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) 2003 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
Mazes of a Nightmare
Modern man likes to pretend that his thinking is wide-awake. But this wide-awake thinking has led us into the mazes of a nightmare in which the torture chambers are endlessly repeated in the mirrors of reason. - Octavio Paz
"I think that went well." Kirk leaned back in his chair, watching the delegates file out.
"Indeed." Commander Larkins rubbed at his back. "The trade agreement is safely secured." He tapped the pile of padds. "And Command will be quite pleased with our little outpost's efforts today, I think. Thank you for being willing to run the dog and pony show. Seeing the Enterprise up close and personal may well have clinched the deal. Although our diplomatic 'specialists' might argue they had the greater role."
"Whatever part we played is fine. I was in the neighborhood and Command was all for it."
Larkins smiled. "I imagine this isn't the kind of mission you most enjoy? After all the adventure you've seen, a little diplomatic exercise like this must seem frightfully dull?"
Kirk grinned. "Every victory matters. Even the smaller ones."
"You could be a diplomat yourself, Captain. Always the charming answer."
"Just the truth," Kirk said with a shrug.
"Well, I'm happy being an administrator. On such a beautiful world, how can I complain? You should see some of the city."
"No time, I'm afraid." He saw Larkins rub his back again and frowned. "You all right?"
"No. I threw my back out the other day. Damned fool stunt. I still think I'm a twenty-year old."
Kirk grinned. "I have those moments too." He sighed. "I'm glad I'm not twenty anymore."
Larkins nodded. "Made some bad decisions in those days. Not that my back thinks I've matured much." He laughed, then grimaced as the action seemed to cause him pain.
Kirk pulled out his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise here, sir," Uhura answered.
"The talks have concluded. Prepare to leave orbit when I return."
Larkins started to get up then grimaced again. Kirk motioned him back into his chair.
"Uhura, patch me through to sickbay."
"Bones, we've got an overly energetic commander whose back is in dire need of a check-up, if you or someone on your staff is free?" He grinned at Larkins, who made a sheepish face.
"I'll send Chapel. I'm still running final diagnostics on the surgical unit--we upgraded it." There was a pause, then McCoy came back on. "The engineers are here, I've got to go, Jim. You know they'll screw things up in no time without supervision."
"Very good. Kirk out." He smiled. McCoy was probably driving the engineers nuts. But he wasn't the only one. Seemed like everyone was using the enforced downtime to get their stations upgraded and back at one hundred percent operating efficiency. Spock probably had his up to one hundred and fifty.
"You didn't have to do that, sir."
"You've been an excellent host, Commander. It's the least I can do."
"Enterprise to Captain Kirk."
"One to beam down, sir."
There was a shimmer, then Chapel appeared. "Someone's in need of medical assistance?" She smiled gently, the way she always did.
Kirk saw Larkins eying her with interest. Too bad they weren't staying longer. It would probably do her good to have a little fun.
"Commander Larkins threw his back out. I thought you might be able to help."
She walked over to Larkins, scanned his back. "You've got a bad muscle pull. Does it hurt right here?" She gently probed his lower back.
Larkins winced. "Quite a lot."
"I'll fix it in a moment. But while I'm here, let's check you out thoroughly." She began to scan the rest of him. "You need to eat more vegetables, sir."
Kirk laughed. She gave him the very same lecture every time he had a fitness physical. "If you don't mind, Nurse, I'll leave you to it. I'd love to see some of this city before we warp out of here."
"Enjoy yourself, sir. I'll comm you when I'm done." She didn't look up from her scans.
And Larkins didn't stop watching her.
Kirk smiled and let himself out. He nodded to the lieutenant on duty, then strolled out of the Starfleet offices, into the hustle and bustle of Cacetor's busy streets.
Evindahr was a neutral world, and its capital city was a natural place for diplomatic, defense, and trade meetings. Starfleet wasn't the only military with representation there. The planet itself was lush and beautiful, and Kirk let himself relax for the first time in three days. There had been a lot riding on this trade agreement, and he knew that Starfleet had wanted it more avidly than normal. He was just glad he'd been able to help Larkins deliver.
Kirk wandered the city happily; an hour went by, then two. He began to wonder what was keeping Chapel.
He looked ahead, saw that something was blocking the street. Several people were standing and waiting for the blockage to be moved. He saw the man ahead of him duck into an alley, never breaking stride, his cloak billowing out behind him. Kirk decided to take the same shortcut, and followed him in.
When he entered the alley, the man was gone.
Kirk stopped, his hand reaching for a phaser that wasn't there, hadn't been there ever since he began the negotiations. He reached for his communicator, but before he could call the Enterprise, he felt the tug of a transporter beam, and then the alley disappeared.
He materialized in a stone cell. "What the devil...?" He grabbed for his communicator, realized it was gone.
He saw someone standing at the door to the cell, face covered by the hood of a cloak. The man from the alley. Then he heard a low groan behind him.
He turned. Chapel lay on the dirt floor, near the corner of the cell. She slowly sat up, rubbing at her head.
She saw him, said softly, "Sir?"
He turned back to the door. "What's the meaning of this?"
The man pushed his hood back, revealing his face.
"I'm afraid Commander Larkins has been permanently detained." The man began to work at a spot just under his ear. A moment later he pulled and a mask of Larkin's face came off.
Kirk stepped forward, studied the man's true face. He was a stranger. "Do I know you?"
"It was a long time ago, Kirk." The man smiled. It was an unsettling expression. "I'll let you think on it." He turned and left them alone.
Kirk hurried over to Chapel, helped her up. "What happened?"
She was gingerly exploring her scalp. "I had just finished up, was doing a final scan when I noticed something odd in the readings." She grimaced. "I looked away from him for a second and he hit me."
Kirk turned away, paced to the door of the cell, then back again.
"Sir, do you know him?"
Kirk shook his head slowly as he racked his brain for who the man might be.
"He seemed to think you should."
She sat down on the dirt and leaned against the wall of the cell. He noticed that her nylons were torn, a long run ripping up her leg as she tried to get comfortable. She seemed to realize he was staring at her leg, looked down and ran her finger up the run, then pulled her skirt down a bit.
"I'm not scared," she said quietly. She looked up at him, her eyes calm.
"Of course not." He tried to smile reassuringly. Even though he thought she probably should be afraid. He turned and looked out the door. He was glad she hadn't come over to stand by him, hadn't seen the room beyond their cell door. A room that looked as if it had been set up for one thing only.
"I trust you've had ample time to think?" Not-Larkins said from the doorway. Chapel noticed that he'd dropped the British accent he'd used as Larkins.
Kirk walked to the door, seemed to study the man. She debated getting up, decided not to, just watched the two men. Not-Larkins was standing so still he seemed a statue. Kirk stood equally straight, but she knew he was using the moment to try to figure out who this man was.
"This is so disappointing, Kirk." The man pulled out a weapon of some sort. "Here I've waited all this time for revenge and you don't even remember me?" He held the weapon up. "Back away from the door."
Kirk didn't move.
The man shifted the weapon to point at Chapel. "I'd prefer to have her here, but we don't have to."
Kirk backed away from the door.
The man tossed a pair of restraints at Chapel. They fell near her feet. "Put those on your captain, my dear. Hands behind his back."
She didn't move. Looked up at Kirk, saw him move his head in some sort of message, a message she wasn't sure meant 'do it' or 'don't do it.'
Not-Larkins sighed. Then he made an adjustment to the weapon and fired at Kirk.
The captain writhed in agony as the beam caught him, the bolt seeming to hold him upright even as he moved in reaction to the pain. Finally, Not-Larkins released the trigger and Kirk fell to the ground, hitting the dirt hard. He let out a grunt as he fell, did not try to break the impact in any way. He lay silently, not moving.
She crawled over to him.
"Now, Nurse Chapel, do I need to repeat my instructions?"
She reached back for the restraints, secured Kirk's arms behind his back. "I'm sorry, sir," she whispered.
Kirk didn't seem to hear her.
"Good. Now come here."
She walked to him slowly. Her attention was drawn to his left, and she stared for a moment, trying to take in what she was seeing. She swallowed hard, her vision swimming. There were shackles on the wall; strange tables and instruments were the only things in the room. It occurred to her that a person standing at the cell door would have an excellent view of whoever was in the shackles.
She didn't meet his eyes, didn't want him to see how unnerved she was.
"Turn around." His voice was almost gentle. His hands were careful as he secured her hands behind her back. "Now face me."
She turned slowly.
"Look at me."
She tried to channel Spock, his ability to not show one iota of what he was feeling or thinking as she looked up at their captor.
He stroked her cheek gently. "Such a sweet face. It was a lucky thing you were the one who beamed down. It will make this so much more interesting."
She pulled away and he let her go. "When your valiant captain is himself again, tell him the name that's eluding him is Alesson."
She watched him walk away, then went to clumsily kneel by Kirk, helpless to do anything for him except be there while he recovered.
Kirk struggled to sit up, a haze of pain still surrounding him.
"You're in restraints, sir. And you may be in shock. Take it slow."
He wondered why Chapel didn't help him, then realized she must be in restraints as well.
He forced himself to move carefully, deliberately. Just sitting up was more of a struggle than he wanted to admit. His head swam once he made it, and he felt a wave of nausea come over him. He tried to fight it, but lost the battle, turning away from her and throwing up over and over, until there was nothing but bile left.
He stayed bent over, unwilling to look at her, afraid that his eyes would betray how helpless he felt at this moment. As long as he didn't see that reflected back in her face, it wouldn't be true.
"He said his name was Alesson."
Kirk closed his eyes. It had been years since he'd heard that name, or even thought about the man. Years and a thousand decisions ago. Decisions that had not gone as terribly as that one had.
"Who is he?" Chapel asked.
How could it be Alesson? He was dead. Had died in the fire that had roared through the camp. Died along with his followers and their wives and children. "He's dead."
"Not quite, as you can see for yourself, Kirk." Alesson was standing at the door.
Kirk wondered how much he had seen, then realized that the man probably had surveillance of some sort in their cell. No doubt he could see and hear them any time he wished.
"Your face." Kirk forced himself to keep his head up despite how it set the world spinning. He tried to focus on the man's features. Add ten years, factor in some burn therapy. Could it be Alesson?
The man stared back at him calmly. His eyes--a deep dark green--seemed to shine in the low light. They were very much like Alesson's strange emerald eyes. And he was the right height and build.
Kirk closed his eyes. Willing to accept. "I thought you died in the fire."
"You mean you hoped that I did," Alesson said with a smile.
Kirk could finally see the man he'd hunted for so many weeks.
"Ah, recognition at last." Alesson pulled out a small controller of some sort, keyed something in.
There was a whining sound, like a transporter, then a low trough of water appeared near the front of the cell.
"I imagine you are thirsty."
Kirk didn't move. He looked over at Chapel. She sat motionless, watching Alesson.
"Eventually, you'll get thirsty enough to drink." Alesson laughed, a low, mean sound. "Like the animal you will become by the time I tire of having you as my unwilling guest." He looked over at Chapel. "I'm sorry to force you into the same humiliation, my dear. But I know you'd help him if you had your hands free. And I can't have that."
He put the controller into his pocket. Reached into another pocket and dug out some rolls. He tossed them into the cell. They lay on the dirt, looked old, hard.
"Not the freshest, but then what did you expect? Gourmet meals?" Alesson tapped the bars, a strange smile playing at his mouth. "I'm so looking forward to this."
He laughed again, then left them. His footsteps reverberated through the room, then the door slammed shut and there was silence.
"Sir, you need to drink. We both do."
"Like a dog?"
"Is there another way?" Her voice was mildly sarcastic and he shot her a look. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. But not drinking will do neither of us any good. Water is imperative to survival. And to healing." She struggled to her feet, walked over to the trough and knelt down, bending low to taste the water. "It's relatively fresh at least," she said, looking over at him. "Sir. Please?"
When he did not move, she sighed, then bent to drink. He watched her, almost wishing that he could bend as easily as she did.
He shifted as much as the restraints allowed, was glad he had relieved himself earlier. They had each turned away while the other had used the far corner of the cell as a makeshift lavatory. If he drank water now, he'd just have to go again. And he imagined Alesson wanted that. Wanted them losing control enough to soil their clothing. To lose their dignity.
"Who is he?" Chapel was inspecting the roll. She grimaced, turned away from it and moved closer to him.
"A criminal." Kirk looked down. It had never been that simple. Alesson had been a freedom fighter. He had just chosen the wrong government to fight against--he and his people, and their women and small children.
He sighed. "It was a long time ago. We were sent to find him after he fled off his own world. He was an insurgent. Had quite a following."
"He was violent?"
Kirk nodded. Violent, obsessed with changing the status quo. Sure that the government of his planet--the government that had allied itself with the Federation--was evil. Alesson had been a fanatic and a killer, but even so the Federation representatives had tried to make peace, to find common ground with him.
It was only when Alesson had murdered the representatives and left them strung up in the town square that the Federation leadership had lost its patience and had sent Starfleet in to deal with him. Kirk had been the one to lead the hunt.
"There was a fire?" Chapel asked, wrenching him back to the present.
"We had him cornered. Thought he'd give up, for the sake of the families. But he didn't. The fire--they had weapons, ammunition, even explosives. It was a powderkeg."
"And you were the spark." She sighed. "You thought he died?"
"He didn't." She shot him a wry grin.
"No. He didn't." He looked at her, searching her face for what she was feeling. "I don't think he'll hurt you."
"We don't know that." Then she shrugged. "We don't know that he plans to hurt you either."
He laughed, the sound of air being quickly expelled louder than he intended. "Oh, I think it's safe to say, we do." He nodded out toward the main room. "Why else would he have the torture chamber ready?"
She looked down. Didn't argue. He wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
Chapel watched Kirk, worried that he had still not drunk any water. He needed the water, was still in shock from the weapon Alesson had used on him. But trying to convince him to drink would be a wasted effort and she knew it.
She shifted, attempting to get comfortable, almost wished she hadn't drunk any water. She had to go to the bathroom, did not relish trying to get her pantyhose down and was not desperate enough to just go through them.
But she knew it was just a matter of time. And she couldn't let that stop her from drinking again and as frequently as she could. It would be humiliating to soil herself, but she might not have any choice.
Especially if Kirk wouldn't bend enough to drink. She had a feeling the restraints would stay on until he did.
She heard Kirk laugh bitterly, frowned. "What?"
"I was just thinking that if I hadn't been so damned nice, you wouldn't be down here."
She didn't tell him she'd thought the same thing.
He moved awkwardly and she sighed. "If you won't drink, you should try to sleep."
"I'll sleep if you do." He shot her an annoyed look.
"You need sleep. Whatever that weapon did, it took a lot out of you. You'll be no good to either of us, if you don't rest."
He looked away.
"With all due respect, sir. I don't think we're going anywhere for a while. Wouldn't it be better to try to sleep?"
"Spock will find us."
She took a deep breath. "Alesson is probably still pretending to be Larkins. I imagine he'll throw them off for a while." She leaned back against the wall. "We could be anywhere on the planet. He probably has shields."
"Chapel, I don't want to hear all the reasons our situation might be hopeless. I can't think like that. I don't want you to either."
She looked away. Chastened. "Yes, sir."
He sighed. "I didn't mean to snap."
"It's okay." She blinked back tears, knew they were from the strain. And from the fear she didn't want to admit to, fear that Kirk could probably see anyway. "I'm sorry."
He sighed again. Then he slowly stretched out, trying to find a comfortable position. He looked over at her, his eyes hooded.
She wished she knew what he was thinking. And what he thought of her. Feared she would come up wanting.
"So damned practical." He shook his head slightly, then closed his eyes. In moments, he was asleep.
Chapel tried to relax, let her eyes close and attempted to find a more comfortable way to sit. She could picture Spock as he worked with the supposed Larkins. Could see the Vulcan's sense of panic suppressed into tight-lipped control as he got no closer to finding his captain and friend. And her. She almost laughed. She knew she didn't rate as high on the Spock emotional scale as Kirk did. Not by a long shot.
It was something she'd learned to live with.
Kirk woke with a start, his body aching, thirst roaring. For a moment he couldn't figure out where he was and he stared at the bars on the door, at the dirt floor that stretched out to meet those bars.
Then he remembered.
He tried to stretch cramped muscles, sat up slowly. He looked over to where Chapel lay curled awkwardly on the floor, breathing the slow, heavy breath of exhausted sleep.
He heard the door open, pushed himself slowly to his feet. His head felt fuzzy and light and he closed his eyes, concentrated on staying upright. When he opened his eyes, Alesson was standing by the door.
Kirk walked to him.
"She looks very uncomfortable," Alesson said softly.
Kirk didn't turn to look at her. "She no doubt is. Isn't that what you intended?"
Alesson looked away from Chapel. "She fixed my back. This is no way to repay that kindness." He shrugged. "On the other hand, she fixed my back on your orders. And I'm not overly worried about how you're feeling about all this." He laughed, the sound barely audible. "It's up to you, you know."
"How long you have to wear those restraints. All you have to do is bend enough to drink."
Kirk took a step back, away from Alesson and the water.
"So she has to suffer because you're too proud to lap up the water you so desperately need?"
Kirk looked away.
"And you once called me rigid." Alesson shook his head. "You can't always win, Kirk. I know that must be a blow, but it's a fact. You won't win. You won't walk away from this."
"Neither will you."
"Why not? You think your intrepid first officer and his impending rescue are much of a threat?" Alesson grinned. "He's currently chasing a ship that left orbit around the time you disappeared. Smugglers, I'm afraid, so they'll probably be hard to find."
Kirk fought any reaction. This was not unexpected news. He hadn't expected Alesson to make it easy for Spock to find them.
"Oh, such a stalwart hero you are. Just as the reports always portray you. I followed them avidly during my convalescence. Even more so when I was amassing the fortune I needed to pull this off. The shields around this room are the most advanced money can buy." He touched one of the bars, slowly, almost lovingly. "I've waited so long for this. I plan to savor every moment."
Kirk felt his mouth twist as it tightened. Tried to hide his anger. "She's an innocent. Let her go."
"You want to protect her? That's good."
Kirk turned, saw that Chapel was watching them. She met his eyes, didn't look away. He saw that the front of her skirt was wet and she seemed to realize he saw it. She reddened, looked away.
"I'm sorry," he said.
She shrugged. "I had to go. There was no other way. Why be sorry?" But her face got even redder.
"So pragmatic. A pity your captain can't be the same way." Alesson sounded amused. "And it's your fault, Kirk. If you'd just drink, I'd free your arms. She knows that, don't you, my dear? That he's doing this to you."
"He didn't lock me in this cell," Chapel said, but there was something in her tone, something lost.
Kirk sighed. He walked to the water, knelt quickly, intent on getting this over with.
"No, sir. Not for me." Chapel tried to struggle to her feet.
"Don't," Kirk snapped at her.
He bent down, lapped up the water with his tongue. It tasted like heaven.
"Come here, my dear," Alesson said gently. "I am a man of my word."
Kirk kept drinking, intent on getting as much water as his body needed. He knew that Alesson would move on to something worse very shortly. He'd been a fool to ignore Chapel when she'd told him the water was necessary. She'd been right.
He heard the sound of her restraints coming off. Felt her trying to take his own off, but she was clumsy.
"I'm sorry. My hands are asleep."
He nodded, kept on drinking.
Finally, she had his hands free. He pulled away from the trough, shook his arms out, trying to stop the pins and needles feeling that was shooting through his hands. "Let her go," he said again to Alesson.
"I can't do that. She is the witness."
"Witness to what?" Chapel asked quietly.
Kirk had the feeling she was trying to reach out to Alesson, trying to forge some sort of sympathy between them. Yes, Kirk urged her silently. Do that. He didn't think it would help him, but it just might save her life.
"The witness to his pain, his humiliation. To my victory over him." Alesson smiled; it was a dark expression. "You will be there to see when he dies. You will watch every moment of it and later you will tell the world what happened here. How I broke the great James T. Kirk." He backed away from the bars.
Kirk clenched his hands tightly. "You don't need her. I know you have surveillance. Let her go and let the images speak for themselves."
Alesson shook his head slowly. "You would not have drunk the water for some video images. Only for her. She is your witness. She is also your hostage."
Kirk had not expected his pleas to work, but disappointment for Chapel flooded him anyway. She hadn't asked for any of this, had no part in what had happened all those years ago. Her life had been hard enough. Now this. Because of him.
He turned to her. "I'm sorry."
She shook her head firmly. "No reason to be, sir. We're Starfleet."
Alesson drew his weapon. "Let's see if you say that in a few hours." He motioned Kirk out of the cell, closed the door behind him. He pointed to the far side of the large room, where the shackles hung on the wall. "Stand facing the wall and put your wrists against them. They lock automatically."
Kirk tensed as he walked, hoping Alesson would follow him. Ready and more than willing to jump the man.
"I'll hurt her if you try anything, Kirk. And I'm not fool enough to get close to you while you're free."
Kirk reached the far wall, stood staring up at the shackles, unwilling to reach for them.
"Kirk, I'm warning you."
Kirk didn't move.
There was a short blast, then Kirk heard Chapel scream. He turned, saw Alesson let go of the trigger and turn back to him.
"Shall I continue, Kirk? Would you rather I tortured her?"
"Sir, no. I'm all right." Chapel was struggling to her feet, pulling herself up by the bars.
"I turned the intensity down a few levels. I want her to be able to watch. But perhaps I should turn it up again for the next blast? Give her a taste of what you got?" His hand hovered over the weapon.
Kirk could feel his mouth tightening. Hatred for Alesson roiled up inside him as he turned and slammed his wrists into the shackles, which fastened immediately. He pulled, could feel that they were solid in the walls. He looked over his shoulder, back at the cell. It hurt his neck to hold it that way, but he could just see them. He turned back to stare at the wall in front of him.
"Very good, Kirk." Alesson laughed. "You see, my dear. How useful you are. Now watch. Watch it all."
"Don't do this. Please," Chapel said.
Kirk turned his head, saw her staring pleadingly at Alesson.
"Please don't hurt him. You don't need to do that. You've already beaten him. We're here, at your mercy."
Alesson laughed. "Yes, you are. What is your name, my dear?"
"Christine," she whispered.
"Christine. Such a pretty name. Such a pretty woman." Alesson caressed her face briefly, then grabbed her by the hair.
She cried out briefly, then bit back any other sound.
