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) 2020 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
A Meeting of Sorrows
Chapel heard voices in sickbay, recognized Moreno, who should have been her deputy but now was just a doctor. At least he was in charge of beta shift, though it might not feel like it with her camped out in her office working on reports. Would it make it better or worse if she closed the door?
She stared at the door button on her desk, remembering kissing Sonak in this room, the promise she'd felt of what the future could bring to her both professionally and personally.
The joke had been on her.
She heard a low cough at her door and looked up from the terminal, a purposefully bland look on her face as she tried to get into a less mournful state of mind. But she saw it was Jim and let the look slide away. He knew. He knew it all, even if he'd taken the ship.
"So, Captain Kirk, how does it feel having her back?" It was the thing to ask, right?
"It's only been a day. Ask me again once it's sunk in." His smile was gently apologetic—he knew how much she'd lost as he'd gained. "Can I come in?"
She motioned him in, then hit the door button on her desk, trying not to remember how excited she'd been over the stupid thing—how amused Sonak had seemed at her excitement.
Sonak had screamed when he died. Jan had told her that. Because her best friend didn't know not to, that knowing that would hurt her. Chapel hadn't told her she and Sonak were involved because—
Because why? Why the hell hadn't she told her? Before it hurt too much to think about. When it was good and she'd been happy?
Jim sat down, not saying anything, just watching her with the softest expression—the one she remembered from when she lost Roger.
She tried to give him the same look back. "I'm sorry about Lori." Jan hadn't told her the woman on the transporter padd had been Lori, only that it had been an admiral, because why would she think Chapel even knew Lori? So she'd heard it from Len, that "Jim's ex" had died with the "replacement Vulcan."
The man she loved was nothing more in his eyes than a substitute Spock. The woman Sonak had cared for more than—possibly anyone—was simply Jim's former wife, not someone their captain might miss, might truly still care for.
"McCoy noticed you weren't in the lounge last night."
She made a face at the idea of going to some big "We survived V'ger" party when not everyone had.
He shrugged in the way that let her know he understood what she was thinking. "He thinks you're sulking."
"I hope you didn't disabuse him of that notion."
"I didn't. But shouldn't I? Because I know how sad you must be but you're not sulking, are you?"
"I'm not mad at you for demoting me." It was easier to phrase it that way than to say she was angry about everything. Because she was, but she didn't blame him for it. She blamed Len, who didn't have to stay. He'd been retired; he could be retired again. But no. And every time he bitched about being shanghaied for a suicide mission, she wanted to strangle him.
"Good. But that's not exactly what I asked."
"Leave it alone, Jim."
He reached across the desk and took her hand, squeezing gently. "Rand and Uhura seemed to think that you're sulking, too. You didn't tell them about Sonak?"
She shook her head. "I was enjoying him and it was new. We'd fallen away a little, the girls and I." She closed her eyes at how stupid it had been to try to keep it for herself—when did she ever get to keep anything?
"Just tell them, Chris. Let them understand why you're hurting."
She yanked her hand away. "And be the woman who lost her lover again? I don't want pity. Let them think I'm sulking about the demotion. It's easier." She realized she was crying and dashed the tears away. She fought to get herself under control.
He murmured, "I was so pleased for you. With Sonak. You were happy."
"Yes, I was." She had to close her eyes to stop the tears.
"Just let it out. Cry if you need to."
"If I do, I'll never stop."
"Yes, you will. Because you're strong. We both know that."
"Do we?" She tried to read in his gaze if her question made him pause, but could only see belief in her—he'd always had her back. "Don't tell them, okay?"
"I won't say anything." He leaned back. "I'm the only one who knows now, aren't I? With Lori and Will gone."
She nodded. "Our secret."
Her words seemed to make him go still, and his expression was a lost one. "Can I tell you a secret?" he whispered.
"Lori was up here to do the launch inspection. Abbreviated due to the crisis, but required. But..." He took a deep breath. "Nogura and I had a chance to talk privately today. He told me that she was coming up because she didn't want me to leave thinking it was over. That she wanted to try again."
"Oh, Jim." She didn't reach for his hand, even though that was her first inclination. She could tell without him saying that he didn't want comfort—or that he did, but comfort might break him at this moment.
"I think I would have wanted to try again with her."
"Have you told anyone?"
He gave her a smile that was wry and knowing. "And be the guy who's lost yet another woman he cared about? You think I don't resonate with your wish to bury this?" He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. "I'm not sure we would have lasted, but it means the world she wanted to try again. She was special."
"She was. I got to see her through Sonak's eyes—well, and also my own but with him. She was different with him. So relaxed."
"Yeah, they went back forever." He met her eyes. "So do you and I."
"They were colleagues. Not C.O. and subordinate."
"True. But maybe their friendship started with sharing secrets?" He seemed to desperately want to believe that.
"Maybe so." She gave him the gentlest smile she was capable of.
He took a deep breath, seemed to hold it, then let it out audibly. "I like it in here—with you. In here, I'm a man with no secrets. I can be sad."
"She was your wife, Jim. Even if you were finished, you lost someone you loved. No one will blame you for being sad."
"No one will blame you either. Even if you don't tell them about Sonak, you lost your friend Will as well as your position."
"And knowing my history..." Or what she'd always thought it was before Sonak told her the truth of how she was placed with Roger. "They probably think I'm mourning Will in a more...personal way."
"Spock asked me about that right after V'ger."
"Is that why he's been in sickbay three times tonight?" She'd made sure to look busy each time—even when she really wasn't—and he'd left quickly each time.
"Maybe he's emotionally available."
"So was Sonak, only there was no maybe—and he didn't need a meld with a big old killing machine to get him there."
"Okay. Good point. But you sure sounded happy to see Spock when he first showed up."
She got up and began to pace the small office. Small but slightly bigger than the one Len was in. For some reason, he hadn't asked her to vacate the CMO's quarters. She'd moved—or more accurately the quartermaster's staff had moved her stuff for her—into the deputy's quarters, but they hadn't touched her office in sickbay. Hadn't they known to do it or had McCoy told them not to? The other office had more privacy and he probably liked that—somewhere to retreat to during his moodier periods.
She liked being able to leave her door open and see what was going on in her domain—in what was supposed to have been her domain.
"So, you weren't happy to see him?" Jim asked.
She stopped pacing, stood in front of him, and tilted his chin up so he had to meet her eyes. "My Vulcan died and we got this one back? Really? The universe thought that was a fair trade? That wasn't excitement. It was dismay." She let him go and went back to pacing.
When she finally stopped and leaned against the desk in front of him, he said, "Come to the lounge, Chris. Blow off some steam. You're..."
"Hurting. That's the word. And I just want to feel that. Maybe you want to forget—drown your sorrows in booze and company—but I don't."
His expression changed. Grew darker, tighter. "That's just mean."
"I know. Maybe that's me now? Mean."
"I don't believe that. But if you want to grieve alone, I'm not going to force you to come."
He looked so forgiving as he let her off the hook that she whispered, "I'm sorry. I am. I'm a mess but I don't want to not be."
"I know. I think I am, too." He stood, then surprised her by pulling her to him and holding her tightly. "I’m here if you need someone to talk to." Then he let her go and was gone.
Spock sat with McCoy at a table near the bar in the lounge and watched as Uhura came in with Rand. She seemed to realize he was watching her and looked up, smiling—the gentle smile she'd always given him. One full of welcome. Full of interest.
Interest that he had not wanted to take advantage of during the first mission. But now he found he did.
Immediately after the meld with V'ger had blasted away his emotional control, it was Christine who drew his attention. She had been the first to touch him when he was brought in unconscious. He thought perhaps he had temporarily imprinted on her. But then the desire for closeness with her faded, and he was relieved he had not acted on it—or told her of his interest.
Yet he'd seen her watching him in the mess at breakfast with an expression of resentment. Had she sensed his momentary attention and now was angry with him? Would she resent her friend if he followed the way his emotions, now under his control, were propelling him?
He had gone to sickbay three times this evening to try to address this with her as gently as he could, but each time she had appeared busy even though sickbay had been devoid of patients and she was off shift and in her office, her expression so forbidding he had thought better of the endeavor.
He looked toward Uhura again and felt his lips tick up slightly, almost against his will, at the soft look she gave him back. She would welcome him courting her. He was sure of it.
"V'ger left you lonely?" McCoy asked as he waved one of the two crewmembers tending bar over, then frowned when she did not leave her post. He made the gesture that signified he wanted another drink then got up and retrieved it, stopping to talk to an attractive lieutenant Spock didn't recognize, before sitting back down.
McCoy took a long sip of his drink, then said, "The way you were watching Christine after your communion with our latest doomsday machine, I was sure you were finally going to take her up on whatever it is she's offered you over the years." His expression showed he knew exactly what Doctor Chapel had been interested in. "But now the lovely Nyota appears to have caught your eye. Who knew you were such a Casanova?" His smile was the one that in the past had masked insults, this time bolstered by three—soon to be four—servings of alcohol.
He did not see any need to tell McCoy he had always found Uhura charming so he lifted an eyebrow. An old response to intrusive questions or unappreciated comments.
"Silence means I'm right." McCoy laughed, then his smile faded. "Great, another thing to tick off my deputy. Shit. I need to stop calling her that."
"Why? It is accurate."
