DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2003 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
Kirk sighed as he walked toward the milling crowd inside the art museum, absently fingering the small red foil token that had been his ticket into the event. This holiday gala had been Lori's idea not his. He hadn't even wanted to go when she'd suggested it months ago, had only decided to keep his token when she'd asked him to give it back. Five months ago they'd been together and happy--or so he'd thought. Now, they were apart and he was miserable. Missing her and hating himself for it. Angry that he'd never seen through her, that he'd been so thick. Mad at her for having someone--probably several men--to replace him with, to bring to this stupid gala in his place.
He nodded politely to several other admirals, moving purposefully toward the bar, like a shark that would die if it didn't keep swimming. He managed to sidestep several society matrons asking him where his lovely wife was.
My lovely ex-wife, he wanted to say, is probably home, in our old bed, screwing one of her many lovers. He didn't say it, just smiled gamely and moved on.
The bar beckoned; he pushed through the throng of people, briefly admiring a bare back belonging to a brunette in a dark blue halter dress. Then he looked away, coming to rest against the bar. He leaned over and checked out the liquor selection.
A low, somewhat inebriated voice, said, "I recommend the tequila."
He turned, saw that the bare back in the dark blue halter had an equally alluring and almost as bare front. He forced his gaze upward. "Chapel?"
She peered at him. Then her face fell. "Shit. Admiral. I didn't know it was you." The last words came out garbled. She leaned over the bar, giving both Kirk and the bartender a fabulous view of her assets.
Kirk wondered why he'd never noticed before how well-built she was.
The bartender seemed positively mesmerized.
Chapel grabbed the bartender by the collar and pulled him to her. "Quit looking down my dress."
"Maybe you shouldn't lean over like that," he said, gulping.
"Oh. Good point." She patted him on the cheek. "You're a nice boy. Now give me some antitox. I'm way too drunk. I almost hit on my former boss." She cocked a thumb back at Kirk.
"I'm not supposed to--"
"Give me some and I'll give you a big tip." She pulled away from him. "Don't give me some and I'll tell your employer you were ogling me."
"That hardly seems fair," Kirk said, suddenly in solidarity with the bartender. "I was ogling you too."
"You outrank me. He doesn't."
The bartender dropped some pills into her other hand. "Here. Keep it quiet."
"Good boy." She threw the pills back, chased them down with her tequila.
"I don't think that's how those were meant to be taken," Kirk said.
"Tough." She sighed, closed her eyes and seemed to wobble for a moment. When she opened them again, her expression was clear but haunted somehow. "Amazing drug. If only all the bad things in life were as easy to take away as being drunk." She nodded to him tersely, then moved on.
"I should go after her," Kirk said to the bartender.
The young man nodded, his expression wistful. "I would, if I weren't working."
"Let me have what she was drinking." He turned to watch Chapel's progress through the room. She was steady on her feet, nodding to the few people that seemed to know her. Kirk noticed that she didn't smile much.
"Here you go, sir."
Kirk took the tequila and eased his way to where she was studying one of the paintings. "See something you like?"
"Nope." She didn't turn to look at him.
"This is a Miro."
"Yep." She pointed to the sign, as if telling him she was perfectly capable of reading.
He turned, surveyed the room. A few people nodded to him, but for the most part nobody was paying any attention to them.
"I didn't figure you for an art lover, Chapel."
"I'm not." She glanced at him. "I could say the same of you."
"I like what I like." He shrugged, sipped at his drink. "My wife--ex-wife wanted to come to this."
Chapel looked around.
"Oh, she's not here. She wanted to come when we were still married. Well, she still wanted to come tonight, just not with me." He turned to see if she was following his narrative. Amazingly she seemed to be. "I was having an ornery streak, and didn't feel like giving up my token so that she could bring someone else. Guess she and whoever found something better to do. Why are you here alone?"
She smiled; it was a bitter expression. "I wasn't supposed to be." The look she turned on him was filled with anger--and no small amount of pain. She held up her token, let it slide until he could see another one behind it. "Oops. I must have taken both of them."
"Christine?" A man yelled from the main entrance, trying to get past the guards.
Kirk turned to look, noticed that Chapel didn't. The man was staring at her.
"Hon? I've lost my token. Come clear this mess up?" He turned to the guard at the door. "See, that's my girlfriend. She probably has it with her."
The guard showed signs of relenting, so Kirk said softly. "Are you his girlfriend or not?"
"Not." Again the pain showed in her eyes. She seemed to be fighting back tears.
He looked over at the man, who seemed genuinely confused. Kirk thought he should take his side in this--he knew what it was like to get screwed over by a woman. But he couldn't imagine Chapel being like Lori, or deliberately hurting anyone. He had to go with his gut on this one, and every instinct he had said to side with Chapel.
"He doesn't know that your relationship is over?" At the shake of her head, he held out his arm. "Why don't we show him?"
She looked up at him, anger slowly replaced with a look of grudging appreciation. "Thank you, Admiral."
"Call me, Jim."
She took his arm, studiously ignoring the man at the entrance. "Only if you'll stop calling me Chapel."
"Christine!" The man seemed frantic. "Honey, what are you doing?"
"I gotta tell you, buddy," the guard said. "She doesn't look like your girlfriend to me. Move it along now."
"Christine?" The man's cries slowly faded as the guards pushed him back from the door.
She pulled away from Kirk as soon as the coast was clear. "Thanks." She hurried off, into the next room.
He followed her. She had stopped in front of a Chagall, did not turn when he joined her.
"Spock likes him." He shook his head, amazed that after all this time he was still thinking of Spock as if the Vulcan were his best friend. As if he had never run off to Gol. Run off for reasons that Kirk had never understood.
Kirk missed him. More than he usually let himself think about. But here, with her, his friend seemed very close. And utterly out of reach. Is that how she had felt all those years?
"Why is there a chicken in it?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"Does Spock like chickens?"
"I never knew him well enough to know what he liked." She sounded bitter. Hurt and angry but also resigned, as if she had grown used to such negative emotion.
She walked away, and he let himself admire how the dress clung to her curves, how the bare skin of her back--was shaking. She stopped at another painting and he walked over to her. She was crying, turning her head away slightly as if to keep him and the people behind them from seeing.
He had the sudden urge to touch her, to hold her, but he didn't think she'd appreciate it. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
He did touch her then, just long enough to steer her deeper into the room, then through a doorway into a hall. Away from the crowd, from the eyes that would tear them apart if they saw weakness. He sighed. His own mood was coloring this. He should let her be.
She sniffed loudly and he felt for her pain, whatever it was.
"I'm fine," she said, pushing him away suddenly and striding down the hall. She disappeared into an exhibit entitled 'Magical Places.'
He looked back at the crowd. There was nobody he wanted to talk to here, just a lot of people he'd rather avoid. Like boring admirals who would want to talk about his boring job. Or people who would ask him about Lori, people to whom he didn't want to have to explain that his marriage had fallen apart. That he couldn't make a relationship last even when safely grounded on Earth.
He turned and followed Chapel into the far exhibit. "Magical Places?"
She looked over as he walked toward her. "There's no such thing as magic."
He nodded. If there were really magic in the world, love would last, and the people who swore to cherish and protect you wouldn't break your heart. "Magic's a crock."
She looked up at him, her face expressionless. "At the risk of being rude, sir, please leave me alone."
"I told you to call me Jim." He tried to smile, felt as if the expression came out as a grimace. "What should I call you, since you don't like Chapel?"
She shrugged, seemed to give up on his giving her any peace. "Whatever you want." She turned away.
"I used to call you Christine."
"Call me that then." Her tone was resigned. As if she knew she couldn't stop him from talking to her, so she wasn't going to try.
"Difficult is what you are. I think I'll call you that. Difficult."
"Probably fits." She moved to the next painting, stared up at it as if mesmerized. "Beautiful."
Yes, beautiful would fit her too tonight. He'd always considered her one of those women who was handsome. Nice figure and features, but too severe to be beautiful. Maybe it was the pain that softened her eyes and made her lower lip tremble slightly, or the slip of dark blue fabric and how it fell around her, or the way her legs seemed to go on forever, but tonight she looked beautiful. Then he realized she was talking about the painting. He turned to study it, smiled. "La Grotta Azzurra."
She read the sign. "The Blue Grotto by Leucosia. You've been to the grotto, I take it?"
He nodded. How many years had it been since he'd visited
"I've never been," she said.
"You should go."
She shook her head. "I've been busy getting my degree. No time to travel." She smiled tightly. "That's what you can call me, Admir--Jim. Call me Doctor."
"Doctor." He smiled, this time a real expression. "Congratulations, Chris." The name rolled off his tongue. He was about to take it back, but decided it suited her.
She shot him an odd look. "Nobody calls me that anymore."
"All the better." He didn't want to explain to her that he liked the idea of having something all to himself. After finding out that he'd been sharing his wife for too long.
He forced his thoughts along other lines. Thinking about Lori would only make him feel depressed. And old.
Chapel turned her gaze back to the painting. "Is it really that blue?"
"Hmm." She turned away, walked to the next painting.
He studied her as she moved around the room. She seemed tense, the muscles in her back taut, her hands clenched somewhat as she stopped and stared up at one of the works. He wondered if she was even seeing it. He moved closer to her and realized she was crying again, only this time she was hiding it better.
He stepped in close. "What happened?"
She shook her head, but the tears that rolled down her face seemed to multiply.
"Sometimes it helps to talk about it," he said softly.
"I will if you will." She sounded like she didn't think he would.
He sighed. He wasn't sure he wanted to. He'd become a master of holding his pain inside. Where it was probably festering. "I thought I had a good marriage," he said into the silence.
She turned to look at him.
"She was fun, passionate, witty. The sex was great." He looked down. "For me and all the other men she was seeing."
He waved her pity away with a brusque gesture.
"Did you ever see her with them...these men?"
"No. One of them came to see me. Wanted her for himself. Actually asked me to step aside in the interest of true love." He shook his head. "When I confronted her, she was outraged. Not at me, but at this guy for wanting more than just fun. She seemed to think it was perfectly all right to have a little action on the side."
He hadn't told any of his friends this. He hadn't told anyone this.
"I'm sorry." She did sound sorry.
He nodded tightly. "Your turn."
She sighed. "I was at a seminar today and the last speaker cancelled. We let out a couple hours early. I went home. Tom--my boyfriend...ex-boyfriend...the guy out there--was already home. In bed. Our bed. With someone else."
He touched her arm. "I'm sorry."
"They didn't see me, so I snuck out. Like some goddamn thief, I just backed away out of my own place. I walked for a while, was headed back when I saw her leaving. I gave him a few minutes, then went inside. I got ready and left while he was in the shower."
"So, he doesn't know you know."
She shook her head.
"You should tell him."
She jerked away from him. "I know what I should do. I don't need you to lecture me." She walked back to the painting of the Blue Grotto, stared at it as if she could fall into it if she looked long enough. "I want to be there." She closed her eyes, as if she was making a wish.
He smiled. "Well, let's go there." It would still be early morning in
"Right." She turned away.
"I'm serious. I've got transporter credits up the yin-yang."
"You want to go to
He nodded. "Don't you?" He sighed heavily. "I know I don't want to go home tonight." Home: that barren apartment he'd moved into once he'd finally left Lori for good. He hated it. Hated Lori. Hated his life. Some days he even hated himself.
He held out his hand. "Chris?"
She stared at him for a long time. Then she slowly began to smile.
He smiled back. "It's warm and the water's so clear you can see the sea bottom no matter how far out you go." He nodded as she reached for his hand. "And there's always a breeze."
"It is." He squeezed her hand gently. "It will be. The water's perfection against your skin."
"Are we going swimming?"
"I don't have a suit."
He touched her shoulder, ran his finger down her arm, smiling when she shivered. "You won't need one."
He thought for a moment she was going to pull away, then some strange resolve filled her eyes.
"Tit for tat," he asked quietly.
She looked guilty. "That's not very fair to you, is it?"
"Do I look like I mind?" He turned, began to walk out of the exhibit.
Her heels echoed on the floor as she hurried to catch up with him. He took her glass and set it with his own on one of the server's trays.
"Do you have a coat?"
She laughed softly. "No. I wasn't exactly thinking straight when I ran out."
"Are you cold?"
She seemed to think about that. Then she lifted her eyes to his, smiled. "No. I'm not."
He smiled back, led her to the exit.
Quite a few eyes took in their departure.
Good, Kirk thought. He hoped they told Lori. He looked at Chapel, admiring again the way the dress hugged her body. Let them tell his ex that he'd left with a sexy woman. He nearly laughed at the thought, at how good it felt to be paying Lori back. He should feel worse about that. It wasn't very nice of him. But he didn't much care.
"What?" Chapel asked.
He shook his head. "Just admiring how amazing you look."
again?" She smiled and it was
finally the warm, gentle smile he remembered from the
"I'm afraid so."
