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) 2013 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
The island is a place of turquoise water and endless sandy beaches. There is vegetation once off the beach, but some of it leaves little splinters in skin, like old-time glass fibers. Chapel braved the horrible little daggers when she and her captain first washed up here and they needed shelter.
He didn’t have to brave them. He was barely conscious.
She found water and splinter-free leaves to carry it back in. When the leaves proved less then optimum, she hollowed out a fallen coconut—or this world’s version of one—and looked for more of the pods when the first one proved useful for transport and storage. She has a series of pods buried in the sand with leaves wrapped tightly over them for water storage. Another line of pods is sitting in the open, no leaves on top, waiting for the rain showers that come frequently.
She has no tricorder to test their food or water, so she’s watched the birds and monkey-like creatures in the forest, taking the fruit they take—knowing they might have different tolerances than humans but willing to risk it.
She and Kirk will be dead if they eat the wrong thing, but they’ll also be dead if they eat nothing. And Kirk needs food. He’s sick and weak, and he sleeps most of the time.
It’s a good thing she hasn’t been able to catch any fish, because she has yet to master fire and she doesn’t like sashimi. But she’s working at it, and last night she managed to get the first tendril of smoke to show up when she rubbed her sticks together, trying to remember the survival courses she was forced to take when she first signed up for Starfleet. She was a snob back then, so sure she wouldn’t be in Starfleet very long, that she’d find Roger and be done.
She let someone else make the fire during the course. Stupid.
And now here she is, back on the ship she’s already left once, still in Starfleet. No fiancé to make her life different. Everything the same as it was right down to Kirk and Spock and Len being back.
“Chris.” Kirk is sitting up, and she hurries to him, pushing him down, back into the shade of the enclosure she’s made from limbs she foraged, the top a canopy of the wide leaves that are useful for many things, the whole thing held together by vines.
She’s amazingly proud of her little construction project.
“Where are we?” This is the first time he’s been lucid enough to ask.
“Not sure. Our raft broke in two during the storm. You were out—feverish. We floated to this island.”
“Anyone looking for us?”
“Not that I can tell.” She was afraid when they found the raft and threw it over the side of the ship they were being held on, that their captors would realize they were escaping.
If they did, they didn’t bother to chase them, and judging from the island’s rather hazardous vegetation, she can understand why. They also knew Kirk was sick—maybe they thought she’d catch whatever he has, too. That they’re both dying.
Or it may not have been either of those. There is no moon on this world. The night is black as pitch, and she and Kirk waited until dark to make a break for it. Their captors might have wanted to find them but couldn’t.
What worries her more is that the Enterprise has not found them, either. The world has strong interference in certain sectors. They may be in one of those sensor dead zones. The transdermal communicators aren’t working, which is a bad sign. She can’t raise the ship or the other teams.
They may never be found.
Kirk tries to get up again, and she helps him sit upright. “How long have I been out?”
“Three days.” She checks his pulse, then runs him through some standard tests that require no instruments. He seems fine. His fever feels like it’s down. He’s talking like the man she has followed for years.
The idea that he might be able to do more than lie and moan is very appealing. She’s tired of fending for them, tired of being unsure of everything. He’ll know what to do. He would never have let someone else make fire in survival class.
“I feel like shit.” Then he grins at her. “Which is actually an improvement, isn’t it?”
“Articulating it is new. You’ve been delirious.”
“Did I say anything interesting?”
She smiles. “That you were going to give me much bigger quarters and credits galore.”
He laughs, gingerly but still a laugh. Then he looks up at her structure. “Well, this is definitely smaller than the quarters you have. Unless we count the beach, then it’s bigger.”
“Did I forget the nicer part? The lavishly civilized part? Bigger alone won’t cut it.” She lies down under the enclosure and sighs.
He lies back, too. “You made this?”
“Yep. I’m going to open my own home-building business.” She turns to him and smiles.
“It’s nice work.”
“I’m unduly proud of it. I yell at birds who come to roost.”
He smiles. Then his eyes start to close. “Fat lot of use I am.”
“Sleep. We’re fine.”
She reaches over for one of the half-submerged water pods. Pulls it out and hands it to him. The sand is cool under the surface, and the water stays a nice temperature.
“Look at you. Quite the survival queen.” He drinks, shallow sips without her having to tell him to go slow.
“I never have been before. Indoor girl, not outdoors. I’m pretty damn proud of my water system, too.
He hands her back the pod and she finishes the water off, then takes it out to plant with the others waiting for rain.
He’s watching her, claps softly as she walks back. “A rainwater collection system. Impressive.”
“We’ll die without water. Much faster than without food.”
“Then again it may not be safe. We have no instruments to test it.”
“Oh, well. Live on the edge, right?”
“We don’t have much choice.”
“Not to criticize this lovely shade, but why did you build the enclosure in such an exposed place? If our captors do happen by...”
“Believe me, I thought of that. But a good bit of vegetation on this island is hazardous. And by hazardous, I mean it took me hours to get all the splinters out from the nasty leaves.”
“Ouch.” He smiles. “But you did get them out? Nothing festering under your skin?”
He smiles, but it is broken by a huge yawn.
“We’re alone on this island, Chris. Stuff the sir.”
She’s not sure she likes that she finally gets to call him by his first name just because there’s no one else around, but she doesn’t argue, just says, “Okay. Sleep, Jim.”
“Much better.” He closes his eyes and is out in moments.
She watches him for a bit, then curls up next to him and lets herself sleep, too.
Kirk wakes before Chapel and spends some time watching her sleep. She’s lying curled on her side, facing him, and she has one hand buried in the sand as if it’s a pillow. He smiles as he watches her, then rolls to his back and looks up at the ceiling of the enclosure she made.
Pretty damn good for someone who claims not to know what she’s doing.
He would kill for some coffee, but knows he’s lucky she found a way to get them water. He drinks some, then gets up and walks out to the surf, surprised at how weak he feels.
Whatever sickness he picked up hit full force a few hours before their dash for freedom. He hopes she doesn’t get whatever it was, but if she isn’t sick by now, maybe she’s safe. Or maybe it’s not transmitted through casual contact.
He hears her coming, the soft shift of sand being moved as she walks.
“Good to see you on your feet.”
“I feel really shaky.”
“I don’t doubt it. I probably wouldn’t have recommended this little stroll, but when do you ever listen to a doctor?”
She takes his elbow and turns him.
“Wait a second. There are some nice looking fish in there.”
“I know. I’ve tried to catch some. No dice.” She walks him back to the shelter.
“Can you find me a branch? Straight, about one and half to two meters long?”
“I have some extra, from the home-building exercise.” She looks in the bushes, where she’s apparently stashed her extra material, then holds up a couple of branches and hands him the one he points to.
“And a rock with a sharp edge—I want to sharpen the end to make a spear.”
“I’ve only seen rounded rocks, but there are these.” She walks down to the waters edge, heads in the opposite direction from where he was and picks up a couple of shells. “Will these work?”
“I think so. Let’s give them a try.”
“So you think you’ll have more luck with the fishies than I did?”
“Probably will.” She digs up another of her pods; this one is filled with berries. “These are good. You need to eat.”
He tries one and says, “Not bad.”
“They may kill us over time, but I haven’t dropped dead yet.” She grins at him and takes some of the juicy little red caps. The taste reminds him of something between blueberry and pomegranate.
She leans back and watches him working on the spear. “You really think you can just stab a fish?”
“I know I can.” He doesn’t look up from his work. “I’ve done it camping.”
He smiles. “You really don’t have much faith in me, do you?”
“Oh, I do. I think, for example, that you’ll do a better job that I did on making us fire. So I’m actually pulling for you to be Jim the Impaler when it comes to the fish out there. But they’re slippery devils. I’m just warning you.”
He nods. “Duly noted. I’m still gonna catch us some. We can’t live on fruit alone, Chris.”
“I know. I found some tubers, but they smelled horrible, so I couldn’t bring myself to taste them. I found the fruit by following the birds and some monkey things around, took what they were eating.”
“Never let it be said you aren’t smart.”
“Smart has never been my problem. Impulsive, that’s my downfall.”
“Since I can be the same way, I have no room to talk.” He rips off a bit of his shirt then hands it to her. “Can you go get this wet? I don’t want to waste our fresh water.”
She takes the fabric to the water’s edge, bending over and letting it soak, then looks back at him. “Sopping?”
“You can wring it out a little.”
She does that and takes it back to him. He lays one side down on the ground, pressing it into the sand, then picks it up and smiles. “Primitive sandpaper.”
She laughs, then settles in to watch him smoothing out the branch. He periodically adds more sand, and his invention works great.
“You realize,” she says, “that I’m not going to let you go stand in the hot sun and wait for fish to swim by.”
“I still outrank you, Chris. I can hunt for us if I feel like it. I’m hungry, and I don’t want just fruit.”
She sighs. “Thirty minutes, then. If you can’t catch one by the time I think half an hour has gone by, I’m putting an end to the fun.”
“Fine.” He works on the point some more, says, “We never talked about your demotion. Are you mad at me?”
“You weren’t my favorite person in the whole world when you did it. But then you saved us from V’ger and I decided it was a wash.” She grins at him, as if to show she means it, but there is something a little off in her expression.
“So we’re okay?”
“Why wouldn’t we be? Especially if you catch us a fish that isn’t full of poison.”
He laughs and runs his hand down the spear, looking for rough spots. “Any reason we can’t swim? Seen any sharks on this world?”
“Is that your nice way of telling me I don’t smell so good?”
He makes a sheepish face. “How could I tell? All I can smell is my own funk.”
“You were sick.”
“And now I’m getting well. Not stinking will go a long way toward getting there.” He looks around. “No soap on our island getaway. Sand will do, I guess.”
“There’s a fruit that smells sort of lemony. Maybe we can use that in some way. I can go get some later.”
He nods. “I like to swim.”
She stares out at the beautiful beach with the soft waves lapping at the sand. “I do, too.” She turns her gaze to him. “You grew up in Iowa, right? Where did you swim?”
“Ponds mainly. Nasty places, looking back, but back then they seemed like heaven. You?”
“Trips to the ocean—we lived close, in Los Angeles. A family of a friend of mine had a summer house on Lake Michigan. I used to go visit her there after she moved away from California.”
“I feel free in the water.” He adds more sand to the rag, rubs the stick more lightly than he has been, really just fine tuning at this point, checking for any final rough spots.
“I learned to do this when I was with Miramanee.” He smiles. “Learned a lot from that time, actually.”
“She seemed like a nice woman.”
“She was.” He meets her eyes. “The man who was Kirok loved her more than anything.”
“That must be confusing.” She looks down. “I felt that way after we found Roger. After knowing I slept with an android. Like that was another me, but it wasn’t. I didn’t have amnesia. I had no damn excuse.”
“So, you did sleep with him? I was never sure.”
She nods. “Scrubbed myself raw for a week.” She leans back on her elbows. “He was good, too. Much better than the real Roger ever was. It niggled at me, you know? How he got so much better with only Brownie, Ruk, and the geisha around. I landed on the geisha being a good teacher, not my fiancé being a machine.”
He laughs, but sympathetically. “Ah, those halcyon memories we have.” He throws down his makeshift sandpaper and gets to his feet. “Ready to see me go native?”
She laughs and gets up, following him down to the water. He tells her to stand very still and wades into the water to his knees, then stands like a statue, the spear poised to strike.
“The hard part is that things aren’t exactly where you think and the fish move fast. The trick is to strike where you think the fish will go, not where they are when you see them. I’m going to shut up now so they’ll come close.”
It takes him three tries before he snags a fish. It’s a small one, so he keeps going until he gets another one. Then he carries them up. “I caught them, you clean them.”