"Oh, come on, Spock. I stole her damn job. Hell, I wouldn't be so tipsy if I hadn't forgotten to grab some antitox before I left sickbay. She was glaring and it threw me off." He smiled broadly at another attractive crewmember. "Don't know what Decker was really like outside of what little I saw during the crisis, but he sure staffed a pretty crew."
"I know you didn't just say that, Bones," Jim said from behind Spock, his tone the tight one he'd had since Nogura had commed him during their shift and Jim had left to take the call in his quarters. He had been gone for some time before returning to the bridge. And he'd held himself so still, the way that in the past would have signified he was in deep pain.
Yet when Spock had quietly asked him, as he'd handed him a padd to look at, if he was all right, Jim had said, "Fine," in a way that meant no further discussion would be had.
"Sit," Spock said, gesturing to a chair, as if Jim needed to be invited to sit anywhere on his own ship.
Jim did not sit. Was it so that McCoy had to stare up at him—to give Jim power? Although McCoy might be too intoxicated to fully appreciate how distant Jim was being.
"I'm sure they're as qualified as they are attractive, Jim. How's that?" McCoy lifted his glass as if in a toast. "Sit, Jesus, I'm getting a crick."
"I'm not sure I want to." Jim sounded tired.
"He neglected to bring antitox. That is his fourth drink." Spock tried to read Jim's expression as he finally sat down—was there any appreciation of this information? Would their interaction feel like it had before he had gone to Gol? When relating to his friend had been easy?
It had seemed easy immediately after the meld with V'ger, when understanding his relationship with Jim seemed as simple as his desire for Christine. But that desire for her had waned, and with his friend, he found himself adrift and somewhat tentative. He recognized he was caught between two polar extremes: his training at Gol and V'ger's emotional needs felt through the meld—but he was working through it.
Now the awkwardness seemed more due to Jim. What had Nogura told him? He suddenly had a sinking feeling—surely Starfleet would not take the ship away from Jim?
"The comm from Nogura," he said so softly he did not think McCoy would hear him. "The ship is still yours?"
"Paid for in blood."
Spock was not sure how to answer that. Then he realized Jim had brought two drinks. That was a positive signal. That his friend was thinking of him. Although in the past he would have brought him water, but both glasses held amber liquid.
Jim pushed one over to him, and his tone seemed falsely bright as he said, "Ginger beer for you. Sonak liked it. Thought you might too."
"I do not." He replied with more energy than was called for but bringing up this other Vulcan felt like a slap. A Vulcan Jim had given a personal recommendation to. Spock had seen it in Sonak's file when he had tried to determine why he had been chosen as science officer. "I mean—"
"Pretty fucking clear what you meant." Jim took the glass back and poured the contents into his drink.
"I thought it was against your religion to dilute good scotch?" McCoy asked.
"It is. This isn't good scotch. It's synthehol." He took a sip. "Scotty wants me to share a drink with some of his engineers. I figured I should be somewhat with it." He took another sip and muttered, "I hate synthehol."
McCoy seemed unsure what to say, so he turned to Spock. "Should I assume from your overly intense reaction that you didn't care for your unfortunate predecessor?"
"Technically Decker was his predecessor." Jim frowned and took another sip.
"That makes it worse—hope for your sake, Spock, the post's not cursed." McCoy lifted his glass. "Pretend you have a glass so I can make a toast and take Jim's mind off whatever's got him in a mood. To the gang being back together. Everything like it should be. Five more years."
Spock saw that Jim didn't lift his glass so he did not either.
"I lost my wife, Bones."
"Your ex-wife. From a term marriage that didn't last a year."
Spock could feel the tension radiating off Jim, could see his jaw tighten, before he said, "Here. Have an antitox. Before you really start to piss me off."
McCoy took the offered tablet but did not put it in his mouth. "I told you not to marry her."
"Yes, I remember. That's why I didn't invite you to the wedding."
"Did you even have one?" McCoy put the tablet into his pocket and took another sip.
"No, we didn't. But we had one hell of a party." Jim leaned in. "Tell me, does you having an actual wedding somehow make you more married than I was?"
McCoy held up his hands. "Whoa. I'm just saying. You left her for a reason."
"Actually, Bones, she left me."
Spock was uncertain what McCoy might say next, so he said as gently as he could, "I regret that I did not have the opportunity to meet her."
Jim let out a puff of air, some kind of laughter, but it was dark and nothing Spock was used to hearing from him. "And whose fucking fault was that?"
Spock looked down.
Jim stood, picking up his drink as he pushed the chair back. "Scotty's people await. Bones, be sober when I get back. Consider that an order."
Spock lifted an eyebrow at Jim's tone. In the past, he would have said such a thing in jest, but he sounded as if he meant it.
McCoy sighed in an overly dramatic way. "He's different tonight, Spock."
"You are intoxicated tonight."
"Yeah, no shit." He took the antitox out of his pocket and held it up. "I should have taken this when he told me to. But I can't seem to say what I mean to him when I'm sober. I saw him in the corridor earlier. He was in a bad mood but wouldn't tell me why."
"You would normally insist he tell you."
"I know. Something stopped me—or maybe I just chickened out. I wished it had stopped me from poking the bear just now. Stupid bourbon."
"Blaming liquor for your tendency to say what you think is a bit disingenuous, Doctor."
McCoy laughed. "God love you, Spock. Saying what you think is your strong point too. When did it stop being his? And what does he have to be mad about, anyway? He's got everything he's ever wanted. The ship. Us. A future again. His marriage wasn't going to last. I mean the way she died was tragic—don't think I don't have even more nightmares now about that goddamned transporter. But why is he punishing us for it?"
"I am not sure he is."
"I wish he'd just...open up. I don't like feeling like I'm walking on eggshells with him—not when he was so happy to have us back." McCoy took the pill, closing his eyes and exhaling slowly. When he opened his eyes, his regret was clear. "Damn it, Spock. What I said was awful. Why didn't you force-feed me this pill?"
"It is not my place."
"I think it goddamned is. We're friends, aren't we?"
"We are." It was an easy thing to say to the sober version of McCoy. To the intoxicated one, perhaps not so clear cut. "I am going to leave but do not take it personally. I need to speak to Doctor Chapel."
"She's in sickbay.
"Yes, I know." In the past Christine would have been in the lounge, with her friends, possibly glancing over at him. He had always pretended not to notice.
McCoy shook his head, his expression distant. "She's working on reports she insisted on doing even though I should be. You know she's still in my office? I haven't worked up the balls to ask her to move to the deputy's."
"I did not realize that." He was unsure what more to say, so he stood.
"You sure you want to talk to her, Spock?"
"I do not want to but I think I need to. Because you are not wrong, Leonard." He glanced over at Uhura. "Some conversations are necessary. And I too may have...'chickened out' with Doctor Chapel earlier."
McCoy looked surprised he would admit to that. "Gird up then, my friend. She's loaded for bear and in the mood to shoot first and ask questions later."
"I almost understood that."
"Ah, Spock, you always understand me. That's the amazing thing." He waved him away. "Git. I've got some women to charm."
Spock left him and walked to sickbay, considering how best to direct the conversation. Should he focus on Christine's welcome to him when he arrived from Gol? It had been immediate and somewhat embarrassing.
He coughed gently at her door and she looked up.
There was no trace of welcome in her eyes, and she let him stand there for a very long time before finally asking, "Do you need medical assistance or are you just looking for McCoy?" The words were sarcastic, but her tone was as cold as T'Pring's had been when he paid her the required visit prior to going to Gol.
Actually, T'Pring had been warmer.
"Neither. I wish to speak to you."
She laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. "Of course you do." She pointed to the guest chair in her office. "Take a load off, sir."
"You may call me Spock."
"How magnanimous of you." Again, the words were discourteous, but the tone was controlled. "You want privacy, I assume?" She hit a button on her desk and the door slid shut. This seemed to upset her—her controlled expression slipped, and he saw pain, but was unsure why such a simple action would be upsetting.
"Yes, privacy would be best." He struggled for how to begin the conversation. He struggled for far longer than was comfortable.
She sighed, loudly enough that he knew it was for effect. "You know I have things to do, right? Why not just spit out what you want so I can get back to them?"
He could feel the blood rush to his face; felt the same combination of anger and embarrassment he used to get when dealing with his father. "Very well. I was inconsistent in my behavior toward you during our last voyage. During the burning, I intimated that I wanted you."
"Oh, was that what that meant?" Her expression didn't change, her voice barely rising in the question.
"Yes. But I was compromised. It is the nature of a Vulcan to be...uncomfortable with emotion. To struggle to be open in romantic matters."
Again there was the strange laughter and he looked at her in confusion. "You find that amusing?"
"No, I don't. Not in the least." She was not smiling as she leaned in. "What exactly are you trying to say?"
"There was a moment, while still under the influence of the meld with V'ger, that I was considering you just as I did during the Pon Farr. But I am fully myself again. And I am not interested in you. I will not be interested in you. I have no wish to hurt you but you also must not hold out hope, and the look you gave me in the mess this morning made me believe that you still do."
"You do not believe me?"
"Oh no. I do. I get it." Again the bitter laughter with no trace of true amusement. No trace of any emotion he could discern.
He was not sure that she did understand. Surely she would show some...unhappiness? "It is simply that as a Vulcan, I do not always make myself clear when it comes to matters of this kind."
