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 R.
The events unfolding on the big screen in ops are changing the very nature of the galaxy--and of Christine's world. Again. She feels off balance, reeling from the emotions of first having lost Jim to that Klingon hell world, then elation when she saw him reappear just a few moments ago in time to stop another assassination--this time of their own president. She thanks every deity out there that while Starfleet may have kept the location of the Federation-Klingon peace talks secret, they still beamed the proceedings throughout the galaxy.
She bets they never counted on their show being quite this exciting--fortunately the live events played in their favor. But they might not have. It could so easily have gone the other way. A few moments' delay, and Jim would not have stopped the murder attempt.
And the chance for peace with the Klingons would have been lost forever.
She's not sure how she feels about that. She hears some grumbling in ops, looks around but can't decide where anyone's loyalty lies. Everyone looks stunned, but it is unclear if it is because peace was almost ripped away from them, or if they cannot fathom living in a world that includes accommodation with the Klingons.
There is an undercurrent in the place, one she has never felt. As if a chasm has suddenly opened up underneath them all. As if suddenly there are two camps. She looks up at the screen again, sees Matthew and Valeris, both apparently in custody, and feels a shock as if someone has stuck her with a cow prod.
What if we could _do_ something? Matthew used to say.
What if he had done something?
Something terrible. Something so horribly ambitious that it might have spelled the end to the Klingon empire.
But only after months or possibly years of war.
"Matthew," she murmurs, and sees Rasmussen turn to her.
His look is appraising, as if he is trying to figure out which camp she is in. She stares at him coldly until he finally turns around again.
There should be no question. The man she loves was nearly killed. She's in his camp. In the camp of peace. If he can forgive them for David, for destroying his ship and nearly Spock's chance at rebirth, then what right does she have to hang on to old anger?
Even if one of her best friends is in trouble. Even if her protege appears to be involved somehow too.
She suddenly doesn't feel like being in the big room, walks back to her office and sits down. The comms are coming in fast, updates from all over the system, as well as congratulations from worlds not invited to the talks. And another note for her personally that appears to be from Matthew, sent via an unknown intermediary. Opening it, she sees that the note starts with no text, simply a set of coordinates. She runs them through the system; they appear to be a bar on the seedier side of town.
"You said once that I saved you. It's time to return the favor. Ask for Jasper," the note says after the coordinates.
"Quite the day?" Admiral Manners says from her doorway. Her boss has come back in, and she was too focused on cryptic messages to realize it.
Looking away from her screen, she smiles at him. "Yes, sir."
They have never reached the ease she had with Matthew. At times, she wonders if Manners resents the rapport Christine had with her former boss. The rapport she still has with a member of the CINC's staff.
A former member.
God. What did Matthew do?
"Trust Kirk to save the day." The expression on the admiral's face is light, but there is something biting in his tone.
Christine has found it all too common for some of Jim's peers to resent or be jealous of him. Would they rather he didn't save the day? Would that make them feel more worthy?
"He is lucky that way," she finally says, striving for some neutrality.
Manners shrugs, gets off a last shot as he walks to his office. "It's Kirk's last big hurrah. I guess I can't begrudge him."
It is common knowledge the
Harriman is a good friend of Manners. Christine often wonders if that colors her boss's view of Jim. She can't imagine following in Jim's footsteps. And Harriman hasn't impressed her so far. Decker was a worthy successor. This bozo--
She's channeling Jim. He can't stand Harriman. And corridor gossip is not kind to the newly minted Captain either. He's great at managing up and making the brass think he's competent, not so good at actually leading those who depend on him. And he's been lucky. So far. She hopes that luck keeps up.
Jim was lucky too, but he always had skill to back that good fortune up. Christine doesn't want to think what might happen if Harriman's runs out.
She reads the message over and over. Finally, she gets up and goes out to main ops. The place is in chaos, but for once there is no action needed. They can only watch as history unfolds somewhere else.
Christine looks at Rasmussen, who has turned around to watch her. "I'll be out for a bit," she says, and he nods before turning back to the screen.
The bar is closer than she expects. She's never spent much time thinking about how close the bad part of town is to the good. Has never actually considered that there still is a rougher part of town. Life is so tame now. Even rough is relative. This area may have once been the Tenderloin, but it's just a little dangerous now. A place for rebellious youth and black marketeers to hang out.
Nobody bothers her as she enters the bar, but all eyes seem to be on her. Even if no one is staring outright. She imagines it is in these people's best interest to know what is going on. Especially when a Starfleet officer comes in.
"Pretty stupid coming here dressed like that," a man with a tray says. "You going to stand in the door all day or you going to order?"
"I'm looking for Jasper."
"Yeah, well you found him." He nods at the bar. "Sit down so you don't look so much like a sore thumb." He points with his chin at the vid set that is replaying Jim pushing the Federation president down. "I hate busybodies."
She sits down on one of the stools. "I'm not sure what I'm doing here."
"No?" Jasper starts wiping down glasses. "Better figure that out quick, or you and me will have nothing to talk about." He holds up a glass, as if inspecting it for cleanliness. It's covered with spots. "I count two people in custody. Is that what you count?"
She follows his gaze up to the screen, sees the replay of Matthew and Valeris being led out.
"Two that matter anyway," he says softly.
She leans in. "Matthew sent me. He said I had to save him?"
Jasper leans in. "Rescue him, you mean? I doubt that old Matt meant that." His tone is mocking. "Best you can do is save him from what's to come." He pushes a small packet to her.
She opens it, trying to keep it out of anyone's view. There are two pills inside.
"Supposedly used by Cardassian intelligence. Gotta hand it to the spoonies. They sure know how to make a suicide pill." He leans in. "Nothing but dust left when this is done working." He backs away from her. "Now all you gotta do is find a way to get it to them. Security's going to be mighty tight."
Matthew expects her to get these to him and Valeris. To save him from whatever repercussions capture might bring. She wonders if he knew about that hell hole Jim was sent to when he left these pills for her. She feels like shoving the package back at the unpleasant little bartender.
She puts the pills into her pocket instead.
"Nice talking to you, Commander. Don't ever come back."
She gets up, pushing away so hard that her stool is in danger of toppling over. Fleeing outside, she walks quickly until she is back on familiar--not so seedy--ground. The sunshine is warm, and as she walks, she fingers the package in her pocket.
Why did Matthew choose her? He had other friends, ones who were probably involved in whatever dark conspiracy led to the assassination of Gorkon and the attempted one she just watched. She wasn't involved, but he wanted her to help him. Why?
She sees the news crews around Command headquarters. The guards are keeping them out of the building for now.
Access. Christine doesn't have it, but Jim will. As soon as he gets back to Earth. He'll be able to see Matthew.
And she just bets Matthew will ask to see the two of them. He'll need to make peace with his friend. Possibly for real, but primarily so she can hand over two lethal little pills. One for him, one for Valeris.
And no one will ever suspect that she was behind it. Where would she get Cardassian pills? Why would she want to save Matthew from a fate he consigned the man she loved to?
She has a good idea that Valeris thought it up, not Matthew. It has her hallmark--nothing left to chance. Matthew is far more emotional, far more seat of the pants.
Christine sighs, pushing the pills deeper into her pocket as she walks past the news crews, ignoring those who recognize her as Jim's lover, who want her to give them a statement.
She has no comment.
She also has no idea what she is going to do. Matthew did save her, and he helped get Jim back.
How can she not try to help him?
But he nearly got Jim and Len killed. How can she forgive that?
Mind racing, she heads back into ops to pretend to work.
She lies next to Jim, content beyond words now that he is back and safe. She's checked him over about a dozen times, looking for remnants of his time on Rura Pente. The last time she did it he captured her hands and told her to cut it out. Then he kissed her until she gave herself up to other, less medical, examinations of his body.
"You're awfully quiet," Jim says, pulling her close so he can kiss her again.
They've spent a lot of time in their bed since he came home from Khitomer.
"Just thinking about the
ship." She sees his expression
shift, knows he is already thinking about life without the
"Same as it's going to be hard for you leaving Emergency Ops?" He brushes her nose with his own, a sweet gesture that gives her a warm rush.
They both plan to retire, plan to find a useful way to use their time. One that isn't just second best to the most fun they've ever had. Several foundations have already approached Jim, feeling their way to see if they could get _the_ Captain Kirk at the helm. Several of them have also been wooing her--they're the smart ones, the ones who know if they can interest them both, they'll have it made.
"I'm leaning toward Pan-Relief," she says softly.
"It's a good organization. And Len's already signed up, hasn't he?"
"Yep." She runs her hands down his body, still a bit in shock that he is back next to her. When she saw him sentenced to Rura Pente, she thought for sure that she would never see him again.
Smiling, he lays back against the pillow. "So how long will it take you to get over almost losing me?"
She wonders if he realizes that she's never really gotten over losing him the first time. She's not sure she'll survive it again. "A long, long time," she says, as she lets her hand show him what she means.
Laughing, he pulls her on top of him, watching her as she rides him. "I thought I'd never see you again," he says, the admission coming from him grudgingly, as if he is admitting defeat by even saying it.
"I guess we both should have known better," she says, leaning down to kiss him. "That famous Kirk luck..."
"Let me show you some other famous Kirk skills." He waggles his eyebrows at her as he says it, making her laugh.
Then she concentrates on other, more pressing things. The sex his first few days back was a bit frantic, almost desperate. They've reached a point where they can calm down and take it slow.
Not that frantic, desperate sex with Jim doesn't have its attractions. She thinks that any kind of sex with him is pretty darn alluring.
They finally lie quietly again. She is curled against him, and he is holding her close, drawing lazy patterns on her arm where it circles his waist.
"Matthew wants to see us." He seems to feel her tense. "Chris?"
She has been waiting for this moment. Has known it would come. She looks over at him, studies his face--so precious to her.
She cannot lose him again.
"Why does he want to see us?"
"He says he needs to make things right with me before he is sent there." It is a testament to the awfulness of Rura Penthe that Jim avoids saying its name if he can.
"Why does he need to see me?"
Jim looks at her quizzically. "You're his friend."
"I thought I was his best friend. I think maybe he had better ones. In the conspiracy." Smiling sadly, she says, "You know, sometimes life gives us a chance to prove that we really can learn from our mistakes."
He frowns, clearly not following her.
"Let me up," she says, pulling away from him and walking to the chest where she has shoved the little pills. Carrying them back to him, she says, "This is why he wants me there."
He looks up at her.
"Suicide pills," she says. "No Rura Pente for Matthew and Valeris."
Jim looks disappointed. "I thought he was stronger than this."
"He is--if it were anyone but the Klingons he was about to be handed over to." She cannot imagine a worse fate for him. Sitting down on the bed, she takes the pills back from him. "I've been having a hard time with this, Jim. He's my friend. He did save me."
"I know he did." He is staring at the pills, then raises his eyes to hers. "What are you going to do with them?"
Smiling sadly, she presses them back into his hand. "I'm giving them to you, Captain. What are you going to do with them?"
He sighs. "I'm going to turn them into Starfleet security."
She lies back down, can feel tears starting. "That's what I figured you'd do with them." She turns, and he catches her up and holds her while she weeps.
"Shh. It's okay."
"It's not okay. How can I consign him to the same place that nearly killed you? How can I repay him this way?"
He is silent, just continues stroking her back.
"But how can I lie to you? I could lose you all over again." Wiping at her eyes, she pulls away, so she can look Jim in the eye. "I love Matthew. I would like to spare him this. But, at the end of the day, he's a traitor. And I'm not."
Jim smiles. A sad smile that recognizes how hard this is for her. But a smile that shows her how proud he is of her.
"Don't, Jim." She leans down and kisses him. "Don't look at me like I'm some kind of hero. I'm not. I'm selfish. I don't want to lose you. If it weren't for that, I'd be there, handing over these pills without a second thought." She looks away.
He pulls her face gently back so she is looking at him. "Who gave you the pills?"
"His name is Jasper. He's the bartender at the Lazy Susan."
Jim laughs, but it is a bitter sound. "Matthew and I used to go there in our Academy days. Thought we were living on the edge."
"Well, apparently, he never stopped going there."
"Apparently not." He studies the pills. "Anything else I should know?"
"Nothing concrete. But I don't think the conspiracy was just a few people. I think it ran deeper. Even if just in sympathy not actual participation. I can feel it in ops now. As if we've chosen sides."
He nods. "I can feel it in Command too." He sighs.
"You expected them to love you for what you did?"
He laughs. "Well, I doubt I thought much about it when I did it. But now, it's sort of odd the reception I'm getting. Spock's noticed it too. We're not terribly popular with all our colleagues."
"They don't matter to me. Only you do." Kissing him, she whispers, "We'll be out of it soon."
"Very soon." He pulls her closer, his mouth touching down tenderly on hers. "A few more months pretending to work at Command and then that launch--"
"--You're going? I thought you said you'd rather die than see Harriman take over an Enterprise?"
"I did say that. I still feel that. But the CINC called me in personally. Said it would 'send a message' if I didn't go."
"Yeah. That Command picked the wrong man." She sighs. "Who else is going?"
"Scotty and Chekov." He laughs. "Nyota won't answer her comms, that's how much she doesn't want to go."
Lucky Sulu and Rand were off on their own ship. "And Spock?"
"Spock pretty much does whatever he wants these days. I don't think they know how to rein him in." He grins at her, clearly tickled at his friend's behavior.
"Yeah, it was real funny when he shanghaied you into that mission in the first place." She's never seen Jim quite that pissed. At anyone but her anyway.
"Time heals all wounds, remember?" He nuzzles her, his hand moving lower again.
Smiling, she says, "It certainly seems to have worked for us."
"Yes, it has," he says, as he moves under the covers, following his hand to points south.
For a moment, there is only pleasure, but then she sees Matthew's accusing eyes and she is distracted. She finally tugs on Jim's shoulder, pulling him back up. "It's not there. Not right now anyway." It's rare that she is so preoccupied he can't pleasure her.
He stares down at her, then leans in, kissing her gently. "I'm sorry. I know this is hard for you."
"But I want you, and I'm pissed that he's taking that away right now. And I'm angry that I'm thinking about sex at all when my friend is in trouble. But he betrayed you...he betrayed all of us. It's just so damned confusing." Holding him close, she kisses him frantically. She is crying again, wishes she wasn't. Wishes she could do the right thing and that it wasn't so complicated and that someone she loves didn't have to get hurt.
"I love you, Chris." Jim holds her close, letting her cry.
She did the right thing. She didn't lose his love. She did the right thing.
She has to believe that.
She is packing, wrapping up the rest of their dishes when the chime sounds. She almost yells for Jim to get it--she's used to him being home now. Used to him being there to do things like get the door. But he's not here now. He's up on that new Enterprise watching Harriman take over.
She's glad they decommissioned his ship. Doesn't think he could have stood seeing his own silver lady taken away from him by another man, much less one like Harriman. It was bad enough giving him a new Enterprise. Jim asked her not to watch, said he wouldn't have if Command hadn't strong-armed him into being there.
The chime rings again. "Come," she yells at it, setting down the platter that she thinks Jim was given by some Andorian dignitary--why are they taking all this stuff with them?
Spock comes in.
"Hey there. I didn't expect to see you." She smiles at him, but her smile fades as he stares at her.
"You did not watch the launch?"
She can feel her stomach drop, her throat closing as she says, "Jim asked me not to."
Walking over to the vid set, he turns it on and backs away as the images become her whole world. The images and the text that runs underneath them.
"Captain James T. Kirk killed saving ship."
She sits with a thud, is fortunate a chair is underneath her. She can't see through her tears, can barely hear as she tries to make sense of the news broadcast.
One thing is clear to her. One thing only. There is no body.
"Where is he?" Her voice breaks, sounds like that of some kind of wild animal that is hurt, in terrible pain.
Spock is there, holding her hands, chafing them as if to put some strength back into her. "They did not find a body."
"I know. So where is he?" She knows what explosive decompression can do, but even then there is a body to bring back. "Was there an explosion?"
"I am unsure." He is pulling her up, and she fights him off, does not want to leave the images in front of her.
Does not want to leave all that is left of Jim. They have his image up now. He is smiling. The way he does when he's just won something. She loves that smile.
"Christine. We must go now."
"Go? Go where?"
"To look for him." Spock grabs her arms, shaking her slightly.
She studies him. They've both lost something, both are reeling. "Look for him?"
"Do you want to come or not? I am going."
She nods. Yes, she must go. Together, they will find Jim. He can't hide from both of them. "I'll get my things."
Going into the bedroom, she begins to throw clothes into her bag. She walks into the bathroom and grabs a few items, taking them to the bag. She is about to join Spock, when she turns, grabbing Jim's pajamas and stuffing them into her bag. He'll want them. When they find him, he'll want his favorite pajamas.