“Riiiiiight.” She looks at the fish with disdain. “You think I have any idea how to do that?”
“Well, then, prepare to learn. I’m not doing all the work here.” He is smiling as he shows her, taking one of the shells she found and using it as a knife and a scaler. Then he realizes she is watching him with the expression of someone who is judging how he is doing, not learning. “Wait a damn minute, woman. You know how to do this, don’t you?”
She laughs. “Okay, so I may have spent many afternoons with my friend on Lake Michigan fishing—and having to clean what we caught. But playing dumb can get you out of all kinds of nasty tasks.”
“I’ll remember you’re tricky.”
She just smirks, then she gets more of her leaves to wrap the fish in—without him asking. “What? I saw it on a nature special.”
He just shakes his head. “Totally snookering me.”
She nods. “But catching them without a pole is still outside my area of expertise. As is making a fire, so if you want to eat these babies, you will get on that.”
She has everything he needs piled up. Dry wood. Some rushes to catch quickly. She shows him her technique, isn’t quite getting the making of the spark part.
He gets it going in no time. “Another gift from living with the tribe.”
“Can I ask a question you may not want to answer?”
He laughs. “I don’t see anyone to stop you.”
“If Miramanee hadn’t been killed, if she’d carried your baby to term, what would you have done?”
He can feel himself shutting down, and she looks like she regrets asking.
“I’m sorry. Never mind. It’s none of my business.”
He feeds wood to the fire, then turns to look at her. “I have a son. His mother...his mother keeps me out of his life. I’ve wanted in, over the years, but she’s not the kind to bend. I’m not sure what I would have done about Miramanee. I swore if I ever had another child, I would be in his or her life.”
She doesn’t look away. “I’m sorry. That you can’t see your son.”
He shrugs, but hopes it comes off as a helpless gesture, not an uncaring one. “It is how it is. Carol won’t back down. She’s strong—it’s why I fell for her. Didn’t think what that strength would feel like coming back at me.” He takes the leaf-wrapped fish from her, arranges the bundle in the fire on top of some rocks she’s found for him at the edge of the forest. “Oh, for some salt.”
“Sorry. That I don’t have on hand. Although the seawater is salty. It would take a month to evaporate it out, but now that we have Jim the Firestarter with us, we could use one of the pods and boil the water off.”
He smiles. “Always the scientist.”
He lies down under the enclosure. “I’m going to let you tend the food, if it’s all the same to you? I’m bushed.”
“I told you. That felt like more than half an hour.”
“Barely.” He smiles. “Wake me when it’s done?”
“It’ll be done in no time.”
She smiles and lets him be, and he wakes up on and off to see her checking the fish. She fills one of her spare pods with seawater and puts it aside. Always a scientist, readying to make them some salt, no doubt, once they get eating out of the way.
She wakes him when the fish is done. They eat it off the leaf she cooked it in. It tastes bland as hell. But it’s protein—or it should be if this world works like Earth—and they need that. Fish oil won’t hurt either. Unless the fish is toxic, in which case they’ll be dead soon.
He doesn’t feel any cramping in his stomach the way he thinks poison would make him feel. No creepy rash going across his skin. He checked the fish out carefully when he caught it: no spines, no beaks, and they’re nowhere near a reef or lagoon. It is the best he can do.
“Definitely needs salt,” she says. “Tasteless, I’m afraid. But beggars can’t be choosers. Thank you for catching us dinner.”
“No problem.” He smiles and closes his eyes, drifting off for real.
She wakes early, before the sun comes up, builds the fire back up, and watches the water in the pod boil down. It’s a slow process, even though she only filled the pod a quarter full, but she can already see salt lining the side of the pod where water has boiled off. She smiles thinking about the fish with some seasoning.
“Did you sleep?” There is a shuffle of sand as Jim moves over to her. “Hey, look, salt. You’re a magician.”
She laughs. “Scientist, please.” She gives him her haughtiest voice and hears him laugh. “And yes, I slept some. I’m a little keyed up. Used to staying awake to watch over you.”
“Well, you don’t have to do that. I’m getting better. How about I take care of you for a while?”
“That sounds great.” She yawns and then laughs in embarrassment.
“You’re not sick, are you?”
“Not so far. I think the transmission period would be over by now, but I suppose I could still get ill.” She turns to look at him. “You do look better.”
“I want to go swimming.”
“Wait until it’s light. If there are any sharks on this world, we’ll never see them coming in the dark.”
“Fine. Although we probably won’t see them coming in the light either—they’re not successful hunters because they advertise their presence.”
“What? The tribe had sharks, too?”
He laughs. “Nature vids.” He shifts so he’s lying on his stomach, watching the fire, elbows in the sand, his chin propped on his hands. “If I leave out the fact that nasty people may be looking for us, I can almost imagine we’re camping.”
“Which from the sound of it, you don’t do?”
“I don’t. But I’m kind of good at it so far, so maybe I should.”
“Maybe you should.” He turns over on his back, stares up at her, and she realizes that when he looks at a person—really looks, like he is right now—he’s damn near irresistible...and he probably knows it. Probably practices that look in the mirror. “I don’t know very much about you, Chris. Likes, dislikes. What you do in your spare time.”
“Did it ever matter before?”
“Well, technically it doesn’t matter now.” He grins, and she finds herself wondering how real the expression is. “But I find myself wanting to know.”
She adds a piece of wood to the fire. “Because you’re bored?”
“No, not because I’m bored. Because I find you interesting.”
“Well, yeah, we’re on a deserted island. Who else are you going to hit on?”
His grin fades and he sits up slowly. “That wasn’t what I was doing.”
She realizes that once again she’s let impulsiveness rule the day—and she’s gone way too far without entirely meaning to. “Sir, I’m sorry.”
He doesn’t tell her to call him Jim, just waves her off.
“No, really, I don’t know why I said that.”
“Me neither. But clearly I did something to make you uncomfortable, and I apologize.” He pushes himself up and stalks off into the dark.
“Shit.” She gets up and follows him, actually runs into him because he hasn’t gone far, probably stopped to let his eyes adjust after the fire, which she should have done. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“Go back to the fire, Chapel.”
She sighs and reaches for him, hoping she’ll hit an arm and not his chest—arm it is. “I’m really sorry. I don’t know why I said that.”
“Yeah, you said that already.” He takes a step away from her, and her hand drops off. “I’m not the man-slut everyone thinks I am.”
“I know, sir.”
“You clearly don’t know or you wouldn’t have said what you did. Go back to the goddamned fire. That’s an order, lieutenant.”
She can hear steel in his voice so she mutters, “Yes, sir,” and goes back to the fire.
When it’s light enough to finally see him, she spots him sitting far down the beach, just outside the surf line, staring out at the ocean.
Kirk hears footsteps in the sand, turns his eyes away from the sea, now lit by the full light of morning, and sees Chapel walking toward him, two peach-like things in her hands.
She hands him one and sits down without asking. “You need to eat. These are good. Juicy, though. Watch out for the first bite.”
He puts his down in the sand.
“Oh for God’s sake, sir, can’t you be a professional and listen to your doctor?”
“That’s ironic, coming from you. See, I woke up, a sick officer on a strange island with my doctor. I asked said doctor some simple questions about her background to make some fucking small talk and immediately I’m guilty of coming on to her. So, tell me, lieutenant, who is the goddamned professional here and who isn’t?”
He can sense her tensing up, and he has the feeling she is biting her tongue to keep from saying what she wants to. He turns so he’s facing her. “Please, by all means, speak your mind, Chapel.”
“I was out of line. But I also find it hard to believe you would have asked McCoy those questions.”
“Of course I wouldn’t have. I know him. You’re on my senior staff and I don’t know you.”
“And you know the background of everyone on your senior staff?”
“The ones I picked I do. The ones Decker picked...?” He lets it trail off on purpose. Wants her to get mad. Wants to know once and for all if his suspicions are right about how she got the posting.
“Ah. So that’s what this is about.” She bites into her fruit, chews it slowly, and he thinks she is marshaling her thoughts as she eats.
He decides he is being stupid in denying himself food, so he picks his up, brushes off the sand, and bites into it. It is juicy. It’s also tasty as hell.
“Are you trying to say I’m Decker’s person or his woman?”
“You tell me.”
“I guess I don’t have to ask why you’d think that. My history with Roger.” She shakes her head. “I didn’t sleep with Will.”
“A CMO posting, especially aboard the flagship, is for lieutenant commanders and above.” He watches her expression. “Ah, he promised you a promotion.”
“No one can promise you a promotion. I know that. I found it out my last two years on the Enterprise when Len told me I’d make lieutenant. But you never put me in for it, did you?”
“Spock ran the eval panels for all but senior staff. But medical doesn’t go through normal panels. It goes directly through Starfleet Medical. If you didn’t get promoted, it’s because Bones didn’t make a strong enough case for you.” He’s never heard Bones complain about Chapel not getting her rank, which is usually the section head song of choice right after promotion announcements. He isn’t going to tell Chapel that, though. Knowing Bones—Pollyanna that he is when it comes to misjudging the power of the bureaucracy—he promised her something he thought he could deliver but couldn’t. And he wouldn’t have bitched about something that was his fault: he’s smart enough to know that expectations being set appropriately are a boss’s job.
“Fine. Whatever. Will may have implied he’d push really hard for me to get the appropriate rank for the position. Look, I met him a long time ago—when his father died. I went to see him, because I thought we’d have some things in common, both losing people to space.”
Kirk nods grudgingly. This is his fallback reason for her getting the slot—if she didn’t sleep her way to it.
“If we ever get off this godforsaken island, I’ll send you my request for transfer. You can hire your own fucking deputy CMO.” She pushes herself up. “One who’s the right rank already. It’s a cinch I’ll never make lieutenant commander under Len if he couldn’t get me to lieutenant.” She stalks off.
He watches her go, anger suddenly boiling inside him. Anger that hasn’t gone away from when he was on Earth, chained to a desk. He thought getting his ship back would make everything better. He thought being in space and not Earthbound would make him happy. That this...tension would go away. This rage that always seems to be bubbling right under the surface. The rage that Lori said was the reason she didn’t want to renew their marriage.
Not that she was afraid of him. She said she felt sorry for him.
She said that right before he saw the reports on V’ger. Right before he hatched up his scheme.
Right before he got back the one thing he really wanted: his ship.
And got Spock and Bones back in the process. He should be content. And yet still there’s this restless feeling, the underlying anger that spills out at the weirdest times, and the guilt. The goddamn guilt.
Chapel isn’t the only person on his ship that Decker hand selected. Every time Kirk looks at them, he sees Decker behind them, Decker’s formerly hopeful and excited face now wearing a look of utter disappointment in the man who had recommended him for the Enterprise.
Kirk turns back to the sea, bites into the fruit, and tries to find some modicum of calm. He is also scanning the horizon for any sign of a ship. Enemy or friend—not that he is entirely sure he can tell the two apart on this planet. They’d seen no evidence of high seas piracy when they’d done scans, but the damn sensor holes apparently hid a world of sin. He and Chapel were shanghaied while they were scouting out the harbor area in the capital. Knocked unconscious before they could contact the ship, they woke up on a boat in the middle of one of the dead zones that makes their transdermal communicators useless.
He looks away from the sea and turns his eyes upward. “Damn it, Spock. Where are you?”
He sighs and finishes his fruit. He’s going to bathe soon, but he has a doctor to go mollify. She did keep him alive. And he may have overreacted to her question. It’s what he does now, and he hates it.
The Enterprise is his. He shouldn’t feel guilty for taking what was his to begin with. When he tried to talk to Spock about his guilt, Spock laid out a logic trail that made perfect sense as it arrived at this very conclusion: Kirk in charge of the ship he should never have given up.