"Have you ever considered that your issues with emotions have very little to do with being Vulcan and everything to do with being, well, you? Because maybe you should." She hit the button on her desk and the door opened. "You can go." Her voice remained even; she showed no sign she was upset at his words.
He reached over and pushed the button; the door slid closed again. "I appreciate your equanimity but I doubt its veracity. You have been infatuated with my Vulcan nature since you met me."
"Yes, I was infatuated. But I'm not now. I promise you. You have nothing I want."
"You are angry."
"No, Spock, I'm grieving. I had someone. I loved someone. But he died, and you took his fucking position."
Ah. Decker. Of course. Now her attitude—and her assignment as CMO—made perfect sense. "I did not know. I grieve with thee."
"Somehow I doubt that. And I'd appreciate it if you kept what I just said to yourself."
"It might help if others knew. McCoy. The captain."
He was surprised at how easily she used his first name. "I see."
"Pretty sure you don't." She hit the button again and turned back to her terminal. When he made no move to leave, she looked over. "Did you need something else?"
"No. I simply wanted to make it clear how things will be."
"Crystal clear. Thanks." Her eyes grew hard, and he understood why McCoy might have forgotten antitox under such regard.
He fled sickbay before he made the situation worse.
Kirk finished up with the engineering crew, feeling a mix of energized from interacting with bright, smart people and drained from being "on." Taking an antitox to get rid of the taste of synthehol and ginger beer, he looked around for his friends. He saw Spock talking to Uhura, and McCoy dancing with someone he didn't recognize.
He could get a table. Wait for them. Or wander the room, making small talk with his new crew. "How are you?" and "What's the one thing that's not in your file that you wish I knew?" and "Do you like the ship?" Normally he loved that kind of thing, but not tonight.
He didn't want to be here. But he didn't want to be alone either. He just wanted to be...with Chris. He wanted to be with Chris.
He went to the bar, smiling at Ensign Jailu as he eased past him to get to his special reserve drawer.
"Reposado's in front, sir," Jailu said with a grin.
"How do you know what I'm in the mood for?"
"A good bartender knows all. Plus, last night you told me to make sure it was in your stash, so I did and moved it to the front."
Last night. When Lori had still been dead but he hadn't known she'd been on her way to find him.
To keep him. Not throw him away.
"Good memory." But then he was the captain. Of course Jialu would want to make him happy. He grabbed the bottle of tequila. "You're free to cut McCoy off if he gets surly."
"He's no problem, sir. I did tell Menendez to ignore him when he asks for table service—hope that's okay?"
"It's fine. He's just getting his space legs. He'll be less surly the farther we get from Earth." Why was he defending Bones? Other than because he profoundly hoped what he was saying was true? And why the hell was Bones showing up in the lounge without antitox? "Okay, I'm officially off duty and I know a friend who'll love to share this nectar with me. If anyone asks for me, I've gone to bed. Unless—"
"It's an emergency. Yes, sir."
Kirk laughed, charmed by this young man Will had plucked out of the admin corps.
He headed toward sickbay, smiling at crew as he rode the lift. Chris's light was on, and he went to her door, knocking with a grin that for the first time since he talked to Nogura didn't feel forced.
"You come bearing booze." Her voice was soft, the one he remembered from their first mission. But surprised too. Like she'd expected him to just leave her to mourn alone.
"You won't come to the lounge, so the lounge must come to you."
"They don't serve that at the lounge. I know the brand. Very expensive."
"Have you had it before?" He found himself disappointed at the idea—he'd wanted to give her something new. Something nice, not to make up for all the pain but maybe to pave it over for a night.
"I've had the plata. Never the older stuff."
Good, then she was in for a treat. "Not in a margarita, I hope. Waste of good booze."
"I've never understood that attitude. Well, unless you're drinking one of the bizarre creations Will used to make. But otherwise base ingredients matter. Quality is a good thing. Would you accept a ship that was made with less than premium parts?"
He grinned, charmed at how fast she had a comeback ready. "Damn good point. One I'd no doubt embrace fully if I didn't tend to drink my liquor straight."
"As evidenced by the bottle and no mixer." She pointed to a chair. "Sit. Or we can go to the lounge."
"I was in the lounge. I don't want to be there anymore. Let's go somewhere we won't be interrupted. I just...I just want to relax."
"Not wanting to stay in here I understand, but you really can't relax in the lounge? Since when?"
"Since... Does it matter? Is there a place we can go? Not here. Not my office slash quarters—why didn't Will have them add a ready room? I bitched about the lack of one for years."
"Why didn't Will have a first officer? Why did he do anything?" She stood, smiling strangely. "I know a place I bet you haven't been."
"I've been everywhere."
"Even to the CMR?" When he shook his head, she turned off her terminal and led him out. "Come on."
"I saw it on the schematics. It's tiny."
"By design." She seemed content to not give him any further info, just led him to a lift and said, "Observation Deck."
"Patience, my captain."
She led him to what looked like a standard relay closet—which is what it would have been during the first mission. "Palm it open, Jim."
"You appear to be the leader here."
"Yes, for the moment. But I'm not the captain." When he didn't move, she grabbed his hand and held it over the sensor.
A door slid open, the star-stream greeted him, and between the viewscreen and door was a small room, dark carpeting on the floor and walls, barely big enough for both of them, with most of it taken up by an oversized square-cushioned bench also covered in dark fabric. "What is this?"
"Captain's meditation room. Will could drink like a fiend, but he was also surprisingly spiritual. A man of infinite contradictions Sonak used to say."
"I can't go in there. It's his."
"You took his ship. You go all over it with no apparent problem." Her voice was gentle, not accusing like it probably should be.
"Yeah, that's why I can't go in. This was his special place."
She huffed in what appeared to be impatience and pushed him over the threshold, then followed him in. The door closed and she was pressed tightly against him. He could feel the swell of her breasts against his back, the warm rush of her breath as she said, "Get up on that bench thing so we have some room. This is smaller than I thought."
"You haven't been in before?"
"Will showed it to me, but I wasn't allowed across the threshold."
He did as she said, finding the cushion to be supportive but comfortable. Almost giving the sensation of floating.
"Lights at five percent," she said, and the room darkened so it seemed only the star-stream lit the space.
"This is breathtaking."
"And he never got to use it. Not once we were underway, at least. I know because he told me he tried to come in here to cool off after you demoted him. But he wasn't captain anymore and he'd limited access to specifically the captain, not himself by name. He never saw you coming, never imagined being demoted, so he was hoist on his own petard." She eased onto the bench next to him and leaned back, the cushion adjusting automatically, making a backrest. "So, see, it's not his special place, Jim. It's yours."
"You could have let him in. Medical override."
"You're right. And I thought of that. But every medical override gets logged, and I didn't want to be written up for indulging a tantrum."
He looked at her, her face lit softly by the light from the viewscreen.
"I didn't know he'd die, Jim. I thought he'd get to use this room eventually." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Open that bottle before I start crying."
He did as she asked, saying so softly that she could ignore it if she wanted, "Do you hate me? For everything?"
"Why would I hate you?"
When he shrugged, she reached over and stopped his progress on the bottle.
"No, Jim, look at me."
He did and she laid her hand on his cheek.
"Sonak should have been on the ship, not on that transporter padd. Will made him do his check-in on Earth. You're not to blame for his death. And Lori, well, she made her own choices."
"That she did. But Will? Your position?"
"Who can say that any of us would have been alive if Will had been in command. Maybe but maybe not. And once Ilia came back... He was a man torn in two directions, I think." She eased the bottle from him and finished opening it, then said, "Bottoms up" and took a hearty swig before passing him the bottle. "Oh my God, that's good."
"It is." He leaned back, enjoying the way the cushion adjusted to his body. He took a very long drink then passed the bottle back. "Reposado means rested, but I feel a long way from that."
"Is that why you can't relax in the lounge?"
"Bones said something that pissed me off. About Lori and me, and—I don't know. He was drunk and I wasn't in the mood."
"Well, we're even. Spock said something that pissed me off too."
"What the hell's wrong with them, Chris?"
She moved closer, cuddling in a little as she took a drink. It felt good, her warmth in this dark silent space lit by the view he loved best. "Maybe it's us, Jim. Maybe we're what's wrong."
"Maybe." He closed his eyes and felt her press the bottle into his hands. "What did Spock say? I thought he was interested?"
"So did he, I guess. For a nanosecond after the meld with V'ger. He came to tell me that but now that he was in his right mind, he was never going to be interested. That I needed to give up, blah blah blah."
"Nice." So, he'd moved on to Uhura? That was going to hurt Chris. If it were him, would he want to know?
"What?" She tapped his forehead. "I can practically see the gears going, even in this low light."
"He was talking to Uhura in the lounge."
She shrugged. "More power to them." She smiled at his expression. "Did you expect me to be mad?"
"Hurt. I didn't want you blindsided."
She laid her hand on his cheek and he leaned into it. "Thank you. He seemed confused that I wasn't more upset. He pushed until I did get mad. Until I told him I was grieving a lover who died, whose job he took."
"So, you told him about Sonak? That's good. Healthy I think."
