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) 2004 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Chapel looked around the crowded conference center. She couldn't believe she had to come to this motivational seminar. She was motivated enough for three people. Working in Emergency Ops didn't give her any other choice. Do or die. How much more motivated did a person need to be?
On the other hand, she was also about ready to transfer out of Emergency Ops, and Cartwright had thought she should go rub shoulders with the brass and give those who would be fighting over her an up-close and personal look.
It wasn't necessary. She already knew what she was going to do. Kirk had asked her to come back to the Enterprise, and McCoy had followed up with a call of his own. He'd even offered to be her deputy if she'd just say yes. Of course, she'd said yes—to the deputy position, she had no desire to be in his job. After two years chasing fires, being deputy sounded nice and quiet.
She shook her head. What was it about the Enterprise crew? They just couldn't get enough of each other during the last two five-year missions? They all had to sign up for more time in space together? They had to track down their lost lambs like Kirk and McCoy had done for her? She'd barely announced her intention not to extend in Emergency Ops for a third year when Kirk's comm had come through.
"God, I hate these things."
She turned and saw Kirk and Spock behind her. Spock's expression was neutral, but Kirk looked like he'd rather walk through coals then be there. He looked like she felt.
"I didn't know you were going to be here," she said.
"Neither did we." Kirk gave her a hug.
"Doctor Chapel," Spock said with a pleasant nod.
"Captain Spock." She glanced at his rank. "It is still captain?"
Before Spock could answer, Kirk said, "Call him lieutenant. It's what I'm going to bust him down to for not making up a creative excuse for why we couldn't be here." He glared at Spock.
Spock didn't look upset. "As I have indicated, the comm informing us took me by surprise. I did not have time to assemble a colorful excuse."
"Didn't have to be colorful. Black and white would have worked. Or the old standby." He turned to Chapel. "You know it, right?"
She acted like she was hitting a switch. "Command, we've lost visual." Then she started to make staticky sounds. "I can't read you. Your signal's breaking up." She pretended to hit another switch. "Oops, lost them."
He grinned. "See, Spock. Chris knows."
"Yes, I can see that you two are well versed in deception. I regret I did not spend more time in Command when I was an instructor at the Academy. Perhaps I could be as accomplished."
Chapel laughed. "I think we've just been insulted."
Kirk made a "so what else is new?" face.
"If we continue to stand here debating my merits as a prevaricator, the available seating will be gone, and we will have to separate." He shot Kirk a stern look. "I know you do not wish for that to happen." He didn't wait for them as he headed off to the nearest group of three seats.
They followed him
"Guess he told us," Chapel said. "At least he's not going for the seats in the front."
"We had a long talk about that on the shuttle." Kirk grinned at her as he sat down. "It's good to see you again."
His grin was infectious. She'd forgotten that.
"It's good to see you." She nodded at Spock. "And him."
"How long has it been?"
"Since what?" She shot him a look. If he was going to bring up her damned crush, she was going to slug him, higher rank be damned.
He seemed to be reading her mind because he rolled his eyes as he said, "Since we've all seen each other?"
She relaxed. "Oh." At his look, she laughed softly. "Sorry. Guess I'm a bit sensitive. Seeing Spock again isn't why I said yes."
"Of course not." He glanced over at Spock, who seemed to be absorbed in the program. "Although, he's changed since you knew him. He's warmer."
"Yes," she said, making a face. "He seems warmer." She rolled her eyes and he laughed.
Spock glanced over at them, then went back to his program.
Kirk tried to hide a grin. "Well, he's perhaps overly focused at the moment on our agenda. But he'll warm up, you'll see." He leaned forward in his seat. "So when was the last time? The post-Whale Roundup victory party?"
She laughed. "I believe so. You spent the whole party waiting for Doctor Taylor to show up."
"Well, not the whole party. Just most of it." He laughed, but there was something else in his expression. "She'd shipped out. I knew she wasn't going to be there."
He nodded. "She said she was on a science vessel."
"No, that would be 'Science Vessel.'" At his look of incomprehension, she said, "The remedial science simulator? She's not going anywhere—or touching any Starfleet machinery—until she's fully up to speed."
He looked shocked for a moment, then began to grin. "It's wrong and bad of me, but I suddenly feel so much better."
"Feeling a little used, were you?"
"Well, she did convince me to let her hop to the future on the pretext that the whales needed her, then she just took off."
Chapel smiled. "She's still in the bowels of command on her make-believe ship. But she's doing quite well from what I hear." At his look, she shrugged. "I got to know her while we were waiting for the hearing. I liked her. Even if she did use you."
"She was impetuous. It's not a completely bad trait." He grinned at her again. Then he turned to look at Spock, rubbing his arm from where the Vulcan had just elbowed him. "What?"
"The first speaker is about to start."
"Chris and I need to go to the bathroom." Kirk started to get up but sat down again slowly as Spock shook his head.
Chapel had no doubt he'd narc on them to the seminar coordinator if they skipped out, then wondered what the coordinator could do to them. She leaned in and whispered in Kirk's ear. "Tell him it's my medical opinion that if we don't go, we might risk bladder damage, possibly a kidney problem."
He snickered, then fell silent as Spock glared at him again. The Vulcan turned the glare on her. She suddenly understood why Kirk minded him.
