one who knows the lay of the land here much better than I do.”
“You’ll get the hang of it. You’re not known as a slow learner.”
He laughs, and the sound—if sound could have a color—would be golden. Everything about him sparkles.
She goes back to her salad, has no intention of letting him see she’s charmed by him. But then she peeks up, and he’s watching her with a look she isn’t sure how to read on his face.
“Nothing? My ass nothing.” She sees his surprise at her words—does no one call him on bullshit like that? “What are you thinking?”
He laughs then. “I guess...I guess it’s nice to be in one place for a while.”
She smiles, the most mysterious smile she can give him. “I’ve always thought so.”
Chapel puts her last medical text away and officially calls it a night—which means it’s also officially the weekend. “I’m done for now,” she tells Nathan, her study pal.
“Bitch.” He grins as he says it, never looking up as he works on the assignment she finished two hours ago. “Sometimes I really hate you.”
She leans down, kisses his cheek. “No, you always really hate me. You think I don’t know you wanted to study with me because I’m acing everything?”
“Oh, don’t get weird on me. I don’t care. It’s not like I give a damn.”
He looks up at her. “You really are a bitch, you know that, right?”
“I do.” She stares out past their private, soundproof study carrel and into the medical library proper. “I used to be one in grad school. Kind of lost my edge while I was a nurse.” She laughs. “Fell in love.”
“With Korby, right?”
“No, Roger was manageable. This other guy...” She sighs. How to explain Spock and her inexplicable crush. A crush she was over with. Or if not over, not going to relive. If Spock were to show up from that Vulcan place he went, she’d run the other way. Okay, she’d probably smile like a fool and make an ass out of herself just on muscle memory from five years of idiocy, but then she’d run the other way.
“You mean you met a man who actually did not want to sleep with you? Did he play for my team?”
“To be honest, I’ve never been sure.” She punches him lightly. “And it’s not one team or the other and nothing else. There’s a spectrum.”
“Where do you fall?”
“Pretty much straight. Although I’ve been known to tumble into bed with a pretty girl if—”
“You thought she’d be useful.”
“Shit, you really do think I’m cold. I was going to say if she had a cute smile and none of the boys were doing it for me.”
He laughs. “Go away. Unless you want me to copy your work.”
She knows he wouldn’t. He may be hanging around her because she can explain things in the way he likes to receive information—and she tends to be able to figure out the best way to approach each of their instructors—but he’d never cheat.
She reaches down and rubs his shoulder. “I’m going to go blow off some steam.”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” He winks.
“Wow. That gives me parsecs of leeway.” With a giggle at his mock offended expression, she leaves him to study in peace.
Kirk walks through the crowded bar, feeling strangely out of place in a way he never would have had he been doing this on liberty. To live here, to be stuck here—it didn’t lend the shine to these places that knowing he’d be shipping out on the Enterprise always did.
He’s been here for weeks. Will it ever feel comfortable?
“Mmmm. Look what the cat dragged in.”
He turns and sees Chapel. She is dressed in a purple dress that barely covers her. Her hair is darker than he remembers, and she’s heavily made up but in a way that makes her look exotic, not like she’s trying too hard, which is how he used to think of her on the ship. “Chris.”
“You wanna troll, sir? I’ll leave you alone.”
“You’re more direct than I remember.” He frowns. “And for God’s sake, drop the sir. Call me Jim.”
“Okay. Jim.” She smiles at him, and it’s a smile she’s never given him before. He’d bet money it’s a smile she’s never given Spock, either. There is something so...predatory in the expression.
And sexy. Really, really sexy.
“Do you want a drink?”
She holds up her glass. “I have a drink. You can buy me the next one, though.”
“Okay.” He feels a little off balance. This is not how things go with her.
“You look uncomfortable.”
“And again with the directness.”
“When I joined your crew to find Roger, I left a lot of myself behind. The real me, I guess. When I left the Enterprise, I decided to get her back.”
“Hmmm.” He isn’t sure what more to say so he settles for nodding.
“You don’t like her—the real me—do you?” She laughs, and it’s a sound that holds true amusement. She is not hurt that he doesn’t like this new her—and she’s right, he doesn’t think he does.
“I tell you what.” She takes a sip from her drink. “I’m going to let you go do whatever it is you’re here to do. There are plenty of men who will buy me a drink—and enjoy the process.” She leans in and whispers in his ear, “But you’re missing out, Jim.”
Then she saunters off, all long legs and swaying hips. She looks back at him, and her smile is dangerously sexy. Several men smile at her as soon as she turns back to the bar.
He goes the other way, looking for a table to sit at, turns and nearly runs into Lori Ciani, still in uniform and looking a bit harried. “Hi.”
“Hi. The old man wore me out today. I need a drink before I head home.” She looks around, as if she, too, can’t figure out where to sit.
“Are you hungry?”
She laughs, and to his relief it’s missing the mocking tone that Chapel’s amusement held. “Not for the food in this place.”
“Wherever you want. I have a lot of credits saved up.”
“Try me.” He doesn’t think he’ll laugh at her. She’s so attractive, been so helpful. Without seeming to really want much from him in return. Not shut down to opportunity but not really appearing to seek any further closeness than what they have.
He likes that. He likes that a lot. She’s her own person.
“I’m dying for ribs,” she says. “I haven’t had them for a long time.”
“Memphis? St. Louis? Dallas?”
“Oh, please. Chicago.” She grins. “I grew up there.”
Well, Chicago it is, then.” He holds his arm out to her, and she takes it with a sweet smile. “Have I said thank you, Lori? I know you’ve been looking out for me. Giving me little tips without appearing to be doing it.”
“Uh, no, you haven’t.”
“Well, thank you.” He feels at ease with her. She’s shorter than he is, but not by much, and wears her glossy brown hair short, like Areel did. She’s slim but looks fit, like she could hold her own if she had to. “Thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome very much.”
II. First Rumblings
Lori and Jim are at a party—a picnic given by Admiral Davies at his house on the water. It’s gorgeous, the view, the house, the furniture, the sun setting gracefully as Davies gets a bonfire lit down by the beach.
Lori watches the group of younger officers who have clustered around Jim. Commanders and lieutenant commanders who’ve worked for Davies in some capacity. Every single one of them hungry for his or her own command.
And lapping up Jim’s stories of his time on the Enterprise as if they’re the most interesting things they’ve ever heard.
She turns and leaves Jim to his storytelling. She’s a little sick of it. Found it charming at first, but after umpteen dinners, she’s drowning in his bitter nostalgia. He hangs on to the past as if his life ended the day he gave up the big chair.
She knows she hasn’t commanded a starship, but she was captain of a resupply vessel. She loved her crew. Hell, she loved that cantankerous old ship.
But it didn’t define her. She moved on. Why the hell can’t he?
Davies wanders over to her, his smile the same as ever, her mentor, sponsor, and pseudo father figure. Lori didn’t mean to latch onto him, but he never seemed to mind. He’s been a surrogate father to so many officers, it’s not like she stands out.
“I was surprised you took up with him.” He takes a long pull of his beer as he watches Jim holding court. “I’m not a fan of his.”