And they smell like him. They smell like love and home and the man that both she and Spock would die for if they could.
He can't be dead. There's no body, so he can't be dead.
Spock takes her bag from her as she walks out.
"Thank you," she whispers, knowing that he didn't have to include her. He could have just gone.
His hand is gentle on her shoulder as he urges her to the door. She can't see well and realizes she is crying again.
"We'll find him?" she asks, blinking the tears away.
He nods, but his expression is bleak. She suddenly realizes he doesn't believe it. Why is he taking her out there if he doesn't believe it?
"We will find him," she says fiercely and sees his expression ease a bit. And she understands. He is taking her out there because she believes it.
She clutches at his arm, then feels bad, knows that he does not like to be pawed at and pulls away before he can recoil from her touch. "I'm sorry."
He reaches for her hands, puts them back on his arm. "It is all right. I understand."
She grips him tightly the whole way to his shuttle, letting go only once he opens the door.
"We'll find him," she says softly. If she believes it enough for both of them, it will be true.
There's no body. He can't be dead.
"Yes," Spock says, his voice dull. "We will find him."
She sits in the copilot's chair and stares out at the stars, willing herself not to cry.
They will find him.
There's no body.
He's not dead.
He can't be dead.
She doesn't look at Spock as he sits with her in the lounge. He is going on to Vulcan. He is giving up.
And so is she. Jim's pajamas still sit in her bag. She's cried into them every night they've been out looking for him.
Looking for him, then looking for his body, then looking for anything--even just a trace of him.
He's gone. He's gone and he's not coming back.
"He is dead," Spock murmurs, as if reading her mind.
She's a doctor. She should not hate that word so much. Dead. To not live. To cease existing.
Jim is dead. Their bed will be cold, and the chair he would have filled at Pan-Relief will stand empty. They will have to find someone else to run their organization. She can't do it, she's just a doctor. She is not Kirk.
The thought stabs at her. She would have been. He wanted to marry her. Once they were settled. They were going to get married.
She would have been a Kirk then.
She sniffs back tears, feels Spock's hand touch down on her own for just a moment.
"You will join Doctor McCoy?" he asks.
She nods. Len still needs help. She may just be a doctor, never a Kirk, but he just needs a doctor.
She feels herself losing control, is surprised when Spock's hand touches down on hers again, this time gripping tightly, almost painfully. It is a focus, something to stop the tears, and she is grateful to him for the gift, wants to ask him to hurt her some more so she won't have to feel.
She wonders if he is giving her that pain so he won't have to feel either. She touches his hand with her free one, stroking gently. "I thought we could find him."
"We did not."
She has never heard Spock sound so desolate.
They have both lost the man they love. She has not said anything about the feelings she knows Spock has for Jim, does not want to trivialize the loss for Spock. They both understand how things are.
She thinks neither of them have any idea how things will be. Except that they will be bad. Empty.
"Where will you go?" she asks.
"Qo'noS. I have work to do there." He is resolved about that, at least. No hesitation.
They will both go help others. He to his damned Klingons. She to some less offensive place.
The shuttle to Earth finally comes, and she stands. "This is goodbye."
He nods. Spock's eyes are empty, as if all the life he once had has gone away with her lover.
She knows her eyes look just the same. "I love you," she whispers to him, trying to give him at least that. She does love him. He is one of the few things she has left.
And they are saying goodbye. She does not think she will ever see him again.
For a moment, he brushes her cheek with his hand, then he is gone. She watches him walk away, then turns to board the shuttle.
The trip is a blur, when she arrives back on Earth, she can't face the apartment so she wanders the city, her bag growing heavier and heavier on her shoulder. Finally, she sits down in front of Command on the bench where she used to eat lunch whenever it was a nice day. She stares down the hill, watching as people come and go, none of them caring that her life is empty and meaningless and over.
She looks up, sees Rasmussen. She doesn't remember him calling her by her first name before. But she is technically retired. She only missed the formal debriefing because she was out with Spock looking for Jim. She shouldn't even be wearing her uniform anymore, is no longer on duty. Will never be on duty again.
"You heard, right?"
She thinks he means Jim and wonders why he is asking her.
"About Admiral Cartwright? He's dead."
She feels as if the little bit of earth left under her feet is being chipped away. "How?"
"How do you think? He was beaten to death by some prisoner in that hell hole he was sent to." He gets closer, in her face. "That hell hole that I think you had a hand in sending him to."
"I didn't sit on the panel that decided that."
"You made sure he had to go though, didn't you? I was down at the Lazy Susan recently. Jasper's not there anymore. Why do you suppose that is?"
She looks up at him, eyes dead and she thinks that the blankness in her gaze convinces him that he is wrong.
His eyes soften, and he sits down next to her. "I'm sorry, Christine. I'm just so angry. He was a great man. You know that."
"He was a great man," she repeats forlornly. "What about Valeris? Does she live?"
Rasmussen nods. "She's stronger. And younger. She has a whole lifetime ahead of her to suffer there."
Christine nods. Gets ups, pulling her bag over her shoulder. "I have to go now."
Rasmussen doesn't try to stop her.
She stumbles slightly as she starts down the hill. Matthew is dead. Valeris is suffering. Two little pills would have stopped it. Two little pills that she didn't give them because she couldn't stand the thought of losing Jim.
She's lost Jim. Where are those pills? Why can't she go back and give them the pills? She stumbles again, nearly falls.
Hands catch her, a concerned voice says, "Commander? Do you need help?"
She looks up, sees a young cadet. He looks a bit like Jim, and she starts to cry.
"Ma'am?" He is southern; the title comes out drawled like Len would have done.
Len. She has to get to him. He'll know what to do. How to help her. And there is work to be done. People for her to help. "I'm going off world," she says softly, as if the boy actually cares. "I'm okay."
It's a lie. She is nowhere near okay. But it is the kind of lie that she allows herself these days.
"All right, ma'am." He lets go of her.
She turns away, walking clumsily the rest of the way home. It is hard to see through the tears. She has to hit the door for her floor in the elevator twice before it lights up.
She is going off world. She has to get off world. Away from this godawful planet where bad things happen to her. And not in space either. She wants to be on terra firma just not on Terra firma.
She pulls out Jim's pajamas, curls with them on the couch and weeps.
She's going off world. But for now, she just needs to cry.
She can tell Len is watching her from the other side of the ward, ignores him as she sits with the little girl and reads to her. It's late and she has a few minutes before rounds start up again on this hell hole of a planet. Plague has wiped out a tenth of the population already, and the Pan-Relief teams are barely making a dent in the latest cases.
It would help if they knew what kind of plague they were dealing with. The best they can say is it's not endemic to Remelia IV. Other than that, they've been operating in the dark.
The little girl reaches up and pulls at her face mask. Christine doesn't even try to stop her, just lets it fall down around her neck.
It's not the first time it's happened. And she doesn't care anymore. Not with Jim gone. If this child wants to see her face, who is she to say no?
She smiles, then slowly pulls the face mask up before Len can come over and read her the riot act. He's tired of her apathy, tired of lecturing her. She wishes he would just leave her alone.
The little girl presses against her, and Christine wonders what her name is. She's too small to tell them herself, and her parents were dead when the scouting team found them. Christine plays with her curls, and the girl closes her eyes, finally falling asleep.
Her hair is golden like David's was. Her eyes though are brown, nothing like David's, or even Jim's. Dark, rich brown starkly in contrast with the golden curls. Christine strokes her face.
"Christine, can I have a word?"
She sighs. Len never wants just a word. There will be too many damn words about one thing only. Her. The way she doesn't care. The risks she takes.
Doesn't he know? She inherited the Kirk luck when Jim died. Nothing she has done has even gotten her sick, much less killed her. And she's not above doing stupid things--she just can't kill herself outright, but to invite death close, to wait for its kiss, that's allowed.
Trouble is death wants nothing to do with her.
She gets up carefully, easing the child back on the bed and off her lap. Ignoring Len until she is closer to the door, she finally turns and waits for the lecture.
"This can't go on, Christine."
She stares at him, giving nothing away. Which is only fair since she has nothing left to give.
Not since Jim died. Jim is dead and she is alive and there is utter wrongness to that. She should have been able to follow him. Is trying to now but the door won't open. Death is supposed to be a simple fellow, but he has eluded her at every step.
Len shakes his head, frustration clear in the way his mouth twists as he watches her. "Damn it, Christine. I know you miss Jim. But do you think he would have wanted this?"
"I don't know. Do you think he'll come tell us?" She smiles, the expression is utter mockery.
"I know you don't care about anything right now. But you have to try. For him."
"For him? He doesn't care, Len. He's gone." Jim doesn't even come to her in her dreams. She was sure he would. Sure that theirs was a love that would laugh at death. That they'd be together, even if only when she slept. But he doesn't come.
In fact, she can't even remember her dreams most nights. She sleeps, sleeps too much, in fact. But if she is dreaming, she's not allowed to keep the memories.
Just like she wasn't allowed to keep Jim.
"He's gone, but you're not. And you need to take more care. I need you here."
She smiles. He always tries this appeal. The personal. The one that would have moved her when she was a nurse, maybe even when she was first a doctor.
But now? Nothing moves her now. Nothing but suffering children and adults who just want to see a face, not a sterile white mask staring down at them. She is moved by people who want to touch skin, not ugly rubbery material.
Len sighs. "You touch them, and they start to expect it from the other doctors and nurses. You're putting everyone else at risk." His face is stern, his tone unyielding.
She's putting them in danger. She can feel her resistance crumbling. He's right. The little girl will reach for his mask next. She should have stopped her.
Moving her gently toward the entrance, he says, "I know it's hard, darlin'. I can't believe he's gone, either. And I wasn't in love with him. I can't imagine how hard it is for you. But Jim wouldn't want this. He'd want you to go on."
"We aren't doing any good here, Len."
"Yes, we are. If you'd open your eyes and look around, you'd see that. But you're too focused on what's inside you, Christine." His look is full of compassion.
She knows he loves her, that he just wants what's best for her.
They just happen to disagree on what that might be. She thinks oblivion looks very inviting. If she could just find it.
"I'm not getting to you at all, am I?" He is angry now. His voice becomes as mocking as hers was. He drags her through the first biofield, over to where they keep the medicines. Loading painkiller into a hypo, he hands it to her. "There. It's enough to take down an elephant. Do it, if you don't care. Why prolong it? Just end it now."
She hands it back to him. She wants death to come to her--a gift, not some dark force at the end of a hypo she jams into her own skin. "Suicide's against my religion, Len."
"You don't have a religion, Christine. That's part of the problem. You don't seem to believe in anything."
She smiles. "I believe in pain. Does that count?" She walks to the bench and sits down, pulling the mask off her face. Studying the gloves, she looks up at him. "What do you think I should believe in, Len?"
He sits down next to her, sighing as he leans back against the side of the enclosure. "Hell, I don't know. In doing good, maybe?"
"I do believe in that. I'm here, aren't I?"
"You're here. But I don't get a warm fuzzy that all of you is really present." Putting his arm around her, he pulls her close. "Grief is a funny thing, Christine. It makes us think we don't care. And we push people away. But eventually it lets up and then you find that the people you pushed away really are gone. I don't want you to end up truly alone."
"I thought it would help being here."
She curls against him, feels him wrap his arms around her more tightly. "No. It's not." Realizing how that must sound to him, she squeezes him gently. "I don't mean being with you. You've helped."
He laughs softly. "I sure don't feel like I have. Ever since you got here, I've been at my wit's end how to get through to you." He rests his chin on her head, sighs. "Am I getting through to you now, or is this just a momentary truce?"
"I'll be more careful." She sniffs back tears. "I just miss him, Len."
"I know you do, Christine. But this isn't doing anyone any good. Except maybe that little girl." He rubs her arm. "She seems to like you."
"We both know that little girl who seems to like me will be dead soon."
"Yeah. We do." He is quiet for a long time. Then he says softly, "And maybe that's why this isn't the best place for you now."
"You've got a better idea?"
"I do." Pulling away, he gently tips her face up to his. "Will you trust me to do what's best for you?"
"You mean because I'm doing such a bang up job of deciding that for myself?"
"Something like that." He frowns slightly. "I want to help you. Let me?"
She shrugs. She is touched by how much he cares. She wishes she could care more about her own life, her future.
She has no future. Not without Jim.
"Just give me a few days," he says. "Promise me you'll be careful until then?"
She laughs. It is ludicrous that she has to promise him she'll follow basic containment practices. But he's probably smart to make her promise. "I'll be good."
"Go get some sleep." He studies her. "You've been sleeping?"
"Oh yes. I do that better than anything these days."
"Well, I suppose it's preferable to having you haunting the wards at all hours. But not by much." He gets up, touches her face softly. "I only want what's best for you."
"That sounds ominous." Standing, she lets him pull her into a hug. She wishes she could pretend his almost frail frame was Jim's. Wishes she could imagine it was Jim holding her, Jim's arms surrounding her.
But she can't imagine that. Jim's arms will never surround her. Not ever.
Jim is gone. And she's more alone than ever.
And she doesn't foresee that ever changing.
She is sitting outside the enclosure, trying to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine instead of obsessing over how many patients they've lost in the last week, when she senses someone coming up behind her. She turns, is stunned to see Spock.
He sits down next to her.
She stares at him.
"Doctor McCoy commed me."
She frowns. This is Lens's solution? "Why?"
"He appears convinced you no longer care if you live or die."
"Maybe he's right." Sighing, she turns back to the sunshine, closing her eyes and ignoring him. She's forgotten how long he can sit in silence, finally says, "You're here to save me?"
"I would not be so presumptuous."
"I made Leonard an offer, which he does not feel he can accept. But he suggested you would be an acceptable alternative." His voice is dead.
He sounds like she does. Hopeless. Empty. As if all the life was sucked out of him by that terrible moment when Jim gave his life to save the Enterprise B. When Jim was lost to them both forever.
"What's the offer?" She feels a kinship with him. Thinks she could sit forever next to him, feeding off his pain. She wonders if he is feeding off of hers.
"I have been working on Qo'noS, as you know."
"The Klingons are suspicious of doctors, yet they need one who can work with their own healers to improve the state of medicine on the planet."
"The whole planet, Spock? Nice to see that you're ambitious."
"It will start in one place, then move on. It is how these things work."
She nods. He isn't wrong. But the Klingons? He can't be serious.
"And Len isn't jumping at your offer? Go figure." She sighs as she closes her eyes again. Len must have been snorting some powerful drugs to suggest this as a solution for her problems.
"To be honest, I am not sure the Klingons would accept him. He did not have the best results with Chancellor Gorkon."
She bursts out laughing, and several nurses turn in alarm. It is not a sound they have ever heard her make. "You're still the master of understatement, Spock." Glancing over at him, she sees he has lifted an eyebrow at her words.
She feels a warm rush. Somehow, being with him, she feels closer to Jim.
"I know that you miss him." Spock turns to her, his eyes holding hers. "I do as well."
She nods. "It's been lonely. Very lonely."
"For me as well." It is a monumental concession. He breathes in deeply, turns away from her. "Are you trying to kill yourself, Christine?"
"If you do not care whether you live or die, perhaps Qo'noS will be as good a place as any for you?"
"And what makes you think they'll accept me any better than McCoy?"
He almost smiles. "You mean other than that the Chancellor did not die under your care?"
She does smile. "Yeah, other than that."
"You are Jim's parMach'kai."
"The closest human term is beloved. But it is more violent than that term implies. At any rate, you were Jim's mate and they will accept you for his sake."
"Big with the Klingons, is he?" She studies him. He can't be serious.
"Many of them consider him a true warrior and their savior. Others still hate him, but as a worthy opponent. In either case, you will have credibility."
"You've gone round the bend, Spock. I hate Klingons. They killed David. I'd rather die than go to Qo'noS."
"Would you? Because death may well find you there. It is a violent place." He is staring at her, as if appraising her death wish.
"You trying to scare me? Or is that your idea of a sales pitch for the suicidal girlfriend?"
She starts to get up, but his hand on hers stops her.
"Do not go," he says softly.
"Haven't finished yet?" She wrenches her hand away from him. "The Klingons killed my friend. Matthew is dead, Spock. Because of them."
"No, Matthew is dead because of Matthew."
"And Valeris?" She thinks of the young woman still fighting for survival on Rura Penthe, wonders if Spock ever thinks of her. At one time, she thought he might have been falling for her protege. But he has never said her name, not since Khitomer, not since she betrayed them all.
He does not say her name now either. "She too pays a price of her own making."