"I'll be good," she muttered.
He turned away and she had to resist the temptation to stick her tongue out at him. She saw Kirk grin, and wondered if he was fighting the same urge.
The coordinator introduced the first speaker. She was an admiral. Tough, starchy, and possibly the worst public speaker Chapel had ever heard. She was so bad she was de-motivational.
Chapel snuck a look at Spock, who seemed in rapt attention, then pulled out the padd she'd brought to take notes on. She cleared the screen, called up a special program and slowly tilted it so Kirk could see it.
"Hangman?" he said so softly it barely disturbed the air.
He grinned. "E."
She input the letter, ___ ___ ___ E ___ ___.
He smiled. "R."
She shook her head; typed the letter in and a head appeared on the little figure hanging from the tree.
He ran through the most common consonants, tried a few vowels. Was down to his last foot, when he picked, "L."
She nodded. ___ ___ L E ___ ___.
"What the hell?" Kirk said, frowning at the screen.
A large, greenish hand suddenly covered her own, and Spock pulled the padd away from her.
"Busted," Kirk mouthed, and she tried not to laugh.
She expected Spock to put the padd away, but instead he input something on the screen and then handed it back to her. It said, "The word is 'phlegm,' which is, by the way, an excellent choice for its unusual consonant combination. Now, put the padd away and stop encouraging him to act up."
She glanced over at Spock. He nodded toward the padd, and she stuck it back in her pocket. "Spoil sport," she mouthed at him.
A slow rise of his eyebrow was her only answer. Sighing, she forced herself to pay attention.
Kirk suddenly leaned in and whispered in her ear. "So what was the word?"
She turned to him, her mouth close to his ear. She noticed he smelled good—some kind of subtle, spicy cologne. "Phlegm," she said.
He gave her an impressed look, then his mouth was at her ear again. "If that was your opening word, I'd hate to see what you reach for as your big guns." He pulled away, then leaned back in. "I like your perfume, by the way." He suddenly jerked.
"Another elbow?" she whispered.
He nodded and made a pained face. "You're sitting in the middle after the break."
"No way in hell," she said softly, then pretended to listen to the deadly admiral. For a very, very long time.
Chapel looked at the line for the bathrooms and laughed. "I told you, Spock, that it was better to get up in the middle of a boring lecture than wait."
Kirk grinned. He'd snuck out too, although not when she did. Spock's glare had seen to that.
"I do not understand why Starfleet would choose such poor speakers for this conference." Spock appeared to give up on the bathrooms and led them out of the stuffy conference room onto a large balcony.
"I think it's a Romulan plot," Kirk said, with a grin. "Bore us to death or maybe make us all so unmotivated that we quit and go become latinum miners."
"I've heard there's a big market in that now." Chapel sat down on the bench that wrapped around the edge of the balcony. She swung her legs over so she was facing out, over the gardens, legs swinging free. "This is one pretty place."
Kirk joined her, legs swinging also, and she laughed. They were like two juvenile delinquents set loose in an adult world.
"It is pretty. Sin to be locked inside." He shot her a look.
She knew what he was thinking. It was a short drop to the gravel path, and then they'd be home free. Lost among the lovely flowers and liberated from boring speakers.
Spock sighed. "Must I separate the two of you?"
"You could sit down. Smell the roses for a moment." Kirk indicated Chapel's other side. "Vacant seat over there."
She shot him a startled glance. "Vacant seat over there too," she said pointing next to Kirk.
Spock shook his head, moved to the far side of the balcony, and sat down, legs facing the correct way.
"What are you doing?" she said softly to Kirk.
"Me? Nothing. Why?"
"Well, stop doing it. It's not nothing. It's meddling." She realized she was kicking her legs with a great deal of gusto.
He put a hand just below her knee and pressed down gently, slowing one leg at least. "Sorry."
She nodded and forced herself to let her legs just dangle.
He didn't move his hand.
She looked over at Spock. "Are you enjoying this?"
"No, waiting for the damn bathroom. Of course, the seminar."
She heard Kirk giggle. There was no other word for it.
Spock shot her a surprised look. She'd never spoken to him that way in the past. She really hadn't spoken to anyone that way. Emergency Ops had been an eye-opening experience, both for her career and her personality. In that "react now, think later" environment, sarcasm was a field to be mastered as diligently as medicine had been. She understood why being a smart-ass had always held such appeal for McCoy—it was liberating.
"I am not enjoying this." Spock looked out over the flowers, then back to her. "How did you make that noise? I will need to know, should I be invited to one of these in the future."
She and Kirk both made the crackling "we've got static up the yin-yang" noise. Spock echoed back a more than creditable version.
"Now, you're getting it." Kirk smiled at her. "You're a very bad influence, Chris. Who knew?"
"Me? You started it." She shrugged. "They could have made this motivational. Either of you would have been more interesting."
"I am not sure that is a compliment," Spock said. "I believe a tribble would be a more interesting lecturer."
She laughed. "Well, who would you want to hear?"
"Sakoth has published some groundbreaking work on translinear physics as it relates to warp drives and subspace."
"ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz," Kirk said softly.
Spock didn't miss the sound. "You have a better suggestion, I presume?"
Kirk shrugged. "Someone with charisma would be nice."
