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) 2014 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.



by Djinn



I.  The Calm Before the Storm


It was a glorious fall day: the water was sparkling blue, the breeze blowing cool and salty off the ocean, the beach almost empty, just a few hardy souls scattered across the expanse of sand.  Kirk took a deep breath and tried to ignore the fact that the woman he was with was boring the ever-living shit out of him.


Natalie was gorgeous.  She liked admirals.  She said she liked Jim the man as well as the guy with all the credits, but Kirk was relatively certain that if quizzed, Natalie would be hard pressed to come up with her own favorite things, much less his.  She was great in bed, and after Lori and his fiasco of a marriage, that had been enough.  For a while.


Now...now he was tired of her.  Just as he'd grown tired of the women before her.  And the one before her.


He'd longed for a beach to walk on and a woman beside him.  He should have specified that it be a woman he actually wanted to be around.  And that the beach be during shore leave, not when he was tied to a desk doing a job he despised.  He was stuck on Earth, not roaming the stars like he should have been—like Bones told him he should be.  Damn it all that he was right.  Kirk and he weren't talking, first because Bones had lectured him and been unsupportive of the new job and now because Kirk didn't want to tell him he'd been right all along.


Natalie picked up a shell, telling him what it was—it wasn't—and where it had floated in from—it hadn't.  He had the feeling if he listened to one more word out of her mouth he might just strangle her—or himself.  Whatever seemed the faster way to some peace.

This was not good. 


"Nat, sweetie, I have to go in to work.  Our long weekend isn't going to be that long."


"Oh."  She seemed at a loss—had no man ever cut and run from her constant stream of inane chatter?  Or did every guy do it eventually?  "Wait.  How do you know you have to go into work?  No one's commed you since we woke up."


Damn—she was paying attention?  Maybe she was smarter than he thought.  "It was when you were in the bathroom."


She frowned, clearly not buying the story.


He pulled out his communicator, flipped it open, and said, "Kirk to Chapel."  Then he whispered silently, "Please be in a good mood, please be in a good mood." 


"Admiral?"  Her tone was neutral; he couldn't figure out what her mood was.


"Wanted to confirm when our meeting is today.  I'm in La Jolla."


"Lucky you.  I'm in the morgue."  Not such a good mood, damn it all.  She was finishing up her residency and they had her working in some pretty odd places to his way of thinking.  She was still waiting to hear where her first assignment would be—he hoped to God it wasn't some Federation coroner's office. 


Natalie made a face.  "Wait, your meeting is in the morgue?"  She managed to sound bitchy and stupid all at once.


"No, toots, my meeting with the Admiral is at Starfleet Command.  At fifteen hundred. Did you need to push it back, sir?"  Chris was at her bitchy best; Kirk had to work to hold back a smile.


"No, fifteen hundred is fine.  My office."


"Aye aye, sir."  The line went dead.


Chris was definitely getting sick of being his safety net.  She'd been game right after Lori, but as the months had passed, she was showing less and less enthusiasm for her role in saving him from his own romantic choices.


"Is she pretty?"  Natalie had her arms crossed and was glaring at him.  "Because I think your excuse is bullshit.  So, is she pretty?"


"She's a fellow officer.  Pretty is irrelevant."


"So, she's pretty.  If she weren't, you'd have just said no.  It's how guys are.  Even officers."  She rolled her eyes.  "You know what?  I don't care."  She turned and strode off, back to the hotel from the look of it.  Hopefully to pack and get the hell home on her own.


Kirk sighed and called Chapel back.  "Sorry."


"What was wrong with this one, Jim?"  She sounded impatient.


"Not bright enough."


"Well, maybe if you'd pick your women for their I.Q. and not their cup size..."


He laughed.  "What's got you so worked up?  You've done autopsies before."


"It's an old woman who looks like my grandma.  It's giving me the creeps."  She sighed.  "And I want to know where I've been assigned.  Others in my class have their first assignments."


"I'm sure Harry will make it all better when you get home."  He made a face; he hadn't meant his comment to come out quite so snotty.


"Harrison and I broke up.  I think he wants someone less...well, less like me.  Do you want to fix him up with your gal?" 


"Are you telling me you're free?"


"I'm elbow deep in corpse, Jim.  Are you even listening?"


"Not free right this second.  Free...in theory.  And also, more specifically, say at fifteen hundred?"


"I didn't think actually being available was required for your bogus excuses."


"When are you free?"  He sat down on the sand, his feet on the wet sand; the water flowed over them, up to his knees as a wave came in.  "For dinner, dimwit."


"Ohhhh.  Seriously?"


"You're smart.  Motivated.  Pretty.  And you like me."  He drew a "JK + CC" and then drew a heart around it.  Sappy as hell, but he didn't care, not if she was finally free of her ass of a boyfriend.  The water washed up and rubbed the top half away.  "Chris?  You still there?"


"I am.  Thanks on the first three.  However liking you doesn't mean I want to sleep with you."


"It also doesn't mean you don't."


"Your ego could power the Enterprise, bucko."  There was an odd sound and she said, "Hang on a second."


He tried not to picture what she might be doing. 


"Jim, I may be shipping out."


"It's dinner, Chris.  Not a marriage proposal."  There were more weird sounds and silence from her, so he amused himself by thinking of places he'd like to take her.


"Are you prepared to spoil me?" she finally asked.  "Harrison left me a bit...shaky."


"I'm sorry.  Should we wait to have dinner?"  It was the sensitive thing to ask, but he could tell Jim Junior was about to protest.


"No.  I'm hungry and I know you'll amuse me.  And you won't care if I get maudlin, right?"


"Maudlin is only fair.  You listened to me bitch about Lori for months."


"Yes, yes, I did.  Fine.  I'll be home by seventeen thirty.  Pick me up then.  In a flitter.  I'm not in the mood for one of your walkabouts."


"Flitter it is.  I'll see you later."  He could feel a happy smile playing on his lips and thought his eyes were probably shining a lot more than they had in a long time.  She was free.  She'd seemed so serious about Harrison that he hadn't allowed himself to hope.


But now: hell, he was going to hope the hell out of this.


Once he made sure Natalie was good and gone.




Kirk tried not to look at Chris's backside as she stepped into the flitter.  She had on a red dress that, while not cut terribly low, managed to hug every curve she had.  He was reaching out before his inner censor could make him stop.


She started to laugh.  "Please tell me that's you fondling my butt and not some random passerby."


"Sorry.  It just...looks really good in that dress.  New, I take it?"


"The butt?  No, I've had it forever."  She slid to the far side of the flitter and held her hand out to him with a goofy little smile.  "Ohhhh, you meant the dress, didn't you?  Silly me."