"You haven't given me one good reason to go with you."
He sighs, and she turns to him in surprise. He shakes his head slightly, as if giving up on her.
"You said you were lonely, Spock?"
He nods slowly, not looking at her.
"Do you think we could make it better for each other? I haven't really...connected with anyone since Jim died. I know Len's tired of trying." Laughing bitterly, she leans back, resting her head on the back of her chair.
"I have not played chess since he died." His voice drops. "I have not wanted to."
"I know. I can't imagine going riding without him."
The silence stretches between them. But for once it isn't painful or full of unsaid recriminations as it often is when she sits with Len or the others. It's just possible that Spock is the only one who really understands her pain.
"Ka'Vareth was ours alone," he says softly.
"I should like to play again."
She realizes she misses their games. "I won't last a minute there, Spock. I'll say something and piss someone off and that'll be it for Jim's parma--what did you call it?"
"Is that not what you want? Someone to bring you death?"
She decides not to lie to him. "Yes." Turning, she studies him. "Do you want that too?"
He shakes his head, his lips pursed--the Vulcan equivalent of a shrug.
"Taking any unnecessary risks?"
"There are some who would say that living on Qo'noS is an unnecessary risk."
"True." She sighs.
They are silent again, until she says softly, "It feels good to be with you."
"Yes. I agree." His hand steals out, covers hers lightly for a moment. "You will come then?"
"Why the hell not? At least if death comes, it will be quick. Right?"
He nods, some dark amusement in his eyes.
"Alright then. Count me in."
She's insane. But at least she'll be in good company. Spock doesn't look like the picture of mental health these days either.
Len comes out of the enclosure and walks over to them. "Looks like you two worked out a solution?"
"We did." Spock looks up at him. "Christine will come to Qo'noS."
"Better you than me, darlin'." Len sits down on the other side of Spock. "You're both crazy, you realize that?"
"It is a distinct possibility," Spock says. He does not sound unduly concerned.
She finds herself smiling. It's comforting to not be alone in this.
Or less alone anyway.
Qo'noS is ugly. It's hot and dry and it smells funny. Christine stands in the doorway of Spock's house, staring out at the dusty square. Across the way are the even dustier rooms Spock has secured for her clinic. As far as she can tell, the concept of a housekeeper does not exist on the Klingon homeworld. Maybe whoever loses at arm wrestling has to tidy up?
"Do you want me to stay?"
She turns, sees Spock gathering up his things. He has given her the spare room in his house. She objected at first, until he explained the concept of "House" as the Klingons understood it. As long as she lives here, she is under his protection.
And Spock is well regarded on Qo'noS. Even if it is hard to tell at times.
"No. I don't want you to stay." She's followed him around for a week now. Getting to know the locals, learning what foods to eat and what to stay away from. Everyone who's anyone on Qo'noS knows who she is and why she's there. Even if they grin mockingly at the idea of a Federation doctor in their midst.
Len's little fiasco trying to save Gorkon hasn't done her any favors. One warrior actually teased her and said if she tried to pound on his chest, she'd find herself without hands. It wasn't funny. Although the other warriors all laughed uproariously.
She thinks a Klingon laugh could curdle milk. Knowing them, they'd deem it a delicacy and serve it at their next feast.
She follows Spock out to the square, watches as he gets in his shuttle.
Before he closes the door, he says gently, "I will not be gone long."
"I'll be fine," she says with more bravado than she really feels.
He nods and turns away as the doors close him off from her. Feeling a moment of panic, she picks up a broom and walks over to what will someday be her clinic. The rooms are unlocked, but the furniture and supplies they brought with them are still there. No Klingon appears willing to darken her door, much less steal anything.
It came as a surprise to her to learn that there is little theft on Qo'noS. Little petty crime of any kind, unless you count constant, meaningless violence. That there is plenty of.
She is almost done sweeping when the room suddenly becomes darker. Turning slowly, she sees a Klingon woman standing in the doorway, watching her. Their eyes meet, and the Klingon throws her head back, her smile grows mocking as she stares.
Christine wants to blink, wants to sigh and turn away. But some other part of her, the part that is sick and tired of life, seems to be in control. Striding up to the Klingon woman, she gets in her face and says, "Is there a reason you are blocking my light?"
The woman looks stunned for a moment, then bursts out laughing. It is no more pleasant a sound than the laughter of the men.
Christine turns away, never quite turning her back on the woman as she sweeps an area that is already clean.
The Klingon steps into the room, following Christine around, staring at her, head tilted and eyes narrowed as if Christine is some interesting new animal.
Prey, probably. She forces herself not to swallow too visibly.
"You are Kirk's ParMach'kai?"
"Hmmm." It does not sound like a favorable sound.
"You have a problem?"
Christine looks down on a frame she considers frighteningly more ample than it used to be and laughs. "Really? Thanks."
The Klingon smiles, a bit uncertainly but still a smile. "You take insults well." She wanders over to the table full of medicines and equipment. Begins to go through it.
Christine is about to tell her to leave it alone, when she sees the woman make an adjustment to one of the scopes. Sweeping her way to a better angle, Christine sees the Klingon finger the carton of hyposprays, then gently pick up and engage a laser scalpel. The sudden beam of light doesn't seem to surprise her at all.
"You're a healer?"
"I am." The woman turns. "I am supposed to work with you."
"You have my condolences. I'm a real bitch."
It takes the translator a moment to find the right word for bitch. But when it does, the Klingon beams at her.
Christine wonders if it translated correctly. Then again, knowing Klingons...
She leans the broom against a table, and holds her hand out. "My name's Doctor Christine Chapel."
The woman stares at her hand for a moment, then takes it. "I am Khorta, first lady of the house of Gramton. I am healer for this region." She lets go of her hand quickly, as if she finds the feel of Christine's skin distasteful.
Christine eyes the weapons hanging from Khorta's clothing. "I take it you're a warrior too?"
"Well, of course." Khorta holds up a scary-looking dagger. "But these are also tools of the trade. My Daqtagh brings honor to the fallen."
Spock has explained that a Klingon healer is often called in to deliver a death blow, that there is very little healing to be done.
She has seen evidence of that. Warriors with missing arms, puckered eyes, and half cut off ears. No limb replacements for these tough guys. They wear their battle scars with pride, it seems.
"You seem to know your way around a microscope."
The woman actually seems embarrassed. "I may have used one upon occasion." She is saved from having to say more when a young boy steps into the room.
The child's expression is pure warrior, even if he looks barely six years old. Christine can feel her eyebrow going up in a perfect rendition of Spock's at this mini version of the warriors she has met.
"I am Hehnak," he tells her fiercely.
"My son," Khorta says, a note of pride filling her voice. "Heir to the house of Gramton. And a mighty warrior in the making." She lets her hand fall to his shoulder, grips it a bit savagely to Christine's mind.
He only looks up at his mother and grins--the expression making him finally look like a little kid. He looks back at her and his face is once again fierce. "And you are?"
Christine tries not to laugh at the imperiousness of his tone. "I am Christine. Doctor Chapel."
"So many names?"
Khorta laughs. "Why are you here, Hehnak? Did your curiosity about this new member of Spock's house overcome you?" Her voice drops as she says, "And did you forget that you are supposed to be studying with Laranda now?"
"I forget nothing. I am bored with history."
"It is the history of our house and all the others. You must know it, if only to keep track of the blood feuds." She ruffles his hair. "Go now. I don't want to have to tell your father that you deliberately missed a lesson."
He frowns but does as she says. Khorta turns back to Christine, a soft smile--one that makes her look far less alien--on her face. "Do you have children?"
"No," Christine says, looking down. "I regret that sometimes." It is an odd confession for her to make to anyone, much less this Klingon woman. She picks up the broom, begins to sweep again.
"You are busy. I will let you finish." Khorta strides to the entrance, then turns. "You realize no one will come to you for treatment?"
"They'll come." Christine glares at her.
Khorta just laughs. "If you want to scare anyone here, you'll need to work on that. We're taught to glare before we are out of swaddling clothes." She turns and walks out.
Christine sighs, feels her hackles relaxing and walks to the doorway. A few Klingons are passing by and they look at her curiously. She stares at them, trying to out glare them.
She knows she's failed when they burst out laughing.
Spock brings her tea, setting the cup down next to the Ka'Vareth board. "Have you had any patients yet?"
She laughs. "Nope."
Sipping at the tea, she studies the board. Spock's been reading up from the look of his opening moves. She doesn't remember him ever taking such a sideways tack before.
She counters with a safety play and sees him almost smile. She has obviously fallen for something; she just can't see what it is. "Reading in your spare time, Spock?"
"It is possible." He moves another piece quickly, almost casually.
She knows she's in big trouble. He spends far too much time on shuttles these days. He could have read half a dozen Ka'Vareth books while she was sitting in the courtyard or her empty little clinic and watching Klingons walk by.
"There are more Klingons loitering around the clinic though." She decides to be daring, moves several pieces at once. "So they are either getting a feel for me or are planning to raid the joint."
He almost smiles again. "I believe it is the former." He moves another piece quickly.
"Damn it, Spock. What are you doing?" She studies the board and finally sees what he is planning. "Oooh, sneaky." She smiles at him and sees his expression lighten. "Did you think I wouldn't see it?"
"I have long since learned to abandon any hope of fooling you indefinitely."
She moves to counter, making sure there isn't a second trap waiting for her. He takes his time moving, and she knows she made the right play.
"I will be off world for a time." He looks at her. "You will be all right here?"
"I'll miss our games." She smiles at him, knows it is true. How can anyone hurt her if no one will even talk to her, much less need her services? Only Hehnak stops in to actually see her, not that he talks to her either; he just follows her around instead of attending his history lessons.
"If you are uncomfortable staying, you could come with me."
"Where are you going?"
He almost smiles. "Cardassia."
"Oh, yes, please. I want to go there." She laughs. "I'd just be trading one hellhole for another." She moves a piece in a rather boring move just to see what he'll do. "I will miss our games, Spock."
"As will I," he says easily.
They've both opened up since she got to Qo'noS. As if their pain together somehow cancelled each other out, and they ended up healthier than when they were alone. He seems more interested in his work; she knows she is too, even if she has no patients.
A heavy knock on the front door surprises them both. "Were you expecting anyone?" she asks Spock as she gets up.
"I was not."
She opens the door, sees Khorta standing in the dark. "Hello."
"There has been a brawl--a result of a blood feud. I thought you might like to come help me pick up the pieces."
"And you probably mean that literally, don't you?" Christine is surprised when Khorta laughs. Grabbing her medkit, she looks over at Spock. "Don't cheat; we can finish when I get back."
An eyebrow is her only answer; he is already reaching for a padd, no doubt reading up on his next mission.
"It is the Houses of Tennor and Prelek." Khorta leads her to a small flitter. "They have been feuding for so long most of us have forgotten any other state between them. But they normally pick at each other, a fight here, a duel there. This is much bigger than any of us expected. It will not be pleasant."
Christine takes a deep breath. "I can handle it."
"You could tell me what to expect. Will they even let me near them?"
"That is for you to find out."
Christine laughs bitterly, the expulsion of air the only sound in the flitter. She imagines an already irked warrior taking issue with her treatment. "How many healers lose hands in these parts?"
Khorta smiles. "Agility is a job requirement. Just move any weapons before you start any sort of treatment."
"My new rules of thumb. First, do no harm. Second, allow no weapons."
Khorta smiles again. Evidently, Christine is funny even when translated.
She touches the flitter down, looks appraisingly at Christine. "Ready?"
"Sure." She's not, but then she probably never will be.
She strides into the hall after Khorta, trying to cover as much ground as the Klingon woman does. The scene stops her short. "Holy shi--"
It is just like the planets they used to visit after a Klingon raid. Parts...everywhere.
"Why?" she says softly, as the doctor in her takes over and she goes to a young woman whose arm is bleeding badly but is still attached. In fact, she appears to have all her limbs, and Christine wonders if she should bypass her, but she really doesn't feel ready for a mercy killing.
She scans the woman, who looks up and pulls away.
"Human?" she says, nearly spitting at Christine.
"You will sit still, Talinna," Khorta says sharply from across the room, and Christine realizes she is looking out for her.
"This won't take long," she says, scanning quickly. The woman has two long cuts, one on her arm and another on her cheek. Christine goes to work on the arm. "I suppose you want to keep the scars?" she asks softly.
The woman laughs scornfully. "I earned them, p'tak."
Christine knows she's been insulted when Khorta looks over and scowls at the woman. "Just making conversation," she mutters as she adjusts the regenerator to close the wound without healing the injury completely. She moves on to the woman's face, then steps away. "There you go. No more blood, plenty of scar. You'll be the envy of all your friends. You'll get my bill."
The woman stares up at her as if she has gone insane. Christine's not sure how the translator ended up rendering her ribbing, decides to move on just in case she has mortally insulted the woman.
Khorta motions her over. A warrior's arm is partially severed, he is groaning, while another warrior holds him down. "What would you do?" Khorta asks her.
She scans it quickly. The damage is reparable, but there are so many other people to help, she can't afford to spend all her time with him. It would be faster to amputate. But everything in her rebels at that idea. She scans again.
Perhaps she is overthinking this. Klingons are robust and used to far rougher field medicine. She looks up at Khorta. "I'd regenerate the tendon and main artery, then I'd close and let fate decide the rest."
Khorta nods, as if pleased at her answer. "Yes, do it." She gets up and moves on, leaving Christine with the warrior.
The warrior's bat'leth lies close to him. "Can you move that out of his reach?" she asks the other warrior.
He smiles as if she has made a joke, but moves the weapon out of his injured friend's reach.
She works quickly. The artery is the hardest, but once she stops the bleeding, she can see two more small veins that if closed will make the healing more likely. Sealing them shut, she works on the tendon, watching to make sure that the blood is flowing through the repaired artery and veins before closing his wound and applying an antibacterial spray to the area.
She pats the warrior on his good arm. "Good luck."
His eyes narrow and he shakes his head. "Qapla'." Her translator renders it as "Success."
"Qapla' it is ." She leaves him and moves on to a child who looks too young to have been actually fighting. He has a bruise on his face and is holding his ribs. Scanning him, she sees no major damage. "Sorry, kiddo. You're on your own." She'd at least offer a human a painkiller, but he doesn't look disappointed when she moves on.
She catches up with Khorta, who is working on a woman with a disruptor burn across her chest. The healer looks over at Christine, who scans the woman. The damage is too great, major systems are already shutting down. That she is still alive is more a technicality than anything.
Khorta leans down. "Sto-Vo-Kor awaits you. Will you go now or stay a while?"
The woman closes her eyes. "Send me now."
Khorta looks at Christine, then she draws her Daqtagh and plunges it into the woman's heart, killing her instantly. Christine forces herself not to turn away. This is what she is faced with. This is Klingon medicine at its most lethal.
"You'll do," Khorta says as she stands up. "There are more to help."
Christine tries not to laugh in what she is afraid is hysteria. Help is such a relative term suddenly.
She gets up and follows Khorta to the next patient, praying that this one is not bound for the Klingon afterlife anytime soon. She's not sure her stomach or her psyche can take it.
Hehnak sits on the stool by her microscope, watching as she makes up some medicine. He comes everyday but he never talks to her. She's gotten used to having him underfoot, sometimes forgets he's there and talks to herself.
"My mother says you were Kirk's parMach'kai." His voice sounds strange in the usually quiet clinic.
Christine stares down at him, then goes back to mixing the meds. "I was."
"But you are not a warrior," he says, practically spitting the words at her.
"That's right." She glances down at the boy. He is staring up at her, as if he cannot figure out why anyone would want to be with her.
"Kirk was a great warrior."
"Yes, he was. But he was also a man of peace."
Hehnak frowns. Peace is obviously not a concept he wants to dwell on. "Kirk did not like Klingons, did he?"
She decides to be honest. "Not particularly."
The boy thinks about that. "Laranda says that his actions before and after Khitomer ensured our survival." He shakes his head. "I do not understand why he would do that for people he did not like."
"There are a lot of people who wonder the same thing, kiddo." She looks down, sees that the youngster is frowning, as if trying to come to terms with Jim's actions. "Hehnak, sometimes a warrior must fight for causes he does not believe in because it is the will of the House, isn't that so?"
Christine smiles, glad she's paid attention to Spock's lectures on honor and House politics--and watched Hehnak's father, Gramton, in action. "Well, sometimes you have to fight for a cause you believe in, even when the ones you are fighting for are your enemies and the ones you fight against are people you love and trust."
"Because it is the right thing to do."
He digests that. "Am I your enemy then?"
"I don't know." She looks down at him. "What do you think?"
