A Particular Pain by Djinn

All loss, all pain, is particular; the universe remains to the heart unhurt. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Kirk's comm unit sounded and he ignored it. It chimed twice more before a voice announced, "Priority call for you from the Enterprise."

"Go ahead," he said, slightly startled.

Decker appeared on the terminal. "You're working late...or is it early?"

"Will, this is a surprise." Kirk wondered if Decker had gotten wind of what he was about to pull. He kept his face carefully neutral as he waited for the other man to answer.

"You know Christine pretty well, don't you, Admiral?"

Kirk knew he wasn't hiding his surprise. "I guess. We occasionally see each other socially. Lunch, you know..."

Decker frowned. "That's all? I got the impression it was more."

Kirk gave him a 'what can I tell you?' shrug. "Surely you didn't comm me all the way from the Enterprise to talk about Doctor Chapel?"

"Actually, I did. I thought you might have an idea why she's had second thoughts about the CMO position. She did tell you I'd offered it to her?"

Kirk fought to keep the bitterness out of his smile. "Oh yes. She told me, Will."

"It's a great move for her. Turning it down now makes no sense. She was really excited about this."

She turned it down, Kirk processed slowly. "I really can't tell you why she did it, Captain. But I'm sure she had her reasons."

"I don't suppose you could talk to her? She's not taking my comms for some reason."

Kirk almost laughed. "If I see her, Will, I'll ask."

Decker smiled in relief. "Thanks, sir." He turned to someone that was out of view, listening for a moment before nodding. "I've got to go. You know how it is pre-launch."

Nodding, Kirk cut the connection. He refused to think of her. Or of what Decker had said she'd done. She didn't deserve to be CMO anyway. Not on that ship...on his ship, he thought as a cold anger filled him.

He pushed her from his mind. Tried to calm the anger and focus on his work. A chime at his door interrupted his progress. "Come," he said, impatience clear in his voice.

"Admiral Kirk?" A young medical aide stepped in nervously. When Kirk nodded, he walked carefully to the desk and set a box down in front of him. "This is for you, sir."

"Who sent it?"

The aide shook his head, and Kirk wasn't sure if he was unable or unwilling to tell him.

"Dismissed." He waited till the doors closed behind the man, then opened the box.

The statue of Saraswati lay cradled in a pile of packing material. A hand- written note said, "I can't accept this."

Kirk picked up the figurine, wanting nothing more than to throw it with all his might against the wall. Seeing it break into tiny pieces would feel good. He stood up. Forcing her to take it--to take back the future she'd traded him for--would feel even better.

He was out of his office and halfway down the hall to the exit before he realized that he had no idea where Chris lived.

"Damn." He turned and headed back to his office, wasting several minutes fumbling with the personnel records that contained private data. He finally found her address and saw that she did indeed live very close to where he did.

"One thing you weren't lying about," he muttered, as he set out again.

The walk through the early morning darkness passed in a blur. He was at her door and ringing for entrance before he'd thought of what he was going to say.

He had to ring several more times before the door opened. She stood in front of him, eyes red and expression wary. "Admiral?"

"Can I come in?"

He thought he saw anger flare in her eyes, as she said, "I don't think that's a good idea."

He let his own fury show. "Oh, I think it is."

"What's the point, Jim? What are we going to solve?" She started to turn away.

His hand shot out, catching her sleeve and yanking her back to face him, he slapped the statue into her hand. "I said it was yours."

"I can't accept it." She tried to hand it back.

He refused to reach for it and she exhaled loudly, a sound of pure frustration. Obviously unwilling to damage the statue, she set it at his feet. He kicked it past her, into her apartment.

"Damn you! I don't want it." She hurried over to where the statue had hit the wall. There was a long crack running down the middle, and she ran her finger along it slowly.

He followed her in. "Just like you suddenly don't want to be on the Enterprise?"

She turned to him in shock. "How--"

"--Decker called me."

"Oh." She seemed about to say something, then her shoulders slumped and she turned and walked into the next room.

He followed her.

"Go away, Jim."

He felt his rage subside slightly, twist into something more complicated. He stalked over to where she stood looking out her window. Standing behind her, his chest touching her back, he said in a low, controlled voice. "Did it mean anything to you?"

She tried to turn and he grabbed her arms, holding her in place against him. She fought him and was stronger than he expected, but not strong enough to break away.

"Answer me," he said, as he let go of her right arm only to loop his arm around her, his hand caressing her throat.

She gasped in surprise.

"I said--" He didn't have to finish.

"--It meant everything."

"Liar." He pushed his face into her hair, tightened his hold on her. She struggled, tried to turn again as he whispered, "Meant nothing."

"Jim," she cried out, her breath was raspy. "Please. You're hurting me."

Her words didn't make sense at first. Then he realized that he was no longer caressing her throat, was in fact squeezing it. He jerked his hand away, taking a step back from her, then another. He held his hand up, studying it as if he wasn't sure it was his.

She turned on him. "You bastard!" She tried to hit him and he caught her hand. "Damn you!" She raised her other hand but he captured that one too.

She was breathing heavily, tears in her eyes. He saw red marks at her throat, realized they were from his fingers.

"Chris," he said, as he let go of her and reached out to trace the angry evidence of his lack of control.

The punch she landed on his jaw took him by surprise. He was on his backside before he realized she had hit him.

"Shit," she said, as she cradled her hand.

He looked up at her and began to laugh.

She didn't join in. Glaring at him, she reached down with her good hand to help him up.