They both shot a look at Spock.
He was unperturbed, just went on with his list. "Garth? Gill? Karidian?"
"Why is it the people with the most charisma turn out to be evil megalomaniacs?" Chapel looked at Kirk. "Are you going to turn evil?"
"Are you saying I have charisma?"
She laughed. "You know you do."
He made a happy "what can you do?" face. "Yeah, I think after lunch I may turn evil."
"Does that mean we go from being sidekicks to henchmen? Or would I be a henchwoman? That sounds odd."
"What is a hench?" Kirk asked. "Is there a verb 'to hench'?"
"It probably is related to hengest. Horse. As in a groom or page." Spock rose. "The line has dissipated somewhat." He headed off to the bathroom.
They watched him go.
"He knows the strangest things," Chapel said, then she smiled. "And I can't say he's exactly bubbling over with that warmth you mentioned."
"Give him time." Kirk seemed to suddenly realize he still had his hand on her leg, had in fact moved it up a bit to sit on her knee. He pulled it away suddenly.
She grinned at him and tried to show him no harm, no foul.
He grinned back and seemed to relax. "You should have seen him right after the Fal-tor-Pan."
"Gave stiff a bad name?"
"And then some." He shook his head, his grin fading. "I wasn't sure the Spock I knew was ever coming back."
"But he did." She smiled softly. "He always comes back to you. He loves you."
Kirk's face lost all expression.
"Hey, that's not a bad word. He does love you, you know that."
He nodded. "I just..." He exhaled loudly. "There are some who think..."
She smiled, shook her head. "That you two are lovers. Yeah, I know. I used to wonder about it myself. Why does it bother you?"
He turned to look at her, a retort obviously ready, but then seemed to realize she was serious, not teasing him. "He's my best friend. I would die for him. He has died for me. What more is there to say? Why does it have to be about sex?" He shook his head. "I didn't mean to snap."
"You didn't snap." She realized there was no one else left on the balcony. "Seminar's started."
"I know." He didn't move.
"You don't want to go back in?"
"No. But Spock'll hunt us down." She grinned. "And make us pay."
He looked down at where her hand was covering his. "He was an idiot."
She sighed and pulled her hand away. "Could you please let that drop? It's over."
"You don't have feelings for him? You're mocking him pretty intensively."
"McCoy does that too. Are you saying he'd like to jump Spock's bones?"
Kirk shrugged and gave her a silly smile. "Maybe."
She laughed. "I don't have feelings for him. Okay?"
"Okay." He swung his legs around and got up.
She followed suit. They snuck back into the room, which had been darkened to show some strange picture of abstract art—or maybe it was a disassembled warp core. The speaker sounded like he'd taken training in how to drone. And done well at the training. In fact, he could teach the class.
"Once more into the breach," Kirk muttered, as he led her to their seats.
Chapel took another sip of her drink, following Kirk and Spock into the lounge. Dinner had been long, and the special guest speaker had been so dull that one of the older attendees had fallen asleep in her soup and nearly drowned. Chapel had been worried she'd be called upon to do emergency measures. But another doctor had stepped in.
The food had been awful too. Dry chicken filled with something...brownish-green. Salad that looked like it had been fresh during Cochrane's time. And desert that she thought was supposed to be a soft brownie—or maybe exceptionally hard chocolate pudding.
Fortunately, the bread had been all right. She'd made a meal of it. Good thing too. Or the highball she was drinking would be going right to her head.
The lounge was bigger than she expected. And there was a large dance floor. People were dancing to recorded music. She looked around the room and saw Kirk do the same.
He drained his scotch then set it on the bar. "Wish me luck," he said as he winked at her, striding into the crowd toward an unattached woman. He wove a bit—he hadn't stocked up on bread.
She looked over at Spock. He looked very uncomfortable.
"He did it again," she muttered to herself. "I'll kill him."
Spock turned to her, a quizzical look on his face.
Spock's expression lightened. "His efforts seemed to be in that direction. I was hoping I was mistaken."
"Oh, no. He's playing yenta." She glanced at him; he seemed to know the reference. "Just for the record, you're safe from me."
"That is good to know. However, I do not feel in danger."
She laughed. "Well, that's a switch." She sipped her drink. "I don't suppose you dance?"
"I do not."
She smiled. "I bet you can though. Amanda probably made you go to ballroom-dance class, where all the Vulcan boys made fun of you after school. They taunted you with cries of, 'Your intelligence is substandard, and your mother dresses you funny.'"
He actually looked amused. "You have a vivid imagination, Doctor."
"It's true. I do." He'd be embarrassed if he knew just how vivid. He'd once been a favorite fantasy. Thank God that was in the past.
"Do you enjoy dancing?"
"There is a definite imbalance in the male-female ratio. I am sure someone will ask you momentarily."
"Yeah, I noticed that imbalance. Not sure what it says for Starfleet promotion policy, but it definitely means I'll be a popular girl tonight." She turned to him. "But only if you go away. Nobody is going to ask me while I'm talking to you."
"I can leave?" He looked so hopeful, she burst out laughing. Quite a few heads turned.
"Yes, you can go. I'll see you tomorrow."
He nodded. "Thank you, Christine."
"You're welcome, Spock."