But somehow it all feels like rationalizing after the fact. He wanted off Earth; he wanted back into space. So he stole his ship back. And got Decker killed in the process.
He sighs. Here he goes again: spiraling around the same themes. He gets up since this is getting him nowhere.
Chapel is grinding up the best smelling of the fruits. She doesn’t care what Kirk does, but she’s going to take a bath. He can watch, he can join in, he can drown, he can fucking stick his head in the sand and take a deep breath for all she cares.
He walks up, kicking the sand in a way that lets her know he’s trying to make sure he doesn’t startle her. “How much apologizing am I going to have to do to get some of that? You’re making us something to wash with, right?”
She nods. “If you’re only apologizing to get some of this, don’t bother. I’ll give it to you anyway.”
He kneels down just behind her, and she has to crane her neck to see him. His eyes are closed, and he is shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Chris. This didn’t have to go off the rails the way it did. I’m...I’m not myself these days.”
“Sure. Okay.” She goes back to grinding the fruit. When he starts to say more, she turns to face him. “Sir, don’t. All right? Just don’t. You and I, we’ve never been friends. Why the hell should we start now? And the fact that we can’t have an innocent conversation without it devolving into something ugly—when we’re the only two people on this goddamned island—is pretty damn sad. And also pretty indicative of how not right I am for your senior staff.” She looks down at the pod, has a sudden urge to tell him to go grind his own damn fruit up, that this is hers. But instead she hands him the thing and says, “Don’t use it all. I didn’t risk splinters to not get any for myself.”
He hands it back. “You go first.”
She stares at him and doesn’t take it. “Really? Just go use it.”
He looks angry again. “I’m not going to go first.”
“Well, neither am I.” She stares at him and he stares back, and against her will she starts to laugh softly because they are both being so fucking stupid. “How’s this? We turn our back to each other and do it at the same time? We can share it.”
“Brilliant concept.” He starts to laugh softly, too. “I’m sure we’ll find a way to mess up the execution.”
“Oh, on that we’re agreed.”
They walk down to the water, turn away from each other, and she says, “Sand first, then this?”
“Yep. Just go easy on the sand. You want to leave some skin.”
“I sort of figured that out on my own, sir.”
“Jesus, Chris, call me Jim. I’m sick of the formal shit.”
She sighs. “Fine. I sort of figured that out on my own, Jim.” If anything, it sounds even snottier with his name replacing sir.
By his sigh, he agrees.
She slips her clothing off, hears him doing the same, and then they walk into the water. She kneels down, scoops up a handful of sand. Makes sure there aren’t any errant sea creatures in it, and begins to scrub. It feels good so long as she doesn’t go too hard. Like he said. She’s pretty sure she’d have figured that out on her own.
She goes deeper into the water to wash off the sand and feels a bump against her back. When she turns, she finds herself facing Kirk with a great deal of her breasts out of the water. She ducks quickly and knows her face is flaming. “Sorry.”
“I’m sorry. I slipped. Didn’t mean to bump up against you.”
“I know.” She sighs. “You’ve seen naked bodies before. I’ve seen them, too. This is ridiculous.” She swims to shore, grabs the pod, and carries it back to the shallow spot she started in. “I draw the line at rubbing you down.”
“Good. Good to know there’s a line.” He’s clearly blushing and very obviously trying to keep his eyes up as he dips his hand into the pod and smears the lemonish-smelling smashed fruit on himself. Then he holds it for her and she does the same. “Well, looks like we can both be professionals when we have to be.”
“Looks like. Our clothes stink, too.”
“Yeah. That thought occurred to me.”
“We can wash them, lay them out to dry, or hang them on some of our extra branches in the sun.”
She can feel her face turning red again. “Which leaves us rather...”
“Yep. But now that I know you weren’t hitting on me, it’ll be so much less embarrassing.”
He closes his eyes and the sound that comes out, a short exhale of air, seems halfway between amusement and annoyance. “You do know you’re a bitch, right?”
“I do. But thanks for telling me. I might not have realized it yet.” She starts to laugh. “You done with this?” She lifts the almost empty gourd.
He nods and she tosses the thing back to shore, near their clothes.
“Well, I’m going to swim, sir—Jim.” And she does, dives under the water, no doubt giving him a quick but excellent view of her rear, and swims as fast and far from him as she can get.
When she pops back up to the surface, she sees that he’s done something similar in the other direction.
The water feels like heaven, and she swims until she’s tired of it, and then she just floats. He’s paddling not too far away, and there is such a look of peace on his face that she feels like trying to make things better between them.
“It’s nice,” she calls out to him.
He turns to face her. “It is.” He paddles closer. “Damn near perfect temperature.”
“Yeah.” She swims a little closer to him. “Don’t splash me. I hate that.”
“Wasn’t going to. Didn’t even cross my mind, to be honest.”
“Roger used to do that. He thought it was funny.”
“Why?” He seems to really want to know.
“Probably because he had a shitty sense of humor.” She laughs when he does. “The darker answer is that he wanted to make sure you always knew where you stood. Being splashed did not come with the right to splash back. I did it anyway. He’d...pout, I guess is the best word.”
Kirk frowns. “Why did you fall for him if he was like that? I mean the behavior clearly continued all the way to Exo III.”
“Egomaniac to the end.” She sighs. Explaining why she fell for Roger is never fun.
“He was your advisor, right?”
She nods and meets his eyes. “That kind of says it all, doesn’t it?”
“Does it? I can see two possible reasons for that. Ambition or love.”
“Or both. Or maybe one drives the other.”
“Which came first?”
She looks away. “Ambition probably.”
“Wow. Okay. Not the answer I expected.”
“I know. I don’t know why I’m being so damn honest with you. I’ve already ticked you off, I guess I’m going for new lows.” She gives him a sad smile and then paddles away.
A moment later, he’s caught up with her. “I don’t blame you.”
She turns to look at him. “For...?”
“For being with him for ambition. Because it wasn’t ambition that sent you off to find him, that made you derail—in essence—your career just so you could look for him. Somewhere along the line loyalty and love became more important to you than advancement.”
“You make me sound so noble.” She studies him. “Loyalty—that’s important to you, isn’t it?”
“It’s none of my business what your motivation was for searching for Roger, but yeah, loyalty is important to me.” He starts to smile. “I guess I like to think my senior staff are here for better reasons than just to get ahead.”
“Your senior staff? A while ago I was Decker’s.”
“You can be both.” He smiles. “Can’t you?”
“I can. But maybe I don’t want to.”
“Maybe you don’t.” Something in his face changes. Something that seems to say, “No skin off my nose if you don’t.”
She sighs and paddles away.
He doesn’t follow her this time.
Kirk stares up at the sky as he floats, wondering when or even if Spock is going to find them. It’s not in his nature to give up, but there’s something so isolated about the island they’re on that it’s hard to keep thinking he’ll pull a win out of this.
Especially when he’s here, on his goddamn beach, with a quick-witted scientist who appears to not like him. It’s like his dream girl—in hell.
And maybe the perfect punishment for stealing Will’s ship out from under him? Stuck here with Will’s officer while the ship goes on without him.
Shit. This is getting him nowhere. He kicks in for shore, sees that Chapel is still floating, decides to let her be. He finds his clothing—clothes that were supposed to blend in, just as the brow ridges Bones modified for them were supposed to. This was going to be a simple observe-and-go type of thing. Five teams of two, he hopes to God the other ones had better luck than he and Chapel did.
And he hopes they’re getting along better. He chose her for his team on purpose. Wanted to find out where she stands. And now he knows. Although he’s not sure he cares anymore. If she doesn’t want to be on his ship, on the best ship in the whole goddamned fleet, then that’s her loss.
He soaks his clothing, scrubbing with sand and using half of what’s left of the mashed up fruit to try to get the shirt and pants smelling clean. Then he hangs them from the branches he sticks into the sand as she suggested.
“Good idea.” Chapel seems to be trying to keep her eyes anywhere but on him, and he appreciates that.
He walks away, finds a place to sit and hugs his knees to his chest, facing the ocean while she works on her own clothing.
The silence between them is unnerving, especially given how nice it was to find her caring for him when he woke up weak from being sick. They went from getting along to being mad at each other in record time—he’s not sure he could have ticked off Lori as fast as he did Chris. Although she ticked him off, first. With her snotty comment about him hitting on her.
Have they always had problems and he just didn’t notice? He thinks back, remembers the woman who was so grateful when he protected Korby’s reputation after his death. The woman who was so kind to his dying wife.
When did things go so wrong?
Maybe when he demoted her and made Will tell her?
Maybe when he didn’t try to explain his reasons after Will was gone.
Maybe when he’s taken Bones on landing party after landing party, leaving her out until this one.
Hell of a mission to decide to include her on.
He sighs and puts his chin on his knees, wishing he could shake the feelings that have nagged him since he first fed Nogura the line about being the only one who could take on V’ger. The shame that he had done that to a man who considered him a mentor, vindication that he got to keep the ship, and fear that Command would realize they were too hasty and take it all away from him.
These feelings keep him up at night. He used to sleep like a baby, the sound of his ship soothing, not a constant reminder of everything he has to lose.
And here he is stuck with the woman who knows first hand what he was willing to do. Does he really have to wonder why they’re having a hard time getting along? He’s gone from being her patient to being the asshole who got her captain killed and took her opportunity away.
He closes his eyes, hating the spiraling self-doubt that started midway through his marriage with Lori. When the realization that he made a terrible mistake accepting a desk job hit. When the glow of being an admiral wore off and he understood that he hated his job.
When he and Lori stopped having sex. When he started having problems—shit, he hates that most of all. The Casanova of the Quadrant couldn’t fucking get it up with his own wife.
It’s probably why he reacted so strongly to what Chapel said. He’s sure as shit not going to tell her that, though.
They are sitting hunched over on the beach waiting for their clothes to dry out. There is nothing to do other than maybe fish, but she imagines Kirk doesn’t want to do that until he has his pants back on.
Her back is starting to hurt from trying to cover up all her naughty bits, and she finally says, “Oh, to hell with it,” and turns around, lying on her stomach. He can stare at her ass if he so desires, but she will, by God, be comfortable.
She hears him moving around, glances over and sees he’s chosen to lie on his back. He turns his head, meets her eyes, and smiles in a way she can’t read.
“What?” she asks.
“You liked me better sick and unconscious, didn’t you?”
She thinks about that. “No, not better. I think that was easier to deal with. You were a patient. My duty was clear. I didn’t have to like you or trust you or anything else. I just had to take care of you.”
“You don’t trust me?”
“I don’t know, Jim.” She decides to use his name—trust or no, they’re all they’ve got on this miserable little island. “I mean, yes, of course, I trust you as my captain. As the man who will rescue us from every bad thing that comes along. But as a person—as my boss—I honestly don’t know.”
“I understand that, actually. I trust you with my life and my health. But...I didn’t want you as CMO, Chris. I wanted Bones in that role—it’s more than just being a doctor.”
“I know.” She rolls to her side, sees his eyes widen for a moment at the full frontal view she is giving him, then the professional is back in place and he focuses on her face “And I wanted Will to be in charge. Will and Sonak and me in medical. Not you and Spock and Len. Not again.”
He looks slightly defeated. “Whatever you want to do when we get back to the ship is fine. I’ll write you a great recommendation if that’s what you want.”
“Okay.” She rolls to her back, doesn’t check to see if he’s looking at her. What the hell does it matter if he is? “And if I don’t want to leave?”
“I’d like you to stay.”
She laughs quietly. “You’re just saying that because we’re stuck on this island and you need me.”
“Well, there is that.”
“Why would you want me to stay? After this charming set of conversations we’ve had. I think I’ve proven I only open my mouth to change feet.”