"I am not stupid, Christine. I will not be cajoled into mercy. I have no mercy inside me. Haven't since the day that man"--he pointed at Kirk--"killed everyone I ever loved." He pushed her away. "Don't try to reach the man under the monster. There isn't one."
He strode away from her. Kirk heard him grab something off the table.
"Now do tell me if I'm blocking your view, Christine." He laughed to himself. "Have you ever considered what a laser scalpel could do in the wrong hands?"
"No, please." Chapel's voice was frightened.
"Oh, but you must have wondered." Alesson ran the scalpel down the middle of Kirk's sleeves, parting them, letting them fall away to expose skin. He did the same thing to the back and front of Kirk's shirt until it hung in tatters around him.
"So much for the proud Starfleet captain," he said, his voice a purr. "This is going to hurt."
Kirk swallowed hard. Steeled himself for pain.
But was in no way ready for the searing agony that went through him as the laser sliced through the skin of his arm. Alesson went just deep enough to cut, not enough to hit an artery or tendon.
"I had to practice a long time with this to reach this level of precision," Alesson said. "Went through a lot of people before I got it right."
He struck again and again. Kirk fought to not cry out. Fought to not try to crawl up the wall or tear his wrists against the shackles to get away.
He lost the fight.
Alesson leaned in as Kirk screamed. "The laser has one drawback. It cauterizes as we go. So the pain and damage just don't linger." He backed away.
Kirk heard a drawer being opened, heard Alesson rummaging through it.
Then he was back. He leaned in again, said, "Fortunately, I have many other toys."
Then he punched Kirk hard, in the ribs, something cold and sharp over Alesson's knuckles bit deep as he hit, tore skin off as he pulled away.
Kirk clenched his teeth as the next blow landed. He would not cry out. Would not.
But his determination could not stop the grunts as each punch landed, as the terrible pain came over him.
"Time to change toys again." Alesson sounded like a small child on his birthday, unsure what to do next. "You tell me, Christine. What shall it be? Fire or whips."
She did not answer.
"Oh, you're no help." He came back with a small torch, hit the igniter, held the flame close to Kirk's face. "Fire it is."
And eventually, he screamed.
Chapel sat in the back of the cell, unwilling to watch any longer as Kirk was tortured. If she could have crawled into the stone surface of the cell wall she would have. Anything to get away from the sounds, anything to not have to bear witness to her captain's pain. She put her hands over her ears, was crooning softly to herself when she suddenly realized that the screaming had stopped.
She looked up, saw Alesson staring at her in disdain. "Hardly Starfleet material, are you? All you have to do is watch and you can't even do that right?" He tossed her a regenerator. She stared down at it uncomprehendingly as he walked out of the cell.
A few moments later, he was back, dragging Kirk behind him. The captain was covered in burns and welts and cuts, blood and other things staining his uniform. His eyes were glazed and unfocused. She hurried to him.
"Fix him up. I want him good as new tomorrow."
She stared up at Alesson. "You can't be serious."
"Good as new, my dear." He headed for the door.
She rushed after him. "You really think I'll make him better just so you can torture him again?"
Alesson smiled. "Yes. I do."
He smiled, gestured at the regenerator. "Well, I suppose if you're clever enough you could figure out how to make that instrument deadly and use it to kill him." His smile turned mocking. "Of course, if you do kill him, I'll torture you instead." He stroked her hair, laughed as she jerked away. "And you don't have the courage for that."
"Maybe I'll kill us both."
He shook his head. "You have too much courage to do that."
"Maybe I'll kill you."
He smiled again. "You can dream." He pushed the door closed, set the lock in place. "Good as new, Christine. By morning."
She shuddered at how he made her name sound.
Kirk woke, blinding pain coursing through him, spasming in his back, his thighs, and his clenched hands.
"Shhh. It's all right now." A voice, gentle. Not the voice of his tormentor. Who?
"Captain, it's me. Christine."
"Christine." His voice was raspy, and he swallowed hard.
A wet cloth was placed near his mouth, liquid dribbling out onto his lips. He opened his mouth, let the water fall, little by little. "Thirsty."
"I know. But it's not good all at once. You're in shock." She pulled the cloth away.
He heard the splash of water, then the cloth was back, more liquid being squeezed into his mouth.
"Besides," she said softly, "we don't have a cup. I tore this from my uniform."
He remembered now. There was only the trough, and Alesson had wanted them to drink like animals from it. And they had.
He closed his eyes, felt a cooling sensation on his temple, heard the slight whirr of a regenerator. Good as new, Kirk had heard Alesson say that before he'd passed out. She had to make him good as new. So he could be hurt again.
He tried not to shudder.
"I screamed." It wasn't a question. He knew he had.
"You did. But you didn't tell him anything."
"He doesn't want to know anything. This isn't about getting information. This is about revenge." He tried to roll to his side, take some pressure off his torn back, but as soon as he did, his stomach started to throb. "This is about hurting me."
She eased him over, gently pulling what was left of his shirt from the wounds. He hissed as she worked, trying not to react with any louder sounds as pain rocketed through him--living for the moment that the blessed coolness would begin again.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, and he realized she was crying.
"Christine. It's all right."
"No, sir. It's not." But she kept working, her hands steady as she took his pain away. "He's never going to let us go, is he?"
"You, I think. As his witness. When he gets tired of this. But not me." Kirk closed his eyes, then opened them again, fighting sleep.
He did not want to wake just to find Alesson waiting for him.
"They'll find us. Spock will find us. You know he'll never quit looking." Her voice was low and she was doing something with her fingers, something nice to his temples. "He'll find us, sir."
He couldn't fight any longer. Not when his body was screaming for rest and her fingers were so soothing. He yawned, felt his lip, already split from Alesson's beating, tear some more and grimaced. But the pain couldn't hold him, neither could the taste of blood in his mouth. He let go and fell asleep.
Chapel fought sleep, sat vigil over Kirk as he tossed fitfully. She got up, walked to the cell door.
She leaned her head against the cool bars, gripping them as if she could tear them off.
"I trust you slept well?"
She had not heard Alesson come in.
She glared at him.
"How touching, my dear. How very much a testament to your profession. Keeping vigil. I did right to pick you as my witness, not that I had a lot of choice." He smiled at her. "I imagine you watch things all the time. Patients, the aftermath of the crew's adventures, life. Always watching. Never doing." His smile turned pitying, seemed laced with scorn, as if she didn't measure up. "You didn't sleep at all, did you?"
She didn't answer him.
He smiled. "Is he as good as new?"
"No. You hurt him too badly for that."
"As long as I can hurt him some more, I won't complain." He held up a whip, there were small bits of metal at the end of the straps. "Do you know what this can do?"
"I can imagine."
He laughed. "Soon you won't have to. Soon you'll see it firsthand." He stepped closer to her. "Do not retreat to the back of the cell again. You're no good to me as a witness if you don't watch."
She started to back away from him and he grabbed her, tearing at her hair again, the same place he'd grabbed her the last time. She cried out. He pulled her hard against the bars, her cheek hitting painfully on the metal.
"Leave her alone."
She could hear Kirk struggling to rise.
"Sir, no. I'm fine." She couldn't turn to look at him, Alesson held her too tightly. "I'll watch," she said softly.
"I can't hear you."
"I'll watch," she said, loudly this time.
Alesson let her go. "Consider it an education in pain. Surely useful in your profession?" He pushed her away, opened the door.
As he walked past her to get to Kirk, she kicked out, trying to use the skills they'd taught her in the mandatory hand-to-hand class all officers had to take.
Alesson was ready for her, grabbing her leg and yanking it hard, pulling her off her feet. She hit the ground, pain shooting through her hip as it connected with the hard floor.
"Do not do that again." He kicked her in the ribs.
She curled into a fetal position, agony running through her. She fought tears, knew her pain was nothing compared to what Kirk would soon be going through.
"Get to the door. Take your position."
She slowly pulled herself up, struggled to the cell door as Alesson pulled Kirk to his feet and dragged him back out to the shackles. She gripped the bars again, knew that this time she had to stay, had to watch it all. She felt sick, the pain in her ribs and hip mixing with her nausea at what was to come.
She held harder to the bars. She would watch. It had been cowardly to try to hide. She would not fail Kirk again.
Kirk fought Alesson as he secured his arms, tried to kick out at him and earned a punch in the kidneys. He groaned, pain from the earlier beating competing with this new agony.
"Coward," he said, making his voice strong, secure. In control.
"You think so? I went to considerable risk to secure you, Kirk. To myself and to my own personal fortune." His voice dropped to a whisper. "My new identity will be destroyed if I let her go. She can identify me. Maybe I shouldn't let her go? Our little witness? What do you think?" His hand was pressing in on a particularly sensitive spot on Kirk's shoulder.
"She's an innocent."
"I know. That's what makes this such a difficult decision." Alesson's breath was hot on his ear. "I hate you enough to make my own capture worth it. And how else will the world know what I accomplished here unless she goes free?" He laughed, a low, dangerous sound. "But freedom, on the other hand, is quite enticing. And she will be all that stands between it and me."
"She's done nothing wrong."
"She cares for you. That's enough."
"I'm her captain. That's all." Kirk struggled to breathe as Alesson pressed in on him. Then he felt his head wrenched back, turned to look at where Chapel stood at the door.
"She didn't sleep at all last night. Kept vigil over you. Is that what your crew does?"
"She's a nurse. And a good one."
"We'll see." Alesson let go of him and backed away enough to shake out the whip he carried. The metal ends hit against each other, making deceptively pretty sounds. "This will hurt quite a lot." He laughed, ran the handle of the whip down Kirk's spine.
Kirk shuddered. Control, he had to keep control.
Then Alesson stepped back, said sharply, "It begins."
He waited a split second longer than Kirk expected, just enough to throw him off, to make him wonder when the blow was coming.
Then Alesson struck, the whip singing as it flew toward Kirk, the metal pieces tearing into his flesh. The pain was unimaginable.
He didn't cry out. Not this time, or the next. Or the one after that. But he knew it was just a matter of time before he lost the fight. Before he lost control.
Chapel bit back a cry of alarm as Alesson finally lowered the whip. Kirk's back was torn to shreds; he sagged in the shackles, no longer crying out. No longer making any sound at all.
Alesson walked over to her. She forced herself to hold her position, to steel her expression to one that was slightly less horrified.
"He is brave, isn't he? Fighting to not cry out. Fighting to not lose control." Alesson touched her hand where it gripped the bars. "What would you give to make his pain stop?"
She looked up at him in surprise. "What do you want me to give?"
"Would you pleasure me? Make me scream as loudly as he does from the bliss you could give me?"
"If that would help him, then I would."
Alesson laughed. "Would you do the same for him? Make love to your captain with me watching."
Chapel met his gaze, tried not to flinch at the mockery in it. "I'd have sex with the Klingon high council if I thought it would help Captain Kirk."
Alesson laughed. "Finally, some spirit." He looked back at Kirk. "You do not have to do any of those things, my dear. Nothing will help him." He smiled, almost tenderly. "He will suffer here and, eventually, he will die here."
"Because he took everything I cared about away."
"You were a criminal."
"That depends on your point of view. To many, I was a hero."
"I think you're a madman." She realized that antagonizing him was not going to help either Kirk or herself. "But a brilliant one. You don't need to do this to be superior to him."
Alesson smiled knowingly. "Very good, my dear. Try to trick me some more." He pushed the door open. "Your captain needs your help."
"Well, go get him down." He nodded toward where Kirk hung. "Just hit the little button."
She hurried past him, nearly running to the wall. "Sir? Sir, can you hear me?"
Kirk opened his eyes, tried to smile at her. "I'm fine, Christine."
She bit back a sob as she looked at his back. The metal pieces had cut deep, torn chunks of skin out. "Of course, Captain."
She reached up, saw a small button and hit it desperately. It released the shackles, and she caught Kirk as he sagged, was nearly dragged to the ground as she tried to support him. He cried out in pain as she touched his ruined back.
He was dead weight, barely able to walk despite his repeated claims of "I can make it."
She was breathing hard by the time she got him to the cell. Alesson mockingly bowed her inside. "Good as new, Christine."
She glared at him. "I can't. You did too much."
"You can. And you will." He laughed. "If it makes you feel better, I'll concentrate on some other area tomorrow." He shut the cell and locked it, then, with a pleased smile, he left.
Chapel felt all the bravado go out of her, bit back a sob as she gently settled Kirk on the ground face down, trying to keep his back as clean as she could. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Christine? Is that you?" He seemed disoriented, barely conscious.
She considered that a blessing.
"It's me, sir." She reached for the regenerator, began to try to repair his wounds.
Blood trailed down his skin as she worked, running onto her uniform and blending with the blood from the previous day. The smell of it, and of the torn flesh, made her sick but she fought the nausea.
"Sorry," Kirk muttered, wincing each time she moved to a new area.
"Sorry for what?"
"Can't protect you."
"No, sir," she said softly. "I know you can't." She ran her hands over his damp hair. "I wish I could protect you."
Kirk opened his eyes slowly, surprised to feel someone--Chapel, he presumed--pressed against his back. He shifted slowly, felt her move away.
"Are you in pain," she asked, her voice soft in his ear.
He tried to turn, felt his stiff body refuse. "Yes."
"Can I help?"
He could feel her reaching for the regenerator. "Don't bother. He'll be at me again soon anyway."
"It could be hours before he comes back. Why should you be in pain?" She began to probe gently with her fingers, stopping wherever she provoked a reaction from him and treating it with the regenerator.
"The pain keeps me focused."
"Bull." She laughed softly, as if embarrassed. "I mean, I don't think so, sir."
He let her work for a while. "We stink."
"I know. Try breathing through your mouth."
Her pragmatism provoked a chuckle, despite how bad he felt. But the amusement died quickly. He tried not to think of what was to come, found he couldn't. "So what do you think he'll use next? We've done whips and cutting and fire."
She dropped the regenerator. "Don't. Don't joke about it." The last word came out as a sob.
He turned over, forcing his body to respond to his commands. It took longer than he liked, and her face was composed by the time he could look at her. "I'm sorry."
"You said that."
She started to work on his arms but he took the regenerator from her.
"Christine. It's okay to be scared."
She nodded but wouldn't meet his eyes.
He tipped her chin up. "I'm scared."
"No, you're not." She reached out, surprised him by stroking his cheek. "You're angry and you're in pain and you're probably feeling humiliated. But you're not afraid."
He smiled softly. "I can't be afraid?" He immediately wished he could take the question back when her eyes welled up with tears. "Christine."
"You can. You can if you want." She turned away, rolled over so he couldn't see her face anymore.
He sighed. "Did you sleep at all?"
"Come back here." When she didn't move, he said, "Roll over. That's an order, Nurse Chapel."
She turned over. Her expression was haunted.
He studied her face. There were dark shadows under her eyes and her eyelids were drooping. "You need to sleep." He touched her forehead softly. "Close your eyes."
She shook her head. "I need to take care of you."
"You already did that. Now close your eyes. As you told me not too long ago, you're no good to us if you don't sleep."
"Promise me you'll sleep too."
He nodded. Watched as she closed her eyes, waited until she was asleep before he closed his eyes, and dropped back off himself.
Chapel was startled out of sleep by a loud bang.
"Rise and shine." Alesson laughed, then whapped the bars again.
She struggled to a seated position, saw that he had a metal pipe in his hand. He smiled at her then ran it across the bars, causing a terrible screeching clang.
Kirk stood up, walked over to the door. For a moment, she thought he was going to grab the pipe out of Alesson's hands. It looked like Alesson thought so too, because he backed up a bit.
"Ah, feeling better, Kirk? Looks like our nurse is finally earning her keep." He leaned in, said conspiratorially, "Do you know that she said she'd have sex with me if it would help you?"
Kirk didn't hesitate. "She's a loyal crewmember."
"Ah, very loyal. She said she'd have sex with you too." Alesson laughed. "Maybe she just likes sex? Ever think of that?"
Chapel bit back a retort; it wouldn't help the captain.
"You're in a good mood," Kirk said.
Alesson drew his weapon, threw the pipe away. "Yes, I am. Would you like to know why?" When Kirk didn't answer, he turned to Chapel. "Maybe you would?" He didn't wait for her answer. "See, I have this wonderful new toy. It's modified from a dream channeler. You do know what that is?"
Chapel nodded. They were all the rage. Shore leave tales were full of reports of the fabulous sex a person could have, all from a dream.
Alesson leaned in to Kirk. "See, she knows all about them. I think there's more than meets the eye to this one."
"Everybody's heard about them," Kirk said tightly.
"If you say so." Alesson opened the door, gestured for Kirk to come out. "The shackles are waiting, great Captain."
Chapel saw Kirk move, saw Alesson move just as fast. Kirk's hands were around Alesson's throat as the other man fired point blank into Kirk's chest. Kirk let go, fell down with a harsh cry. Alesson kept firing.
Then he stopped. Pulling the door shut with a loud slam and locking it, he said to her. "Take your place."
Chapel felt a surge of rebellion. "No."
He fired and pain filled her, pain so intense that her vision went black and her throat tightened up, making it difficult to breathe. She could feel her heart reacting, beating faster and faster. Too fast. If he kept it up, her heart would explode. She heard a scream, realized she was making the sound.
Then the pain stopped. She fell to the ground, sobbing in relief.
"Take your place."
She tried to get up but couldn't, and ended up crawling to the door, pulling herself up by will alone.
"There won't be much to see this time. It'll be happening in his mind." He nudged Kirk, forcing him to all fours. "To the shackles, you arrogant fool. And crawl if you have to."
Kirk pushed himself to his feet, staggered up to the shackles. Once he was secure, Alesson hooked another set to his feet, pulling them until Kirk was held tightly against the wall. Then he took the dream channeler, placed it on Kirk's head. The electrodes burrowed into his skull slightly, setting up the neural connections.
Kirk tried to get away, couldn't. He turned to look at her. His eyes slowly closed, and he sagged against the wall.
"Now, Captain Kirk," Alesson said, imbuing the title with disdain. "Let's find out what you fear? What's your worst nightmare, sexually speaking?"
He reached for a controller, watched something. Then he turned to her. "Like any dream channeler, this is looking for the strongest signal. The best reaction. But unlike your more mundane channelers, this isn't looking for pleasure prompts. It's looking for just the opposite. Oh, here's a strong one. Let's see what we've got."
He hit a button and Kirk suddenly straightened in his restraints. "What are you doing? Your body...so strange...so different from a human woman. Oh. Yes. That feels good." He moaned, began to move against the wall.
Alesson looked back at her. "I guess we know what part of his body you'll need to concentrate on tonight?"
She didn't react, refused to give him the satisfaction.
Alesson was watching the signals again. "This is where it gets interesting. Watch."
Kirk suddenly stopped thrusting. "No! That hurts? What are you doing?" Then he screamed, loud, terrified. A worse scream than any he'd made when Alesson had physically tortured him.
Alesson hit a switch and Kirk sagged.
"I imagine he'll think twice before he beds another alien." Alesson grinned at her, as if it was a big joke the two of them were enjoying. "Let's see what else we can find." He waited for a second then hit the switch. "This should be good."
Kirk straightened up, tried to move his hands, as if reaching out to someone. "Spock? Spock, you have to let me help. I can't let you die."
Chapel closed her eyes. She knew this fantasy. When she opened her eyes, she saw Alesson was watching her, his smile grew mocking as he studied her.
She swallowed hard, forced her expression to clear, to be neutral. As if she didn't know where this would go if it was going to turn into a nightmare.
Kirk was moaning, moving sensuously against the wall. Then he jerked. "Spock? You're hurting me. Please, Spock. Stop now. Oh, god. Please stop."
In his dreams, Spock didn't stop. Kirk writhed, tried to get away. Then he screamed, screamed without ceasing.
Chapel stifled a sob. She knew this nightmare too. The Pon Farr gone bad. The one where Spock didn't love you, he killed you. Killed you with sex. It was a nightmare she had every now and then. Apparently, Kirk had it too.
Alesson let the scenario run on and on.
"Please stop," she begged.
He turned to her. "Do you think they're lovers?"
She didn't answer.
"I think they must be."
She shrugged, tried to make the movement as nonchalant as she could.
"Oh, fine. Be that way." Alesson hit the switch and Kirk sagged again.
This time he sobbed as he hung from the shackles.
Chapel closed her eyes. She hadn't thought that Alesson could break him.
Not until now.
"Let's see what else is in his mind, shall we?" Alesson watched her carefully, seemed pleased by whatever he saw in her face. "I'm sure there must be something worse he can think to do to himself."
She hoped to god he was wrong.
Unfortunately, he wasn't.
Kirk felt soft hands running down his back.
"Sir, it's me."
He flinched from her touch, aroused and terrified at the same time.
"It's Christine, Captain."
Christine? Yes, Christine Chapel. He was her captain. They were here; they were prisoners. Not having sex. Thank god they weren't having sex. He opened his eyes. "We're not having sex, are we?"
"No, sir," she said. "This is going to sting."
He felt a sharp tug on his scalp and winced.
"There, it's out now." Her hands were so soothing, running down his back.
He pulled away. They had all started out soothing, those lovers. Until they'd gone bad, started to hurt him. Or until he'd started to hurt them. "Get away from me."
She reached up, undid his shackles. "No, sir. It's all right."
He jerked away from her touch, fell to the ground hard, his hand hitting awkwardly, the angle all wrong. He heard bone snap, cried out at the sudden jarring pain.
He heard her sob. None of his tormentors had done that. But the ones he had hurt...they'd begged for mercy. Cried and cried and cried--
"I'll fix that. Just let me get you back to the cell."
Odd to think he'd be safe there. But he knew it was true. He'd be safe there...for a while.
He let her help him up, tried to walk on his own but staggered, didn't fall down only because she caught and steadied him. "Christine?"
"It hurts." He looked down.
"You rubbed it. Against the wall." She sounded embarrassed. "I'll make it better."
He was suddenly mortified, realized what he'd said, what she'd said. "It's okay."
"Sir, you're bleeding."
"Not badly. Just..."
"Just let you work on
it," he finished for her.
"Yes." She sounded grateful.
He wondered what she'd really meant to say.
He heard the door slam, heard Alesson's nasty laugh. "Hate him," Kirk whispered to Chapel. "I'm going to kill him. You watch."
Her hand tightened on his arm. "Shhh, it's all right, sir."
"How come you never call me Jim?" Did she not like him? He tried to look at her but his head was spinning. "I don't feel very good."
He felt her turn his head away, then he vomited. Over and over and over as she rubbed his back and murmured words he couldn't make out because of the pounding in his head.