She saw him find Kirk in the crowd, his eyes were thoughtful...concerned even.
"I'll make sure he doesn't turn into a pumpkin."
He nodded. "His conviviality these days is often forced."
She took that in. "David?" She'd heard the tragic story from Uhura.
He nodded. "David. My death and the stress of the retraining. McCoy's mental imbalance when he carried my katra. The destruction of the ship. The new ship—it has been slightly disappointing in its performance, I think. My brother did not help matters."
"So—all of it."
He nodded. "He is depressed, I think."
They both turned to look at him. Kirk was laughing at something a pretty redhead had said; he swung her in the dance and they both laughed again.
"Yes, he looks like the poster child for depression."
"We both know that depression can be masked. And Jim is quite skilled at hiding what he feels."
She nodded. He was right. Depression could be masked, and if anyone could do it, it would be James "I'm having the time of my life" Kirk.
"I'll look out for him, Spock."
"Thank you. Enjoy yourself, Doctor."
"You too. With your meditation or whatever?"
He didn't answer, just shot her a gentle glare and left.
It took about thirty seconds for her to get an invitation to dance. As she switched partners, enjoying the opportunity to mingle and dance, she realized she knew a good number of the people in the room. Many of them were men and women who'd stopped into Ops during some crisis or other. She relaxed and enjoyed the warmth of this distant intimacy.
"May I cut in?" Kirk asked her latest partner, a rather charming lieutenant commander.
"Of course, sir." He smiled at her then let her go.
"I left you with Spock."
"Yes, you did."
"And where is he?"
"He was so unhappy that I couldn't keep him in captivity any longer. So I took him outside and set him free." She tried to keep a straight face.
He burst out laughing and his hands tightened on her. "So if I want my first officer back, I have to go out on safari?"
She nodded. "Vulcan net in hand. Calling, 'Spock! Spock!' until he comes to you out of love rather than fear and obligation."
"You've watched a few too many nature specials."
"Or read far too many of the old classics. Born Free. Thunderhead. White Fang." She laughed, enjoying the way he held her. Such assurance. He was a good dancer.
"I used to read those." He smiled. "I used to read anything I could get my hands on."
They danced in silence for a while, then he pulled her close and she laid her head on his shoulder.
"You did it again, didn't you, Cupid?" She could feel him laugh. "Stop with the matchmaking. Even Spock is on to your clever scheme."
He pulled away enough to see her face. "And is he upset?"
"Well, he's not turning cartwheels."
He pulled her closer. "His loss then."
She smiled because he finally sounded like he might leave it alone. "So, how are you?"
She thought she felt him tense.
"Are you feeling all right?" she asked.
"Depends on who's asking. My new deputy CMO? Or Chris, this lovely woman I'm dancing with."
"I'm not sure you can separate the two."
He sighed. "That's too bad." He started to pull away as the music ended. "Doctor, thank you for the dance."
She didn't let go and saw his eyes narrow in surprise. She was a lot stronger than she looked. Nurse's hands—used to dealing with difficult patients, or just unconscious ones who needed to be moved. "Sir, please."
"You can call me Jim."
She smiled, easing him back into the dance as the music started up again. "Really?" He'd never invited such familiarity in the past. Even when she'd been his deputy CMO the first time, she'd never been part of his inner circle. Had never actually wanted to be.
Until now. She was enjoying his inner circle. He was fun. Hell, even Spock was fun when he was around Kirk.
"Really," he said, pulling her closer.
They danced through several more songs. She noticed no one tried to cut in.
Spock was thumbing through the program.
"Anything good?" Kirk asked. He closed his eyes as he rubbed his temples. He looked like he had a bad case of too little food and too much scotch from the night before.
"That would depend on your definition of good." Spock put the program away. "It looks much like yesterday's agenda."
"That's tragic," Chapel said, handing Kirk two pills. "Here."
He shot her a look. "Antitox?"
"Don't leave home without them."
He smiled. "You need them a lot, do you?"
She shrugged. "Command parties get pretty wild. Surely you remember?"
"When you're on call twenty-four/seven, you need to be able to sober up almost instantly." She sighed. "Not the best way to live, but it cuts down on hangover time."
He took the pills and washed them down with his coffee. "Thanks."
"Sure." She glanced at him when she realized he was staring at her. "What?"
"You know you could do a lot better than deputy CMO on the Enterprise, right?"
She nodded. "But frankly, I'm tired. And I'd like to come home."
It was the right thing to say. His smile was very big. Spock shot her an approving glance—she hadn't realized he was listening in.
"And home is ready to welcome you back, Chris."
She smiled but couldn't say more since the coordinator got up and bored them for about fifteen minutes with administrivia. Then the first speaker rose. She had potential, started out interesting, but about midway through, Chapel was dozing. Maybe she should have taken some of those antitox for herself?
She felt something being pushed into her hands and realized it was Kirk's coffee. Smiling at him, she took a large sip. Caffeine. Caffeine was good. She wasn't sure if he wanted it back, but he took the cup from her, took another sip, then slipped it back in her hand. He winked at her as he turned back to the speaker and pretended to fall asleep.
She had to work hard to stifle her giggle.
The next speaker made the ones who had come before seem positively brilliant. It wasn't just his subject matter; his delivery was so stilted and slow that Chapel wanted to fill in his words for him.