"It is a good dress, isn't it?" She brushed away a wrinkle only she could see. "I got this to drive him crazy. Tonight was our one-year anniversary." Her face fell.
Kirk squeezed her hand. "I'm sorry. Lori and I didn't make it to one year."
"Couple of losers." She looked up at him.
"Them or us?"
She sighed. "I don't know. We're the ones who got hurt. So us, I guess."
He nodded ruefully, afraid she was right. When hadn't he lost at love?
She looked ready to cry again. He pulled her out of the museum, hoping to get her free of the crowd before she lost control, wanting to spare her that humiliation.
Her boyfriend was waiting for them outside. He was blowing on his hands and pacing. "Christine?" He shot Kirk an irritated look. "Do you mind?"
Chapel moved closer to Kirk. "Tom, leave me alone."
"What's the meaning of this? One minute we're fine. The next you're hitting on this guy? It's our anniversary, for god's sake."
Kirk felt her hand clench on his. He squeezed back, trying to give her strength.
"I came home early today."
Tom looked suddenly wary.
"I came home hours before you think I did. I saw an awful lot. Enough to last me the rest of my life."
"Christine, I can explain--"
She pulled away from Kirk. "You were screwing another woman in our bed. How much explaining is necessary?"
Tom reached for her but she jumped back, running into Kirk, almost losing her balance.
Kirk grabbed her arm, steadying her. "Come on, Chris. He's not worth it."
"Why is he calling you Chris? Who is he?"
"Goodbye, Tom." She leaned into Kirk, let him draw her away.
Tom followed. "If you think this is over, that I'll just let you run off with some other guy..."
She turned; her voice seemed to drop vitriol. "Let me? You lost the right to let me do anything, Tom. Now get away from me."
When he didn't move, she took a step toward him. There must have been something threatening in her expression, because he took three rapid steps back.
She turned back to Kirk. "Let's get the hell out of here."
He nodded, pulling her gently away from her stunned ex and to the waiting transporter station.
This time, Tom didn't follow them.
Chapel held onto Kirk's hand tightly, afraid that if she let go, she'd find herself back in the apartment, staring at Tom and that woman. Watching them make love in her bed.
"Hey?" Kirk said gently, looking down at their clasped hands.
She realized she was clenching down hard. "I'm sorry." She tried to pull away but he didn't let go.
"It's okay. I meant that as a 'Hey, what's going on in that head of yours?' not as a 'Hey, lady, you're breaking my hand.'"
She smiled. "I was just thinking about finding them in bed. When I saw them, it was like someone hit me in the stomach with a sledgehammer."
He nodded. "Yes. That's a good description. Later it will just feel like someone is trying to pull your guts out with a crowbar." He shot her a wry grin. "Good thing time heals all wounds, eh?"
She was glad he wasn't trying to sugarcoat the truth for her. She thought her other friends might. But he'd been through it too. He wouldn't lie to her and tell her everything would be all right.
He let go of her hand as they arrived at the transporter station and she found herself missing his warmth. She had been cold since she'd found Tom and--
She shook her head, then did it again. Trying to rid herself of the image of that woman, sitting astride Tom, head thrown back.
She felt Kirk's hand on her back and leaned into it.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, seeming to understand what she was thinking about.
She nodded, afraid she'd break down if she tried to talk.
He led her to a transporter
pad, told the transporter tech, "
The tech made some adjustments, then the world disappeared to be replaced by a much smaller transporter station. She followed Kirk off the pad, walked out into the cool morning air.
"I thought you said it
would be warm here." She rubbed her
arms. "It's not much different than
"But the water will be warmer than the air, at least."
"By how much?"
He laughed. "About ten degrees if we're lucky."
She shivered again.
He took off his jacket, wrapped it around her shoulders. "Come on, we need to get to the Grotto before the boats do." He hurried to a local transport that was just pulling in.
She followed him, having trouble keeping up in her strappy sandals. He held his hand out, pulled her up the high first step. She followed him to a seat in the back. As she sat down next to him, he dropped an arm around her, pulling her in close then turning to look out the window, a huge smile growing on his face.
"It's more beautiful than I remembered." His arm tightened around her.
She relaxed against him, letting his warmth soak into her. "It is spectacular."
The transport was moving quickly through the narrow streets. They were empty at this hour of the off-season but she could imagine them filled with swarms of tourists when summer came. The sun-bleached houses shone in the early morning light, the white broken by an occasional pastel-colored building, a warm yellow or dark pinky red peeking out from between the snowy facades.
They moved out of the city,
cutting across open land and then winding their way down through hairpin
switchbacks into the smaller town of
A local woman was watching her. When she saw that Chapel was looking at her, she smiled, approval on her face. "Amore."
Kirk looked over at her, then he pulled Chapel a little closer. "Amore," he repeated, but his voice was sad.
"Amore sucke," she said, smiling when he laughed at her massacring of the language.
"It doesn't have to."
He shook his head, leaning in to kiss her gently on the lips. She was too surprised to pull away, then too caught up with how good his lips felt on hers to do so.
He finally pulled away. "Did you go to the party intent on picking someone up? To pay him back?"
She looked down.
No one had called her that, not since she was a kid. But it sounded right coming from him. She wasn't sure why. "Yes, I think I did." It wasn't an admission that she liked to make. Didn't like what it said about her.
He just nodded.
"Aren't you going to tell me that it's wrong?"
"Nope. Maybe I would have been better off if I'd done something like that." He pointed to the low cliffs ahead of them. "That's where it is." He looked at the other tourists, sighed. "I thought we'd have it all to ourselves."
"I'm a strong swimmer," she said softly. "We can beat them in."
"Dressed like this? We have to find someplace private to take these clothes off."
She smiled softly. "Didn't really think this through, huh?"
He shrugged. "It'll work out. Things always do."
His face fell again, and she was sorry she asked. She leaned in and kissed him, enjoying the feel of his lips against hers, the way his hand went under his jacket to rub her back. Funny, she had never in her life fantasized about kissing Jim Kirk. Had been too busy mooning over his first officer. Yet here they were, and touching him seemed the easiest thing in the world to do.
The transport stopped. Chapel got up just as the old woman did. Chapel waited for her to go, but the woman was struggling with a large package and motioned for her to proceed. She turned to see Kirk helping the woman get the package down, then he turned back to Chapel, his hand coming to rest on her waist, not pushing her, not copping a feel, just there. Comfortable and steadying.
There was a sudden crash behind them. They both turned, Kirk hurrying to help pick up a stack of paintings that had fallen out of their packaging.
"Presto, eh?" the driver of the transport called back, impatience clear in his voice.
Chapel saw that a smaller painting had fallen under one of the seats. She crouched down to drag it out. It was of the Blue Grotto, similar to the one in the museum that had drawn her so. She handed it to the woman. "This is beautiful."
The old woman took it and smiled, tried to take the bigger paintings from Kirk but he insisted on carrying them for her. She led the two of them off the transport. "Grazie." She studied them. "You came to swim?"
Kirk nodded. "That was the plan." His expression changed to dismay as he saw the number of tourists already there. "No damn suits," he muttered.
"Better to stay out. It is rough today."
Chapel looked out at the still waters. "Rough? Where I'm from, that wouldn't qualify as rough."
The woman looked out at the sea. "You can't always see what is coming." She smiled slightly, the same way she had earlier on the transport, then her look darkened. "Or the hidden dangers."
"That's true," Kirk said. "But we still want to swim."
"No matter the cost?"
"Beach was free last time I was here." Kirk grinned.
Chapel smiled at his joke, the daring that barely covered his stubbornness--his dogged determination to get his way no matter the cost. She'd seen that determination save them over and over. Maybe that was what a hero was? Someone who just didn't know when to quit?
"Come with me then," the old woman said matter-of-factly, as she led them to one of the closed shops. She opened the door, let them in, then locked it again. Sizing them both up, she began to go through the racks of clothes, thrusting things at them, including bathing suits and some simple sandals. "Go. Change."
Chapel looked at Kirk. He shrugged, went to one of the dressing rooms and closed the curtain behind him. Chapel looked over at the woman, who motioned her into the other room. "Hurry or the boats will come and you'll lose your chance."
Chapel didn't argue, peeling off her dress and pulling on the simple tank bathing suit. She tried on the rest of the clothing. It all fit.
She walked out, wearing the shorts and swimsuit, carrying the rest. "You have a good eye, ma'am."
"My name is Ligi." The woman was going through the pictures, matching them with small descriptive tags. "My sister paints these with such care, but then she does not pack them well." Ligi shook her head. "Artists." Her tone was scornful.
"You've lived here all your life?"
Ligi smiled oddly. "Yes."
"And owned this shop?"
"No. The shop is only recently mine. My sisters and I worked together. Now, we're retired. Separate." She touched one of the paintings; it was of a cliff-side ruin. "But still in contact."
"Sisters? You have more than one?" Chapel had always wanted to have a sister. She'd felt cheated, growing up an only child. When her parents had died, she'd had no one left.
"We are three." Ligi's tone seemed to say the conversation was ended.
Kirk came out and Ligi took the clothing and his suit and shoes from him. She neatly stuffed everything into a large straw carryall. Then she handed it to Chapel, rang up the purchases as Chapel pushed the things she'd worn to the gala and Kirk's jacket, as well as her new clothes, into the bag.
"I'll pay you back," Chapel said softly to Kirk.
"I'm an admiral, I think I can handle it." He grinned at her, and she realized it was the first real grin she'd seen from him. "Besides, I was the one who dragged you out here."
"True." She smiled back.
Ligi was humming and the melody somehow grew to fill the shop. The tune seemed to reach down into Chapel's bones, reminding her of swimming, of bonfires on the beach, and the warm sea air rolling across her face.
"That's beautiful," Kirk said. "What is it?"
"Just a song of the sea." Ligi motioned them out. "You go now. Swim. Enjoy. Amore." She grinned.
Chapel found herself grinning too.
Kirk looked at Chapel, then reached back for her hand before he said to the old woman, "Thank you."
She inclined her head, a movement that looked almost regal for its grace. "It will be a good day for the grotto. Very blue, very bright. Like your eyes," she said with a smile at Chapel. Then she turned back to the paintings, muttering something Chapel couldn't make out, clearly dismissing the two of them.
Kirk hurried over to the ladder that led to the beach. He took the carryall from Chapel and slung it over his shoulder, then made his way down. He saw her climb onto the ladder, begin the descent a few steps behind him. Reaching the rocky slip of beach, he stowed their bag in the higher rocks like the other tourists had done. He slipped off his sandals and waited for her to take off hers and step out of her shorts. Then he reached for her hand and led her into the water.
"It's not warm, Jim," she said as the water hit their thighs.
She was right. Fortunately, it was calm. "But it's warmer than the air. Give it a chance."
She surprised him by shallow diving into the water, moving gracefully past him under the water with a strong dolphin kick. He followed her, powerful strokes and kicks catching him up to her, but not without effort.
She surfaced, smiling as she brushed the hair out of her eyes. "It's been ages since I've been swimming in the sea."
He treaded water, paddling gently to keep upright, surprised to see that the sea was getting rougher even as they got used to the water temperature. A motion above him caught his attention. He thought it was the woman from the shop standing there, watching them. She turned and walked away from the cliff edge.
"The waves are bigger," Chapel said.
He noted that there was no note of panic in her voice; she seemed to like the waves.
"When it's choppy like this, it can be dangerous trying to get into the cave." He pointed toward the opening. "If you go in by rowboat, you have to lie down or risk being scraped on the top of the opening. If it stays this rough, the boats won't come in at all."
She only nodded, a fearless smile playing at her lips.
He smiled back, knew it was the same bold expression. He was in no mood to play it safe either. "We have to time it just right behind a swell or we'll brain ourselves on the top of the opening."
"And watch out for the chain. The oarsmen use it to pull their boats in." He turned toward the grotto. Watched as another couple tried to work up nerve to get past the nasty swells and into the cave. They gave up and turned around.
Another group of tourists swam near the entrance. They watched the waves for a moment, then they too abandoned the effort, heading for shore.
Several couples came shooting out from inside the cave, laughing breathlessly, exclaiming at how close they'd come to being pinned against the top of the cave entrance. One of the swimmers looked out at Kirk and Chapel, shaking her head. "You don't want to go in there. It's too rough."
"We do want to go in there. We came here to go in there," Chapel muttered, surprising him with her stubbornness. "Coming?" She set out for the cave with a smooth and easy side stroke, looking as if she could swim for days. He noticed that she barely broke the water as she moved.
A mermaid. That was what she looked like in the water. A mermaid.
She smiled as she caught his look. "My mom used to call me a waterdog. She could never get me to come out of the water when we went to my grandparents' place on the bay."
"I grew up swimming in
pools and the pond near our house, and sometimes in the
She nodded. "The water feels like home."
"Yes. It does." He smiled as she turned back toward the cave. The water did feel like home. The only thing that felt even more so was space. And that was lost to him now. He sighed, trying to push away the emptiness he always felt when he let himself think about his future--his future at a desk.