He jerked her hand and as she landed hard beside him, he rolled her to her back and pinned her, his chest pressing on hers as he stared at her. "I hate you," he said softly.

"I hate you too," she answered, pushing at him with her right hand then wincing in pain.

"I hate you more though." He reached for her hair. He barely had to pull it toward him before her mouth was on his, her arms coming up around him.

"Goddamn statue is yours," he mumbled, as she pushed him to his back and followed him down, her kisses becoming more crazed. He didn't try to stop himself from pulling her to him, from kissing her back.

"Hate you," she replied, as she pulled away, staring at him hard. He felt something hit his cheek and realized she was crying. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she said brokenly as she pulled away from him. Crawling slowly to the window, she grabbed the ledge and pulled herself up with her good hand. Her movements were awkward, tired. She turned and leaned her forehead against the window.

Pushing himself up, he walked over to her and let his arms close around her again. As his lips touched her neck, he said softly, "Let's try this again, shall we, Chris?"

"Hate you," she said as she leaned her back into his chest and cocked her head to give him better access to her skin.

"Yes, I know." His hands roamed the front of her, stroking her gently, then not so gently.

She moaned and, feeling himself respond, he pushed against her harder with his body.

"Love you," she whispered.

"Say that again."

She tried to turn. He wouldn't let her. His tongue found her neck, her ear, her jaw. Her breathing was harsh, her body pressed firmly against his. "Say it again," he urged.

"I love you," she said with a sob, finding strength that surprised him and pulling away from him long enough to turn to face him. "I love you," she repeated as she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him frantically.

He pulled her into the hall; saw two closed doors ahead of him. "Which one is the bedroom?"

She pointed to the right one and he dragged her to it. She didn't resist as he pushed her down and pulled off her clothes. Still dressed, he lay down next to her. "Say it again," he said, his fingers touching her in ways that made her moan loudly.

"I love you," she said, as his lips claimed hers. He kissed her hard, his tongue sparring with hers even as his touches inflamed her. Her cries were smothered in the kiss they shared as her body bucked against him.

He stroked her gently and felt her shudder. He switched to short, sweet kisses, allowing her to finally catch her breath. "Say it again, Chris," he said as he felt her hands trying to pull off his clothes. He helped her undress him, then moved on top of her.

"I love you," she whispered again, her body tight around him. "Love you," she repeated even as he began to move hard against her. She didn't stop saying it until he lay still on top of her.

They didn't move for a long time, both breathing hard. Her arms held him tightly against her and he tried to shift, sure that he was hurting her. She pulled more firmly, wincing as her injured hand protested. "Stay with me," she said as she buried her face in his neck. "Don't leave."

He gently disengaged her hands, trying not to hurt her. He heard her sob softly as he pulled away from her and rolled off her and then off the bed. He walked into the bathroom and shut the door. Leaning on the counter, he stared at himself in the mirror for a long time. Finally, he straightened and took a deep breath. Then he began to dig through the drawers until he found a regenerator.

When he opened the door and walked out again, she was on her side, facing away from him. From the way her back was shaking, he could tell that she was crying. Hard. And silently.

"Chris," he said softly as he sat on the bed.

She didn't react.

He reached over and pulled her to her back. Her face was flushed and wet from her tears, her eyes puffy as she looked at him dully.

He turned on the regenerator and began to work on her hand, talking as he did. "I'm going to get the ship, Chris. I'm going to take it back. I have a meeting with Nogura in a few hours. Then she'll be mine again."

Her eyes narrowed.

He began to heal the marks on her neck. "Get up there. Now. Call Decker and tell him you've changed your mind."

She shook her head slowly.

He turned the machine off, then got up and walked into the living room. Picking up the figurine, he carried her back to the bedroom. "If only she could be fixed as easily." He handed the statue to her. "She's yours."

She stared at him.

"I'm calling McCoy in too. He'll be the CMO, not you. But that's better. In the long run."

She clearly didn't understand.

He walked to her closet. Found a uniform and threw it at her. "Get up to the ship. Wait for me."

"But Decker?"

"It's not his ship, Chris."

She fingered the uniform. "Why should I? What if I tell him?"

"You won't tell him," he said as he sat down next to her again. "You love me."

"You want me up there?"

He nodded.

"With you?"

He nodded again.


He gave her a feral grin. "Why do you think?" Then he kissed her hard. "Call Decker. He'll be thrilled to have you back on the team."

She looked unsure.

He leaned in and kissed her again. "Chris, I need you there with me."

She closed her eyes.

"You'll do it?"

She nodded. Satisfied, he walked out into the early morning light.


Chapel looked around sickbay, still trying to get her bearings. Decker hadn't been kidding when he'd said the entire ship had been refitted. There was little left that was familiar in the rooms she had worked in for three years.

And now McCoy was coming. She sighed, trying to reconcile her irritation at being supplanted with the profound sense of relief she felt knowing that her former boss would again be running things. She slid her hand down the biobed, then turned to examine a new scope. Her former boss, her former captain. The only thing missing was her former unrequited love. Everyone else was here. Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, Chekov, even Rand was back in her new role as transporter chief.

She heard the doors to sickbay open, an angry voice called out her name. "Christine?"

"Will?" She had never seen Decker so angry. So it had happened. Kirk was here. And he'd taken the ship. Just as he said he would. Her heart went out to her friend, even as a more primitive part of her reacted to the news that Jim was again within reach.

"I can't believe this!" Decker paced as he spoke. "He took her away, Christine. I can't believe he just took her away."