He took her hand and tried not to show how much that little connection was affecting him.  Thank God he was in street clothes and not the new "hide your junk, I dare you" uniforms Starfleet had made regulation.  Someone must have been drinking heavily when they signed the requisition forms for those.


She moved closer to him, leaning in and snaking her arms under his jacket, holding tightly.  "Thank you."


"For what?  You saved me from Natalie."


"And you're going to save me from myself."  She looked up at him, her eyes half lidded, her lips only lightly painted with a dark red.


Oh hell, he'd already grabbed her ass.  He pulled her to him, slowly, so she could tell him to stop if she wanted to.


She apparently did not want to tell him that.  Jim Junior was ready to lead a parade.  Her lips were soft on his, warm and then they opened and—


He let out a moan that made her giggle.  She pulled away and studied him.


He stroked her cheek.  "I've wanted you for months.  You were with another guy.  A guy, for the record, that I cannot stand."


"Yes, you've made that clear, darling."  "Darling" only sounded slightly sarcastic, and he grinned at her.  She grinned back and said, "Come back here," and then they were kissing, and somehow she'd gotten on top of him, and then the flitter stopped.


"We have arrived at your destination."  A pause and then it said, "Passengers?"


They gave it no response other than the sounds of them kissing, and Kirk found himself wondering if this was yet another computer he could fuck with.


"Passengers, we have arrived at your destination."


"God, that thing's annoying," Chris murmured.  "Should we just go home?"


He eased her off his lap, ran through his standard repertoire of mental images guaranteed to send Jim Junior into hiding.  "Nope.  We need to eat.  We need to play, Chris, not just have sex." 


She smiled and wiped his lips gently.  "You're wearing a little of my lipstick.  Damn stuff is supposed to be no transfer.  Paid extra for that."


"I don't care.  I'll wear it for real if it means you'll kiss me like that on the way back."


She started to laugh.  "Don't give me ideas or we'll be doing a makeover in the ladies room."


"Passengers.  If you do not specify a new destination or exit the flitter, your account will be charged for wait time."


"We're going.  We're going."  He grabbed her hand and opened the door.


The flitter took off as soon as he'd shut the door.  Maybe it knew his reputation with machines.  He grinned at the thought.  Then he studied her.  "You're a little mussed."  He tucked a strand of hair, which she'd left long and wavy, back where it belonged.  "Perfect."


"Is this why you involved me in every lame date you've had since you left Lori?  Because you wanted me?"


"Maybe.  I don't know.  I know you were there for me, even though you were with Jerkison."


She started to laugh.  "Really.  Jerkison?"


"I can call him what I want in my head."  He put his arm around her, turned her toward the entrance, and said, "We can figure it out at dinner.  I'm starved.  I skipped lunch."


"Too busy screwing Natalie?"


"Miaow.  No, I was back from the beach by then.  I was too busy choosing my outfit if you must know.  I changed about five times.  Wanted to impress you."


She gave him a slow once over.  "It worked.  And I feel better now.  It only took me three tries to settle on this as my outfit d'nuit."

"Well, the outfit for this part of the night, anyway.  I may rip it off you later."


Her eyebrow went up in a perfect imitation of Spock's.  "You will remove this dress gently, with kid gloves.  It cost me a damn fortune.  Got it, Jim?"


"Fine.  My shirt isn't one I'm overly fond of so you are not similarly restrained.  Rip the buttons off if you want when we're back at my place."  He frowned.  "Or do you want to go to yours?"


"Jerkison's still there."


"I thought he left you."


"He did.  Apparently that does not include actually vacating the premises until his new apartment is ready on Wednesday.  I suggested getting a hotel and got the grimace of horror.  Damn cheapskate."


Kirk grinned at yet another Harrison failing, then gave the hostess his name and led Chris to the bar after being told it would be a ten-minute wait for their table.  "You can stay with me till Wednesday."


"I need to get some clothes."


He grinned.  "We could head back to your place after dinner, get your clothes, and then leave."


She laughed softly.  "And if he's there...?"


"Oh, please God, let him be there.  Let him see you with me.  I hate him."


"Did you hate him before he was with me?"


He didn't have to think about that.  Harrison had run with Finnegan at the Academy: asshole one and asshole two.  "Yeah, he was my nemesis's wingman.  He's an ass."


She waited for the bartender to put down their drinks, then asked, "You couldn't have warned me?"


"You and I weren't in each other's lives when you took up with him.  I was newly 'in love' with my beloved ex wife."  He saw her grimace and knew he'd put too much acid on that statement.  "By the time I heard you were with him, you seemed committed to the relationship and happy.  Why would I ruin that?  Especially since I was so miserable?"  He touched her cheek.  "And I had you...part of the time.  When he was gone.  It was nice.  I thought nice had to be enough."


She sipped her wine, studying him.  "I'm going to ask a question that may make me seem really self-centered.  Did you date all those bimbos so you could be free for me if I broke up with him?"


He thought about it, saw her smile as he did—she never liked a quick answer unless they were engaging in some verbal repartee.  "I think, at first, it was more that they seemed to...adore me.  Sort of.  They were young and pretty and—"


"Dumb as dirt."  She took another sip of her wine, eyes wide as if she hadn't just said that.


"Okay, most weren't going to win any science fairs, that is true.  But at first, it felt good.  After Lori.  But then it didn't, and it turned into a game—probably not a very nice one, but I'm not sure I'm all that nice anymore, to be honest.  And the fun part was you, rescuing me, and our lunches and dinners and drinks when Jerkison was out of town.  So by then, yeah, maybe it did turn into me just biding my time.  You've been getting less enamored with him for a while now."


"But if I go home with you on our first date, won't I be just like those other women you don't respect or like."


"No." He met her eyes, tried to will her to see how he felt about her. 


Her look of concern changed, grew warmer, her smile slow and seductive.  "Alrighty then.  Your plan is approved.  And if Creepison is there,"—she smiled charmingly at the name—"then maybe you should be extra attentive."


He smirked.  "Wouldn't hurt my feelings."


"Wouldn't hurt mine either.  He already took care of that."


He heard his named called and grabbed their drinks, following the hostess to a table set by the window with a pretty view of a garden.  Once they'd been told the specials and were alone again, he leaned in.  "Did he cheat on you?"

"He says there's no one else.  That he's just..."  Her whole expression changed, and she turned to her menu.  "So what's good?"


"He's what, Chris?"


"He was bored.  I bored him."  She swallowed hard.  "So, Jim, how do you know I won't bore you too?"