She slowed as they reached the entrance, and he moved ahead of her slightly, trying to judge the timing of the swells. The chop was making it almost impossible to see through the entrance. They were unlikely to make it by staying on the surface.
He turned to her. "How deep can you go?"
She grinned. "How deep do we need to go?"
"Follow me," he said, pleased again at her daring. He blew out quickly several times and then sucked in a large breath. He could hear her doing the same. Then he dove down deeper and deeper as he headed for the entrance. The swells seemed to push him along, more gently now that he was not on the surface. As soon as the light changed around him, he headed back up. He heard her break the water a second behind him.
They had the cave to themselves.
He looked around, marveling yet again at the beauty of the place. The morning sun was hitting the water perfectly, coming in from an underwater entrance as well as through the way they'd just swum. The sunlight hit the limestone covering the cave, lighting the water up like a mirror, throwing azure reflections on the cave walls and ceiling.
"My god," Chapel said, then fell silent, turning to take in the wondrous color.
"And this is nothing compared to later in the day when the boats come. But they won't let us swim in then." The swells were gentler inside the cave, moving him toward her. As he bumped up against her, he reached out, pulling her close. "They used to have orgies in here, you know?"
She giggled. "Who did? And how?" She kicked out slightly, moved her arms in a gentle backstroke, pulling him with her toward the cave wall. Reaching back, she held on to a grip she managed to find in the wet rock.
said. "From all accounts he was a
perverted old coot. Actually
moved the capital of the
She nodded. Her eyes gleamed blue in the cave, her face colored by aqua and azure streaks as the light rippled off the water. He reached up, found a grip and held on tight as he leaned in to kiss her. Her mouth met his in a sweet touch. She wrapped her free arm around his neck, swung her legs up to straddle him.
He deepened the kiss, intensely aware of how her body was pressing against his. "Chris," he moaned. He was suddenly very willing to try to recreate one of Tiberius's orgies.
She kissed him back, passionately, wildly. For a moment. Then she eased off, finally pulled away.
He tried to see her face but she looked down. He could feel her trembling in his arms. Heard her make an odd noise.
"It's okay." He tipped her head up, saw that she was crying.
"I thought I could do this..." She looked away.
"But you can't?"
She shook her head. "I want to though. I want to make him pay. And you've been so nice..."
He kissed her gently, the touch of his lips on hers meant to be friendly, and comforting. He wanted her to know that he expected nothing from her. "It's okay, Chris. You're not like him."
"I'm not like him" she repeated, her voice so sad she sounded almost broken.
"Hey." He kissed her again. "Not being like him is a good thing in my book."
She nodded. Leaned in to give him a gentle kiss. Then another. "I'm sorry. I wasted your credits."
"No, you didn't. We're here, aren't we? In the Blue Grotto? We got in when everyone else was afraid?"
She nodded, a slow smile starting. "We did."
"We could stay here for
a while, on
"Stay here?" She looked tempted, then her expression turned nervous.
"Not for sex," he said quickly. "Just to explore the island. For fun."
He nodded, had to reach in for another kiss. Her lips were so soft. "You remember what fun is? Because I barely do."
"I think I vaguely remember." She smiled. "I have time off. Before I report to my new assignment." She looked away again, as if afraid to tell him what that assignment was. "You heard?"
He nodded. "I read the crew manifest. Congratulations. CMO is quite an achievement. And on the
She laughed, a slightly bitter sound. "An achievement many think I don't warrant, I bet."
She moved her hand from around his neck to his head, was running her fingers through his hair. He wondered if she was even aware that she was doing it. It felt terrific and he closed his eyes for a moment.
"You know Decker personally, I take it?" he finally asked her.
"He's Tom's best friend. And he's become mine too. I've been mothering and badgering him now for a year. And he actually listens to me."
Kirk nodded. "That's crucial in a good CMO. And why McCoy was so valuable to me. Because as much as I hated it at times, he was never afraid to tell me when I was way off on something."
She nodded. "I think I can do that for Will. He pushes himself so hard. He's been trying to live up to his dad's reputation. And live it down at the same time."
Kirk nodded. "He's lucky to have someone who understands him."
She kissed him again, sweet, little caresses that barely touched down on his lips, his cheeks, his neck. He moaned.
"I shouldn't do that, should I?"
"You can." He grinned. "It's nice. It's friendly."
She grinned back. "I think it's more than that."
He kissed her the same way she'd done to him, heard her giggle when he touched a sensitive spot behind her ear. "Does that mean you want me to stop kissing you?" He gave her one more for good measure. A long, gentle kiss on her lips.
When he pulled away, she sighed. Then she smiled, a closed-mouthed smile that was both sweet and very sad. "No, I don't want you to stop."
"Good." He let go of her, felt her unwrap her legs from around him. "The colors change in here depending on where you are. Come on."
They moved through the cave without speaking; the only sounds were the swell of the sea against the entrance and the walls, and their gentle breaststrokes occasionally breaking the water.
"It's breathtaking, Jim." She rolled to her back, stared up at the ceiling. "Simply breathtaking."
He smiled, glad he could give her something nice. "Yes, it is."
Chapel yawned. She put her head on Kirk's shoulder as the
transport made its slow way back to
"It's time to go to
"Just a little nap? Please? When we find a hotel?" She wrapped her arms around him, snuggled in. "Please?"
"All right," he said, as if she'd asked for the world and he'd just decided to give it to her.
She chuckled, allowed her eyes to close. "Wake me when we get there?" She felt his lips on her forehead.
She woke to the same gentle caress.
"Wake up, sleepyhead."
She slowly sat up; they were back at the transporter station. She followed Kirk off the vehicle and into the busy plaza across the street. They walked for about three blocks, then he turned into an elegant hotel.
"This is the oldest hotel on the island. I stayed here the first time I visited." He bounded up the steps, into the marble foyer.
She followed him more slowly, taking in the lovely old style of the hotel. When she joined him, he was looking at her thoughtfully.
"What is it?"
"They have one room left." His voice was soft, pitched so that only she could hear it. "With one bed."
"A big one?"
He shook his head. Saw her reaction and said, "We can go somewhere else. I'm sure--"
She touched his hand. "Get the room, Jim. We'll flip for the floor. Or we'll share the bed. No big deal."
He touched her hand where it rested on his, then turned back around to reception.
She wandered over to where an old woman sat at an easel working on a painting. Her eyes were closed, as if she was invoking some scene and she hummed softly to herself. Then she opened her eyes and began to dab paint onto the canvas.
"You like it?" she asked Chapel without looking at her.
"Very much," Chapel said. It reminded her of the painting of the Blue Grotto that had so mesmerized her. "What is this place?"
"The Villa Jovis. Have you been?"
"No. We just got here."
"You had enough time to
swim though." The woman laughed
when Chapel started. "I can smell
the sea on you, my dear. Did you go down
"No. To the Grotto."
"Which one, child? There are many on this island."
"The blue one."
"It is choppy today, no? You must be very brave to try. Or the sea must love you?"
"I love the sea," Chapel said absently, captivated by the way the woman laid the color down. She watched in silence as the villa came to life under her brush. "Is that what it looks like?"
The woman laughed loudly. "Oh, heavens, no. This is what it looked like when the Emperor Tiberius lived there. Now it's only ruins."
Chapel frowned. "How do you know what it looked like then? Are you an archaeologist?"
"My sister works at the villa. She is a guide there, takes me all around. I love it there. Seems very familiar to me. But then, I feel very close to ancient things."
"So do I," Chapel said, then immediately wondered why she'd made such an odd declaration.
Chapel turned, saw Kirk smiling at her. She nodded, then turned back to the painting. She felt as if it was drawing her in, pulling her toward the travertine marble walls--
How did she know what kind of marble Tiberius had used for his walls?
The woman was watching her closely. She touched her brush to an unfinished wall. "What color do you think?"
"White. With pink streaks." Chapel frowned. Why had she said that?
The woman nodded. "Yes, I think so too."
She began to fill it in, just as Chapel was seeing it in her mind, the darker color more of a rusty mauve than a true pink, the white really a creamy yellow.
The woman glanced at her. "I am Luca."
"You're friend is still waiting, Christine."
"Oh. Right." She turned and hurried over to Kirk who was smiling with amusement.
"Maybe you'd rather stay with her?" he asked.
She laughed. "No. It was her painting that intrigued me. I felt as though I knew something about the place she was painting, but that's impossible." She turned back to look at the woman. "Have you been to the Villa Jovis?"
He shook his head. "I ran out of time before I could get out there. You want to go?"
He put his arm around her. "We can go anywhere we want."
They rode the lift up to the third floor and found their room. Kirk handed her two hospitality packages he'd gotten from reception as he hung up their few clothes in the closet.
She stowed the toiletries in the bathroom, then came out and joined him at the window. "Can we take a nap?"
He turned to look at her. "You look like you need the sleep."
She nodded unhappily. She had seen the shadows under her eyes, knew she had looked better.
He seemed to read her expression. "I didn't mean that you look bad." Then he leaned in and kissed her again.
She relaxed and pressed lightly against him, her arms stealing around his neck almost against her will. God help her, but she loved kissing this man.
He smiled as he pulled away from her. "Let's get a little sleep."
He set the chrono by the bed and pulled the light cover open. Removing his sandals, he waited for her to do the same, then he followed her into the bed. She rolled over to her side, facing away from him, felt him move closer.
"Do you want to be held?"
She smiled. Nodded. Felt him press up against her. His arm came around her, pulling her closer.
She closed her eyes, a warm feeling of security flowing over her. She was safe. Here, in this strange place she'd never planned to visit, with this man she'd served with for five years but had never really known, she felt safe. She decided not to analyze the feeling to death, just closed her eyes and fell asleep.
Kirk woke, unsure where he was. He hit out at the alarm that was trilling but the noise kept going. Then someone reached over him and turned it off. Lori?
He knew as soon as he thought
it that it wasn't her. He was in
"I feel sick," Chapel said blurrily.
"Get up. It's the only way to feel human again." He threw back the covers, his feet hitting the tiled floors as he walked into the bathroom. Staring at himself in the mirror, he wiped his eyes. He'd looked better. He splashed some water on his face.
When he walked into the bedroom, Chris had fallen back asleep.
"Oh, no you don't." He crawled back onto the bed, began to kiss her.
"Mmm," she said, trying to push him away.
"Not easy to wake up, are you?" He kissed her some more, laughing as she kept trying to escape him.
He realized she was laughing too. He pressed his lips against her neck, blew hard, causing the air to explode.
She giggled, then tried to push him away. "I'm not a baby."
"You sleep like one. Get up, Lieutenant Chapel. That's an order."
She opened her eyes, smiled in a way that told him she was paying absolutely no attention to that order.
He kissed her again, felt her mouth open under his. Their tongues met and he pulled away. "Chris?"
She was smiling lazily. "You're such a good kisser, Jim." Then she closed her eyes and rolled over.
"Okay, you give me no choice." He whispered in her ear, "Let's see where you're ticklish, shall we?" He'd barely touched behind her knee when she sat up with a squeal.
"Okay, I'm up." She crawled past him and he patted her on the rump. "Hey!"
He laughed as she launched herself at him. Falling back, he let her pretend to hold him down. She leaned in, kissed him slowly and very thoroughly.
He thought she might win some awards in the kissing department too.
Then she pulled away. "Villa Jovis is calling us."
He pulled her back to him. They kissed for a long time. She fell to the side and he followed her, their kisses deepening with each passing moment.
Finally, he drew away, was surprised to find himself shaking. "Chris. If we aren't going to...then I don't think we should..."
"I know." She seemed shaken also. She moved away from him, sliding off the bed and hurrying into the bathroom.
"Damn." Why hadn't he just kept his big mouth shut?
She peeked out, stared hard at him, then a slow smile began to cross her face. "I'm not sure I meant not ever."
He could feel a smile starting. "No?"
"Nope." She winked at him, then ducked back into the bathroom.
He sat up, waiting for her, letting his legs swing idly. She came out of the bathroom and walked over to him. Pulling her in to stand between his legs, he rested his head against her stomach.
"I don't care what happens," he said. "I like being with you."
"I know. Me too." She stroked his hair for a moment, then pulled away, handing him his sandals and pulling her own on. "It's kind of weird."
"We don't really know each other. But...it's comfortable."
He thought about that. They didn't know each other very well. "Maybe it's just that we share the terrain we're both passing through. Betrayal is a great unifier?"
She nodded. "I think that's possible." She sat down next to him. "But it's more than just that. I trust you. But then, I always have." She smiled at him.
Just as he'd always felt somewhat protective of her. Ever since they'd found Korby. She'd been so brave. Even when her heart had been breaking.
She shrugged. "It is what it is. We can't change that."
He laughed. "Maybe it's magic?"
"There's no such thing, remember?"
"Oh yeah." He kissed her again, then pulled away and got up. "Come on, Chris. Villa Jovis awaits."