He crawled to the water trough. Made a cup of his hands and drank. He tried to do it again but she pulled him back.
He felt a surge of anger. "I'm thirsty." He reached for the water.
She pulled his hands away from the trough. "Too much and you'll just throw up again."
"Don't tell me what to do." He pushed her away roughly.
She lost her balance, fell sprawled across the dirt.
He crawled to her, anger and fear filling him. Who was she to tell him what to do? "Don't push me."
"Sir, I'm just trying to do what's best for you."
Why wouldn't she shut up? She kept talking, tried to get up. He pushed her back down, his hands circling her throat. Then he began to squeeze, his hurt hand protesting. He ignored the pain.
"Captain, please stop," she croaked. "Jim, you're hurting me."
She'd called him Jim. And he was hurting her. Why was he hurting her? She took care of him. She was kind to him. The only good thing in this horrible place. He loosened his grip.
"This is an interesting aftereffect."
Kirk had forgotten his nemesis was watching. He let go of Christine, turned to the cell door. He stood, his hands outstretched. "I'm going to kill you," he yelled at where Alesson stood. Only there seemed to be two of his enemy, both laughing at him. Then there were four.
He collapsed before Alesson could multiply again.
"My, my," Alesson said. "I didn't know that would happen."
Chapel ignored him. Just went to work on Kirk's pelvic region, hoping she could get done before the captain woke up. His chest would need attention too. He'd rubbed it against the wall during his dreams, leaving a nasty abrasion.
"Ever the valiant nurse, aren't you?" Alesson crouched down, watched her intently. "I think he would have killed you if I hadn't distracted him."
"He isn't himself."
"Oh, you keep believing that. James T. Kirk is no murderer." Alesson pushed himself up. "Just ask my wife. Ask my children."
She turned on him, anger welling up inside her. "Why were they there if you cared so much about them? With your weapons and explosives. That was dangerous and you made it that way."
His face turned to stone. "Watch your tongue, Christine. Or I'll give you a ride on the nightmare channeler."
"You already have."
She turned away, started to work on Kirk's broken hand.
"Are you in love with him?"
She ignored him.
"Or is it just hero worship?" Alesson began to pace. "Was he kind to you at a difficult moment? Do you owe him for something?"
She remembered how Kirk had supported her when they'd found Roger. Yes, he'd been kind to her. Then and later. Always, really. He'd never teased her about Spock the way McCoy did. "He's a good man. A decent man. That's something you wouldn't understand."
She glanced at Alesson.
He didn't look particularly stung. "Yes, well, your good, decent man is going to die. And very soon." He smiled. "You've been an excellent witness throughout this. And a wonderful facilitator. Fixing him up so nicely. I don't know how I would have managed without your help."
She swallowed hard, did not look up.
"But you must be getting tired of just watching?"
She looked up at him.
"I plan to give you a far more active role in the next stage." He smiled, the expression so full of malice that she had to turn away.
He laughed. "Oh, don't fret, my dear. It will be over soon. And then you'll be free to leave. My witness to the world."
She shook her head. Not wanting to hear it, not sure she believed anything he said anymore.
Except she didn't doubt that he meant to kill Kirk. She wanted to think she wouldn't let him. That she'd stop him somehow.
But she knew it was a shallow hope.
Still, it was better than no hope.
"Well, I'll leave you to it. Pleasant dreams." He laughed again.
"You're evil," she said without turning.
He didn't reply, didn't even break stride as he walked away from her.
"Just stay asleep. And don't dream," she whispered to Kirk as she began to repair the small holes the electrodes had left in his scalp. "Don't dream at all."
Kirk reached out for Spock, saw his friend's expression shift. Spock changed to Elaan, then to Ruth. All of them intent on hurting him. He cried out, "No!" and jerked awake.
"Sir?" Chapel was watching him carefully, curled up on her side across from him. Not close enough for him to touch her.
He moved toward her and she flinched away.
She put her hand to her throat, an unconscious gesture, and he noticed a ring of bruises there. Had Alesson hurt her?
Then he remembered. Not Alesson. He had done it. "Christine. I'm sorry."
She scooted toward him quickly, as if she had seen something in his face that told her it was all right, that he wouldn't hurt her.
He wasn't sure he would have been that brave if the tables had been turned.
She slowly put her arm around him and he sighed at the feeling of contact. The dream was still with him, and he buried his head in her neck.
"Shhh. It's all right now. It's over."
He could still feel Spock pounding at him, could remember a dream where he and Spock had hurt Chapel. He tried to pull away, but she held him fast.
"It wasn't you. And it wasn't whoever you were with. They were all just nightmares. Do you understand?"
Nightmares. Yes, nightmares. Terrible nightmares. He sobbed, felt immediately ashamed of his weakness and wrenched away.
She let him go. Lay silently on the ground, tears running down her cheek, splashing softly in the dirt.
He watched her cry, his own need for release somehow contained in her tears. "I didn't mean to hurt you." He touched her neck, traced the livid bruises.
He pulled his hand away. "I'll kill him," he whispered.
"I believe you."
He looked to see if she was humoring him, but there was something in her eyes, something calm and determined. She believed in him. After all this, she still believed in him.
"He deserves to die." Her expression was fierce but distant, as if she was remembering something. Something unpleasant.
"What did he say to you?"
"The usual. Mocking, hurtful things. I'll survive." She smiled strangely.
He moved closer to her, put his arm around her and pulled her in, until their foreheads were resting against each other. She moved her arm gently around his waist, her touch full of comfort.
"You can tell me anything," she said so softly he almost could not make out the words.
"About the dreams?"
He pulled away. "I can't," he said.
"It was Spock, wasn't it?"
He tensed and she held him more tightly. They lay chest to chest, her head in the space between his chin and neck.
"The Pon Farr gone bad? I have that dream too."
"Yes." The one word was utter surrender and she seemed to realize it.
She rubbed his arm slowly.
"Yes, that was it." Other images assailed him. He had not always been the victim in the nightmares. "I hurt people."
"You didn't hurt anyone. They're called bad dreams for a reason, Jim. Because they're just dreams, not real."
He liked the sound of his name on her tongue, how it made him feel closer to her and more human.
"Alesson said..." She shook her head, trailed off.
He waited. Finally, he asked, "What did Alesson say?"
"He thinks you and Spock are lovers."
Kirk sighed. "He isn't the only one." He started to pull away.
"Please, don't. I'm sorry." She sounded miserable.
"You just had to know?" He was irritated with her, but let her pull him back against her. "You couldn't leave it alone, chalk the closeness I have with him up to friendship--the kind that comes along once in a lifetime, if you're lucky? I trust Spock. Trust him with my life. With my ship. With everything I have."
"I'm sorry," she said again.
They lay in an uncomfortable silence.
"You have the same nightmare?" he finally asked.
She nodded against his chest. "Only I'm not his friend."
"I know." He didn't say it to be cruel, but his tone came out harsher than he intended. "I mean--"
"--I know what you mean." She shifted slightly. "You need more sleep. We both do."
He knew she was right, sleep would heal him. Just as long as there were no dreams.
"I'll be right here," she said. When he didn't close his eyes, she sighed. "Then eat something. The rolls are still good, barely."
"And you should too."
His stomach protested the idea. "Not hungry."
"Then close your eyes. Sleep. I'll watch over you."
He kissed the top of her head. "You're brave."
She pulled away, looked at him, meeting his eyes. "No, I'm not. I haven't been." She looked down. "How many times have I had a chance to do something and I didn't take it?"
He frowned. "To do what?"
"Fight him. Distract him. I don't know."
He smoothed back her hair. "You did try. I remember that."
"I never tried again."
"Maybe that's not your role here? Maybe it's your job to get out of here? To bring him to justice?" He looked away. "Once I'm dead."
"Don't talk like that." There was something wild and haunted in her eyes. "I don't want to hear you talking like that."
He closed his eyes. Pretended to sleep and then yawned as he felt his body relaxing, giving in to sleep for real.
Her hand traced patterns on his back and she whispered, "Spock will find us, Jim. He will."
Kirk nodded, but in his heart he knew that Spock would only find one of them alive. He would only find her.
If she was lucky and Alesson didn't kill her too.
Chapel paced the cell, trying not to make any noise as she walked. Unwilling to wake Kirk, but antsy, sure that Alesson would come in at any moment. She'd been up for hours, walking, moving, trying to do anything but sit and think. She'd run through human anatomy, Vulcan anatomy, and was now moving on to Andorian anatomy.
She turned, saw Kirk struggle to his feet and head for the part of the cell they used as a latrine. "Turn around."
She did as he ordered, tried not to notice how bad the cell smelled, how bad they smelled. She pulled at her dress; it was stained with his fluids and some of her own. "How are you feeling?"
"I'll live." He said it almost defiantly. "You can turn around."
She did, watched him walk to the trough, scoop out some water. It was no longer fresh, in fact, they should probably be worried about what might be growing in it.
He sighed, looked over at the roll, which at this point was more like a rock. "Is that still safe to eat?"
She nodded. "I think so. If you don't mind a little mold? But soak it first. You'll break a tooth on it otherwise."
He grabbed the roll, dusting the dirt and mold off before soaking it in the water, then biting gingerly into it. "Terrible," he said with a grimace.
"Better than nothing."
He shrugged, his concession to the inevitable, she supposed.
He met her eyes, then his gaze traveled down to her neck, to the bruises he had put there. "What I did...if I hurt you..."
"You didn't. Not permanently." She smiled.
He shook his head and looked away.
She walked over to him, knelt down. The last remnant of her panty hose split as she did so and she sighed. "Quite the attractive pair we are."
He smiled slightly, tugging at his ruined shirt. "Yes, very pretty." He pulled the shirt off and tossed it on the ground.
"Even beat up, you're still the golden boy." She shook her head, dug her fingers through the hair she had long since let out of its intricate bun. It was hopelessly tangled. "I doubt I can claim that."
"You look good." He touched her knee. "Threadbare but good." He turned his hand over, palm up.
She took it, felt him squeeze. He didn't say anything, just held on to her.
"I'm sorry," she said. "What he did to you--"
He held up his other hand, his lips twisting. She shut up, settled for holding on tight to him. Kirk let her hand go, moved closer to her and pulled her down to sit against him, his arms coming around her. His skin was warm against hers. At least Alesson kept the place heated. Probably didn't want to risk losing his prize to shock.
Kirk's arms tightened around her. Somehow she knew that he was trying to comfort himself as much as her. She felt his face on her hair, and she turned slightly, wrapping her arms around him and holding him.
Neither of them said a word for a long time. Then he pulled away.
"Where is he?" Kirk asked
"He hasn't been here at all."
"How long have you been awake?"
She looked away. "Long enough to know he hasn't been here at all."
He touched her cheek. "You don't have to watch over me."
"What else am I good for? I'm the witness." She spat the word out, sick to death of being the observer.
He sighed. "Being the witness may save your damn life, Chris."
She smiled. "My mom used to call me that."
"Do you mind if I do?"
She shook her head. "Not at all, sir. It sounds nice. Nobody calls me that anymore."
"Call me Jim. You did earlier."
"Jim." She smiled. "Not many people get to call you that."
He looked away. "I know."
"Do you ever get lonely?"
"I'm human, aren't I?"
She laughed. "Oh, yes. You're very human." She touched his hand, tracing the veins. Blue veins on pale pinky skin. Human. Not a Vulcan. Not an android pretending to be human.
Kirk slowly drew his hand away.
She looked up. "Sir, I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by that."
"Shhh." His look was infinitely gentle. "You may not have meant anything, Chris, but I'm feeling a bit vulnerable right now."
She could feel her face redden.
"Stupid, isn't it?" He laughed bitterly. "They were just dreams."
She looked at him, suddenly understanding what he was saying. "So, you weren't aroused, just now? You were afraid?"
"I prefer wary. And you might not want to make sweeping assumptions on the aroused part." He seemed to shudder slightly. "How many hours was I under that dream thing's spell? Five? Six?"
"A lot more than that, I think."
He nodded. "I keep seeing...things. Hearing...things. Me, the person I was with. Always hurting. Always pain."
She swallowed hard. "They were just dreams."
"Dreams that wouldn't end. Dreams that follow me now into sleep. That I can't shake even when I'm awake." He wrapped his arms around his body, seemed to pull away from her even though he had not moved.
"I'm sorry. I know I can't understand what it was like."
"No, you can't." He sounded tired, snappish.
She didn't push it. Turned away. "I'm tired too."
She heard him scoot over to her, felt him urge her down to lie on her side. He followed her, pulling her against him, her back to his chest. He felt warm. Warm and solid next to her.
How long had it been since she'd slept like this with a man? Had it been since Roger--the real Roger? Had it been years since she'd been touched?
Too long. Too damned long.
"Sleep," he whispered, his arm wrapping around her waist, coming to rest just under her breasts. His touch might have been lewd, but it wasn't, instead it felt comforting, made her feel more secure.
She closed her eyes. "Maybe he'll never come back."
"Maybe," Kirk agreed.
It was too much to hope for, and she knew they both realized it. But it was a nice thought to go to sleep by.
Kirk listened to Chapel breathe, waiting for Alesson to interrupt them, to bring back the pain and the fear. He didn't want to admit it to her, but he was afraid to relax, afraid to let down his guard.
Afraid that the minute he did, the door would slam open and his enemy would come striding to the cell door. And it would begin again.
Pain. Humiliation. Despair.
Kirk took a deep breath, fighting for control. Felt Chapel tense in his arms and realized he had woken her up.
"Jim?" She tried to turn, but he held her against him.
"Don't." Don't look at me, he wanted to tell her. Don't push me. Don't watch me as I break.
She seemed to understand, lay still and pressed herself more firmly against him.
He buried his face in her neck. Just to hold her was a comfort.
He wondered why Alesson allowed it.
She sighed and he pulled away thinking she was uncomfortable.
Her hand on top of his stopped him. "Don't."
He knew she meant, "Don't go. Don't leave me. Don't pull away."
He wondered when they had learned this strange code, where one word could mean so many things.
She shook and he realized she was crying. "Chris. No."
"I'm so afraid, Jim. I'm afraid he's going to kill you and I won't be able to stop him. I won't even be able to try."
"Shhh." He stroked her hair. "Spock will come through those doors any moment."
She sniffed. Clearly didn't believe him.
"He will. He'll save us." He closed his eyes. When had he given up on saving them himself?
"You're a good man."
"I mean it. You're a good man. And this shouldn't be happening to you." She turned in his arms, faced him.
He wiped her tears away. More took their place.
"You've always been kind to me," she said.
"It's not hard to be kind to you."
Her look grew shuttered.
"What?" he asked softly.
"I think it is hard to be that way with me."
"Roger wasn't kind?"
She smiled grimly. "Roger and I had an intellectual partnership. He was not tender. Not mean but not particularly kind. Cold at times, like Spock." She looked down. "And he treated me like McCoy does sometimes. As if I didn't matter. As if I didn't exist."
"I can't believe that. I saw how he was with you. The android Roger, I mean. But he was built from the real thing. His memories. His feelings."
She shook her head. "Memories grown much fonder when he was the only human among those androids for all those years. Feelings that he never expressed to me until it was too late, until he was gone and all that was left was a mechanical body full of longing and delusions."
Kirk didn't know what to say, didn't know how to make it better.
She looked up at him. "In all my life, I've never felt this comfortable with someone." She shook her head again. "What does that say about me?" She began to cry again. "What does it say that I can just stand by and watch while he hurts you? When you've been kind to me. You've always been kind to me."
"Shhh." He pulled her close, let her cry. Almost wished he could allow himself the same release. "You have no choice. You have to make it out of here. He'll kill me but he very well might let you go. Don't do anything to jeopardize that. That's an order, Chris."
She looked up at him, an unexpected spark of defiance in her eyes. "I won't let you die. Not if it's in my power to stop it."
He smiled sadly, brushed her hair back. "It won't be. But I appreciate the sentiment."
She looked away from him. "We'll see."
The door slammed open and Chapel felt Kirk pull away from her. He sat up with a start; she was only a moment behind him.
"Hello." Alesson smiled in a way she thought very dangerous. He pulled his weapon out, pointed it at her as he unlocked the door. "To the shackles, Kirk. Now."
When Kirk didn't move, Alesson fired at Chapel. The pain was worse than before; she fell back to the dirt, body convulsing in pain. She tried not to scream, tried not to give Alesson what he wanted. She resisted for mere moments, then her screams filled the room.
He fired on her forever. She gave up hoping it would stop. But it finally did. She rolled over, coughing hard, unable to catch her breath.
Kirk was there, touched her shoulder. "Chris?"
She couldn't get any words out, was fighting just to breathe.
"She'll be fine, Kirk. Now get to the shackles. Or I'll hurt her again."
Kirk stood, walked past her.
He didn't stop, just walked away from her as she pushed herself up, fighting to stay upright. She heard the sound of the shackles closing.
"Come out, my dear." Alesson walked away from the cell. "I told you that you would be involved in this stage."
She pushed herself up slowly, fighting vertigo and muscles that wanted to cramp. She took a step, then another. Into the main room to where Alesson stood.
He had his weapon trained on her.
She grabbed one of the tables for support. "What do you want from me?"
"You've been such an outstanding angel of mercy. It's only right that you now get to play the angel of death." He gestured to a hypospray that sat on the table. "It's poison. Quite instantaneous. He'll barely feel it." He smiled. "You must give it to him."
She pulled her hand away, took a few steps back.
"Tell her, Kirk. Tell her to do it." Alesson laughed, the sound was bitter, as if he was not happy with how things were going. "As you suspected, I've been watching your touching private moments. And you weren't far wrong when you told her that your Vulcan friend would be coming through those doors at any minute. We have more time than that, but not much more." He walked over to Kirk. "I'll let her go. But you know the price. You've always known the price. You, the man who never gives up, are going to have to surrender. If you want her to live."
"I'll kill her first if you prefer. She can die at my hand, her screams loud in your ears. And then you'll die too. Is that what you want? Is that how you'll repay her for her kindness?"
"Don't listen to him," she said.
"Chris. Come here." Kirk's voice was pure command. No hesitation at all. Ordering her. Ordering her to come to him. Ordering her to kill him.
"No." She backed farther away.
"Chris, get the hypospray and come here."
Alesson backed away. Out of Kirk's range. Far from her too. He kept the weapon trained on her.
"Chris, please." Kirk's voice was less sure, rigid, tortured. As if she was making this hard on him. Harder than it had to be.
She sobbed. Took the few steps back to the table, grabbed the hypospray. The metal felt cold in her hands. Cold and dangerous and impersonal. No way to bring death. No way to snuff out such a bright light.
A light the universe needed.
She walked to Kirk. Her eyes locked with his and she said softly, "Not if it's in my power to stop it."
His eyes widened. "Chris. No."
She slammed the hypospray home. Into her own arm. Then she smiled at him. "I'm tired of watching. This is something I can do."
The poison burned as it went in. She felt dizzy, lost her balance and collapsed onto the floor.
"Chris!" Kirk thrashed above her, trying to get out of the shackles.
She felt a tugging pain in her chest, clutched at her throat, trying to breathe.
"Oh, that's wonderful." Alesson ignored the furious Kirk, knelt down beside her. "Did I say it was instantaneous? I must have been confused." He helped her sit up. "It's actually quite slow acting. He'll have ample time to watch you die."
"No," she said, as despair filled her.
"Oh, yes, my dear." He smiled almost tenderly at her. "I've upgraded you from spectator to pawn." He looked up at Kirk. "One that I'll sacrifice because it hurts you."
She jammed the hypospray against his arm, let whatever poison remained in the instrument flow into his body. She only hoped it would be enough to take him with her.
He just laughed. "I took the antidote before I came in. Did you think I would risk you using the poison against me?"
He pushed her away. Pulled his weapon back up. "Get him down. Go back to the cell."
She just stared up at him. "You wanted me to do this...why?" she asked, hating how helpless she sounded. How weak.
"Watching you die for him now that the two of you have gotten so close? Why, what greater torture could there be?" Alesson stepped away. "You should work on your self-esteem in the time you have left, Christine. Don't you realize that you're the reason he keeps fighting?"
She pushed herself up, the pain in her chest enough to make her move very slowly but not getting worse. Not yet.
She reached up to release Kirk's shackles, grimaced in pain as the movement sent a wave of pain down her arms, and into her back. "I'm sorry. I thought I was--"
"--Shhh." He pulled her to him, helped her back to the cell.
Kirk eased her down to the dirt floor, then he turned to Alesson. "You mentioned the antidote on purpose."
"Very quick, Kirk." Alesson smiled. "There may be a way for you to win it." He laughed. "I'll be back later. When she's in more pain. Oh, and in case you haven't figured it out, your Mister Spock is still chasing will-o-wisps some distance from here." He laughed, and the mocking sound seemed to echo in the room long after he was gone.
"He played me," Chapel said, unable to meet Kirk's eyes.
"He played us both." He knelt down next to her. "How can I help?"
She shook her head. "I'm not sure you can. We don't know what he meant by slow acting. Hours? Days?" She forced herself to look at him. "I'm sorry."
He sighed. Pulled her close, tried to make her comfortable. "I'll get you that antidote."
"It's just more games, Jim."
"I know. But I'll get it for you anyway."
She had never heard him sound more certain about anything.
Kirk sat quietly, trying not to wake Chapel as she lay with her head in his lap. For once, he hoped that Alesson would show up, would give him a chance to make things better. Just the hope of it...he'd take just the hope of helping her.
She moaned and he dipped the rag he'd torn from what remained of his uniform shirt in the trough, squeezed it out, then wiped her damp forehead and cheeks.
She opened her eyes. He wondered if she had slept at all. Her face tightened and she tried to shift. Tears welled in her eyes, and he closed his eyes at such a visible sign of the pain she was in.
Pain that was only going to get worse.
Pain that he blamed himself for. He should have known what she was going to do. Should have realized that they were being manipulated. That her very presence in the cell was to bring him down, to make him suffer more when she was gone. He imagined his death would not be quick or anytime soon. Alesson would want to let him suffer. Alone. Guilty.
"Hmm?" He forced his features into something less angry, less gravely concerned. Less full of hopelessness.
He scooped some water, dribbled it into her mouth. "More?"
She nodded, then grimaced at the motion.
He gave her more water, then stroked her hair, trying to help her relax. She closed her eyes and he thought she had dropped off. He touched her cheek, letting his hand drift over the planes of her cheekbones, to touch her lips. He shook his head, looked away.