“Why’d you invite him, then?”
He laughs. “Because I knew you’d bring him with you. Might as well do the gracious thing and give him his own invite, not make him be your plus one.”
She smiles. “Why don’t you like him?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like him. The man can charm and he’s whip smart. I just don’t think he’s really admiral material.”
She looks up at him, trying to read his expression. “He was the youngest captain ever.”
“Yes, but you were the youngest admiral ever.” He shakes his head. “Some men need the stars, Lori. Maybe I just feel protective of the fleet, of you, hell, of everyone who’s going to have to deal with him when he realizes he’s never getting those stars back. I’ve seen it before. Great captains don’t always make great admirals—quite frankly, they often make the worst.”
“Just give him time, Frank. He’s a good man.”
“Ah...you really are in love with him. I wish I thought that would end well.”
She hears the truth in his voice, that he thinks she’s going to be hurt, that Jim is going to hurt her. But he won’t. They’re both high flyers. It’s in him to excel. “He’ll do fine once he gets his bearings.”
“It’s been three months. How long does it take to acclimate, kid?”
She’s wondered that herself. She won’t betray Jim by admitting it.
“Look at his record, Lori.”
“I have. That he brought his ship back at all was an accomplishment. That he brought it back in good enough shape to be refitted is damned near a miracle.”
Davies seems to give her that. A nod of his head before he takes another pull of his beer. “He bucks the system. He breaks the rules. He doesn’t play well with others.”
“His crew would die for him.” She thinks of all the stories Jim has told her since they started seeing each other, remembers one that will work for her. “And he can beat someone at their own game. He did it on Sigma Iotia II. Just...give him time. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Davies’ look is full of pity. She wants to slap him, this man who has only ever watched her back. “If you say so, Lori. If you say so.”
Chapel sees Kirk sitting in the cafeteria, he and Admiral Ciani not joined at the hip for once. She walks over with her tray and sits down.
He looks up, his expression startled. “Jesus, Chris. Make yourself at home.”
“Look, if Ciani is joining you, I’ll move. Even if she’s not, I can leave as soon as I ask you what I need to ask you.”
“She’s out of town. You can stay.” His voice is different than she’s used to hearing it.
She’s used to Jim Kirk being in command, having that note of contentment that says, “I belong here.” He does not have that now. She leans forward and studies him.
“You want to take a picture? You can stare at that instead of me.”
“You’re not happy, are you?”
His eyes dart up to meet hers, his look hard and uncompromising. “What I am or am not is not really your concern, ensign.”
“Ouch. And it’s lieutenant now, or don’t you bother to read the lists anymore?”
He closes his eyes, and she realizes he probably has forgotten to look. And she’s not wearing the new rank insignia yet—the promotion ceremony isn’t until Monday.
“Who else was on it?” he asks.
“Chekov. Sanderson. Garcia. C’Loth.”
“Shit. I should have sent a note.”
“Well, forget about that for me. I have a bigger favor to ask.”
“What?” He goes back to eating, spearing a piece of lettuce as if it is a Klingon. She can tell he’s dieting: he looks damn good. Working out, too, if the way he’s filling out his uniform is any indication.
“You know Decker, right?”
“I want an introduction. Also a recommendation.”
He starts to laugh. “Are you sure you’re the Christine Chapel I know? My God, you’ve got balls. You want to be a doctor on the Enterprise, go about it the normal way. Apply for the billet.”
She smiles. “I don’t want to be a doctor. I want to be the doctor. I want to be CMO.”
He stops his fork mid spear. “What, now?”
“You heard me.” She doesn’t smile, doesn’t try to cajole or wheedle. This is officer to officer. He doesn’t owe her a damn thing, but still, she needs him to want to help her.
“I’m surrounded by ambitious women.” He doesn’t sound all that pleased at the concept.
She wonders if maybe Ciani is out of town because they’re fighting, then she decides it doesn’t matter. Not to what she wants. “Since when is ambition a crime?”
“Why should I help you get this?”
“I’m top in my class. By a wide margin. You know I helped Len with things way beyond what a nurse would do. I already have several other degrees. I’m familiar with the ship. I’m good with people.” Or she used to be. Now...well, making friends with her fellow students hasn’t exactly been a priority for her. The instructors, however...
He holds up a hand. “I’ll introduce you. I’ll even tell him good things about you—but based on your performance on the ship. I’m not telling him to select you as CMO. Will’s a big boy. He can make his own decisions.”
“The way he picked Sonak?” She knows she has him on this one. Ny told her that he pushed Decker into picking him—and Ny knows that because Decker trusts her. Tells her things—things he probably doesn’t think she’ll share with Chapel or anyone else.
Kirk’s expression changes. He’s angry, but she thinks most of it is probably not at her. It’s at Spock. At his best friend, the legendary man at his side, who up and left for some place on Vulcan that purged all emotion.
That had to hurt. It hurts her and she has never been Spock’s friend.
She decides to ride out the icy silence. She picks up her sandwich and bites into it.
“I thought he should have...” Kirk’s voice is helpless as he trails off.
“What you had. A Vulcan by his side. I get it. I’m not criticizing. Just pointing out your argument is specious.”
He nods, sighing heavily, and she thinks maybe she’s won. “Everything was so much simpler before, Chris.”
She’s pretty sure simpler doesn’t equal better, but she resists saying so. Instead, she makes her expression as soft as it goes these days and says, “I know, sir.”
“I told you to call me Jim.”
“Even at Command? I thought you meant just when I was coming on to you in bars.”
He laughs. “No. Here, too. Within reason, of course.”
Kirk rings for entrance at Lori’s place. She’s back in town, finally. She was gone for longer than he liked, and he thinks he knows why.
He thinks she wants more than just dinners every now and then, one of them staying over with the other. That she wants to settle down. What’s stopping him?
She opens the door and looks genuinely surprised. “Jim. Did we have a date that I forgot—or never knew of?”
“I’m tired of having to walk over to see you.”
“Then take a flitter.” She laughs. “I was just about to go to bed.”
Suddenly, he feels awkward. Is she seeing someone else? Is that why she left town? “Alone?” he manages to strangle out.
“Uh, yeah.” She moves aside. “You look like you could use a drink.”
He pushes past her, still sure there might be someone in there, maybe calling for emergency beam-out. The place is empty.
“Scotch? Or shall I order you a straightjacket?” She is smiling at him. “What’s wrong?”
“You were gone.”
“Yes. I do that. I travel for Nogura.” She points in the general direction of where she keeps the drinks and heads into the bedroom. “Don’t come in here till you’re sane again.”
He makes himself a drink, then walks into the bedroom. She’s in bed. Naked, if bare shoulders are any indication.
“I take it you missed me?” she asks.
He nods, then sips his drink.
“Are you all right, Jim?”
He walks to the bedroom window, looks out at the city lights. Lights that she told him remind her of the stars, but he doesn’t see it.
“I hate it here.”
“Here? In my bedroom here?”
He laughs. “No. On Earth here. Off my ship here. Things with you not here weren’t good.” He turns to look at her. “You’re sort of my true north these days.”