"Because I'm not a fucking moron who's intimidated by a woman who may be smarter than I am—at least in science."  He reached for her hand.  "Because you're too much fun, too quick thinking on your feet when I need help ditching my ditz of the week, to not be wonderfully creative in bed and out."  He squeezed her hand.  "And because I've known you for years, and you have never bored me."


"We didn't spend that much time together before."


"That was because you had the hots for my best friend.  Color me crazy, but I thought I'd let you and Spock work things out."


She laughed, bitterly.  "Yeah, we never did that."


"Do you wish you had?  Is he still first in your heart?"


"He left us all, Jim.  After everything we'd been through with him—you and Len especially.  He just left us.  To go to a place that would burn every part of his humanity—every part of us—out of him.  That's the biggest wake-up call in the history of wake-up calls.  He is not into me and never will be."  She drew her hand away gently.  "And to my surprise, my former captain is a very fun person to be around, and unless I'm remembering incorrectly, I was just astride him."


"You are not remembering that wrong."  He let himself relive that happy memory.  "You were grinding a little, too."


She laughed and turned to the menu.  "Seriously, what's good here?"


"The filet is amazing.  The lamb chops are good.  I've been told the frog legs are good, but eating them is against the religion I don't have."


"Yeah, me too.  Gross and there's so little meat."  She made a face, and he wasn't sure if it was at the gross part or the effort for no payoff. 


And he didn't care.  He was so far gone that he thought it was the most adorable—and sexy—expression he'd ever seen.




After dinner and a short walk in the gardens outside the restaurant, Kirk saw a couple exiting a flitter and grabbed it for Chris and him. 


"Destination?"  It sounded like the one they'd had before, but then all flitters sounded like that.


Chris gave it her address and then leaned back, settling against his outstretched arm, running her hand up and down his thigh.


"You know we can't do anything too fun in this flitter."  The city was on a big decency kick.  Gave the council something to spend money on.


"Well, maybe you can't."  Her grin was dangerous as she moved a bit so any in-car surveillance wouldn't catch what she was doing with her hands.


He moaned as she unfastened his pants.


"This car is for transportation purposes only.  Please refrain from other activities until at your destination."


Kirk laughed as she rolled her eyes and fastened him back up: it was definitely the same flitter.  "Can I kiss her?  Is that on the list of permitted activities?"


"This car is for transpo—"


"Fine.  We got it.  Really."  They still managed to steal some kisses on the quick ride back.  As it pulled up to Chapel's apartment building, she sighed.


"You okay?"


She nodded and let him help her out.


"Wait for us," Kirk told the flitter.  "We'll be about fifteen minutes at the most."




She stopped at the door to the building and swallowed hard. 


"If you want, we can skip your place and just go to a store.  We'll buy you new clothes."

She smiled but shook her head.  Taking his hand, she said, "It's my goddamn place.  Why am I the one afraid to go in?"


"Afraid?"  He stopped her as she reached for the door.  "He didn't hurt you, did he?"


"Not that kind of afraid."


He narrowed his eyes.  "You know, once upon a time I got to pay back Harrison's buddy, but Harrison and I...we've never had it out.  Does he know you've been spending time with me?"


She shook her head.  "That might make me interesting in his eyes."  Her mouth grew tighter.


"Chris, I have an overwhelming need to spend the night making love to you in your bed.  How about we get this asshole out of your place?" 


"Really?"  She seemed to be having a hard time fighting a smile.


"Really.  Come on."  He started to laugh.  "No, wait."  He ran back down to the flitter. "Change of plans, my friend.  We're staying here but a friend of ours needs a ride to..."  He started to laugh.  "Sacramento.  It's an 'Operation Sober Friend' situation."  Another of the decency initiatives.


"Understood.  State passenger name and destination in Sacramento."


"Commander Harrison Lucas.  Is there still a landfill in town?"


"It has been closed for some time.  There are no residences near the landfill."


Kirk took a deep breath.  This was bad and wrong but damn it, it was going to feel good.  "New destination.  Walnut Creek.  3199 Seville Place."  Lori's new address, with the man she'd hooked up with before she'd left Kirk.


"Location found."


"He'll protest.  He'll want to stay here and drink more."


"Operation Sober Friend parameters are clear.  Deliver intoxicated passenger to address stated by sober associate."


"You have a way to measure his blood alcohol?"



Perfect: no way for Harrison to prove he was sober, but damned stupid on the part of the decency committee or whatever they were calling themselves.  "Excellent.  He'll be terrible company and for that I apologize.  Make sure Admiral Ciani—it's her house you'll be dropping him off at—knows she doesn't have to pay for his ride: it's courtesy of Admiral Kirk."  He jogged back to Chris, trying not to laugh.


"What did you do?"


"Well, you know that new 'friends don't let friends wander around the town drunk' campaign?"


"I don't think that's quite the way the ads go."


"Details.  Anyway, I may have invoked that protocol with our new flitter friend.  I'm sending Jerkison to Lori's new home."


She snorted, then slapped her hand over her nose and mouth as if to keep from doing it again.  "Okay, not saying anything will be the hard part."


"Don't give it away or he won't get in the flitter."


She pulled open the door.  "Understood, oh devious one."


He put his arm around her as they walked to the elevator, kissed her soundly in the car since they had it to themselves, but kept part of his brain focused on what was coming.


"You know, Jim, I really should man up and be the one to send him packing."


"I know.  And normally, I'd say to go for it.  But, Chris, you have no idea how much I hate this man, and not just for having been with you.  Pleeeeeease, let me?"


The elevator door opened and she took his hand.  "Fine.  My gift to you tonight."

"It won't be your only one, toots."  He cracked up when she shot him a hard look.  "Trying my he-man routine out early.  What do you think?"


"If you were going for slimy private eye, you nailed it."  She winked at him, then took a deep breath before palming her door open.


"Honey, we're home," Kirk called out in his most sarcastic voice.


She started to laugh and motioned for him to go first.  He left her trying to regain her composure and strode into the living room, where Harrison was camped out on the sofa, glass of wine in one hand, vid controller in the other.




"Commander Lucas.  How unexpected to see you here.  I heard you and Chris were done."


"We are."  Harrison frowned. 


Kirk had never realized how dumb the man could look.  He'd been so busy being terrorized by this jerk that he hadn't had time to really assess him.  "Well, Commander, Chris needs her apartment back."


"I'm moving into my new place next week."


"That won't work for me.  See, I'm moving in here tonight."  He gave Harrison the tight, slightly snotty laugh he'd perfected over five years with annoying aliens.  "You see, as an Admiral and head of fleet operations, I can commandeer this place for exigent circumstances."


"Is there a threat?"


How the hell did this man make commander?  More importantly, why did Chris date him?  They were going to have to talk about it.  Then again, his own relationship choices had been pretty shitty up to now, so maybe he'd just let it go.