He starts to laugh. “And my impulse control is low when it comes to overreacting.” He glances at her. “We can try a safer subject. Like, say, how I can’t wait to try the salt out.”
“We are going to get so sick of fish if we’re here for long.”
“Maybe we can find some shellfish. I don’t really want to eat a monkey.”
“Not technically a monkey.”
He laughs. “I know but still... The birds maybe. I could make a sling of some kind.”
“I hope we’re not here that long.” She looks over at him.
He’s staring up at the sky, his eyes narrowed.
“They would have been here by now if they knew where we were, wouldn’t they?”
“Our biosigns are significantly different. If Spock can find a way to scan the dead zones, you know he’ll find us. And if anyone can find a way...”
He nods. But he doesn’t look terribly convinced.
She gets up and walks back into the water, staying near the surf, letting the gentle waves lap against her skin.
“I used to dream of this,” he says, his voice carrying the distance between them. “A beach to walk on.”
“Your dream came true.” She looks back at him and grins. “I somehow don’t think I figured in that dream. Probably someone less bitchy would be in order.” Possibly someone Vulcan and male if the rumors are to be believed. She’s not sure if she thinks they’re together or not. She knows Ny poo-poos the whole idea.
“A bitchy scientist is actually something I’m very used to.”
She laughs. “That’s so sad for you.”
“It really is, isn’t it?”
She hears him getting up, then he says, “I’m going to get some sleep under the shelter. Can I just say how happy I am that this beach doesn’t have sand fleas?”
“Yes, in that, we are lucky.” She splashes water over her shoulders and allows herself the rare luxury of sitting and doing absolutely nothing.
She thinks it would feel more precious if she actually had a choice.
Kirk smiles as he takes a bite of the fish. “This is so much better with salt.”
“It really is. And your idea to add some of the lemony fruit was a good one.”
He’s feeling pretty proud of that idea. He likes to cook and enjoys adding spices and flavoring in unexpected ways. Lori was a huge fan of his scrambled eggs with dill. “Maybe the berries would be a new twist on it. Now if we could just find something peppery.”
She smiles. “Ever the innovator. Sure you aren’t an engineer or scientist?”
“I love science. And I know enough about engineering to be dangerous. You should see Scotty’s face when I come up with a bright idea for his engines.”
She smiles, as if she can imagine just what Mister Scott might have to say about dilettantes messing around in his domain.
“I came up with things for Miramanee’s tribe, too. Better ways to do things. It was such a simple life.”
“Being married agreed with you.”
He laughs and the sound is so bitter she gives him a funny look. “You know I was married after I left the ship, right? Term marriage to another admiral. It went south before the first year was out.”
“I didn’t know.” She looks down. “I was so busy with med school. I had a compressed schedule, barely saw Ny and Jan.”
“Let alone worry about what I was up to, huh?” He doesn’t like how that came out and hurries to say, “Not that you should have. I mean...I was just your captain.” And he realizes she’s right. They have never really been friends. The only reason he knew her posting was CMO on the Enterprise was because he made it his business to see who Will picked. If she had gone anywhere else, he doubts he would have noticed or cared.
She meets his eyes, the fearless gaze she’s always had, whether now or as a nurse, telling him in no uncertain terms that he would get his inoculations and she didn’t care if they gave him a headache. “I’m sorry that I’m such a bitch. I’m tired—really tired—from med school and then playing catch-up on what CMOs do. And you left me off every mission until this one. I was nervous, to be honest. I thought you were bringing me down here as a last hurrah before you booted me off the ship.”
She nods. “If that wasn’t what you were doing, why am I here?”
“I wanted to find out if I could trust you, where you stood.”
“Can you trust me?”
“Not if you can’t trust me.”
She nods as if this is the answer she expected. “This little adventure may go a long way in building trust.”
“Especially if we never get off this rock.” Shit. Did he just say that out loud?
But she laughs. “Yes, that is the worst case scenario.”
“I’m sure there are other people you’d rather be stuck here with.” Spock comes to mind, for instance, but he doesn’t say that, imagines it’s rather a sore spot with her.
“You’re all right to be stuck with. You do survive the damnedest things.” She studies him. “Or did you mean Spock? My hopeless crush and all?”
He decides not to lie. “Maybe.”
She takes a deep breath and pokes at the fire. “I’m going to tell you something—consider it a peace offering in the form of truth and an embarrassing story. I went to Spock after V’ger. When he was emotional. He still didn’t want me. Thank God, I approached it in a logical fashion. I could walk away with my head held semi high. It wasn’t like I threw myself at him. But still...he didn’t want me: he doesn’t want me. Never will.” She meets his eyes. “There you go. Did Spock already tell you about it?”
“No. Why would he?” He sees something in her face, something he’s seen in other people’s faces. “Ah. The age-old rumor. No, I’m not fucking my first officer.”
“Are you in love with him?”
“No. I love him, though. Like a brother.”
“Okay.” She nods thoughtfully and goes back to her study of the fire.
“Do you believe me?”
“You didn’t have to tell me about Spock, Chris.”
“I know. I’m not always a bitch. Maybe I just wanted to make that clear.”
“So noted. And I’m not always...angry.” He decides to give her his own truth. “When I was on the ship—when you knew me before—I was happy. I mean I missed that beach I mentioned, and someone to walk on it with, but the ship was everything to me. When I left it...” He looks down, plays in the sand, making abstract designs. “I just got angrier and angrier—inside, down deep, where it’s hard to fight.”
“But you have your ship back now.”
“I know. And yet the anger’s still there.” He meets her eyes. “I failed at my marriage. I don’t fail at anything and I couldn’t even make it past the first year—the first six months if I’m honest.”
“Relationships are tricky.”
He thinks of how Lori used to look at him when they were in bed. First, it had been all passion. Then as the months went by, as she got tired of his moods, there were the angry fights followed by make-up sex. And then one day, the make-up sex turned sour when he couldn’t perform.
The look in Lori’s eyes—what she said to make it better. She did all the right things: it wasn’t her fault that all the right things just made him feel worse.
Just made him angrier in that deep, dark place inside.
He started to worry each time they had sex. But sometimes it was good and that made it more difficult. It wasn’t anything physically wrong with him. It was in his head, in his gut, in wherever his ambition and passion for space lived—his heart? Metaphorically speaking.
He probably needed a shrink back then, but he was damned if he was going to let one in. He probably still needs one—not going to happen.
He nods. “My marriage had problems. I had problems.” He’s not willing to give her more than that. Waits to see if she gets it.
She stretches out in the sand, her shirt riding up on her back, and he sees she is a little bit sunburned. He probably is, too.
“Performance problems?” she asks in a clinical way he thinks is her gift to him.
He doesn’t want to say yes. But he nods quickly.
She catches it. “I’m not going to say I’m sorry and give you some platitude about when it’s right, it’s right. Because I understand that the more you get too in your head about it, the more it becomes a problem. When Roger was getting ready to leave—when he left me behind and I was mad about that—I couldn’t...relax.”
He meets her eyes. “You at least could fake it.”
“Do I strike you as someone who would do that? I made things worse. Made him angry. We stopped having sex.” She looks down. “That’s another reason I should have known the Roger we found was off. He was very diligent in making sure I came.” She looks down. “Roger told me I’d become a frigid bitch the night before he left. He apologized the next morning. I wanted to believe in him—to believe in us—so I let it go.” She lets out a deep breath. “Spock was wise to turn me down. What a mess I’d be.”
“You haven’t had sex since we found Roger?”
“I have. Nothing serious. Nothing that mattered.”
“Was it good sex?”
She nods, but he’s unsure what to make of her expression.
“Great good or just all right good?”
She smiles. “The latter. And you? Since your marriage?”
“Hit or miss.”
She starts to laugh. At his look, she touches his knee, just a fleeting tap, more a connection human to human than anything else. “I’m not laughing at you: I’m laughing at us. What a pair. The romantic sap who can’t come and the great lover who can’t always get it up.”
“When you put it that way, we do sound pathetic.”
“I don’t talk about it. Normally.”
“You think I do? I have a reputation to uphold.” He gives her a grin that is probably sillier than his norm.
She grins back, the smile especially endearing after a day of misunderstandings. “I’m tired. Truth is exhausting.” She puts her hand on his shoulder for a moment, then crawls over to the enclosure and lies down on her side.
“Truth is exhausting,” he says, as he stares into the fire.
But it occurs to him that he’s finally getting what he asked for—he’s finally getting to know her.
Chapel wakes to a morning rain shower. The shelter leaks a little on her side so she moves toward Kirk. Otherwise, her craftsmanship is holding up well.
As the rain comes down, she studies her captain, this man she didn’t want to serve under again.
His face in sleep is softer than when he’s awake. Vulnerable. Roger’s face wasn’t. She imagines Spock’s isn’t either. They’re a lot alike. Emotionally unavailable. Probably would have got on famously.
“What are you thinking about?” Kirk’s eyes are open. He looks up at the roof of their shelter, and she realizes he knows she’s moved closer to him—and why.
“Spock. Roger. My need to pick men who won’t really love me back.”
“Had any epiphanies?”
“Nope. But I might have if you hadn’t woken up and interrupted my big thoughts.” She gives him a mock glare.
He grins. It’s a lovely expression. Open and free. Or so it seems, but she realized last night during their impromptu confessional that there are two Jim Kirks. The one who’s in control—and the one who’s not. And he works like hell to hide the one who’s not. This sunny grin is just one way.
“Do I have something on my face?” He’s still smiling, but it’s a perplexed smile now.
“Just thinking about you. How you’re maybe a little different than I thought.”
“I gave away more than I normally would last night. And no scotch was involved.” He laughs, a nervous laugh, she thinks.
“I did, too. And no tequila.” At his look, she smiles. “Not shots. I like to sip it. Learned that in L.A. The good stuff is really warm going down.”
“I know. I’ve had it that way in Oaxaca.”
“Roger was a wine snob. He wanted me to love it the way he did, appreciate it. I never got there. Always longed for my tequila. I was always just a little bit off.”
“What do you mean?”
“He sailed and I grew up with motor boats. I liked to go fast and water ski. He liked to snow ski, but thought water skiing was for cretins.” She thinks of how she changed to please Roger—trading in tequila for nouveau Beaujolais, a fast boat for a ship she constantly had to watch out for getting hit by the boom or caught up in the lines, freezing her ass off only to fall halfway down the ski slope.
Would she have done that for Spock if he wanted her? Changed to please him?
Kirk—Jim is watching her, his expression untroubled. He looks comfortable lying in the sand, waiting for her to say more. Like he has all day for her to talk, which technically he pretty much does.
She decides to stop thinking about Roger and Spock. “So what do you want to do today? Go shopping? Bowl?”
He laughs. “Oh, fine. But then I’m going golfing like I wanted to yesterday.”
“Do you golf?” He doesn’t strike her as a golfer. Roger was always saying he should take it up—that it was a good way to make contacts for grants—but he never had time to learn.
He makes a face. “No. Never saw the appeal of chasing a ball around when I could be climbing a mountain.”
“Always trying to reach the sky.”
He looks surprised, like he never considered it that way. “Sure, have epiphanies for me, why don’t you?”
She smiles. “It’s also dangerous. You like to test limits.”
“What, are you profiling me now?” He leans in. “Go ahead, I dare you.”
“I know you. It’s not a fair assessment.”
“But how well do you know me?” He looks out at the rain. “We’ve got plenty of time.”
“Okay, but you can’t get mad.”
“Do your worst.”
She takes a deep breath. “We’ve established you’re a thrill seeker, but it doesn’t sound like you were on solid ground when you were, well, on solid ground. The ship makes you brave. You think you’re at your best there.”