"I didn't say a name, and I'm pretty sure he thought I was talking about Will. He got the look everyone used to get at MIT when trying to not talk about me and Roger." She cuddled in closer and he put his arm around her. "I don't care who he thinks it was. I just don't know why he thought I needed to hear that."
"Do you still love him?"
"You asked me that earlier." Her breath was warm on his ear, her voice no more than a whisper.
"No, I asked if you were happy to see him. Two different things."
"Can you love someone you don't really know?"
"I don't know anymore."
They passed the bottle back and forth until she held it up and ran her fingers around where the liquid stopped, as much gone as still there. "Half a soldier down."
"We should stop."
She nodded and met his gaze. "I have antitox in my pocket."
"I do too."
"I don't want to take it though." Her lips were on his ear now. Moving as she spoke. Causing shivers deep all over him.
"I don't either." He turned, so their mouths were nearly touching but pulled back enough so he could see her eyes. "We've both lost people. Drinking more is not a good choice. This"—he ran his finger over her lips—"is also not a good choice."
He felt good about that statement, secure that it was the right thing to say, until she slowly captured his finger with her lips and began to suck. "Chris. Shit. Good choices are probably the way to go and if you keep doing that..." Parts of him were in violent disagreement with the sentiment.
She let his finger go but began to run her finger over his lips, smiling in a gently affectionate way he found more alluring than outright seduction would have been. "Do you want to know what I think?"
"I know you're right. I know we're both hurting. But I also don't care. I made all kinds of good choices, Jim. Sonak and I chose to wait to make love. We had time. Time—ha!" Her laugh was broken. "I put things I'd chosen especially for my lovely new CMO quarters on walls that now hold odes to Georgia. I sit and look out at the choices I and the staff made on how sickbay is laid out and know that eventually I'm going to have to give up the view—give McCoy the last keys to what should have been my kingdom. What the hell did good choices get me?" She took another swig, then held the bottle up to him. "So I say fuck good choices. Let's drink. Let's..." She looked down but didn't lower the bottle.
He knew if he took it, he'd be making a choice. A choice he hadn't, in the past, been willing to make with members of his crew. "I hate all that's happened to you. And I'm sorry."
"I know you are. You're kind. You've always been so kind to me."
"You're not hard to be kind to, Chris." He thought about what they'd been through on Exo III, about how Chris had been with Miramanee when she died. About all the times during the mission she'd taken care of him in sickbay.
The moment seemed to stretch, and his old rule about what he could and couldn't do with his crew seemed confining and not something he wanted to follow—not when it came to her. But he still didn't say anything.
"It's okay to say no, Jim. You won't hurt me." The caring in her voice pushed him over. That she could think of him, not just what she wanted. That she was easing the bottle away, her eyes infinitely understanding.
"I'm not going to say no. Computer, lock door. And make locked the default when occupied." Given how Will had locked himself out, this was probably overkill, but he wanted to make sure they wouldn't be disturbed.
He took the bottle and drank deeply, and she nuzzled his neck, her hand running down his chest, his abdomen, and then—there. He moaned and she laughed softly, the sound throaty and impossible to resist as she took the bottle from him and stoppered it, then placed it on the floor.
"Come here," he said, already pulling her uniform off, trusting her that no one could find them in this haven Will had probably never intended for this use.
She was laughing as she got him out of his shirt. "It's like having sex in a flitter."
He nipped her lips, stopping her progress, content to just kiss, to let his hands roam, to get to know the body she was giving him. This woman he'd known for so long but never like this.
She finished getting their clothes off, then straddled him, sinking down with a low moan he found incredibly sexy. "Jim." Arching, she leaned her head back, pulling his hands up to her chest.
They moved slowly, time having little meaning in this room. The energy built, and as she started to call out, he put his hand over her mouth laughing, but she pulled it off and said, "Will told me this was soundproofed."
He let her be free, smiling as she came, then followed her, clutching her and biting gently into her shoulder. As his breathing slowed, he realized he finally felt like he belonged where he was. On this ship he stole. With this woman who should have been in the arms of another man. In this room that Will designed for his own needs.
Nothing here should be his and yet it all was.
"You okay?" She kissed his neck as she asked, her hands gentle on his back.
"Good." She leaned back to look at him, and he wondered if she'd been afraid to do that before, afraid of his answer.
"I'm fine, Chris."
"Okay." Not breaking the gaze, she moved slowly, clenching and he closed his eyes and pulled her to him for another kiss.
He let her move until he felt life coming back, until he could slide her off him, and ease off the cushion so he was standing then pull her toward him. It was the perfect height—maybe Will had planned to use the room for this?
She wrapped her legs around him and said, "Let go. I won't break."
So he did. And as he came, he cried out more loudly than he'd have ever let himself in his quarters. And she was loud too as he touched her and made her wait to come until she was nearly begging.
They curled together on the cushion afterwards, naked, breathing hard, and they kissed gently for a long time, until she reached for her uniform, bringing out the tablets she'd said she didn't want to take.
She held one to his lips and when he didn't open them, said, "We need to be sober for the next part."
He opened his mouth, smiling as she ran her finger over his lips before slipping the pill under his tongue and taking one too.
The hazy glow from the tequila fell off, but the room looked no less beautiful and she no less alluring.
"Are you sober?" she asked, her voice soft.
He nodded. "You?"
"I am." She pushed him onto his back. "Captain's choice in the captain's room. Do I get dressed and go back to my quarters and forget this ever happened? Or do I use this mouth you seem to very much enjoy kissing to get to know"—she encircled him with her hand—"your better half even better than I already do? Either answer is fine. We'll be friends no matter what. But if this is all we get, I think now is the time I should leave. For both our sakes."
"It's a little difficult to answer when you're doing that." He pushed up, into her hand.
"Then let me make it easier." She began to let go of him, and he grabbed her arm.
"Computer," he said, smiling at her as she ever so slightly tightened her hold on him. "Add Doctor Chapel to the access list for this room. Allow her to bypass lock without medical override."
Her smile was brilliant.
"Doctor Chapel added. Lock command modified."
"Who else has access aside from me and Doctor Chapel?"
He put his hand around hers and tightened her hold on him. "It's not just the captain's room anymore, is it?"
"It sure isn't." She began to slide her hand up and down, slowly, his hand still on top of hers, and he closed her eyes. "Are we open or sneaking around? Any answer is fine."
"Again, in the middle of this is not the best time to get an answer."
"Don't give me that. You can do two things at once. Even this." She did ease up a little on him and leaned down to kiss him. "It's just that right now I need something I fully understand. Whether we're open or not, I don't care. I just have to understand the parameters." She looked down. "I wouldn't normally ask this so soon or this way, but..."
"It's okay, Chris. And it makes sense given what you've been through—what we both have." He stopped her hand for a moment and waited until she was looking at him. "We don't know how this will go. How long it will last."
"It will be less awkward, until we know that, to not advertise."
He expected a trace of hurt but she only laughed. "And more fun. I'm actually very stealthy." She went back to what she'd been doing.
"We're friends though. I'm not going to ignore you, Chris—out there beyond this door."
"You better not. Or you'll never get this again." She leaned in and kissed him. "Now, unless you have something you absolutely need to know in the middle of really great sex, I think I'll continue?"
"I'm good. Unless there's something I should know?" He grinned in a way that he hoped showed her he was teasing. "You're the doctor, Chris. What do you think is medically recommended at this moment?"
"I think it would be in your best interest if we shut the hell up and got on with it."
"Officer thinking. And it'll be in your best interest too. Once you're done and I've caught my breath."
Her smile was a lovely thing. "I can't wait."
Chapel realized she was falling asleep when she felt Jim reaching for something. She murmured, "Time to go?" Time for this to end. Forever or just for the night? She found herself hoping it was the latter. She'd never fantasized about this man but from now on she had a feeling she would.
This man who shouldn't be free to do this with her, just as she should be with someone else.
She tried to imagine Sonak in this room. He would have found it highly illogical to make love in a space they would have had to leave.
But then she and Jim were having sex, not making love. So this arrangement made perfect sense.
"Have you eaten?" he asked before saying, "Lights at twenty five percent."
The lights came up, and she felt more exposed than she had during sex. But then he turned to her and grinned, and the feeling of discomfort went away.
"I haven't eaten," she said, "and I'm really hungry."
"Me too. And I have to pee. Will could have planned this space a little better. Although..." He was studying one corner with a speculative look.
She started to laugh. "Are you planning on peeing in that corner or hanging a urinal?"
"The latter. Don't think it would fit though."
"Sure would class up the joint though." She smiled when he laughed. "But not so helpful for me and I have to pee too."
"Astronauts of yore managed to use the same facilities."
"They were in zero g." She grinned at his look. "No rebuttal?"
"Honestly, no." He leaned down and kissed her gently. "You should know, whatever else this turns out to be, I really enjoy you. This wonderful mind"—he tapped her forehead—"not just the body I've been getting to know."
"I really enjoy you too."
He reached around the bench, then further down and frowned. "There's only so much room in here. Where are the uniforms? Ah, there." He handed hers over and began to dress. "Only good thing about these new uniforms is they don't wrinkle." He patted his head. "Do I have bed hair?"
"Yep. Fortunately there are bathrooms outside the observation deck where we can clean up." She waited until he got his shirt adjusted and then smoothed down where his hair was messed. Then she pulled off the hair fastener that had slid halfway down her hair and finger combed her hair. She was about to put it back up when he said, "Leave it down. It's sexy."