"There is a threat.  Out in space.  Big goddamned machine headed this way."  There, how was that for vague?  Covered about a fifth of the threats the Enterprise had dealt with.  "Grab some stuff.  Get the hell out.  Our flitter is waiting for you downstairs."


Harrison narrowed his eyes.  "Exigent circumstances?"


Kirk strode over, grabbed the controller from him, turned off the vid unit with a lucky press of the biggest button on the thing, and tossed it onto the couch.  "Get out.  Now."


Chris came in, and Kirk thought she was working hard to keep a straight face.


Harrison frowned at her.  "You're with him now?"


Kirk moved between them.  "Now?  Try a few weeks ago.  What can I say?  You bored the crap out of her, Harry boy.  She traded up.  Now"—he kicked Harrison's feet off the coffee table—"you're in the way."


He had to give Harrison credit: he put the wineglass down carefully, didn't lob it at either of them or let it fall.  "Chris?  You said I could stay?"


"No, you said you were going to say.  I just hadn't grown enough of a pair to tell you that I didn't like that idea.  But now I have.  So...get the hell out of my apartment, Jerkison."


Kirk bit back a laugh.


Harrison, looking very confused, walked into the back and came out a few minutes later with a roller bag.  He didn't look at either of them, didn't mutter anything snotty, which almost made Kirk feel bad for him, until he remembered how Chris had looked when she hadn't wanted to come up and deal with him. 


Chris took Kirk's hand and led him to the balcony, and they watched as Harrison walked out of the building and into the waiting flitter.  "You realize he could make trouble for you misusing the sober friend thing."


"Let him try."  He laughed at the expression Lori would wear if the flitter insisted on her hearing Kirk's message.  "Let them all try.  I'm so sick of anything to do with my job that the brig would be a welcome diversion."  He saw her look change.  "I'm not sick of you.  You were not included in that."


"You miss the stars."  She pulled him close and buried her head in his shoulder.


"I do."  He took a shaky breath, not liking how emotional he suddenly felt.  The stars, his ship, his best friends: all gone. 


"And Decker will be on your ship.  Do you hate him for that?"


"No.  Yes." 


She held him tighter.  "He's excited that you recommended him.  He'll do you proud, Jim."


He felt a surge of jealousy that she was defending Will and forced it down, smoothing her hair back from her face.  "Forget him.  I love you."


She smiled sweetly.  "I think I love you, too."


She only thought so?  He tried not to let any disappointment show; she was just being smart...cautious.  "Then what are we doing on this porch?"

"Well, we're not having sex out here, that's for sure."


He did feel like they were in a fishbowl with all the tall buildings around them, most of which were residential.  "We're on the same page, Chris.  Let's go inside."




He woke up to her cuddled against him and smiled, shifting and bringing her closer.  She moaned, a sweet sound, and he kissed her awake, knowing he should let her sleep since she had to be back at Starfleet Medical early and they had been at it all night, but unable to leave her alone.


Having someone he liked was so much nicer than the brain-dead beauties he'd been bedding the last few months.


She reached down, found Jim Junior, and giggled sleepily as she took a firmer hold.  "Good morning."


"You talking to me or to him?"


She laughed.  "Do you care?"


"Good point.  Carry on."  He kissed her gently.  "And good morning.  From both of us."


"I should probably kiss him, don't you think?"


"I think that would make him very happy.  And me, too."


She smiled and pulled him back to kiss very soundly, before slipping away from his lips and kissing down his body until—oh, holy shit she was good at this.  He pulled her up before she could finish him off, buried himself in her, trying to slow down and make it good for her, too.  Fortunately, she was as responsive in the morning as she'd been last night—Harrison had thought she was boring?  Moron.


She came loudly, and he lasted a moment or two longer and then let go, burying his head in her neck, murmuring, "Chris, Chris."


She ran her fingers down his back, then up through his hair, her light touch sending shivers down his spine.  "Good morning, Jim." 


He rolled so he wasn't so heavy on her, bringing her with him, rubbing his head against her fingers so she'd go back to touching him.  "Good morning, Chris.  I like waking up with you."


"I like falling asleep with you."


"Works out great, then."


She nodded.  "I've got to go into work."


"I know.  What strange thing are they having you do today?"


"Your guess is as good as mine."  She studied him, an odd look on her face.  "Do you know what assignment I'm getting?"


"No.  I looked the other day when you said you still hadn't heard.  Nothing was logged in for you."


She made an impatient sound.


"It'll be wonderful.  I promise."  He kissed her nose.  "Because you were top of your class and you're smart and personable and have the right combination of spunk and gravitas.  Just wait: it'll be good."


"From your lips to the assignment gods' ears."  She swallowed hard and looked away.



"What if it's a ship?  I don't think I want to leave you."


"If it's a good ship, you'll have to."


"I don't have to go.  And you could pull strings.  Keep me here."


He frowned.  "You'd do that?  You derailed your career for Korby—wasn't once enough?"  He could tell by the way her eyes lost their sparkle that his answer hurt her.


"I thought you'd be pleased?  You've always valued loyalty."


"Sometimes our loyalty has to be to ourselves."


She pulled away.  "I feel stupid now.  I thought..."  She was suddenly scrambling to get out of the bed.


He caught her, pulled her back down, and murmured comforting things until she stopped fighting him.  "You thought what?"


"That you loved me—you said you loved me."  The words came out in a panicked rush.


He pulled her close, held her almost too tightly.  "I do love you, Chris.  I'm just...I'm unhappy here and that makes me honest in a way that isn't always good."


"Yeah, you're unhappy because you left something you love.  Isn't that what I'd be doing if I shipped out and left you?  Or am I just one of those girls to you?  I don't want to be one of th—"


He shut her up by kissing her.  Deep almost desperate kisses, the kind he'd never given Natalie or any of the others.  Finally he pulled away.  "I love you.  I love that you're willing to consider staying.  I just won't ask you to do that—it's what Carol did to me.  You know how I resent her for that.  You'll go, and we'll be fine.  Lonely at times but fine."


"Fine together—you here and me out there—or fine on our own?"


He kissed the tip of her nose.  "Fine together."




"You're technically on vacation.  You should have stayed in bed."  Chris sipped the coffee they'd stopped at a new coffee place to get. 


He'd indulged her with something fancy.  He'd stuck with a tall black coffee.  "I wanted to walk you in."


"Old fashioned."  She smiled up at him, and her smile grew broader when he pulled her closer and kept his arm around her. 