Chapel felt a surge of guilt fill her, as she looked at Decker in feigned incomprehension. "Who did, Captain?"

"Your friend. Kirk." A fist on the counter accompanied the name. "That's who." He looked at her helplessly. "And it's commander now. I've been demoted."

Chapel knew she couldn't tell him that she'd soon be losing her position too, although she suddenly wanted to. For a moment, she wondered if she was making a mistake throwing her loyalty so firmly in Kirk's camp. "I'm sorry, Will. I don't know what to say."

Any answer he was going to make was cut off by the intercom. "Emergency in transporter room. Emergency in transporter room," the mechanical voice intoned. Decker took off as she stopped to grab some instruments. As she was about to follow him out, she heard Rand's voice say, "Transporter room to sickbay, stand down." Rand's voice broke. "There's nothing you can do."

Chapel hit the comm. "Janice, what's happening there?"

There was a long pause, then Rand's voice whispered. "The transporter malfunctioned during beam in. They were caught in the buffer. They formed before they should have."

"I'll be right there."

"No. They aren't here. The transporter failed before they finished. They ended up...they ended up back at Starfleet."

"Oh, god, Jan, I'm sorry." Chapel closed her eyes for a moment as a vision of melted and twisted flesh assailed her. If it's haunting me, she thought, imagine what it's doing to Janice.

"Can I help, Jan?"

"No. It's all right." She fell silent for a long moment, then in a breathless rush, Rand said, "He was here, Chris. The captain was here. It made it better somehow. Like it wasn't all on me, you know? Just having him here..."

Chapel wasn't sure what to say.

There was a pause. "I better go. Rand out."

It suddenly occurred to Chapel that her friend might be less than thrilled to hear about her new relationship with Jim. Why hadn't I thought of that? Chapel wondered. Then she laughed softly. She hadn't thought about it because she couldn't think about much of anything when Jim was near her. Was that healthy? She saw her reflection in the window to her new office. She looked strong, secure. Not easily swayed against her will.

He'd told her to come and she'd been ready to argue. Then he'd asked her to come and she'd found that she couldn't say no. It frightened her a bit, the way she felt about him. The way he made her feel about the two of them. He was ruthless. He'd use her if he had to. Then she remembered his face as he'd handed the little figurine of Saraswati back to her, as he'd run the regenerator over the marks that he'd left on her throat and on the hand she'd hurt punching him. His expression had been soft and kind...loving. She felt a frisson of tenderness and desire shoot through her, landing finally in the pit of her stomach.

"Kirk to Chapel," the comm sounded from her desk.

She walked to the CMO's office and hit the comm. "Chapel here."

She could hear his smile. "I'd like to talk to you, Doctor."

"You know where to find me." She tried to keep her voice at its most professional.

"My quarters, Doctor."


"Actually five minutes ago would be better."

"I'll be right there." She walked out of her office briskly, calling out. "I'll be back, Sanchez. Have a meeting."

The head nurse nodded and continued with the calibrations she was doing on one of the medical sensors.

Chapel hurried to the lift. "Deck five," she told it. And step on it, she almost added, resisting the urge to laugh. When she arrived at the right floor, she hurried down the hall, rang the chime impatiently.

"Come," his voice sounded through the intercom. A wicked smile on her face, she stepped inside.

He was sitting at his table, a pile of padds in front of him. "Come here," he said without looking up.

She walked over to him. As she got within reach, he dropped the padd he was reading and grabbed her, pulling her onto his lap. Laughing, he pulled her face down to his. "I've missed you, Doctor," he said just before he kissed her.

She gave herself up to his kisses. It was a long time before they pulled away from each other.

"I've missed you too, Admiral."

"Captain." At her look, he grinned. "I couldn't demote just Will, now could I?"

"He's really upset."

His jaw set. "He'll get over it."

"Would you?"

"He's not me, Chris. Or haven't you figured that out yet?" His hands began to roam over her body.

She leaned in and kissed him. "I know he's not you. But he's still a good man."

He pushed her up and off his lap.

She stared at him. "You're kidding? I don't agree with you and suddenly you don't want me?" She shook her head as he glared at her. She could feel her mouth set in a mean line as she turned away. Over her shoulder she said in the most mocking voice she could muster, "Remember thou art mortal, my liege."

She was halfway to the door when he caught up with her. His hand on her arm pulled her back to him and he kissed her savagely. "You think I don't know I'm a damn mortal, Chris?" He pushed her toward the bed. "I wake up every day and wonder how long I have and what I'm doing with that time. I don't want to wake up one day and wonder when I stopped living my life and let it live me." His kisses were rough as he pulled her uniform off.

She pulled away then shoved him to his back. As he lay there, breathing hard and glaring at her, she smiled. "You feel guilty."

He looked away. "I did what I had to do."

She began to remove his uniform. "That doesn't make it easier. You stole this ship from him."

He touched her face. "I know. I'd do it again in a second, too." As he pushed her down and moved over her, his face was tortured. "Doesn't make it easier."

She pulled him down to her. "It's done now," she said.

They didn't talk for some time. Just held each other, making small noises, and sometimes louder ones. She lay back and closed her eyes.

He stroked her face. "You're exhausted."

She nodded. "Didn't get much sleep the last few days."

He nodded in understanding. "Sleep here for a while."

She pushed up and slid off of the bed. "I can't. I have things to do. So do you." As she pulled on her uniform, she stared at him. "I do love you, Jim."

His mouth turned up in a small smile. "Even when you don't agree with me?"