“I am at my best there.”
“Are you? Did you try to be at your best on Earth?”
He doesn’t answer quickly, seems to think about the question. “I did, at first. When I was a brand spanking new admiral and convinced that I could make a difference. On a ship, Chris, as captain, your destiny is yours. There are no hoops to jump through, no bureaucrats making you sign a hundred authorizations to requisition a goddamned shuttle. The ship is your whole world and you own it. You serve it and live it all the time, too, but it’s liberating. You do what the mission calls for and explain yourself later. Write up whatever reports you need to, promise to be good, and then go on with life knowing you won’t.”
She smiles gently. “You’re a rebel. And you’re a lone wolf outside of your family, aren’t you? Not really part of the pack back at Command. Is that why you married another admiral? To become accepted? I imagine she was going places, right? Fast track, golden child?”
He nods. “Nogura’s favorite. Hmmmm. She really wasn’t my type now that you mention it. Which is why it fell apart so fast, probably.”
“I think it probably fell apart because she didn’t get you that acceptance—she couldn’t. Only you could by following the group norms, but all you wanted was to be back on your ship.” She stops even though he nods at what she’s said, knows the next part may anger him. “Will looked up to you. He worshipped you. And you stole the ship right out from under him.”
“I know.” There’s something in his expression—she realizes he feels guilty.
“You feel guilt, but not enough to give the ship back and let some other officer have her. Maybe that’s part of your anger. That you did it, that you could do it, and that part of you thinks you don’t deserve the ship, didn’t earn it.”
“I saved the goddamned quadrant, maybe more.”
“We did. Not just you. All of us. And Will did.”
He closes his eyes. “Yes. Will did. I just manipulated. Pushed.”
“No, sir, you did not.”
He looks at her in surprise. At her tone, probably, and her choice of what to call him. She’s using sir for a reason. She wants him to understand her fully.
“Will couldn’t have gotten us as far as you did. And he wouldn’t have been ready to make the sacrifice he did, if you hadn’t stolen the ship.”
He looks away. “He said he wanted it—to merge with V’ger. As much as I wanted the Enterprise, he wanted that.”
“And he did. And we got away. And now things are the way they are because you betrayed him and saved us all.”
“You just said I didn’t do it myself.”
“Words are tricky. But you’re a smart boy. I know you followed that.”
He smiles. “I’ve talked about this to Spock, but he doesn’t understand. It’s logical, therefore it’s fine.”
“That sounds like him. What about Len?”
“He gives me words about my best destiny on a ship.”
“My best destiny was probably in a lab, but I went another way. We can always go another way. The question is can we live with our second best destiny.”
“How big is the gap between first and second?”
“Well, there’s that question, too. I thought it was going to be short term, my detour. Find Roger. Give him a piece of my mind. Go back to Earth with him. Marry. Have kids, maybe. Work together on groundbreaking projects. The gap was huge. But I jumped it to get him back because I thought it was the best course to find my way to the destiny I wanted.”
“You could have done it on your own. You’re accomplished.”
“He gave me...gravitas, if you will. I was young. I didn’t want to jump through the hoops, either. I wanted to control my destiny my way. Oh, my God. Roger was my Enterprise.”
“And then Spock. The head of the science department.”
She closes her eyes. Nods slowly. “Shit.”
“It’s okay. I don’t want to be the only fucked up person here.”
She laughs. “No danger of that.” Then her smile slips. “Can I stop profiling you now?”
“Please, God, yes.” He touches her face then jerks his hand back. “I’m sorry. That was so inapp—”
“It’s okay. I didn’t mind.”
He meets her eyes for a moment, then rolls to his back and stares out at the rainy beach. “I think you’re right about Lori. I’ve never been very well liked by my peers. I moved up too fast. Took chances and didn’t have to pay the price for that. Cheated on a major test—anyone else would probably have been thrown out of the Academy.”
“You cheated? That doesn’t sound like you.”
“Oh, I don’t mean I cheated off someone else’s work. That isn’t like me. I rigged a simulation so I could win a no-win scenario.”
She laughs. “See, you really are so innovative. I would have eventually gotten to that in the profile.”
He smiles. “You don’t think it’s bad to rig the game so you can win it?”
“Not if you don’t believe in the game to begin with.” She looks away. “Remember Andrea, the little geishadroid?”
He laughs. “Oh, yeah.” He looks like he is thinking about her scandalously cut jumpsuit.
“She looked a lot like the women Roger dated before me. He liked curvy, small women with dark hair. The woman right before me was crazy about him. I...I stole him from her. I didn’t care if I hurt her. I wanted him, therefore she didn’t matter—conventions didn’t matter.”
“Okay, but if you could steal him from her, then he wasn’t hers.”
She gives him a look. “You just want me to say that if you could rig the test, then it wasn’t really much of a test.”
He laughs. “No, actually, I don’t. I worked really hard to rig it. Not the easiest thing to hack into. But I mean it. Men...men are different than women in a lot of ways, but one of them is that we can be with someone to kill time a lot more easily, in my opinion, than a woman can. We’re in a relationship but not committed to it, and then the right person comes along and boom, we’re done with that other person. The other person who probably wanted to have endless conversations about where the relationship was going and how her friends were all getting engaged, or married, or having babies. Because she knew, deep down, that we weren’t there. But she didn’t want to say it.”
“Saying it makes it real.” She smiles at his nod. “I take it you speak from experience?”
He nods. “I was with someone when I met Carol. This person—let’s call her Mary—wanted to spend every second with me. I avoided her when I got sick of it. I slipped away when a ‘talk’ was looming. I did everything I could to keep the sex going but not commit. And then I met Carol. And all that thought of not wanting to commit went out the window. I was gone on her. Just gone. We moved in together two weeks after we met.”
“How long did you last?”
“Too long. Not long enough. Both?” He touches her hand where it lies in the sand, a quick stroke that feels good. “So my point really is: if you could steal Roger—and get him to propose to you—it’s because Roger wanted you.”
“It’s just the truth.”
“It hurt, though, to see her there on Exo III. The embodiment—only prettier than any of them—of what came before me. He didn’t want me to be the model for his sex toy or whatever the hell she was. I bet he never called her a frigid bitch.”
“I bet he never told her ‘I love you,’ either.”
She smiles. “I would have gotten to sweet in your profile, too. So sweet.” She realizes the rain has finally let up. “I’m going to change the subject, if you don’t mind?”
“I don’t mind. Rain’s let up.”
“I know. You want breakfast?”
“Fish or fruit, I guess.”
“I’m going to make that sling I mentioned. Get us some birds to add to the mix.” He stands up and holds out his hand to pull her up.
She lets him. “Go make tools. I’ll find us some fruit. The good thing about the rain is it makes the splinters on the plants lie flat. They won’t pop back out until they dry, so I’m going to go forage like crazy. I’ll look for vines or fibers, something you can use on your sling.”
“I can go with you.”
“You can. And soon you will—in fact, you may go instead of me. But for now, rest. You’re still recuperating, remember?”
He laughs. “I have no intention of arguing with you when you are in healer mode.”
She smiles. “Wise man.”
Kirk stands on the beach, taking practice shots with his new sling. He’s getting closer to the stick targets he’s set up. They have shells on the top he’s trying to knock off.
Chris is watching him from the sidelines. “I’d kill for a steak.”
“Is that your idea of a vote of confidence? I will get us some wild fowl to eat.”
“I don’t know. Even the big birds spook easily—like cardinals.”
“I’m still going to get one.”
“Fine. But until you do, I’m dreaming of filet mignon drizzled with butter and—”
“Cut it out. You’re making me hungry.” He glances over at her. “Baked potato?”
“Not my favorite. I’m a sucker for shoestring potatoes or sweet potatoes fries.”
“Those’ll work. My grandma used to grow yams. Some sugar beets, too. I never took to farming, I’ll admit.”
“Of course not. Your natural state is looking up, not at the ground.”
He laughs. “True. I like riding, though. But I guess you look straight ahead more than up or down.”
“And it’s the thrill seeker thing. Also control. Man over beast.”
“Man with beast. Partnership works best.” She is suspiciously quiet, so he smiles and asks, “You have a comment you don’t want to say because it will ruin the mood?”
“I’m just thinking of how you get things done. With Spock and Len and Scotty, partnership does work best for you. But other times, you kind of run off by yourself and, well, tame the situation.”
He shrugs; she’s not wrong. “So, I’m an idiot on top of everything else? At least I’ve got layers.”
“I think your layers have layers, Jim.” She giggles, as if pleased with her joke, and he finds the sound charming. “First into the fray. Not an idiot, necessarily. Just not really a team player. Unless it’s your closest friends.”
“Coming from you, darling.” He makes sure she catches the endearment is a joke, and she’s smiling, so he knows it’s safe to go on. “How much of a team player are you? I never saw you with the other nurses. You were with Nyota and Jan—and Sulu and Chekov. My bridge crew. You knew where the action was. You always do, I imagine.”
“The action. The power.”
He nods. Yes, that is what he meant. The power.
“I got my fill of trying to be friends with my peers on Roger’s team. There was some resentment. It made it hard to work with them.” She’s silent for a bit, and he glances over at her, but she seems to be dissatisfied with what she said, so he waits. “Actually, I made it hard to work with them. I didn’t care about them. I saw where I wanted to go and went that way. If they were smart, they came along.”
He smiles. He’s said that before, on some of his less than stellar days. “And if they weren’t smart?”
“They didn’t last very long working for Roger.”
“Did you help that along?”
“He didn’t care who I liked or not. As long as he got what he needed from me.” She sighs. “I think he liked me isolated. I needed him more.”
“Would fit the profile of the kind of man he turned out to be. Did he have many friends of his own?”
She shakes her head. “You have a lot more. Even though you say you don’t.”
“Actually, you said I didn’t.” He laughs at her expression.
“Right. I did. Which wasn’t fair. You do have friends. Loyal ones who would die for you. Roger used to say people were waiting to stab him in the back. That people lacked the proper respect for true science—that appreciation of progress shouldn’t hinge on someone playing nice.”
“No wonder he liked the android life.”
She laughs, but only a little. He can tell Roger is still a sore spot, even all these years later. But life-changing moments usually are. He doesn’t smile widely at Kodos jokes.
“And you’re not afraid to have people around you who will disagree with you. Spock and Len never sugarcoat their opinions.”
“No, they certainly don’t.” He studies her. “I’m getting the feeling you don’t, either. But I’m also sensing you didn’t necessarily do that with Roger. How were you with Will?”
“I gave him a rash of shit when he needed it. Mostly he didn’t need it. He liked to bounce ideas off me. I think he would have been a good captain.” The way she says it is matter of fact. Just a judgment, not a slap at Kirk.
“I think he would have been, too. I recommended him for a reason. But...things changed.” He gets another rock and tries the sling again.
Bingo. Finally, he knocks the shell off.
“Bravo.” She is smiling. “Now show me some more of those and I’ll lead you into the woods on our wild goose hunt.” She looks nostalgic. “I bet goose tastes really good.”
He laughs and goes to reset the target.
Chapel is hanging off a tree when Jim walks up.
“Do I want to know what you’re doing?”
She nods to two branches already lying on the ground. Both are Y-shaped and the one she is hanging off of is more substantial.
He smiles as he watches her. “Someone is making a rotisserie?”
Of course he would know what she has planned. “Yep. A little help here would be nice.”
He leaps up, grabs the branch and between the two of them making it bob and swing, they break it off. “Good idea. You want me to work on the spit, here?”
“Sure. I’ll do the supports.”
They walk out to the shelter, sit under it since the sun and humidity is sweltering, and he starts to shave the bark off the branch as she whittles the end of her Y branches into a point.