They'd stopped at his place for him to do a quick change and now they were almost to Command grounds.  He let go of her as they started to run into a sea of light blue, grey, white, and the dull mustardish tan he particularly despised.  He liked the brighter colors of the old uniforms, not to mention the more forgiving fit.


She winked at him and held up the coffee, "Thank you."


"You're welcome.  I like spoiling you."


"I like having you spoil me."


He walked with her to the doors of Starfleet Medical, gave her his best, non-manipulative smile.  The one that meant he was happy and nothing else.


She grinned back.  "Maybe I'll hear today."


"Maybe so."


"Okay.  Going in now." She turned and hurried inside. 


He was about to head to his office, thinking he would take the path that went through the ceremonial rose garden, when he saw Will making a bee-line for Starfleet Medical.  Frowning, he followed him, keeping back enough that he wouldn't be obvious if Will turned around.


Was the man finally going to pick his CMO?  It was one of the last billets not filled.  Kirk had given him a suggestion for the science officer vacancy, but Will had said he had his own ideas for who he wanted heading sickbay.


Kirk slowed his pace as he saw Will stop at the reception desk.  There was a page:  "Doctor Chapel.  Doctor Chapel to reception."


Kirk felt his smile freezing.  Chris?  Will was choosing Chris?


Maybe for his staff.  But not as CMO.  But Kirk knew who was assigned to the Enterprise.  The rest of the medical billets were assigned.


Chris walked out, looking flustered until she saw Will and gave him a smile that Kirk thought was a little too warm.  Will said something, then something else, and Chris nodded solemnly.  Will tipped her face up, a finger under his chin, then pulled her in for a hug and sort of twirled her around a little.


What the hell?


Kirk knew she was Will's friend.  That Roger had known Matt Decker.  But this seemed more than just friendship.  He backed away, out of Medical, and positioned himself near the entrance to Command he thought Will would probably end up using.  He wasn't wrong.


Will grinned when he saw him.  "Jim."


"Will."  His voice was colder than it should be, so he tried to smile.  "What did you think of Sonak?"


"First rate.  Thank you for the suggestion."


"You bet."  He narrowed his eyes.  "And CMO...?  Doctor M'Benga would still be my first choice.  Lots of medical experience.  Lots of experience on a ship, my—your ship, even."


Will smiled, an easy expression.  "I've picked someone who also has experience on our ship."  His grin included Kirk in a way Kirk didn't think he could have done.  "Christine Chapel."




"You know her?"


"I'm seeing her."  The statement came out as some kind of challenge.


"Oh.  I didn't realize."  Will actually seemed unsure what to say.  "Long distance relationships...I tried one.  It..."  He looked away.  "It didn't work."


"Is this your idea of rallying the troops?  Because your pep talks need some work."  Again his tone was way too angry.  "Why her?"


"I feel comfortable with her.  She didn't badger me for it."


"Probably because it's not the first posting one would think of for her."


"I don't have to justify my decision to you."  Will finally lost some of his good cheer; his expression was much more stony when he said, "I guess I'll be taking both your girls, then, huh?"


Kirk smiled tightly.  "She said yes?"


"Of course she said yes.  What else would she say?  It's the Enterprise, Jim.  I don't have to tell you that."


"I'm sorry.  I'm just...surprised.  And I guess disappointed.  She and I are new.  I was...hoping she'd get an assignment on Earth."  He took a deep breath.  "Don't tell her we had this conversation, all right?  She'll want to surprise me with the news."


"And I'm sure you don't want her to know how you took the news the first time.  Think up a better way to take it when she tells you, okay?  She's an amazing woman, Jim.  She'll be great at this job."


"Was she your first choice?"


By the look on Will's face, he didn't think she was. 


"What happened?"


"You know how this works.  It's political."  Will shrugged.  "She was neck and neck with my first choice, all right?"


"Fine.  Don't worry, I won't tell her she wasn't your first choice.  We can both pretend this conversation never happened."


"All right, then."  Will grinned a bit uneasily.  "I need to get back to the ship.  Refits are a bitch."


"I'm sure they are."  He waved him off then went inside, wondering how long it would take Chris to tell him about the plum assignment she'd just been given.




She came by at the end of the day, standing nervously in his doorway until he waved for her to come closer.  "I have the weirdest news.  I'm going to be Will's CMO on the Enterprise."


"Wow.  Congratulations."  The "wow" sounded genuine but he completely flubbed the "congratulations" part.


She studied him.  "You don't seem all that happy for me."


"I was thinking about what you said this morning.  That you'd stay for me.  What if I did ask you do that?"


Her smile faded.  "Jim, it's the Enterprise.  And you said...I should think of myself."


"I did.  And that was probably stupid advice.  Turn Will down, Chris.  Stay with me."


"Really?  You want me to stay?"  Her eyes were narrowed, and he knew his about-face was confusing the hell out of her.


"I do."  He stood and walked from behind his desk, holding his hand out to her and pulling her closer so he could kiss her.  "I love you."


"I...love you, too.  But...I think you were right.  I think I should put myself first this time."


"Or is it that you want to be with Will?  You're...close, right?"


She frowned.  "We're friends.  Is that what you mean?"


"What else could I mean?"  He knew his eyes were harder than they should be.  Hard like Will's dick probably had been when he'd been holding her.


Not the most productive line of thought.  He tried to put the image of Will holding her out of his mind.  He tried and failed.


"I'm not sure I like the question," she said, her tone edging toward hurt and angry.


He invoked one of his masks of good cheer, smiling as he pulled her toward him.  "Then consider it withdrawn.  We'll celebrate your posting, how's that?  Any place you want, any city you want."  He kissed her as gently as he could, even if he wanted to strip her uniform off, lay her over his desk, and take her, yelling, "Mine, mine, mine" as he thrust.


She finally relaxed in his arms.  When they pulled away from each other, she said, "Nothing fancy.  Let's just get a hamburger at that diner we like.  Okay?"


"Whatever you want."




Kirk hated that he was following Will and Chris as they walked along the grounds of Starfleet Command.  Chris would hate it even more if she caught him—fortunately, the landscaper had believed in putting lots of trees and bushes along the curved pathways.




Shit: Lori.  He turned to face her.  "Did you like my present the other night?"


"Lucas?  Really?  I know I left you, but did I really deserve that yahoo ending up at my doorstep?"


"I thought you did at the time."  He grinned.  "Did you let him in?"


"I had to call in a private transport company because once invoked that stupid 'keep people sober in our fair city' rule is in effect for twelve hours.  He wasn't even drunk.  And he could have had antitox with him.  Who doesn't carry that when they drink?"

"Tourists."  He grinned, a bit nastily.  "Too bad the flitters don't have alcohol monitors."


"They will shortly.  The transport authority got an earful from me." 