She moaned, awake again, or never asleep to begin with. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"What are you sorry for?"
"Everything." She blinked hard and a tear worked its way loose, trailed down her cheek. "You would have been better off with anyone else."
He smiled softly, wiped her cheek. "That's not true."
"I can't fight."
"You have a gentle touch." He shrugged, careful to keep the movement from jarring her. "You can learn to fight. Security runs classes."
She smiled sadly. Didn't respond.
He stroked her hair again. "What else do you want to do with your future?"
She looked away. "I don't have one, Jim. I can't pretend that--"
He briefly touched his hand to her lips. "Stop it, Chris. It's not pretend. It's faith. In the future. In our future. Alive, back on the Enterprise. Out of here."
"Do you see your future on the Enterprise? You've stayed on, but your search for Roger is long over."
She nodded. "Yes. Long over. Too long." Her expression became remote, as if she was seeing into the future. "I'd like to finish my degree."
He nodded. "When we get back, you should apply."
"I missed the deadline." She saw his look and smiled slightly. "I think about doing it all the time. I just never do it." She shook her head. "I'm an observer even in my own life."
"You don't have to be."
He stopped stroking her hair, and she leaned into his hand, pressing against him like a cat asking to be petted. He smiled, moved his hand down her hair again and heard her sigh. He felt a rush of tenderness for her, knew it was exactly what Alesson had planned for him to feel as soon as Kirk had called Chapel down from the ship and into this nightmare. But he couldn't push the feeling away just because he knew he'd been manipulated into opening up to her.
He had opened up to her, and she to him. They were connected now. No matter what happened, he knew neither of them would ever be the same again. And no one would understand what they had gone through.
"You're so sweet," she said, her voice barely more than a whisper. "I never knew that."
He smiled. "Don't let it get around. It'll ruin my tough guy image."
His smile faded. Some tough guy. A tough guy wouldn't be afraid to sleep, wouldn't feel a shiver at the thought of dreaming.
A tough guy would have gotten them out of this.
Her hand came up to rest on his. Their eyes met and he wondered if she could tell what he was thinking. There seemed to be infinite compassion in her expression. Forgiveness for them both.
"I'm glad it's you," he whispered.
She nodded, then gasped as another wave of pain seemed to crash over her. It lasted longer than the others, took more time for her to relax.
He took a deep breath. Fought off his impatience. Alesson was watching them. He'd come when he was ready. And Kirk had to be ready for him.
To do what, he had no idea. But knowing Alesson, it wouldn't be pleasant.
Chapel moved and pain roared through her body, ending up as a searing flash in her head. She closed her eyes, tried not to groan. She knew Kirk was worried about her, didn't want him to see how much worse the pain had become.
But then another wave took her, more intense than before, and she cried out before she could clamp down on the sound.
"Chris." He was out of words. Just said her name every time she groaned or called out.
"I'm all right," she tried to say, but the words came out garbled, even to her.
"Shhh," he said. "Just be still."
She wished she could be. She wished that she could turn over without pain, or close her eyes and fall asleep. She felt nearly sick with her need for sleep, but the pain kept her awake, kept her from doing more than drowsing.
She had expected Alesson to show up, to torment them, mock her pain and make Kirk humiliate himself for the antidote. But he had not come. She began to wonder if there even was an antidote. She briefly fantasized that Alesson was lying sick too, from the poison she'd injected him with, dying alone just outside the door. He'd die and then she'd die and then Kirk would be left in the cell, alone.
Alone with her dead body. She wondered if Alesson would drag her corpse out when she was dead. Or would he leave her there to rot, to torment his enemy.
"Chris," Kirk lay down next to her, careful not to jar her. He wiped off her face, his touch gentle, his mouth set in a firm line.
He was not giving up. She wished he would. She was tired of keeping up the act. Tired of pretending that she believed they'd be rescued.
The outside door opened and Kirk jerked. He rolled away from her, went to the cell door.
"Eager to see me, I imagine." Alesson held a hypospray. "I bet you can guess what's in here."
Kirk moved toward him.
Alesson nodded. "You realize you have to win it."
"Jim. No." It hurt her to talk.
And it had no effect; Kirk kept moving away from her.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked.
Alesson smiled. "Tell her about that day. The day you murdered my wife and children. The day you rained fire down on us." He leaned forward. "Tell her the truth. The truth you've probably never even admitted to yourself."
Kirk's lips tightened.
Alesson shrugged, put the hypospray back in his pocket. "I guess your reputation is more important to you than she is." He started to walk away.
"Let him go, Jim."
Alesson turned back. "Tell her the truth about that day."
Kirk turned to her; she saw something haunted in his eyes, before he seemed to steel himself. "I was younger than. Not as experienced."
"Ah, the excuses start."
Kirk shook his head slowly. "Not excuses. Just background. I was overeager maybe." Alesson made a noise of disgust and Kirk said quickly, "I was overeager. No maybe about it. I ordered the attack on the compound. We used too much force." He looked down. "I didn't know that the weapons were stockpiled. Our intelligence didn't include that fact. And you had them behind shields. We didn't know."
Kirk sighed. "I didn't know. I ordered too much firepower. The compound went up...too fast, much too fast."
"So, whose fault is it that my wife is dead? That she was burned to death in the conflagration you called down?"
"Mine," Kirk said softly.
"Mine!" Kirk yelled. "It's my damned fault that she's dead. Are you happy? Does that make you happy?" He pointed at Chapel. "She had nothing to do with it, Alesson. Nothing. And you torture her despite knowing that. What I did was an accident, but what you do is on purpose. That makes you worse than me."
Chapel smiled, was glad that Kirk was fighting back, even if it wasn't going to win them any points with their tormentor.
"No, Kirk. Unlike you, I'm a merciful man. I'm willing to give her what she needs. If you beg me for it."
Kirk sank to his knees. "I beg you."
Alesson raised an eyebrow, seemed amused. "Hardly heartfelt."
"I beseech you," Kirk said, the words still sounding forced.
"Jim. No more."
Kirk looked back at her. "She helped you. She touched you and healed you." He looked at Alesson. "She moved you; I saw how you looked at her."
"That was just interest in my new toy."
"She's a good person. Better than you and I. Not involved in what we do. Not a fighter but a healer. We need people like Christine Chapel. We can't afford to kill them. Without them, we'd have no reason to strive...to be better than we are. Without them, we truly become animals, no mitigating presence in our lives."
"She's not in my life, Kirk. She's in yours. And not for much longer if you can't be more convincing than that."
"Please?" Kirk closed his eyes. "Please? I beg you." His voice trailed off.
"I'm just not moved."
"Go away, Alesson," Chapel managed to say, even though the words seemed to rip through her lungs, pain searing her throat and mouth with each syllable. "Let me die in peace. He'll never beg enough to make you happy. He's not capable of it, and I'm glad he's not."
"She'd rather die than have you beg further. Speaks even though it hurts her." Alesson stepped closer. "I find her argument compelling. Here."
Kirk opened his hands, caught the hypospray as Alesson dropped it into his hands.
He hurried to her, laid the hypo against her arm. There was a hiss, but no tingle, no feeling of liquid being aerosolized and forced into her skin.
"Empty." She shook her head slightly. "More games, Jim."
Kirk tore the hypospray open. There was no canister inside.
"Oh, did I forget this?" Alesson was holding up a glass vial, in his other hand he held his weapon. "The last dose I have. I should be careful. This glass is very brittle." He held the vial out, waited for Kirk to come near him. Then he dropped the vial just before Kirk reached for it.
The glass shattered on the hard dirt floor.
She could only see Kirk's face from the side, but his jaw tensed, his lips tightened and he launched himself at Alesson.
But Kirk didn't fall down. With a scream that seemed equal parts rage and pain he flew into the bars, reached through, grabbing Alesson's hand and forcing it back, turning the weapon against him.
Then it was Alesson who screamed.
Chapel forced herself up, ignoring the pain as she watched Kirk holding down Alesson's finger over the trigger. Alesson fought hard, trying to shake Kirk loose but he couldn't. He screamed again, short bursts of anguish and then one long scream as Kirk did not let up.
A few minutes later, Alesson quit fighting, his legs jerked and Kirk caught him and pulled him closer to the bars, wrenching the gun away, still firing.
Alesson went limp. But Kirk didn't stop the beam. He didn't stop until much, much later, when the weapon ran out of charge. Even then he kept his hand on the trigger, didn't let go of his enemy but sank to the ground with him, pushing the weapon against Alesson's head.
Chapel forced herself to crawl to him. She bit back a cry as the motion set her nerves screaming. "He's dead, Jim. Let him go now. You killed him. Just like you said you would."
He looked over at her, his eyes blank, no recognition. Then he seemed to come back from whatever place his rage had sent him. He let go of Alesson, ran his hand down her cheek. "I said I'd get you the antidote."
She looked down at the shattered glass. "It may not be an antidote. It could just be water."
"It's the antidote," Kirk said stubbornly. He began to rifle through Alesson's pockets until he found the key to the cell and opened the door. Kicking Alesson's body out of his way, he went to the table near the shackles, where the hypospray had been, began to rummage around.
When he came back to her, he had a small container in his hand. He crouched down, picked up the bottom of the vial, where a small amount of liquid remained and put it in the container, sealing the top. "Bones will be able to make more." He helped her up. "Can you walk?"
She wasn't sure she could, but found herself nodding.
He smiled. It was a scary expression, as if he were not quite back yet. As if he were still firing at Alesson. "I'll help you. We're going to make it, Chris. You have to hold on."
Pain erupted again as he pulled her to her feet but she didn't cry out. He supported her as they walked out of the cell, over to the table. She held on while he looked through the rest of the drawers. He found another weapon in one, their communicators in another.
"Kirk to Enterprise."
There was nothing.
"Shielded," she croaked.
He nodded grimly, helped her out the door and into a plain hallway. A long, steep flight of stairs was the only way out.
He tried the communicators again. Nothing. "We have to go up."
She felt all her strength ebbing. "I can't."
"You can, and you will. That's an order, Nurse Chapel."
She felt stung, tried to straighten up.
He held on to her. "I'll help you, Chris. We'll make it together."
She nodded, trying to fill herself with faith and determination. It lasted all of five steps.
Kirk was sweating as he manhandled Chapel up the staircase. She was trying to help, but her strength had given out about three quarters of the way up. He'd have picked her up if he wasn't afraid that his own strength would give out.
"Jim. Please." She turned her head, threw up again.
He noticed there was blood mixed in with the bile.
"Come on, Chris. Just a few more steps."
She sobbed, pushed herself forward, and he steadied her.
"That's it. That's right."
They finally reached the top. He eased her down, then pulled out the weapon, pushing the door open slowly.
There were no guards, no appearance of activity in what looked like the main floor of a private dwelling. He hefted Chapel up, helping her out into the hallway. He pulled out a communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
As he expected there was nothing.
"They're out of range. We need to find a stronger communicator." He stroked her hair. "I have to figure out where we are. Will you be all right alone for a few minutes?"
He settled her into a chair, then hurried down the hallway to what looked like the main door. A panel beeped intermittently, and he studied the readings. It was a shielding mechanism of some sort. He turned it off. The beeping stopped.
He pushed the door open. Saw that Alesson had moved in across from the Starfleet outpost. The man had balls, he'd give him that.
He hurried across the street, startling the same lieutenant who had been on duty the day he disappeared.
"Sir? But we thought--"
"No time. I have a critically ill officer. Can you hail the Enterprise?"
"Yes, sir. They're on their way back. Shall I call a medic too?"
"Yes. I'm across the street, I'll leave the door open."
"You've been across the street this whole time?" The man was clearly confused.
"It doesn't matter, Lieutenant. Tell the Enterprise maximum warp. I need them here now!" Kirk ran back across the street, was nearly run down by a local transport as he did so.
He ignored the driver's angry yells, tore up the stairs and back into the house. He hurried down the hall, afraid that he'd find Chris dead.
She wasn't. She looked up as he ran toward her.
"Help is on the way." He smiled at her, was disheartened at how much effort it took for her to nod. He knelt in front of her. "Maybe I should have left you down there. The stairs were too much..."
She flinched. "No."
He couldn't stand the thought of her lying there next to Alesson either. "No," he agreed. "You're strong, Chris. You'll get through this. You eat all those vegetables, remember?"
She smiled slightly. "I don't."
He shook his head. "Just the standard lecture, huh?" He ran his hand down her hair. It was matted and dirty, and he wondered if she would be able to work out the knots or if she'd have to cut it off.
He heard a strange wailing, realized it was some sort of emergency siren. Several medics came up the stairs, running down the hall toward them.
They had a transport gurney but he waved that off. "My ship is on the way. Is there anything you can do for her now?"
One of the medics scanned her. "She's dehydrated." He turned to his partner. "We need fluids. Type 5-4b." He saw Kirk's frown, smiled gently. "Human, sir."
The other medic attached a drip mechanism to her arm.
"I've been poisoned," Chapel said, each word a struggle. "It's systemic, slow-acting. Loss of motor--"
The medic laid a gentle hand on hers. "It's all right, ma'am. I can see what's going on." He scanned some more. "I can help you with the pain." He reached into his bag, brought out a hypospray, filled it with a combination of things. At her look, he nodded gently. "Don't worry, this won't sedate you."
Chapel nodded. As he sprayed the mixture into her arm, her face relaxed. She smiled up at Kirk.
"Spock to Kirk."
Kirk flipped the communicator open. He'd never been happier to hear Spock's voice. "Kirk here."
"Sir, I am extremely gratified to know you are all right. I assume Miss Chapel is the critically ill officer?"
"That's right. I need you here at once. Poison. I have the antidote"--he saw Chapel shake her head--"possible antidote. McCoy should be able to synthesize it."
"We should be there in twelve point five minutes."
"As fast as you can. Kirk out."
The medics stood. "That's all we can do for her, sir. We'll stay here until your ship arrives."
"Check him out too," Chapel ordered.
Kirk was amused that neither medic argued with her, just began to scan him.
"He's probably dehydrated too," she said.
"Doctor," Kirk whispered and she smiled slightly. As soon as she was out of the woods, he'd make a call to Starfleet Medical. See what strings he could pull. Or get McCoy to use his contacts. Maybe that would be better.
The medic fixed a fluid drip to his arm, it stung at first where it was attached, then the anesthetic kicked in.
"Sir, I don't think I want to know what you've been through." The medic glanced over at Chapel and she shook her head in agreement. "Are you in pain?"
"You need rest. Both of you do."
"He won't rest," Chapel said, sharing a long look with the medic.
"Gotcha." He reached into his bag, began to mix up a hypo.
"No meds," Kirk said.
"It's just an immune system enhancer, sir. And a vitamin supplement."
Chapel nodded. "It'll keep you going."
Kirk nodded, let the medic inject him.
The man smiled, said softly, "She's strong. And she has you. That's important."
Kirk smiled, unaccountably touched by the man's words. After Alesson's cruelty, the gentleness of these strangers threatened to undo him.
Chapel touched his hand, smiled in a way that let him know she understood what he was feeling. Kirk nodded, squeezing her hand very gently, afraid he'd hurt her. He watched as the medics cleared their things, moving a discreet distance away.
The first one brought a chair over. "You'll be more comfortable in this, sir."
"Thanks." Kirk pulled the chair close to Chapel's, took her hands. "The pain is better?"
"They'll be here soon, Chris."
"Thank you." Tears welled in her eyes.
He leaned in, touched her cheeks, wiping the tears away as they fell. "For what?"
"For killing him. For making it stop."
"I wish I could have done it sooner."
"Doesn't matter when you did it, just that you did it." She leaned back, closed her eyes. Seemed to find it harder to breathe.
Hurry, Spock, Kirk implored. Please hurry.
Chapel was fading in and out of consciousness. She felt Kirk's hand on hers, could feel the hiss of a hypo as the medic gave her another dose of painkiller.
Then she heard Spock's voice again. She groaned as Kirk drew his hand away.
She tried to concentrate, could only make out a few words. Enterprise. Medical team. Standing by.
Then she felt Kirk gently pull her to her feet.
"We're going home, Chris," he whispered, as he held her close, supporting her as the transporter took them.
A second later, they were in the transporter room. She saw Spock step up to the pad, felt his hands on her as he helped Kirk move her. Heard McCoy say, "Where's the antidote?"
"Probably not. Just a trick," she muttered, not sure if anyone heard her.
Kirk said fiercely, "It's the antidote."
"We'll find out."
The room began to spin and the corners of her vision became dark and blurry. She looked up at Spock. "He's hurt too. Don't let him..."
Then the world went black.
She woke again in sickbay, the room was darkened and she was afraid for a moment that she was going blind. She tried to move, realized they had restrained her. She began to fight, pain overwhelming her as she did so. She faded in and out, felt hands on her, soft voices begging her to be still.
She tried to breathe, couldn't get in any air. Coughed, the action only bringing more pain. But no air. She coughed again.
"Just hold still, Christine," McCoy said.
She tried not to gag. Felt him stick a clearing tube in. She nearly threw up as it hit the back of her throat, clearing away blood and mucus.
Her head flared with pain and she pulled away. The tube was pulled out of her mouth and she breathed deeply. Then the pain in her head intensified and she cried out.
Kirk leaned in again. "Shhh, Chris. It's all right."
"Here, you do this," McCoy told someone. M'Benga? Or one of her nurses? "I have to check on the antidote."
She tried not to move, tried not to make the pain in her head worse by shifting. Her throat sealed up again and she was lifted up, the tube used. She gagged, nearly threw up again.
It was harder to breathe. She moaned. She could hear the biobed readings dropping. Pulse, respiration, everything dangerously low.
She wanted to give up, to let go. Would have, if Kirk hadn't been there, urging her to fight.
But even that couldn't hold her forever. The readings were whispers. She wanted to quit fighting. She was so tired.
"Can you help her, Spock?"
"I can try," Spock said. Then he was hovering over her, his hands reaching for her face.
"No," she tried to pull away.
"He won't hurt you, Chris." Kirk smoothed her hair back.
She relaxed at the familiar feel of his hand on her. "Jim?"
"I'm here." He leaned in. "It was the antidote, Chris. McCoy is making more now. It won't be long. But you have to hold on."
The world went black again and she cried out.
Then she felt his hand on her hair again, thought she felt his lips on her cheek.
"Spock is going to help you. You have to let him. Will you let him?"
Her vision cleared and she saw them both, so close. She was breathing hard, pain rising in her chest with each breath.
"Do it, Spock."
Spock's hands touched her face. They felt hot against her already clammy skin. She tried to get away, felt his fingers pressing against her cheek. She cried out.
Then she felt his mind, trying to reach hers. Gentle and concerned. He wanted to help her. For Kirk's sake. And for her own. His mind overwhelmed hers, and she let go, let him lead her somewhere dark and quiet. The pain lessened and she lay still.
"Yes, that's it. Just rest." Kirk's voice was soft.
She smiled. "Jim." Felt the word echo in Spock's voice deep in her mind. They both loved him so. She smiled. Tried to thank Spock. Sensed him telling her no thanks were needed.
"Rest," Kirk said.
Spock's mindvoice reinforced the suggestion.
She let the blackness take her.
"I hope it's not too late," McCoy said as he injected Chapel with the hypo.
Kirk paced, looking at Spock who shook his head slowly. Kirk didn't want to ask if that meant the Vulcan thought she had time, or that she'd run out. Spock frowned, then moved his other hand to Chapel's face.
"No," Spock whispered. "Stay."
Chapel thrashed under the restraints, as if in some kind of weird reaction to the antidote.
McCoy shook his head helplessly. "She may be too far gone."
Spock tried to hold her head still as she moved, managed to maintain the meld.
She finally lay still. Breathing heavily but something in her face looked better.
"Yes, relax. Sleep now." Spock slowly pulled his hands away from her.
McCoy watched the readings on the biobed. They were all heading upward. "It's working."
Kirk sagged into the chair by the bed. "Thank god." He suddenly felt overwhelmed, took a deep breath, then another.
Alesson hadn't won.
"I killed him," he said, looking up at Spock. "The man who took us."
"Yes, Jim, I know. I sent a team down to search the house you were held in. They found surveillance video; I had it transferred to the Enterprise."
"The man who took you? Who was he?"
"An old enemy. His name was Alesson."
Spock waited, seemed to accept that Kirk wasn't going to say more. "They found traces of DNA--more than just yours and Miss Chapel's--in his basement."
"Larkins probably. And others. He practiced..." Kirk closed his eyes.
"We will try to find out who they were. Notify their next of kin."
Kirk nodded. Then he yawned, a huge yawn. He could feel his eyes drooping.
McCoy nodded at Spock. The two of them walked over to him, pulled him from the chair and led him to the next bed.
"She will recover," Spock said.
"Now, you have to rest." McCoy watched as the biobed began to record his readings.
"No, she still needs me."
"I will stay with her until you wake," Spock said.
"You need sleep as much as she does," McCoy said, as he pumped a hypo into Kirk's arm. "This is just a light sedative. It will help you relax."
Kirk saw McCoy lift the restraints, began to panic, suddenly back in shackles, waiting for Alesson to move on him. "No!"
"It's okay, Jim." McCoy dropped the restraints, grabbed for another hypo and shot him with it. "This will help you sleep. Just for a while. No restraints, I promise."
Kirk saw Spock and McCoy trade looks. He turned, saw Chapel sleeping too. "Chris," he said softly, reaching out to her before finally surrendering to sleep.
Chapel rolled over, felt a tug of discomfort as she did so. She slowly opened her eyes, took a tentative breath, realized it didn't hurt to inhale.
"Are you feeling better?"
She turned. Saw Spock sitting by her bed. "Jim?"
Spock motioned to the next bed.
"You had to sedate him?" She smiled slightly.
Spock nodded, looked slightly amused also. Then his expression grew more serious. "We were fortunate that the antidote worked. You nearly died."
She nodded, taking another deep breath. She grimaced. "I smell like I died."
His eyebrow rose. "You have been through a lot."
"I know what you did for me. Thank you."
They sat quietly for a few minutes. Then he leaned forward. "I have watched the video. I know what happened in that basement." His face clouded.
Chapel thought of the dream channeler, how prominent a role Spock had played in that, even if only in Kirk's mind. "Then you saw how brave he was."
"I saw how brave you both were."
"It was hell, Spock." She smiled wryly. "Made the Platonians look like amateurs."