“I think I’d rather be your true love.” She is not smiling, and he knows he’s said the wrong thing. She is strong—what does she need with a man who can’t find his bearings after months in Command? A man who needs her to be his guide.
“I do love you, Lori.”
“Sure you do, Jim.”
He puts the drink down on the dresser and walks over to the bed. “I do. I love you.”
She turns her back to him. “No, you need me. And those are two different things. When are you going to let go of that damn ship?”
He’s introduced Chapel to Decker and recommended her, despite telling her he wasn’t going to. Wasn’t that letting go? Isn’t this misery he feels the result of having let go? He has no hope of ever getting his ship back.
All he has is this woman and what lies ahead.
He could settle down. Live the life he and Carol never got to.
He pulls his clothes off, slips under the cover, and turns Lori so she’s facing him. “I love you. I want more. From you. For us.”
“More?” She studies him so searchingly it makes him feel guilty. “You want to move in?”
“I want to get married.”
He draws her closer, kisses her as tenderly as he knows how. “Yes, to you.” He rolls to his back, pulling her on top of him. “Don’t you want that? We can make a home. Kids.”
“Whoa. You’re way down the road already and I’m still asking if it’s me you want to marry. You see the problem, don’t you?”
“If you don’t love me, just say so. I know this is sudden. But I had a lot of time to think while you were gone.” Which is certainly true, but he didn’t spend the time thinking about this. Or not consciously, anyway. Maybe he has been thinking about it the whole time, though. Maybe this is what he wanted from the moment he saw her in the bar that night.
“I do love you, Jim. Ask me again in a few months, if you still want this. Okay?”
He nods, feels stung even though he knows her answer is a logical one. That she’s smart to make him wait.
“Oh, God, are you going to sulk? Because if you are, I won’t keep going, which would be me saying that maybe we should move in together. We could see how that goes. An...interim step.”
“I’d like that.” Being with her will fill his time. He can channel all the wishes for what he can’t have into something positive.
“I like my place and I don’t think you give a shit about yours, so you move in here.”
“Aye-aye, Admiral.” He grins and sees her relax. Realizes that he, too, has finally let go of the tension he brought over here.
III. Terra Firma
Lori rolls over in bed, finds Jim’s side empty. She peeps open an eye, sees that light is slipping in between the curtains. It’s morning already? “Shit.”
“Is that any way to greet a birthday breakfast?” Jim brings in a tray and sets it down over her lap once she sits up. On the tray are an omelette and orange juice and an empty cup.
“Uhh, is the cup a message? My cup does not floweth over?”
He laughs. “Or it floweth over and away.” He goes to the dresser, rummages around in one of his drawers. “No, it’s a sign that I’ve been wise to your ways this whole time. You don’t even like coffee, do you?”
“I gave up caffeine years ago.”
He turns to study her, and she thinks he has something behind his back. “Why’d you give it up?”
“I like to be in control.”
He smiles. “That sounds like you.” He walks toward her, his hands still behind his back. “And speaking of control, I believe you now have a choice. I will either sing happy birthday to you—very badly because I cannot carry a tune—while you eat or you can open this.” He holds out a small box.
It’s the size of a ring box. She doesn’t want it to be the size of a ring box. Who the hell combines a birthday gift with an engagement ring?
“Are you going to choose me singing? Because you are staring daggers at my gift. I really do suggest you open it.”
She takes it and opens it gingerly, then starts to laugh. A single chocolate truffle sits inside.
“Had you going. Man, you really do not want to marry me, do you?”
“I just thought it was a cheap move to combine two events.”
“And one truffle is an extravagance?” He grins. “The rest of the box will be waiting in the hotel room I booked for us tonight in Paris.” He gets into bed carefully, not disturbing her breakfast, and leans in to kiss her. “I love you. Happy birthday.”
“Thank you.” She pops the truffle into her mouth.
“Hey. Omelette first, hon’.”
“Too late,” she mumbles around the piece of chocolate heaven that is the truffle. “Oh my God this is good.”
“I know. I love this shop.” He takes her fork and helps himself to a piece of omelette, making her laugh. “What? I was afraid you thought it might not be edible. That’s why you’re skipping it. Mmmm mmmm.” He nods toward her juice. “That is going to taste like crap after the truffle.”
“You’re right. It is.” She hands him the juice, and he leans back against the headboard and takes a sip. “I like having you here, Jim. I’m glad you were so weird that night.”
“Yes, just what a fellow wants to hear.” He is staring at her very tenderly. “I’m glad I’m here, too.”
She thinks he might really mean it—here on Earth, not just here in her apartment. He’s making progress.
Chapel has the distinct feeling someone is watching her, that itchy feeling between the shoulder blades, the surge of hairs along the nape of the neck.
Nathan is staring at something behind her. “Who is tall, blonde, and handsome here for? Please God, let it be me.”
She turns and sees that it is Decker. He motions with a tilt of his head for her to come out.
“Of course he’s here for you.” Sounding as aggrieved as he ever has, Nathan goes back to his padd.
She walks out, follows Decker as he strides out of the library common area, to the steps outside. He points up at the night sky. “Tell me what you see.”
This man is not Jim Kirk. She does not think she will answer him the same way she would her former captain, who would want to hear something inspiring, like “the future” or “infinite possibilities.” She smiles and says, “I see balls of light that may be dead by now.”
He looks surprised. “Hmmm.”
“Did you want me to be more profound?” She laughs softly. “Sorry, I’m sort of a pragmatist.”
He leans against the stone balustrade that follows the stairs down. “I’m okay with pragmatism. I lost a lot of dreams when my father died.”
“I was off the ship when that happened. I never knew him. I’m sorry I never knew him.” Although she’s already known—hell, been engaged to—a maniac so driven he ended up killing himself. Does she really wish she’d met another one?
“He wasn’t much of a father. Gone all the time. Driven.”
She nods. “I know the type. My fiancé left me before our wedding to chase his dreams. His ship was lost. He never came back.”
“Then you do understand.”
She smiles, makes it a sadly sweet smile, the smile of a woman who never found her man—no need to rehash the complicated epilogue of Roger’s saga.
“Jim speaks highly of you.”
“I’m glad. I learned a lot from how he ran things.”
His eyebrow goes up. “You admire him.”
“Who doesn’t?” She laughs. “But maybe I learned both what to do—and what not to—from watching how he ran things.”
His smile is more open, more relaxed. “He’s a friend, but I’m not one of those who blindly worship him.”
“Neither am I, sir.”
“Call me Will.”
“Will.” She looks up at the stars. “I’ll be done with med school in a few months. Accelerated residency, and then I’ll be ready to ship out, right as the refits are being completed.” She turns to him, catching him staring at her, smiling as she does it. “Or am I being presumptuous?”
“You are.” He starts to smile. “I sort of like it, though. Gonna need a strong doc to keep me in line.”
“I can be strong. I can listen, too. Don’t always have to talk.”
“Good. I haven’t liked the other candidates. They tell me what I want to hear. They want the flagship, they want the prestige.”
“I may want those things, too.”
“Somehow, I think you’re a little more complicated than that.” He takes a deep breath, then pushes off the balustrade. “Consider yourself hired, Lieutenant.”