He smiles fiercely, touches the small mek'leth he wears. "If I am, you don't stand a chance."
She laughs. He is no doubt right. She has an urge to ruffle his hair, decides it is probably a very stupid impulse--she likes her hands where they are and attached.
She hears a noise at the door, looks over and sees a Klingon woman with a toddler.
"What do you want?" Christine asks, still feeling strange using the Klingon greeting. It is so...harsh.
"My child is sick. Khorta said you might have an opinion on her illness."
Christine tries not to smile at the phrasing. God forbid these people should actually ask for help. "I might indeed. Bring her in." Without thinking, she hands Hehnak the bowl of meds she's been mixing. "Stir."
He stirs. She realizes she gave the order like a Klingon would have and smiles.
She scans the toddler, who sits lethargically on the table. Christine hasn't seen all that many Klingon children, but this one seems far too quiet. The scan shows that her lungs are partially filled with fluid. The Klingon version of pneumonia from the look of her other symptoms.
"Is she having trouble breathing?"
The Klingon woman does not answer. Christine sighs. She supposes it is wrong to admit any weakness. She will have to ask Spock if Klingons cull the weak.
She scans again. "She is having trouble breathing," she says, making the statement as if she is declaring war.
"Yes," the Klingon agrees.
"Her fever is too high, it must come down," Christine says again, trying not to cough from the force she is putting into her words. No wonder Klingons sound guttural--they're probably just hoarse from nearly yelling at each other all day.
"I have given her the traditional herbs. They have not worked." The Klingon looks at her as if daring her to contradict her.
"I have better." Christine goes to the cabinet she keeps the medicines in and chooses several. Loading the first into a hypo, she holds it against the girl's arm.
The child looks up at her, eyes appraising. Even barely out of diapers, these people are fierce. She loads the other--an antibiotic--and shoots it into her arm.
Hehnak puts down the mixture he has been stirring and walks over. "My mother recommends Var'kellik tea for chest conditions."
Christine smiles. "You have Var'kellik tea?" Before she can rephrase it as an order, the woman nods. Perhaps not every question is bad?
"She will sleep from the medicines. Elevate her head, and make sure she does not get chilled."
She looks down at Hehnak to see if he is going to add anything to her recommendations. He merely nods and goes back to his stool.
The woman gathers up her child and leaves. No "Thank you" or "Welcome to Qo'noS" or any other nicety.
Christine doesn't care. They're still her first real patients. She feels a warm glow and smiles at Hehnak before she can think better of it.
He hands her the bowl. "It is stirred."
She looks down. It is indeed well-stirred.
Hehnak says softly, "That was Pirella. She is the first lady of the House of Volahk. She carries much influence in this region."
"In other words, as long as the baby survives, I can expect more business."
"Yes." Hehnak pulls himself back on the stool. "I am bored with talk of medicine. Tell me more about Kirk."
Christine smiles. She and Spock don't talk about Jim even though she knows they both miss him intensely. She begins to tell Hehnak about him, realizes that she wants to tell the boy about him. And it is the most natural thing in the world to tell him.
Even if the boy keeps urging her to skip the boring parts and get to the next battle.
She wonders if Jim is looking on from wherever he is. If he is, she knows that he's laughing.
Christine trudges back to her house, crossing through dingy allies as she makes her way from the middle of town. She is tired and covered with rosy Klingon blood and other not so rosy Klingon things, and the few Klingons she passes give her a wide berth as they eye her medical bag and her clothing. She isn't sure if most of them know that the Klingon equivalent to the local flitterbus went out of control and crashed in the central square. Or if they're aware that the vehicle was packed.
She closes her eyes, trying not to see the injured, most of whom were halfway to Sto-Vo-Kor by the time she got there. She'd followed Khorta to the scene. Even the Klingon woman had looked slightly sick at the carnage in front of them.
Lost in that thought, Christine turns a corner, nearly crashes into a warrior.
"Watch it," she growls, too tired to care how he reacts. She looks up, sees it is one of Gramton's lieutenants. "Sorry, Malshrak. I didn't know it was you."
He falls into step beside her. "Khorta wanted me to see you home."
She wonders how he found her. Is her route so predictable? "She thinks I can't look out for myself?"
"I do not know." His voice is surly. He does not seem to relish chaperoning her any more than she wants a bodyguard right now.
She makes a gesture of dismissal. "I relieve you of this obligation. Go on."
"You are not first in my house, Doctor." He slows his pace somewhat. He studies her. "Something is wrong?"
"Good call, Sherlock." Her translator gives up on translating the last word.
She nods. "But not a good one. You didn't miss anything."
He nods, and she thinks he does not care one way or the other.
"How many people have you killed, Malshrak?"
"In battle? Or after?"
He looks at her. "This was your first time delivering Hegh batlh?" The translator gives her the words in Standard: "honorable death."
She nods, forces herself to keep her face even. She must not cry.
"It was a good thing to send those wounded on to Sto-Vo-Kor. Without that"--he points to the Daqtagh that Khorta gave her--"only Gre'thor would await those who fall so meaninglessly."
She nods. "I am honored to be chosen." She does not feel honored. She feels sick and dirty and wants to wash her hands and her face until they are scrubbed raw. She forces herself to keep walking, to stop wiping her hands on her pants.
Her house comes in sight, and Malshrak bows slightly. "I will leave you."
Klingons as a rule do not say "Thank you," so she nods, tries to smile in gratitude but knows the expression comes out half hearted. She turns into the house, gets the door shut before she breaks down, leaning against it and sobbing.
She whirls, sees that Spock has finally returned to Qo'noS. He is coming up behind her, and she throws herself into his arms.
"Shhh. Christine, what has happened?"
She realizes what she has done, how dirty and bloody her clothes and skin are and tries to pull away. "I'm sorry, Spock. I didn't think."
He does not let her go. "What has happened?" He pulls her closer, his hands moving slowly up and down her arms, comforting her.
"You said that." His voice is still concerned. "I returned at a good time, I see." He starts to move her to the couch.
"No. I'm covered with blood." She pulls away and this time he lets her. "And you are too now."
He looks down, seems to just be noticing the blood. "There was another fight?"
"No. A flitter accident. I had to--" She turns away from him, rushes to the bathroom and makes it in time to throw up over and over again.
Spock stands at the door, watching her. When she seems to be finished, he walks to the sink and wets a small towel, handing it to her.
"What did you have to do?"
She meets his eyes. "I killed them, Spock." She begins to cry, long terrible sobs that seem to come out of her very soul. She pulls the Daqtagh out of its scabbard, lets it fall to the floor. "With that."
He crouches down in front of her. "Was there anything else you could have done?"
She shakes her head.
"Did they wish you to do it?"
"Did it end their suffering?"
She can still smell the burned flesh of the ones who had been too close to the engine when the flitter hit ground. "Yes."
"Then you did your job, did you not?"
She meets his eyes again, searching desperately for some judgment in his dark gaze, something she can hold onto, can label herself with. She is an animal. Or she is not. She did wrong. Or she did not.
He touches her cheek. "You did what you were called to do. This is a hard world, Christine. I warned you of that."
She nods. "I know. I just didn't think that I'd have to..."
"I know." He hands her the dagger. "You should clean this off."
She takes his hand and lets him pull her to her feet, looking down at the plain white medical uniform--it used to be white anyway. "This thing's ruined."
"You have others."
"What if I wreck them all?"
"Then you will wear the local clothes until we can get you more."
She nods; he is so logical. It is a comfort. Moving to the sink, she lets hot water wash the blood off her dagger. She will put it in the sterilizer tomorrow. For now, it is clean enough. She sets it down on a fresh towel.
He pulls her close again, surprising her with a warm hug. "If you were not a good person, this would not hurt so badly, Christine."
"Thank you, Spock. I'm glad you're home." She lets herself hold onto him for a moment, then pulls away. "I need to shower."
He eyes his own robe. "I will put this in the refresher." He touches her cheek one last time, then leaves her alone.
She stays in the shower for what seems like forever. But even then she doesn't feel clean.
Gramton's house is more like a stronghold--but the doors are open and the loud, raucous Klingon equivalent of mood music is blaring. The party he has thrown for Hehnak's seventh birthday is in full swing.
"Christine," Gramton's huge hand comes down on her shoulder, squeezing painfully. For some reason, he has decided he likes her--he called her by her first name long before Khorta or Hehnak would. "You honor my house. This is a historic event. Worthy of such a feast." He glowers happily at the heaping tables of food.
"You say that about every occasion, husband," Khorta says, a tolerant edge to her voice. She shoots Christine a look.
Christine laughs softly. Khorta's right; Gramton is pretty liberal when it comes to finding an excuse to party. Last week, he threw a feast because the moons all decided to rise on time. She can smell the delicious aroma of roast targ from the central courtyard, and she tries not to salivate. She can't say she minds the frequent get-togethers--the man does know how to barbeque.
She looks over at Spock, watches him checking out the table. It isn't easy being a vegetarian on Qo'noS. He ate a big meal before they left the house. Fortunately, none of the Klingons seem to take offense when he won't try something. They just expect Vulcans to be finicky. Christine on the other hand is not offered any such mercy. Humans, apparently are expected to try everything. Each and every time. She prays she can get by the gagh table without Gramton loading her plate up. So far she's been lucky, at past feasts she's told him she tried gagh and finished it already. Despite his dubious looks, he could not prove her wrong, and it would be the height of rudeness to call his guest a liar.
Hehnak laughs at her for her elaborate ploys to get out of eating gagh. But she senses that he admires her deviousness in a way, even if he does call her a sneaky Romulan. And she knows that's no compliment on Qo'noS.
A servant offers her a tankard of bloodwine, and she accepts. It is an acquired taste, but she's grown used to it. And learned the hard way to go easy on it. She's not sure Spock will ever recover from her attempt to recreate the Klingon opera from the Festival of Kot'Baval. She wasn't sure she was going to recover from the hangover the next day either. She sips at her wine, sees Spock almost smile as he does the same. Naturally, he is a master of moderation.
"No Klingon opera tonight, I hope," he says softly as he moves away from her.
She resists the urge to stick her tongue out at him.
"I think you see a different side of him," Khorta says quietly, coming up with a small plate of appetizers that she knows Christine likes.
Christine picks one and pops it in her mouth. "If Gramton keeps throwing feasts, I'll never fit into my uniforms." She sees Khorta's face and laughs. "I know, you think I'm too scrawny anyway."
"I am getting used to the oddness of your looks," Khorta says, a smile on her face.
"Yeah. Well, right back at you." Christine can see by Khorta's puzzled look that the translator doesn't do that phrase justice. "I am as well," she says and sees the woman's expression clear.
"Vulcans are so cold. Jim Kirk was rumored to be quite passionate."
"I guess the rumors are true. Or are you trying to say that Vulcans are not cold?"
"Well, I don't think they are, if they like you. But I was reacting to the Jim part of your statement."
Khorta nods. "You miss him?"
"Every day." It is true, even if missing him no longer translates into the bottomless and hopeless ache she felt when Spock came for her. Qo'noS, in some strange way, has helped her.
"Kirk was good to you?"
"Oh, yes. But we had our fights. And we weren't always together."
Khorta smiles. "We Klingons prefer a volatile relationship. Fire is beneficial to passion."
"Well, we had plenty of passion." Christine smiles. "I'll never get that back."
"One never recaptures a great love. But there are other loves." Khorta looks over at Spock. "Cold, passionless Vulcans, for example?"
Christine gives her the Chapel equivalent of the Vulcan eyebrow of disbelief.
"Or, if that option does not appeal, Klingon warriors are quite passionate."
The eyebrow goes higher.
Khorta looks a bit offended. "Are you saying you don't find Klingon men attractive?"
Christine laughs. "No, I'm not saying that. Although, when I first came here I might have." She smiles. "But I can't believe you think one would find me his cup of tea."
She hears the translator translate that as something to do with blood. It makes Khorta laugh, and Christine hopes it came out right.
"Malshrak finds you intriguing."
"He does?" Christine glances over at Gramton's lieutenant.
He glowers back at her, same as always.
"You sure about that?"
"Quite sure," Khorta says.
"I'll take your word for it." She sips at her bloodwine, buying time while she finds the right words. "I'm not ready. I'm not sure I ever will be. But I'm flattered."
Khorta sniffs. "Passion with a warrior could take your mind off how not ready you are."
Christine laughs. "Probably so. But I think I'll pass. Besides, Spock needs me around the house. What good is a House of one?"
"Good point." Khorta studies Spock, her eyes narrowing. "He seems so far away. Are all Vulcans like him?"
"Pretty much." Christine smiles. "He does love though. He loved my ParMach'kai."
"And I think he loves you, Christine. In his own way." Khorta looks over at Gramton, who is making noises for people to dish up.
"You better hurry if you are to avoid the gagh," Khorta says, doing something odd with her eyes that Christine realizes is the Klingon equivalent of a wink.
"You don't have to tell me twice." She heads for the table.
Hehnak trails behind murmuring, "Be sure to try the gagh, Christine."
Klingons. They're such comedians. She gives Hehnak her best glare, which is pretty good now--she's been practicing.
He almost looks scared. Or so she's willing to believe.
Christine hears a noise at the front door and reaches for her Daqtagh. She has never felt threatened here, not even when Spock has been away on his frequent diplomatic missions. But whoever has come in is trying to be very quiet and that worries her. Jim still has plenty of enemies on Qo'noS--not all of them want to party with her and Spock.
And Spock isn't here to party with. Just her, the defenseless human. She grips the Daqtagh tighter. Not totally defenseless. Getting up, she pulls her robe on, then creeps out of her bedroom and into the main room.
A rising eyebrow greets her as Spock puts down his carryall and studies her. "I see you have gone native."
Lowering the knife, she glares at him. "You weren't due back for a week. And why were you being so quiet?"
"It is late. I did not want to wake you if you were sleeping." He is staring at her.
She realizes her robe has fallen open and ties it shut. "So why are you back?"
"I postponed my visit to Vulcan."
The look he gives her is searching.
"What?" She moves toward him, feels a sinking in the pit of her stomach. He's never shown so much interest in her nightclothes before. And he's still staring at her. "It's not that time of the decade, is it?"
He actually smiles. Just the smallest tip of his lips in the upward direction, but it is a definite smile. "No. It is not the Pon Farr."
"Well, that's a relief, because, you know..." She is unsure where she is going with the thought, so she just waves the knife around in an almost threatening manner.
"I stand warned." He moves to her. "I have missed you, Christine."
She sets the weapon down and hugs him. As always, it is a surprise that he allows it. But he has let her do this since that day she first had to use her Daqtagh. His arms close around her, and she is reminded of his strength as she sinks into his embrace.
She feels a touch on her cheek, thinks she imagines it. There is no way Spock just kissed her.
"So why did you come back early?"
He pulls away enough to look at her. "I was tired. And I needed to come home. And much to my surprise, you and this planet seem to represent that to me far more than my home world does."
She stares at him, unsure what he wants her to do with that information. It touches her to know he thinks of her that way. But it confuses her too. Surely he is not saying...
"Is that sentiment unwelcome, Christine?" Stroking her hair away from her face, his hands stop to rest on either side of her head. His skin is warm, so warm.
"No. Not at all." She can feel his pulse though his hands--it is racing. "Spock? What are you doing?"
"Nothing, if you do not want it." His eyes are intense, more so than she's ever seen. "I know I am not Jim. I know I can never be him for you, and that what you felt for him is not something you can call back up." His hands run though her hair, then move to her face, tracing the lines of her cheeks, her forehead. "But...perhaps you can feel something else for me? I care for you, Christine. Very much."
His fingers are dancing over the meld points and she shivers. Desire--she can feel it even without the meld. He wants her.
She reaches up, touches his face, and he groans softly and closes his eyes.
He really wants her.
She laughs softly, sees his eyes fly open as if he is afraid she is making fun of him. She smiles at him, doesn't stop stroking his face, his ears, his neck. "I can't be Jim for you either. I know you loved him."
He nods. "I am not asking you to be him."
Leaning against him, she feels him push back. "Maybe we both represent that last link to him, though. Even if neither of us can be him. Maybe that's why you want me?"
"Perhaps. But I want you for yourself as well. I did not rush back here to recapture Jim."
He shakes his head. Then he kisses her. The mechanics of a kiss are so simple, yet being with Spock is nothing like being with Jim. His lips feel hotter, but less demanding. He is waiting for her to meet him. He needs that from her.
He is unsure of her. Wrapping her arms around him, she kisses him back, feels him relax.
When they finally pull away from each other, she searches his face. "Are you sure this is a good idea, Spock?"