She was distracted by the sound of Kirk calling out; he thrashed a bit, then sat up with a loud, "No!"
"Jim?" Both she and Spock said it at once.
"I'm fine. Just a dream." He saw her concern, looked away for a moment. He was breathing hard, and she saw a sheen of sweat on his forehead.
Not a dream, a nightmare.
Spock rose slowly as Kirk stretched, then swung his legs over the bed and eased down.
"Are you all right, Jim?" he asked.
"I'm fine." Kirk walked stiffly over to her bed. His smile for Spock was warm and welcoming; it became even more so as he looked down at her. "How are you?"
"I'll be fine," she said. And for the first time since their nightmare had begun, it wasn't a lie.
Kirk nodded, then turned to Spock. "A man of your word, as ever, Spock. I'm awake. I take it you've been here since you and Bones ganged up on me."
"I have," Spock said, making no attempt to defend whatever he and McCoy had done. He looked down at her, then over at Kirk. "If you will excuse me?"
Chapel smiled at him. "Thank you."
Kirk walked to the chair as Spock moved away. As they passed, he touched Spock on the arm, then turned back to her, sinking into the chair and smiling, as if he couldn't believe she was all right. "You're really okay?"
She nodded. "He didn't win."
"No. He didn't." Kirk leaned in. "He underestimated you."
"I don't know about that."
He nodded. "I do."
They sat in silence, an easy silence, filled with nothing. And everything.
He took her hand, squeezed it gently.
She squeezed back, harder. "I won't break."
"I know." His expression darkened.
"You didn't break, Jim."
He nodded, but something seemed less assured in the way his shoulders were set, in how he looked away rather than meet her eye.
"Why don't you go get a shower? Get back to real life. I'll be fine. And jealous."
"I don't think I'll ever be clean again," she said, trying but failing to find a way to breathe that did not include smelling how ripe her odor had become.
"I know the feeling," he said, again his expression darkened.
"Go, Jim. You have reports to file, no doubt. And a ship to check on. I'll be here when you get done. Or if I'm lucky, McCoy will release me and I can shower."
He nodded, stood slowly. Then he leaned down, laid his lips on her forehead. "I thought you were going to die."
"You didn't show it. You kept me here. I was afraid to disappoint you."
He smiled. "You couldn't do that if you tried."
Their eyes locked and held, and she reached for his hand again. He squeezed, hard this time. The touch comforting, familiar now.
"Go. Get clean. And eat something," she said, pushing him away.
"Anything you want. Just stay away from moldy rolls."
He laughed, but not very hard.
"We have to be able to talk about it, Jim. Repressing what happened isn't a good idea."
"I know." He gave her hand a final squeeze and left.
She watched the door close behind him, saw McCoy come out of this office. She looked over at him.
McCoy smiled, walked over to her with a glass of light green liquid. "You gave us quite a scare, darlin'."
"Even poor Spock was worried about you." He handed her the drink. "Supplements. Just what the doctor ordered."
She sniffed. "New flavor?"
"Or lemon-lime. I get mixed up." He smiled down at her.
She sipped at it.
"Drink it all, Christine."
"You're a lot worse than I am. How about letting a body finish this in peace?"
She rolled her eyes, but did as he said. The last bit went down the wrong way and she began to cough.
He took the glass from her, put it down then steadied her as she coughed.
When she could finally talk again, she said, "See, slow is better."
"I stand corrected," he said.
"When can I go, Len? I'm dying to get clean."
"You aren't released, not by a long shot. But you can use the shower in the break room if you want."
"Really?" She pushed the covers off.
"Slowly. And not a long or particularly hot shower."
She nodded, let him help her out the bed. She took a step, expected to feel weaker than she did. She took another step, then another. Smiled as her strength seemed to come back with each new movement.
"You're a hell of a lot tougher than anyone knows, Christine." McCoy walked with her to the break room. "Although I think Spock is deeply aware of that after that meld. And Jim seemed certain he could keep you here with us."
"By his will alone," she said with a smile.
"Will. And maybe something else? The experience down there brought you two a lot closer?"
She shot him a look, but there was no condemnation in his expression. Nor was he trying to pump her for gossip. He looked curious, but more in a professional way than personal.
"Just ask what you want to ask."
"Torture's a tricky thing. And being held captive. A lot of potential problems for both of you, if we don't work now. He's going to resist that idea. You may be able to sway him when the rest of us fail."
She nodded, not surprised at where he was going. "He's traumatized. He bore the brunt of it."
"You're not free of this either. After all, you're the one who nearly died."
She nodded. "We both probably need help. But he may not open up."
"Starbase Two is on our way. I'm going to recommend to Jim that you both spend some time there. You'll back that recommendation?"
She nodded. She didn't relish intensive face time with the counselors. But she understood the dangers of post-traumatic stress as well as McCoy did. "He won't like it though."
"He doesn't have to. It's standard policy. And I'm CMO. And you're my secret weapon." He handed her a towel and a new gown. "Go. Get clean. Then back to bed. Understand?"
"Change the sheets on the bed?" she said with a cajoling smile.
"I'm a doctor not a chambermaid." When she shot him a pleading look, he gave a resigned sigh. "What I do for my friends."
She waited until he was gone, then stepped into the small shower room, closing the door and pulling off the medical gown. She let the sonic shower work at her. After a while she switched to water, trying with little success to work out the tangles in her hair.
Finally feeling clean, she turned the shower off and got dressed. She tried to get a comb through the ends of her hair, ended up tearing the knots loose with a few choice swearwords.
She studied her long hair. When she was released, she'd cut it off. Maybe go back to her real color. It had been years since she'd been a brunette. She walked out of the break room, saw McCoy in his office. "I don't suppose you'd call the barber down?"
He shook his head. "When you're all better. Not before."
She made a face at him.
He was not moved. "Go back to bed."
She knew better than to argue. Plus he was right. She needed sleep. The shower--as lovely as it had felt to get clean--had tired her out.
She lay down on the bed, was touched that McCoy had added an extra pillow. She let her head sink into it, and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Kirk sighed, finally feeling clean again. He pulled on a new uniform, and hurried out of his quarters. Sickbay was quiet when he got there. McCoy looked up and smiled at him. He motioned that Chapel was asleep and that Kirk should come over.
"She's all right?" Kirk asked as he sat down in the chair across from McCoy.
"She will be. How are you?"
"I'm fine." He hurried on, did not want to talk about what had happened. "Listen, has Chris ever mentioned going back to med school to you?"
"Sure, every semester. But she never does it. Why?"
"I think she's ready to do it. But she's missed the application deadline, right?"
"You have any contacts that could help make that deadline a bit softer?"
McCoy leaned back in his chair. "I suppose so. And I'll be happy to. If she asks me, Jim."
"She will." Kirk smiled.
"Well, she won't be doing that right away. You know there are topnotch medical facilities on Starbase Two?"
Kirk frowned. "I thought you said she was going to be fine?"
"She will be. You both will be. But as part of the healing process, you need to see the counselors at Starbase Two."
Kirk could feel himself shutting down. Hadn't Alesson screwed with his head enough? Did he now have to open himself to some Starfleet headshrinker's questions? "I don't think that's necessary, Bones." He stood up. "But I appreciate your concern." He began to walk out of the office.
"It wasn't a suggestion, Jim."
"It's an order."
Kirk turned around, could feel his mouth twisting. "You can't--"
"I can and you damn well know I can." McCoy stood up. "Now, do you want to inform Chekov of our change in heading, or shall I?"
Kirk stared at McCoy, as if he could make his old friend back down under his glare.
He should have known better.
"Fine, I will," McCoy said with a resigned shake of his head.
"I will." Kirk walked to the communications console, slapped the button down. "Kirk to Chekov."
"Chekov here, sir."
"A small course revision, Mister Chekov. New heading to Starbase Two." He saw McCoy raise an eyebrow, waiting for the rest of the order. "Mister Sulu, warp five."
"Aye, sir." Chekov and Sulu responded together.
"Kirk out." He backed away from McCoy, wouldn't look at him.
"I'm sorry, Jim. It's for your own good."
Kirk didn't reply, just walked out to the ward area, taking the chair next to Chapel's bed. It took him a moment to realize she was awake and watching him.
"Starbase Two, huh?"
"You knew?" he asked.
She nodded. "Post-traumatic stress is--"
"--Don't you start on me too." He got up, began to pace.
"Jim, you were having a nightmare. I saw you wake up from it."
"So? A nightmare. Everyone has one now and then."
"What was it about?" She met his gaze calmly.
"Nothing. Just nightmare stuff." He walked back to the bed.
He looked away.
He nodded. "Just a dream." He sat down. Took her hand, realized her hair was still damp, that she smelled good. "McCoy let you shower?"
"Yes, and don't try to change the subject." She shook her head. "These dreams...they'll only get worse."
He nodded. He lacked the energy to fight her.
"Was it Spock again?"
"No. It was you. I was hurting you."
She squeezed his hand. "It was just a dream."
"Didn't feel like it."
"Well, that's why we need to see the counselors. They're good at this. They'll help us."
"Are you having nightmares too?"
She shook her head.
"Traumatic stress can show up in a lot of different ways. A panic attack some moment when I least expect it, headaches possibly, or depression. The idea is to work some of the stress out before it manifests. Head it off at the pass?"
He smiled slightly at her efforts to make him understand. Then he looked away. He knew she was right. But seeking treatment seemed awfully close to bending.
To admitting he'd been broken.
He turned back to her.
"I know you'd never hurt me." She let go of his hand, reached up and stroked his cheek. "You have to believe that too."
"I want to believe that. But..." He sighed.
"Why don't you go up to the bridge and let me sleep?"
Her eyes were so gentle, her touch on his face so careful. He wished he could crawl into the bed with her, lie pressed against her the way they had in the cell. Just the two of them. No world, no tormentor, no reality of stress and therapy and choice taken away again.
He leaned down, kissed her forehead. "Sleep well."
"We'll be okay, Jim."
He wished he could believe her. He turned, then remembered what else McCoy had said. "Tell McCoy if you want to go to med school. He can pull some strings."
She nodded, but something in her expression seemed off.
"You want me off the ship?"
He looked at her in confusion. "No."
Her face fell more.
He walked back. "I don't want you to go, Chris. But you need to do this."
She nodded, not looking at him.
He had hurt her. He leaned down, his hands on either side of her face. "Get that damned degree and then come back to me." He kissed her on the lips. A light kiss, one that he tried to keep just friendly, but her lips opened to him, and the kiss deepened despite his best intentions. She gave a low moan, her arms coming around him.
He pulled slowly away, his hands shaking. His nightmare seemed to superimpose itself on top of her. He saw her bleeding and in pain, hurt by him, by what this could lead to. With a low animal sound of fear, he pulled away from her. "I'm sorry."
"Jim. No. It's all right." She reached out for him again.
But he kept seeing the dream Chris lying on his bed, eyes glassy. In the nightmare, he'd cut her throat, let her bleed to death as he'd used her. "No!"
"What the devil is going on here?" McCoy took one look at Kirk's face and reached for a hypo.
"I'm all right, Bones." Kirk fought the panic, forcing himself to breathe more normally.
"You're a long way from all right, Jim." McCoy took a step toward him, but he didn't reach for the hypo again.
"Bones, I'm fine." Kirk tried to grin, knew that he failed but kept the expression up as he headed for the door. "Duty calls."
"Oh, no you don't. You're off duty, Jim. Stay here, or go to your quarters. But you're not to go near the bridge. You understand?"
Kirk nodded. Threw a shamed look at Chapel, then hurried out.
McCoy turned to her. "You want to tell me what that was all about?"
She shook her head. Still shaken by what had just happened. The kiss and his reaction to it.
He'd kissed her.
She'd kissed him back.
It had been so nice. Until he'd panicked. She sighed.
McCoy sighed. "Okay, you're not going to tell me."
She realized McCoy hadn't seen the kiss, had probably only come out when Jim yelled.
"Alesson did a number on him."
"I watched the video. That was a dream channeler?"
"A modified one, yeah."
"You know those link to neural pathways. There is a residual effect."
"If he's dreaming, the dreams could get worse before they get better. He was on that thing for hours."
"I know." She looked away. "He's not cracking up."
"I didn't say he was." McCoy sat down on the bed across from her. "But he's not exactly himself either."
"I know," she said again. She turned over, stared at the ceiling.
"You'd tell me if you thought he was in trouble, wouldn't you, Christine?"
She turned back to him, surprised he even needed to ask. "You know that I would."
He stared at her, as if measuring her words for truthfulness. Finally, he seemed to relax. Walking closer to the bed, he asked softly, "So, you really thinking of going back to school?"
"You want me to make the call?"
"Yep." He got up. He walked into his office, came back out with a padd. "Start on the application." He smiled at her, the open, easy smile she loved. Then his look grew more serious. "I know I haven't always been the easiest guy to work for."
"I do value you. You're the best damn nurse I've ever worked with and you'll make an outstanding doctor." He seemed to be tearing up.
She smiled, touched. "I'll miss you too, Len."
"Hell of a time to spring this on me." He turned and walked back to his office.
She heard him make the call to Starfleet medical. Knew that Kirk would follow that call up if he had to with one of his own, to someone in Command who could make things happen.
Her future awaited. Whether she was ready for it or not.
She put the padd down, closed her eyes. Her future could wait a few hours.
Kirk stood next to Chapel on the transporter pad. McCoy had only just released her from sickbay. She pulled at her new uniform, saw Kirk watching her and stopped fiddling.
"Energize," he told the transporter tech.
The transporter room disappeared, to be replaced a moment later with the transporter room on Starbase Two. Kirk picked up their bags and with a nod to the Starbase transporter tech, led her out into the busy corridors.
They rode a shuttle to the medical facility, were waved through the front entrance and walked through a garden area to the reception.
The aide on duty smiled at them. "Captain Kirk. Ensign Chapel, we've been expecting you."
She gestured to a waiting tech who took Chapel's bag from Kirk, then said, "This way, ma'am."
Kirk felt a moment of panic. "Where are you taking her?"
The aide looked up for her terminal. "She's in the junior officers' quarters, sir."
Another tech appeared. "If you'll follow me, sir."
Kirk saw Chapel look back at him, she looked slightly unnerved at being separated from him and it made him feel better that he wasn't alone in his anxiety. He steeled himself, nodded to the tech, followed him to the senior officers' quarters.
He could almost feel the Enterprise warping away without him. Spock had orders to deliver some medical supplies to Vedilon Prime. They'd be back to pick up Chris and him once they put their tangled psyches back together. Or tried to.
He stowed his bag in his room, followed the tech to the first of what seemed interminable tests and appointments. He was soon sick of being probed, poked, and studied. He was even sicker of answering questions about how he felt and if he was sleeping well.
The last doctor he saw prescribed some medicine that he hoped would help suppress the dreams by reducing the triggers his own body was producing--hormones and neurotransmitters that rose with each dream, causing more dreams, which caused the hormones to elevate again in a vicious cycle. Kirk hated the idea of taking medicine, hated the way it made him feel. As if he wasn't in control, wasn't all there. But he was also exhausted enough to try them. The chance of falling into a dreamless slumber was too good to pass up.
But barely two hours into his sleep he awoke, crying out. He clenched his jaw, waiting to see if his cries had roused anyone. They had not.
He tried to relax. Was too keyed up to fall back asleep. As he lay in the dark, he started to feel sick. Nausea welled up, and he imagined a war going on inside him between the medicine he'd been given and the dreams. He tried to ignore the sick feeling, but then the room started to spin. He gave up and went to the bathroom, throwing up over and over until his stomach ached with dry heaves and his throat burned. The dreams were preferable. At least he wasn't useless after one.
He walked shakily back to the bed, trying to take slow deep breaths. The doctors had explained to him how the dream channeler worked. The pathways that had been burned into his brain would eventually lose power, but now they were open and all leading to the same thing. Bad, bad dreams. He needed to relax, stop the rise of neurotransmitters and hormones that only made the dreams stronger.
If he needed to relax, heaving his guts into the head night after night was not the way to do it. His body ached, his hands were shaking, and he felt dehydrated. Gingerly sipping water, he sat up reading for the remainder of his rest period, hopelessly glad when it was time to go to breakfast, then his next appointment. He endured more tests, psychological and physiological. He talked with his counselor, told him about the night he'd had. The counselor thought the side effects might lessen over time. But he didn't rule out that if Alesson had modified the dream channeler, he might have somehow ensured that the meds would be ineffective, or worse. It was possible that Kirk would only feel sicker as each reaction built on the next. When Kirk decided to give the meds a pass, the counselor made only a cursory attempt to dissuade him, then sent him to another specialist who used hypnosis instead of medicine.
By the end of the day, he was exhausted and sick of timetables and processes and hearing himself talk. He sat in the cafeteria, toying with his food.
"There room for me?"
He looked up, smiled--a real smile, the first one that day. "I thought I wasn't going to see you."
Chapel nodded. "They've been keeping me busy. Lots of evaluations. You too?"
"You look all in, Jim. Have you slept?"
"A few hours last night."
"That's not enough."
He pushed food around his plate. "I know."
"And you're not eating."
"They gave me some medicine to make me sleep. It didn't. But it did make me sick. I don't have much appetite."
She got up, came back with a glass filled with a pinkish thick liquid. "Drink up. It's full of vitamins and it tastes good."
"If you don't mind, I'll take my time." He sipped it. It did taste good. "How about you? Are you all right?"
"I'm resting. Finishing my applications."
He felt a pang at the idea of her going away. "Good."
She sighed. "I'm not sure I want to go."
"You should though. It's what you need to do."
She nodded grudgingly. "I know. I've gotten so comfortable on the ship. It doesn't stretch me, but it isn't scary either." She smiled. "My future is scary. The counselors are having fun with that."
"Counselors." He put a lot of disdain in the word.
"Why? What are yours saying?"
"To give it time. Let the dream channeler's effect go away. And to get back on the horse." He shook his head at the last one. His therapist had actually put it that way. Probably seen in Kirk's file that he liked to ride.
"They're probably not wrong."
He held a hand up and she didn't press him. He looked at her, really seeing her for the first time. "You cut your hair?" And it was dark. "Wow."
"I had this wild urge to look like I used to."
"I like it." He studied her. Her eyes looked bluer. More intense and catlike. "This was part of your therapy?"
She laughed. "No, I did it at lunch."
"I had to eat with my therapist."
"Poor Jim." She held out her hand.
He took it. Realized that other than the prodding hands of technicians, this was the first real contact he'd had with anyone since he got to Starbase Two. "It's been interesting talking to them...the therapists, I mean," he said. "They ask some strange questions though. I find myself trying to analyze what they could learn from some of them."
She nodded. "I know." She yawned.
"You're tired." He squeezed her hand. "Meet me here tomorrow for dinner?"
She nodded. He let go of her hand as she got up.
"Good night," she said.
"Pleasant dreams." He smiled, but, once she left, his smile faded.
One of them should have pleasant dreams. He knew it wasn't going to be him.
Chapel waited at the entrance to the cafeteria, watching as the doctors went by, wondering if she would feel any different once she was one too. She saw Kirk coming toward her and smiled at him.
"I'm sorry I'm late." He walked with her into the cafeteria. "We discovered my childhood today."
She nodded. "Mine too. We must be on the same timetable." She picked out some food, not really hungry. "It's a little invasive."
"It's a lot invasive." He didn't seem to be any hungrier. "And I don't know what we're accomplishing."
"It's annoying, but it may help." She looked at the dark circles under his eyes. "Did you sleep at all?"
"An hour. Before the nightmares came."
"Were they about me again?"
He nodded. "You're my dream girl."
"A little less sarcasm would be nice." She tried to joke but it fell flat.
He didn't even smile. "Believe me you don't want to be in these dreams."
"I believe you."
He picked at his food. "It's comforting, in a way, to know that it's not me, it's the damned aftereffect of that apparatus. But to not know when it's going to let up? I'm so tired, Chris."
He pushed his plate away. "And I'm not hungry." His hands shook slightly as he picked up his glass of water.
She pushed her tray away. "I'm not hungry either." She got up. "Let's get out of here."
"And go where?"
"Somewhere quiet. Where we can talk."
He nodded, got up and grabbed his tray. She followed him to the recycler, then out of the cafeteria.
"Let's go find a bar, go get a drink," he said.
"I don't think we're supposed to leave the hospital."
He grinned at her. "Do you see guards? Or a big sign?"
She shook her head. "This kind of rebellion is just a way to regain control of your life."
"Whatever you say, Nurse Freud." He took her hand. "Come on."
They did end up sneaking past the reception while the aide was on break. Chapel fought laughter as they hurried out the door and into the garden area. She heard the whirr of a small cart and Kirk pushed her into the bushes, following her down. They watched as a technician drove by, slowing as he approached the exit. A guard stepped out, checked the cart as if for stowaways, then waved him through.
"I guess we aren't supposed to leave." Kirk breathed out heavily, impatience written in his face.
She took his hand, led him away from the gate, back toward the main building, keeping to the bushes. She heard a faint water-on-water kind of tinkle, turned toward the sound. A moment later, they were standing in a rose garden, the flowers surrounding a small fountain.
"Did you know this was here?" He let his fingers drag through the water, then flicked them at her playfully.
She did the same, was glad to see him smile. "No, I didn't." She took a deep breath, the scent of roses filling her head, then more water landed on her face. She giggled.
He raised his hand to get her again and she caught it. His fingers tightened around hers, then he pulled her to him. She ended up on his lap, his arms coming around her waist.
She leaned in, knew it was a bad idea but wanted to feel his lips again.
Kissing him was as wonderful as she remembered. He held the back of her neck with one hand, pulling her closer. She moaned, heard him make a similar sound.
When they finally pulled away, she was glad he was supporting her. His eyes were dark, and he played with her hair, his hands running roughly over her. He looked possessive, and very intense.
She slipped off his lap, took his hand and pulled him up. "Your place or mine?"
She saw him hesitate.
He shook his head.
"Jim, I can't help you with the dreams. Only time will. But I can make reality less scary." She squeezed his hand. "I don't believe you would ever hurt me. I have faith in you. Let me help you have faith."
"Did your counselors tell you to do this? Or did mine?" He pulled away from her, walked to the flowers.
She hurried after him. "Of course they didn't." She touched his arm. "I know you want this as much as I do." She let her arm drop down his body, making sure she was right.
She was right.
He flinched at her touch. "That's immaterial."
"No, it's not." She didn't try to touch him again. "Jim, please let me help you."