“Did you break those off or find them on the ground?”
“I broke them.” She pounds the first one into the ground with a rock wrapped in leaves. “Fresh wood won’t catch on fire as easily.”
“That’s why I asked.” He has finished with the bark scraping—he’s remarkably efficient with a shell and the sandpaper he created—and begins to whittle one end into a point. “We’ll need to soak this in water before we use it or it will catch on fire.”
She smiles. “I know that.”
“Smarty pants.” He glances up at her. “So I guess you have more faith in my bird-catching ability than you appeared to, if you are making something to cook it on.”
“I guess I do.” She nods at his sling. “How many did you get in a row before you quit?”
She starts to laugh. “I thought you’d stop at five. You’re more anal than I realized.”
“Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
“That sounds promising.” She looks down quickly, going back to making the bottom of the second branch into a point. What she just said sounded way too flirtatious.
“You don’t agree?” His tone has changed, too.
“I guess it depends on the activity.”
“You’re trying to say you’re not a perfectionist. I heard stories from Bones about the inventory.”
She starts to laugh. “They put everything back in the wrong place. I don’t ask for the unreasonable, like all the labels facing out or even the oldest meds in front. I just ask that they learn the fucking alphabet.”
He is laughing hard enough to make his shoulders shake a little as he works. “I agree, scarily. But then I’m a neatnik. Lori used to drive me nuts, always dropping her crap wherever. It takes just as much time—”
“To put it away as to put it in the wrong place. I used to tell people that in the lab.”
“Well, it’s true.”
“Was Roger neat?”
“Are you kidding? The great Roger Korby a slob? But...it didn’t come naturally to him. You can tell the difference.”
“Oh, you mean he never moved something back where it’s supposed to go if it’s an inch out of place.”
She laughs. “Yep, that’s what I mean. Do you do that?”
“I had a collection of antique weapons on the wall. The cleaning lady would dust them and they’d be ever so off.” He makes a face, silly and self deprecating. “Lori would mock me as I’d straighten them back up.”
“Yeah, Roger hated it when I’d bring out the coasters.”
“They exist for a reason.”
“Thank you.” She finishes the point and holds out her hand. “Can I see the spit for a sec?”
He hands it to her and she measures how far the second branch should be from the first, then hands the spit back.
“Leave some extra room at one end. We have to turn the thing. We’ll want the end to stay cool.”
“Oh, good point. See, you are an engineer.”
“I learned that from the tribe.” He gets up and walks the branch down to the water, soaking it for a few minutes in the sea. When he comes back, he puts it in the shade of the shelter. “We’ll have to do it again, just before we cook the food, but this will get it started.”
“Okay then. We go hunting, I guess.” She leads him to the edge of the forest. She’s shown him which plants are ones to stay away from of those that line the beach, but deeper into the forest there are others he doesn’t know yet. “See that plant, the one with the purple veins on the leaf.”
“Those are the worst. Took me hours to get the splinters out. Whatever you do, do not let our dinner fall into one of those or we won’t be able to handle it, much less eat it.”
“The birds don’t like that plant, either, so they won’t be in one, but they may fly over one once we flush them out.” They walk and she tells him more about the plants. Which ones have fruits they can eat. Which ones the monkeys and birds avoid. She is about to go on when she sees a plant she’s missed before. “Hold on a moment.”
Kneeling, she digs up what looks like a root vegetable. “This is new. Maybe you will get your baked potato.” She smells it, expecting it to stink like the tuber she found before, but it smells okay. She gingerly scrapes a little peel off and inspects the thing. No bugs. Good, so it’s not rotten. She holds the root to the inside of her arm. No tingle, no burn. She digs some out with her nail, lets it sit on her lip. This part she remembers from survival class because it made sense: all the steps of the process to see if something is edible or not are scientific, although to test it for real, she’d need to allow more time between each step, so even if it tests out, he won’t be having baked root tonight.
Her lip starts to tingle and she pulls the thing away, wiping her mouth off with the bottom of her shirt.
“Nope.” She waits to make sure the tingle is going away before she gets up. “We’re going to need some vegetables and starch. I mean if we don’t get off this island soon.”
“I know.” He meets her eyes and his expression is bleaker than it’s been. “I keep listening for a shuttle, which is stupid. Spock would never risk that on a world like this.”
“I keep trying the communicator. It hasn’t worked since we floated onto this island, but hope springs eternal, I guess.”
“We don’t know that the dead zones are permanent. They may move over time.”
She nods but doesn’t think either of them really believes that.
“Chris, hold still.”
One of the gray birds that are about the size of macaws is in a tree just ahead of them.
“What do I get if I hit it with the first shot,” he whispers.
“Anything you goddamn want. Do you think it’ll taste like chicken?”
“Dunno. If we’re lucky.” He laughs softly and reaches into a pocket for one of the rocks. “Here goes nothing.”
Nothing proves to be amazing. The bird isn’t just hit, but falls down clear of any nasty bushes. She runs to it. It’s not dead, only stunned.
She reaches for it gingerly and it pecks her. Really goddamned hard. She grabs it behind the head, puts her other hand on its chest, and twists. “Your biting days are over, mister.”
“Remind me not to get you too angry.” He’s smiling in approval despite his words. “Let’s get another. Not sure how much meat is on these things.”
She nods and picks the bird up by the feet. “Seabirds taste fishy,” she says, remembering reading that somewhere.
“I’ve never seen these birds fishing. Think chicken, Chris. Until we know for sure, just hope for the best.”
“That would be a good motto.” She turns to him. “So what do you want? You hit it in one. I wash the dishes? I take the lumpy side of the shelter?”
The look he gives her is scorching, but then he dials it back so fast she knows he regrets it.
And she suddenly doesn’t want him to regret it.
“I know what might be nice...” She walks over, grabs him before she can think better of it, and plants the best kiss she can, considering she’s doing it while holding a dead bird, on him. “If that wasn’t what you were thinking, you can put me on report later.” She tries to back away, in case she has misread him, but he pulls her back and kisses her some more.
The kiss is as tender as it is passionate.
When they finally pull away, he strokes her hair for a moment, then the grin is back and he says, “Ready, bird slayer?”
She laughs and nods. “Hey, your lips aren’t tingling, are they?”
He waggles his eyebrows and nods.
“I mean from that stupid vegetable, not from kissing.” Although it’s sort of the same thing. She is the delivery mechanism of the irritant if it has long-lasting effects. Shit, just like with Spock and that virus. She’s some kind of Typhoid Mary.
“They’re fine, Chris. Relax.” He strides past her into the bush, and she has to hurry so she can stop him from brushing against one of the purple-veined plants.
“Jim, what did I say?”
“I may be still in the moment.” His grin is a beautiful thing. “Maybe you should lead.”
She does, although she’s enjoying thinking about the moment. His lips. Those kisses.
She understands the hype now. She should have joined Jan in the “I love Jim” fan club long ago and forgotten all about Spock.
Chapel is suddenly very glad Jan transferred off the ship once it was clear Jim was staying.
Only, she shouldn’t assume. It was just a kiss. Just a victory, “We have something other than fruit and fish to eat” kiss. It doesn’t mean anything.
He stops her with a hand on her shoulder. “Up there,” he points, his breath on her hair, his chest against her back. Then he moves her and pops the bird.
She dispatches this bird before it can bite her.
He’s watching her with an insanely fond grin. “That’s super sexy, did you know that?”
“You’re disturbed.” She doesn’t tell him that watching him shoot the bird with the sling they’ve both made was also super sexy. But she does smile like a goddamned idiot the whole way back to the shelter.
Kirk watches Chris dish them up the last of the birds. He’s made them a salty berry-fruit sauce to dip it in. It reminds him a little of the way the tribe prepared their version of pheasant.
“It does taste like chicken. Only dryer. Turkey maybe.”
“I can make jerky. I mean if we’re stuck here for a while. It’ll keep longer.”
She nods, but he can tell he’s brought the happy mood down a bit. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to be a killjoy when the dinner is so good.”
“I’m just worried about us. Our long term health.”
“I know. Hey, look on the bright side. At least we’re not fighting.” He holds his pod of water up and she clinks her pod against it.
“No, we’re not.” She meets his eyes and he feels the surprising rush of connection he felt when he kissed her.
He’s never, ever thought of kissing her. Why the hell hasn’t he?
Only he knows why he hasn’t—because she liked Spock, and Kirk thought Spock might like her back someday. But he never did. And Kirk left it alone because he has rules about sleeping with crew on his ship.
He thinks he could amend that to not sleeping with anyone who can’t relieve of him command. That works nicely in this situation.
Although he’s getting way ahead of himself. They kissed. That’s all. Two kisses.
Two really fucking good kisses, he can hear Jim Junior saying. Jim Junior clearly likes Chris a lot.
A lot, a lot.
“What are you thinking about? You have the cutest expression?” Her smile is sweet and mischievous, and he wants to forget about the chicken and push her into the sand. “Oh my. Well, never mind. I think I know.” She fans her face as if it’s suddenly gotten very hot, and he bursts out laughing.
“Sorry. My mind might have gone some naughty places.”
“It was the kiss. And that’s my fault because maybe you did want me to sleep on the lumpy side of the shelter, not take advantage of you that way in the forest.”
“It was fine. No report will be filed.” He hasn’t smiled this much for a long time.
He wonders if she would say the same thing.
“We’re a good pair, Chris. Glad I picked you for this mission.”
“We are a good pair. But we haven’t been here that long.” Her look is warm, at odds with the words. At his frown, she says, “We’re the only two people here, Jim. And we’re not fighting. It may just be relief at that making you feel good about us—well, and our success hunting—rather than that we’re simpatico.”
“Maybe.” He studies her, wonders why she’s backing up emotionally, decides to go with it and let her by changing the subject. “I was thinking about what you asked me. The hypothetical question about Miramanee and my child.”
He sees her come back to him, the emotional backpedaling seeming to halt when the flirting is over. He thinks she got in over her head for a moment and panicked. He understands how that could happen.
“I’d have three options as I see it. First would be to leave them behind forever. Not something I’d want to do, but the prime directive would be best served by it.”
“The second option would be to take her away from the tribe and try to integrate her and the child into my world.”
“Would Jim Kirk love her the way Kirok did?”
It’s a good question. He’s not sure he would. “I don’t know. And she’d be alone. No babies on a starship. So I take her from everything she knows and then leave her on a planet she doesn’t understand? Not a good option.”
“Agreed.” She watches him as he thinks. “Option three?”
“To pop in on them every so often. Like the god they thought I was.”
“Starfleet would love that.”
“I’d probably do it on leave. Not tell them.”
She nods. “But the tribe might expect a lot of the child. The son of a god—but in truth, he’s ordinary. Unless you make him less ordinary. Teach him things you know. And then the Prime Directive comes into play again.”
He nods and looks down.
“I’m sorry—it was a stupid question. I shouldn’t have asked it.”
“No, it’s not a stupid question. It’s a good one. The answers are just unsatisfying. I’d never see her again if I did the right thing and left her. Never see my child born. Story of my life, I guess. No hearth and home. No family.” He finishes his chicken, thinking about what he’s missed.
She seems to read his mood, eats her food in silence, too, and they pass the sauce back and forth as if they’re an old married couple, who need no words to know what’s needed.
Chapel disposes of the parts of the birds they haven’t eaten or saved for possible use later, burying them away from the shelter, in the forest. She finishes and walks out to where Kirk is sitting at the edge of the surf, his pants rolled up, as he cleans off the bones they thought might be useful.
“Can I help?”
She sits next to him. Too close. She starts to move away and he murmurs, “You’re fine.” He says it quietly, probably so she can ignore it if she wants.