He made a face.  "So I should expect a call from them?"


She rolled her eyes in the way that had driven him nuts at the end of their marriage.  "No, because the old man needs you.  That killing machine you told Lucas about so you could get into your slut of the hour's pants?  It's really coming.  Get to Nogura's office.  Now."


As he nodded, she grabbed his arm.  "We'd be having a different discussion if he didn't need you."


"Understood, darling." 


She narrowed her eyes.  "And why were you following Will?  Are you that obsessed with his ship?"


He decided to ignore the question and be thankful that she didn't seem to realize Chris was the one he was interested in.  "Just out for a stroll."


"Well, stroll to the old man.  I've had all the Jim Kirk I can take for the day."


He shot her a snotty smile and gave the "ha-ha-ha" that never failed to tick off aliens.  It seemed to irritate her as much as it ever did.


Before she could think of something else cutting to say, he hurried off, making his way through the now crowded lunchtime halls of Command to get to Nogura's office.  The old man's assistant waved him in with a muttered, "Oh, thank God.  No one could find you, Admiral."


He muttered, "Sorry," but wasn't really.  Lori had probably been shitting him.  Nogura probably had a hangnail and wanted Kirk to get a bandage.


Nogura was standing at the large video screen in his office, watching what appeared to be an emergency transmission from one of the distant outposts.  He looked up at Kirk with a look that was light years from a hangnail.




"Sit down, Jim.  We've got a problem."




II.  The Mess After


Kirk leaned back in the center seat, feeling the vibrations of his ship under him.  Vibrations that felt slightly different than they used to, but still familiar.  Still the best thing in the world.


He looked over at the second best things in the world.  His friends, together again.  And Chris.  His grin faded a little as he saw the way Spock was looking at Chris.  He'd been looking at her like that since they'd managed to—could it be called a defeat of V'ger?  Whatever they did, it went away.  Kirk sighed.  At the cost of Will's life.


It was why Kirk was in this chair, why he had moved into the captain's quarters after the quartermaster had packed up Will's things.

Why Nogura had told him, "The ship is yours, Jim."  Probably glad to get rid of him, probably urged on by Lori.


He looked over at the others.  Chris seemed oblivious to the way Spock was looking at her, but McCoy was watching Spock with a trace of a grin on his face.


"Spock.  A word?"  Kirk smiled at McCoy and Chris.  "Loiter as long as you like, Doctors.  Can I expect the two of you will both be up here now or are you going to take turns?"  He'd meant it to be a joke, but the looks he got back weren't amused.  McCoy seemed annoyed and Chris hurt.  "I'm kidding."


"Work on your delivery, Jim."  McCoy touched Chris's arm.  "Come on, Doctor.  You can show me how much you screwed up my sickbay with your so-called improvements."


Her face went a little stony, and Kirk was pretty sure that was the very worst thing to say to the former CMO.  Sometimes McCoy was missing a sensitivity gene.


Spock was watching her as she followed McCoy to the lift, and Kirk took a deep, steadying breath. 


"She is most accomplished," Spock murmured.


"Yes, she is."


Spock turned.  "I regret that I was not open to what she offered me in the past."


"You do, huh?"  They were talking very, very softly.


"I do.  Perhaps I will tell her that.  And that I am...open to possibilities."


Kirk closed his eyes and prayed for strength.  He had the words, "She's mine," on his lips, figured that was a way of putting it that Spock, with his Vulcan mindset, would understand, when Spock murmured, "But I will talk to her later.  Now, I wish to speak to you.  I tried to say what I felt in sickbay.  How...sorry I am for leaving."


Kirk felt his tension start to drain.  Had he been waiting this whole time for Spock to apologize?  "If I did anything to make you feel that you had to go to Gol—expected too much from you—I didn't mean to."


"There were many reasons I went there, Jim.  They are complicated and I do not think I would explain them well.  Certainly, I failed to make my mother see why I wanted to pursue the path I did.  She will be most gratified to learn I am back on this ship."  He looked toward the lift.  "And perhaps not alone."


"Yeah, about that.  You might want to hold off a bit before you tell her you and Chapel are...an item."  At least Spock could give him time to figure out if his prior claim was still in effect.


Chris had seemed awfully damned glad to see Spock; she'd practically squeaked his name out.  Kirk had the familiar sense of being on shaky ground, the feeling of anger and a slight tinge of panic that had plagued his last days at Command, when he'd actually followed Will and Chris around.  And she'd loved Spock for...years.  Could Kirk compete with that?


No.  This was ridiculous.  He had to figure out where they were going, he and Chris.  He stood up.  "Spock, you have the conn.  I have one thing to take care of before I relax and enjoy my ship."


"As you wish, Jim."  Spock almost smiled.


"I'm glad you're back.  So, so glad."  Then he skedaddled to his office and paged Chris.


She arrived quickly, but she looked wary, not happy.  He had planned to pull her into his arms, kiss her in a way that told her how glad he was that they were together, that they survived, that everything was good again.


But her expression grew darker and it made him cross his arms over his chest so he wouldn't reach out for her. 


He imagined she would look a whole lot happier when Spock talked to her.  "Guess you and Spock will have lots to catch up on now that he's more open to emotions."  Oh, shit, had he said that out loud?  And Jesus, could he sound more needy?


She frowned.  "Spock left us.  I haven't forgotten that."


"Not exactly a rousing 'I'm not interested in him' statement.  Especially after your happiness when you first saw him.  Can't fake that kind of excitement."


She colored and turned away, her expression one of deep hurt.  "Did you call me here to fight?"


"No.  I called you here to give you a choice."


She turned back to him, her look wary again.


"The ship is mine now."


"I know.  I heard the announcement.  The annunciators work just fine in sickbay."


"What I mean is...well, it's your call, Chris.  I can let Bones go home, deactivate his reactivation clause."




"Or you stay as deputy.  Bones and Spock write your eval.  And we can be together."


She didn't smile the way he expected her to.  Didn't do anything except study him as if he was some exotic new bug under her scope.  "You expect me to pick the second option, don't you?  So you can have everything your way."


He smiled.  "It's a choice.  Yours.  You'll do what you think best.  For you.  For us."  He smiled, tried to not put any manipulation into it.


She didn't smile back.  "But there's a third option, isn't there?"


He frowned.


"You keep Len and I'll find a new ship to be CMO on."


His frown grew deeper.  "What?"


"You didn't know you'd get the ship.  You took over temporarily."


"Yes.  Your point?"


"You didn't want me.  As CMO.  It was clear from what Len said when he was ranting about you calling him back up that you'd gotten his reactivation in motion before you ever showed up here.  You didn't want me as your CMO.  And you didn't even tell me in person." 