“Call me Christine. Or Chris.”
“Christine.” He grins at her, a smile that seems full of all the hopes a man can have. “See you when you report in.”
“I’m here for you before then. If you need to vent. Or if you have questions about crew who served under Jim and are staying aboard. My previous role afforded me many chances to get to know people.”
“Good to know. I’ll probably take you up on that. You like sushi?”
“Dinner, then. Next week. I’ll comm you once I know my schedule.”
He walks away, tall and lanky and very much the kind of man she likes. It’s not unusual for captains to get close to their CMOs.
It’s not unusual at all.
Kirk finishes setting up the tent. He’s in his favorite campsite in Yosemite and he’s not alone. He looks over his shoulder, sees Lori sitting by the stream, soaking her feet.
New boots. Blisters on her heels. He has cream that’ll fix them right up. A miracle cure Bones made for him. Regenerator in a tube.
“You okay over there?” he asks.
She looks back at him and nods. “Just getting used to this outdoorsy stuff.”
He digs in his pack, finds the cream, and walks over to her. “Let me see your feet.”
She lifts her legs out of the water, shifts so she’s facing him, her wet feet in his lap.
Her blisters are bad. She must have been in a lot of pain walking in; she didn’t let on. “You should have broken in your boots.”
“How? By wearing them with my uniform? When do I have time to break in boots?” She leans back and closes her eyes. “Sorry, Jim. My feet hurt and I’m cranky.”
He holds up the tube. “And I have relief.” He squeezes out some of the miracle goo and begins to rub it over her feet, going slowly, turning healing into a foot massage—he likes to think he’s good at this.
Her happy moan seems to be confirmation that he is. She opens her eyes and smiles at him.
“Yes. But don’t stop.” She looks around. “You camp here often?”
He nods. He doesn’t tell her he first found this place with Carol. That they came back often. Carol loved the outdoors. For all she was a theoretical scientist, the field was as much her natural environment as a lab.
Lori leans back on her elbows, obviously relaxing under his touch. “I’m more a hotel kind of gal.”
“I know. I thought maybe this would be different.”
“It’s certainly that.” She exhales and it seems like she is letting go of more than just breath.
He knows how hard she works. How many trips she takes for Nogura. He’s gone with her on some of them, been happy to not lose her to some new place on Earth or out on a ship that he’s not in charge of. It’s odd being on some other captain’s ship. Odd, but he’s getting used to it.
Something changed for them after her birthday dinner in Paris. He’s not sure if he let down his guard or if she did, but they’ve been closer, more at ease. They talk and laugh and have inside jokes. They are a couple—anyone can see it.
He wants to be more than a couple.
He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a silk pouch, and hands it to her. “I love you. I want to be with you. Always.”
She opens the pouch, her eyes more wary than happy. That bothers him. Does she still not want this?
She holds the ring up. It’s a rose-gold band, with diamonds set into the ring, flush with the gold, nothing to catch, nothing to be too flashy, but gorgeously made. He knows it’s the kind of ring she likes. He’s found ways to get her to let him know her preferences—sneaky ways. But for a good cause.
“Marry me.” He goes back to massaging her feet. “Make an honest man of me.”
She pulls her feet away. “I hate that saying.” She is still staring at the ring, has not put it on.
He wants to see it on her, wants her to say yes, of course, she will. Wants to hear, “Oh, Jim, it’s beautiful” and “I love you.” But she holds it, letting the stones glimmer in the sunshine, and says softly, “It’s perfect.”
Perfect sounds like an indictment.
“Lori, marry me?” He doesn’t like the slight edge of panic in his voice, the tension making it rise, get a little louder. He wants her to understand he has never asked a woman this. Not any of them, not even the mother of his child.
“A term marriage.” She is not asking, she is declaring. It sounds like the first volley in a negotiation round.
“What? No. For real.”
She laughs and the sound is not pretty. “I won’t do that to myself. Or to you. Not when I’m not sure why you’re asking.”
“I’m asking because I love you.”
“Or you’re so desperate to make a life here, to forget your ship and your crew and everything you really love, that this seems like the only next step.”
“It’s not the only step. But it is the only one I want to take. Doesn’t that matter?” He wishes he could snatch the ring back, rip it away from her, and find someone, anyone, else who will appreciate that this is a special moment—this is not how he is. Ever.
He was married to his ship. Not to a lovely warm woman who has invited him into her life, into her home, into her bed. He can’t have the ship—an amicable if still painful divorce—but he can have Lori.
And they can have kids. Kids he can see. Kids she won’t take away from him. That won’t die before they’re even born.
“I love you, Jim. I’ll put this ring on, and I’ll say yes, but it’s to a term marriage. After a year, when it’s time to renew, we can see how we feel then. Maybe...maybe we can redo things in a more traditional way.”
He realizes she’s not going to want any kind of ceremony. Term marriages are constructed by contract, signed in front of a magistrate. No wedding, no gifts, no guest to show that yes, he has adapted, he can live off a duranium-hulled ship and still be happy.
“Fine.” The word comes out strangled. He reaches over, eases the ring onto her finger.
It’s a perfect fit. It looks beautiful on her. He thinks she won’t wear it at work, despite that. She never wears jewelry, not even earrings, but surely this could be different. It’s a symbol.
He’ll wear his. Damn it all, he’ll wear his.
Only she’ll have to get it for him and he somehow can’t see her doing that, not with the level of enthusiasm she’s showing for this. And he doesn’t want to have to go back and get it for himself. There’s one that matches—why didn’t he just buy it when he bought hers?
“You don’t look very happy, Jim. I’m sorry if I’ve ruined the big moment.”
“Big moments are overrated. This is real life, right?”
He thinks that he stumbled on the perfect thing to say. She doesn’t take offense, in fact her expression clears, and she pulls him to her, kisses him in the way he has grown to crave.
They fit. Bodies. Temperaments. Intellect.
He loves her.
And now she’ll be his wife.
He’s happy. He can be happy. He can.
They make love, then they talk about silly things as he cooks up a fish he catches in the stream. They talk some more as they make their bed under the stars and kiss, the conversation stilling as her eyes grow heavy lidded.
Her hair glows in the campfire’s light. The night wind blows a thousand wonderful scents to him—all the things that can’t be found on a ship: evergreens and sage and the smell of burning wood, and just a hint of some night flower he isn’t sure he could identify but that smells sweet in the dark.
But later, as he lies still awake, the fire burned down to embers, as she breathes the soft rhythm of sleep into his neck, he stares up at the burning orbs in the inky sky and wishes he were up there, too.
Lori is working late, rushing to get something done for the old man. When he tasks her this way, when it’s a quick turnaround action and she needs to coordinate with ships all over, it makes her feel alive in a way she’s never really known. Certainly running a resupply ship didn’t come close.
This matters. This is power. The height of it. And Nogura trusts her. Anyone else he’d be standing over their shoulder dictating what the outgoing memo would say. But she he trusts.
“You want a sandwich or something?” he asks as he walks into her office. No preamble, no softening of “there will be hours’ more work tonight before you can go home.” He’s ordering food and if she wants dinner, she’ll piggyback on his privileges and get catering to bring her something, too.