She stays where she is, and he pushes the pile of bones between them. She starts to clean one off, studies the shape. It might make a good scraper. It was his idea to save them. She kept some of the tendons while they were prepping the bird and cleaned them off while the bird cooked. They might be useful and more durable than the vines she’s been using to connect things.
“Waste nothing,” she murmurs.
“That’s how the tribe lived. Nothing taken for granted. No stores. No synthesizers. Just what we could make or scavenge or hunt.”
She leans up against him, feels him push back. “We’re lucky you were there. That you learned what you did.”
“I think you’d have done all right on your own. You’d have gotten that fire going eventually.” He looks at her and smiles gently. “I’m lucky you’re here. I might not have gotten well without you.”
“I guess I’m a good doctor.”
“You graduated top of your class. You damn well better be.”
She stares at him. “You know that?”
He shrugs. “I may have checked your record, trying to figure out why Will picked you.”
“Ah.” That makes more sense than thinking he gave a damn back then. “It’s the only way he got the posting by Starfleet Medical—made up for being the wrong rank.”
“Yep. Can’t argue with excellence. But the CMO business aside, I knew you’d be a good doctor. You were a great nurse. And because of that, you’ll have the touch that a lot of doctors don’t. The one that says you care.”
“Does Len have that?”
“Not always. He can be brusque.”
“I can, too.” She rinses off the bone, sets it aside, and takes another from the pile. “I find myself in a hurry. When I was a nurse, I didn’t have to write all these reports. Hell, a lot of the doctors don’t, either. Just Len and I. Monthly this and weekly that.”
He laughs. “Welcome to my world, toots.”
“Your world is not a happy place.” She picks up sand to try to get some gristle off the bone she’s working on, rubs it and finally gets the stuff off.
“It was happy not too long ago. I got us dinner. Earned a kiss from fair lady.” He is grinning, and she smiles at the silly look. “The sunset is going to be gorgeous tonight.”
“It is. But then it’ll be so dark. This world needs a moon.”
“I love moonlit walks on the beach.”
“A little too whimsical for Roger. Of course I’ve been at the beach on a moonlit night, but never strolled down one with someone.”
“That’s a crime against humanity.”
“It is, isn’t it? There are probably a lot of things I’ve never done—romantic things. Well, spontaneous romantic. Roger was a traditionalist. Red roses. Nice candy. Champagne and strawberries.”
He makes a mocking sound. “Amateur.”
“I know. But what can you do? The man was brilliant. The pillow talk was scintillating.”
“God, I hate boring pillow talk.” He sounds sincere.
“Was Lori boring?”
“Yes, but not because she was dumb. She wasn’t—she was whip smart. But all she wanted to talk about was Starfleet politics. Strategies for getting ahead after a good orgasm—not really my cup of tea.” He tosses the bone he is working on aside and grabs another. “And then the orgasms weren’t always there when Jim Junior refused to show up to the game, and Lori and I eventually stopped talking at all because things were so tense.”
“Yeah. I know how that is. I used to get so caught up in whether I would or wouldn’t come that all the fun of the sex was gone. It should be fun, shouldn’t it?”
“Damned straight.” He turns to her, leans in halfway, and meets her eyes.
She knows without asking that he wants to kiss her but will let her decide if she is going to close the distance. She does, moving slowly, until their lips touch.
The kiss is light, sweet; they don’t grab at each other; they don’t put down the bones they’re working on. They just kiss until he finally eases away, rubbing her nose with his before he pulls all the way back.
“See, now that was fun.” She watches his face, is happy to see him smile.
They go back to work on their pile of bones.
Kirk takes the newly cleaned bones up to where they’re storing their other salvage, and then walks back down to where Chris is standing, watching the sky turn a brilliant pinky orange. “Fancy a stroll? It’s not moonlit, but it’s as close as we’re going to come.”
“We just have to be home before dark.”
“No kidding. I stubbed the hell out of my toe last night.” He turns her so they are facing where the sun will go down. “We can just watch it, if that seems safer.”
She leans back against him and nods. “You’ve had a big day. Hunting. Adding on to our kitchen. Being a master sauce maker.”
“And there was kissing.”
“Yes, there was.”
He puts his arms around her, feels her settle her hands over his, and sighs. It feels so good to be close like this. Even if they’re trapped here. Even if they may never get found. She feels great in his arms. And that’s all he’s going to focus on at the moment.
“I love it when the sun disappears into the sea,” she says. “It’s so...elemental. So easy to see why the ancients gave it so much import.”
“Well, our ancients. We have no idea what this planet does.” Hell, that was the whole damn point of this mission. Scope out this planet that the Klingons were so keen on nosing around and find out why. And find out what kind of civilization it was while they were at it.
Hell of a job he’s doing answering that question.
No. He’ll concentrate on how she feels in his arms.
“Something wrong?” She is laughing softly. “’Cause you’re squeezing me kind of hard.”
“Oh, sorry.” He kisses her neck. “Thinking about how stellar this mission has been so far. Other than the company of a certain woman I’m getting to know.”
He laughs and kisses her again, moving her hair out of the way so he can get to the back of her neck. She sighs and it’s a happy sound.
“This is one of my favorite ways to be kissed,” she says softly. “I get chills, but the good kind.”
He thinks that she has more to say and has stopped herself. “But...?”
She laughs, a soft puff of air. “How do you know there’s a but?”
“I just do. But what?”
“But Roger didn’t do it very often. He wasn’t...” She seems to be searching for the right word so he lets her do that and alternates between watching the sun and kissing her neck. “This is so intimate, you know? I don’t know why it’s more intimate than face to face, but it is.”
“I agree.” He moves his hands up, carrying her own with him as he goes. He stops just under her breasts, pushes his chest hard against her back. “He wasn’t intimate?”
“I don’t think he was. I think he shut me out the same way he did everyone. I think I knew that. Somehow. Maybe I shut him out the only way I could.”
“By not coming? Maybe he just wasn’t that good.”
She laughs. “Maybe so.”
“Watch the sun. It’s about to disappear.” He rests his chin on her shoulder, sways a little as if there’s music.
She moves with him perfectly, doesn’t question, just relaxes into him, and says, “It’s especially pretty tonight.”
She turns and puts her arms around him. “We should get back to the shelter before the light is gone.”
“And why is that? Other than the potential for stubbed toes?”
“Because I want to be able to see you the first time we make love.”
He smiles and leads her up to the shelter. They shed their clothes quickly—they really don’t have much light left.
He looks, really looks at her, and smiles at what he sees. “I tried not to ogle when we were swimming.”
She bites back a smile. “Me, too. You can ogle now.”
“Yes, you too can ogle away.” He pulls her to him, kisses her, then whispers in her ear, “I’m so glad you’re here.” Then he eases her down to the sand and gets to know her body.
Jim Junior is happy as hell at this turn of events, gets even happier when she very quickly begins to writhe under his tongue.
There is no way in hell she’s faking it. There is a rigidness in that moment just before an orgasm that a woman really can’t fake. The long climb and then the fall. He knows that if it were lighter, he’d be able to see a flush growing on her chest.
“You’re magnificent,” he says as he kisses his way back up to her lips.
“Holy shit, you’re good at that.” She reaches down, begins to stroke him and then guides him into her.
It feels like coming home. If he’d known it would be this good, he would have broken every rule he had for her the first time around, kept her on the ship in whatever way she wanted so she wouldn’t leave to go to med school.
She kisses him frantically, and he can’t last, lets go, and finds bliss with a very loud cry.
One of the monkey things answers from the forest, and Chris starts to giggle. “Ah, the musical accompaniment of our first fuck.”
He starts to laugh, too. “You’re just jealous you didn’t make the monkey complain.”
“I’m not sure he was complaining. I think he wanted to know where the fun was at.”
“He can find his own female. You’re mine.” He realizes that’s an awfully strong statement for their first time together, but she just sighs in what sounds like contentment and wraps her legs around him, keeping him inside her.
He kisses her until she lets him go, and they cuddle together, touching and kissing, until he can’t stand it and pulls her astride him. He makes sure she comes first; it is so damn easy he wants to go back in time and strangle Korby.
Jim Junior shows no sign that he was ever shy.
The monkey doesn’t cry out again. Not this time.
Or the next.
Or the next.
Chapel wakes to another rain shower. She buries her face in Jim’s neck and sighs.
“Good morning,” he says, his voice sounding like he’s smiling.
She pulls back to look at him. “Good morning.” Then, with a grin that matches his, she heads down to say hello to her new friend.
“Chris, damn, you are so good at that.” He is moving helplessly underneath her, and she teases him a little, and then gets serious. He is not quiet when he comes and she starts to laugh and lets him go. “Do you come that loud when you’re not on a deserted island? Because I can see problems back on the ship if you do.”
He reaches up and strokes her cheek, his eyes tender, as he grins and says, “Oh, so you think you can take advantage of me on my ship?”
“As if you mind.” She leans down to kiss him. “I think I have sand everywhere you can get sand. Beaches, my dear, may be overrated.”
He starts laughing. “Yeah, there’s a drawback. But still...no sand fleas.”
“Right. Silver lining, that.” She looks out at the water. “I want to swim in the rain.”
“Sounds like the perfect thing to do today.” He pulls her up with him, draws her down to the water, and then shallow dives into the surf.
She follows him, and they paddle around happily, kissing and touching, and soon he has her stretched out in the surf next to him, his leg holding hers down, his hand doing amazing things. The way he touches her is nothing like what Roger used to do—although the android Roger did pick up a thing or two, but still, nothing like this. Jim is with her as he gets her there; it doesn’t seem like an imposition.
As she lies, breathing hard, he leans in and says, “Truly magnificent.”
She smiles, knowing what he’s saying. She pulls him onto her, wriggling against him but that’s for her benefit, not his—he’s ready for her. She decides she likes wet sand a lot better than dry for making love.
Afterward they lie, both on their back, holding hands, letting the rain pelt down on them.
He stares up at the sky and says, “I can’t wait to have sex with you on the ship.”
She smiles, hearing something that she realizes was missing in his voice before: hope. “I can’t wait, either.” She curls onto her side and he pulls her in tightly.
“They’ll come, Chris. Spock will find us.”
“I know.” She didn’t a few moments ago. But now she does. His faith is that contagious.
And that’s why his peers hate him. Why his crew would die for him. And why she’s falling in love with him.
“Forgive yourself, Jim. The ship is yours, and she always has been.”
He turns to look at her, meeting her eyes for a long time before he nods and kisses her forehead. Then he starts to grin. “I also want to have sex in the conference room and the observation lounge and...”
She laughs as he goes on, showing her just how innovative he really can be.
Kirk is standing in the water, spear raised, waiting for fish to show up when he senses movement in the distance and looks out to sea. A boat.
One person in it. Too far away to make out details.
He doesn’t wait, runs to the shelter where Chris is working on a tool she won’t tell him about until it’s done and says, “We’ve got company.”
“I don’t know. I think so.” He grabs the spears, nods for her to bring her stuff—is that a knife she’s making? And then he slips into the forest, easing them past the worst of the splinter bushes, until they work their way around to a spot where they can watch the boat.
The boat that is definitely coming closer.
“It’s a native,” she says, and he wonders how she knows that. He can’t make out the person yet. Then he sees the motion the person is using on the paddle. The boat—more a dugout than anything else—is going to the left for the count of three strokes, then right, then left. She’s probably right. It’s not a rhythm he thinks anyone on the ship would make.
The native slips the dugout gracefully into the shallows and then it comes to rest in the wet sand. He gets out and pulls it up higher, doesn’t seem to be particularly alert. He must not have seen Kirk in the water. The position the sun is in means there was probably glare if he was looking at the island.
The man pulls a bow and arrow out of the dugout and strides right toward their camp.