She was trying to do that in her head, making it a game, when she heard Kirk mutter, "Get the hook."
She had a sudden vision of the speaker being hooked off the stage like in an Academy talent show. She started to laugh, trying desperately not to make a sound. It hurt, hurt badly to stifle her giggles. She couldn't stop her upper body from shaking. She looked down, at the floor, at the back of the chair in front of her—anywhere but at Kirk.
She could feel his shoulder shaking where it touched hers. He was laughing too.
She leaned down and began to run through all the horrible diseases she could think of, calling up symptoms disgusting enough to make her stop laughing. It worked.
Until she looked back at him.
He actually sputtered slightly. Spock just sighed.
She turned back to staring at the chair in front of her. Began to run through the effects of bubonic plague. Finally, she felt the inappropriate hysteria subside.
This time, she didn't look at Kirk.
On the break, as she stood, she heard a man behind Spock tell the Vulcan, "Better not bring those two next time."
Spock just nodded.
She turned, and the man behind them winked.
It was Commander Riffick from Supply. "Hello, Christine."
"Tom." He was friends with Cartwright. Fortunately for her, he also had a very good sense of humor.
Kirk turned to see who it was. He grinned. "Thomas, you old space dog. We were on our best behavior. You saw nothing."
"Fine, I'll be part of the conspiracy. I saw nothing." Riffick smiled. "How the hell are you, Jim? I would have said hello, but you and Christine seemed a little preoccupied." He winked at her again.
She hooked a thumb at Kirk. "It's his fault. I was listening raptly until he made a snarky comment."
Kirk made a disbelieving face. "Me?"
Riffick laughed. "Face of a freakin' angel. Nice to know time hasn't taken away your ability to get out of trouble, Jim."
"Man will be eighty and charming his way out of situations," Chapel said.
Kirk just laughed.
Riffick looked at Spock. "How do you put up with these two?"
"We all have our crosses to bear, Commander."
Riffick laughed. "Oh, I can see Jim's rubbed off on you."
"It is possible. Cross-cultural contamination is always a danger in these situations."
Chapel smiled. Maybe Spock had warmed up a bit. Certainly this seemed to be a Spock more at ease with himself than she'd ever seen. Dying had apparently agreed with him.
Riffick held up his empty cup. "I've got to get more of this if I want to stay awake until lunch." He turned to go, then looked back. "There's a pool going, by the way. Name the mystery desert from yesterday's dinner. Just so you know, 'big pile of goo" is mine." He winked at them and walked away.
Kirk pretended to pout. "Damn it. I wanted 'big pile of goo.'"
"You snooze, you lose," she said.
"I'll get some coffee while there's still time." Kirk took the cup from her. She was surprised to see him come back with just the one.
"I can't have one of my own?" she asked, as she took the cup from him and sipped.
He smiled, but his eyes weren't amused. They were intense. "Did you want one of your own?" He leaned in and said very softly, "I got the impression you were enjoying sharing."
His breath on her ear tickled, and she pulled away. He was smiling again, the intensity gone. Maybe she'd imagined it?
"Your preschool teacher would be so proud." He winked at her, then sat down.
She sat down too.
Spock leaned over him. "Doctor, do you still have that pad?"
"Perhaps hangman would be a more beneficial pastime than nearly injuring yourself from trying not to laugh?"
She grinned. "Are you saying you're bored and want to play too?"
He took a deep breath, then nodded tightly.
Kirk looked at him. "Spock? Really?"
"I believe that question has been asked and answered, Jim."
Kirk laughed, glanced at her. "A very bad influence," he muttered.
She gave him her best innocent look. "I learned it all from you." She pulled out the padd. "Besides, he's going to wipe the floor with us. You do know that?"
"I don't know. I wouldn't want to bet against our collective brain power."
She smiled. He was right. They were all pretty damn smart.
Only, if that was true, why were they all still sitting in this stupid conference room?
Sheep. They were pretty damn smart...sheep.
Chapel pushed the food around her plate. She was being charitable calling it food. It looked more like a science experiment gone horribly wrong. She lifted the fork to her nose amd took a tentative sniff. No smell. None of it had any odor at all.
She put her fork down. "I don't know about the rest of you, but there's a snack shop in the basement that sells all kinds of processed foods. Any of which is probably healthier than this. Who's game?"
Both Kirk and Spock followed her out. In fact, a steady stream of people seemed to be fleeing the ballroom in which the lunch tables had been set up.
They hurried downstairs. Kirk and she helped themselves to pre-packaged food that had no nutritional value but at least tasted good. She sensed someone next to her and looked up to see Spock.
"I am at a bit of a loss," he said softly.
She noticed his hands were empty, took pity and led him to a refrigerator tucked in the back of the small shop. "Every snack shop has one of these. The last bastion of health. Remember that, all right?"
He nodded. "It is generally hidden?"
"Damn straight. Hell of a lot less margin on these." She opened the door. "Fruit sound good? Hey, look. Even salad." She bent down, found one that actually looked fresh and handed it to him. "You like dressing?" She studied the choices, finally handed him the simplest one.
He nodded approval. "Thank you."
"Oldest of four kids. I'm good at putting lunches together on the fly."