He took her hand and led her
out of the room and into the bright
The air was fresh, waking Chapel up the rest of the way as she followed Kirk out of the hotel and into the early afternoon sunshine.
"Do you mind walking?" he asked. "It's about a half hour from here."
"Sounds nice." She walked over to a vendor selling beverages and ice cream. "You want something?"
She ordered them both lemonades. Opening hers, she waited for him to do the same, before tipping the plastic bottle toward him slightly. "To painful endings."
"I'd rather drink to new beginnings."
"You're right. To new beginnings." She took a deep swallow. The lemonade was very sour. She saw his face contort and laughed. "Maybe I should have ordered water?"
"No. Bitter is good. Come on."
She followed him out to the Via Tiberio, a winding road that took them uphill through low brush and scrub. They walked it slowly, not talking except to point out an interesting flower or a beautiful view to the other.
She heard a harsh cry, looked up to see a hawk flying. "Such a sad sound," she said softly.
"I think he sounds defiant."
"How do you know it's a he?"
His look was sadder than she liked. "Because he's alone." He started walking again toward where the road disappeared into a small pine forest that skirted the cliffs.
She stared up at the hawk, it seemed to circle, its wings sending some hidden message she could never hope to decipher. She wondered if it had a mate.
"Chris?" Kirk didn't sound impatient with her. Tom would have sounded put out if she'd stopped to gawk at some bird. But Kirk just stood waiting. As if he had all the time in the world. As if life would only ever be this moment, only just the two of them.
She hurried to him, took the hand he held out to her. "Sorry."
"Why be sorry? You were interested, you stopped to watch." He smiled at her, a silly, self-deprecating smile. "I just got lonely."
"That's terrible." She pressed against him, kissed his cheek softly.
"I think so." His arms came around her, and he moved so her next kiss landed on his lips.
They kissed for a long time. Until the local transport came by, some tourists leaning out of the windows to cheer them on.
"I didn't know kissing was a spectator sport," she said softly as she pulled away.
"It wouldn't be if we weren't in the middle of the road. We were lucky they didn't run us down."
She laughed. "I think the locals are in favor of amore."
"I think you might be right."
They walked, brushing up against each other as they moved.
"I like this." Chapel felt instantly stupid. The admission sounded so childish.
He didn't seem to notice. "I like this too." He shook his head. "The last few months with Lori...even before I knew about the men, I was always saying the wrong thing. I felt like I had to be on guard, that I was being judged every minute of the day."
"That's no way to live." She crouched down to smell a particularly vivid rockrose. The scent was deep and resinous, with a spiky overtone. She let it fill her, suspected it would always remind her of this place, this moment, this man.
She looked up at Kirk. "I was happy with Tom." She sighed as she pushed herself back up. "Completely happy in my ignorance. I had no idea what was going on." She shook her head. "I think that's worse in some ways."
"Maybe." He opened his lemonade, sipped at it. "I think it might be like this drink. I know it will be bitter so it's not so bad now. But the first sip...it was such a surprise when I expected it to be sweet and it wasn't." He shrugged, started walking again.
"Is that our problem?" she asked as he caught up with him. "We expect it to be sweet. And life just isn't?"
"Maybe." He sounded tired suddenly, tired and bitter like the drink.
They stepped into shadows; pines lined the road, providing welcome shade after the long press uphill in the bright sunshine. She glanced over at him. His expression was still grim.
"Jim?" She waited until he turned to look at her. "You saved me. Do you know that?"
He made a face, as if she was giving him too much credit. "You're strong, Chris."
"I didn't feel strong last night"--she frowned, tried to figure out what day it was--"tonight." She laughed. "At the gala." She saw him give her an odd look. "I don't mean I'd have done anything self-destructive. But I think I was ready to give up on ever believing life could just be nice for me. And then you came along and brought me here."
He smiled softly. "Have you considered that maybe you saved me? I've been sitting in my empty new apartment for weeks now. All by myself and hating life." He took a deep breath, lifted his face to the shuttered sunlight. "I wouldn't have come here alone."
"Maybe we saved each other?"
"I'll buy that." He took her hand and squeezed it. Then he pointed ahead. "There it is."
The path led out of the pines, back into a huge cleared area where a multi-leveled ruin stood. Chapel tried to see the building that Luca had been painting, but either the angle was wrong or her imagination was no longer running wild.
The building perched on the edge of the cliff, not built on it so much as into it. Every part of it would have had an amazing view of the sea that crashed far below. Near where they stood, a group of tables had been set up outside a small shelter where food was sold. Several people sat at the tables, enjoying a late al fresco lunch.
Chapel turned back to the view. "Feel anything?" she asked Kirk. "Some affinity with that earlier Tiberius?"
"I envy his taste in real estate," Kirk said with a grin. "Must be all right to be emperor."
"And this was only one of his estates." An old woman sitting at the nearest table turned to them. "He had twelve, one for each of the gods. This was the biggest and most beautiful by all accounts."
"Hence the name," Kirk said. "Jovian indeed."
She nodded. "Have you visited the ruins before?" When they shook their heads, she got up from the small table, dumping her trash into a receptacle before joining them. "I am a guide. Would you like a complimentary tour to get you started?" She didn't wait for them to answer, seemed to assume they would say yes. "My name is Thena."
"Interesting name," Chapel said.
The woman laughed. "It's short for something unbearably long and Greek. My mother was going through a classical phase when she named me. My sisters didn't make out much better, although their names shorten up much more cleanly."
"Do you have a sister named Luca?"
"You have met Luca? You must be staying at
"We were there earlier, at the Grotto," Kirk said.
"Swimming." It was not a question.
Chapel laughed. "Let me guess. You can smell the sea on us?"
"I can always smell the sea."
She gestured out toward the vista.
"Jim," Kirk answered.
"Christine," Chapel said, saw Kirk grin and smiled back at him. She didn't want to give his nickname for her away. Not to this woman. Not to anyone. It was nice having it just be for them.
"My other sister has a shop at the Grotto," Thena said.
"Is that Ligi? She was very kind to us."
"Ligi is often very kind." Thena's expression was difficult to read. "She is the most soft-hearted of us."
"You say that as if it's a bad thing?" Kirk shot Thena one of his trademark grins.
Chapel was amused to see the older woman seem to melt under the power of his smile. The man was dangerous.
"Sometimes, when there is duty to be done, one must put the heart aside." Thena was watching him carefully as she spoke.
His grin faded. "Yes. I know."
"Often there is little reward for that duty."
He nodded, his expression becoming bleaker.
She touched his arm, her voice very gentle as she said, "There is always a price for greatness." She gestured toward the ruins. "Like this place. So beautiful in its day that an Emperor couldn't bear to leave it. So intricate in its architecture and engineering that people still come to see it. And underneath it all a great rot." She shook her head. "People died here. Thrown off the cliffs because they offended Caesar or drowned in the excesses that held sway in his grottoes, simple caves he turned into nymphaeum during his hold on this land." She pointed back away from the cliff, toward the southern side of the island. "The tides used to carry the bodies into the Marina Piccola. Right past the Scoglio delle Sirene. The Siren's Reef." She sighed. "They did not have to sing to lure those dead to shore."
She laughed suddenly, as if at herself. "But come. You want to see the place, not just hear me speak ill of it."
She led them through the buildings. Explaining how the ancient water tanks that heated the baths worked, showing them where Tiberius's private rooms lay in the most secluded and secure part of the structure, then taking them out to where a huge loggia had looked out over the sea. "Imagine how it must have looked with the marble and alabaster, the beautiful mosaics. All long gone now. Worn away, or stolen away. All that is left is what you can imagine."
Chapel smiled. "Your sister is filling in the blanks."
Thena nodded. "Yes. Luca's paintings are very detailed." She led them away from the cliffs, toward a smaller building. "Scholars still argue over what this place was used for. But most think it was a specularium. A place where Tiberius could spend time looking at the stars with the astrologer Trasillus."
"You share that," Chapel said to Kirk. "A love of the stars."
Thena led them back to the shelter. "You can roam alone now if you like. Or rest here." She pointed to a pile of blankets near the side of the shelter. "It is pleasant to sit under the trees and eat." She smiled at them, the same way Ligi had on the transport.
"Thank you for the tour," Kirk said.
"You should go back to town by way of the Siren's Reef. At dark, the Marina Piccola is outstandingly lovely. And it is nearly a full moon." She smiled. "Better to go tonight than tomorrow."
"Why?" Kirk asked.
"Tomorrow is the winter solstice. And the moon will be at full as well. Local legends say that when the swollen moon first lights the water on the longest night of the year a person can look into the sea and see their true love reflected back to them." She laughed. "The beach will be crowded with those who wish to try. Everyone wants to believe in magic."
"Do you? Believe in magic?" Chapel asked.
Thena shrugged, her expression amused. "
She turned and walked toward a small group of people who had just emerged from the trees.
"I'm hungry," Kirk said.
"I'm starving," Chapel said, realizing she had missed dinner or breakfast. The time change had her confused. She took his hand, pulled him toward the shelter. "Come on. My treat."
To her relief, he didn't argue. They ordered too much food, and Kirk carried it and a bottle of wine, while she followed with a blanket and the wine glasses. They found a place on the ground, partly in the sun but with a nice tree for him to lean against. They ate until they couldn't stuff another bite in, washing it down with the local red wine.
The food and the wine made her sleepy and she lay back, her head leaning against Kirk's outstretched legs. She stared up at the sky. The hawk was back, wheeling high above them. Then another cry sounded and a second hawk joined the first.
She pointed up with a smile. "See. He's not alone."
Kirk looked up, slowly smiled. Then he leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes. She watched him for a few minutes before drifting off into a lovely torpid daze.
Kirk felt someone gently push his shoulder. He opened his eyes, saw the cook from the shelter. "Yes?"
"We are closing. It will be dark soon." He pointed to where a transport waited. "It is the last one of the evening."
They needed to leave. Kirk stretched, could feel Chapel coming awake as he moved his legs. The cook gathered up their plates and glasses and left them.
to get up. If we want to make the
She nodded, slowly rolled over and pushed herself to her feet. She caught him watching her and smiled. It was such an open expression that he felt something catch in his throat.
"I love it here," she whispered.
"Me too." He stood, helped her fold the blanket, then carried it back to the pile.
They climbed onto the transport. There were other tourists already on board.
"The back's free," Chapel whispered.
He grinned, letting her push him toward the empty seat. "Now why would you want to sit back here?" he said as he sat down.
Her smile was wonderfully devilish as she leaned against him. Putting his arm around her, he laughed softly as she moved her hands under his shirt, her skin warm against his.
"Why, Miss Chapel? Whatever are you doing?"
"Not a thing." She rested her head against his shoulder. She seemed lost in thought, but not unhappily as she stared out the window at the pines.
The driver came out from the shelter, climbed on board. "Dove?" he asked.
Most of the tourists called
The driver nodded, continued
around the bus then climbed into his seat and started the transport. The ride back to town was short and most of
the passengers got off; a few others climbed on for the Marina and Anacapri. They left
the town behind and started down some switchbacks so tight and twisty that they
The sun was just setting, lighting up the sky. The moon, already up, shone brightly as it hung over the sea, swollen, bursting with promise.
"Do you believe it," he asked.
"Looking into the water and seeing your true love?" She sighed. "I'm afraid that I want to believe it." She maneuvered around a group of teenagers then walked across the street and to the pebbly beach that led to the water.
She shrugged; her expression
was grimmer than he'd seen it since they left
He shook his head. "I asked myself that a million times when Lori and I first broke up. What could I have done better? How could I have made her happier?" He took a deep breath. "I'm not sure it's about us, though. And maybe it's selfish of us to think it is. Selfish and too much the martyr, saying we somehow deserved this."
"We didn't deserve this."
"No, we didn't. And we didn't ask for it." He could hear his voice getting louder and tried to scale back his emotions. "Lori cheated on me because she wanted to. I can say that I didn't matter to her, not enough for her to be faithful, but that just makes it about me again. She didn't stay faithful because she chose not to." He frowned. He'd never tried to articulate it to anyone, even to himself. "They chose to cheat because it's in their nature to do that."
Chapel sighed. "But why? I was faithful. Why couldn't he be?"
Kirk shrugged. "I don't know. I probably won't ever know why Lori thought it was okay to play around on me." He sank down to the still-warm stones.
She sat beside him. Not touching him this time. But close.
He watched the moon's light flicker on the water, moving with the gentle motion of the waves. Kirk had the sudden urge to go swimming. To go out as far and fast as he could. To float under that gravid moon. To lie still beneath her bright light and just drift.
He felt Chapel's hand steal onto his and clasped it tightly.
"I hate that they cheated," she said.
"I do too." He sighed. He had been happy with Lori at first. Willing to do anything to make it work. Had that been his mistake? Had he been too easy?
He looked over at Chapel. She was staring at the water, a forlorn look on her face.
"I'm sorry." She leaned into him, didn't look at him.