She nodded. "Even then." She turned away, trying not to feel the sting when he didn't say he loved her too. Trying and failing.


"Hmm," she said as she pulled on her boots.

"Why'd you come?"

She looked up. "What do you mean?"

"Along. On the ship. With me. Why?"

"Because you need me." She looked down. "Because I need you." Shrugging, she turned for the door. "Because I'm a total idiot?"

He climbed off the bed and pulled her back into his arms. "I know you're not that."

She kissed him. "Maybe we both are?"

He shook his head, kissing her again before pulling his uniform back on. "I'll see you at 0400?"

She nodded and fixed her hair, was about to walk out when he said, "Wait a sec."

He gathered some hair that had fallen down onto her neck and caught it up in the clip. She smiled, touched by the act. Laughing, he pulled her into a quick hug. "I'm glad you're here."

She hugged him back, then pulled away. "I'll see you in the recreation lounge, Jim."

He nodded. She couldn't resist turning to look at him as she walked out. He was staring at her, a half smile playing at his lips. She grinned and he lifted a hand. Feeling the urge to rush back in, Chapel forced herself to keep moving in the direction of the lift. It took her a long time to settle back down to work when she got back to sickbay.


Kirk watched Chris leave then walked over to the viewscreen. As he stared out at the stars streaming by, he played over this latest encounter with her. In truth, he had only intended to say hello, to share a few kisses and then go back to work. But as usual, interacting with her rarely went by his script. He grinned. He liked that. A lot. He felt alive when he was with her. Not a turn of events he'd expected or even particularly wanted when their relationship had begun, but one that he was quickly finding addictive.

He frowned. Addictive wasn't the right word, implying too much that was negative, unhealthy. And she was healthy for him. Kept him honest...and grounded, even out here among the stars.

He put his hand on the walls beside the viewscreen, sensing the slight vibration of the ship. It was the best feeling in the world. The feel of his ship. _His_ ship. He took a deep breath. His ship...his home. And one he didn't know very well. Getting turned around in the corridors had rankled him. He turned back to the table, picked up the padds and started to study the design modifications. It wouldn't happen again.


Just before 0400, Chapel followed the rest of the medical staff out to the recreation deck and saw Sulu motion for her to join the other department heads on the podium. She took her place on the far side, unwilling to admit that she chose it because it would afford her the best view of Kirk when he came in. She watched the video of the approaching cloud, then felt a surge of excitement as Jim walked in. He looked back at the screen, his gaze traveling down and over her briefly as he faced front. As their eyes met, she had to hide a smile. His flickered for a moment, the set determination giving way to something softer, then he looked past her. He started to explain the situation but a comm from Epsilon 9 cut in. The entire crew watched in horror as the station was destroyed. She looked at Kirk as he struggled with what he had seen, with the enormity of it. And he conquered whatever demons he felt, because his voice was firm as he said, "Pre-launch countdown will commence in 40 minutes," before striding off the platform.

As she trailed behind the others, Chapel saw that Uhura was waiting for her. She hurried to the other woman, who reached out and touched her on the arm as she said, "It'll be okay. He's here."

Chapel nodded as she walked the short way to the lift and watched Uhura take the first one to the bridge.

"It's just like old times, isn't it?" Rand said behind her. "All of us, together again." Then she looked down. "I'm sorry, Chris. I guess not all."

It took Chapel a moment to figure out who she meant. "No, not all."

"Do you think he'll come? When he knows, I mean?"

Chapel's voice was hard. "He won't care. He's at Gol, Jan. Or hadn't you heard?" She turned and headed down the corridor to medical.

"I'm sorry, Chris. I wasn't thinking," Rand called out after her.

Chapel held up a hand and kept moving. The idea of Spock possibly returning upset her on a number of levels. But it was foolish to allow herself to get worked up about it. He wasn't coming back. She had enough to worry about without adding that in too.

She walked to her office in sickbay. She hadn't bothered to unpack when she'd arrived, knowing that she'd be moving to the smaller deputy's office in a few hours. There had been enough to do that it hadn't looked odd. Now, with McCoy's arrival imminent, she had the sudden urge to make her space look homey, lived in, as if he she hadn't just arrived too. She moved her cartons and pulled open the first one, carefully removing the little goddesses. The Saraswati was at the bottom. She picked it up gently, holding the sandalwood to her nose. The scent of the old wood had mostly faded but she could still pick up a slight hint of it. She put it on the bookshelf with the others and sat down at her desk, calling up the schematics of the new sickbay so she could familiarize herself with the less obvious changes.

"If you aren't a sight for sore eyes," she heard from the doorway.

Looking up, her eyes met the sparkling blue ones of a bearded and casually dressed McCoy. She felt a surge of joy and jumped up to give him a hug. "Len!"

His arms were strong around her. "Chris! Doctor Chapel, I mean." He grinned proudly at her. "Told Jim I didn't need a damn doctor, needed a top nurse." He laughed. "You've done good, kiddo."

She nodded, trying not to think that she would have done better if she were still CMO.

He seemed to read her mind. "Sorry about taking your spot here. You know it wasn't my idea?"

She fingered the copper medallion he wore around his neck. "I'm guessing not. What is this?"

He grinned. "Token of esteem from a former lady friend of mine."

"And this?" She tugged on his beard.

"Damn inhibitor makes my face itch."

"And this doesn't?" She laughed.

There was a subtle shift in the hum of the engines and she smiled. "We're on our way," she said. He's really done it.

"On our way to meet oblivion, from the look of it," McCoy noted. "Hell of a thing to get called back for." He leaned against the wall. "But if I'm going to die, I can't think of better company to be in."