She liked how he said it, the gently possessive tone. "I would love to. But it's not regulation and we are still in uniform."
"I could fix that."
"You were the one who said we had to go." When he pouted, she asked, "How's my makeup?"
He wiped under her eyes gently, and she felt a pang that they had to leave this lovely room. She reached down for the bottle and put it on the bench. "Keep it here?"
"I don't want to drink it alone, do you?" His smile was a mix of tenderness and pure mischief. "Computer, anyone in this corridor or approaching?"
He took her hand and pulled her in for a quick kiss and then led her out. He was waiting for her outside the bathroom when she finished up.
The corridors were surprisingly empty and she asked, "What time is it?"
"Really fucking late." He started to laugh. "The smart thing to do would be to grab a nutrition drink and go to sleep."
"I can be smart if I have to." But she didn't want the night to end.
"You're smart period, Chris. How badly do you need sleep? Because I'd like to sit for a bit, in the light, and talk."
"We talked in there."
"And we got distracted. A lot." He laughed. "Not that I'm complaining."
"Then yes, let's go eat."
The mess was nearly empty this late into beta shift and they grabbed some food and took it to a booth in the back. She laughed as he pretended he was going to slide into the seat next to her before taking the seat across.
He eyed the chips that she'd grabbed to go with the half sandwich. "Share?"
"Fine." She tore the container open and put it between them, then snatched one. "I am so hungry."
"Me, too. Worked up an appetite." His eyes were sparkling.
"I guess I can skip the gym tomorrow morning."
"What time do you go? I want to watch you." He frowned. "Okay, that sounded creepy. Was it? I just gave Bones hells for saying something sexist."
"You going to reform him after all this time? And no, saying that to me after the night we've had is not creepy. Saying it to anyone else probably would be."
He grinned, then reached out and grabbed her hand. "This is fun."
"It is." She grabbed another chip when he let go. Fun was good, right? Fun was something you'd want to repeat?
She imagined Lori had been fun. Whip smart and athletic. She was nothing like her. But then Jim was nothing like Sonak. Maybe that was the point of what they were doing?
"You've gone very quiet—and you're eating all the chips."
She pushed the container toward him. "At the risk of being a downer, can we still talk about them—Sonak and Lori? I feel like we should."
"Of course we can. They're part of our lives. Both separately and now not so." His smile was gentle and she could tell he meant it.
"Lori seemed like a good match for you. Like she'd take no shit off you."
"She was. Sometimes though she was a little too tough. Like I wanted her to let her cracks show."
"Maybe she didn't have any."
"Everybody has them, Chris."
"What are yours?"
"I'm sure you know some of the already. But I'll leave it to you to discover."
"Well that's one right there. You don't like to show your chinks in the armor, either. No wonder you two were fascinated with each other. I imagine you were alternately trying to unpeel the other while protecting yourself."
He seemed to consider it. "That might have been why we kept nearly breaking up and then coming back together. Even at the end." He took a deep breath. "I was there, Chris. I took the controls from Rand and I don't know if it's my fault they're dead." He went very still. "I may have killed them both. Are we alone because of me?" He let his breath out slowly as if he'd been holding that fear in.
For a moment she considered that. Not just because she thought he wouldn't want her to jump to his defense, but because it might be true. But she could recall the many times she'd seen him beam someone in or out. The transporter techs had never worn the look of a subordinate miffed that a superior—but less skilled—officer had insisted on taking over. "Jim, I've seen you work a transporter, and Jan told me they were one of the systems least changed in the refits."
"Changed enough though. Not changed well."
"Okay, we need rules. If I tell you something, it never gets back to the person I said it about, okay?"
"And usually I probably won't tell you things like this, but I think you need to know. Jan told me she was annoyed at first that you'd pushed her away. But when it was clear what was happening, she was glad you were there."
He seemed to relax. Then he frowned. "Did she tell you what it was like?"
She nodded. "That they screamed. That it was horrible. But I don't blame her. She needed to talk about it and had no idea hearing about it would hurt me."
"I'm so sorry."
"I'm sorry you were there. When I beamed up to the ship, just before Mister Scott shut down the transporters for repairs, I was apparently caught in the buffer for a while. I was the last one before Lori and Sonak..." She didn't want to think about what must have been on that padd at Starfleet Command so she met his eyes and said, "Their deaths are <I>not</i> your fault."
"Thank you. I've been struggling with how I rushed in—what I might have done." He ate for a bit and then said, "If it's not too personal to ask, why were you and Sonak waiting? Was it a Vulcan thing?"
"I don't think so. I think he had faith in us. That we'd make it."
He looked down and she realized he might think she'd been striking out at him for wanting to sneak around. But she wouldn't take it back. She and Sonak had waited because they'd had that luxury.
She and this man she'd just fucked might not. She wasn't sure she and Jim would have come together if not for their mutual grief and anger at other people. And she had no idea how this would turn out.
But that was all right. Maybe now was what they needed. The future—she'd embrace the Vulcan concept of Kaiidth. What is, is.
And what is not, is not.
What happened to Jim and her, well, only time would tell.
Jim pushed the chips back. "Now who's eating all of these?"
"We're sharing, remember? I enjoyed working with Sonak. It surprised me at first, how different he was from Spock."
"Me, too. He was...zen is the only word I can think of. So comfortable with himself. So unafraid to go after what he wanted. And he helped me rewrite my past."
He made a face, like he didn't understand.
"He was at MIT the same time as Roger. I didn't know it then, but apparently I had several profs vying for me. They don't tell you that. And it's so competitive. Roger got me, but Sonak told me it was close. Only, I never knew that. Roger told me I almost didn't get selected. I worked so hard to prove he hadn't been wrong to take a chance on me. Never knowing I'd been in demand."
He didn't look surprised. "His love seemed..."
"Controlling. Just say it. And it was. But Sonak gave me the truth. And it helped me view the opportunity that was the CMO position really differently. With excitement not abject fear."
"I'm sorry I took it away from you."
"I am too." She met his eyes, not wanting to play it down. "I'm sorry that it's McCoy I have to answer to. He and I aren't doing very well. Not like we used to."
"When he teased the shit out of you every time you looked at Spock?"
"He also urged me to go to med school. Not that you'd know it now. If I hear him say he's lost without his head nurse one more time, I may find myself in the brig for strangling a superior officer."
He laughed. "Don't do that. Our fun would be severely limited."
"You'd find a way to get into the brig." She pushed her tray aside and found herself yawning. "I'm so tired."
"I am too." His look was tender; it was a look that wouldn't be hard to get used to. "I guess we call it a night?"
"Regretfully, I must agree." She wanted to reach out and hold his hand, to pull him up and take him back to her quarters and spend the night with him—but she should take a page from Sonak's playbook. If she and Jim were to be anything more than friends who had sex, it wasn't going to happen in one night.
"Come on, Doctor Chapel. I'll walk you home."
McCoy looked out on his new view of sickbay. Christine had finally fessed up to squatting in the office that would have been hers but now wasn't. He'd been relieved she was bringing it up on her own, hadn't wanted to have that conversation on top of the one they were going to have on the duty roster once he finished thinking this through.
Her attitude, though. Not that she'd stormed around as she moved her stuff. She'd done it as quickly and efficiently as she'd ever made things happen when she was his nurse. But her expression was unrelentingly stony. Like she was a goddamned Vulcan now.
He hoped she wasn't doing that to snag Spock. He was clearly interested in Uhura.
He turned his attention back to the duty roster. On the last mission, he'd had his deputy M'Benga working what he called a cross-shift, straddling the last quarter of alpha shift and the first three quarters of beta. The next most senior doctor had worked the beta/gamma cross-shift. McCoy had worked alpha to coincide with Jim and Spock, but he liked the cross-shift system because it allowed for continuity of care across shifts, especially if he was on a landing party.
Just as now he'd had three other doctors in addition to his cross-shifters on staff. The most senior of those worked gamma since the last quarter of that had no cross-shifter on it. He kept the most junior with him on alpha—he liked to get them used to working his way. Saved time and mistakes in the future. And cut out bad habits before they had years to set in.
The second most junior officer worked beta shift but never without direct supervision from a more senior medical officer. It was a system that had worked well and while it was counter to Starfleet's three-shift norm, medical was independent and his to run as he saw fit as long as he always had coverage.
One of his bosses at Starfleet Medical had expressed reservations at the structure. But then she'd been on Earth, not observing how well it worked on the ship.
He had the same number of officers to work with here. Decker had done a decent job of staffing sickbay so he had Moreno and Tang to staff into the alpha/beta and beta/gamma cross-shifts. Both doctors had decades of experience.
Christine was the most junior. Normally, he'd slot her into alpha with him with no hesitation. But she was so resistant to his overtures—would she even listen? Meanwhile N'Tal seemed like he would suck up McCoy's methods like a sponge and had only a few years more experience than Christine did. He moved him into alpha on the chart.
Which left her in beta where Moreno and Tang could keep an eye on her, and Sykes in gamma with his seven years of experience. Perfect.
He got up and walked to his old office. Christine was laughing softly as she text-commed someone on the terminal—probably Rand. McCoy couldn't imagine a more boring job than transporter officer—except when it wasn't. No win on that one.