"No, I am not." He gently pushes her toward his bedroom. "I am sure, however, that I do not care whether it is or not. I want you."
She laughs. It is such a wonderfully impulsive thing for him to say. He kisses her again, and she runs her hands up under his shirt, feels his skin--so much hotter than her own--and the dark hair that covers his chest. He is built differently than Jim. Lean, almost lanky. Yet he is strong as he pulls her to him, as he kisses her again and pulls off her clothes and his own in one long impatient flow of pants and shirts and under things. Then he is lifting her up, and she wraps her arms around his neck, her legs around his waist, and settles onto him.
She gasps at the feeling. It has been so long since she and Jim made love, and she did not think she would ever want this with another man.
But she wants Spock. She wants him badly.
His hand finds her face, touches down on the meld points, and he is in her mind, just as he was when they shared consciousness so long ago. She can feel his desire for her, and a rush of affection and admiration from him too, and coloring it all is Jim and how much they both loved him.
"I love you," Spock tells her, the sound ringing through her mind. Then he is worming his way deep, into her memories.
Her memories of loving Jim.
She gasps, tries to pull away. He is instantly back with her; her memories are safe.
"Christine. I did not intend trespass. I just want to please you. I know Jim did. I am not sure that I will and I thought...if I knew how he did..."
"You'll please me." She kisses him, holding his fingers in place as she does it. "But please me as yourself, not as him."
He kisses her back almost desperately. "I beg forgiveness."
"I forgive you. Just ask first before you go traipsing through my memories."
She can feel that what she has said resonates with him in some way she doesn't completely understand. She can sense him falling away from her, as if disappointed in himself. So much so that he thinks he no longer deserves this--no longer deserves her.
"Spock." She kisses him again, her tongue finding his, and as she touches him, she feels his shock of desire. "Spock, come back to me and finish what you started." She can hear her own amusement ringing through the meld.
It seems to be the best approach. It occurs to her that it is what Jim would have done. She can hear the echo of that thought from Spock. Jim will always be a ghost between them. But that's all right. They both loved him; they will not mind his company.
Spock carries her to the bed and somehow manages to get them both onto it without falling or crushing her. She decides she loves Vulcan strength. She knows she loves him. She tells him so, in words and then tries to project the love through the meld. She can feel his satisfaction.
Then he deepens the meld, and she is lost in the sensation of his pleasure and her own. She can't begin to compare it to Jim anymore; it is so different...so alien. When Spock comes, he doesn't make a sound, but his pleasure screams through the meld. He keeps moving, doesn't seem to need to stop despite his climax. He begins to touch her, his fingers moving over her until she cries out. She can feel her pleasure ricochet through the meld. It is so intense she is not sure if she is coming again or just reliving what's happened.
She has the strange, disconnected thought that she is glad Jim never made love to Spock. He would never have wanted to leave his friend's bed if he'd tasted this.
To her surprise, Spock laughs. Not loudly, or long, or even very hard. But he is amused.
He is pleased that he has pleased her. He is pleased that she thinks he would have pleased Jim.
He lets go of her face, and the meld eases.
Opening her eyes, she kisses him. "I'm glad you came home early."
"As am I." They lie together quietly for a while, then he says softly. "Will you come to Vulcan with me? I will go in two weeks."
"Come with you?"
He nods. "My father thinks highly of you."
She chuckles. "Yes, he thinks highly of all the people who nearly get him killed by visiting probes."
She kisses Spock, feels a rush of pure affection at the sweet way he kisses her back. He is not Jim. But he is her friend, and now her lover. And she loves him, has loved him, even if not this way, for a long time.
And she knows Jim would approve. He would not have wanted either of them to be lonely.
Especially if they both still love him best. She grins at that thought. Jim was generous, but he also liked to be first.
"You will come then?" Spock looks worried.
She nods. "I'll come."
She cuddles in next to him, feels his arms go around her, pulling her even closer. She is unsure what to do, does not know if the sex is over or just beginning. She studied Vulcans when she had her crush on him, but information on their sexual habits was hard to find and not detailed when she did find it.
"Are you tired?" he asks.
"Do you still desire me?" He sounds tentative, almost awkward.
She feels such a rush of tenderness for him it leaves her breathless. She doesn't answer, lets her kiss tell him that she still wants him, let's her questing hand tell him that she needs to be touched again.
He moans as she grasps him--there is no doubt that he still desires her.
She smiles as she moves out of his arms, as she pushes him to his back and crawls onto him. He looks so complete as he watches her, his hands holding her, helping to move her.
"You saved me." She moves faster. "You know that? You saved me when you brought me here."
"You were so alone. How could I not try to help?" He pulls her down so he can kiss her. His tongue works at her lips, and she opens her mouth to him. When he finally lets her sit back up, he says, "You were my friend. You are my love."
His world is still such a simple place at times.
It is one of the reasons she loves him.
Amanda's garden seems to glow in the tolerable heat of night. Christine wanders through the primarily white flowers, stopping to inhale the aroma of night-blooming jasmine and lovely, huge roses.
She hears the door open and turns to see Sarek stepping out into the garden.
"You enjoy my wife's garden?"
She smiles. "Very much."
He joins her by the rose bush. "She used to plant more colorful flowers. But it was too hot during the day to enjoy them, and they faded into the darkness when the sun set." He touches the petal of one of the roses. "So she created a night garden."
"Yes. And very fragile. It takes constant care for these flowers to thrive here." He turns to look at her. "Fortunately, my wife thrives here with greater ease."
"Indeed." She has been around Spock too long. It is something he would say.
"I did not have the opportunity to express to you my deep sorrow at the loss of James Kirk. He was a man of excellent character and deep loyalty to those he loved."
She feels a familiar rush of pain when she thinks of Jim, but it is somehow muffled now. By Spock she thinks. By loving him. She looks up at his father and smiles gently. "Thank you, Sarek."
They walk a bit, and he identifies the flowers she does not recognize. When they reach the end of the garden, she sits on a bench and Sarek joins her.
"I was surprised when my son told us you would be coming."
"Not half as surprised as I was," she says, with a grin she knows is Jim-worthy. She wonders if Sarek can see a bit of Kirk in the expression.
Sarek appears to miss it. "It is not good for a man to be too alone. And my son, I fear, is often isolated."
She can see where Sarek is going with his explorations, decides to make him work for the knowledge that she suspects Amanda sent him out to gather.
He looks at her, as if surprised she does not answer, then he continues gamely on. "My son seems less isolated this time. Perhaps we have you to thank for that?"
She grins at him. "Amanda put you up to this, didn't she?"
He begins to say something, and she shoots him one of her Emergency Ops looks. A look she has perfected on Qo'noS dealing with Klingons.
He stops talking, regroups. "It is possible that Spock's mother has some understandable curiosity about the state of her son's heart."
It seems an awfully romantic way for him to say Amanda wanted to know if Spock and she were involved. But she is beginning to suspect that Vulcans are far more romantic than anyone gives them credit for.
"Yes, I can see how she might be curious." She smiles innocently at him. Amanda has given Spock and her separate rooms--with a convenient connecting door.
"Christine..." Sarek's voice is no longer that of the master diplomat of Vulcan, but only a slightly frustrated father.
She decides to put him out of his misery. "We're together."
He nods. "Good. My wife will be most pleased."
She laughs. "You, of course, could care less about Spock's happiness."
"Happiness is an emotion."
"Right. And you'd never have one of those." She looks up at the night sky awash in stars, takes a deep breath of the fragrant air. "I can see through your little ploy, Sarek. I know you care about him."
He makes a sound--not quite a sigh, more than an exhalation. "It is possible that logic deserts me when it comes to my son."
"I can believe that." She thinks it is possible logic deserts Spock too. She's never seen two men have a harder time relating than Spock and his father. It's not logic that stands in their way; it is all the emotions that rise between them almost without any effort on their part.
Len would say that they just rub each other the wrong way.
She suddenly misses Len very much. Maybe they should go to Earth and see him?
The door opens again and Spock comes out. "Christine?" he calls softly.
Sarek looks at her. "I will leave you alone. I am glad you are with my son. I have always respected you."
"I like you too, Sarek." She grins at him.
An elegant eyebrow is her answer, then he stands. "She is here, my son."
Spock comes to her, seems to be walking with almost exaggerated care. As if he is in no hurry to reach them. As if he is not dying to know what they've been talking about.
"Good night, father."
"Good night, Spock." Sarek turns to her, dips his head to her. "Good night, Christine."
"Good night," she murmurs, as Spock sits down next to her.
As soon as the door shuts behind his father, he takes her hand. She laughs at him, and he shoots her a glance she can only call annoyed, so she leans in and kisses his cheek. When she goes in for another pass, he turns so she has to kiss him on the lips. It is no hardship.
As they kiss, she hears the sound of people talking in the neighboring gardens. Evening must be the time to stroll through the flowers, enjoying the relative coolness.
Vulcan saps her strength far more than Qo'noS ever has, even though she expected to hate living on the Klingon home world. But there is a vitality and rawness to the heat and dust there, an energy that seems to be lacking in the logic-filled parlors of Spock's home world.
She can't believe she is homesick for Qo'noS.
"I am glad you came," Spock says softly.
"Was your mother grilling you about me?"
She grins. "She sicced your father on me."
"And did you fall before the great negotiator of Vulcan?"
"Good. Then he will tell her, and she will leave us alone." He is almost smiling. "Will you sleep with me tonight?"
She has slept with him every night since they became lovers. But she finds it charming that he asks. "If you want me to."
"I do." He pulls her close, and they sit quietly together. Then he says softly, "I told my mother about us. She will not have to hear it from Sarek."
She turns to look at him.
"I do not want you to think that I am ashamed of you."
She kisses him. He is so sweet sometimes. "And just how much did you tell her?"
"Admittedly, not much. That would have spoiled her fun, and been out of character for me." He gives her another almost-smile and she grins at him.
"I understand. I didn't tell Sarek much either."
"They will no doubt have much to talk about when they retire."
She laughs softly. "No doubt." She rests her lips against his cheek, kissing slowly down to his throat. He does not stop her, just tilts his head up and to the side to give her more access.
She never expected loving Spock to be this easy.
It is the best kind of surprise.
Being back on Earth feels strange after so long on Qo'noS. She is struck by how green everything is as they walk from the transporter station to Len's home. She looks over at Spock, sees him give her one of his miniscule smiles. She knows he is a little nervous, felt that in the meld when they made love in their cabin on the shuttle. This is the first time together with their friends.
She allows herself to drift, bumps up against his shoulder. "They won't mind that we're together. What is, is, right?"
He nods, and his hand glances off of hers, the touch just long enough for him to stroke her skin lightly. She would never have guessed how tactile he is, how much comfort she derives from touching and being touched by him.
Len is on the front porch of his house, Uhura and Scotty sitting by him. "Sure, just because you're coming from Qo'noS, you think you can be the last to arrive?" He lifts his drink to them. "Wish me happy birthday, at least."
"Happy birthday, Len," she says as she walks up the stairs and leans down to kiss his cheek. "You don't look a day over forty."
"Thirty, dammit. And don't try to flatter me." He pulls her closer, whispers, "You two together?"
She whispers back, "Yes. And don't tell me you planned for this to happen."
"Planned might be stretching it. Hoped for--now, that'd be true." He kisses her again, then lets her up. "So, Spock. Is having Christine on Qo'noS agreeing with you?" He winks at her.
Spock nods. "Her company is quite satisfying."
"Interesting choice of words, my friend," Len says.
She hopes she is not blushing. Sees Nyota grin and knows that she is.
Scotty seems oblivious, or else he's just taking pity on her and Spock. "Good to see you both here." He smiles. "I'll be outward bound myself in a few weeks. I'm retiring on Norpin V, finally."
Scotty has been talking about retiring for years, but Christine wasn't sure he'd ever really make the move. She can't imagine him not on a ship. She smiles at him. "Congratulations."
"Let's get you a drink so you can toast him properly," Len says, getting up and motioning for her to follow him.
His house is bright and welcoming, just what she expected. "Nice digs."
"Well, it's not a Klingon fortress." He laughs. "So how are you? You look great."
She smiles. "I'm good. You were right to send me away."
"I hated to do it, Christine. It broke my heart, in fact. But you weren't doing anyone any good, least of all yourself. And I don't mind telling you, I was a little bit scared." He looks out the front door, where Spock is sitting down next to Uhura. "For him too. I just thought..."
"You thought right. Even if it was the last thing I expected." She smiles at him. "Did you really think this would happen?"
He shrugs. "I know how much you loved Jim. And how much Spock loved him too. And once upon a time you had pretty warm feelings for our Vulcan friend." He lifts a glass. "Mint julep? I'm fresh out of bloodwine."
She laughs. "How about some Scotch?"
He smiles as he grabs a different glass. "Single malt? In honor of Jim?"
"Of course." She takes the glass, sips at it. She hasn't had Scotch in a long time, hasn't wanted to have it. "Can you make a non-alcoholic julep for Spock?"
"Sure." He grins at her. "Pretty handy having someone around who actually knows what he likes." His look becomes devilish. "And I imagine it's pretty interesting what that man likes, isn't it?"
"No power on this Earth, Len." She grins at him, holding her glass out. "Thank you."
He clinks his against hers. "Seeing you happy again is all the thanks I need." He hands her Spock's virgin julep. "Now, tell me about the state of medicine on Qo'noS. And do I still have a bad name over that little Gorkon thing?" He has the grace to look embarrassed. "Don't know what in the Sam Hill I thought I was doing."
She laughs. Decides not to tell him that Khorta calls a misdiagnosis a "McCoy." It sounds even worse when said with a Klingon accent--roughly like someone trying to clear their throat.
Following him back out to the porch, she tells him a little bit, leaving out the harsher realities. She's not sure she's ready to share that, doesn't think Spock will mind if she lets some aspects of Klingon life stay safely on Qo'noS.
She hands him the drink. "It's lemon and mint," she says. Much like the tea he's so fond of.
He tastes it, and not gingerly. He trusts her. "It is good. Thank you."
"Thank, Len. He's the bartender here." She sips at her Scotch, sees Spock looking at it. "I was feeling nostalgic."
His look is untroubled. "I understand. It is good to be back."
"Yes, it is good to be back." They share a long look, and she realizes that neither of them is calling Earth home. Home is where the other is. Home is Qo'noS.
Christine collapses into a chair in Gramton's main room, tired after spending the afternoon with Khorta cleaning up the wreckage of another feud. She looks down at the Klingon clothes Khorta has given her to replace the uniform she ruined. Good thing she picked up more when she and Spock were on Earth. Although, she has to admit the Klingon leathers and furs are more comfortable than she would have expected.
Her hair is still wet from the shower she took when they finally arrived back at the Gramton stronghold, and she finger combs it back from her face. It was a short shower--she no longer spends all night cleaning up from one of these missions.
And she no longer throws up. In fact, she's salivating smelling whatever Gramton is cooking in the courtyard. Is she turning as hard as Qo'noS? Or just adapting? Maybe it's the same thing.
"Smells good," she smiles at Gramton as he comes in with a heaping platter.
Hehnak is following him, grabbing bits of meat from the platter as his father pretends to scowl at him.
"It is Sh'iril," Gramton says. "Have you had it?"
She shakes her head.
"It's a delicacy--once you remove the venom sacs."
She frowns. "It's a snake?"
"Yes. A fierce one--its bite is deadly, and there is no antivenin. It is a most worthy opponent of a warrior such as myself." He grins at her. "Shall I tell you how I captured this one?"
Hehnak nods for her. Then he looks over at her, as if surprised to see her in native dress. "You look good," he says brusquely, then turns back to his father. "Tell us of the sh'iril."
"Have you charmed my son, Christine?" Gramton asks. "He is a bit young to take as your next ParMach'kai. Or perhaps your affections are already given?"
Khorta comes in. "You are an old gossip, Gramton." She winks at Christine. "Everyone knows her heart beats only for Kirk."
Gramton doesn't look convinced. Christine glances at Khorta, wonders if she has guessed that she and Spock are together now. They haven't announced it, see no reason to, and their behavior when they aren't behind closed doors hasn't changed much.
Khorta looks over at her and gives her a knowing smile, then she turns back to her husband. "Yes, Gramton, tell us of the sh'iril kill."
The servants begin to cut the meat and pass the plates around. There is no gagh tonight so Christine does not have to think up elaborate ruses for avoiding it. She tastes the meat, smiles in appreciation. It is good.
Gramton stands up. He pulls a spear from the wall.
"No bat'leth?" Christine asks, grinning.
"Klingons are brave, but they are not fools." He glares at her. "No more interruptions. This is an exciting tale."
"Sorry." She goes back to eating, washing the meat down with bloodwine.