She grinned.

"You look good, Chris."

"Medical school agreed with me, I guess."

He cocked his head, studied her. "More than that. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were in love. Spock come aboard and somebody forget to tell me?"

She could feel her smile fade. "That wasn't very nice."

He frowned. "It was a joke." He saw she was serious. "Sorry."

She shrugged. "You'd think he was the only man in the universe the way people act about it. Or that I never accomplished another thing in my career other than being in love with him." She turned back to her terminal. "Better get cleaned up, Doctor. You're hardly regulation."


"--Forget it. Just go get cleaned up."

He stood there a moment longer, then she heard him turn and walk out. She tried to let go of her anger, tried to study the plans for a while longer. Finally she gave up and leaned back in her chair. Would it always come back to Spock? Couldn't they ever let that go? She had, why wouldn't they?

She sighed and turned to the crew complement, intent on learning of any medical idiosyncrasies long before an actual crisis occurred. Some time later, she got up and stretched, moving back into main sickbay to check the equipment. McCoy, neatly shaved and in uniform, walked in, muttering to himself.

"Something wrong?" she asked.

He motioned her into his office. "He's obsessed."

"Who?" she asked, even though she had a good idea who he was talking about.

"Jim." He looked at her. "Have you seen him since he came aboard?"

She decided not to lie. "In his quarters. And at the crew briefing."

McCoy shook his head. "He wants the ship. He won't stop till he gets her, either. This emergency is just an excuse."

She didn't say anything.

"He could get us all killed, Chris."

She looked down. Somehow, deep in her heart, she didn't believe that. I'm as bad as Jan, she thought. Thinking that as long as he's in charge, everything will be all right. She was about to answer when a message came in to McCoy's desk from the bridge. "Spock's here," Uhura whispered.

Chapel looked at McCoy in confusion.

"The shuttle! It's him. Let's go say hello." He hurried out toward the lift, and she followed close behind.

A sinking feeling came over her. She thought of Kirk, how he must be feeling. She knew how she was feeling. Excitement, dread, and fear warred within her. She schooled her features into a happy smile. It was what everyone would expect of her...to be thrilled to see the object of her affections.

She was the first off the lift. "Mr. Spock!"

McCoy was right behind her. "Well, so help me, I'm actually pleased to see you."

Spock looked at them as if they had interrupted a very important experiment. Not a trace of emotion showed in his face. Chapel glanced at Kirk. He was staring at the Vulcan, wonder in his expression. Then he looked over at her. Took in her smile. His eyes narrowed.

Spock stared at them all coldly for a long moment, then walked toward the lift.

Uhura said gently, "It's how we all feel, Mr. Spock."

He ignored her. "Captain, with your permission I will now discuss these fuel equations with the Engineer."

Chapel looked at Kirk. His face showed his disappointment as he nodded permission. As Spock turned to enter the lift, he said, "Mr. Spock. Welcome aboard."

The Vulcan did not even turn to acknowledge the sentiment as the lift doors closed. Kirk turned to McCoy and Chapel. His eyes were hurt as he shared a look with them. Chapel swallowed and said, "If you don't need me, sir?"

Kirk turned to her, shaking his head, and she wondered just how big a question she had really asked.

McCoy did not come back with her. She realized, with a pang, that nothing had changed. He would be on the bridge, while she waited down here in sickbay, not knowing what was going on, not included in the action. And Spock was back too. Emotionless or no, it was still the three of them. United against the world.

She was still in her office when she sensed a presence at her door. She looked up.

"It's just like I dreamed." Kirk sat down in her other chair and leaned his head against the wall.

She nodded. "I know."

"Only it's a nightmare." He closed his eyes.

She turned to the viewscreen in her office. "Privacy." The door closed and the screens went black to those outside, although she could still see out. She saw McCoy narrow his eyes as he walked by but he didn't disturb her.

"He came back, Jim."

"For what? Not for me." He touched her cheek. "Not for you."

She didn't look away from the raw pain in his face. "I don't know why he came back. He has his own reasons for doing things. Hasn't he always?"

He finally looked down, nodded in defeat.

She took his hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. "It's the Kohlinahr. In time...maybe."

He shook his head. "And we just wait?" He pulled her to him, kissing her tenderly. "He left us behind. Let him wait for us."

She nodded and held him for a long moment. Then watched him get up slowly. Smiling grimly, he stroked her cheek then left.

McCoy came out of his office and watched Kirk walk out of sickbay, finally turning to her. "Everything okay?"

She nodded.

"He came to you to talk?"

She felt an angry frustration fill her. "Is that so hard to believe?" She got up and brushed past him, not caring that she knocked him slightly off balance. He grabbed for the door. "Christine, what's eating you? Why is everything I say wrong?"

She shook her head and went into the pharmacy to check in the medicines. He joined her.

"I'm sorry, Chris. I'm not exactly sure for what, but I am sorry."

She turned to look at him. "I know you are, Len." She recognized that her expression wasn't giving him any clues.

He sighed. "I'm going to grab some chow. You want some?"

"You go ahead. I'm not hungry." She went back to the inventory.

He stood for a long time staring at her before finally leaving. She felt tears threaten and wasn't sure why. Work, she thought, bury yourself in it.


Kirk found himself unable to sit on the bridge for one more minute. The urge to see Spock, to talk to him away from everyone else was too strong to ignore. He stood, trying to appear casual.

Decker looked over at him.