"There was a crisis going on."


"Yes, yet you still had plenty of time to get an old friend back but not to notify the woman already on the ship that she was losing her job?"  She laughed, a puff of air rather than actual sound.  "When you wanted to get me away from Harrison—I was like this ship, wasn't I?  Another man had me and you couldn't stand it.  It was all about you, not me."


"I wanted my ship back because I should never have given her up.  You—I never had you, Chris.  You're not the ship.  It's different."  He felt backed into a corner, rubbed his lips and studied her.  "As for the CMO thing—what do you want me to say?  I needed McCoy."


"You never gave me a chance.  Do you even respect me as a doctor?"


"You were Will's CMO.  If Will were still here, you'd still be his CMO.  I respect that."


"That's not an answer."


"Look, I'll let you think about this, all right?  Take some time."


"Answer the damn question.  Do you respect me as a doctor?"


"It's your first posting as one, Chris.  What the hell are you doing on the flagship as CMO?"


Her eyes got wide.  "I can't believe you just said that."  Another of the bitter air laughs, she was clearly angry as hell.  "I'll take option three.  And I can find my own next assignment, sir." 

She was gone before he could think of what to say to make it better.  Or at least less bad.




The lounge was packed, and Kirk looked but didn't see Chris anywhere.  She was ignoring his hails.  He bellied up to the bar, next to McCoy.  "Scotch.  Neat."


Bones looked over at him.  "Just saw Chapel in the corridor.  She's pretty ticked off—what did Spock do now?"


Kirk could feel his jaw clenching and tried to relax.  He threw back the drink as soon as the crewman playing barkeep put it down, then motioned for another.  "Wasn't Spock.  It was me."


"Oh.  Great."  McCoy frowned.  "Wait.  How did you tick her off?"  He studied Kirk.  "Ohhh.  Really?  You two?  Wouldn't have seen that working very well."


"Yes, I've never shown any preference for brainy women, preferably scientists."


"Well, when you put it like that..."  McCoy took a sip of his drink but didn't stop his study of Kirk. 


"Quit it, Bones.  I'm not in the mood to be dissected."


"And I wasn't in the mood to be shanghaied.  Guess we don't always get what we want."  He rolled his eyes.  "How can I help?"


Kirk didn't want to say, "Leave?  Never show up here in the first place?" because while it might make Chris happy, it sure wasn't what he wanted.


What the hell did he want?


"I didn't pick her, Bones."


"I thought you meant you two were together."


"Not for that.  For CMO.  I picked you, not her."  He sighed and took another long sip.  "I didn't even give her a chance.  She called me out on not respecting her.  I may have said I didn't understand why she was assigned CMO of this ship as her first posting."


"Well, get in line for that one, my friend.  I've been wondering that and I've heard several of the other doctors wonder that.  Were she and Decker...?"


"I don't think so." 


"But you don't know.  You're with her and you don't know that?"  McCoy shook his head.  "Jim, my friend, this is quite a mess."


"That, I know."  He set his drink down and closed his eyes.  "How do I make it better?"


"Go talk to her about Decker.  Go tell her the truth—that you're jealous of hell.  And I don't know if you realize this, but Spock was staring at her in a way I've never seen him do." 


"Well aware of that."  He turned to go.


McCoy grabbed his shoulder.  "Jim, maybe you can't make it better."


"I love her."


"Wow.  Okay.  Then try like hell, all right?  If I see her, I'll tell her you're looking for her."


"Thanks.  I hope she's not with Spock."


"Would she be with him?  Does she love you?"


"I think so.  But...I've hurt her and now he's open to her, and she's wanted him for so long.  I didn't tell him I was with her.  I wanted to get things settled with her first.  He's open, Bones."  He could hear the panic in his voice, was a little stunned at how afraid he felt.  V'ger hadn't made him afraid this way. 


McCoy threw his drink back and said, "These are on him, kid," to the bartender.  The he put his arm around Kirk's shoulder.  "Come on, you need a wingman for this."


"What?  Are you going to divert Spock?"


"I don't think he's that open, Jim."  McCoy grinned in the way he always did, the "It's going to be all right" way.


"I've missed you, Bones."


"Yeah, tell me that when you've recaptured fair lady's heart and aren't so damn upset."




They found her in the mess hall with Spock.  She had a tray, Spock didn't.  Kirk shot McCoy a pleading look.


"Jim, you owe me so damn much.  Stay back here.  Look...wounded or something."  McCoy walked over, leaned down, and said something to Chris that made her whip around to look at Kirk.  Then McCoy moved away enough to let her slide out.


"Bless you, Bones," Kirk murmured.


Spock started to get up, too, but McCoy hip-butted him back into the booth, then slid in next to him.  His mouthed, "You really owe me," was crystal clear to Kirk, even from across the room.


Kirk heard Spock say a little too loudly, "Doctor, I believe you have had too much to drink."


Chris walked up to him.  "You're hurt?"  She glanced back at McCoy and Spock.


"If you tell me you'd rather be with Spock than me, then I will be."  He sighed.  "Please don't tell me that."


She closed her eyes.  "This isn't fair.  Len's on your side?  Who's on mine, Jim?"


"I am.  I told him.  I told him I love you."


Her eyes got very wide.  "You told him that?"  She looked surprised that he'd do it.  Jesus, what did she think of him?


"Yes I told him."  He took her hand and dragged her back to the table.  Spock and McCoy both looked up: Spock in surprise, McCoy with more of an annoyed "What now?" look.  


"I love her," Kirk said really loudly.  Way more loudly than he'd meant to.


Crewmen three tables away turned around.  He heard Chris laugh, then the sound was cut off, but she squeezed his hand. 


Spock said, "I see.  You did not say this earlier."  He looked at Chris.  "I was not aware you were with him or I would not have initiated pursuit of you."


"That was pursuit?  I had no idea." 


Spock frowned.  "I regret I lack Jim's skills in these matters."


"Don't.  He isn't on my list of favorite people right now."  She leaned against Kirk.  "The three of you exhaust me.  You know that, right?"


"Who's going to keep us all in line if you leave, Christine?"  Bones took the hand Kirk wasn't already holding.  "Jim's miserable.  He's also a great big idiot.  Hear him out."


Kirk felt a twinge of annoyance; McCoy was making it sound like he hadn't also voiced some confusion as to why she was CMO.


She took a deep breath, then asked softly, "Len, do you want me as your deputy?"


Kirk shot Bones his best "Please, for the love of God, say 'yes'" look.


McCoy smiled up at Chris.  "Why the hell wouldn't I want that, Christine?  You were the best nurse I've ever had.  You're my friend.  We're partners, aren't we?  I can't imagine a better deputy."