He put his arm around her. "I'm sorry for both of us."
Her shoulders shook against him and he realized she was crying. He didn't say anything, didn't even look at her. Just tightened his hold on her and let her cry. When she finally pulled away, he let her go.
She got up, turned to him and held out her hand.
He took her hand but frowned slightly, unsure what she wanted to do.
"The transport is here. Let's go back to the hotel." She pulled him up, moved in close. "Back to our room. And our bed."
He said softly, "Are you sure?"
She was already headed for the waiting vehicle. "I've never been more sure about anything."
He followed her into the transport, sat down and shook his head. "I'm not sure it's right."
She looked at him. "Why? Because I was just crying?"
He nodded. Felt his jaw tighten.
"I think I needed to cry. Just to get it out. And you let me." She studied him. "Maybe you're the one who's not ready?" She smiled softly; it took any sting out of the statement.
"Maybe you're right."
She laid her hand on his chest. "Heart's still beating."
"And you're warm and kind and alive. And so am I." She leaned in to kiss him. "If not now, when? If not here, where?"
He smiled. "If you're going to be all poetic about it..."
She laughed, a soft affectionate sound that made him feel steady, as if his course would be true so long as she was near him.
"I guess it would be okay." He looked to see her expression, tried not to grin as he teased her.
"Now, there's the way to woo a woman, Jim. I'm bowled over by your enthusiasm." She smiled, but it was a tenuous smile.
He suddenly felt bad. He'd just meant to tease, not to hurt. "Chris. I've wanted you all day. That's not the issue. I just don't want to hurt you, or get hurt myself in the process."
"I'm not going to hurt you. And I know you won't hurt me."
He shook his head at her trust in him.
"No guts, no glory." She laid her hand on his thigh.
He was suddenly excruciatingly aware of her touch. "Is he ever going to get this rig going," he said under his breath.
She laughed, seemed to recognize his surrender. "Patience is a virtue," she said as she settled back against him.
"He who hesitates is lost."
"There's a saying for everything." She looked out the window at the moon. "It looks so big."
She turned back to him, her eyes very soft. "I'll never forget this place. Not ever."
"Neither will I." He kissed her--a careful, controlled touch because he really just wanted to rip her clothes off right there. His self-imposed abstinence of the last few months suddenly wore on him like sandpaper. He wanted her. Wanted to make love to her now, on the transport, other tourists be damned.
"Patience, Jim." She laughed.
Mercifully the driver stated the transport and headed back up an even narrower set of switchbacks to town.
Every moment was torment. Of the best kind.
Kirk reached for Chapel's hand as they got off the transport. She grasped it firmly, the action seeming familiar somehow, automatic. As if there had never been a time when he wouldn't think to reach for her and that she wouldn't think to reach back. They walked quickly through the square, were back in their hotel before she expected.
He studied her face as the rode the lift up to their floor. "Chris, we don't have to do anything."
"I know." She noticed he hadn't let go of her hand.
Their room was warm and welcoming and Chapel pulled away from Kirk long enough to close the draperies. Then she turned around, stared at him.
She shook her head, feeling foolish. "I just want to remember this. I want to remember how you looked."
He nodded, seemed to be staring at her too. Finally, he asked, "Are you still doing this for revenge?"
She smiled, shook her head slowly as she moved across the room to the bed.
He met her there. "You're sure?"
"Is that why you're doing it?" She frowned, set a bit off balance by having to ask him the question.
He sighed as he pulled her closer. "I've had opportunities to get revenge many times over and I haven't taken them." He kissed her slowly, softly. "This is because of you. Because of us and this island and how good it feels to be with you."
She nodded. "Yes. That's why." She kissed his cheek. "And because you didn't pressure me in the cave."
"I understood your decision. I like this one better. We've both had time to think, time to calm down. I want to believe you want me, Chris, and not some random guy you can use to even the score with your ex-boyfriend."
"You're not some random guy. You'll never be that." She kissed him, not on the cheek.
He moaned. "And you'll never be that either." He began to touch her, his hands roaming all over her body, to places he'd studiously avoided earlier.
She moaned too.
He slowly undressed her, smiling in appreciation as each article of clothing came off, touching and kissing each new place he exposed. She did the same to him, wondered if she and Tom had ever taken this kind of time to really look at each other. As Kirk's tongue charted a path of sun freckles down her chest, she wondered if she had ever known her boyfriend's body as well as she was learning his.
"You're skin still tastes salty," he murmured.
She licked his neck, under his ear. "Yours too."
He pushed her down to the bed, crawled over her, his expression intense as he joined with her. She pulled him closer, her short nails digging into his back as he moved. She closed her eyes, wondering briefly why she'd never fantasized about this man. Loving him was amazing.
He smiled, pulled away and rolled to his back, pulling her on top of him. He closed his eyes, his smile growing larger as she moved against him. "Chris."
His hands were everywhere and she arched back, lost in sensation. She could feel him going faster, could tell he knew how close she was, knew when to let go himself so they crashed together, fell down, down, down the long cliff face to a sea of their own making.
She collapsed onto his chest, his arms coming around her, holding her tightly against him.
"Damn," he said softly.
"My thoughts exactly," she said with a dazed smile.
They lay quietly for a long time. Then he kissed her cheek and she moved her face so their lips met, tongues swirling around each other in unhurried motion. Desire still there but buried for the moment in this lethargic haze.
She realized he was staring at her.
"What?" she asked.
She smiled, shook her head. "No, I'm not."
"Yes. You are." He kissed her again, this time not so lethargically.
She felt him move under her, pushing her off him, onto the bed to lie on her stomach. He began to kiss her back, and she realized he was learning the landscape of her shoulders and back and ass the same way he'd done in the front. As his lips traveled down the small of her back, she felt a tickle start, shivered, tried to pull away.
He held her down, licked and kissed and laughed as she moaned and tried to escape his tickling. His hands moved down her thighs, stroking gently, the touch extraordinarily sensual. She began to feel guilty at the time he was spending on her, wanted to touch him and tried to turn over but he held her down.
"Relax, Chris. We have all the time in the world."
Then he found another way to touch her, reaching down and forward, the unexpected angle of his fingers both strange and intense. She couldn't think anymore, couldn't think again until she had writhed and bucked and made far too much noise--the tile floor gave the room amazing acoustics.
He drew her hips up a bit until she was kneeling, moved against her, into her, curling his body around hers, pulling her up. He held her tightly, his lips at her neck, his hips relentless. She moaned as he moved, pushed back hard, trying to give him as much pleasure as he was giving her.
She was glad to see that his voice carried just as well in the little room as hers did.
"Damn?" she asked softly as he collapsed to her side.
"I think that rates a holy shit." He laughed, his eyes slightly unfocused as she cuddled in next to him.
"We better stop before we run out of expletives."
"I can be very creative," he said with a warm grin.
"I bet you can." She let her fingers run through his hair, enjoying the way he pressed his head against hers, the way his eyes closed and he sighed happily.
"I can swear in more than thirty languages," he said.
She laughed. "Uhura taught me a few choice words too."
He gave her a grin that was just this side of evil. "Then we should be set until morning." He kissed her again. "At least."
Kirk watched Chapel as she lay stretched out next to him. She was frowning, but it was more the frown of deep thought than of unhappiness. "What in the hell are you thinking about?" He let his hand run up her leg, smiled when she shivered.
She turned so that she was on her side, facing him. "Math."
"You're thinking about math? Right now?" He couldn't help it, he grinned.
She nodded solemnly. "Math and relationships."
"Care to share?"
"Two shall become one. That's what they sell us on."
He nodded. That was indeed what they used as the big closing. "One from two. Perfect unity."
"Yeah." She narrowed her eyes. "What's the only way two numbers can add up to one?"
He was about to shoot off a quick answer when she added, "No negatives."
He smiled. "Fractional numbers."
"Right." She shook her head. "I can't believe I never thought of this before." She leaned in. "We want to believe it's half and half. But what if it's not? What if it's one-fourth and three-fourths?" She thought about it. "That might not be so bad. What if it's one-ninety-ninth and ninety-eight-ninety-ninths? You still end up with one."
"Yes, you do." He nuzzled her neck.
"But the level of commitment sure isn't equal. You may end up with one whole, but who's doing all the work?"
"What did you and Tom have?"
She inhaled slowly, shook her head. "I think six-seventeenths and eleven-seventeenths."
He laughed. "And how do you arrive at that number?"
"Just works for me. I was the eleven-seventeenths."
He nodded. He'd figured that out. "So in my case it was"--he picked the first prime number that jumped into his head and turned it into a fraction--"one-thirteenth Lori, three-thirteenths her flavor of the week, and nine-thirteenths me." He shook his head. "It's a depressing way to think."
"What would you rate us?"
She kissed him, a sweet, warm touch on his lips, her body pressing against his. He pulled her closer, thought that he would pull her inside him if he could. To keep her safe, to keep her just for him.
"Half and half," she whispered as she wiggled against him.
"I like the sound of that." He rolled on top of her.
"Shit," she said.
"I'm good but I'm not that good. We're not at the swearing moment, sweetheart."
She pointed to the bedside table. "No, your communicator..."
"Oh, shit." He'd put it on vibrate at the gala, didn't want to disturb the other guests. Had never changed it back. It was vibrating itself nearly off the table. He reached for it. "Kirk, here."
"Jim? Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to get you for hours now." Nogura sounded very put out.
Chapel bit her lip, made a sheepish face.
"Something came up," Kirk said, smiling when her shoulders started to shake.
"Well, I need you back here. Now."
"I'm on leave, Admiral."
"Your leave is cancelled, Jim. Get back here now."
He saw Chapel's face fall, knew his own looked no happier. "Aye-aye, sir. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Sooner! Nogura out."
"Nice guy," Chapel whispered once Kirk had closed the communicator back up.
"No. He's not." Kirk eased off her. "I'm sorry."
"Duty before pleasure." Her smile was sad, but resigned.
"This was more than just pleasure." He kissed her.
He mussed her already mussed hair. "You know it was. It was connection."
She nodded. "Yes. It was."
He touched her cheek briefly then rose. "Stay here if you want. I'll try to come back."
She laughed. "That was not the voice of 'Sure, go
He shot her a rueful glance. "You're right. It wasn't." He leaned down. Kissed her. "Stay here. Look in the water tonight." He showed her the chrono. "It's afternoon already. You have just enough time to eat and stake out a good spot on the beach." He put the chrono down with a sigh. "And I have just enough time to shower and beat hell back." He shook his head. "The one weekend I have plans..."
"Maybe there'll be other weekends?" Her voice sounded very tentative.
He looked down at her, tenderness rushing over him. "Count on it, Chris." Then he shook his head again. "Until you go gallivanting off in my ship."
"I don't have to go." She stretched out her hand to him.
"Yes, you do. It'll be good for you." He squeezed her hand gently. "I can wait for you to get back."
She nodded, a happy smile slowly lighting her face.
She really was beautiful. Such quiet grace. He leaned down, kissed her soundly then pulled away. "I have to go."
She nodded. "Go. Shower. And git. I'm sure it's some crisis that only you can handle." She cuddled into the covers. "I'll sleep."
"Lucky you." He was damned tired.
Turning, he hurried into the bathroom, rushed through a shower and got dressed in his shorts and t-shirt. He had a uniform in his office. But what if he ran into Nogura before he got there? Rebellion came over him. If the old man was going to call him in from leave, he could damn well deal with a casually-dressed Kirk for ten minutes.
He padded back out to the main room. Saw that Chapel had fallen asleep, was tossing fitfully.
"Don't dream of Tom," he whispered as he bent down to kiss her. "Dream of me."
His only answer was a quiet moan.
He stared down at her, wanting more than anything to crawl back into the bed with her and close his eyes. "Duty before pleasure," he echoed her words.
He made himself turn and leave her. The hallway was empty as he hurried to the lift and through the lobby. Thena's sister had set up her easel in the lobby again. She was singing softly as she worked. He glanced at her easel as he went by. The painting brought him up short. It was of the sea, still as glass with a full moon shining bright upon its night-dark waters. A lone figure swam, heading far out past the huge rocks that guarded the harbor. On the rock closest to shore, three women and a mermaid sat, watching the figure. He reached out to touch the mermaid, pulled back at the last moment, realizing that he'd almost ruined the woman's work.
"Sorry," he murmured. What was her name? Lupa? No, Luca.
Luca looked over at him. Their eyes met and he felt as if he was falling into her dark gaze. She finally looked away, releasing him from whatever spell he'd been under.
He blinked rapidly.
He smiled. She was older than he was, but not enough to call him that. "Always duty."
She smiled. "Ligi asked me to give you something." She dug into her bag, pulled out a small painting, one that looked very much like the one in the museum. "She said Christine admired this, which makes me happy since it is one of my favorites. She wants her to have it, says you are to give it to her."
He tried to hand it back. "She's still here. I'd take it up to her, but I'm late."
Luca pushed it back into his hands. "Give it to her later. You'll know when." She smiled. "Now, go. Destiny awaits."