"I'm going to see how they're doing in engineering. You have the comm, Commander."

"Aye, sir."

Kirk stepped toward the lift. Uhura was watching him and he shot her a grin. She grinned back then returned to monitoring her board.

Engineering was bustling and Spock and Scotty were in the thick of the action. Kirk watched them for a moment, not trying to hide the nostalgic grin.

A lieutenant stopped and asked him, "Can I help you, sir?"

He shook his head. "Just came to watch the masters at work." He indicated the lieutenant should continue with his duties, then walked over to where the two men were working.

"This is a mite irregular, Mister Spock. I'm not sure Starfleet engineering will approve of us tinkering with their fuel cells this way." Scott sounded far from displeased at the thought.

"It is hardly our concern that Starfleet engineering has not thought of this solution." Spock's voice was still the somber monotone he'd used on the bridge.

"Aye, sir," Scotty replied.

"How's it going?" Kirk asked.

"It's a good thing Mister Spock happened along, Captain," Scott said with a smile. "I doubt we'd have gotten the engines anywhere close to where we are now. We'll be fully operational, nay more than that even, in no time, sir."

Kirk smiled. "It is a good thing you 'happened along', Spock."

The Vulcan didn't react. Kirk waited for a moment, feeling increasingly stupid. Scott shot him a sympathetic look.

Kirk backed up a step. "Well. I'll leave you to it. Let me know when you're ready."

Scott nodded. Again Spock did not respond. Kirk stifled the sigh he felt beginning and shot Scotty his most devil-may-care grin. Then he spun on his heel and left engineering.

He tried not to give in to the disappointment that filled him. It would just take time, like Chris had said. He suddenly wanted to see her and turned toward sickbay.

Her office was empty, but McCoy looked up from his desk. "Jim. This is a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe this visit?"

Kirk didn't try to make up an excuse. "I need to talk to Doctor Chapel."

McCoy frowned. "You sure I can't help you? One doctor's pretty much like the other here."

Kirk smiled grimly. "I'm sure I need her, Bones."

"She's in her quarters, I think. I told her to take a break. She should be back anytime now. You want to wait?"

"I can't." Kirk turned to walk out.

"Is everything all right, Jim?"

"Fine." He didn't look back as he walked out and to the lift. "Deck five." When the doors opened, he walked past his quarters and down the hall to hers. He rang the chime but there was no answer. He rang again, his hand resting against the entry panel, and was surprised when the door opened. He realized that she must have programmed it to allow him entry and was touched at the gesture.

He walked into the small living room. She wasn't there, so he continued to the bedroom. She was curled up on the bed, still in her uniform, her hand thrown over her face. He sat down and gently moved her hand away. She sighed and he smiled. She looked so peaceful, so innocent. He touched her face gently, then pulled away, intending to leave her alone to rest until he realized she was looking up at him sleepily.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

She didn't say anything, just moved over a bit and patted the bed next to her. Just for a few minutes, he decided, checking the chrono. She smiled gently as he lay down beside her, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her to him.

She kissed him sleepily, the gentle touch more comforting than arousing. He kissed her back, then buried his face in her neck.

"What is it?"

He shook his head slightly. "Later. Go back to sleep now."


"--Shh. Sleep. You need it." He felt her relax against him. Her breathing slipped easily back into the slow, deep rhythm of sleep. The sound of it relaxed him and he drifted off slightly, hovering somewhere between true sleep and wakefulness until her alarm beeped gently a quarter hour later.

She reached over and turned it off. Looking down at him, she mussed his hair gently. "This is nice."

He nodded, closing his eyes as her touch became firmer. "Feels good." He felt her lips on his. "That feels good too."

"It does. And we have no time to enjoy it," she said regretfully.

"I'm enjoying this." He ran his index finger down her nose. "You don't think I only want you for sex, do you?"

"No." She leaned down and kissed him again. "But maybe that's what I want you for?"

He laughed.

"Besides, you make everything into sex."

He shot her a disbelieving look.

She smiled. "I'm serious. Everything with you is about sex. This--" she kissed him. "And this--" she mimicked his touching her nose. "Talking, eating, walking, breathing. It's all sex with you." She leaned in and whispered, "And I love it."

"That's because you're the same way," he whispered back, then pulled her down for a long, passionate kiss. Then he pushed her away and sat up. "And we both need to get back to duty."

"Did something happen? You looked so sad when you woke me up."

He could feel his face tighten. "I went to see Spock. In engineering."

"And it didn't go well?"

"Go well? It didn't go anywhere. He didn't even acknowledge I was there."

She touched his hand. "I'm sorry, Jim."

"Doesn't matter." He pulled her to him again, kissed her hard. When he pulled away, he saw that she didn't look convinced.


"Medical team to the bridge. Repeat, medical team to the bridge."

Chapel frowned at the urgency in Uhura's voice and rose quickly, motioning for a medic to come with her. They hurried down the corridor to the turbolift.

As the doors opened on the bridge, Kirk looked up at her. Their eyes locked for a moment, until Uhura turned and said, "Oh good. Christine, it's Chekov."

She looked over at him and made a face at the obvious pain he felt. Kneeling down, she said, "Medic," gesturing for the hypo.

"I can stop his pain," the young Deltan that was sitting with Chekov said. She closed her eyes and Chekov suddenly breathed easier and said, "Thank you."

For a second, Chapel wondered why the Deltan had waited this long to help him when his pain was so obvious but then she smiled and Chapel felt herself responding. So this was Ilia. Chapel had read her file, but she hadn't expected the feelings the woman engendered in her. The power of pheromones, she thought, as she began to spray Chekov's hand with the dermaplast.