"My brother used to make me lunch..." Spock looked down.
"I was so surprised to hear about that. All those years, and you never mentioned him."
"It is complicated."
"It seems like everything Vulcan is." She smiled. "Did you miss him when he went away?"
He nodded. "But it was not something that I allowed myself to dwell on."
She smiled. "I understand."
He looked up at the counter where Kirk was buying his food. "Do you understand now what I was saying about him?"
"I'm seeing a little of it."
Spock shot her a look that could only be considered amused. "You are seeing some other interesting aspects of him as well, I think."
She laughed. "Now who's the yenta?"
"I would like to see him happy. He is a man of deep emotion. Emotion that has very little outlet."
"I'm not sure I'm the proper outlet, Spock. I will be working for him."
"I am aware of that. But you have, without question, grown into a strong personality, one who will not be subsumed by him. Moreover, you are in an almost independent role on the ship. You and McCoy are the only two who can relieve him without prior authorization."
"Spock, aren't you putting the cart before the horse? We're just having fun."
"Of course, Doctor. However, if your equine should appear, then you will know how I view this."
She chuckled. "He's the captain. He may not be my boss, but he can influence my boss." She thought about McCoy. "Well, he can try to influence my boss."
"I doubt that he'd get very far. With either Doctor McCoy, or with your section head."
"That would be you?"
"Why are you doing this?"
"He is lonely." For a moment, Spock seemed to drop his barriers, and Chapel saw the naked concern on his face. "Very lonely."
"And you think I'm the ideal fix?" She shook her head. "I could really do with two less yentas. But I appreciate your concern for him." She walked up to where Kirk stood.
He was eyeing the pork rinds. "Which food group do those fit into?"
"Oily air, I believe." She laughed. "Or is that one of the four elements."
"Both, I think." He laughed and held up his bounty. "I haven't had this much junk food since finals at the Academy."
"Last year of graduate school. I lived on caffeine and salt." She sensed Spock coming up behind them. "Our Vulcan friend here never had that problem."
Spock ignored her, just edged her gently out of the way with his shoulder and paid for his lunch.
"He's ignoring you," Kirk said in a stage whisper.
Chapel studied Kirk. Was he lonely? His eyes were sparkling as he teased his best friend. But he was good at hiding things.
She wasn't sure how she felt about being the prescription for whatever sad things he was feeling. It was a little unflattering that Spock thought she'd be an answer just because she was in a good position to do it. What happened to attraction, to mutual interests? To chemistry?
Kirk bumped up against her. "You going to the bar tonight? After dinner?"
She nodded. "Why?"
"I thought we could dance." He shrugged and gave her an innocent smile. "If you want?"
She did want to but suddenly everything seemed a lot less fun. She moved away from them, suddenly feeling confined by their bulk pressing in on other side of her.
"I'm going outside to eat. I need some me time." She hurried out the door and into the garden. It wasn't until she found a hidden grotto and settled in to eat that it occurred to her she was running away.
It had been a long time since she'd felt the need to do that.
She didn't like herself much for her cowardice.
The next session was only mildly boring. One speaker even achieved interesting for a few minutes before sinking down again into mediocrity.
She looked over at Kirk. He gave her a puzzled smile, then turned back to the speaker.
At the break, she stopped at the refreshment table, then walked over to where he stood, holding out a soft drink. She smiled at him. "One glass. Truce?"
He smiled back as he took a sip of the drink. "Truce." He moved her away from the rest. "Maybe after dinner you can tell me what we need a truce for?"
She gave a bitter little laugh. "That'll be a fun conversation."
He shook his head, a sad expression on his face. "It would have been yesterday. Today, I'm not so sure." He gave her back the glass then walked over to their seats.
Spock came up.
"Don't start with me," she said, giving him her best "I've been on duty for thirty-six hours and I'll take none of your bullshit" voice.
"I was under the impression you could make Jim happier than he was. Had I known the reality, I might not have encouraged you."
"Might not? How about would not?"
He gave her an odd look. "That is not certain." He sighed. "I am sorry I interfered."
"Join the club."
He stared at her for a long moment, as if trying to figure out what to say to her. Then he seemed to give up and went to join Kirk.
She took a deep breath.
It was Riffick.
"I heard you accepted a position on the Enterprise?"
"I guess supply might seem pretty dull compared to that?" He leaned in. "I don't know if you know this, but I'm retiring in a few months. I'd love to recommend you for the post. A lot of people think supply's boring, but it's not."
She smiled. "Boring's okay, actually."
He studied her. "You're burnt out, aren't you?"
She laughed. Nobody else seemed to realize that. The view must be better from supply. "Yeah, I'm burnt out. I'm beyond burnt out. I'm charcoal."
He laughed. "That job would kill me. I don't see how you've done it for as long as you have. Takes a special kind, I guess."
"Or a total nutcase."
He shook his head. "You're never that. Think about supply, all right? Nothing's set in stone yet." He looked over at Kirk and Spock. "Although, you sure do seem to be having fun with them. I guess it's like old home week for you?"
"I guess so." In ways both pleasant and not so.
She refilled her drink, then wandered back to her seat. Kirk smiled at her as he took the glass from her and drank. The playfulness was missing this time. His smile was sad.