He turned, stared down at her. Then he took a deep, shuddering breath and something shifted in his expression. He pulled her to him again, kissed her with such passion it left her breathless.
"This isn't a good idea, Chris." He said as he drew away for a moment. But he didn't stop touching her, couldn't seem to stop kissing her.
She pulled him toward the building. "Please?"
He seemed to shudder, but he followed her in. They rode the elevator silently, getting out on her floor. She glanced at him. He was walking to her room as if to a funeral. She pushed open the door, urged him inside.
He turned, waited for her to lock the door. "I don't know if I can..." He reddened.
She sighed. Then she moved until she was close enough to touch him. "We don't have to do anything. I just want another kiss."
He looked lost. His eyes seemed to flash a combination of desire and fear. "I do want you."
She moved closer, ran her hand down his arm. "And I want you. And if this will help you, how can it be a bad idea?" She nuzzled his neck.
"You're one of my crew." But he was stroking her hair, pulling her closer.
"Not for long. Not if I get into med school." She reached up, pressed her lips gently against his, not pushing him, waiting.
He crushed her to him, his lips hard against her, his tongue forcing entry into her mouth. She met him, not afraid. His teeth brushed her lips, his hands possessive as he pushed her against him. She realized that she couldn't get away from him, he was too strong. She felt a moment's hesitation.
And he knew it.
She felt him tremble, begin to pull away. She put her hand on the back of his head. Held him close. "It's all right. You're not hurting me. And I'm not going to hurt you."
"Chris, you don't know what kind of dreams I've been having." He buried his head in her neck. "They're horrible."
"I believe you. But this isn't a dream. It's real. And we're not going to hurt each other."
She led him to the bedroom, began to take off his clothes.
He pulled away.
She sighed. "If it's that you don't want me, then go. But find someone you do want and work this fear out."
He stared at her as if she was an idiot. "I dream about you every time I close my eyes. Of course I want you."
"Then stay with me. Fight this...with me." She stepped closer, then closer again. Began to undo his clothes again.
This time, he let her; he unfastened hers too.
She pulled his face closer, kissed him passionately. He met her, didn't pull away, even though she could feel him trembling.
He pushed her down to the bed, following her, gently touching her body. His gentle hands turned to firm, then controlling. But never scary. She relaxed in his touch, secure that he wouldn't hurt her.
"So strong," he murmured as he began to kiss her everywhere.
She made an odd whimpering noise, smiled in embarrassment when he pulled away from the spot he was kissing to study her.
He smiled. "Lonely, Chris?"
"Very. It's been a long time since..." She was completely embarrassed admitting that to him.
He nodded gently, seemed to understand. He kissed her neck, then whispered in her ear, "Are you sure about this?"
"I'm sure," she said, pulling his face back to hers so she could kiss him again.
His hands were everywhere and she arched, moaning. He moved on top of her, then seemed to freeze.
She wondered what he was seeing. His eyes were so distant.
"Jim," she pushed at his shoulder lightly, brought him back to the present, back to her. "Jim, I'm all right."
He refocused, seemed relieved to see her. He kissed her then, fiercely, almost desperately. As if he had lost her. Then he entered her and she gasped at the feeling of being one with him.
He moved, carefully and skillfully and she kissed him, pulling him down to her. He stroked back her hair. "Are you all right?" He held himself still, waiting for her answer.
"I'm fine. I'm better than fine." She smiled. "Are you?"
He nodded, quickly, with great relief.
"Let go," she whispered. "You won't hurt me."
"Chris," he moaned, as if her name was a prayer. Began to move again.
"It's okay. Just let go."
He kissed her, soul-deep kisses that seemed to sear her lips, seemed to mark her as his own. She ran her fingers down his back, heard him groan. He never quit moving, and his fingers found sensitive places, making her writhe with pleasure. He kissed her as she cried out against his mouth, following her into pleasure a moment later.
They lay together, both breathing hard. He started to get off but she wrapped her legs around him.
He kissed her. "I'm not going anywhere. But aren't I too heavy?"
"I don't care. I like this."
He kissed her again, lay still for a few moments, holding her. Then he eased off of her, rolling onto his side and pulling her against him.
She ran her hand through his hair, kissed him gently. "See, you didn't hurt me."
"And you didn't hurt me." He grinned, a shadow of his former expression but welcome to her nonetheless. "I like your form of therapy much better than the regular headshrinker stuff."
She smiled. "I like it too."
"How long has it been?" he asked, as he began to stroke her again.
She arched, rolled to her back and he followed her, his hands never leaving her.
"Since Roger," she managed to get out.
"That's far too long, Miss Chapel."
She couldn't answer, could only arch her back and cry out as he touched her. He was smiling when she turned to look at him. A very satisfied smile.
"On the other hand, abstinence does accentuate response." He leaned in, whispered, "The entire building heard you."
"No, they didn't." She could feel herself blushing.
He nodded tenderly. "I'm afraid they did." He kissed her. "I didn't mind in the least."
She closed her eyes, let her heart rate and breathing come down from the cliff he'd sent her over. He touched her, his hand gentle against her.
She relaxed, smiling as he touched her cheek until she realized that his hands were still shaking. Her smile faded. She caught his hand, kissed it. "I think we should have more sessions tonight."
He nodded. "Many more."
Then his eyes clouded again and she shook him slightly.
"No, Jim. It's all right."
He nodded, went back to touching her but the haunted look remained.
"Dammit, Jim," she shook him harder, her voice fierce. "We'll do this until you know in your heart that you could never hurt me."
"That may take a while."
"That's fine." She saw him smile at her determination and pulled him to her. "You need this, Jim. We both do."
"I need you," he whispered, so softly she wasn't sure she had heard the words correctly.
"I'm right here," she said. She gave herself over to him, glad that she was helping him. Glad that he was touching her. Giddy with what he was making her feel.
She only wanted to make him feel better. And as the night progressed, she could tell that she was doing just that.
She only wished she could make him feel better when he fell asleep.
"Welcome back, sir." Spock got up from Kirk's chair. "I take it your visit was productive?" he asked softly.
"Parts of it," Kirk said. He still wasn't sleeping much. On the other hand, since he'd had Chris with him in her bed or his, he'd had plenty to do with the long rest periods.
He took the padd his yeoman handed him, could barely focus on the writing. He'd convinced the medicos at Starbase Two that he was fit for duty, but he knew in his heart that he wasn't. But he was home, on the Enterprise. He'd get well here. He could feel himself dropping his guard a bit. He didn't have to fool the doctors any longer.
He saw Spock watching his trembling hand and put the padd down. Maybe he shouldn't drop his guard too far. "Report, Mister Spock."
"Our last mission was completed successfully. We've been asked to rendezvous with the Potemkin before we put in at Beta Aurigae."
Kirk nodded. "Time to rendezvous?"
"Approximately three point five days." Spock leaned in, said softly. "Ample time for you to rest."
"Easy for you to say. You don't have my dreams." He tried to grin, could tell by Spock's face that he wasn't fooling him any.
"Perhaps Doctor McCoy could prescribe something?"
"The doctors at Starbase Two already did. The side effects were hell." He sighed. "Lethe. That's what I need." He saw that Spock got the classical reference. "I just wish I could forget what happened in Alesson's basement. Just wish I could shake the dream channeler now."
Spock nodded grimly.
Kirk sighed, then said, "Carry on, Mister Spock,"
As his friend walked back to his station, Kirk busied himself with the padds his yeoman kept giving him. He studied the specifications for the gravitational studies Starfleet wanted them to conduct of Beta Aurigae's binary system. Everything looked in order.
He fought back a yawn, forced his eyes to stay open. If he could just rest his head for a moment, just close his eyes for even fifteen minutes, he'd be fine. He stood up. "Mister Spock, you have the conn."
He could feel Spock's eyes on him as he walked across the bridge, turned as he stepped into the lift and saw the Vulcan watching him, concern openly apparent on his face.
Again Kirk tried to grin, again he failed. He saw Spock's face tighten.
Then the doors closed. He considered going to see Chris, then an enormous yawn overcame him. He needed to rest. Just for a few minutes. "Deck five."
He eyed his bed with longing but worried that he'd oversleep...or have a nightmare. He sat down at his desk, rested his head on his crossed arms. He was asleep in minutes.
The dreams followed quickly. He struggled against them.
Then he felt something. A presence. Helping him. He smiled as a curtain dropped down between him and the dreams. Then another. Then another.
"Forget," he heard someone say, the sound ringing through his mind.
Forget what? He shifted, thought he felt warm fingers pulling away from him.
Then sleep overcame him. He went willingly into it, wondered why he was so tired. Gave up wondering, just surrendered to sleep.
Chapel half expected Kirk to show up during her shift, but he didn't. She hoped he was sleeping, decided to go to his quarters on her break.
He was just coming down the hall as she walked to his door, and she was so intent on her mission that she nearly collided with him. "Sorry. Oh, Jim, it's you."
She saw his eyes narrow, turned to check the corridor behind her. They were alone.
"Captain," she revised, surprised he'd insist on such formality, but knowing he cared deeply about appearances when it came to the crew. "I was worried."
He smiled. "I was sleeping. Overslept in fact." He smiled. It was his old expression.
"Not that I remember." He gave her an odd look.
"That's great," she said, a huge smile breaking across her face.
He nodded. "Those therapists knew what they were doing."
"Well, you may have had a little extra help?" She laughed huskily.
He looked at her as if he didn't know what she was talking about.
Her smile faded. She felt a dark pain take hold.
Was he going to act as if nothing had happened?
"I have to get to the bridge," he said breezily.
"Right." She watched him walk away, felt a lump forming in her throat. Swallowed it down, swallowed everything down.
She went to the gym instead of the cafeteria, worked on the floor machines until the punching bag was free. Then she began to hit it for all she was worth.
Hands came out to steady the bag. "Your thumbs should be on the outside."
"I know." She quickly changed her grip. Didn't want to know why Spock thought he needed to spot her--or critique her form--at this particular moment.
"You do not know, or you would not do it wrong. If you were to hit something harder than this bag with your thumb inside your hand, you would break it."
She sighed. Didn't argue with him. How could she win? He knew everything.
"You seem upset?"
"Spock, what are you doing?"
"I am concerned about you. We shared consciousness."
She almost smiled at him using her own words against her. "Unconsciousness, you mean."
"I'm fine," she said, trying to make her voice so firm that he wouldn't challenge the assertion.
And he did not. Instead he said, "I have heard you are going to medical school."
"Haven't been accepted yet." She threw a hard punch, felt her shoulder wrench.
"Keep your arm level. The motion should be more of a push, less of a swing."
She tried what he said, found it worked better, delivered a nice, solid hit to the bag.
"You will be leaving the ship." It wasn't a question. It was more as if Spock was trying to convince himself of something. Only she wasn't sure what.
"Unless they start up med school on the Enterprise, that's how it works." Pain and disappointment made her mean.
He didn't seem to mind.
"What's wrong with you, Spock? You're suddenly so concerned about me? I don't buy it. Your mother hen act is more convincing around Jim"--she thought of how Kirk had looked at her when she'd used his first name, sighed--"I mean the captain."
"I know you have feelings for him."
She stared at Spock, thunderstruck.
"These kinds of situations can bring an unnatural closeness."
"Yeah, witness this conversation."
He nodded calmly. "Precisely."
She walked away, went to sit on one of the benches lining the wall.
He sat down next to her. "You saved him. I do believe that." He seemed about to take her hand, then thought better of it.
She fought back tears. "I thought there was more." She felt stupid.
He said nothing, just sat silently, offering support she was not sure how to accept.
Finally, she got up. "I have to get back to work."
He nodded. "Work is an effective means to forget. Going away to medical school will be helpful as well. If you need a recommendation from me, I will be most pleased to give it."
She nodded, touched by his offer. She turned away.
She turned back.
"I like your hair."
She smiled sadly, shook her head. "Thanks."
He nodded, got up and walked out of the gym. She saw several crewmembers eyeing her curiously. She glared at them until they turned back to their machines.
As Kirk read one of his padds, he shifted, his body till sore from Alesson's torture. He didn't suppose his long nap hunched over his desk had helped his sore muscles. But sleep had been wonderful. He felt as if he hadn't slept in a week.
"Incoming distress signal, sir," Lieutenant Lisa said.
"Camus II, sir."
He frowned. Something about that name sounded familiar. He turned to Spock. "Who heads up that team?"
Spock checked the databanks. "A Doctor Janice Lester."
Kirk nodded. Of course, it had to be his ex-girlfriend's planet.
Kirk swiveled in his chair to watch the junior communications officer. She was frowning as she tried to resolve the signal. Kirk suddenly wished Uhura hadn't gone on leave while he was on Starbase Two. Then Lieutenant Lisa smiled slightly, concentrating on the message. Her smile quickly faded.
"They're sick, sir. Radiation poisoning. The entire science team." She looked up at him, her young face stricken. "They need our help."
Spock turned. "We could divert there briefly and still make our rendezvous."
Kirk then turned his chair back to the front. "Mister Chekov, alter course to Camus II."
"Aye, sir," Chekov was already changing their heading.
"Mister Sulu, maximum safe warp."
"Aye sir. Warp six."
Kirk felt a surge of old pain surface as he thought of Janice. She'd hurt him, badly. Even though he'd been the one to walk out, she had left him long before he packed his bags. They'd been together a year. A tempestuous, tortured year.
He rubbed his eyes. He'd never expected to see her again.
Had hoped never to see her again.
Leaving her had torn his heart out. Just as it had when he'd lost--
He frowned. Hated it when this happened. Why did he think he'd lost someone? He frowned more deeply. More than one someones. He was sure of it. But why couldn't he remember?
Maybe he should get McCoy to check him out for head trauma. Lord knew he'd taken enough bumps on the head to cause a bit of amnesia.
He shook his head. Maybe he just wanted there to have been a special someone? He was tired of being alone, he knew that. Tired of flings and quick trysts on some shore leave spot or Starbase.
Again he had the strange feeling. Like he should remember something. He thought he felt water drag against his fingers, could feel himself flicking the drops at someone. Then the image was gone.
Aftereffects, the therapists would tell him. Post-traumatic hallucinations even. He trusted the doctors. They had cured him, cured him and sent him back home. And he assumed they'd helped Chapel too. That she'd been able to rest, to work out her own demons. He hadn't seen her until that strange conversation in the corridors outside his quarters. She'd seemed off.
Had she really called him Jim?
Maybe he should ask McCoy to check up on her.
She'd changed her hair, he realized. The new color made her eyes stand out.
For a second, he thought he could smell roses. He reached for the memory, but there was nothing.
He sighed. If he just left it alone, it would go away in time. It had happened before. Eventually, the strange phantom memories wouldn't bother him.
Someday he'd have to get them checked out.
Someday when he didn't have an old girlfriend to go rescue.
Chapel stared down at the hypospray in her hand. Doctor Lester was mad. Just as Doctor Coleman said. There was no way Jim was trapped in her body.
She wished she could stop thinking of the captain as Jim.
There had been something in Lester's eyes though. Something that was far more Kirk than the light that had shown out of the captain's eyes. And it didn't add up. Radiation poisoning that wasn't there upon further tests. Supposed paranoia that had developed for six months--and nobody had noticed it? Nobody had reported it? She knew Coleman was a hack, but that was a lot to swallow.
She filled the hypospray with a vitamin mixture. Added a very small amount of sedative. She'd said a light one. This qualified.
She walked back in; Doctor Coleman had Lester back in bed, under restraints this time. She held the hypo to her arm, let it spray. Saw Lester frown slightly, obviously expecting more from the drug.
Then her face relaxed as the sedative started to work. But Chapel could tell she wasn't getting drowsy.
"I'll stay with her until she falls asleep, Doctor."
"She's full of crazy stories, Nurse Chapel."
She laughed. "I've heard more things from the mouth of raving crew than you could possibly know. Believe me, I'd know if this were the captain. And it's not." She smiled, trying for as perky and vapid a look as she could muster.
Coleman bought it. "Call if you need me."
As soon as the door closed, Lester said softly, "You really don't believe it's me?"
Chapel turned, studied the other woman. "Tell me something only the captain and I would know."
Chapel nodded. "Go on."
Lester frowned. "He tortured me. You had to watch."
"Yes. And that's in the records Spock downloaded to the ship's computer. You could have read them."
"I didn't." She frowned again, as if she were having trouble remembering something.
"Starbase Two. Start with that."
"We were in post-trauma therapy. Routine after what we'd been through."
"That's not very convincing, Doctor." Chapel winced. Her voice sounded like Alesson's, when he'd asked Kirk to beg for her life.
Lester frowned too, again looking as if she were trying to remember something. "I remember roses."
Chapel perked up.
"Water." Then she shook her head. "Nurse Chapel, please? I am Kirk."
Chapel sighed. "You used to call me something different than Nurse Chapel."
Her expression softened. "Christine."
She shook her head, rose. "Nice try, Doctor Lester." She checked that the restraints were tight, then headed out of sickbay.
She didn't realize she was headed for the captain's quarters until she told the lift, "Deck five."
What was she doing? He'd made it clear he didn't want to be with her. But after almost believing Lester's wild story, she just needed a moment with him. A moment to reassure herself that this wasn't all a bad dream.
She shook her head. Unfortunate choice of words.
She buzzed at his door. Heard him say, "Come," and the door opened.
He looked up, smiled uncertainly. "Nurse Chapel, is there a problem?"
She felt her heart sink. They were back to titles?
"Sir, I'm sorry to bother you. Doctor Lester--"
"--Is there a problem with Doctor Lester?"
She shook her head quickly, surprised at his reaction, and at how flustered he looked for a moment.
It suddenly occurred to her that Lester was doing a better job of acting like Kirk than he was.
"Alesson really did a number on you," she said.
He stared at her, as if waiting for her to explain.
"Alesson?" she repeated.
He looked blank.
She forced a smile on her face. "That bartender...at Starbase Two. You remember? The one who made you the Vodka Nightmare?"
Kirk laughed, not very convincingly. "I should have known by the name, shouldn't I?" He looked down at his padds. "I'm very busy, Miss Chapel."
"I'm sure you are, sir." She smiled, again the vapid look that had seemed to work with Coleman.
Kirk smiled back. Chapel decided his grin was off.
She turned and left, wondering where the real Captain Kirk was. She found sickbay empty, realized that no one had noticed she was gone. She prepared a nutrient drink for Lester, made sure to put it in real glass. If she was the captain, she'd know what to do with it. If she wasn't, well, she was still closer to Kirk than whoever was using his body.
Lester looked up. "I must've sounded quite mad to you before."
Chapel said brightly, choosing her words carefully, "What you've been through would've completely broken most of us."
Lester didn't take the bait. "Well, I'll be all right now. Could I see your Dr. McCoy?"
"I'm afraid that's against Dr. Coleman's orders."
"Oh." Lester tried again. "Is a visit by that very kind Mr. Spock to be allowed?"
Chapel couldn't decide if there was a coded message there or not. "Perhaps that can be arranged before we reach the Benecia Colony."
Lester's reaction was instantaneous. And completely Kirk-like. "Benecia? Isn't the Enterprise going to rendezvous with the Potemkin at Beta Aurigae?"
Chapel nodded, gave her more information than she should have, figuring why not let Lester know what was in store? "Well, first we have to let you recuperate at Benecia." She handed her the glass, saw Lester eye it with interest. "You'll feel better if you have a little."
Lester took it. "I'll try. Thank you." She sipped at the dark burgundy liquid. "Oh, it is good. Thank you."
Chapel tried to look busy, checking the covers, waiting for the ruse Lester would use if she really was Kirk. A ruse that would get Chapel to leave.
She wasn't disappointed. "Could I finish it slowly, Nurse Chapel?"
She remembered Kirk's words from the cafeteria. He didn't like to gulp things down. It was a short straw to cling to as a clue, but given the rest of the evidence, she'd take it. "Well..."
Lester smiled up at her. The seductive smile looked different on a woman's face, the glint odd from blue eyes instead of hazel. But Chapel thought it was a pretty convincing Kirk.
"I promise I'll be good."
"Well, I'll be right back," Chapel said for the benefit of the security tapes. Tried on the perky nurse face one more time as she smiled and said, "I'm glad you're feeling so much better."
Then she turned and walked out of sickbay, determined to get to the bottom of things.
As she headed out the door, she heard the sound of glass breaking and smiled. "Go, Jim," she whispered, as she headed for her quarters.
Kirk worked with the broken glass at the restraints, afraid that Coleman would come in and find him...stop him. He was not as afraid that Chapel would come back. He had the feeling she'd handed him the opportunity to escape. He must have reached her after all, what he'd said about their time together in Alesson's prison.
He tried to go faster, but Janice's hands were smaller, weaker. He couldn't saw as fast as he liked, couldn't put the pressure he needed on the glass.
He remembered her constant complaints when they'd been together. She'd hated being small, hated how weak it made her feel. He could never sympathize. Brute force didn't matter as much as knowing how to turn your own strengths against someone else's weaknesses. Kirk had found that out the hard way in the Academy, when he'd run up against bigger boys who could clean the floor with him if he tried to outmuscle them. That was when he'd learned about balance and position. It was when he'd begun to fight a lot dirtier, but also a lot smarter. And he'd started to clean the floor with the giants.
Janice was fast and she was lithe. She could have learned a martial art, better prepared herself to have to fight if it came to that.
And strength could be improved at a basic level. Lifting weights, repetitive motion exercises to improve grip and dexterity. It was as he'd told Chris--
He stopped sawing. Chris who? He had a picture of Chapel, suffering, lying with her head in his lap. They were talking about the gym.
That made no sense.
He tried to focus on the memory. It was tied to the gym, to fighting. He could see the cell, it was Alesson's dungeon. Why didn't he remember more of this?
He started to saw at the restraints again, ran over what had happened. He'd been tortured, Chapel had been forced to watch. Alesson had poisoned her and she'd--
How had Alesson poisoned her? Why couldn't he remember that?
He'd killed Alesson. He felt a faint satisfaction at the memory. He'd shot him. With his own weapon.
How had he gotten the weapon away from him?
Kirk sighed in frustration. It had to be trauma from the experience. There was no other explanation for these memory gaps.
He sawed faster, forcing himself to pay attention to his current problem, which was much more important than a little problem with his recall. He had to convince Spock who he was. And then he had to get his body back.
The restraints finally separated and he dashed out of bed, running down the corridor to find McCoy and Spock. The door opened and he saw Spock, then he realized that she was there. Lester. In his body. She controlled the body that was charging at him, the hand that chopped down on a pressure point, stunning him.