“BLT. No mayo.”
“You got it.” He walks out, doesn’t ask her how she’s doing—probably doesn’t even occur to him, but that’s more because he knows she’s doing fine than that he doesn’t care.
She’s an extension of him at times like these. She’s been working for him long enough that she knows what he wants and how he wants it, and how long is too long to wait to give him an update.
Catering brings the sandwich and she eats it, has just finished when Jim comes in, sees her plate, and his expression changes. “Again?”
“Something came up.” Something that doesn’t involve Jim. That drives him crazy, she thinks. That she has more access, more of the old man’s trust, than he does. She’s the go-to person here.
“I was hoping we could have dinner.”
“Sorry.” She tries to put some actual regret into her voice. She can see she’s failed by the way his lips tighten.
He’s annoyed with her a lot these days. She thought getting married would settle him down, but it’s had the opposite effect. Six months into their marriage, and he’s acting like the wounded spouse every time she stays late.
“This is going to have to change.”
She frowns. “It is?”
“When we have kids. One of us will need to be around for them.”
“I’m on a deadline and you want to talk about kids?” She prays to God the old man does not decide now is the time for an update. “Really, Jim?”
“Do you even want them?”
“I don’t know. Do we need to discuss this now?” Her terminal pings, and she looks at the comm that’s just come in. “Oh for shit’s sake. How hard is it to just answer the goddamn question we asked?” She types back a reply, her fingers flying over the keys she prefers to voice mode, and sends it to the captain who thinks telling her he’ll get back to her in a day is going to cut it.
Jim is watching her, his mouth set tighter, if that’s even possible.
“I’m going to be here a while, Jim.”
“Clearly.” He seems to laugh at some private joke, shakes his head, and turns on his heel, walking out and leaving her alone with her crisis.
Nogura comes in a little bit later. “What did Jim want?”
“Fuck only knows.”
He laughs. “Things not so great with you two?”
She doesn’t want to betray Jim by talking about their problems to her boss when she and Jim haven’t had time to discuss the issues. She doesn’t want to, but it slips out anyway. “He wants kids.”
“Why? He never sees the one he has.”
She looks up at him. “What?”
“He has a son. Didn’t you know?”
She laughs, a helplessly startled sound she immediately wishes she could pull back. “Uh, no. How do you know?”
“I’ve known him a long time. Was one of his drinking buddies when he and Carol were having it out over their future. Not pretty.” He lets out a puff of air, his version of a bitter laugh. “He wanted to be in space then, not on Earth. I think he still does. He’s not settling in here the way I hoped he would.”
“He’s trying.” She says it with as much conviction as she can considering her husband has a son she didn’t even know about—a son he wants her to provide a little brother or sister for.
“He needs to try harder. For everyone’s sake. But mostly for yours.”
“I’m all right. Whatever happens, I’ll be fine.”
“Heart of iron?” His look is gentle—and somewhat pitying. “He can bore through iron. Carol didn’t come out of that relationship unscathed, and she was one of the toughest women I’ve ever known.”
“Carol. Carol who?”
He frowns. “I’ll let him tell you that. I’ve said enough. Now, where are we on the crisis that has to do with work, not your marriage?”
Chapel sees Kirk come into the bar, his expression the one he usually wears now. If a man could ooze unhappiness, he would.
He sees her, stops his progress, and seems to consider whether or not he wants to join her at the bar.
She doesn’t smile, finally gets tired of whatever game they’re playing, and looks away, studying a group of what have to be cadets over by the window.
She senses Kirk sitting down next to her but doesn’t turn to him, instead keeps trying to figure out who are the top dogs of the group of kids.
“Are you going to ignore me all night?”
“Not ignoring you.” She turns to look at him. “Maybe I’m wondering if I want you to sit with me when you look angry at the world.”
She rolls her eyes and motions the bartender over. “Get him whatever he wants. On me.”
“You’ll be sorry.” He orders a top-shelf scotch.
“Nyah. I don’t buy many drinks for myself.” She smiles when he shows surprise. “What? You think I can’t charm a man?” Or a woman, for that matter.
“I know you can. Decker seems really happy with you.”
She leans against him, trying to make the contact warm and companionable—and grateful. “Thank you for the recommendation. I wasn’t sure you were going to do it.”
“One of us should be on my ship.”
She doesn’t tell him that if it were still his ship, she wouldn’t want to be CMO on it. Not that she’d have the choice. Kirk likes things the way they’ve always been. Spock on one side, Len on the other.
Decker, on the other hand, likes her on top. She bites back a satisfied grin, not wanting to let Kirk see just how much she is enjoying her new captain. Who also likes her on the bottom, on her hands and knees, on the table in his newly refitted quarters with her legs wrapped around him—whatever the moment calls for.
“So, Jim, why are you here?”
“Trouble at home.”
She’s surprised at such honesty. She glances at him, sees he is staring straight ahead, his jaw set tight, then he drains half his drink in a long gulp.
“Easy there. Unless you want to get very drunk.”
“Very drunk sounds very nice.” He waves the bartender back over. “Put everything on my tab and leave the bottle this time.”
She decides not to argue; she doesn’t want to pay for an entire bottle of eighteen-year old single-malt scotch.
He drains another glass before he says anything else. She goes back to studying the cadets.
“What do you see when you watch them?”
“Kids too stupid to know life’s going to kick them in the teeth and then run over them with a shuttlecraft. That if they’re really lucky, life won’t decide to put the thing in reverse and run over them again for good measure.”
He laughs, a real laugh, but harsh, as if he agrees but hates agreeing. “You’re a downer, Chris. Who knew?”
He is pouring himself another glass, throws it back, then he slides off his stool and pulls her to her feet. “Dance with me.”
She follows him to the dance floor since she doesn’t feel like causing a scene by trying to get loose of his iron grip. But once they are dancing, he seems distant.
“What’s the problem, Jim?”
“You’re not my CMO, Chapel. Don’t presume.”
“Fair enough. How about we get you sobered up, then?” She digs into a pocket, pulls out an antitox and holds it out to him. When he opens his mouth and sticks his tongue out, she drops it on, watches as he closes his mouth, letting the little miracle pill dissolve.
Sobriety comes quickly. And seems to punch him in the gut because his anger fades and something sadder takes its place.
“I don’t know what’s wrong, Jim. And it’s clear you aren’t going to tell me, which is fine. But whatever is wrong, you should fix it. This new you: he’s not attractive.”
Her words seem to hit him like a baseball bat welded with intent.
He pulls away. “You’re right. He’s not.”
“Sorry for the truth. I’m not your CMO. I should keep my mouth shut.”
“No. No, you’re right.” He lets her go. “I have a wife to go mollify.”
“Seems to me you had a wife even before you asked me to dance.”
He frowns, meets her eyes as if not sure where she’s going with the comment.
“How drunk were you going to need to be before you came on to me?”
He seems to stiffen, pushes away from her as if she is carrying a plague. “That’s not what—”
“Sure. Fine. Whatever you need to tell yourself. Do you not wear a wedding ring normally? Or did you take it off special for tonight?”