"You're Doctor Chapel?" Ilia asked in a whisper.

Chapel nodded. The Deltan gave her a tender smile. "You're a friend of Will's. He told me about you." She looked toward the exec, her look one of both love and longing.

Chapel wasn't sure what to say. She had the feeling Ilia was wooing her, wanted her on her side. Decker had mentioned that there was a woman in his past, one who he regretted leaving behind. Chapel finally understood the haunted look he occasionally wore. Chapel glanced at her again, and Ilia just grinned and gracefully pushed herself from the deck. She made her way to her seat and Chapel found herself watching her. Then she realized everyone on the bridge was. Except Spock. And Kirk. She almost laughed in bitter amusement.

She helped Chekov up and led him to the lift, listening to Kirk, Spock, and Decker as they discussed their options. Decker was the voice of reason, trying to make Kirk see the error of rushing in blindly. You wouldn't have lasted five minutes on his Enterprise, Chapel thought to herself, as she watched Decker walk away in frustration when Kirk ordered the ship into the cloud.

The doors closed but not before she caught a view of the cloud in the viewscreen. It was amazing. Once in sickbay, she led Chekov to a biobed. "Hop up. I know you're eager to get back, but I have to make sure that a surface burn is the worst thing you're suffering from."

He did as she asked and the quick scan showed nothing else wrong. McCoy walked out of his office, watching her work with an odd expression on his face. She hadn't realized he was back. Indicating Chekov could get down, she turned to McCoy. "You should get up to the bridge, Len. It's really spectacular."

He smiled. "Don't mind if I do," he said. "Come on, Chekov. We've had enough lollygagging out of you."

They filed out, leaving her alone with the sickbay staff. She went back to work, only to look up when McCoy came in again and told her what had happened to Ilia. She felt an immeasurable sadness when she heard about the murder of the young Deltan. And Decker...how much worse would this be for him? He'd lost so much already.

"Intruder alert, intruder alert," the intercom system sounded and McCoy ran out.

He was back a few minutes later with Ilia in tow, Kirk and Spock filing in behind. Chapel felt a surge of hope that there had been some mistake and Ilia was alive. Until she scanned the navigator and realized that there was little left that was Deltan.

Decker came in and the probe stared at him. Chapel saw an echo of the look Ilia had given Decker on the bridge. Maybe they could use that? As the probe left with Decker, Chapel headed to Ilia's quarters. Using her accesses to enter the room, she rummaged through the closet until she found a beaded headdress. Looking it up in the database, she saw that its purpose was largely ceremonial, used in a Deltan mating ritual.

"Chapel to Decker."

His answer was immediate. "A little busy here, Doctor."

"Bring her to her quarters. I've got something to show you."

McCoy and Decker arrived with the probe, and Chapel held out the headdress. The probe frowned.

"I remember Lieutenant Ilia once mentioning she wore that," Chapel lied.

The probe didn't move.

"Put it on," Chapel ordered her, taking the beaded strands from her and settling it on her head the way the images had shown it should be worn in the database. She turned Ilia toward the mirror.

"On Delta, remember?" Decker said gently.

"Ilia?" Chapel asked.

The probe looked at her, her expression changed. "Doctor Chapel."

Chapel hadn't expected the woman to remember her from the brief encounter on the bridge.

The probe turned to Decker. She reached for his face. "Will?"

"Ilia," he said, satisfaction in his gaze.

McCoy stopped the moment, "Commander. Commander. This is a mechanism."

Decker seemed to come out of a trance. He started to question Ilia, asked her to help them against V'ger. It seemed to be the old Ilia answering for a moment, then the probe took over, pulling the headdress off and turning away.

Chapel watched them leave, then headed back to sickbay. She wasn't sure that they had accomplished anything, but perhaps any connection they established with what was left of Ilia would help?

Her reverie was interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Kirk and McCoy, an unconscious Spock between them.

"What happened?" she asked, fearing that Spock had also been turned into a probe.

"Went out there. Tried to meld with V'ger," Kirk gritted as he laid Spock on the biobed. Ignoring McCoy, he turned to her. "Help him?"

"Of course," she grabbed a neuroscanner and walked over to the bed where Spock lay unresponsive although his eyes were open. Her heart pounding, she held the scanner to his head and said, "Now scanning pons area, spinal nerve fiber connection."

She watched the display as McCoy speculated on what the mind meld could have done to Spock's brain. Looking down she saw the Vulcan's eyes flicker and come to life.

Kirk saw it too. "Spock."

"Jim." Spock actually smiled. "I should have known."

"Were you right? About V'ger?"

He nodded. "A life form of its own. A conscious living entity."

"A living machine?" she asked.

Kirk thought about that. "It considers the Enterprise a living machine, that's why the probe refers to our ship as an entity."

"I saw V'ger's planet. A planet populated by living machines. Unbelievable technology." Spock looked up at Kirk. "V'ger has knowledge that spans this universe." His voice fell a bit, and Kirk leaned in. "Yet with all its pure logic, V'ger is barren, cold. No mystery, no beauty, I should have known..." He trailed off, his eyes closed.

Kirk shook him gently. "Known...known what, Spock? What should you have known? What should you've known?"

Spock's eyes opened and he reached up grasping Kirk's arm. Then he moved his hand down, clasping Kirk's hand in his own. "This simple feeling is beyond V'gers's comprehension."

Kirk closed his hand over Spock's, nodding slightly. Chapel felt something catch in her throat.