She keyed in a reply and then closed the screen. Her smile disappeared as she turned to him, and he felt as if he was the junior officer.
"You have a minute?" he asked, trying to make his voice as nonthreatening as he could.
"Yep." She didn't tell him to sit but he did anyway. Her expression didn't change—he thought he might see at least a trace of irritation.
"I've been going over the duty roster. Couldn't help but notice that we aren't using cross-shifters. That Decker's decision or yours?"
"It's Starfleet's. You're the only one who uses them. The rest of the ship is on the three-shift system. Which makes sense because people bond with their cohort. The cross-shifters don't have a cohort. It's a lonely way to live. And for what? We all work over our shifts in a crisis so the roster can get a little crazy all on its own. Besides, nobody was picked for this ship who couldn't handle themselves."
Except for maybe the CMO, he wanted to say. He would go to his grave wondering how her being CMO on the goddamned flagship made any kind of sense. But he wasn't drunk and out of antitox, thank God, and his at-times problematic mouth didn't flap out more truth than he wanted to let go of.
"I hear what you're saying, Christine, but I'm going to go back to that system."
"Which means I'm a cross-shifter now?"
"No, I'm putting Moreno and Tang in those slots." There, finally a reaction. Rage, rapidly tamped down. "They each have more experience than the other three of you put together."
"I see. So I'll be with you on alpha." She sounded put out.
He'd expected resignation, not this subdued arrogance. Although he'd seen this attitude before with people that had moved on in life and seemed to forget who it was who'd brought them to the dance in the first place.
"Well, you'd think so, wouldn't you?" he said. "But I believe N'Tal would benefit—and appreciate—the mentoring more than you would."
She went so still it was like a rabbit seeing a fox. Only without the sheer panic. He wasn't sure what she was feeling but whatever it was, she was feeling it so hard she seemed afraid to move. Was she finally going to explode? Let him have it for daring to come back and take her job? He hoped so. He was sick of pussyfooting around this.
"So am I beta or gamma?"
"Sykes will be on gamma."
"I see. When does this go into effect?" She could have been asking him how he wanted the meds sorted.
Right fucking now, he wanted to say. But he tried to make his voice gentle. "Let's do it at the end of the week."
"You haven't told anyone else?"
"You're my deputy. I came to you first."
"I'd appreciate it if we could tell the team together. Since otherwise it might not appear I am the deputy anymore."
Little bit of spice there. "You got it." He waited to see if she'd want to talk this out, but she smiled blandly and said, "Anything else?" in a gentle way that almost reminded him of the Christine he'd considered a friend and protégé.
"That's it, 'hon." He saw her lips tighten at the endearment. Holy shit was nothing allowed between them anymore? Then he remembered Jim's tone from the night before when he'd commented on the attractiveness of Decker's crew choices. He had not been amused. "Sorry, that was out of line, Christine. I'm just an old dog, but I'll learn the new tricks."
She seemed to relax and nodded. "I know you will."
He stood and left, but a moment later she was at his door. He tensed as he asked, "Something else?"
"I'm going to run out for a minute."
"I was just about to go up to the bridge."
"Are they expecting you? Because I need to do this now and I haven't taken lunch yet."
He sat back, recognizing a direct slap even if her tone stayed aggravatingly controlled, the unsaid: "While you took a fairly long one." It hadn't been that long and it was with Jim and Spock. Ship's business and all that. "Fine. Go."
She nodded and was gone.
He heard the door to sickbay hiss open and close, the sound a lot louder—and annoying—than it had been in the deputy's office. Oh well. There should be something she got out of this deal.
Kirk watched Chris pace in the tiny entrance of the room they'd put to such glorious use the night before. He admired her ability to work off energy with so little space.
He also liked that she wasn't crying. She was pissed as hell, but she wasn't ranting. She was laying out the case for what she deserved and what she didn't. He sat cross legged on the bench and listened.
Finally she turned to the viewscreen and said, "If you're thinking better of what happened last night, this is a good solution."
"I'm not thinking better of it. If you went to beta shift, would you stay on the ship?"
"No." It was said with no hesitation and he liked her even better for it. She wasn't going to put up with something that she viewed as unfair. Not even for really fun sex with him.
She was ambitious for more than just him and a relationship. Just like Lori would be. And Carol. And the others before them. He didn't want to be someone's sole world.
But he relished being her savior in this sort of thing. "How quickly do I have to act?"
She turned to face him, shock on her face. "You're going to?"
"Yeah. Tell me what you want."
She smiled, relief shining from her. "I'm torn, Jim. I'm the goddamned deputy. But I don't want to be all alone on that stupid cross-shift."
"I wish I could nix that idea but I've always let him do it. Medical is independent."
"Starfleet Medical isn't on board."
"Do you know that? Can you get someone there to tell him that?"
She sighed. "No but I bet Lori could have found someone to do it."
He laughed. "You're probably not wrong."
"If I lodge a complaint over this, I'll be starting my career off with the wrong kind of bang."
"I agree. Well, by his own rules, he should be mentoring you. And while he may have always had his deputy on a different shift, I have my first officer on alpha. At least half the section heads do. There's a precedent for you working the main shift, especially since I will most likely be taking him or you on landing parties. Do you want that? To be on alpha?"
"Yes. But I don't want him telling the people who I fucking led that I'm the most junior officer being molded into his image."
"I knew that already." He held out his hand. "Now that we've got that solved, come here."
She let him pull her to him, kissed him gently and ran her hand up the hair on the back of his neck the way he'd told her he liked, then she pulled away. "Would you do this for me if we weren't screwing?"
"Yeah. In a second." He studied her. "Would you have told me if we hadn't had last night?"
"I think I would have." She kissed him again, then whispered. "I don't want to make you do something that isn't...ethical."
"There's no problem here for me, Chris. Other than how to get him to tell me he's done this without letting on that I heard it from you. Not because I want to hide us, but because he responds better when he thinks he's come to an idea all on his own." He grinned when she laughed. "I do know my people. And his main problem is that he makes emotional choices. There are two precedents here: treat you as the deputy or treat you as the most junior. He's chosen a third option that isn't right. I'll get you one of the other two. I prefer it to be the same shift as mine but I can't promise that."
"I know. And that's okay. I just want some of what I'm due."
"And you'll get it. And if it ends up being cross-shift, well, we'll make it work."
"You sound pretty sure of that. You might get sick of me."
"You know I might." He laughed at her expression of mock-dismay. Then he kissed her quickly before easing her off the bench. "Go back to sickbay. I need to consider how to approach him. I'll be down in a while."
"Thank you. He's on his way up to loiter on the bridge. Would already be there if I hadn't needed to talk to you."
"You can loiter some of the time."
"I don't think I can, actually, given his new structure. And it's not something I really see the point of when the patients come to sickbay, not the bridge. Although watching you work wouldn't be a bad thing." She touched his cheek gently as she said, "Computer, anyone in the corridor or approaching?"
They got out while the coast was clear. He took the nearest lift to the bridge, weighing options, waiting for McCoy. When he showed up, he smiled and said, "Let's walk, Bones. I'm going to have to get used to sitting this much again." Which wasn't true; Command had been nothing but endless meetings. But McCoy didn't know that.
They walked, and he showed McCoy some of the improvements on the ship. Not all of them were Will's. Some were things Starfleet was now doing standard.
"Jim, I want to apologize for last night. What I said about Lori was inexcusable."
He stopped. This was a lightly travelled corridor, as good a place as any to do this. "You were drunk."
"I was. I normally don't let myself get that drunk. I meant to grab some antitox when I left sickbay but I got sidetracked."
"Usually nothing sidetracks you from antitox. I depend on you to bring it." He made his smile gentle, his voice the one of the old mission, of a hundred shore leaves where McCoy had, indeed, provided the antitox. The fact that Kirk never went anywhere without a stash of his own was beside the point.
"I know, Jim. I'm sorry. It's..." He took a deep breath and shook his head.
"It's what? Being on the ship again? I know you think I shanghaied you but..."
"No, it's Christine."
"Well, you're in the job she thought was hers. I'm sure it'll work out. Give it time." He waited to see if McCoy would take a swing at the easy lob.
"I don't have to give it time. Hell, I don't want to give it time. You know she took off my cross-shifters? Well, I'm putting them back on." He put his arms across his chest. "I know you hate the idea but—"
Kirk held up his hand. "Medical is independent, Bones. I don't interfere."
He seemed to relax. "Thank you, Jim. I wasn't sure. Things haven't exactly been like they were."
"We'll figure it out. And if Chapel's going to be on M'Benga's old cross-shift, you'll only have to deal with her for a quarter of your shift." He gave the devil-may-care grin his adversaries never seemed to realize masked a whole lot of care.
"Oh, I won't have to deal with her even that much."
"I don't follow."
"I'm putting her on beta."
He made the face of "I hear your words but they don't make sense." It never failed to get McCoy energized.
"I know I should have her on alpha with me. It's what I always did, bring the junior docs in where I could give guidance."
"I remember. I loved the mentoring aspect of that."
"Yeah, me too. But it's not going to work with her. So I'm bringing N'Tal over. He's young and ready to learn."
Kirk didn't answer, just let his eyebrows knit down, pursed his lips slightly. The look that said, "What in the hell are you thinking?" without actually having to say that.