He doubted it was anything so dramatic. For all he knew, Nogura didn't want to have dinner alone with the Klingon ambassador. Gagh made him nauseous.
"I'll give it to her."
She nodded, turned back to her picture. "Remember to always keep swimming. No matter how stormy the water, you must keep going."
He frowned, not sure what she meant. "Any particular direction?"
She smiled slightly. "Why in, of course. In and in and in. Just like the Grotto, it will only get bluer as you find your way."
He waited for more, but she busied herself with mixing the dark colors she was using for the rough sea.
He looked at the picture again. Hadn't the sea been still the first time he'd looked? He shook his head. He really was tired. Rubbing his eyes, he said softly, ""Good bye," then turned to go.
He could have sworn he heard her whisper, "Good luck," as he walked away.
The sea was dark--dark and wind-tossed. Chapel sat on the rock near the three, watching as Kirk swam away from them. She was herself but not herself. She felt different, stronger, thicker somehow. She looked down. Saw that her legs were gone. She wore a mermaid's tail; she was a mermaid.
She looked back out at Kirk. He did not seem to know she was watching him.
"He will tire," she said softly. Her tail quivered with agitation. She longed to throw herself into the water and swim out to him. Keep him company as he went. Hold him steady if he faltered.
"He is only human," the first of the three said.
"He is everything human," Chapel whispered. "He is a hero."
"He will have to be. Something is coming. Something deadly," the third of the three said. She sang a word to the sea and it became rougher.
The first sang another word and the sea calmed slightly.
Chapel looked to the second, waited to see whom she would side with. But she did not pay any attention to them.
"Ask what you will, child," she said to Chapel.
"Please help him?" Chapel asked, willing to beg if it would aid him.
"What will you give us to help him?"
"I have nothing to give."
"No wealth?" the first asked.
"No rank?" the third peered at her.
She shook her head.
"What of position?" The second smiled. "Will you give up that for him?"
Chapel nodded. Yes, she had that. How could she have forgotten? She looked down. Her tail was gone, her legs back. Legs clad in Starfleet medical white. She was CMO. "Yes, I will give up that for him."
"Keep his course straight," the first said, as she began to sing.
"Be his anchor," the third said, joining her voice with that of the first.
"Believe," the second said, pushing Chapel down to her back on the rock. The second opened her mouth, sang one note. It seemed to crash into the melody of the other two, gathering momentum as it built into a huge wave of sound. "Believe," the second whispered into her ear just as the world exploded.
Chapel jerked awake with a start, breathing hard. She looked for Kirk then remembered that Command had called him back. She grabbed the chrono, saw it was much later than she expected. How could she have slept this long?
She rolled out of bed, headed for the shower. Dressing quickly, she headed for the lobby. The sun was just setting, the moon was already up. She sighed in frustration. She would have to hurry.
The transport was just pulling away as she ran up. It didn't stop for her. "No!" She wiped at her face, was surprised to find tears. "No."
She heard a strange humming, turned and saw Luca sitting on a bench watching her.
"Is there another?" Chapel asked.
"Transport? No. Not if you want to get down to the
Chapel wiped at her face again. "Do you have some way to get there?"
"Why do you want to get there so badly?"
Chapel looked down; she wasn't sure what the answer was. Why did she care so much?
"Child?" Luca patted the bench. "Come, sit."
"I wanted to see it. The magic." There, she'd said it. She wanted to believe. It suddenly seemed important.
Luca laughed loudly. "Oh, my sister sold you a good one, didn't she?" She shook her head.
"There's no magic?"
Luca looked at her with a stern affection that surprised Chapel even as it touched something deep inside her.
"Christine, don't you know that the only magic in this world is what we bring to it?" She put her hand on Chapel's chest. "What we carry inside ourselves?"
Chapel nodded, but the sentiment didn't make her feel any better.
Luca took her hand and squeezed it the way her grandmother used to do when they'd sat on her grandparent's deck and watched the sun set into the sea. "Do you really need a full moon and a black sea to tell you who it is you want to be with?"
Chapel looked over at her.
"Do you need a solstice night to tell you what man has been kind to you, has moved you? Has loved you?" Luca shook her head. "Do you need magic to tell you what is in your own heart?"
Chapel laughed softly. "I don't even believe in magic."
"Do you believe in love?"
Chapel nodded, smiled slowly.
Luca chuckled. "You don't want to be on that crowded beach alone, do you? Wouldn't you rather be somewhere else...with him?"
She could feel her smile fading. "But that's just it. I won't be. I'll be up there." She pointed at the darkening sky.
Luca pointed up. "But up there, it is where heroes live, no?" She smiled. "Perseus is up there. Orion. Castor and Pollux. I think they'll welcome one of their own back among them."
Chapel shook her head. "You don't understand."
"No, child, it is you who do not understand." Luca pointed toward a communications console behind them, just outside the transporter station. "I think someone is trying to contact you."
Chapel didn't stop to ask how she knew, she got up and logged into the system. There was a message from Decker. "Get back here now, Christine. I need you onboard. Something big is up. I'll tell you when you get here."
She turned to Luca. "How did you know?"
"I have to go." Chapel realized she and Luca were the same build. "Do you ever go out? Dress up?"
"I've been known to tempt a man or two in my day," Luca said.
Chapel smiled, turned back and dialed the hotel. When the reception answered, she said, "This is Doctor Chapel." The title still sounded odd to her. "There's an emergency. I'm checking out of my room."
"But of course, signora. Your friend paid for the room, everything is settled."
Chapel smiled. "Thanks. There is a dress in my room. I'd like Luca to have it."
He nodded. "I will see that she gets it. Come back to Capri someday."
"I'd like to." She signed off, turned back to Luca. "It's a nice dress. Cost me a pretty credit. Wear it in good health." She smiled softly.
"That is generous of you." Luca gave her a strange smile. "Such willingness to give should be repaid."
Chapel waved her away. "It's nothing." Her internal clock was buzzing. Work was calling and she could feel herself shifting out of leave mode. "Goodbye, Luca. I hope we meet again."
Luca walked over to her, put her hand on Chapel's cheek. Her voice was very soft, very lilting as she said, "Child of the sea, you will come back someday. And I will be here. I am always here." Her smile was wry.
Chapel nodded, more moved than she fully understood. She touched Luca's cheek, mirroring her gesture, and as her fingers settled on the woman's soft skin, Chapel could hear the roar of the sea and a terrible crashing sound. She flinched but then a melody rose up, beautiful in its simplicity as a lone voice carried it. Then another voice joined in, singing counterpoint, then a third, finding yet another way to meld the song. The three voices wove a sound so strong and fierce it could hold a Kraken prisoner.
Chapel shook her head at her own whimsy. She dropped her fingers and the music stopped abruptly.
"I give back what I took, or most of it. There must be some sacrifice. Others will give everything they have; you cannot be exempt," Luca said as she let go of Chapel.
"I don't understand."
"I know," Luca said as she hurried away.
Chapel watched her go, then forced herself to turn and walk into the transporter room. As she stepped onto the pad, she could see the sea through the open doorway, could just make out the full moon shining reflecting on the water. She stared at it until the transporter carried her home.
She called Decker from the transporter station at Starfleet Command. "Get up here," he said.
She beamed up to spacedock, then took a shuttle over to the ship.
Decker met her at the door. "Where have you been?" He shot her a worried glance. She figured Tom had been talking to him.
"Did you know about her?" she asked.
He looked away.
Chapel shook her head. "He was your friend. I know that. Your loyalty was to him." She swallowed the lump of hurt. She'd thought he was her friend too.
"I got your things. Figured you might not want to go back." His eyes were gentle, his smile sad. He touched her hand briefly. "I put them in your quarters."
He didn't press her to tell him where she'd been or what she'd been doing. Just quietly briefed her on what was going on, the threat they'd be facing. As he left her in sickbay, he turned to her. "I'm glad you're here now. I can finally relax."
She felt a rush of affection for him. Such a good man. A decent man. Despite what had happened with Tom, Will Decker was her friend too.
Kirk walked slowly away from Starfleet Command. His meeting with Nogura had gone as he'd expected. The Enterprise was his. He felt a thrill run through him.
It died quickly. The Enterprise was his because he had to get her out to meet the unknown entity that threatened Earth. A thing of unimaginable destructive capability. He sighed. His ship. His crew. For how long?
And Chris was on the Enterprise. He had a sudden urge to get her off the ship. Almost wished he'd replaced her completely when he'd convinced Nogura to call Bones back into service, instead of just demoting her to deputy.
It was selfish of him either way. Keep her on Earth where she'd be safe, and he'd be making her decisions for her. If someone did that to him, he'd be furious at the presumption. But to keep her on board because he wanted her near him? Was that any better?
He sighed. She was on board because that was where she was supposed to be. She was a little lower in position because he needed McCoy there. She could be CMO to Decker, but not to him.
He closed his eyes, saw reflected blue, felt her lips on his. She could be other things to him though. God, he missed her already. Could not wait to see her.
He looked up, realized he was standing in front of the museum. He dashed in, smiling as he hurried back to the "Magical Places" exhibit. Just one quick look and he'd be gone. He stopped dead. The picture of the Blue Grotto was gone. In its place hung a painting of Stonehenge. He walked closer.
"A beautiful work, isn't it?" A man walked up to him. "I'm Miles Rayne. The curator here."
Kirk nodded at him. "It's amazing. But I prefer the one of the Grotto." He couldn't keep the disappointment out of his voice.
"The Blue Grotto. In Capri." Kirk wondered what the hell kind of curator this fellow was anyway.
"Oh, I quite agree that's a beautiful spot. But we do have to go with what's in our collection, I'm afraid."
"I don't understand. You had a painting of the grotto here yesterday. At the gala."
"No, sir, we didn't." The curator smiled gently, as if Kirk was a very old man on the wrong side of senile. "Perhaps at some other museum? Who was the painter?"
Kirk tried to remember what Chapel had read off the card. "Lucas? Lucasia?"
"Yes. That's it." Kirk smiled.
The curator laughed. "Oh, that's a good one. You had me going there for a moment. Fortunately, I'm a great fan of mythology."
"I don't understand."
"Leucosia was one of the sirens."
Kirk felt his smile fade. "The what?"
"The sirens. Three of them. Leucosia, Ligeia, and Parthenope. They lived on Capri."
"Did a brunette doctor put you up to this?" Kirk couldn't imagine she would do that, but perhaps she had a bizarre sense of humor?
"No, sir." The curator looked slightly uncomfortable.
If Kirk hadn't been an admiral, he believed the man might actually call for security. "I'll be going now."
"I think that would be a good idea."
Kirk hurried out, working his way back to Command. He'd come out on this walk to get a last feel of terra firm. Now he felt shaky. And he couldn't afford that. Not with this thing coming straight for his home planet. Not when his ship would be all that stood between it and the total destruction of Earth.
Someone was playing a joke on him. Only he didn't know why. And he didn't have time to worry about it.
He hurried to the transporter, beamed directly to Spacedock. Scotty was there to meet him. Just seeing him made Kirk feel more at ease. Everything was as it should be.
He went to the bridge, felt the welcome of his old crew, also felt the suspicion and resentment of Decker's crew. They'd have to become one crew--his. They'd have to do it fast.
He hurried down to engineering, broke the news to Will. He tried to tell himself to go slow, be gentle. Tried to remind himself of how he would feel. But in the end, he blurted it out, didn't sugarcoat the truth. Decker was no longer captain. End of story.
He pushed down the guilt he felt. He knew what Decker was feeling. Knew how much it would hurt to have the ship yanked away from him. But Kirk couldn't afford to care about that. He was the best man for the job.
And it was the only way to get his ship back.
God help him. Even if he wasn't the best man for the job, he'd do this to get his ship back. Even if just for a while. And it didn't matter why he was in charge, the fact was he had the center seat now. But he'd need Decker on this. Couldn't afford to push him away too far. Not with a brand new ship under him, a ship he didn't know as well as Decker did.
An alarm went off, pulling him out of his reverie. Transporter malfunction. He and Scotty ran down to the transporter room. As they went, he felt his blood racing. This was the life he was meant for. This was the life he was supposed to live. Not on the ground. Not at some desk.
He was the right man for the job.
His exhilaration faded as he watched Rand fighting with the controls.
He pushed her aside. "Give it to me." He caught a glimpse of the bioscan, realized one of the two people trying to beam in was Vulcan. God, no. Not Sonak. Kirk had recommended him for this job. Had wanted to give Decker that. What he'd had. A Spock of his own. Was this how it would end?
He tried to resolve the pattern buffers before they formed. But he failed.
"Starfleet, do you have them?"
"Enterprise, what we got back didn't live long. Fortunately."
Rand was staring at him, her expression tight, almost angry. What the hell had he been doing? He'd pushed her aside. Why hadn't he let her do it? Would she have been able to save them? Why had he thought he should take over?