“Shit.” Kirk tells her to stay where she is and slips back through the forest, not to where they came in, but to a larger gap that will put him behind the man, a spot where he can slip out with a minimum of damage from the splinters.
The man is gazing at their shelter, then he crouches down and inspects the fire, picks up a water pod.
Kirk knows it is glaringly obvious that someone has been here recently, and the man’s posture changes from the casual one to high alert. He looks around, his bow ready.
Kirk grasps the spear harder. He doesn’t want to kill the man. Just wants to subdue him. But the man’s bow trumps Kirk’s long stick with a sharp point. Kirk has gone bow hunting; he knows how fast a man can fire and reload—and how deep an arrow can go, how lethal they are.
“You can’t take him with just a spear.” Chris is apparently incapable of following orders, because she is right behind him, her breath warm in his ear. “You need a diversion. Then you can sneak around.”
“You are not going to be the diversion.”
“Why not? I look more like the natives than you do.”
Which was true. With her blue eyes—and the brow ridges Bones made—she does look more native than Kirk with his hazel eyes. Everyone they saw before they were captured had blue eyes or a strange gray-green color. Not a dark eye in sight.
She doesn’t wait, just slips onto the sand and calls out to the man. Kirk doesn’t hang around to see what he does, just moves, slipping around behind him.
“Who are you?” the man asks her.
“I fell overboard. Floated in here. Haven’t seen anyone for days.” She sounds convincingly happy to see the man, and isn’t spilling details that might trip her up before Kirk has a chance to get to him. “What are you doing here? I’m so glad to see you.”
“Hunting.” The man doesn’t sound like he trusts her. “Are you alone?”
“Tracks say otherwise.”
“I walk a lot. I’ve had nothing to do but walk.”
Kirk steps out onto the sand, moving as quietly as he can, but the man hears him. There is a hiss and then he is turning on Kirk, reaching for—oh shit, reaching for another arrow. Chris.
Kirk doesn’t have time to see if she’s okay. He charges and knocks the bow out of the man’s grip with the spear. They grapple and not for the first time Kirk wishes he could learn how to do Spock’s nerve pinch—the man is not going down from Kirk’s choke hold, seems made of pure muscle.
He pushes Kirk off him and reaches for the spear. Suddenly Chris is there, the tool she was making a white and gray blur as she gets behind the man and slices across the front of his neck.
The man grabs at his throat, light red blood oozing between his fingers. She stabs him again, in the back this time, and there is a look of desperate intensity on her face.
As the man falls, Kirk sees the side of her shirt is red—dark red, not light. She falls to her knees on the sand and pushes her shirt against the wound.
“Went through me.” She looks up at him. “I don’t think it hit anything major. But I’m going to lose too much blood if you don’t get some pressure on this and the wound in the back. It’s why I killed him. Well, that and he looked like he had the jump on you.”
Kirk pushes himself to his feet, tearing fabric off the man’s shirt to make a bandage, laying it over the wound in back—he’s not sure Chris is right that it didn’t hit anything vital. It looks really bad. He uses the vines to wrap around her. “Nice knife, by the way.” He’s trying desperately to sound normal, to not sound afraid for her.
She smiles briefly. “Thanks.” She pulls him around so she can see his face. “Shit. It’s bad, isn’t it?”
He nods. “Go get in the boat. We’re getting out of here.”
She doesn’t argue, doesn’t ask questions, just goes and climbs into the back of the dugout.
He grabs everything he thinks they’ll need. Fruit, water, the man’s bow, her knife, his spear. The rest of their supplies, as much as he can fit. He rifles through the man’s clothes, finds a small knife, and tears off more strips of fabric from his clothing to use as bandages. Then he pushes the dugout into the water and jumps in.
He uses the man’s series of strokes once he’s clear of the island, doesn’t want anyone who might see them to think they’re anything but native.
He is paddling toward where the sun sets. It’s a sentimental pick but they have to get in the clear at some point.
All his faith from the morning is fading away. All the hope he felt when he made love to her.
Spock isn’t coming. Chris is going to die. Just like Edith and Miramanee. And he’ll be alone.
He’ll die alone.
He hears her murmuring, “Chapel to Enterprise, come in. Medical emergency, please come in.” She looks at him, nods as he paddles faster. “Chapel to Enterprise, please come in.”
They go for hours. His arms are burning and his hands are cramping on the paddle. She makes him stop several times to drink water, to eat some fruit, to fix her bandages so she doesn’t bleed into the water—they don’t need frenzied sharks on top of everything else.
And through it all, as he’s putting everything he has into paddling them into a clear sector, she calls the ship.
Her voice grows weaker as the hours go by.
Until finally, he hears Uhura answer back in his communicator, which suddenly sparks back to life, the sound of home and safety. “Enterprise to Chapel. We have you both. Stand by for beam up.”
He looks at Chris and she smiles, but the smile fades as she lays her head back.
“It’s bad, Jim. I’ve bled so much.”
“I know. Hold on. You’re going to be fine. Do you hear me, Chris? We’re going to be all right.”
The transporter takes them before she can answer him.
She wakes in sickbay. Jim is not there, but when Len sees she’s awake, he grins at her and walks to the comm panel on the wall.
“McCoy to Kirk.”
“Someone is no longer sleeping.”
“Be right there.”
She closes her eyes and smiles. “How bad was it? I know I bled a lot.”
“You did. Jim did a good job with the pressure bandages, but the arrow nicked a few vital organs. I fixed you up, though.”
“I’d expect no less.” She looks at him fondly, this man she didn’t want to work for again, and who now looks so damn good to her.
“Jim was mighty anxious over the state of your health. Can’t remember him showing such an interest in you before, Christine. You want to tell me about it? Or should I just look at the sappy, lovesick face I’m hoping will replace the worried sick face he’s been sporting since we beamed you two up?”
“Ask him. I’m on pain meds.” She gives him a very big smirk.
He nods as if he expected no less.
Jim comes into sickbay, and he doesn’t try to hide the fact that he got there in triple time.
“I’m fine,” she says.
He looks at Len. “Is she?”
“She is. And she can get out of here. Mandatory bed rest for the next day. Bed rest as in no major activity in bed.” He looks sternly at Jim, then at her. “I know neither of you are saying jack shit, but I can read a damn room.” He winks at her and leaves them alone.
She laughs and looks over at Jim. “Did you remember to give someone the conn before you charged out of there?”
“Spock is on the job.” He hurries to her, sits on the stool next to her bed, and takes her hand, pulling it up gently so he can kiss it. “I was very worried.”
“So was I. But now I’m not.”
“Good. I like it when the doctor is not worried.”
“We were lucky you picked the right direction.”
“We were very lucky.”
“I was lucky I was with you. You don’t lose.”
“I could have lost you. I have lost in the past.”
She thinks of how he was when he came back from the Guardian planet. The things Len let slip about someone named Edith. She thinks of his Indian wife lying on that cot, dying. “You have. We both have.”
“Yes, we have.” He holds her gaze for a long time, a searching expression on his face, then his look changes, becomes more tender—and calm. “I think your bed rest should be in my bed.”
She laughs. “You heard what Len said, right?”
“I know. But I want you with me.” He frowns slightly. “Do you not want that? I assumed but maybe—”
She shakes his hand. “Your bed will be fine. More than fine. No goddamn sand. And a steak. Please tell me there is a steak in my future.”
“With sweet potato fries, if you’re very good.”
“Mmmm. I like my steak medium well.”
“You can eat yours still bleeding on the plate if you have to, but I want mine cooked through.”
He leans down and kisses her. “You can have it burnt for all I care. So long as you’re here to eat it.”
She pulls him back as he tries to draw away, kisses him some more. “It’s really nice to be back on the ship. But the air—I got used to that sea air.”
“Me, too.” His eyes are so wonderfully gentle she thinks she could look at them all day. “There are other beaches.”
“On planets with moons?”
“Just exactly.” He helps her up. “Let’s get you settled and sleeping. I’ve got to get back up to the bridge. We’re rendezvousing with the California in a bit, and I should put in an appearance.”
She is glad to feel only the slightest tenderness on her side as she gets off the biobed. She walks with Jim to the lift, leans against him as they ride it up. She is sleepy—she feels like she could sleep for weeks. They get to his quarters, and he lets her get into bed, and then tucks her in, kissing her very thoroughly before he says, “I’ll see you later.”
He turns back to look at her.
“I’m glad you wanted to see where I stood. That you picked me for your team.”
He smiles. “Me, too.” Then he turns and leaves her alone in his quarters.
The bedding smells of him, and she breathes it in. It feels great to be cozy in a soft and welcoming bed.
His soft and welcoming bed. A place she never thought of being before.
She closes her eyes and is out like a light.
Kirk is working at his table while Chris sleeps. He has food waiting, sitting in a stasis unit that will let him serve it whenever she wakes up, the food perfectly cooked and ready for them.
Filet mignon with drizzled butter. A baked potato for him. Sweet potato fries for her.
The chime on his door goes off and he gets up to answer it rather than calling out entry. Spock is on the other side and he motions him in and says, “Keep your voice down. She needs sleep.”
Spock’s eyebrows nearly disappear into his hair as he turns to look at the bed, at Chris sleeping on her side, one hand under the pillow the same way she buried it in the sand on the island. “Ah. You and Doctor Chapel have worked out your issues.”
“Issues? I didn’t have any issues with her.”
“No, of course not.”
“What about you. Do you have any issues with her I should know about?”
Spock’s eyes are very gentle as he says, “No, Jim. She and I have no issues.”
“Excellent. So you’re happy for me.”
“Happy is an emotion, my friend.” His lips tick up, and Kirk smiles at the dichotomy of his protest and the endearment.
“What do you need?”
Spock hands him a padd. “Authorizations for these.”
“Jim?” Chris is rousing; she sees Spock and freezes. “Oh. Hi. I’m here because...” She looks at Kirk for help.
“I am fully aware of why you are here, Christine. I promise I will keep my visit short. I believe your dinner is waiting.” His voice is uncharacteristically gentle and Kirk smiles.
“Oh. Okay. Great.” She lies back down. Which is good because she has nothing on and Kirk’s not keen on sharing that fact with Spock. Although Spock’s probably figured out that she’s naked by the way she’s clutching the blanket to her.
“There you go, Spock.” He hands the padd back. “Did you really need to do this now?”
Spock’s eyes are very light. “I ran into Doctor McCoy in the mess.” He turns to Chris. “Enjoy your evening. Oh and Doctor McCoy asked me to remind you both that bed rest means just that. Does that make sense to either of you?” His eyes are dancing as he nods and gets the hell out of there.
Kirk is laughing as he finds a shirt in his closet for her to put on.
“Wow. Spock has a sense of humor. Who knew?”
“You’ll probably see that side of him. Now that you’re with me.” He watches her put on his shirt, enjoys the process but doesn’t interfere. Bed rest does mean exactly that. “You believe in fate?”
She moves closer to him, rubs up against him in a way that doesn’t break the Leonard McCoy the great Buzzkill rule. “I believe in you.” She pulls him to her, and he kisses her as gently as he can.
“I’m not going to break.”
“Let me take care of you. You took care of me.”
“Okay.” But she pulls him back and kisses him with more energy. Then she peeks over his shoulder at the stasis unit. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Mmm hmmm.” He laughs at the look on her face. “I even got dessert. But it’s a surprise. One of my favorites, but I have no idea if you like it or not. I guess we can see how compatible we are.”
“Off the island? Where choices abound?”
“Yes. I’m betting we’ll do just fine.” Even if she doesn’t like the dessert. Doing just fine doesn’t mean they have to love all the same things.
She smiles as he pulls out a chair at his table, and sits, letting him take care of her. “I’m betting you’re right.”