"I approached the fields where the sh'iril are known to congregate during the mating season." He looks at her. "At other times, they stay far underground. In a few weeks, they will be gone again."
She nods understanding, smiling broadly. It is generous of him to fill in his story for her benefit.
"This sh'iril"--he taps at the platter with his spear--"was waiting for me." He crouches down, as if studying something a few meters from him. "She lay coiled, moving slowly, hissing." He begins to move his body in a slow circular pattern. "I knew she was ready to attack as soon as I stepped within striking distance."
Hehnak sits forward, his meat forgotten. Christine reaches out and pushes his plate back so he will not knock it over. Khorta grins at her.
"I knew that I could kill her from where I stood. But it seemed unsporting." Gramton stands suddenly, then stomps twice. "I sent her the message, through the ground. 'I am not afraid of you,' I sent to her. 'I will kill you.'"
Christine realizes she too is leaning forward. She smiles.
Gramton advances toward his son. "I moved slowly. Deliberately. She hissed and began to circle more quickly. Oh, she was angry, this ladysnake was." He grins at his wife. "She did not like my message. She did not think I would kill her after all."
He jumps at Hehnak, who leaps out of his seat, crying out with a loud war cry. "Yes, just like that, she leapt at me and just as you did, my son, I met her, my spear catching her in the throat and stopping her before she could get to me." He laughs, and Hehnak roars in triumph.
Khorta laughs too, looking over at Christine who is grinning madly.
Gramton leans down to his son. "I cut her head off and left it there as a warning to the other sh'irils. Beware the House of Gramton. We are your blood enemies."
Hehnak grins ferociously. "Beware us!"
"Yes!" Gramton gestures to the wall, where several snakes hang, stuffed. "Those were my first sh'iril kills. Now, I do not save them. Now, I have the luxury of eating them."
She smiles. "I am glad. It's delicious. Made more so by the bravery of he who killed it."
It is apparently a very good thing to say. Gramton looks suddenly very touched. "You do me honor, Christine." He looks over at the servants. "Well, what are you waiting for? There are empty plates. Eat, it is no good when it is cold." Gramton is in a mood to be generous.
Christine goes back to eating. A rush of happiness fills her.
Life is so strange.
Christine stares numbly at the screen. She cannot believe Scotty is gone.
"Christine?" Nyota is crying, tears streaming down her face.
"I'm here." The video on their connection is iffy, but the audio is clear. Clear enough to hear that their friend is dead. To hear that the Jenolen went down with all hands. Scotty is lost. Just like Jim.
She feels a rush of the old pain. No body. Why is there never any body?
She'll have to get a message to Spock. They should send condolences. Scotty had a sister. Christine realizes she isn't even sure if she's alive anymore. Or if there were other children besides Peter. Jim's voice had broken when he'd told her about his death. Years later, but it still touched him how brave Scotty's nephew had been.
She bites back a sob, isn't sure if she doesn't want to cry because it is not Vulcan, not Klingon, or just more than she can take. But she doesn't want to cry.
She wants to hit something. To yell and scream "Why?" to the universe. Why does this happen?
Maybe it is Klingon?
"I'm sorry, Ny." She's never fully understood her friend's feelings for Scotty. They appeared to be together around the time Jim and she reconciled, but it didn't last. Ny never seemed to want to discuss it. "Were you in love with him?"
Ny shakes her head. Then she nods. "It was...complicated."
Isn't every relationship? Christine smiles sadly. "I understand."
"I wasn't planning on going with him to Norpin V. So I guess it was over. For real, this time." She sobs again. "He was a good man."
"He was, Ny. He was a wonderful man. The best."
Ny tries to smile. "He was our miracle worker."
"You'll tell Spock?" Nyota asks.
"I have to go. I have to call Sulu." Nyota has the tone of one who has important tasks to do before she can fall apart. She seems about to cut the connection, then she looks back up. "I love you, Christine. We never say that, do we? Until it's too late."
"I love you too, Ny."
Her friend touches the screen. "I'm glad you and Spock are happy." She smiles, then the screen goes black.
Christine finds the contact numbers Spock left with her, leaves a message that he call her as soon as he can. But that it's not an emergency. There is nothing he can do about this.
She is just falling asleep when the comm unit goes off. She crawls out of bed, hits the switch.
"You were asleep?" Regret colors his voice.
"No. I just went to bed."
"Is something wrong?" His look is very tender, as if he can read her mood even over the screen.
She nods. "Did you hear about the Jenolen?"
"Scotty was on it."
He closes his eyes, keeps them closed a long time. It is an eloquent statement.
She feels the tears she held back before begin to fall. "I thought you should know."
"Yes. You were right to call." He reaches for the screen, as if he can touch her from whatever world he's on now. She's lost track.
She reaches back, wishes she could touch him--he's been gone a long time. "I miss you."
"I miss you too." His expression is so tender it only makes her cry harder. "I will be home soon."
She nods. "I better let you go."
"I am sorry, Christine. He was a good man."
She nods. "I love you, Spock."
"I love you too. I will see you soon."
"Okay. Good night."
"Good night." He lets her cut the connection.
She goes back to their bed, but sleep is a long time coming.
"So, when is your parMach'kai coming back?" Khorta asks with a smile.
Christine ignores her.
"You may think you are discreet, but I can see it in the way you look at him. And in the way he looks at you."
Khorta is easing matareth seeds out of their hulls, setting the delicate morsels into a dish Christine has put out for her. The old texts say the seeds are good for a sweating sickness that preys on many of the Klingon children. Christine plans to study their properties, see if she can't synthesize something similar and more potent. In the meantime, they'll use the seeds she doesn't need for research to make tinctures. It's better than nothing.
"You did not answer my question. When is Spock coming back?"
"Oh, that's who you were talking about." She grins at Khorta. "I thought you meant someone else."
"Of course you did." Khorta hands her the full dish, starts to fill another bowl with seeds. "I have to confess. The thought of love with someone so passionless leaves me cold."
Christine smiles, looks down to try to hide the expression.
Khorta laughs. "Not so passionless is he? When you get him alone?"
"I have no complaints." Christine glares at her. "And he would not want me talking about this."
"Of course not. He's a Vulcan. They aren't exactly known for composing epic love songs for their beloveds."
"Gramton's done that for you?"
"Oh yes." She starts to laugh. "They are terrible songs, and when he sings them he scares even the most hardened warrior. But he has composed them for me."
"Did Kirk compose love songs for you?"
"Jim? No." She smiles.
"But...life was kind of like a love song with him." She frowns. "Except when it was really terrible."
"Ah, yes. The passion."
"The passion." She shakes her head. "Sometimes I thought I would die from loving him so much. Other times I just thought we'd kill each other."
"And then you lost him."
Christine looks down. "Yes." She still wonders if she should have tried harder to keep him home, away from the Enterprise B. That damn ship.
"He gave his life for others. He was a true warrior."
"Yes. He was." She sighs.
"I did not mean to make you sad."
Christine stands up. "I still miss him. I know Spock does too. It's hard. There was never a body, nothing to bury." She shakes her head. First Jim, then Scotty. So hard to mourn without a body, even if it is often the fate of a Fleeter. Space is a harsh mistress, and she doesn't like to let her favorites go. "Enough of that kind of thought. I have a life to live."
"When you came here, you didn't care whether you lived or died, did you?"
"I didn't. I wasn't in the healthiest frame of mind."
"But now I think you thrive here. You and your emotionless lover." Khorta laughs again.
"We thrive. I just wish Spock were here. He's been gone a long time." It's been weeks since she commed him to tell him of Scotty's death.
"He will return to you." Khorta looks past her. "Perhaps sooner than you think?"
Christine turns around, sees Spock walking up, his bag over his shoulder. She gets up and hurries toward him, remembering almost too late to not throw herself into his arms.
He raises an eyebrow at her as she stumbles to a halt. "I see you are eager to welcome me home, Doctor Chapel."
She hears Khorta snicker. It is a rather fearsome sound.
Spock looks over at her. "Khorta, I trust you and your house prosper?"
"We do indeed, Spock." She gets up, picks up the bowls of seeds. "I think I'll take this into the clinic to finish. I'm sure you two have much to catch up on. Things that are best handled in the privacy of your own home." She grins knowingly and walks away.
"You told her," he asks.
"She figured it out all on her own."
He nods. "It is inconsequential."
"It was only a matter of time before she discovered the true nature of things." He gestures toward their house. "And I believe we have more important matters to discuss?" An eyebrow goes up, its languid rise somehow sending a message of urgency.
"Discuss? Yes. I've missed our discussions." She smiles.
"Indeed. I have had no satisfactory discussion since I left Qo'noS."
"Well, I should hope not," she says as she opens the door, feels him behind her, pushing her inside and closing the door.
"You do not wish for me to hold discussions with others?"
She tries to look stern--it is difficult when he is pulling her towards him. "Strangely enough, no."
"I believe I knew that." He kisses her, pushing her back toward their bedroom.
"I believe you did too, Spock," she says as he pushes her down, follows her.
Their kisses are sweet and gentle at first. Easy reconnections. A way to say hello and that they missed each other. And that they love each other.
But after a while the tempo switches, becomes more passionate, more frantic. He pushes her clothing up or down--whichever way gives him better access to her body. She pulls his pants down just enough to free him, so that he can move into her.
His fingers find her face; his mind sinks slowly into hers, as if relishing the feel of joining after such a lengthy absence.
"I have missed you," he says softly.
A lingering sadness from her news of Scotty colors the meld, and underneath she feels the old sadness for Jim. She knows he will feel the same thing from her.
She kisses him tenderly. "I've missed you too."
He moves deliberately, and she knows he is using the meld to determine what touches give her the most pleasure. Just as she can tell what he is feeling, how each thrust is pleasure, each retreat torturous bliss. The combination of his pleasure and her own is too much, especially when he reaches down, begins to touch her. He knows she likes that, knows what effect it will have on her. Particularly after so long apart.
She calls out. He holds her close, never stopping his motion. She gasps, trying to come down as he moves harder and faster and eventually comes. The wonderful sting of his pleasure rings through her mind; she rides the wave of sensation, the meld letting her truly share his pleasure.
Lying on top of her, he kisses her, does not move away. "I love you."
She smiles up at him. "I love you too, Spock."
He studies her. "Do you think it would have been like this if I had given in to you on the Enterprise all those years ago?"
She laughs. He has never asked her such a whimsical thing before. "No."
He considers that for a moment, then begins to kiss her throat. "Why not?"
"Because we weren't friends then. And now we are. It's why you wanted to help me, right? Because we were friends, not because you were in love with me."
"That is true." His lips are tracing a deliriously hot track up to her ear. He is moving inside her again. "But I am in love with you now."
She moans at the feeling. His hand finds her face again, and he is pushing harder on the meld points. She feels his mind questing, going deeper, deeper. Then deeper still.
"Do not be afraid," he says, as he continues to work his way into her mind.
The sense of connection is intense. Her body is tingling the deeper his mind goes. He is moving with more purpose, thrusting hard against her, bringing wave upon wave of pleasure.
When she comes, she is very loud, and he muffles her cries with his lips, but then he has to let up, because he too is calling out. She almost laughs at the sound. He is normally so quiet in his pleasure--even if the feel of it in the meld is anything but subdued. He eases the meld slightly, and she feels faint.
"It is a temporary sensation," he says to her. "It will pass."
She strokes his face, wonders if she will have the strength to get out of the bed. She senses him wondering why she would want to leave the downy softness. Why she would want to leave him now that they are finally together again.
And he's right, she can't think of a single reason.
Christine wanders through the fields, searching with Hehnak for the M'alehk herb that Khorta uses to stop fevers. None of Christine's Federation meds are helping those who are suffering from the L'iktil fever that followed Gramton home from the Kilira outpost, and Khorta's stock of M'alekh is almost out.
Christine's also hoping to find some of the rare Ladula herb that Khorta says will stop bleeding. She hopes to synthesize it, make something better than the Federation meds, which seem about as useful as an old-fashioned styptic pencil for stopping the bleeding of the Klingon wounded. She's sure she could do more for those who aren't so eager to get to Sto-Vo-Kor than what her current stock of remedies is allowing.
At times the Klingon Empire does seem to be cracking apart through these damn blood feuds. But it's one person at a time, and she's sick of only being able to offer them her Daqtagh.
She thinks of Matthew, probably rolling in his grave at how comfortable she's grown on Qo'noS. She wonders if Valeris is still struggling to survive on Rura Penthe. Maybe Christine is atoning for all of them?
She realizes Hehnak is watching her and shoots him a glance. "What?"
He grins. "I was thinking about you eating gagh at my father's birthday feast."
Gramton finally cornered her at the gagh table before she could escape. He took extreme delight in loading her plate full. She fights down nausea at the thought of having eaten it. "You're a cruel boy."
He laughs. "If you could have seen your face."
Gagging on gagh. It doesn't translate well, but she tries to share the idea with him. He grins. Maybe some ideas don't need translation.
"Do Klingons like it when they're kids? Or do you have to learn to like it?" She smiles. Like artichoke hearts and pickled herring and--
A sudden hiss stops her cold. She turns. "Hehnak, don't move."
A snake is between them.
He doesn't move, as he says, "It is a sh'iril."
She remembers Gramton saying they would all be back underground. But this snake seems very active. And it has its eye on the boy, is moving in the rapid circling motion Gramton said is the preface to attack.
Vibrations. She can divert it through the ground. "Don't move," she says again, then she stomps as hard as she can.
The serpent twists and leaps out at this new threat. Christine jumps back, but the snake is faster. It catches her in the leg, its fangs sinking quickly through her uniform, then into her skin, before it jerks back, and slithers away quickly.
She stares down at her leg, feels it begin to throb.
It's okay. She mustn't panic. So Gramton said there was no antivenin--maybe that was just exaggeration? She looks at Hehnak. "Is there really no antivenin?"
"Father spoke truth. There is none."
"Well, we still need to get back to the clinic." She feels panic starting, her heart is racing. She knows she must fight the fear, or the poison will only spread faster.
"It is not fast acting. We will walk carefully. We will get home." Hehnak sounds very adult as he tries to support her, his small frame pressed against her as he urges her back toward the clinic. "You must stay calm."
"Easy for you to say, kid." She smiles at him, tries to show him she is all right.
She is not all right.
She is dying.
She has a sudden flash. A shuttle, ages ago, lifetimes ago. She and Jim. Dying. Together.
Soon they'll be dead together. She stumbles, forces herself to pay attention.
Hehnak looks up at her. "I should have sensed the sh'iril."
"It wasn't your fault."
"I am a warrior."
"You're a child too."
Hehnak frowns. "You should have let the snake strike at me. I am faster than you; it would not have bitten me."
"Says you." She laughs suddenly--she is dying, and all she and this boy can do is argue over which of them should have taken on the snake. It is so....Klingon.
Hehnak slowly smiles. As if he knows what she is thinking. "I owe you my life."
She shakes her head.
"I will not forget."
She looks down on the boy. He is so earnest. So innocent in his honor and his desire to be what she once hated--a Klingon warrior. "Just look after Spock. He's going to be alone now."
The boy nods. A human would have tried to buck up her spirits. Would have lied and told her she isn't dying. But this is no human.
She is glad for it.
Fate has always had an odd sense of humor. Now it seems to be laughing uproariously at her.
She will die...so that a Klingon child will grow up to be a warrior.
Khorta is sitting outside the clinic, sharpening her Daqtagh. She sees them and cries out in alarm, hurrying over to help. "What happened?"
"A sh'iril. She distracted it. I should have been the one it went after," Hehnak says as he pulls away from Christine. "I will go get Spock."
Khorta nods. "Yes. Hurry."
"He said the poison was slow acting," Christine says.
"It is. But you will want as much time with your parMach'kai as you can have."
Christine nods. Khorta is not wrong. Spock will have nothing left but his causes once she is gone.
"He's going to be alone," she says as Khorta eases her down onto one of the beds in the clinic. "Will you look after him?"
Khorta's eyes narrow, and Christine wonders if she has asked something difficult.
Hehnak runs in. "Spock is in the far provinces with father. But they are on their way."
Christine nods. She can imagine Spock will be terribly worried--almost frantic. He will hide it though. Or at least he will try to--but Klingon eyes miss so little. Gramton will know.
Hehnak looks at her solemnly, a strange expression in his eyes. "I must go."
She wonders if this is the Klingon way. Children do not witness death? But that seems off.
She realizes he is waiting for her permission. "Of course. Go."
He runs off.
She feels hurt, tries to push the feeling away.
It is not hard. Other pain is starting. Her leg was barely throbbing a moment ago, now it is on fire. "Hypo," she says, pointing to the cabinet. "The one with the orange ring."