"Starfleet, Kirk. Please express my condolences to their families. Commander Sonak's can be reached through the Vulcan Embassy."
"There was nothing you could have done, Rand. It wasn't your fault." He couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence. Let it hang out there and wondered if she heard it. The silent, "It was mine."
"Sir?" Rand's voice was soft, but there was steel underneath. She was angry with him. "The other person wasn't a crewman."
He turned back. "No?"
She shook her head. "It was Admiral Ciani."
He felt as if he'd been suckerpunched. "Lori?"
Rand nodded. "She said she had a message for you."
Kirk took a step toward her. "She had no business on this ship. You let her beam aboard for a personal visit?"
"I didn't 'let' her do anything, sir. She is...was an admiral. She ordered me to beam her up with Commander Sonak." Rand swallowed heavily.
Kirk could feel his jaw tightening. He'd hated Lori, wanted to kill her himself at times. But this? He'd just witnessed her death--possibly been the cause of it--and hadn't even known.
Scotty stepped close to him. "Sir, the overload. There's nothing you could have done."
Kirk shook his head, walked out of the room. Lori, Sonak. The Enterprise hadn't even left Earth and he'd lost two people he cared about. How many more would be lost before this was done?
Chapel heard the doors open but didn't turn around. People had been streaming in and out of sickbay for hours, bringing in final supplies, making final adjustments. If they needed her, they'd ask.
"I brought you something." The voice was close, husky. And sounded tired.
She turned around, saw Kirk and frowned. "What are you doing here?"
"I took the ship."
He looked down. "I took the ship away from Will."
She closed her eyes, imagined Will's pain and anger. "Oh, Jim." Then she nodded to her office. "Come in."
He nodded. "You're his CMO, Chris. I don't expect you to support this decision."
She had a sudden flashback. A rock, a mermaid's tail. "What will you give," someone had asked her. What would she give for what?
She saw that he was holding something behind his back. "You said you had something for me?"
He nodded. "I'm going to take something away too. Which do you want first?"
Position. She'd given her position. The dream came crashing back. Kirk swimming in the waves. She had wanted to help him. The three had wanted something from her. And she'd given up this.
"How are you going to get McCoy back?" She smiled softly, felt an odd mixture of relief and anger at his action. She'd never expected to end up with CMO as her first posting after finishing her degree. But now that she'd had it for a few hours, she wasn't sure she wanted to relinquish it. Not that she was going to have a choice.
He didn't seem surprised that she'd figured it out. "Nogura reactivated him."
She'd always told McCoy to read the fine print. On alien booze bottles and on his contracts with Starfleet. He never did. This time it would bite him in the butt. Or in her butt. In someone's butt, anyway.
"Chris? Say something."
She took a deep breath. "I'm mad."
He nodded. "I expected that."
She sighed. "But I understand. I can't be your CMO." She shrugged. "I can see why you want him." She looked down. "Especially when Spock isn't here."
"And isn't going to be here." He shook his head. "I need Spock, need him badly. But he's out of reach."
"I wish he were here, for your sake, Jim."
He nodded. Looked at her with a resigned, slightly forlorn look.
"So, what's behind your back?" She smiled, deciding to let her demotion go.
He handed her the small painting she'd retrieved for Ligi on the bus. "Oh." She stroked the frame gently, admired the way Luca had captured the blue flashes on the Grotto wall. "You went back?"
He shook his head. "Ligi wanted you to have it. I ran into Luca when I left. She gave it to me to give to you."
"Why didn't she give it to me herself?"
He shrugged. "She seemed to think it was important that I give it to you." He touched her hand, where it rested on the frame. "When I think of the Grotto, I'll only ever think of you."
She thought she heard a note of finality in his words, felt tears well unexpectedly and turned quickly, setting the picture down on her desk. "Thank you for bringing it."
"I have work to do, Admiral."
"Captain." He moved closer to her. "And it's Jim in here."
She nodded. Tried to act nonchalant and then ruined it by sniffling too loudly. She felt his hands on her arms, sniffled again.
"What is it?" he asked.
She laughed, the sound came out shaky and bitter. "It was just a fun day, right? I mean, now that you're back." She touched the picture again. "At least I'll have a place in your memories."
He chuckled and she turned to him frowning. Was this a joke to him?
"You goose." He pulled her close and she was glad she'd closed the door behind them because he kissed her, gently, but with a promise of more than just that friendly kiss.
She was very confused. "So you still want..."
He nodded. "We may not survive this. You do realize that?" He touched her cheek, rubbed away a tear that had worked its way loose. "I almost had you transferred off. To keep you safe."
She shook her head. "I'd have killed you."
He smiled. "Provided that thing out there doesn't do it first."
"Oh, I'd have still killed you." She felt herself grinning.
"Well, now you don't have to. Because I didn't do it. Couldn't do it." He sighed, his expression utterly tender. "I couldn't let you go."
She frowned. "Won't you have to? I'm in your chain of command."
"Temporarily. When this is over, Nogura will yank me back and give the chair to Will." He kissed her again. "I need to know you're with me." His voice dropped oddly. "I don't want to lose you."
She pulled back, and he looked away. She frowned. Jim Kirk never looked away. "What is it?"
He swallowed hard. "Did you hear about the transporter accident?"
She nodded. She'd heard there'd been a tragedy, but Starfleet Command had been the ones to deal with medical assistance...or clean up. She shuddered. She'd seen the results of a similar accident. The bodies had been unrecognizable.
"It was Commander Sonak."
"Jim, I'm sorry. I know he was a friend of yours."
He nodded. Something darker in his expression made her wince for him.
"It was Lori. The other person was Lori." He sat down in her desk chair, wiped at his eyes as if trying to stop any tears even though he didn't look as if he was going to cry. She noticed his hand trembled slightly.
He pulled her to him, the same way he had in their room in Capri, resting his head against her stomach and wrapping his arms around her. "I stepped in, Chris. Got in Rand's way. Grandstanding or something...I don't know." He looked down. "I killed her."
"No, you didn't." Chapel stroked his hair. "A transporter malfunction did that. You were just caught in the middle."
"I grabbed the controls, as if Rand couldn't do it." He took a shuddering breath. "And the worst part, Chris. The worst part is that I didn't even know it was Lori."
Chapel could only nod.
He laughed sourly. "Actually the worst part is that I don't know how I feel. She hurt me. I loved her, but that love is so caught up in pain. She was coming up to see me and I don't know why. I hurt inside and yet..."
"And yet you don't?" She waited to see what he'd say, settled for his tight nod. "You were divorced, Jim. She hurt you. Very much. I think it's natural to feel torn, to feel guilty over not feeling worse about her death." She sighed. "Let it go for now. Grief takes time to manifest. Maybe...in time..."
"Besides. You have that thing to stop."
He looked down. "What if I'm not cut out for this? Decker implied--"
"--Then Decker was wrong." She could tell he was surprised at her vehemence. "Decker is a friend, and a damn good officer. But if I have to go and face death in this ship, I'd rather have you a million times over than him. You'll get us home again. You always do."
He smiled. "Such faith in me."
Chapel remembered Luca's words at the transporter station. "Like it or not, Jim, you're a hero. And you belong with the other heroes. In the stars." She leaned down, kissed him, trying to put all her belief and trust in the touch.
"You'll keep me true," he said when they pulled away. "That's why I couldn't send you away. It was selfish, but I needed you here with me. Just as much as I needed McCoy." He took her hand, brought it to his lips. "I'm sorry I demoted you."
She shook her head. "No, you're not. Now, don't you have a ship to get ready for launch?"
He nodded, took a deep breath. Before her eyes he seemed to channel all the things that made him the great captain. His back straightened, his jaw became firm, his eyes grew steely. And as she saw him drape the mantle of leadership over the real man, she suddenly knew how much being captain cost him.
"I'm here for you," she said softly. "Whenever you need me."
She looked over at the painting. "And if I get to keep you, I can live without being CMO."
He smiled. "CMO might have been a better deal than I will be."
She pulled him close and kissed him again. "I had Uhura teach me a whole bunch of new swear words. I did that for you, not for CMO." She smiled. "Given the choice, I'll take you."
He smiled softly, turned to go.
"Given the choice, the ship'll take you too. She knows who her man is."
He laughed. "I hope you're right."
"I am." She watched him walk out then finished unpacking her office. It was nearly the same size as the other offices. McCoy might have taken her position, but she'd never agreed to give this up. He could pick one of the others. If he stayed true to form, he'd spend most of his time near Jim anyway.
And besides, like Jim had said, Nogura would yank him back and McCoy would go with him. Decker wouldn't want anyone but her for CMO. He'd made that very clear.
Kirk walked briskly to the transporter room. More elated than he wanted to admit at the thought of seeing McCoy again. He'd regretted that he hadn't been able to let old wounds heal, that he hadn't reached out to the man who had been one of his closest friends.
He missed the wit, the acerbic tongue, the glint McCoy got when he was going to pull rank--his CMO to Kirk's captain. Kirk missed the man who kept him from running aground.
Kirk nodded to
Kirk's grin faded as he remembered the scene earlier. How could he smile, how could he laugh over this? Did he want McCoy to end up as a pile of goo the way Lori and Sonak had?
McCoy's rant after he beamed in broke into Kirk's thoughts, pulling him out of the dark downward trail they'd been taking. Kirk let him go on, tried to explain what they were facing.
Finally he said, "Bones, I need you badly." He held his hand out to his friend. For a moment, he thought McCoy wouldn't take it. Then he finally did.
Kirk felt a broad smile cross his face.
McCoy turned to
She sounded delighted when she said, "Permission granted, sir!"
McCoy headed for the door. "I hear Chapel's an MD now; I need a top nurse, not a doctor who'll argue every diagnosis..." His grumbling was eventually cut off by the door closing behind him.
Kirk laughed softly, then hit the intercom.
"All decks, this is the Captain.
Prepare for immediate departure." He let the comm
circuit close, then turned back to
She nodded. "It's all right, sir." She busied herself with adjusting some settings.
He walked toward her. "No. It isn't." He sighed, leaned up against the terminal.
"She was your wife, sir. I understand why you were angry." She looked down. "I'm the transporter chief, I should have told her no."
He shook his head. "I wouldn't have wanted to be in your shoes if you'd tried." He shot her a rueful smile. "Lori didn't take being told no well."
"And next time I'll let you handle it. I probably made things worse."
She shook her head. "I didn't like being pushed to the side, sir, but I can't let you think that. I watched you; I'd have taken over if I'd thought that you didn't know what you were doing. But you did. You did everything any of us could."
"Thanks, Janice." He felt a little bit of the guilt he'd been carrying ease.
She smiled shyly. "It's good to have you back, sir."
He nodded, left her with a last smile. It was good to be back, even if his return was only temporary.
Chapel sat at her desk,
absently touching the Grotto painting.
She'd been happy there. On
Kirk could be ruthless when he needed to be. And Chapel knew he needed to be. What was the Vulcan saying? The good of the many outweighs the needs of the few--or was it the one? There had been a time when Chapel had memorized Vulcan sayings for the hell of it. Now, she found herself rusty.
She sighed as she thought of Ilia's happy smile as the Deltan had helped Chekov. The loving way Ilia had looked at Decker. The way she'd looked at Chapel herself. Decker's friend, therefore Ilia's.
All snuffed out. Torn away from them and then cruelly returned to mock Decker with her presence. So close. So very close to the real thing at times. But not the real thing.
Not at all the real thing.
"I need you out here, Christine," McCoy said softly.
She looked over at McCoy, a feeling of security folding over her as she watched his face. He'd taken her spot, but it was like old times having him around. She'd worried that he'd treat her like a nurse still, but he treated her like any other doctor. "What's wrong?"
"Spock went out there. The damn fool tried to meld with V'Ger." McCoy was angry, really angry. "No damn emotions and he goes out to make it worse by finding unity with that killing machine."
She closed her eyes. "Jim?"
"Brought him back in. A crash team is on its way."
She nodded, stood up. Waited with him by the diagnostic bed. She realized McCoy was staring at her. "What?"
"Just wondering how Tom was?"
She hadn't thought about Tom or what he'd done for a long time. At least two hours. She fought back the bitter smile she could feel beginning and shrugged.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
She saw that McCoy was interested in her answer, in what she was feeling, how she was doing. She could tell him about Kirk if she wanted to. But it was like being called Chris. She didn't want to share it. "Tom and I broke up."
"He was seeing someone else," she let her tone indicate finality, didn't want to discuss it any longer.
She nodded tersely, was saved from having to find something else to talk about by the arrival of the gurney. The orderlies moved Spock to the biobed. He stared up at the ceiling, no reaction when she walked over to him, began to scan him.
She watched Spock's eyes, saw them change, awareness filling them. Then he laughed.
She almost jumped at the unexpected sound.
Kirk and McCoy rushed to the bed.
"Jim." Spock reached out for Kirk's hand. He seemed to be fighting to get words out. "This simple feeling is beyond V'ger's comprehension."