"Jim, I'm independent. You just said so."
"I did but let me get this straight. You're taking the woman that Starfleet Medical assigned as CMO—but who <I>I</i> demoted so you could step in, so this does involve me no matter how independent you are—and rather than putting her in the slot you historically would have placed your deputy in, or in the slot you would have put your most junior doctor in, you're putting her in a shift that will allow you to not have to deal with her? And putting two males in those other places. Is that what you're saying? Because that's not going to be a good look. And, given your comment last night in the lounge about crew's attractiveness, is a trend I find a little...problematic."
Before McCoy could work up a good comeback, Kirk let his shoulders slump.
"I have this ship on sufferance, Bones. If we hadn't saved Earth and who knows how many other worlds, Nogura would take the ship away." Which was totally untrue, but again, McCoy wouldn't know that. Maybe if he'd ever reached out while Kirk was on earth, he'd know how close Kirk and Nogura really were. "I can't have this kind of thing. Not when it's so easy to fix."
"Put her on the cross-shift? Let a newly minted doctor run wild?"
Perfect. "No, put her on alpha and mentor the shit out of her. Get over whatever's wrong between you."
"But the deputy goes on cross-shift."
"Those are your rules. None of these people—other than Christine—know them, right? So change them. Don't frame her presence on alpha as anything more than wanting your deputy on the same shift. After all, I'm going to be taking you on landing parties. Her, too. Can't always take you, right? This way there's a senior officer on coverage."
"If I'm away, she's still working unsupervised for seventy-five percent of the shift until the first cross-shifter reports."
"Starfleet Medical had no problem with that when they gave her the CMO slot. If you see performance issues, I trust you to document them, and we'll deal with it."
And if Chris didn't perform when evaluated fairly, he'd have no choice but to support McCoy. But he had a feeling, she'd be great—and with the right motivation, could perhaps not rile McCoy up so much he didn't want to work with her.
Although Kirk could help with that. He'd promised not to tell about Sonak, but he hadn't promised not to lead McCoy down another path, one that Spock already believed true if Chris was right. She might kill him when he told her, but if it got her what she wanted, wouldn't it be worth it? "Bones, look. I haven't shared this because she didn't want me to, but Lori and I saw a lot of her, what with Will..." He stopped, as if he'd said too much and looked down. "Just...be patient with her, okay. She's lost more than her position."
"Wait—they were together?"
He did the shrug/headshake combination that in the past had always meant he couldn't say the truth, but he trusted his friend to figure it out. "They were friends. Good friends."
"Well everything suddenly makes sense, Jim. And Jesus. Two of her men go off with machines?"
"God damn it, Bones. I did not say he was her man." Which was true but irrelevant since it was having the desired effect: McCoy was visibly softening. "And for what it's worth, I'm not sure she ever wanted to be CMO. If you approach her right, I bet you'll find her just as eager for a mentor as N'Tal. But she's reeling right now. Give her time."
He had to bite back the smile of satisfaction as McCoy finished melting, as Kirk knew he would, under this very emotional approach. "I'll work harder with her, Jim. And I'll give her time. I appreciate you telling me. I'll never let on that I know."
"If you'll let me, I'd like to buy you a drink tonight. Make up for the shitty things I said about Lori."
"That'd be nice. See if you can get Christine to the lounge, back with the rest of us. I bet she'd be more fun to work with if she wasn't so isolated."
McCoy's face changed. "She thinks the cross-shift doctors are too isolated."
"I think so too. But it's your call. Why don't you ask the doctors you had working that arrangement, now that they're gone and can answer openly, what they thought of it? I mean I get the logic of your system on Earth, where even if the rest of the workplace is out of sync, there's still a whole world out there to find your people in. But that's not the case on the ship. I honestly can't imagine what it would be like to be the only one on a schedule." He saw doubt in McCoy's eyes, so went in for the kill. "You've done it, right? It must not be that bad."
"I had the idea early in my career when I was a civilian and later in Starfleet, but I didn't have the authority to implement it."
"So, you've never done it? And you were always on alpha last mission with me. Maybe you should try out the new hours before assigning anyone else?" He held up his hands and laughed. "Here I am interfering in your domain. You'll do what's best."
"You've given me a lot to think about, Jim." He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, like he was letting go of something. "We're okay, right?"
"We're great, Bones. Show me around sickbay before I go up and sit more."
McCoy laughed and they talked the way they used to on the short lift ride, as if distance and silence had never come between them. When they got to sickbay, Chris was finishing with a patient. She smiled at them both, and he mouthed "Alpha" when McCoy's back was turned.
Her smile didn't change, but he could tell she was relieved. "Sirs," she said gently, then went back to work.
McCoy's look as he watched her lacked the rancor he'd showed in the corridor. He looked protective.
The tour was cut short by a hail from Spock, and with a light heart, Kirk rode the lift to the bridge he'd dreamed so long about getting back to.
Chapel sat in her office, working on reports she'd offered to do—this time without any attitude. If Jim thought he'd changed Len's mind, she didn't want to do anything to provoke an about-face.
It occurred to her that if she had to adjust her behavior this way, maybe she was part of the problem.
But she was mourning, even if no one but Jim and now Spock knew it. She had an excuse.
She recognized Len's footsteps and looked up. He stood in her doorway, a bottle of bourbon and two glasses in his hands. She glanced at the chrono, shocked the shift was over.
"It's quitting time. Can I come in?"
"Sure." She closed up the report and her terminal and watched as he poured them both a finger. "That's your good stuff."
"Yes, it is."
"Like old times."
"No, it's not. But maybe I've been force-fitting things to try to make it be like old times." He pushed a glass to her gently. "Let's not tell anyone about the duty roster change just yet, okay?"
"Okay." She tried to make her voice justifiably confused so he wouldn't know she had any clue he might have changed his mind.
"Jim and I were talking and it came up. He asked if I'd liked it when I'd been a cross-shifter. Had to admit I'd never been one. I implemented the idea but I never tried it myself." He sighed and took a sip, closing his eyes.
She didn't try to fill the silence, just drank and made the happy moan that in the old days meant she heartily approved of the bourbon.
He smiled, the look nostalgic. "Maybe I'll talk to M'Benga and Cruz. Ask them to be brutally honest." He looked down. "Or maybe, since I don't want to work that shift, I'll just shelve this idea and use it somewhere it can be implemented without dooming my staff to social purgatory." He met her eyes. "You are my staff. I know you expected to be the one with staff, but I can't change that."
"But you're also my deputy. And I haven't been treating you like one." He held up his glass. "Will you toast to me? Because I'm about to lay down some hard truth."
Also a blast from their past. "Cheers to that." They both drank.
"You remember when you had to explain cognitive dissonance to me?"
"Okay, so it's that, I think. I feel like shit that I took your job, Christine. I haven't said that because I wasn't going to stop taking your job. I know I could fix this. I could retire again and you'd have your job back. But I was bored out of my mind on my porch. I was stewing in all the ways my friends had abandoned me. Jim, Spock, even you. I was having the time of my life on the first mission and then it was over. And I know that's the way of things, but when have I been a fella who embraced change?"
She didn't answer but gave him the gentlest smile she could.
"I took your job, and the man who wanted you for the job died, and I know you were close. He's gone, and we've barely even talked about him." He looked down. "And I'm sorry for that."
She nodded and transferred the sentiment to Sonak, who was frankly mentioned even less than Will.
"You know how I can be at the best of times. But I've been making you the enemy because I know I've taken something from you."
"Can I say something?"
"Of course you can, Christine. Jesus, in the past, you wouldn't even ask me that."
"It's not the past. Like you said. I just—I never wanted to be CMO. I was thrilled to just be picked for the <I>Enterprise</i>. To be with my friends. Because yeah, those were the best times, Len." He started to say something, a look of relief on his face, so she held a hand up. "But you did take something from me. I used to feel like you respected me. Like you thought I had a brain, which we both know I do. I know I'm a new doctor. I get that. But you had me doing things that stretched the concept of what a nurse does. You trusted me back then. And now you don't seem to. Not even as just a general doctor, let alone your deputy. Your partner." She could feel herself tearing up and took a quick drink, pissed that she was showing how upset she was.
"But that goes both ways. I used to feel like you thought I might have something to teach you. And now you don't seem to even like me." Before she could answer, he leaned in and said, "But you don't like anyone right now, do you? You're holding yourself apart, just like I did on my porch, letting the steam in the kettle just rise and rise."
She closed her eyes because tears were leaking out despite her best efforts. Finally she nodded, because he was right. Other than Jim, everyone else was outside her personal forcefield of loss and anger.
"Whatever else I do with the shifts, you'll be on alpha with me. Partially because it's what I would have done in the past, as we both know. Partially because maybe you never noticed it, but you were always with me when you were a nurse. I never let the other docs have you. Because you were the best damn nurse I've ever worked with. And my friend." He took her hand. "But you're also going to be on that shift because you're the deputy. And one or the other of us will be called up by our fearless leader for some cockamamie mission and the other is going to have to hold down the fort. And I do trust you, Christine. I do." He let go of her hand. "Do you trust me?"
She met his eyes but didn't answer fast because he wouldn't trust a quick reply. "I do trust you. And I haven't been at my best either."