He felt the guards take him away, was thrown back into a room, mercifully free of restraints. They left him alone. He knew it wouldn't be for long. He'd seen something in Spock's eyes, something that had flared when Kirk called McCoy by the nickname he had yet to hear Janice use with him.
Only Kirk would call McCoy Bones. He knew it, and Spock knew it.
The door opened and Spock and the lieutenant from security walked in.
Spock was here. Kirk sighed with relief. He was fine now. Everything would be fine.
Spock would meld with him and know the truth. And then it would be all right.
Kirk took a deep breath. Began to breathe easier for the first time since seeing Janice again.
Chapel was convinced the person in sickbay was Kirk, but she couldn't understand why he hadn't spoken of any of the things that had happened on Starbase Two. How could he have forgotten what they'd shared? Or the name he'd called her?
Unless...the day it had started, he had said he'd slept fine. Had been napping, with no dreams. What if the dreams just before had been so violent that his mind had somehow invoked some strange kind of amnesia? To protect him perhaps? He had been exhausted, on the verge of collapse. It was possible.
He'd been with her the night before in her room on Starbase Two, and she'd witnessed nothing odd. He'd seemed fine in the morning when they'd reported to the ship. But that afternoon, he'd blown her off. Or just couldn't remember her anymore. If she could figure out why, maybe she could help him. And help him get his body back. Not that he would need much help on that score. He'd run straight for Spock, she knew that. Kirk would head for his best friend. The man he trusted more than anyone.
And Spock would need about two minutes with a meld to find out whether Chapel was right or not.
Chapel locked her door and settled in at her desk. She accessed the ship's security logs, using her own codes to get through the safeguards. Medical personnel at her level had a great deal of access. McCoy had even more and had the bad habit of keeping his passwords lying around rather than memorizing them. The video of the senior officers were locked away from her, but not from the CMO. She used his codes, accessed Kirk's files, selected the day in question, starting with the moment he arrived back on ship. He would have had to have been alone, she decided, telling the computer to only pick those scenes where he was by himself.
There was little to look at. Just a long shot of him sleeping, then waking up and going out in the hall where he would bump into her a moment later. She replayed the tape of him sleeping, noticed the timer skipped shortly after he had fallen asleep.
"Show missing scene between 4433 and 4477."
The scene replayed. Kirk slept. Then Spock walked in. He stared down at the captain for a long time. Kirk was moving slightly, probably already in a dream. Spock reached down, his fingers going to the meld spot.
Then there was no movement, Spock stood like a stone, his face tense with concentration. Kirk was still, his face becoming more and more peaceful the longer Spock maintained the meld.
Chapel swallowed, nearly choked when Spock said, "Forget."
Then he let go of Kirk.
"No," she whispered, not wanting to believe what she'd just seen. "Replay scene."
She watched it over and over and over. She looked down, realized she had clenched her hands and her nails were digging into her palms painfully.
"Computer, show similar scenes, Kirk asleep or unconscious, Spock awake. No other personnel present in the room."
"State time parameters."
"Duration of mission," she said, afraid of what she would find.
The computer searched for a moment. "Seventy-two occurrences."
Chapel sighed. Given Kirk's propensity for racing headlong into the fray, she expected most of the video to be of him recovering in sickbay and of Spock sitting his ever-patient vigil. She'd walked in on that tableau many times.
"Cross-reference time settings with closest previous mission and display."
"Working. Ready. Displaying first occurrence."
As she expected, it was a scene of sickbay: Kirk tossing on the biobed, Spock standing silently, watching him. Nothing else happened. Chapel assumed she or one of the doctors had walked in. "Next scene."
She flipped quickly through similar scenes. Then she found one that looked similar to when she had seen Spock use the meld to erase Kirk's memory. She leaned forward, sighed when she heard Spock say that one word. "Forget."
She checked the time cross-references. It was just after the Rigellian Fever outbreak on the Enterprise. When Kirk and Spock and McCoy had beamed down to Holberg 917G to get some Ryetalyn. The girl. Chapel remembered that McCoy had mentioned a girl. Rayna. Said Kirk had loved her. But Kirk had never seemed to Chapel to be particularly broken up about her death. She remembered she'd thought him slightly shallow at the time.
But he hadn't been. He hadn't been allowed to mourn. Spock had taken that away from him.
"Continue," she said quietly, running her fingers through her hair in agitation as she flipped through more scenes of sickbay. She just couldn't understand how Spock could do this? Who the hell did he think he was?
"Hold image," she said, checking the timer. It was when they had discovered the Guardian of Forever, when McCoy had taken his disastrous journey through time.
It was little different from the other two. Kirk sleeping at his desk, his terminal still on as if he had given up mid report and only rested his head for a moment. It seemed to take Spock longer this time both to decide what to do and to establish the meld once he'd decided. But the effect was the same. Kirk's face relaxing as Spock's tightened with purpose, with determined concentration. He whispered, "Forget."
Chapel had never heard this story from McCoy. Except that Kirk had let a woman die. She wasn't sure what Spock was making Kirk forget, but she suspected it had to do with the same woman. The one McCoy had been so fond of. Edith. Chapel struggled for the last name, couldn't remember it.
Her console rang. She listened to the false captain's message about Spock and mutiny and sighed. It looked like Kirk hadn't gotten as far as she'd hoped. Then she got a private hail from Lieutenant Lisa. "Nurse Chapel to the briefing room on the double."
She logged out of the security system, and turned off her terminal. "On my way," she said.
As she passed the mirror, she noticed her hair was flat and mussed from her having played with it as she watched the security video. She pushed it away from her face and hurried out. Her hair didn't matter.
Sulu and Chekov turned around as she entered the briefing room.
"Christine? Do you know what this is about?" Sulu looked disturbed.
She shook her head, saw Spock sitting at the front, a security detail in the back watching him closely.
She sat down next to him, said softly, "I assume this hearing means that you realize that the captain and Doctor Lester have indeed switched bodies?"
He turned to her, surprise in his eyes. "Yes. I melded with her, realized it was Jim's mind."
"Hmmm." She looked over at him, gave him a hard stare. "And did you figure that out because of what was there or what was missing?"
His face froze, if that was possible for a Vulcan.
She smiled harshly. "When this is all over, we need to talk."
He nodded tightly, saved from a response by the arrival of the false Kirk, followed closely by Scotty and McCoy.
"Sitting with me is not a wise idea, Christine," Spock said softly.
"My crush is on record, no one will question it." She didn't smile. "Besides, I want to keep an eye on you."
"I will not run."
She knew he was telling the truth, but she didn't leave his side until he was taken back into custody and led away for an execution none of them could believe would take place.
She joined Sulu and Chekov in the corridor. Lieutenant Lisa came out a few minutes later.
"The captain's coming," she said, and they all hurried down the hall and around the corner.
"He's gone mad," Sulu said.
"_He_ hasn't," Chapel said.
Chekov nodded. "It's not like the captain to do this." He sighed.
"Get to your posts," Chapel said. "Don't do anything suspicious or you'll be arrested too. But when the time comes..."
They all looked as miserable as she felt.
"What are you going to do?" Lieutenant Lisa asked.
"I don't know." Chapel turned and headed back to sickbay. She might not be able to fight, but there was one thing she could do. She began to load up some hypos with a powerful sedative. Strong enough to drop an elephant. Or one raving psycho inhabiting the body of a starship captain. If he got close enough to her.
"Janice? Why?" Kirk sat across from Lester. It felt so good to be back in his own body, to feel his strength, the muscles he had built, the not so muscled areas that were also his doing. The good and the bad, all his. She hadn't been able to hold on to his body, not as long as he was alive, and she hadn't been quick enough to kill him.
She turned to Coleman. "Leave us alone?"
Coleman's face twisted with jealousy but he got up and left them. One of the security guards accompanying him into the corridor.
Lester's face was composed. She'd stopped raving, stopped cursing him. She seemed resigned now to her fate. To being in her own body. "I hate being a woman."
"I've never understood that."
"Oh, you say that from your position. This ship, your faithful crew, the big chair." She looked away. "All denied me."
He shook his head. "You're an idiot, Janice. A brilliant, daring idiot. You've never understood how things work and that's been your failing. No, there's never been a woman starship captain. But there will be. There will be a woman who comes up from the ranks and proves herself."
"There are rules--"
"--Yes, and for the right woman, they'll bend over backwards to break them. The same way they did for me. All I heard as I fought to get here was that I was too damned young. That it would never happen. That I needed seasoning. Well, I didn't. I got here. And you could have too...if you'd been willing to work for it." He laughed softly. "But that's always been your problem. You want it, you feel entitled to it, but you won't work for it." He stood up. "What you did to me is a perfect example of that."
"I loved you," she said, reaching out for him.
"No, you didn't. You loved what I had."
"I couldn't kill you."
"And that's supposed to make me believe that you love me?" He shook his head. "You couldn't kill me because once again you weren't willing to work for what you wanted. It was easier to get your incompetent lapdog to do it for you."
She looked away. "Did you ever love me?"
He sighed. "You know that I did. My love was never in doubt. It was yours that was twisted so far out of shape as to be unrecognizable."
"What's going to happen to me?"
"Detention, either in a psychiatric facility or a penal one."
She looked away. "I'm not crazy."
"You're a long way from sane, Janice."
He watched her as she got up and paced. Tried to remember why he had fallen in love with her, if there had ever been a time when they had been truly happy. Probably before he got to know her well, before she showed him how insane she was.
"I did love you, Jim."
He didn't want to argue anymore. What did she know of love, anyway? Possibly, in her book, she did love him.
She turned to him. "I would have made a good captain."
"No, Janice, you wouldn't have." He stood up, nodded to the guard who stood by the door. "Let's go."
He heard her call out for him. Didn't stop. She was his past. A past he'd left behind long ago. A past he wanted no part of anymore.
"She's all yours, Doctor," he said to Coleman, who was being watched by the other guard. Coleman's sanity was in doubt too. He'd said he wanted to take care of Janice, but it was unlikely they'd end up together. The man had to know that.
Kirk walked away. Suddenly not caring what happened to either of them. He only wanted to forget that this nightmare had ever happened.
Chapel heard her chime ring, took a deep breath. It had to be Spock. She had been about ready to go to him. So of course, he came to her.
"Come," she called.
Spock walked in, his features composed, his stride measured.
As if she didn't hold the key to his destruction.
She was glad she was so angry at him. Otherwise, she might have been a little bit afraid.
"You wished to talk?" He stood in front of her.
"Why did you do it?"
She did not think he was playing games with her. He was just being careful. Finding out how much she knew. If she'd figured out that he had wiped Kirk's memory more than once.
"You messed with his mind. I actually have a good idea why. You did it because he was in pain. And you can't stand to watch him suffer."
"Yes." He seemed to relax.
"But you had no right to do it." She suddenly didn't like how close he was standing, how easily he could pin her in the narrow area between her desk and the wall. She got up, pushed past him.
He moved back and let her pass.
"You took me away from him. The memory of me."
"Yes." He sighed, surprising her with the intensity of the sound. "It was not an easy decision, Christine. But you are leaving."
"I'm probably leaving. I haven't been accepted yet. And even if I am accepted, I'm going to Earth, not to another dimension. I would have seen him again." She paced, she'd practiced this conversation, but now she couldn't remember what she had wanted to say. "You didn't just take me away. You erased Rayna. And Edith. It was Edith, wasn't it?"
"You had no right."
"He was in pain."
"Yes. Humans feel pain. It's an emotion. You know those, Spock? Those feelings that overran you on Sarpeidon? With Zarabeth?"
He looked at her in surprise.
"McCoy told me. I think he wanted me to give up on you. I didn't tell him that I already had. A long time ago." She felt her anger rising again. "You're half human, Spock. You have emotions."
"I have them. I find them distasteful."
"And our emotions? You find those distasteful too? So much so that you can just wipe them away if they get too strong? If they become too unpleasant for you?"
"I did not do this for myself."
"Bullshit! _You_ didn't like seeing him in pain. _You_ didn't like feeling helpless while he suffered. You think I don't know what that's like? Why do you think I stuck a hypo full of poison in my veins? I thought I could make it better for him. But I only made it worse." She was crying, wiped her tears away angrily. "I love him too, Spock. I understand why you did it. But I hate you for doing it."
He swallowed hard, did not reply. Finally, he asked, "Will you tell him?"
"Either you will--now--or I will."
"I cannot." He moved closer to her.
She backed away. "Why? Because you know what you did was wrong?"
"He will not forgive me."
She realized he had her pinned between the bathroom door and the bed. She reached back, trying to open the bathroom door. He grabbed her arm, pulled her close.
"That's right, Spock. I'm the only one who knows. All you have to do is wipe my memory too and you'll be safe." She was sobbing, her words coming out rough and heavy but he seemed to have no problem understanding her. He pulled her closer, stared down at her. His face was no longer composed. In fact, he looked desperate.
Then he let her go and took a step back.
She followed him. "Go ahead and do it. Take it away. Make me forget how much I love him. Make me forget how much I hurt! That I'd actually like you to give him back his pain just so that he'll want me again." She was crying hard, pounding on his chest. "Make me forget too. I want to forget."
He pulled her to him. Held her as she wept. Not just for Jim but for what she'd seen and heard and cleaned up in that basement. Pain and sorrow and horror that the therapists had never come close to unearthing.
She wept it all out.
"Make me forget too," she whispered.
"I will not."
She pulled away, backed up until she hit the wall. "Can you restore his memory?"
He did not answer at once, seemed to be considering it. "The recent events possibly. I am less sure about the earlier ones." He looked at her, something lost and confounded in his expression. "Do you want him to feel that pain too? The loss of those loves?"
"It's his pain. And his choice. But you have to give him that choice. And if he wants all the pain back, you have to try."
"What if he does not want it back?"
She could not imagine James Kirk not wanting any part of himself back, but she shrugged. "That's his choice too."
"I did not intend to hurt him."
"But you did. I almost didn't know it was him in Lester's body. He didn't know we'd made love. He didn't remember what he'd called me. He would never have gotten away and found you, if I hadn't suspected it was him, if I hadn't given him the means to escape." She looked down. "And you came to me that day. In the gym. Why?"
"I knew how this would hurt you. I did not relish that. Creating pain for you when I took his away."
"And yet you did it." She looked down.
"He was suffering. He was not fit for command."
"He would have been. In time."
"There was too much pain. Too much fear."
She sighed in frustration. "That's how humans grow, Spock. Through pain. Through conquering their fear. We don't learn when it's peaceful and nice. It's not in our nature. I know he's told you that. But you just don't get it."
"I am not human."
"You're half human, damn it. Stop pretending that all you are is Vulcan. It's not Vulcan to love him like you do. And tell me, Spock. Is it Vulcan to take such liberties with another being's mind? Without their permission?"
He looked down, his expression one of shame.
"I didn't think so. Maybe you're a better human than you are Vulcan?"
He shook his head, but did not say anything.
"I met evil down in Alesson's chamber of horrors. I saw a man who was capable of ripping through a man's mind out of hatred."
He raised his head, eyed her with something akin to horror.
"But you did it out of love. And somehow, Spock. Somehow, that's so much worse."
He closed his eyes.
"You'll tell him then?" She felt no victory as she looked at him. Just a deep, dark sadness.
She stepped closer. "I lied before. I don't hate you, but I don't understand how you could have done this. How you thought it was all right to do this."
"Do you forgive me?"
"I'm not the one who has to."
He raised his hand, stroked her cheek gently. "He did love you. As much as you love him, he loved you."
"Thank you for telling me." She let her eyes grow hard. "Now get your hand off my face."
He nodded, pulled his hand away. "I..." He turned away.
"You can't even say you're sorry? Spock. That's so sad." She watched him walk to the door. "I hope you learn to say it before you tell him the truth. Because he's going to need to hear it from you."
He did not answer her, just walked out her door, leaving her to try to still a heart that raced with pain and anger and a small bit of fear.
Kirk was just leaving for dinner, saw Spock coming down the corridor. Smiled at his friend. "Can I interest you in a game of chess?" Then he frowned.
Spock looked upset.
"What's wrong, Spock?"
"I must speak with you."
"Of course. Come in." He palmed his door open, motioned for Spock to go in ahead of him. "What's on your mind?"
He thought he saw Spock flinch.
"I do not know how to tell you something. But it is important and I must find a way."
"Just say it, Spock. You know there's nothing you can't tell me." He smiled, remembering how Spock had believed in him when he had been in Janice's body.
"I have trespassed."
"What?" Kirk poured himself a drink, looked over at Spock. "You sure I can't get you something? You look like you could use a drink."
And Spock suddenly looked like he was considering having one.
"Spock? For god's sake. What do you mean you've trespassed?" He sat down in front of his best friend, waited.
"You were in pain. And I wanted to help." Spock was unusually tentative, watching Kirk for a reaction.
"I erased that pain."
Kirk smiled. "You say it like it's a bad thing. Obviously I don't remember it. Was it after a fight? Was I hurt?"
"It was not physical pain. It was...emotional distress."
Kirk frowned. "And you took it away?"
"How did you do that?"
"I"--Spock actually gulped--"I erased your memory. A part of it that was linked with the distress."
Kirk wasn't sure he had heard Spock right. "You did what?" He stood up, suddenly needing to be anywhere but close to Spock. "How much of my memory? When?" He turned to look at Spock. "Why?"
"Because you were suffering." Spock looked down. "Recently. And not so recently."
"It is difficult to calculate. Memories are complicated." Spock's voice cracked. He coughed. "They may still be there, I tampered with the linkages."
"Meaning you can put them back?" Kirk took a long gulp of his drink, then put it down. It tasted horrible. Or maybe that was just the aftertaste of the truth.
And of illusion.
"I can try."
Kirk walked over to him, sat down next to him. "Then do it. All of it."
"You do not know the enormity of it."
"I don't care, Spock." He knew his tone was harsh, harsher than he'd ever used with the Vulcan. He didn't care. "Put. Them. Back."
"She said you would want that."
"She? She who?"
Kirk shook his head, unsure why Chapel would care one way or the other.
"You will understand in a moment." Spock raised his hand to Kirk's face. "I did it for you, because I thought it would help you. I hope you can forgive me."
"You have me at a disadvantage, Spock. Until I know what you stole from me, I can't say, now can I?"
"Of course not." Spock took a deep breath. "Close your eyes."
Kirk closed his eyes. Felt Spock's mind slip easily into his. And why not? He'd never tried to block him. Never thought he needed to.
"I am sorry," he heard Spock say.
Then there was only silence as Spock moved deeper into his mind.
Kirk suddenly saw Chris, laughing as he flicked her with water. Surrounded by the smell of roses. "Chris," he said out loud. Spock had stolen Chris? Why?
Then the rest rolled in on top of that memory. The dream channeler, what she had done to try to save him, how he had killed Alesson. Their time on Starbase Two, how she had comforted him, helped him. How he still hadn't been able to sleep.
He could feel his hands shaking.
"I can stop now," Spock said.
"I want it all back," Kirk said, flinching as the memories of the nightmares he'd had flew back at him, surrounding him, trying to pull him under.
You're just nightmares, he told them. Go away.
Miraculously, he felt them subside.
Spock sighed, let the meld ease. "The neural pathways have healed since I took these away. The dreams may not haunt you anymore."
"Do you want credit for that?" Kirk shifted impatiently, refused to open his eyes. He didn't want to see Spock right now. "You said not so recent memories. What else did you decide I wasn't strong enough to handle?"
"Jim, it was never like that."
"Just give them back, Spock. Give them back and get out."
"Of course." Spock reinitiated the meld.
"Oh, god." Kirk felt a huge weight settle on him as Spock seemed to dig through his memories of months past. "Rayna."
Grief, enduring and terrible settled over him. As raw as the day he'd lost her, the grief was worse for knowing that he'd forgotten her all this time. "How could you?" he breathed.
"I am sorry, Jim. I thought it best."
"What else?" Kirk screamed into the meld. "What else did you steal?"
Spock was gone for a long time. Kirk could feel him far away, in memories grown dim now. Memories from early in their mission.
"Jim, are you sure?"
"Just do it." Then he realized what Spock was giving back to him and felt a shiver run up his spine, settling in his arms. "No. Oh god, Spock. How could you?"
Edith. He'd let Edith die. He'd let the woman he loved die. For the sake of humanity. For the sake of the world.
He wrenched away from Spock, felt as if part of his mind was tearing as he broke the meld before Spock was ready. Spock cried out.
Kirk heard the terrible squeal of the truck's brakes, the awful thud as it hit Edith, sent her flying. "No." He sank to the floor. "No, god, no."
"Get out. Get out."
He heard Spock flee.
There was a frantic pounding on her door. Chapel hurried to it, wondering if her chime was out.
Spock rushed in. His face was flushed a dark green and his eyes were wild. "You must help him."
"You told him?" She saw him nod, the gesture unnaturally fast for him.
Everything about Spock screamed panic.
"And he wanted it back?" she asked.
"Yes. All of it. Why?" He grabbed her arms. "Why would he want that back? I do not understand."
"It's all right. I'll go to him."
"He will never forgive me," Spock said.
She had never heard anyone sound so forlorn.
"Jim is a good man. He will forgive you. In time." She touched his hair, stroked it like she would a small child. "Go to your quarters, Spock. Meditate."
"Yes. I must do that. I must calm myself. I must gain control."
She nodded. Hurried out, trusting he could find his quarters on his own.
The lift seemed to take forever, and it made too many stops during the busy dinner hour. She wanted to push everyone out and hit the emergency bypass. But she waited.
Finally it arrived at his deck, and she hurried out and down the corridor to his quarters. She rang for admittance but there was no answer. She hit the switch, "Chapel, Christine, Ensign. Emergency medical bypass authorization four-five-five-beta."
The door opened. She saw Kirk on the floor, rocking slowly, tears streaming down his face.
"Oh, sweetheart." She approached him carefully, not sure what he would want from her, if anything.
He looked up. "Chris?" He seemed relieved to see her. "Chris."
"I forgot you." He pulled her down, onto his lap, hugged her close. "How could I forget you?"
"And Rayna. He took her away."
She pulled away. Wiped his cheeks. "I know." She waited.
"Edith." He searched her face. "You know he took Edith?"
"You found out?" Kirk pulled her close, kissed her desperately. "You found out?"
"Why?" His voice was so broken, the one word coming out in a voice unnaturally high and cracked. "How could he?"