He is angry now. She thinks he would take that recommendation to Decker back if he could. He looks down at his fingers, seems about to say something, then shakes his head.
“Good night, sir.” She turns and leaves him on the dance floor, walking back to the bar where she tells the bartender to put the bottle back, that her friend is done for the night.
Her friend? It almost makes her laugh.
She doesn’t relax until she sees him leave.
“What was that?” A warm tone, amusement rather than jealousy. “Should I be worried?”
She turns to Decker. “Worried? About a sad man who can’t let go of what he lost?”
He looks a little unhappy with her. “He loved the ship.”
“Don’t give him an inch, Will. Not one inch of ownership of your ship. His Enterprise is being destroyed every day that you refit her, his ship is buried in new fabrics and new paint and new stations. He won’t even know his way around if he comes aboard. Don’t feel sorry for him, Will.”
“You can be so hard.”
She would put her hand on his knee, remind him that she can be soft, too, but they save the displays of affection for when they are alone. And she’s fine with that. She doesn’t want anyone saying she got this job on her back. She got it before then, with her brains. She just likes to know she’s got the man in charge at her side. It makes her feel...safe.
He meets her eyes, his own losing their disappointment. “I’ve had a long day on the ship. Let’s get out of here.”
She grins. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Kirk is trying to forget what happened in the bar with Chapel the previous week. He hates that he’s not sure what he went there for, why he sat with her, drinking so much, dancing with her.
Why she looked so damn good to him. Until she fed him antitox, and he thought he saw what he looked like through her eyes.
And imagined how disappointed and hurt Lori would be if she could see him. Acting out. Acting like a hurt little boy.
He’s been on his best behavior since. Lori wants to work all night because Nogura can’t pick his nose without her there? Fine. Kirk won’t say a goddamned word.
He smiles now when she tells him she’ll be late. That’s fine, dear. No problem, dear. He brings flowers home so she’ll find them when she comes in. He’s the perfect husband.
Even if they don’t make love as often as they used to.
Even if he’s usually asleep by the time she gets home.
Like he was last night. He lies now, in the first light of morning, watching her as she sleeps. The alarm will go off in ten minutes so he reaches over, turns it off, and wakes her himself, nuzzling and kissing until she murmurs, “Good morning” and pulls him on top of her.
It feels good, to be with her this way. This is what he thought marriage would be, this warm comfort, skin against skin with no thought of what was to come, whether or not to commit. The commitment already made.
For a year, a part of himself intent on causing trouble seems to whisper. Only for a year.
As they lie together afterwards, breath slowing, curled around each other, he murmurs, “When our year is up, we’ll get married for real. None of this term-marriage bullshit.”
She stiffens, and he realizes he should have chosen his words more carefully. “Term or not, Jim, it’s still a marriage. Is it bullshit to you, what we have?”
“I didn’t mean it that way.” He sighs. What has happened to the silver-tongued Kirk who could charm his way out of any situation? Did he stay on the Enterprise? Some sort of ghost, letting this lesser version of himself come to Earth?
“We need to talk about the kid issue.” She sits up, putting space between them, even as she reaches for her robe, cutting herself off from him with a snippet of ice-green silk. “I want them. Someday. I think. But...not now.”
“Now’s a good time.”
“Now is a good time for you, perhaps. It is not a good time for me. And last I checked, you can’t carry the baby.”
He looks away. “You’ll never be less busy. You’ll just keep climbing. We need to take a little break, for the child’s sake.”
“For the child’s sake? I heard that you already have a child. But I’ve never met him. In fact, I’ve never even heard of him because you never goddamned told me. So explain to me why our child will be any more important to you than this son you never see.”
He can feel himself shutting down, the way he always does with his mom when she brings up the grandson she never gets to see. He’s never told her about the child Miramanee was carrying when she died; she doesn’t need to know that he would have left that child behind, too. For the good of the baby’s mother, not because he didn’t want it.
“You’re not going to say anything? How unusual.” Lori gets out of bed and walks into the kitchen.
He hears dishes slamming, gets up, pulling his robe around him, and walks out to her. “His name is David. His mother made me choose: stay with her and be his father or have the stars. I chose the stars.” He looks down. “I didn’t lie to you. I just don’t talk about him.”
He moves to her side, pulls her close, trying to ignore how tightly she’s holding herself. “I want us to have what I couldn’t have with him. I’m here now. I’m no longer in the stars. Not an option.” He sounds bitter—too bitter. He tries again. “I love you. You’ll be a wonderful mother. It could work, Lori.”
“It could work, Jim. I agree. Just not now.”
He lets her go and sits down on the stool, swiveling it to look out at the city rather than at her. “Then we’ll just leave the marriage term. Sorry I brought it up.”
“I’m not saying never. I’m saying not right now.” She walks over to him, grabs the arms of the stool, and stops him when he tries to move away from her. “You have to find your own way, Jim. I can’t be your purpose. Neither can a child. I won’t do that to him or her. Get over it. Other admirals do it all the time. They leave the stars.”
He nods, won’t meet her eyes, though—can’t meet her eyes. She’s right. He hates that most of all. She’s right and he’s—what is he? Stuck? Defeated?
What the hell business does a broken man think he’s doing contemplating children?
“You’re right, Lori. I need to find my way.”
He meets her eyes. She is crying, or as much as she ever does. Eyes luminous with unshed tears she dashes away in the angry way he used to find charming. Now he wishes she’d cry for him, for them, for the family they won’t have—at least not now, but when? When will she be goddamned done racing up the ranks?
Because he’s seen her, at Nogura’s side, with the expression Kirk used to wear after a good day on the Enterprise. She’s happy the way she is.
She doesn’t need anything else to be complete.
Not even Kirk.
“I’m going to go work out.” The gym and pool are on the top floor of the building. At night, he can see the stars through the transparent aluminum roof as he does curl-ups, as he swims on his back, arms windmilling him into the wall where he’ll kick off for the other side, back and forth, over and over.
There won’t be any stars, so he’ll swim laps some other stroke. The butterfly maybe. Work out his shoulders. He can control that, how fit he is, how strong. He may be stuck. He may be broken.
But he does not have to be weak.
V. Gains and Losses
Lori watches the reports coming in from the Enterprise. V’ger destroyed. Will Decker missing, presumed dead. The eyes-only version from Jim tells what really happened, that Decker merged with the Ilia probe and V’ger, became something...else.
She touches Jim’s face as he makes the report, the recorded image glitching slightly from the contact of her finger on the screen. She closes her eyes and tries not to imagine that Jim helped Decker make his decision, that he pushed him into it.
She knows Spock is back on the ship. She knows Jim called McCoy back, too. She wonders what happened to Decker’s pick for CMO—she looks it up to see who it was: Christine Chapel. A woman who was a nurse on the ship when Jim had it.
A woman who maybe didn’t mind backing down during a crisis, letting someone else, someone more experienced take over as CMO?
Decker wouldn’t have felt that way. But she saw in Jim’s eyes when he left that he didn’t care how Decker felt. He didn’t care that he’d recommended the man, that he was relieving him of duty when Decker probably knew the refitted Enterprise better than Jim did.