She'd made him sad. Spock was right. Damn Spock, why was he right?
She followed them into dinner when the session finally ended. The food was actually good. She could hear murmurs of surprise from the tables around them.
Kirk grinned. "Now this is more like it."
Even Spock was able to find something he could eat. He dug in like a starving man.
Chapel wished she had more appetite as she ended up pushing her food around on her plate. She was glad to let the waiter take it away.
Kirk leaned over to her. "Do you want to get out of here?"
He smiled at the rest of the table. "If you'll excuse us." He shot a look at Spock. "See you in the morning?"
"Of course, Jim. Enjoy your evening." Spock turned to her, his expression seemed to hold a warning. "Doctor."
They walked out to the garden, and she led Kirk to the grotto she'd found. "This is where I was today."
He sat down in the bench, under the overhang that had hidden her from the world. "This is pretty. I can see why you'd like it." He seemed content to just sit.
She knelt down in front of the pool of water and let her fingers drag through it. It was colder than she expected. "I spazzed today."
She laughed. "It's a word we use in Ops. An old word, but apt. It's when you react stupidly or inappropriately. Maybe both?" She grinned at him, didn't feel as though it came out as any more than half-hearted. "And it's irritating because back in Ops, I have one of the lowest spaz quotients."
She laughed too. "I'm sorry I ran off."
He shrugged, but she saw his mouth tighten. "It's all right. I'm getting used to women running away from me."
She stood up and walked over to the bench. "I wasn't running away from you."
He turned red, then laughed—a short, tight laugh. "Well, that's embarrassing. How egotistical am I?" He shook his head. "So you were running away from Spock?"
She sat down next to him and let her shoulder rub against his. "No. I don't mean that either." She sighed. "I think I was running away from...me."
He didn't say anything, didn't turn to look at her. They sat in silence, watching a night bird as it flew across the water.
Finally, he said, "Why do you want to come home, Chris?"
She took a deep breath. "Because I'm lonely."
She glanced at him. He was shaking his head slightly.
She pushed harder against his shoulder. "And I think you're lonely too, aren't you?"
"Yep," he said. She wondered if that was a good sign or a bad one that he didn't even try to hide the truth from her.
"And we're having fun. So much fun. And Spock is pushing me toward you."
He looked at her. "He's pushing you too?"
She nodded. "And I thought you were a meddler." She leaned back. "This job...it's been the best thing I've ever done. It's challenged me and it's made me strong and made me think quicker on my feet than I've ever had to do. But I'm tired, Jim. I'm so damned tired. I want to go to bed and not be woken up two hours later by the next emergency when I haven't even recovered from the last one yet. I want to be able to plan a little bit, not just react. Over and over."
"That is the nature of an emergency."
"Oh, I know. If you could plan for it, it wouldn't be an emergency." She sighed. "I'm just...tired. Of all of it."
"Do you have any friends there?"
She looked at him. "I do. But they're odd friends. You bond with people over whatever crisis you're working on. But then it's over and they move on, and you're still there. And you bond with the next group of people that rush in with some dire emergency." She sighed. "I think some of us, after a while, just get wary. We only extend ourselves so far. Because we know people leave, they move on. They don't look back."
"Except on the Enterprise."
"Except on the Enterprise." She smiled. "I still see Nyota when she's in town. And Len. Sulu comes by, Scotty. Even Chekov and Jan stop by."
"I notice two names missing from that list."
"I think we both know why Spock isn't on that list. And you and I were never friends."
"No, we weren't."
She didn't like the resignation in his voice. "You were good to me. I respected you. I liked you. I loved serving under you. You're a good man. And a great captain. But I don't know you. And you don't know me."
He didn't say anything. Not to agree and also not to contradict. He didn't move at all.
She pushed her shoulder into him, trying to give him something back. "And that's what I'm afraid of, Jim. That despite that, I'll run right to you. And you'll run right to me. Because we're two lonely, burnt out people who are having a wonderful time together." She looked at him. "Because you're handsome and warm, and I want you. I do. But I don't know you."
He turned to look at her. "You're right. You're absolutely right."
"If I thought this was just a temporary duty thing, then I wouldn't spaz." She smiled, and him smiled too. They both knew what she meant. Sex like that was easy when you were never going to see the person again. What was the old saying? What goes on temporary duty stays on temporary duty.
"And we'd be two happy people," he said. "If it was temporary duty. We're clicking here, Chris. I may not know you, but I do like you."
"I know. I like you too." She stroked his hand a little more firmly. "And you're right. It would be fun. Only smart people are funny, and smart people are good in bed."
He laughed. "That's true, isn't it?"
She leaned back, pulling her fingers away from his hand.
He sighed. Then he reached over and took her hand in his. Held it. "I am lonely." He laughed softly. "Spock made it all sound so reasonable. You, on the ship, not a problem."
"Yeah, he's quite the salesman." She looked down at his hand. It felt so good on hers. So human, so warm—a connection. She laid her other hand over his. "Maybe I shouldn't take the position? If I go inside now, I bet I could still land a new job in no time flat."
"I imagine you could." His grip tightened on her.
She wondered if he was even aware he was doing it.
"Maybe it would be better." she said.
He turned to look at her. "Maybe it wouldn't." His expression was calm, his eyes narrowed slightly, as if he was thinking everything out. "Maybe you need to come home, Chris."