"He loves you, Jim. He was only trying to help."
"He stole my memories," he screamed at her.
She flinched and he was immediately hugging her close.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." He was shaking hard. His skin was freezing.
"Shhh." She crawled off him. Pulled him up. "Come on."
"Stay with me, Chris."
"I'm not going anywhere." She led him into the bedroom. Drew back the covers, and pushed him gently into the bed, pulling off his boots and her own before crawling in next to him.
She tucked the covers around them both, pulled him close and rubbed his back as he hugged her almost painfully close.
When he was finally quiet, she said, "Tell me about them?"
He looked at her.
"I mean it. If you want to. I'm here. And I'd like to know."
He looked down. Then he began to talk. He started with Rayna. The tragic girl's story broke Chapel's heart.
They had both loved androids, she realized. She wondered why life was so cruel.
Then he told her about Edith. All the things McCoy had never realized. She had never realized how huge a sacrifice Kirk had made, how much he had given up for the rest of them. So that they could exist.
She loved him even more than before.
Then he began to tell her of a third person. It took Chapel a moment to realize he was talking about her. She smiled at him, kissed him on the forehead tenderly.
He pulled her closer, kissed her hard, ripping off her clothes as he did so. She didn't try to stop him, helped him get his own off. He was like a man possessed. His lips moved over her body, his hands stroking and prodding. He was tender one moment, fierce the next.
"Lost you," he kept muttering.
She let him do whatever he wanted, kissing him wherever she could reach, her hands moving over his body, holding and fondling and stroking.
Then he was inside her and she had to close her eyes. She had thought this feeling was gone forever.
"Chris, look at me."
She opened her eyes, let him see how moved she was. Tears ran down her cheeks in a silent fall.
He kissed her, his mouth so tender on hers that she sobbed.
"He stole from both of us," Kirk said softly. His voice was low. Dangerous.
"Yes. He did."
"My friend." Kirk's mouth twisted horribly. "My best goddamn friend." Tears came to his eyes and he tried to pull away.
She held him to her. "No, whatever you feel, that's fine. Whatever you want to do, I'm here. But don't hide from me. Don't hide."
He kissed her then began to move inside her again. An angry tear rolled down his face, dripped down to her cheek.
He kissed it off.
She thought her heart would break for him. "Jim," she whispered. Then she said it again and again. Because she could. And because no one would ever be able to take that away from her again.
Kirk woke slowly to the sound of his message console beeping insistently. He looked over at where Chapel lay tangled in the covers and smiled.
He scratched at his eyes. They felt puffy and sore. He couldn't remember the last time he'd cried. He could never remember having wept with such intensity. Talking to her about the memories had helped. Talking and loving her when the talking was over. The grief was still there, but not so raw, not so overwhelming.
And Spock had been right about the neural pathways. They did seem to have healed. He'd slept a deep sleep, with just normal dreams. They hadn't been particularly pleasant, but they also hadn't been the full-bore nightmares that Alesson's apparatus had spawned.
The message console beeped louder. He sighed, eased out of bed and pulled on a robe. He checked the incoming messages; the last one was from Starfleet command, from Nogura's office. He coded in the frequency, waited for the call to connect.
He heard Chapel stirring, saw her look over at him. He smiled softly, put his finger to his lips and made a face. She nodded, lay back and watched him with a gentle smile on her face. The covers had slipped, exposing her breasts. She pulled them up.
He reached over and pulled them back down. She smiled. He smiled bigger.
She was back. She was back and she was his and he wasn't going to let anyone take her away from him.
Except medical school. He'd let her go for that. He smiled at her again, then turned to the terminal as Nogura came on.
"Jim?" Nogura frowned. "You don't look so hot."
"You try being tortured and then trapped in your ex-girlfriend's body, sir."
"Enough said. Glad you came through both all right." Nogura leaned back, his face taking on what Kirk had dubbed his "Snake Oil Salesman" look. "I have a proposition for you."
Kirk steeled himself. He had a feeling this wasn't going to be anything he liked.
"How'd you like to be head of Fleet Ops, Jim?"
Kirk's eyes widened. He looked over at Chapel. She smiled, happy for him.
"It's a great honor, sir, for you to ask, but--"
"--Don't give me any hooey about not being able to leave the Enterprise. You're going to bring the Enterprise home. It's time for her to be refitted anyway. It'll be a year at least before she's ready to put out again."
Kirk could feel his smile fading. "Refits, sir?"
"That's right. Time to modernize."
Including the captain, Kirk guessed.
"We'll talk more when you get back. Maybe by then I'll be calling you Admiral, eh?" Nogura barked out some laughter.
Kirk just nodded as the connection went dead.
"Refits," Chapel said softly.
"Refits," Kirk echoed with a shake of his head. Janice wouldn't have gotten much out of her takeover. Two days he'd had to get the ship to Starbase II and turn Coleman and her over to the Federation authorities. Then however long it took to get them home from here. He laughed.
"I'm just thinking how furious Janice would have been. Work that hard to get the Enterprise, only to have it yanked away." He shook his head.
"When are you going to tell the crew?"
He sighed. "Well, no time like the present, huh?"
"Kirk to bridge."
"Lieutenant Lisa here, sir."
"Ship-wide announcement, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir." A second later, she said, "You can go ahead, Captain."
Captain. He loved the sound of that. He didn't think Admiral would sound half so satisfying as his current title did.
"Attention, all personnel. This is Captain Kirk. I've just received notification from Starfleet Command that our mission is officially at an end. We're going home." He could imagine the excitement of some crewmembers, the disappointment of others. "It has been the highest honor to serve with all of you. No captain has ever had a better crew. Kirk out."
He took a deep breath.
Chapel crawled over to him and he moved to the bed.
"That was nice."
"Nice." He shook his head. "What am I going to do at a desk, Chris?"
"Well, I don't know. Find a way to make a difference, like you always do, I guess."
He smiled at her. Touched by her faith in him.
She looked down. "And maybe it's selfish of me, but I'm kind of glad to hear that you'll be around."
"Maybe more than you want."
She shook her head. "Not possible. I lost you, remember?"
"Yeah, about that. Why'd you just let me go?"
She shrugged, her expression sheepish. "I haven't had the best experiences. Men do that sometimes. Walk away."
She nodded. "I should have known that."
"Yes, you should have. If I ever do it again, I want you to assume anything but that I wanted to do it." He kissed her, pulled away only when his door chime rang. "Better get covered up."
Her expression was startled. "You don't want me to go in the bathroom or something?"
He shook his head. "Not unless you want to?" He grinned. "Whoever it is, I'll get rid of them."
He opened the door, saw McCoy. Barely got "Bones," out before McCoy pushed past him.
"What in the Sam hell is going on here, Jim? The mission's over? What are you thin--" He saw Chapel and stopped dead.
"Why, Chris," Kirk said with a grin. "We've finally found a way to stop one of his rants."
She laughed. "Hi, Len. You weren't supposed to barge in."
"Oh. Yeah." He turned around. "So are they giving you another ship?"
"Not exactly." Kirk forced himself to smile.
"Don't tell me you're taking a desk job?"
"Looks like. Director of Fleet Operations, I think." He winked at Chapel.
She smiled back.
McCoy made a face. "Sounds great. Won't be. You belong in space, Jim."
"I don't think I have a choice." Kirk suddenly wished McCoy would go away.
"Bull." McCoy stomped to the door. "If you do this, Jim, it will be the biggest mistake you ever make. I promise you that."
"Maybe you could be a little supportive of him," Chapel said.
Her fierceness surprised Kirk. It also pleased him.
"I'll leave that to you, Christine." McCoy stared at the two of them, then shook his head. "Cussed damn fool, don't say I didn't warn you," he said to Kirk, as he barreled back out the door.
Kirk stared at the doors. "I wish he'd speak his mind."
Chapel laughed. "Come here. I'll make you forget all about him."
He shot her a look.
"Sorry. Bad choice of words."
"And don't you forget it," he said, his tone very firm. Then he frowned. "That's a hard word not to use."
"You see the problem."
"I'd rather see you." He walked over to her, pulling the covers off her. He felt very possessive of her, wanted to show her that he cared, that he did need her. That she was his.
And he was hers.
She smiled as he stared down at her. "You gonna look all day, or you gonna do something with me now that you've stolen all my covers?"
"I'll take option number two," he said as he joined her on the bed.
Option number two took them quite a while to fully explore.
Chapel's message console was blinking when she got back from Kirk's quarters. She brought up the message, was surprised to see it was from Spock. It was short and direct, as she'd expect. "I must speak with you. Please come to my quarters."
She hurried out of her quarters, headed up to his. Rang his bell.
He answered immediately. He was out of uniform, dressed in a dark robe.
"You wanted to see me?" For all the times she'd been at Spock's door on one pretext or another, Chapel didn't think she'd ever uttered those words.
"Yes. Please come in." Spock moved aside to let her pass.
She walked into the room and stopped short at the sight of the bare walls and cabinets, two bags sitting neatly by the bed. "What...?"
"I am leaving the ship."
She turned to face him. "Leaving?"
"I heard the announcement. The ship is to go into refits, the mission is over. It is time for me to go." He looked away. As if afraid to meet her eyes.
That was something Spock never did.
"You're leaving him. You're running away."
He did look at her then, and she thought his eyes contained a spark of some strong emotion, but she couldn't decide if it was pain or fear or possibly anger.
"Spock, you made a mistake. And you hurt someone--several someones--in the process. Including yourself, because now you feel bad too. It's how it works. We hurt someone, and we hurt. We feel guilty. Sick inside. It's a natural reaction. We've all been there." She sat down on the bed, as if by settling in the room she could make him stay on the ship.
"It is not a place I intend to stay." His voice was firm, but he sat down in his desk chair.
"And you won't have to. Not forever. Jim's a good man, and he's your friend. He loves you. And he'll forgive you, but you have to give him time to do that."
"How much time?"
She smiled sadly. "As much time as he needs."
"Ah." Spock looked down. "And how much time do you think he needs, Christine?"
"I don't know how much time he'll need. He's hurt now, and very angry. He's going to have to separate what you did from what Alesson did." At Spock's look of disbelief, she shrugged helplessly. "I think, right now they're running together. Pain and betrayal. From his worst enemy and his best friend."
He looked away again. His lips set tightly.
"But he loves you, Spock. He will forgive you."
"It does not feel that way." He actually grimaced.
"I use human terms so easily now." He put a disdainful emphasis on the word 'human.'
"You're upset because you said 'feel'? Well, you do feel, Spock. And we both know it. I saw you last night. How frantic you were. Despite all your Vulcan logic, you do feel."
He nodded slowly. "That can be changed."
He rose slowly. "It is time for me to choose my path."
"Your path is with Jim Kirk."
He shook his head slowly, sadly. "I do not think it is."
"Where will you go?"
"Back to Vulcan. There is a place there...a place of pure logic."
"And no emotion?"
"Precisely." His tone was cold, cutting, and very final.
He gathered up his bags.
"You're leaving now?"
"Yes. I am meeting a shuttle bound for Vulcan. It will arrive at Starbase Two in one point five hours." He headed for the door.
"You're not going to say goodbye? To Jim? To Len?" She got up hurriedly, stepped in front of him as if she could keep him from going. "You can't just leave."
"I can. And I must. I am retiring from Starfleet; everything is in order."
"Not everything. Jim doesn't know."
"He will. Eventually." He set the bags down, moved her gently aside. "Say goodbye to him for me. And to Doctor McCoy."
"You must, of course, do as you think best." He touched her hand, an odd expression on his face. "You will have to watch out for Jim now. You will do that?"
"You know I will."
"Do you know what he will do?"
"Why don't you ask him yourself?"
He gave her a longsuffering look and she relented.
"He's been offered a job at Command."
He nodded, as if the news was not unexpected, but also not particularly welcome. "He will not thrive at a desk. I do not think you will find him an easy person to be with in those circumstances." He pulled his hand away. "But I know that you love him, and that he loves you. I am...sorry that I took that away."
"Spock, can't you see? I forgive you for that. He will too. Just give him the time to do that. Don't run away."
"I am not running." His mouth lifted slightly, in what looked to be a small smile. "I am walking purposefully toward my destiny."
"A destiny without Jim?"
"I am afraid so." He held up his hand in the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, Doctor Chapel."
"I'm not a doctor yet."
"You will be. Tell Jim...tell Jim that I am sorry. For everything." Then he turned and walked out of his quarters.
Chapel stared at the closed doors. "Live long and prosper, Spock." Then she walked to the communications console. "But if you think I'm going to let you run away without telling him, you don't know me at all."
Then she wondered if maybe he was counting on that.
"Chapel to Kirk."
"Kirk here." He sounded different, almost happy. A new intimacy seemed to have crept into his voice, even on those two innocent words.
"Sir," she said, knowing that would get his attention. "You need to get down to the transporter room at once. To say goodbye to a friend."
There was a pause.
"At once, sir."
"On my way. Thank you, Chris." The line stayed open. He must have run out from wherever he was without saying 'Kirk out.'
"Chapel out," she said softly. The line went dead.
"Hurry," she urged him. Hoping that he would be able to find the words to make Spock stay. Knowing that the probability was not high.
Kirk rushed down to the transporter room, nearly knocking over a startled crewman as he rounded the corner. "Sorry," he yelled, not slowing.
There had been a frantic note in Chris's voice. He could only think of one friend who might want to leave the ship without saying goodbye to him.
"Wait," he whispered. "Please wait."
Spock was just climbing onto the platform when Kirk barreled into the room.
"Sir?" the startled transporter operator asked.
"Could you give us some time alone, Chief?"
"Of course, sir." She left the room.
Spock set his bags down on one of the pads, turned to face Kirk. "Christine called you."
"Yes, she did."
"She seemed quite adamant that I should not leave without saying goodbye."
"She was right. She usually is." Kirk walked to the pad, stood at the bottom of the stairs, staring up at Spock. Trying to figure out why this was happening. "Where are you going?"
That hurt. Kirk wondered if Spock meant it to. "You used to say your home was here. With us."
"With you, you mean." Spock shook his head. "Our mission is over. We may be separated."
"Then we stay friends even though we aren't together as crewmates. That's par for the course in a fleet this size." He took a step, saw Spock's face tighten and decided not to push him. Yet. "What will you do on Vulcan?"
"Have you heard of Gol?"
Kirk felt his face freeze. A shiver seemed to crawl down his spine. "You're going there?"
Spock nodded. "There is a discipline called the Kohlinar. It is the pursuit of pure logic."
"What of emotion?" Kirk could barely get the question out.
"All emotion is purged. Expunged."
"Thrown out. Like garbage." Anger filled him and Kirk didn't try to hide it. "What the hell, Spock? This is what you do because you screw up? You throw away the feelings that made you do it in the first place? You throw out us? Me?"
Spock took a deep breath, did not answer.
Kirk could feel his mouth twist, the anger inside him turned mean. "I guess that's par for the course. How different is it than what you did to me? Don't like something? Get rid of it. Don't deal with it. Don't admit to it. Just erase it. Purge it." He did take a step up, then another. Ended up in Spock's face. "Just throw it away."
Spock looked angry. "You and McCoy have ridden me for the past five years about showing emotion. Wished for me to let it out. The few times I have made decisions purely on feeling, they are wrong. They hurt you and now you are angry at me. I do not know if you will ever trust me again." He closed his eyes. "And it hurts. Why would I choose this? This pain?" He opened his eyes, they were steel. "There has to be more."
"And you think you'll find it in logic?"
"I will soon discover that. I go to Gol as soon as I arrive home."
Again that word. This time Kirk knew Spock was using it to hurt him. And this time it didn't sting so much as anger him. "Fine, Spock. If you're that big a fool, go home. Go to that planet you hate."
"I have never said--"
"You didn't have to say it. You stayed here, with me, with all of us. For all these years. Not because you had to, but because you wanted to. Because this was the only place you ever felt at home. At peace."
Spock looked down. "Please call the transporter technician back in. I will be late for my shuttle."
Kirk smiled meanly. "Somehow I doubt that. You've no doubt built the chance for this confrontation into your timetable. You're like that, Spock. Thorough." He backed away. "You're always welcome back. I want you to know that."
"Does that mean you forgive me?" Spock's voice was almost taunting.
"I did not think so."
Kirk stepped off the platform and walked to the door.
"Live long and prosper."
Kirk turned slowly. He stared at Spock, trying to reach him, to make some sort of connection that could cut through the anger and hurt he felt, that he knew Spock felt too. There was nothing. "Peace and long life, Spock. I hope you find whatever it is that you're looking for." He didn't wait for Spock to answer, just hurried out the door.
The transporter tech looked up. "Sir?"
"Sorry for the delay, Chief. Carry on."
"Yes, sir." She hurried back to her station.
Kirk turned, looked through the doors. Spock was staring out at him, no emotion on his face, or in the dark intensity of his gaze. The doors closed and Kirk turned away.
Chris was standing at the end of the hall, her face one of compassion and misery. He walked toward her, felt his throat tighten and tried to swallow.
"Come on," she said, as she took his arm.
He let her guide him, not caring if anyone saw them. What did it matter? They'd soon be off the ship, on Earth. Together. He could be with this warm, gentle woman who wouldn't be afraid to love him.
"Thank you for calling me," he whispered.
"I'm sorry he's leaving," she answered as she steered him into the turbolift, called for deck five.
He leaned against the wall, feeling old, tired. "Are you sure I'm not still on that damned dream channeler, Chris? I'm losing everything. Spock, this ship, nearly you."
"I'm afraid this is real life." She followed him off the lift.
He palmed open the door to his quarters, stepped inside. Her arms went around him as soon as the door closed. He held her tightly, burying his head in her neck, letting the warm smell of her comfort him as he fought back tears.
He loved her for not telling him to let go. He loved her for not telling him it was going to be all right. He loved her for just holding him silently, her hands running down his back, through his hair, her every touch a comfort.
"I love you," he whispered.
She tensed, pulled back and studied his face. She stroked his cheek, smiled gently and kissed him on the forehead. "Tell me that someday when your heart isn't breaking."
She kissed him again, this time on the lips. Easy, comforting kisses. "I love you too, Jim."
He pulled her closer. "He's really gone."
"I know." She pushed him to his bed, curled up next to him on top of the covers. "I hate that I found out what he did." She kissed his cheek. "And I don't. I lost you because of him."
Kirk nodded. "It was wrong."
"Yes. He doesn't understand that pain makes us grow."
"He doesn't want to understand."
"Forgive him, Jim. Or it will eat away at you."
He nodded, found himself again wishing that he could be as flexible as she was. As able to bend in the wind.
But he wasn't able to bend. He'd stand. Or he'd break. But he would not bend.
She was watching him, a worried look on her face.
"I'm all right."
"I have to get back to the bridge," he said.
"Just a few more minutes." She curled against him again.
He closed his eyes, imagined having this all the time. Her warm body pressed against his, her sweetness. Her love. He could get used to it. He pulled her closer, kissed her. Passionately this time. Wanting her. Wanting to blot out the scene in the transporter room.
She pushed him away gently. "That's the not the way. And you have to get back to the bridge, remember?"
"Maybe it's the only way."
"No. I don't believe that." She held her hand against his chest. "It hurts. Let it. Deal with it. Don't try to bury it."
He looked away. Wasn't that what he'd just tried to tell Spock?
She kissed him brusquely. "Time to get up, Captain Kirk. Our future lies ahead."
He smiled, shaking his head. "I told you to have faith."
"And you were right. It arrived and here we are." Her eyes glistened with tears. "And everything's terrible."
"Not everything. You're wonderful." He kissed her slowly, trying to show her that he did love her, did believe she was one of the few good things left in his life.
She sighed, but he couldn't tell if the sound was happy or sad. He pulled away, stared at her.
She smiled, the expression the one he'd first learned to love in that awful cell. The smile that said "It's going to be all right." The smile that said she trusted him and had faith in him. That she believed in him no matter what.
He smiled back, then pulled her up. "Back to work."
She nodded, followed him off the bed. She reached over, smoothed his hair. "You have bed hair."
"I hope to have that a lot with you around."
She smiled, a happy smile. Happy, despite the rest. That's what they could be. Happy, despite the rest.
"Do you want to tell Len about Spock, or should I?"
He took a deep breath. "Bones isn't happy with me right now."
"He just thinks you're making a mistake giving up your ship."
"I don't have a choice." He wondered if Spock believed that he'd had no choice. Was he taking the worse of two options because he couldn't think of a way out?
"Not any that are appealing," she agreed. "Although, for the record, I'd follow you into space on a freighter."
He grinned. "I believe you would too." He sighed. "I'll tell Bones. Later."
She nodded. Kissed him and drew him to the door. They rode the lift up to the bridge together, he left her in it as he walked to his chair. He looked back; she was watching him, her eyes full of loving concern.
He smiled just before the doors closed, saw her smile back. His future. She was warm and human. And she loved him.
He looked around the bridge, watched his crew work. His crew, his bridge, his ship. Soon to be someone else's. He sighed. He'd always known this moment would come. That eventually he'd have to leave the ship behind. He'd just thought he'd be readier for it than he felt.
Early in his career, he'd wanted to make admiral. Now he'd give all the likelihood of that for one more year as captain of the Enterprise.
Unfortunately, no one was going to take him up on that deal. The next step in his career awaited, whether he wanted it or not.
"Heading, sir?" Chekov asked softly.
"Home. Take us home, Mister Chekov."
"Aye-aye, sir. Setting course for Earth."
"Warp factor four, Mister Sulu."
"Warp four, aye, sir." Sulu turned around, looked at him. His eyes were full of the same nostalgia Kirk felt. "If I might make a suggestion, sir?"
"I'm open to those."
"We could take the long way home?"
Kirk laughed. "We could." He began to smile, imagined Command's irritation. "Do it. Take the scenic route." He looked around the bridge again, this time catching the eye of each member of his crew, leaving them with a grin, a different one for each of them, expressions that he'd perfected over years of getting to know them. "Let's see the sights, shall we?"
They all smiled.
"Adjusting course to"--Chekov's grin was huge--"the scenic route."
"Warp four, Mister Sulu."
"Aye, sir. Warp four."
The ship sped away from Starbase 2, leaving behind his best friend. The first of many friends he'd have to say goodbye to.
He'd think about that once they got home. If they ever did. Chekov was doing some interesting things to his console. Kirk wondered how long the scenic tour was going to take.
He leaned back in this chair. Smiled. Years would be fine with him.