She looked at Spock, who seemed like he felt a little left out without one of her hands to hold.  Kirk shot him a "You are not interested in her" look but had little hope Spock would read it right. 


"Spock?"  Her voice was pure seduction—did she mean her voice to sound that way? "Do you want me?"


Spock glanced at Kirk.  "I believe that is a moot point."


It wasn't the best answer Kirk could have imagined, but it was probably the best answer Spock would give.


McCoy let go of her.  "Git.  Our fearless leader needs you."


"You heard him.  I need you."  He realized some of the crew were still watching.  This was not how he envisioned the night going.  "Come on."  He pulled her out of the mess before they could provide any more drama—or possibly comedy—for their audience.



He took her to the lounge, not back to his quarters.  Thought it would send a better message to talk in public—to her and to his crew.  And maybe to himself.


They ordered drinks, then he led her to a table that was clearly visible but still gave them plenty of privacy.


She seemed to be studying him, so he said, "This table okay?"


"It's pretty public."


"You're my girlfriend.  Shouldn't it be?"


She laughed, and he had the feeling she hadn't meant to but couldn't help it. 


He found himself grinning, too.  "You are my girlfriend—right?"


She rolled her eyes and nodded, finally sitting down.  "I'm really mad at you."


"You have every right to be.  I need to tell you something.  Maybe it'll explain what I said."


"Okay."  She took a sip of her wine, her look changing to a more wary one.


"The day you found out you were going to be CMO, our first morning waking up together, I...I saw Will go into Starfleet Medical and I followed him."  He saw her eyebrows go up and said quickly, "I didn't know he was coming to talk to you.  I just...I'd been keeping track of the assignments that he'd made for the ship.  The only one left was CMO and I was curious to see if he took my advice or not.  And then...it was you."


She was sitting very still.


"I saw him hug you.  He fucking twirled you around, Chris.  It was...odd.  You hadn't said 'I love you' back the night before.  You'd said you thought you loved me.  And I wondered if maybe Will was the reason why you put it that way."


"You thought I was with Will?"  She leaned back.  "Did you?"


He gave her the shrug and headshake combination that men had been using for centuries to try to avoid trouble with their women.


"After everything I did for you all that time—all those goddamn women, Jim?  One guy gives me a fucking hug, and you think I'm cheating on you?"


He swallowed hard and tried the shrug-shake again.


"Okay, some truth from me.  That morning, before we left, I already knew I was in the running.  And I knew I wasn't Will's first choice.  Galinda was, and I have no idea why she didn't take the position.  I never thought I was going to get it.  I never even wanted it, not for my first job, but he was so convincing and he seemed to listen to me.  But when I told you that I could refuse an assignment on a ship, you didn't seem very eager for me to do that.  You didn't seem to care if I was on Earth or not.  I felt...I felt like one of the women I'd helped you ditch.  When Will told me I got it, I was relieved.  I could slink away and you'd be free.  But then you told me to turn it down.  I was confused.  You confuse me."


"I confuse myself sometimes, if it's any consolation."


"It's not."  She looked down, seemed to be searching for answers in her chardonnay.  "You're not the first person to wonder why I got the job.  I've heard it from others.  But you supposedly loved me.  I thought...I wanted to think you valued me as something more than a producer of orgasms."


"I do."  He let his breath out.  "I don't know if this will make it better or worse, but if you'd told me you were going to be head of life sciences on the ship, that would have made more sense to me.  I think of you as a scientist, Chris, not as an M.D.  And this whole time I know you've been an M.D. but that wasn't part of us.  Maybe because I was happy when I was with you and didn't do anything stupid that needed patching up." He met her eyes.  "I thought of Bones when I thought of my CMO.  But I thought of you in a different way.  I want you here, with me, in whatever capacity you want."


"And if I told you to send him packing?"


"We couldn't be together, then.  I'd be your direct supervisor.  You could relieve me."


"Way to not really answer the question, Jim.  Also, I can relieve you as deputy."


"I know."  He took a deep breath.  Would he really send Bones packing?  He didn't actually think so.  But this wasn't chess, where he had to commit.  This was poker.  He only had to make her believe he would.  "Tell me what you want."


She stared at him for a long time as he worked like hell to keep his expression the one that would sell this.

He saw her capitulation before she even said anything, forced his face not to show a trace of satisfaction.


"Far be it for me to break up the goddamn dream team."  She downed her wine.


"More?"  He was up and taking both their glasses back to the bar before she could tell him whether her comment meant she was staying on as deputy or she was going to leave them all behind.  When he got back to the table, she was standing at the viewscreen, staring out at the star stream.


She took her wine and sipped it slowly.  "If I stay here with you, Janice will be mad at me."


He frowned—she hadn't cared what Janice thought the rest of the time.  "She's transferring off.  I've already approved her request."


"Ny might not be too happy, either."


"I doubt she'll care."  He hoped they weren't going to go through every member of his crew that might have feelings for him.


She sighed, the sound one of exhaustion.  "If you're tired of me, I'll leave."


"If I'm tired of a woman, I generally don't announce to the entire mess hall that I love her."

She laughed softly.  "You did say that really loudly."


"Wasn't really thinking."


She leaned in, her shoulder touching his.  "I'm going to be hurt for a while, Jim."


"I know.  I'm sorry."  He leaned against her harder.  "I'll include you in all the best landing parties."

She laughed again, this time a little more heartily.  "Yeah?  And what else?"  She faced him, a one-sided smile playing at her mouth.  "I get to keep the quarters and the office."



She nodded.


He wanted to kiss her so bad.  "They're not that much bigger than the deputy's."


She gave him the shrug-shake—quick study.


"Fine.  I'll tell Bones he's going to be slumming it." 


"I'll think of more things later.  You'll be making that remark up to me for a while, even if it was just the truth.  You really hurt me."


"I know.  I'm sorry."  He didn't care who was watching; he reached out and caressed her cheek.  "I'm sorry that I was..."


"Honest?"  She leaned into his hand.  "I guess I should be grateful you are.  Will you promise to tell me if you get tired of me?  I don't want to be another Natalie."


"You couldn't be her if you tried.  Thankfully."  He leaned against the viewscreen, sipping his scotch, watching as his crew celebrated not getting killed by V'ger. 


She turned and leaned against the viewscreen too; she was close enough to him to show they were together without being too overt.  "You're home, Jim."


"We are, Chris.  We are."  He turned to look at her.  "Aren't we?"


She leaned in, gave him the sweetest kiss she'd ever given him, then pulled away.  "Yes, you great doofus, we are."


Doofus: it wasn't the worst thing she could call him.  He'd take it.