"I don't know."
"You say you don't know me. And that I don't know you. Well, that's true. So, Doctor Chapel, how do we remedy that? You're acting like the only answer is to walk away. To leave it like that. I think there's another way. How do we do that? How do we get to know each other?" His tone was different, the old Kirk, the schemer, the one who never gave up.
She could feel a smile growing. "I guess it would help if we were on the same ship?"
He grinned. "Yes, that would definitely be a good start." His smile faded as he looked at her searchingly. "Do you really think I'm still handsome. I'm old, Chris."
She laughed. "Aren't we all? And you're not old, you're older. There's a difference."
He smiled, but only part way. "You didn't answer the question."
"Oh, the handsome part?" At his nod, she smiled. "Well, you're more handsome than a Tiberian bat."
He glared at her.
"Okay. Definitely better looking than a Ferengi."
His expression was stern.
"Not the right answer, huh?" She smiled. "You've always been one of the most handsome men I've ever seen. And you still are."
He smiled. Then his smile faded. "I may be handsome, but you preferred Spock all those years."
"Like you cared." She laughed. "Besides, he had that whole Vulcan mystique thing going. Mind melds, mysterious rituals, total disinterest in me, that kind of thing. What can I say? I was a masochist."
"I think maybe there's a part of him that is interested in you."
He laughed. "No, I'm serious. I can't imagine him steering someone my way who he didn't find attractive on some level."
"He knows you well enough to know what you'd find attractive." She laughed. "That's sort of funny. I never really thought of myself as someone you'd find attractive. It's the smart-ass thing, isn't it?"
"It is pretty sexy."
They sat again, silence growing around them. A comfortable silence.
"So you'll choose the Enterprise?" he asked.
"It'll be hard to give up a career in supply, but I'll come aboard."
He laughed. "Good."
She turned to look at him. His eyes looked dark in the dusky light, not golden as they had all day. "So, Captain Kirk, where do we go from here?"
"Well, Doctor Chapel, we can either stroll through these lovely gardens and talk, or we can go back in and dance. Or mingle, if you're getting sick of me."
"I'm not getting sick of you."
"Well, that's a relief." He smiled, a silly smile. Not sad at all.
"A stroll would be nice." She started to get up.
He pulled her down and moved toward her as she fell back, his arms wrapping around her, his lips on hers. She was too startled to resist, then too turned on to.
He was a great kisser.
He finally pulled away. She laughed at the mischievous look on his face. The kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar—totally unrepentant.
"And what was that?"
"That, Chris, was a kiss." He stood and pulled her up after him, tucking her hand over his arm. "Surely, you've heard of those."
"I have. I thought they came later? Once we get to know each other."
His grin just grew wider. "They do. Can I help it if I wanted a preview? Man's gotta know what he's waiting for."
"And do you think it'll be worth it."
He laughed and pulled her in a little closer. "Oh, yes." He looked at her sideways. "You do agree?"
She sighed. Dreamily. Dramatically. Pretended to swoon.
"I'll take that as a yes."
They walked slowly, savoring the rich fragrances of the plants that bloomed at night. She heard people up ahead, and turned them down another path.
"Feeling antisocial?" he asked.
"Don't feel like sharing you."
His soft exhalation was like a laugh. "Wonderful answer."
"Just the truth." She put her other hand on his arm and squeezed gently. "Why do you keep going back to the Enterprise?"
"She's home. She's mine. She's where I belong. And I hate everywhere else I've tried."
"But you have to admit, the Command parties are much better than those on the ship."
He seemed to be trying to hide a smirk. "Maybe."
"You know it's a legend...that dance you did. On the bar, at the officer's club. With Admiral Cranston's wife."
He flinched. "That was thirteen years ago."
"Yes, that's why it's a legend, silly. It endures."
"Right." He smiled. "Would I hear any stories about you if I asked?"
"Nope. Not a one. I was a very good girl."
He shot her a look.
"Well, there was this incident involving a pool table and a lampshade, but I've been advised by my attorneys not to discuss it."
He laughed. "We have a pool table on the ship. I could order in a lampshade."
"Don't you dare."
He grinned then sighed, but it was a contented sound, not sad. "This is nice."
"Yes. It is."
"Do they ever talk about an incident involving a hose from hydroponics and vodka shots?"
She shook her head. "I don't believe I've heard that one."
"Good. You won't hear it from me."
She bumped up against him. "No fair. You can't bring it up and then not explain."
"Sure I can. Unless you have something just as interesting to trade. Like say a story about a pool table and a lampshade?"
"You drive a very hard bargain."
He grinned and touched her cheek for a moment, his fingers lingering on her face before he let them fall away. "I know."
His expression turned stern, captain-like. "Now spill. I want names, dates—vids if you have them."
"The best Command party stories are. You want to hear about that hose, you'll start singing."
"You don't want me to sing. Believe me, you don't want me to ever sing."
"Well, I guess I'll find things like that out, won't I?"
She smiled. He was so nice to her. So interested. She realized she felt the same way about him. Interested. And she wanted to be nice, wanted to let him in.
"I guess you will."
As they walked off into the darkness, she began to let him in.
It felt good. Like coming home.