Khorta brings it, and Christine holds it to her neck. The fire recedes a bit. She doesn't put much in, wants to stay awake and lucid for Spock.
He will need that from her.
Khorta pulls a chair over, then she pulls out her Daqtagh .
Christine laughs. "Please tell me you're not going to put me out of my misery."
Khorta laughs too. "No." She takes a deep breath, lets it out. "I can look after Spock for you. But only to a certain extent as his friend. You do realize that?"
Christine nods. They are outworlders. She cannot expect too much.
Khorta smiles. "But as a member of my House..." She holds her left hand out, palm up, and draws the Daqtagh lightly over it. Rose-colored blood beads up.
She reaches for Christine's hand, turns it over.
"No. The poison is in me."
Khorta ignores her, slicing the blade across Christine's hand. It is so sharp that Christine does not feel it cut until her own blood wells up. Then Khorta's hand is pressing against hers, their blood mingling.
"And now, it is in me. And not enough to hurt me, so rest easy." Khorta smiles as she pulls her hand away. "I welcome you into the House of Gramton."
Christine finds herself smiling also. It is too funny--she will die a Klingon.
"Your parMach'kai is one of us now also. It is our way."
"You realize that you just welcomed James T. Kirk to your family too then?"
Khorta's smile grows. "That's right. It is fitting."
Christine can't help it. She laughs.
She is sorry immediately. The movement causes great pain.
There is a rustle at the door. Hehnak holds up the lifeless sh'iril. "I have avenged you."
Christine feels a chill. He could have been killed.
"It was my blood enemy because it hurt you. I have destroyed it."
Khorta laughs loudly. "My mighty son. You have done a good thing. You have avenged a member of our house." She holds up her palm, and he smiles in understanding.
"I am pleased." He looks at Christine. "This is my first kill by myself. I am truly a warrior now."
He killed for her. She feels unaccountably touched despite her worry. "I am honored by your actions." It seems a better thing to say than thank you or you shouldn't have.
He studies the snake, then puts it gently into a container.
Christine looks at Khorta. "He's going to keep it?"
"Of course. It will be a trophy of his first kill as a warrior."
"You realize it's still poisonous?"
Khorta frowns. "Well, of course."
Christine sighs. "Forget I said anything. Just hang it high so he doesn't run into it until he's older."
"If you wish it." Khorta smiles tolerantly.
Christine can tell this is a great concession.
Hehnak moves to the doorway, looks up at the sky. "Father's shuttle is coming." He runs out.
Touching Christine's shoulder, Khorta whispers, "I will miss you, my friend."
Christine grasps her hand. "I have learned so much from you." It suddenly seems important to say this. She wonders if Khorta has any idea how much it means.
Khorta nods slowly. "May your journey to Sto-Vo-Kor be full of adventure."
Christine shakes her head. "This is hardly a warrior's death."
Khorta smiles. "On the contrary. You saved my son. I am sure the warriors will let you in." She seems to consider it. "But if it will make you feel better, I will go kill someone in your name. I could start a blood feud with the House of Lukar. I believe they cheated us on our last bloodwine shipment."
Christine laughs. "That's okay. I need to find Jim, remember? I doubt he's in your afterworld."
"I doubt it too." Khorta smiles. "Although if he is, he's probably having a very interesting time."
Spock comes in, Hehnak and Gramton behind him. The Klingons stop at the door, watching Spock, who is hurrying to her. Christine cannot remember the last time she saw him walk that fast.
Khorta gets up and moves away as Spock sinks into the chair she has vacated. Leaning down, she says, "You have time, Spock."
He seems to notice the blood on her hand, then on Christine's. He frowns slightly.
"We've got new relatives, Spock." Christine looks over at Gramton. Sees him grin, but it is a grin touched with tragedy.
Spock nods, understanding what has happened. He is wise that way. "We are honored." His voice is raw.
Christine swallows. How can she leave him alone?
Khorta withdraws, taking Hehnak and Gramton with her.
"I'm sorry," Christine whispers.
He shakes his head. "Hehnak told me what happened."
"I wanted to save him. It was stupid. He probably wouldn't have been bit."
"You do not know that." He is trying to make her feel better, but his eyes seem to hold all the sorrow of the universe.
She begins to cry; he is so dear to her.
"Shhh," he says, as if he can somehow ease her pain. He always seems to be offering her comfort.
"I don't want to leave you alone," she says, her voice breaking on the last word.
"I fear you will have no choice." He brushes the hair from her face gently, does not seem to mind how sweaty she is.
The poison is making her sweat, and she can feel her leg swelling and her lungs filling with fluid. There is not much time left.
"Promise me you won't get too isolated." Clutching at him, she is suddenly afraid of the future she sees for him. Alone is not good for anyone, but especially not for Spock.
He looks down. He will not make false promises. Not even to appease his dying lover.
She smiles sadly. "Promise me then that you'll follow your passions, even if they're for causes not people anymore."
He looks back at her.
She tries again. "You speak often of unification."
He nods slowly.
"Make it happen then." She groans, tries to stifle the sound but cannot. "If anyone can, Spock, it's you. You have so many years ahead of you."
It is the only comforting thing. The idea that this moment would have come anyway. He is doomed to outlive her. To end up alone.
"Find love, Spock."
He leans down, lays his lips on her cheek. "I have found it. With you."
She turns so their lips meet. It is a sweet kiss. "And with Jim."
He nods. "My friend." He kisses her again. "I love you, Christine."
"I love you." She is crying now. She cannot leave him.
Very soon, she will not have a choice.
"Jim will come for you," he says softly.
"You think so?"
He nods. She wonders if he believes that or is just trying to give her hope. But his face is solemn. He does not appear to be humoring her. He believes Jim will come.
And why shouldn't he? When hasn't Jim come for him?
"You will be together again." He kisses her again.
She sees his pain. Sees envy too. She will be with Jim; he will not.
"Come with me. Just a little ways." She lifts his fingers to the meld point.
He does not hesitate, is in her mind quickly--they have shared so many melds. She is glad he is with her, is even gladder when he pushes her pain away, muffling it with his own strength.
She sends him all her love. He sends her his own back. And buried inside them both is all the love they both have for Jim, and the burning, intense need to see him again.
She feels disconnected, but Spock is there with her, keeping her grounded for these last few moments.
A light appears; it is so bright.
"Don't stay too long," she says to Spock, afraid he will try to follow her.
"I will not."
Someone steps out of the light, and she moans in anticipation. But as he gets closer, confusion fills her.
It is David. David has come for her.
"No. Where is he? Spock, where is Jim?"
She can feel his dismay. For her. For himself. Before he can answer, he is gone, sent hurtling out of her mind by some force she can't see. And there is nothing but the light and David smiling down at her.
He holds out his hand. "You were expecting dear old dad?"
She takes his hand and stands up, feels no strain, no pain as she moves. "Yes. I was."
He points behind her, and she lets go of him as she turns to look, hoping to see Jim. But it is just her body, still lying on the bed. And Spock bent over her, his fingers free of the meld points. He is stroking her face, murmuring something.
"He loves you."
"I love him."
"Where is Jim?" she asks. Her tone is not nice; she is angry. She has just died, and her first emotions are disappointment and anger. She's pretty sure this isn't how it's supposed to work.
He laughs. "I would not want to be my father right about now." He holds out his hand again, waits for her to take it before leading her into the light. "Come on. I have a lot to show you."
Death is a lot more like life than Christine expects it to be. She can feel David's hand on hers, can feel warmth and energy from the light they are passing through, can hear him as he is explaining something to her, something she has tuned out as she looks back toward Spock.
"You can't help him now. And pretty soon you won't feel the need to. It's what lets us move on, get to work."
The light closes in behind her, cutting Spock off from her view. "Goodbye," she whispers.
David is watching her with a tender expression that she never saw on his face in life. She realizes that he is different, the sharpness, the impatience with everyone and everything who couldn't keep up with him, seems to be gone.
"Where is Jim?"
"Well, that's actually the relevant question. You see, he cheated death again."
She frowns, and he laughs.
"Let's go," he says, and his form seems to dematerialize as if he's being beamed somewhere.
"Go where?" she asks, trying to figure out how he left. Then she feels an energy brush her, and David's hand reappears on hers, tugging her after him. She feels her body becoming less solid and fights the feeling.
"It's all right. I do it all the time. Just relax." David's voice is amused.
She stops fighting him, and the world dissolves. There is nothing, and she is nothing, but she has the sense of motion, and she can tell that David, who is also nothing, is still next to her.
It is very confusing.
They rematerialize in the mountains in what looks like southern California. There is a cabin, hidden away in the pines. And a man is chopping wood.
It is Jim.
"Et voila," David says, walking close to him. "He doesn't know we're here." He smiles, a hint of his wicked, mercurial smile in the expression. "Or rather, he can't see us."
She rushes to Jim, tries to touch him but her hand goes right through him. But Jim stops what he is doing, and he looks around, his eyes going wide then narrowing, as if he's trying to remember something important.
"Jim," she whispers, getting as close to him as she can without having to re-experience the disconcerting feeling of falling through him.
He stops, his expression clears and he grins, the old grin that he used to give her, but then another voice calls out, "Jim?" and he turns, his expression goes cloudy for a moment, as if he's trying to hold on to the happiness, then he becomes calm again.
Antonia is walking out of the house.
"This can't be right," Christine says, watching as Antonia walks up to Jim, strokes his cheek.
"Right and wrong mean nothing here, Christine." David takes her hand again. "Let's get a little perspective on this."
She resists his tug. "Just tell me why she's here."
"She's not here." He makes a face, the old impatience resurfacing, and it makes Christine feel better that this part of him, at least, hasn't changed as much as she thought. "Come on."
She lets him pull her, out and out and out and suddenly they are in space and she is watching a bright ribbon of something as it moves, twisting forward as if by a group of children playing "snap the whip" or as if it was a sh'iril. "What is it?" she asks, mesmerized by the beauty of the thing, the alienness of it.
"It will be called the Nexus. But that's not how it thinks of itself." David moves them closer.
She can feel the energy flowing off the thing as it travels through space. Huge amounts are being expended. So huge it feels wrong. "It's hard for it to move, isn't it?"
David nods. "For all its elegant twists and advances, movement is not its natural state. It was once part of a larger entity, something so alien we would have had no words for it. A storm pulled it apart, out of its own dimension and into our own. It's been trying to find its way back home ever since--to rejoin the rest of itself. But it can't, of course. So it traverses this path, over and over, revisiting the same spots in our galaxy every seventy-eight years."
"Jim got caught up in it?"
David nods. "The ribbon that was in the reports. That was this. Only they don't understand it. Won't for some time."
She frowns at him. "How do you know all this?"
He laughs. "I've been dead a lot longer than you have, and I haven't just been sitting around playing some harp. Besides, I was curious about where my father went when he didn't show up dead. And I found him. In Isirria Latall. That's the closest I can come to making the sounds that the Nexus uses to refer to itself."
"You said movement wasn't natural for it?"
He nods. "If it were still in its home dimension, it would be joined with the larger self. It would not move, just bask in the serenity that was its existence. There was no effort, no pain, no loneliness, no anger, no passion. Just contentment. Serenity. Perfect tranquilly."
"I agree. But then we're used to scrapping and fighting. There are some humans who seek serenity. The prefect stillness within. And Vulcans come close."
She shakes her head. "Vulcans do not come close." This she knows about. "There are untold depths of hidden passion under that serene front."
"Okay, I'll give you that. But my point is that not all beings would view passion as the paramount ingredient for a meaningful existence."
Christine moves along the Nexus, feeling the energy shift as she goes. "Why does the energy change?"
"See for yourself."
She peeks in, sees a young woman, cradling a baby. She is leaning back in a rocking chair, holding a bottle and crooning as the baby falls to sleep. It is a scene of perfect peace and love. Christine backs out of it, moves further along the entity, dipping in when the energy changes again. A man sits on some cliffs overlooking a great orange sea. He is drawing the scene, humming softly to himself, his alien voice making clicks and whirrs that go with the humming sound.
She pulls out, turns to David. "Is it all like this?"
He shrugs. "Keep going."
She does, and he follows her, as she samples each different energy. Different but all the same. Tranquil, peaceful. Stultifyingly boring for someone like Jim.
They end up back with him. He is chopping wood again. A simple routine, repeated endlessly. Reach back for the log, lay it on the block, the axe is raised high, he lets it fall. Thwack. The log splits. If it is still too big, he chops it again. If not, he puts it in a pile to the side and grabs another log from the pile of unchopped wood.
He doesn't seem to notice that the pile of chopped wood never grows too much, that the pile of wood yet to chop stays about the same. No matter how long he works.
She huffs in frustration. "Why? This is meaningless."
"To you. To me. Probably even to him if he could actually tell what is going on. But not to the Nexus." David moves her away from Jim a bit. "Don't feel with your human senses, feel with something else. Find the energy and follow it."
She frowns at him, but turns back to Jim. As he chops, she tries to sink into the air around him, feels her body begin to dematerialize a bit, and hears David murmur, "Yes, good."
She is drifting, and as Jim chops, energy flows out of him, out of the action, out of his serenity. Energy that is siphoned off and pulled away. She follows it.
It is powering the Nexus. She feels other streams of energy coming in and realizes that everyone trapped in the entity is providing power to it.
Power so it can move.
She returns to the pines, to Jim, to David. "It can't move without them."
"That's right." David smiles, and this time the expression is totally mischievous. "And it needs them calm to get energy it can use. Let's have some fun, okay?"
"Don't hurt him," she says, suddenly worried.
"I'm not going to hurt him." David leans in close to Jim, close enough to say in his ear. "Chris."
Jim's head turns slightly.
David moves to the other ear. "Chris."
Jim nearly misses the log as he chops down.
"Chris," David says louder.
Jim puts down the axe, looks around. "Chris?" He suddenly smiles, and it holds true exuberant joy, and very little serenity. "Chris?" he yells to the pines, as if she is wandering in the woods and his voice will bring her to him.
Horses whinny, and Christine turns, sees that part of the scene has shifted to Idaho. She looks back at Jim, they are still in the mountains. She looks the other direction, and she sees the plains and the grove of trees where they made love and where Caya and Kaiser are still tied up.
"Chris!" Jim is running now, running away from the mountains and onto the plains and the air around them is rumbling.
"Feel the energy now," David says.
It is jagged, spiking crazily as Jim runs faster, yelling for her.
"Follow it, see what happens," David says, almost pushing her after it.
It goes the same place as the other energy, but the Nexus cannot seem to use it. Instead of being sucked into the entity, this new, wilder energy is only spinning around. She can feel the Nexus itself rising up somehow. A great feeling of pressure snaps down, and the energy stops spiking. The pressure turns into a fog that rides the energy trail back to Jim.
She follows it. Sees him stop running.
"Chris," he says brokenly, then his expression clears even as Idaho, and the golden plains, and their horses wink away.
"Jim?" Antonia walks out. She strokes his cheeks and he smiles, but the smile is a bit sad, as if he knows he has just lost something precious.
Then it clears. He smiles at her, a serene smile, no
exuberant joy in this expression.
"There's a lot of wood to chop."
She smiles. "Yes. And later on, we can make a fire and sit by it."
Jim nods. Turns away from her and starts to chop again.
Christine starts to laugh, even though she feels as if part of whatever is left of her heart is breaking. "Antonia is here because she bores him?"
"That's pretty much the size of it." David grins at her. "Feel better now?"
She smiles, feels bad about it but can't stop herself. "I do."
"I figured you might." David sinks down to the ground, stretching out as he watches his father chop wood. "So now you see the problem. He's stuck here. He won't age; he won't die. And he can't get out."
"Well, eventually someone is going to come for him. But he won't be able to get him out." David grins again, this time the expression is pure trouble. "Not unless we prep him first. Doctor Chapel, we have our work cut out for us."
She sits down by him, watching Jim. Even if he doesn't know she is here, it's still a treat to see him. "And you have a plan, I take it?"
He looks over at her and chucks her nose gently. "This time, you're going to be the protomatter."
She has no idea what he's talking about, but doesn't care. He's smarter than she is, about this place that seems to be death, and about physics. If he thinks they can free Jim, then she's in.
She'll do anything to get him back.
She is drifting, watching Spock handle her burial preparations. He is not taking her back to Earth, and she is glad for it. He's burying her where Gramton's House has buried all their dead for centuries. The Klingons and Vulcans have similar views on the meaninglessness of a corpse once the spirit has left, but she knows Spock takes care with hers to show that he honors her.