"Time heals all wounds, or so they say. Time in the lounge with your friends heals even more." He grinned, the old smile, before they were both so tentative around each other. "Shift's over. Come to the lounge with me, okay?"
He gathered up the glasses and bottle. "Can I really not ever call you 'hon again?"
She laughed. "When it's just us, and we're not arguing about something work related, then you can. Otherwise, no."
He seemed taken aback at her directness. "That's more restrictive than I expected."
"What? Spock hasn't told you to cut out the 'pointy-ear' or 'green-blooded' comments yet?"
"No. Shit, I can't do that either?"
"Did you sleep through all the 'respecting diversity' sections of our training?"
"No. Or maybe." He laughed as he turned red. "I don't say those things to hurt."
She tilted her head and stared at him, the way she always had when she was calling his bullshit without wasting words.
He held up a hand. "Fine, fine, I'll work on it. Now...the lounge?"
"The lounge." She stopped him as he was turning to go, gave him a quick hug and whispered, "I missed you." Her friend. Her mentor. A man who'd seen her in every conceivable mood and had supported her anyway.
"I missed you too, darlin'."
Kirk waited in the CMR for Chris to extricate herself from the others in the lounge. It was great to see her there, to see McCoy treating her the way he used to. He loved being able to help her and help himself in the process.
"You're such a softie," Lori would have teased him. He imagined her here, in this tiny room, probably more at home than either he or Chris since she'd been so petite. She'd felt different in his arms than Chris.
Did it matter? She was dead. Just like Edith. Just like Miramanee.
He could almost hear her laugh, the way she'd playfully mock him. "Of course it matters. You know how competitive I was."
And she was. "Race you to the top," is how she first got his interest. Climbing a tough peak, no fear in evidence. As at home on a mountain as he'd been.
Did Chris like mountains?
Or beaches? Lori had never seemed enamored with their beach house. Would she have come to love it? He'd thought when they bought it, she would like it, that he'd finally have it all: his beautiful woman and a beach to walk on.
But not everybody gets it all.
He got comfortable on the bench and could smell Chris's perfume on the fabric. Nothing like what Lori had worn, but it suited her. A tropical floral but fresh, not cloying. Lori had liked green, outdoorsy scents.
Carol hadn't worn perfume. Janice Lester had gravitated toward spicy scents. Edith hadn't wanted to splurge when there was so much need, had worn an inexpensive scent, some mix of florals and other things, modeled after a much more expensive designer scent.
So many lost loves.
He eased back and watched the star-stream, enjoying the comforting solitude. "Computer, how would you respond if queried for my current location?"
"Captain Kirk is currently unavailable." The standard reply for anyone engaged in personal spiritual practices while off duty. Made sense given Will's intended use.
"How would you respond if I were on duty?" He and Chris might want to use this for quickies during lunch.
"Captain Kirk is in the CMR."
"What if someone were in here with me? How would that individual's location be identified?"
"Former Captain Decker did not provide directives for location query for anyone other than himself."
Kirk crossed his arms behind his head and pondered the options. There were all sorts of clever ways to phrase things if he and Chris were going to hide this.
And since he still wasn't sure where they might end up, they should hide this.
He imagined Lori's taunting smile: "Coward."
Janice and Carol and even Janet Wallace might have told him the same thing in their own, highly scientific ways.
Edith would have told him to do the right thing.
What would Chris tell him?
He'd spent the night glancing her way, and he'd caught her glancing back. Her smile sweet and light, making it easy on him. If he needed her to, she'd let him walk away and be graceful about it; he was sure of it.
But he didn't want to walk away. He'd wanted to ask her to dance. To buy her a drink in the light of the lounge.
He didn't want to sneak around with her for everything. He wanted to get to know her. The real her, not just the woman who'd taken his breath away last night and no doubt would again.
He wanted to be friends, not just lovers. "Use the same location designations for anyone in here."
He heard a soft beep, then the door hissed open and Chris slipped in.
He grinned at her. "Well hello there."
"You look good enough to eat."
"As do you. But hold that thought." He held his hand out and pulled her onto the bench to cuddle against him. He kissed her as tenderly as he could, and she kissed him back the same way. "I don't want to use this room for sex."
He felt her tense against him.
"Was that a break-up kiss, Jim?"
"No, silly. Sorry, I've been in here alone, thinking, and you're having to jump in midstream. Let me say it better. I don't want to use just this room for sex or this room just for sex."
She started to laugh, and he knew she was replaying his words to make sure she hadn't misheard. "Explain more." She turned and nuzzled his neck in a way he loved, so he didn't think the news was unwelcome despite the clinical way she'd phrased that.
"Don't get me wrong, Chris. This room—you in this room—have been crucial for me. I had everything I wanted back but at such a high cost. And my friends think it's the best thing ever and I've been just—simmering underneath. Angry. Sad. About Lori. About Sonak. About what I did to Will to get the ship. About demoting you, even."
She snaked her arm over his chest. "We're fine on that last one."
"Okay, good. We'll revisit you in a minute though."
"All those things were making it impossible to just...enjoy this thing I've wanted back practically since I gave it up. And then you were there and you were in the same place and I buried myself in you. Literally"—he smiled when she chuckled—"and figuratively. All the dark stuff—you took it for me."
"And you took mine."
"I was so happy to see you in the lounge tonight. But..."
Her smile faded. "But...?"
"I know how you liked to be touched but I don't know how you like your coffee or your eggs or your steak." He frowned: did she even eat meat? She'd been with a Vulcan. "I don't have a clue what your favorite cocktail is, even if I know you seem very keen on quality ingredients."
"We've been over why."
He laughed. "The sex part, we still need to hide that. But I'd really like to get to know you."
"I'd really like to get to know you too. And for what it's worth, I like what I've seen so far."
"Me too." He turned and kissed her gently. "I was staring at you so much in the lounge tonight that McCoy casually observed you were exactly my type. And I'd like to find out if he's right—I mean beyond the obvious: that you're an attractive scientist. So unless you object, starting tomorrow, you're going to be the recipient of the full James T. Kirk wooing treatment."
"Is that a good thing?" Her smile was teasing. "Isn't that what those alien babes get just before you pull a fast one and steal something for the Federation?"
"That isn't my wooing treatment. That's mission imperative stuff."
"Oh, is that what you call it." She laughed in such a silly way it made him laugh too.
"So, are we agreed? Get to know each other. In the open, not just in here? Where everyone can see it happen, Chris."
"Well, not everyone."
He pulled back in confusion and she laughed at his expression.
"Jim, it's not as if you're going to make a ship-wide announcement. I just think you're being a little dramatic here." She was laughing at him but in the best way, with an expression that showed she liked the direction.
But she was also going to call him on his bullshit.
He could almost hear Lori saying, "Well, if you can't have me, I guess she'll do." And he smiled at the thought. But he was not going to go down without a fight. "Woman, you are the antithesis of romantic."
"No, I'm not." She pulled him back to her and kissed him so sweetly he found himself hoping they'd prove really, really compatible. "And for the record, I would love to be wooed by you."
"Good. Moving on." To the not-so-fun part. "I have to confess something."
"Hmmmm." She narrowed her eyes. "Okay, lay it on me."
"When I was working the cause with McCoy, I may have let him think you were involved with Will."
She started to laugh, which was not the reaction he'd expected. "That's what he meant by he knew Will and I were close. And he's been so gentle. You totally invoked his sympathy."
"He's light on filters but at heart a compassionate fool."
"Sonak would have considered him a study in contradiction too."
"Which gets to my next point. If you want to clear things up with him or have me do it, that's fine. I get why you might not want him or Spock thinking you were involved with Will."
"With my boss—because I'd never do that? Or did you mean with a captain? Yeah, who'd want to be with him?" She laughed at his expression but then her smile faded. "I've thought about this ever since my conversation with Spock."
He waited, letting her work her way through this however she needed to.
"I spin scenarios, imagine telling Jan or Ny. Imagine what Len would think—I've heard him refer to Sonak as 'the replacement Spock.'"
He winced and nodded.
"There's no scenario where I see them truly understanding. That this was about Sonak. That he and I went back years before I even met Spock, even if I barely knew Sonak at the time. That once he was separated from his wife, he pursued me, not the other way around. That he was never, ever, some alternative to Spock. Some second-best option. He made me feel good about myself. Spock doesn't. But trying to explain that to anyone...it just won't work." She touched his face. "Right now, I think it really is just you and I who know. I don't think Sonak talked to his family about us. I don't believe he would mind that I'm holding him inside my heart and letting two men, who aren't going to tell anyone, think I was involved with Will."
"That makes sense."
"And you know the truth. You've taken care of me. I know you'll protect me. And Sonak's memory. Just like I'll protect Lori's. And I'll take care of you."
"Unless I get sick of you."
"I'll probably get sick of you first." Her smile was beautifully mischievous. "Like how long can I stand being with a really smart, great looking, extraordinarily nice man who is so very good at making me come?" She nipped his ear gently. "I mean what woman in her right mind would want that?"
"Yeah, this is going to suck for you."
"Well, some things will be sucked. Too bad we can't use this room for sex anymore."
"That's not what I said." He pushed her to her back and studied her, could tell his smile was hitting pretty high on the sappy meter but didn't care. "So far, Doctor Chapel, I really, really like you."
Her smile back was just as sweet. "And so far, Captain Kirk, I really, really like you too."