She hears footsteps coming down the hall, knows they are the old man’s.
“What do I do, Lori?” Nogura comes in and sits in one of the chairs in front of her desk. “Decker’s gone. Jim’s in the chair for the moment. What do I do?”
She sees he’ll give her this. He’ll do whatever she wants because he loves her. Not the way Jim does, as some kind of beacon of hope, but because they’ve worked together through a hundred crises. She’s never let any secrets slip. She’s always had his back. She’s never left him alone if she could stay and help.
She closes her eyes. Jim hasn’t commed her since he beat V’ger. He’s had time to file reports. Time to put in commendations for everyone except the goddamned barber on the ship. But has he called his wife?
“Give him the ship,” she whispers.
“Are you sure? I have others who could take it. Move some folks around.”
“He just saved the goddamn quadrant, sir. Maybe the universe. Give him the fucking ship.”
Because this is what he’s good at. And he’ll be alive out there. And when he comes home, well, maybe he’ll be alive again, not the shell of a man she’s lived with.
She’s seen the real Jim Kirk in his post-V’ger damage reports. Heard the real Jim Kirk’s voice in the recorded list of commendations. The veiled excitement—exultation, really. Even if it was only for a short time, he’s back where he’s happy. In that big center seat.
“I’ll give him the ship, then.” Nogura gets up, but he stops by her chair, reaches over and lays his hand on her shoulder. “The man’s a fucking idiot.”
“No, sir. The man is James T. Kirk. I think I was the idiot for expecting him to be happy anywhere but on a ship.”
On that ship. Her sleek, silver rival.
Chapel rings the chime for admittance to Kirk’s quarters. She’s followed him out of the lounge, so she’s relatively certain he’s both alone and still awake and decent.
He opens the door, stands looking at her, then he smiles like he knows exactly what she’s there for and waves her in. “Didn’t want me coming to you, huh?”
“Nope. Sure didn’t.” She sits at his table without being asked; he takes the seat across from her. “I heard Nogura assigned you permanently. I assume I can kiss being CMO goodbye.” Stupid choice of words. She didn’t get to kiss Will goodbye. But then he probably didn’t care. Once Ilia came back, it was clear Chapel had lost him.
“I’m afraid so. Deputy position is yours if you want it.”
She laughs. “What deputy position?”
“I’ll make one. There’s an extra office. Clearly there could be one.”
She meets his eyes. “No. I don’t want that.”
He looks disappointed, in her, in himself, maybe? For stealing the ship from Will and not being able to keep some of the crew on board. Chapel thinks Rand won’t be far behind her in the “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” line. “Deputy not good enough for you, Chris?”
“It’s not that. It’s that I didn’t go through everything, kill myself excelling and rushing through the requirements, to end up...right back where I was. With you and Spock and Len. Nothing different. Same ship. Same crew. Same goddamned situation.”
“I find that idea comforting—and exciting. I love it here.”
She thinks that is the difference between them. But then maybe it is comforting and exciting when you’re the one leading the same shit/different day parade. “I’ll be transferring off as soon as we get back to Earth.”
“Okay, then.” He sounds angry. He looks hurt.
She doesn’t want to part ways with this man on bad terms. She doesn’t think he’s made a whole lot of friends while he was at Command, but he was an admiral and could be again. And he’s still Jim Kirk, the man who had her back once and may have it again—if she handles this the right way.
“Can I ask you something? Not about the position.” She’s pitched her voice low, made it throatier. She probably sounds more like the nurse he remembers, not the bitch who won’t stay on his ship and accept the consolation prize of a made-up position.
“That night, in the bar, when we were dancing.”
He looks down.
“If I hadn’t given you the antitox, what would have happened?”
“I was in a bad place. Angry. Hurt. Fish out of goddamn water.”
She waits, just sits, watching his expression change as he sorts out what he’s willing to say to her.
“I think...I think I would have tried to go home with you.”
“That’s what I think, too.” She leans in, takes his hand, and squeezes it. “Why do you think I gave you the antitox?”
“Because the thought of sex with me repels you?”
She laughs. “No.” Although the fact she was sleeping with her new captain would have been a reason to say no, but Kirk doesn’t need to know that. “Because a cheater is not what you are, and we both know it.”
He closes his eyes, breathes out as if he expected her to say something else. And then he breathes in, a slow intake, as if he needed to hear her say exactly this. That he’s not a cheater. Even though he could have been, so easily, if she’d been unattached and let him have her.
“I couldn’t let you do it. And it wasn’t easy. You’re damned attractive, Jim.” She smiles at him in a way that says maybe, someday, when enough time has gone by...
“Thank you, Chris.” He smiles back the exact same way. “I’ll miss you.”
She finds that hard to believe since the man doesn’t really know her. But it’s part of her exit strategy to not make waves, so she just nods, makes it a bittersweet movement, an acknowledgement of what might have been, if only. Then she stands up. “Wish me well?”
“Always, Chris.” He gets up, pulls her in for a quick hug, parts of him becoming obviously more interested in her, and then he lets her go, his face a little red.
She keeps her eyes up and on his face, not giving away that she felt his lack of control. “Goodbye, sir.” Then she turns and walks out.
Kirk sits in his quarters, thinking about Lori as he watches the timer he set up on his terminal slowly run down.
A soft beep and it’s done. Their term marriage is over.
He’s killed them.
But he also suspects they never had a chance to begin with. And he’s willing to take the blame for that. She did everything she could. She didn’t change—she just wasn’t the safety net he thought she would be.
No one should have to be someone’s safety net.
He hits the comm panel, tells the gamma shift communications officer—he’ll learn all these people’s names eventually—to get him Admiral Ciani.
She’s in the office, answers at once. She is clear eyed, sits straight, every bit the admiral.
“Hello.” He waits.
The silence is palpable, a living, beating thing, hanging between them on a connection that is probably more real than anything he let them have while they were married.
“It’s done,” she finally says. “It ran out.”
“You let it run out.” In her voice is a world of sorrows. And not one bit of surprise. It changes to something more accusing, her eyes not so unmoved, when she says, “You didn’t even care that I wanted this. We could have made it work. Plenty of couples do.”
He looks down. Sees that in his comm box is a note from the magistrate. Lori renewed, but it has to be mutual, and he didn’t do it.
He swallows hard. “Lori... I...” He what? He wants to do it over? How can he? He has a wife: her body is duranium and her heart is dilithium and she runs at warp speed.
And she will never, ever let him go.
“I’m sorry, Lori.”
“I’m sorry, too, Jim.” The dignity is back, the officer he thought could save him, and who will save herself from him. “I’ve got to go. The old man needs me.” He thinks he sees something in her eyes, something that she wants to say, but instead she just smiles, a mysterious smile, and he wonders if he really knows her, even after more than a year.
“Okay.” He waits. Watching her. Expecting...what? Love? Gratitude? Anything? “Wish me well?” He realizes he’s echoed Chapel.
Her expression wavers for a moment. He thinks she might finally cry, but she doesn’t. She raises her head, looks him straight in the eye, and gives him the old blessing, “Godspeed, Jim, and fair winds. May your course always be true.” Then she cuts the connection.