Chapel watched as Kirk's face eased, and she could see the tension draining away from him. Tension she had recognized unconsciously since she'd first run into him at the gala. Had he carried it for the last two and half years? Ever since his best friend had abandoned him?
Spock spoke of V'ger's origins, of its barrenness. Its need for meaning and hope. Its search for answers. This killing machine was no different than any of them? Searching for answers in all the wrong places, hurting anyone who got in its way?
The intercom chimed, Uhura
and Sulu updated Kirk as Chapel watched him, trying to assess his mood. Trying to figure out what he was
thinking. He seemed unreadable at this
moment. The captain
and only the captain. She was
having a hard time seeing the man she'd explored
Kirk looked at her. "I need Spock on the bridge."
It wasn't in Spock's best interest, no more than it was good for Decker to be squiring around that probe. But it was necessary. It was what had to be done.
She turned to a med tech, ordered, "Dalaphaline, twenty cc's..."
McCoy walked over to a monitor, was watching Decker and Ilia as they walked around Engineering.
Kirk motioned Chapel into her office. He stared at the Grotto painting, then brought up the external viewers on her terminal. V'ger showed the same vivid blue.
"How deep can you go?" she asked softly.
He looked over at her, then back at screen. "How deep do we need to go?"
"Pretty damn deep."
"In and in and in." He shook his head. "No matter how stormy it gets."
He smiled tightly. "Advice from a siren." He touched her hand. "We could die out here."
Her voice was rock steady. "Then we die together."
"Will Spock be all right?"
"I think so." She grimaced. "I hope he stops smiling soon. It's creepy."
He laughed. "It's better than the automaton who first arrived."
"He was pretty chilly when he got back. I was so sad for you."
He studied her, seemed to hesitate. "Not for yourself?"
She frowned, shook her head.
"You used to have feelings for him, Chris. He could return those now."
She laughed. "It wasn't my hand he was just holding so sweetly, Jimbo."
He laughed out loud at the nickname, then scowled at her. "Don't ever call me that again. But you have a point."
She could tell he still didn't feel one hundred percent secure with this. "Just ask what you want, Jim."
"So, given the choice..."
She clucked in exasperation. "My god, you're being needy." She moved closer to him, their shoulders touching as she said quietly, "Given the choice, mister best sex of my life and, oh yeah, best damn day of my life, I'd choose you."
He smiled, and she smiled. That had obviously been the right answer.
"Maybe I do a feel a little needy."
"Well, don't. You've got me, whether you like it or not." She ducked a look out the open door; McCoy was still watching Decker and Ilia. She kissed Kirk's cheek quickly then whispered in his ear, "Besides, I bet Spock doesn't swear very well."
"I'm sure not." He grinned at her. "You're good for me, Doctor." He touched her hand again.
"I do try."
"You don't have to try." He winked at her, seemed to be trying to throw his bravado back on. "I need to go check on Will and that probe. You get Spock to the bridge."
He looked back at her, as if to see if she was kidding around or had taken offense at his order. She frowned slightly, then realized he hadn't expected her to switch that quickly back into professional mode, to reply as protocol dictated.
He smiled at her. The kind of smile that seemed to say that the two of them could make it--providing they actually came out of this alive.
Kirk watched, entranced as Decker and Ilia merged. Their bodies glowing, their expressions intense. Perfect rapture, perfect sharing.
Perfect death. For him and Spock and McCoy if they didn't get back to the ship before the support that had been V'ger disappeared. He turned away, hurried back to the ship.
His ship, where his crew waited. He wasn't giving her back to Nogura. Not with Will gone.
He wasn't losing her again.
Nogura didn't agree. Not at first. But he was dealing with possibly the only person more stubborn than he was. And the guy who knew all his dirty little secrets.
Kirk smiled as he signed off the intercom in his room. He could stay.
The ship was his again. He leaned back, closed his eyes and let the hum of the ship fill him. She was his.
His smile grew bigger. Someone else was his too. He got up, hurried down to sickbay.
"Bones," he nodded as he saw McCoy getting ready to leave for the evening.
"I thought you'd be sleeping. You look all in, Jim."
Kirk nodded. He was tired, had felt his strength beginning to crash as he'd realized he'd won the argument with Nogura. "I'll turn in soon. I just need to talk to Chris."
"Chris?" McCoy turned to look at her. "Christine. You have a visitor."
She looked up from her desk, out the open door, saw him and seemed to hesitate, then finally got up and joined them. "Captain?"
"Chris?" He smiled at her, trying to cajole a smile. Unsure why she was acting so strangely.
McCoy was looking at him suspiciously. But more like a concerned father than a jealous rival. Kirk almost laughed at the way his friend was scowling.
"Something you want to tell me, Christine?" McCoy asked.
She actually stuttered for a moment. "W-we were having a conversation...on Earth and it was..."
Kirk took pity on her. "Interrupted. And we'd like to finish that conversation, wouldn't we, Chris?"
She nodded gratefully.
Kirk shot McCoy a grin. "If that's okay with you, Bones?"
"Have her home by eleven." McCoy smiled. Slightly.
"I'm a little old for a curfew, Len," she said as she let her hand drop on his shoulder, squeezing slightly.
McCoy's smile turned real. "Kids today," he said as he turned away.
Kirk led her out of sickbay. "Are you hungry?"
She shook her head. "Tired mainly."
"Me too. I thought we could go back to my place?" He tried to load a lot of Lothario into his smile.
She laughed. "Fine."
"Isn't that the CMO's office you're in?" He shot her a grin, admired her for not giving the office up. It was the kind of thing he would have done. "I'm staying, you know."
She nodded. "And so is McCoy. I figured that, what with Will becoming the big beam of light." Her expression darkened. "Do you think he's dead?"
"I don't know." He saw her look down. "I know he's gone. How do you feel about that?"
She shrugged. "I miss my friend. But he's with her now. With the woman he loved. I can't begrudge him that."
Kirk turned into his quarters. "I can't either."
"Not when you got the ship back. The woman you love." Her grin was teasing now.
He was glad to see her smile. "Fortunately, she's willing to share me with you." He drew her close, kissed her the way he'd wanted to since he got on board.
When they finally pulled away, she softly ran her fingers under his eyes. "You look so tired."
"But still handsome?"
"Oh, always that." She carefully pulled off his uniform then eased him onto the bed, taking her own clothes off and following him down. She cuddled in beside him as he pulled the covers up over them.
She was so warm against him, her body fitting against his so perfectly. She rubbed his chest softly.
He realized he'd never told her about the museum. She stared at him in disbelief as he told her of the painting that wasn't there.
"But we saw it."
"Yes, we did. But the curator of the place had never heard of it."
She shook her head.
"I thought at first you were playing a joke on me." He turned slightly, so he could see her face better.
"That painting made me
want to go to
"And made me want to take you there," he agreed.
He nodded. "Three old yentas."
She laughed. Then she did it again, this time it was a sound of realization. "Doctor Cardosa was at the conference, the one that let out early, made me go home too soon?" At his nod, she continued. "He said Doctor Earley had to cancel because he had some bad seafood." She shook her head. "Do you think they planned for me to be there alone at the gala, ready for you to rescue me?"
"I think it's very likely."
"We met Apollo. Are sirens so far out of the realm of possibility?"
"And they were old." She smiled. "Retired sirens. Lends some credibility to their story."
"So maybe there is magic?"
"Maybe there is."
"Luca tried to make me think there wasn't. Only what's inside of us."
He smiled. "You have plenty of magic inside of you." He kissed her gently.
She kissed him back, her lips sweet and strong. "However it happened," she said. "I'm glad that we ended up there."
Her words were happy. But she didn't meet his eyes.
She nodded, curled in against him more tightly, her head pressed to his chest. He began to rub her back.
"I knew you'd save us, Jim." She yawned.
"Close your eyes." He smiled as he watched her do it.
She felt so warm against him, so soft. He sighed, finally letting himself relax. His two women surrounded him, filling him with their energy, their soft sounds bringing him immeasurable ease. With a smile of surrender, he allowed himself to just drift.
Chapel woke up with a start. Her head was on Kirk's chest and he was playing with her hair. Each time he dug his fingers down through her hair and across her scalp, it sent little shivers through her.
"How long was I asleep?"
"Not long. If you want to sleep, we'll sleep."
"I'm okay. Unless you want to sleep."
"I do eventually." He shot her a grin.
She tried to give him the same expression back. Knew she failed when he frowned.
"You were awfully squirrelly around McCoy tonight," he said softly.
"I haven't told anyone about us," she whispered.
"Any particular reason why not?"
She swallowed the lump in her throat, said, "I guess--" her voice cracked and she started over. "It was easier to believe in this when we were probably going to die and nobody knew about us anyway. But they're letting you keep the ship. This isn't a one-shot deal."
He didn't say anything for a long time and her heart began to sink.
Then he kissed her on the forehead, the gesture too tender to be a goodbye. "Remember the hawk we saw?"
"He flew with his mate. With her, Chris. In the air. Free. Open." He touched her cheek, pressed his hand against her skin.
She leaned in hard. "Not always. She wasn't there at first."
He grinned. "She was probably in sickbay. Doing something medical."
"Oh." She was grinning too. "You're probably right."
"I want you with me. I need that. And it's just possible that some mythological old ladies arranged it so we'd be together. It would be awfully rude of us to disregard that." He saw that she wasn't convinced. "McCoy will write your evaluation, Spock will be the reviewer. I'll be out of the loop. And you know I can't influence either of those two for or against you."
"True." She felt something inside her start to settle. "Do you believe they were more than just women?"
He nodded. "The picture wasn't there, Chris. And I ran a quick check in the databases. Leucosia isn't listed as a contributor to any museum collection. But she is listed as one of the sirens." He shook his head, as if not quite believing what he was saying. "They were sirens."
"Doesn't make any sense, Jim. The sirens spent a lifetime luring people to their death, not saving them." She sighed. "Why would they care about us?"
"They didn't." He chuckled. "They cared about themselves. And their sea. And their island. If V-Ger destroyed Earth, they and everything they cared for would die too."
"Self-preservation is a good reason." She smiled. "You were the hero they needed."
He shook his head. "Not the only one. They needed Decker too. They needed him to be in a position to want to merge with V'ger. He had to have nothing left to lose. So that he could give everything he had."
"So they brought you here? The old hero"--she saw him wince at her words--"the more experienced hero to rein the new hero in?"
"To point him in the right direction. To make him ready for sacrifice." He sighed. "But they had a problem. I was a flawed hero. A tired one. With no reason to fight anymore, no reason to take on the kid." He kissed her. "So they gave me a reason." He smiled, an easy expression full of affection and respect. "They gave me someone who would fight beside me. Who would swim with me, even in dangerous waters."
"And they did seem to see us as kindred spirits when it came to the sea, didn't they?"
He smiled. "Yes, they did. I think Ligi called up that storm to test us. If we could get into the grotto, we were the right pair."
"Or just two people crazy enough to work for what they had planned."
He laughed. "That's possible too." He pushed her over. "I'm tired of talking about sirens. I'd rather talk about my own sea goddess."
She rolled her eyes, but inside his words made her feel warm and soft. "I don't want to give this up, Jim. I'm crazy about you."
He raised his eyebrows. "Is that the safe way of saying that you love me?"
She nodded slowly.
He kissed her. "Well, I'm crazy about you too, Chris." He moved, eased into her, taking his time.
She moaned. Over and over and over
"Ready to show off those new swearwords you said you learned?"
He grinned in admiration as she did exactly that. A few seconds later he chimed in with his own repertoire.
She scowled at him. "Okay, no fair. Half of those were in Klingon. Everything in Klingon sounds like swearing."
He kissed her. "Not my fault it's a volatile language."
"I'll have to learn some Klingon," she whispered as she cuddled in against him.
"We'll go to the Klingon homeworld on our next leave. I hear they have a very good language school," he said, a gentle lilt in his voice.
"If you can survive the recess," she shot back.
He laughed. The sound filled her, swelling inside her and making everything feel light and clean. He was such fun.
"Maybe you're right," he said. "And I'd hate to run the risk of having some lusty warrior take a fancy to you."
She grinned. "Or to you."
He laughed again, pulled her in closer.
"I want to go back to
He sighed, his arm pulling her closer. "The sirens were supposed to be seeresses as well as temptresses. They saw V-Ger coming; they'll see us coming. They may not want to be found."
"Maybe not. In that case, we'll just have to explore the island some more. I bet the other grottoes are much more conducive than the Blue Grotto to...umm swearing, if you get my drift?"
He smiled. The smile was sweet and tender and a bit wicked. As he kissed her then closed his eyes and relaxed against her, she felt a strange fluttering in the pit of her stomach. She wondered just how fierce this feeling that she had for him would become, had a strong suspicion that loving Kirk would be different than anything she'd ever known. Different and more intense and more real. And somewhere on a magical island they had just saved from destruction, she thought that there were three retired sirens who would probably agree.