She wishes she could touch him, make him realize she is there, and that she is not gone. He is so closed off now. She worries about him. But she can only worry about him for short periods. As soon as she stops watching him, she forgets about him.
David says that is normal. He says the only reason they don't forget about Jim is because he is not where he is supposed to be, and they have a job to do. They must free him and until they do, they will never be able to forget him. She is willing to believe David, because she knows that Jim is never far from her thoughts, even when she's nowhere near the Nexus.
The afterlife is big and confusing, and pretty much anything she wants it to be. She's looked for people she loved, found them and yet didn't. Some have gone on to new lives, some stay put, but whichever they chose, there is always a part of them that remains in wherever this is--Heaven, Nirvana, Valhalla, maybe Sto-Vo-Kor. She smiles, still enjoys moving her face to express emotion. And some--like Scotty and Jim--never made it. She is not worried for Scotty, sees at least a resumption of his life eventually. But Jim? Jim is trapped. In a hell that is filled with perfect contentment.
There are other kinds of hells. She found Matthew, but he couldn't see her, is still obsessed, and his existence now is filled with Klingons who attack those around him while he is powerless to stop them. David told her it would stay that way until he lets go of his hatred. Until he gets bored or tired of it and sees his hell for what it is, just his own feelings getting in the way of his moving on.
Maybe that's what hell always is--obsessions and passions a person just can't let go of? She thinks of the guilt she carried so long over Genesis and over keeping David from Jim. But David doesn't seem to care, and the universe recovered from whatever Genesis did. She was the one who had trouble letting it go. Although she thinks on Qo'noS, she finally gave it up, finally quit obsessing over her own guilt.
Of course her passion for Jim and this need to "rescue" him might also be a form of hell. But she can't imagine David sharing it, so she makes herself stop thinking like that.
She feels David calling her. He's back in the Nexus, is waiting for her to come back too. She moves there with barely a thought.
Jim is still chopping wood.
"Is this all he does?" She knows the answer to that. It is nearly all he does. And it is up to them to broaden his repertoire, and to make these activities that bore her to tears feel wrong to him.
She moves close to him. "Jim," she says, stroking his hair. She's become better at not sinking into him, at riding the energy field that surrounds his body.
As she touches him, he shivers.
"I'm hungry, Jim. I'm so hungry."
David nods in satisfaction, as Jim finally puts down the axe. They've been working on this for a while, and Jim has never put down the axe. Finally, he is moving toward the house.
Antonia steps out onto the stairwell, but he does not appear to see her.
"I'll make you eggs," he says.
"Yes," Christine murmurs, trying to keep him from getting excited enough that the Nexus will notice. "Ktarian eggs."
He smiles. Ktarian eggs appear on the counter. He cracks them. Adds dill, the way he taught her to like them.
Antonia moves into the kitchen, this time he sees her.
He looks down at the eggs, frowns. "You don't like these."
She doesn't move, just stares at him, as if this is not scripted and there is nothing for her to do.
"Who liked these?" Jim asks softly, staring down at the frying pan.
Christine can feel him getting agitated.
The Nexus moves in, Antonia right behind it. Her hand is on his cheek even as the entity's presence is pushing his emotions back down into something manageable.
A moment later, he is chopping wood again.
Christine looks at David. "That didn't last long."
"It's progress though. We just have to keep at it."
They let him work, let the Nexus return to normal. The entity does not seem aware of them. Or if it is, it cannot touch them.
But Antonia seems to hover. So maybe the Nexus is more aware of what is happening then they think.
Antonia sits on a large rock, watching Jim chop wood.
Christine sits down next to her. "I gotta tell you, toots, this is not very flattering to you."
The woman stares at Jim, a dreamy smile on her face. Christine remembers the woman who stared up at her so angrily, who left her girth loose, who may have fought for Jim once they got back to their cabin and she realized he was really going to leave her.
"In fact, I don't actually think you were this boring in real life. So I guess this is how he remembers you." She pats the woman's hand. There is nothing but energy there and Christine has no problem connecting with it. Antonia is not human, is only a projection. "Tough break, kid."
Antonia stares serenely ahead.
David looks up from where he has been studying the grass. "Try something new, Christine. Something that will get a rise out of him."
She gets up, walks back to Jim's side, not paying attention to the axe, which goes though her head harmlessly on his back swing, or his elbow as it comes up and melts into her instead of pushing her away.
She thinks for a bit, then leans in. "Jim, when is the wedding?"
He doesn't miss a beat.
"Our wedding, Jim. We never got married."
He falters a bit in the next downstroke.
"We were going to get married, Jim. Right after the launch, remember? A small wedding with just our friends. Don't you remember what we planned?"
He looks at Antonia. "We never got married."
Christine sighs. "No, dumb ass. _We_ never got married." She regrets her language at once--even as David breaks up laughing--but Jim seems to respond to it. Apparently, it's not something Antonia would have said.
He's dropped the axe, looking around again as if missing something. "We were going to be married," he says softly. "Who was I going to marry?"
"Jim?" Antonia is moving closer, reaching up to stroke his cheek.
David makes an impatient sound. "We really have to get rid of her. She's a definite downer." He stands up. "Keep going. I think you're on to something."
"Where will you be?"
He shrugs. "I have a mad scientist to visit. He may need some encouragement building a certain weapon." He shoots her a look. "I'm good at building weapons, remember?" Then he grins. "Besides, it's fated. If I wasn't supposed to reach him, I wouldn't be able to. God knows I can't reach mother, and I couldn't reach you when you were wallowing in grief for my father." He shrugs again. "Oh, well. Bye." And he is gone.
She sighs. Leans back to Jim's ear and whispers, "I'd like some eggs, Jim. Ktarian eggs."
He smiles. "They're your favorite." He looks up at Antonia. "No, they're not."
Antonia gets up, runs through the cheek stroking routine again and he goes back to chopping wood. Christine yawns. She is so bored.
This saving Jim business is tedious work.
They're making progress. Antonia doesn't come out to the chopping block anymore. David thinks that Jim is keeping her away, that it is getting too confusing for him to hear Christine's words and see Antonia's face.
Antonia is still inside though, when they go in to make eggs. Or when Christine reminds him of the day he came bounding into their room, breakfast tray in hand and asked her to marry him again. He was on leave, and it was the last leave before he stood down. And he kissed her as he set the tray down, and as she ate Ktarian eggs, he told her that he wanted to marry her after the mission was over, once they settled down somewhere.
It was one of the happiest days of her life. Now it's the happiest day of Antonia's life. Even if she is the picture of composure as she accepts. Christine is trying to change that.
Jim is bounding up the stairs. Christine waits for him at the top. As he tries to open the door, she whispers, "I love you, Jim." Leaning in, she kisses him on the lips.
He touches his mouth, the movement almost involuntary.
"I love you and I would love to be your wife, Jim." It was what she said back then.
He stares at the rustic wooden door, frowns as he looks back on the wooden staircase.
Their apartment in San Francisco was modern, not rustic. There were no stairs. The door was dark, stained a dark espresso not this light rough-hewn pine.
His frown grows deeper. "Not here."
"That's right. Not here. It didn't happen here. You never asked her, Jim. Chris, you asked Chris."
"Chris," he murmurs.
She can hear Antonia on the other side of the door, the knobs turns, and he whirls, looks at it. "Not here," he murmurs.
The doorknob continues to turn, but Antonia can't get out. He won't let her out.
Dissonance, Christine realizes. This is cognitive dissonance at its most basic. She wasn't all that hot for psychology, but she suddenly wishes she paid more attention in class.
"Chris was going to be your wife." She moves closer to him. "I was going to be your wife. Remember?" She kisses him again, trying to ride the energy field, somehow give him something of herself.
He sits down on the stairs, closes his eyes. "Chris?" He is clenching his hands and she can feel the Nexus reacting. The reaction has an emotion now. And it is growing.
The Nexus is learning to feel annoyance. She wonders what will happen if it learns to feel rage.
What she is doing is not without potential cost. She knows that. But David assures her it is what they are supposed to be doing. And he is right when he says that they cannot usually interfere. She has not been able to help Spock, or bring any comfort to her other friends who feel as if they are being abandoned one by one. Len and Ny didn't even know she was there when she tried to console them.
If she can reach Jim, it is because she is supposed to. She has to believe that.
She crouches behind him, enfolds him in her arms, putting all the love she feels for him in the hug. "Let's go riding, Jim."
He looks up.
"I want to ride Caya."
He laughs. "I want to ride Kaiser."
The Nexus allows the scene change this time. Horseback riding doesn't bring a rise. Not yet anyway.
He rides Kaiser in a controlled canter, his every movement graceful--and serene.
Antonia rides up on her bay. He smiles at her.
Christine can keep up with them, even if there is no Caya for her to ride. She suddenly would give anything for that bitchy mare. She'd love to let her bite Antonia's horse.
She moves closer to Jim, ignoring Antonia. Seeing that he is headed toward their grove of trees, she says, "Oh, no you don't."
Not that she's really worried he'll make love to Antonia there. She's never seen him make love to her the whole time she's been working on him.
Sex, for someone like Jim, is never a serene activity. Although a part of her wishes he could make love to Antonia and not feel much. It would make her feel better in a petty way. But she knows that Jim Kirk isn't like that. He makes love with his whole self. And the Nexus can't support that. No matter who his partner is.
She lets herself rest on his horse, riding pillion behind him as if he is a knight of long ago. "The ravine," she whispers over and over as he rides. "Jump the ravine, and I'll come for you."
He doesn't seem to hear her, then suddenly he is wheeling Kaiser and heading back the way they came.
"Jim?" Antonia keeps up with him until the ravine comes in sight, and then she falls back.
"Yes, love. How many times has Antonia jumped this damn thing, huh?" She laughs as he charges Kaiser at it, feels a thrill as she rides the energy-horse over the ravine.
Jim is laughing too. "Chris,'" he says softly, so softly she is not sure he is aware he called her name.
"It's wrong, Jim. The ravine is wrong. Jumping it feels wrong. No danger. There is no danger. Remember the danger? Remember when I jumped the ravine on Caya? Remember how you couldn't make her jump for you?"
"Damn horse," he mutters, his gaze fixed on the ravine.
"Yes. Where is she, Jim? Where is Caya? Where is Chris?"
"Chris," he says again. Then he looks down, laughs softly. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."
She laughs. "You think I won't," she says back to him, sees him tense.
He looks up at the hill. Antonia is silhouetted on it, the sun making her look like some tragic ghost.
"You won't stay with her," Christine says. "You'll come back to me, Jim. Remember the ravine. Remember me."
He suddenly yells, loud and long as if he has gone crazy, then he claps his heels against Kaiser, not giving him room to get up speed to clear the ravine. He clears it anyway--a normal horse wouldn't have made it.
Jim rides him to the edge, looks down. "Something's wrong," he says.
She can feel the Nexus coming for him. Antonia tries to ride down the hill but she only gets halfway before she winks out, reappearing back up on the top, silhouetted again.
Jim looks up at her, looks back at the ravine. His look is troubled. Then he winks out too.
"We're definitely making progress," Christine says, as she follows him back to the woodpile.
"Okay, that's it." David appears beside her, pulling her away from Jim.
"Are you sure? I've got a good riff going on us not having kids." She's beyond bored at this stage, but she's not certain she's ready to give it all up.
"I'm sure. It's time to let fate do its work." He points to the woods, where a bald man wearing what she thinks is a Starfleet captain's uniform is standing.
"How long have we been at this?" she asks.
"You don't want to know. Besides, time is meaningless." He grins at her.
"They should not allow brilliant physicists access to infinite knowledge." But she grins at him. She's glad he's been spending eternity with her.
He doesn't like to talk about it, but she knows he loves Jim. His devotion to the cause--and to the insane Doctor Soran's weapon--is evidence of that.
She frowns. "Isn't it inherently wrong to help someone develop a weapon?"
"I only whispered inspiration in his ear."
He laughs. "Not if it is never used."
She picks out the most likely timeline and follows it the way he's been showing her. From where she's standing, it looks like the weapon will be used.
David smiles. "What if my father gets out? See what that does to the timeline."
She follows a new timeline that has suddenly sprung up as the most likely and gasps as she sees what happens.
David isn't smiling anymore. "You'll be together."
"David. Does it have to be like this? Dying alone?"
"He won't be alone. I promise."
Suddenly he disappears.
"David?" She calls for him but he is gone.
She watches Jim, as he listens to this other captain's--Picard's--outrageous story. He goes into the kitchen. The eggs are already cooking--regular eggs, the kind Antonia likes. She thinks the Nexus is taking no chances.
Jim takes them off the stove. He grabs the Ktarian eggs, starts telling Picard about them. The facts are all wrong, and Jim looks as if he is not bothered by the inaccuracies. But when he gets the breakfast tray together, when he goes bounding into his and Antonia's bedroom to ask her to marry him, he never makes it there.
She laughs. They are in Idaho. In Harry's barn. It is the day she came for him, she knows it even though he thinks it is two years earlier, when he was so mad at her and met Antonia.
He rides out, and Picard rides after him and she passes Picard, catching up with Jim as he jumps the ravine.
"Something's wrong," she says.
And he tells Picard the same thing. Something is wrong. Something is wrong.
They've won. She and David have won. She sees Jim look up at the silhouette.
"I'm sorry," she says, not to the figment that sits on the imaginary horse but to the real woman, long dead now, who never really had a chance with him.
If Antonia couldn't hold him here, in paradise, when could she? Christine may be hell, but she is Jim's hell, and he'll take her over any perfect heaven.
And then he's free. She feels the energy in the Nexus jolt, as one of its old and trusty fuel cells follows the newest one out. She feels the entity's bemusement, wonder. No one leaves the Nexus willingly. Only those who are ripped away, like Soran, ever leave.
She can feel Soran. He's happy, his energy settling in where it once flowed. He is so supremely happy.
His happiness will be short lived. Picard has found a way back that puts him on Veridian III before the weapon fired, just as David's timeline predicted.
Jim and Picard stop Soran, they stop the weapon.
But no one stops Jim from tumbling off the cliff as the catwalk collapses beneath him. No one is there as he hits the ground, blood filling his mouth.
No one but her. "Jim," she says, trying to touch him.
He can't see her.
Picard races down. He is there, there so Jim won't die alone.
"It was fun," Jim says, with his old grin. The grin she has worked so hard to have him use again. The grin that says, to hell with it all, let's just do it.
The Nexus has lost. Jim Kirk is back if only for this short time. And the Nexus is streaming away. It will not take him back. Not him, not Picard, not Soran.
Suddenly, Jim is looking past Picard, looking at her. And she realizes he sees her, as a look of wonder comes over his face, and he says, "Oh my."
She holds her hand out, the way David did to her, and Jim reaches up, even as his body falls back, dead, gone, lost.
But not to her. She pulls him up. "Hello, Jim."
He stares at her in wonder, then laughs. It is the laugh she remembers from when times were good, and they had not hurt each other so much that they couldn't laugh together. From the days on the ship, or the days long after when they finally made the bad times go away.
"Chris," he says.
"It's me." She wonders which Chris he sees when he looks at her. Maybe he sees all of them, the way she somehow sees all of the Jims she's ever loved. It should be disconcerting, but it is comforting, seeing them all reflected in his face. Young, old, the years in between. All of them so dear.
All of them her love.
"I've missed you, Jim," she says, and her voice breaks, and tears she was not sure she could still cry are falling.
And he is pulling her close and kissing her and saying, "Chris. Chris," in between the kisses.
She laughs and ruffles his hair and pulls him closer. "You were lost."
He nods. "I know that now." He smiles. "You rescued me."
"Well," a new voice sounds from behind them. "She didn't do it alone."
Jim turns, sees David. He smiles, a smile she thinks that he never probably gave his son during life.
She sees David smile too, and it is the most beautiful smile she has ever seen him give anyone. "Couldn't let you rot there," he says, his eyes twinkling.
"I should say not," Jim says, winking at him. He pulls her with him as he walks to David, and draws him close.
She feels David's hand on her arm, patting gently. As if to say, "See. I told you we'd save him."
She sobs, and smiles. She has never known such joy or felt so moved. Is this what death is then? This...completeness?
Jim looks down at her. "Let's go home."
And she nods, and waits as David looks back at Picard, who is building a cairn of stones over Jim's body.
"He is a good man," David says.
Jim turns around. "He is." Then he looks at her and smiles, and they kiss again.
"I am home," she whispers. "I'm with you."
Jim nods and kisses her again, then, pulling David with him, he leads the way into the unknown.
She knows he doesn't have a clue where he's going, and she glances at David, sees him wink at her.
"That's my Dad," he mouths to her.
Then they both follow Jim into the light.