He sits at his table, his hand on the comm screen, tracing where her lips were. He’s failed another woman.
Should he even be surprised at this point?
Under his feet, he feels the pulsing life force of the Enterprise. He gets up, leans against the bulkhead, and runs his hand down the viewscreen. He feels her—his ship. His love.
He hopes to God she wasn’t tired of him. That she didn’t like Will Decker more.
He hopes, but part of him isn’t sure.
VI. New Beginnings Redux
Lori walks into Starfleet Medical, hating the feeling of being trapped by these damned doctors. She doesn’t like being subject to physicals, to someone else determining if she is or isn’t fit to lead.
She hates the psych evals even more. She doesn’t need a shrink telling her how she’s doing. She knows herself. Far better, it turns out, than Jim knew himself, and he’s apparently fine for duty—despite his inability to accept what is, if what is involves him actually growing, getting away from that damned ship.
Jim, out on the Enterprise again, breathing in recycled air as if it’s Nirvana, never knowing he only has it because of her. That she could have ripped it away from him, if she were a different kind of person.
Jim, who didn’t even care enough to check his comms. She renewed with plenty of time for him to add his signature. He just didn’t care. Not enough.
She needs to stop thinking about Jim.
A nurse takes her to an exam room, tells her to hop up on the diagnostic table, and wait for the doctor to come in. Lori ignores her instructions, walks to the window, and looks out on the view below.
San Francisco lies spread out before her. This city—this gorgeous city. Why could Jim never see it? Never appreciate it?
She hears the door open but doesn’t turn around. She’s an admiral, goddamn it, and whoever the unfortunate person is who has to be her doctor today is going to have to work for her cooperation.
“Admiral Ciani? I’m Doctor Chapel.”
She turns, fixes the woman with a gaze that tells her she knows everything already. “Really? I get you?” She laughs and turns back to the view. “Let me guess. You asked for me special after my former husband booted you off his ship. If you’re trying to get revenge on him through me, you’re way off—he and I didn’t end well.”
“Sorry, not after revenge. And for what it’s worth, he didn’t boot me off. I could have been deputy CMO.” Chapel doesn’t sound mad, she sounds...amused?
Lori resists the urge to turn around and study her, but she can hear confidence in her, despite the fact she hasn’t been a doctor all that long. “Not good enough for you? Being deputy?”
“I was supposed to be head of medical on the flagship. What do you think, Admiral?”
Lori hears the sound of a medical scanner starting up, realizes Chapel has started the exam and is standing behind her, working. “Ballsy, Lieutenant.”
“Rumor is you like that. The people you’ve sponsored seem to have that trait in common.”
“I do like that.” She turns, and Chapel keeps working, smiling at her in a way so innocent it has to be fake, but not annoyingly fake, more comforting, as if there is no other way to smile right now. “I’m sorry Jim ruined your plans, Doctor.”
“Well, he ruined both our plans, didn’t he? Did you envision him leaving you? Not renewing your marriage?”
Lori lets her eyebrow go up, makes her expression go a little bit dead. This woman is treading on very personal territory.
Chapel seems undeterred; the woman has balls to spare. “Lots of people stay married when one of the couple ships out. He didn’t have to leave you when he left Earth.” She meets Lori’s eyes. “He didn’t have to let me go, either, as his CMO. He didn’t need McCoy—he wanted him. Just like he wanted space. Everything back the way it was, right down to Spock at his side.” Chapel seems to bite back a bitter smile. “Maybe he’s other places, too?”
Lori looks down, will not give this woman the satisfaction of seeing how deep that question hits, that she has taken a moment or two to wonder if Jim left her for space alone.
“I was in love with Spock, once. He didn’t love me back. I always thought it was because...” Chapel shrugs. “Anyway, I’m not trying to make you mad. I guess I’m just trying to say I understand. That if you need to vent, I’d be a sympathetic ear.” She turns off the scanner. “You’re fit as a fiddle, Admiral. But then you don’t need me to tell you that, do you?”
Lori looks at the table she’s never had to get on. “That’s it?”
“I’m not going to waste your time. I’ve got what I need.” Chapel hops up on the table, ceding the power in the room so gracefully Lori is impressed. “I would have been a good CMO.”
“I’ll concede you certainly have no problem speaking your mind. Was your heart set on the Enterprise?”
“No. There are other billets open. I haven’t decided whether to go for one or not.”
“Why not?” She’s genuinely curious. Lacking bravado doesn’t seem to be one of this woman’s problems.
“Admiral—Captain Kirk didn’t want me. Not really a vote of confidence for the people with open billets, is it?”
Lori laughs. “I think some captains would hire you because of that. They aren’t necessarily people I’d recommend working for, however.” She studies Chapel, trying to get a read on this woman who she’s realizing is a bit of a cypher—how many masks does she wear, how many layers would Lori have to peel to find the real Doctor Chapel?
She’s clearly ambitious. Not a problem—Lori likes backing high flyers. She’s well spoken—and outspoken, but she seems to know when to back off and give the power back. She’s not afraid to push, though—the thing about Jim not renewing the marriage was a painful truth. She’ll need to speak painful truths to her captain if she’s CMO on another ship.
Lori decides it would be a shame if she wasn’t CMO on another ship. “Go for the Mirador.”
Chapel looks thoughtful, as if that might not have been her first choice. “Why?”
“Captain Cartwright is one of my protégés. He’s a good man and going places.” And he’ll be good for this woman—like Lori, he takes those he trusts with him as he moves. He’s also Jim’s friend, and somehow that seems right, too. “He’s a little obsessed with Klingons, but otherwise you could not do better.”
“Thank you.” Chapel’s smile is brilliant. “I’ll put my name in the hat.” She slips off the table. “For what it’s worth, Admiral, I think Jim Kirk made a huge mistake leaving you behind.”
“Thank you. And while I won’t be taking you up on that opportunity to vent, I do appreciate the offer.”
Lori smiles and heads back to her office. She checks Chapel’s file when she gets there, reads it more thoroughly than she did the first time and sees Chapel’s impressive resume before she joined Starfleet, her compressed schedule in medical school, where she graduated first in a very accomplished class of graduates. She’s only a lieutenant but Decker chose her to be CMO—he must have had his reasons.
Lori attaches the file to a comm and sends it to Cartwright with a note saying, “She’ll be applying. I think you should consider her.” She doesn’t expect an answer back. Things don’t work like that. Jim never seemed to understand the politics of Command, the intricacies of relationships. Or perhaps he saw how things worked, he just didn’t want to play. He has his crew and then there’s everybody else.
She realizes she’s not entirely sure which group Chapel fits in, but decides it doesn’t matter as she closes down her file.
A reminder on her calendar pops up, saying Jim’s birthday is in two weeks. She set up the reminder so she wouldn’t forget to go shopping, to get him something really special.
But what could she ever get him that would top the Enterprise?
“Delete reminder. Delete calendar entry ‘Jim’s Birthday.’”
“Reminder and entry deleted,” the computer says.
She takes a moment, staring out the window at the view, then she gets back to work.