Spock nodded back. "No meaning, no hope, Jim--" he smiled again "-- no answers. It's asking questions. Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?" He stared up at Kirk.

"Bridge to captain."

"Kirk here."

As Uhura and Sulu updated him on the situation, Chapel saw him turn to look at Spock. Even though he barely glanced at her, she knew he wasn't talking to McCoy when he said, "I need Spock on the bridge."

"Dalaphaline. Five cc's," she ordered the nurse.

She tried not to touch Spock as she injected him. Silly to be worried that he would find out what had gone on between Kirk and her. Especially silly now...she'd seen Kirk's face as he touched Spock. This thing between them wasn't over. Part of her wasn't surprised. Part of her was jealous. But of which one?

"You can go as soon as you're feeling strong enough," she said to Spock. "I'll get you a uniform."

"Thank you, nurse."

She looked down at him. "It's doctor now, Spock."

He considered that. "Congratulations on attaining your degree, Doctor."

She just nodded and hurried off to find him a uniform.

He dressed quickly and left while she settled down to wait. A long time. She saw a light shoot past the window in McCoy's office. It streamed past quickly, so terribly bright.

Scotty poked his head into sickbay. "Lass?"

She turned.

"I think you might want to come to the bridge."

She just looked at him.

"It's where we all should be right now. We did it. He did it."

They did it, Chapel thought sourly. The three of them. The two of them. Like always. But she followed Scotty to the lift anyway. As the doors opened to the bridge she hesitated, felt Kirk's eyes on her and looked up, finding it impossible to look away until he turned and said, "Mister Scott, shall we give the Enterprise a proper shakedown?"

"I would say it's time for that, aye. We could have you back on Vulcan in four days, Mister Spock?"

"Unnecessary, Mister Scott," Spock replied and her heart sank. He looked over at Kirk and said, "My task on Vulcan is completed."

Kirk swiveled his chair, his happiness apparent. "Mister Sulu, ahead warp one."

"Heading, sir?" De Falco asked.

"Out there, thataway." And he smiled. That smile. She knew he wasn't going anywhere. With a sigh, she left the bridge. She doubted he even noticed.



Kirk slowed, surprised to see Spock behind him. The expression on the Vulcan's face was unguarded, warm. Kirk felt himself responding. "Spock?"

"There is much I wish to say." He looked down. "I left without warning."

"Without warning? Without reason."

"I had reason, Jim."

Kirk felt his good mood evaporate. "And what was that reason, Spock?"

"It is a complex question."

"Complex? What's so complex about it? You loved me too much? I loved you too much? What?" He turned away. "I wasn't the only one that loved you. You left us all behind."

"I know." Spock reached out to touch his arm but the look Kirk shot him made him drop his hand before he made contact. "I would like to think that I have not lost your friendship."

Kirk shot him a tight smile. "You haven't lost that." He debated inviting Spock into his quarters. Decided that was a bad idea. "You're being here made all the difference. You've saved us again."

"As you saved me, T'hy'la."

Kirk laughed, an explosion of bitter air as he heard the endearment. "I'd rather you didn't call me that."

"As you wish." Spock frowned. "I did not realize that you disliked it."

Kirk shook his head. "I don't dislike it."

Spock's eyebrow rose, a familiar expression that made Kirk smile.

"I've missed you, old friend," he said, feeling a warm glow of nostalgia warring with the more entrenched hurt and anger.

Spock nodded. "As I have you."

Kirk remembered the emotionless rock of a man that had arrived on the Enterprise. "Somehow, I doubt that, Spock."

"I could show you?"

Kirk couldn't say he wasn't tempted. But he just shook his head.

"Some other time?" Spock pressed gently.

Kirk pursed his lips. Realized that he was standing at a crossroads that he never thought he would have to see again. "It should have been so easy, Spock. You and me. Together. Forever. It should have been so damn easy."

"I know, Jim."

Kirk sighed. "And it was. For a while. The best of times." He thought of Chris, the pain she had walked into willingly. "And the worst of times."

Spock waited.

"You're my best friend, Spock, you know that?" He put his hand on Spock's arm. Squeezed. "I'm glad you're back. Glad you're with me."

Spock nodded, appearing unsure what to say.

Kirk gave him a tired smile. "It's been a long night. I'll see you in the morning."

"Perhaps a game of chess some night?"

"I'd like that." Kirk knew his grin was nostalgic again. "Very much."

"As would I." Spock stared at him for a long moment before heading to his own quarters.

Kirk turned and palmed his door open. Walking the few steps to the bed, he sat down wearily. So much had happened. In such a short time. It was mind boggling. The ship. His crew. All of them. Together again.

He could feel the familiar hum of the Enterprise beneath him and closed his eyes, reveling in the sensation of his ship. His ship. He wasn't taking her back to spacedock. If Starfleet didn't want him in the center seat, they'd damn well have to come out here and remove him personally. He grinned and opened his eyes, noticing for the first time that his comm light was blinking.

He walked over to the desk, engaged the terminal. There were a score of congratulatory notes from the admiralty, several requests for interviews from the Federation press, and a personal note from Chris. He opened it and saw that there was nothing personal about it.

"I, Doctor Christine Chapel, do hereby request transfer from my current assignment on the USS Enterprise..."

He hit the comm switch. "Kirk to Chapel."

"Chapel here," she answered immediately.

He had the feeling she'd been waiting for the call. "Please come to my quarters."

"You saw my request?"

"Yes. That's why I want you to come to my quarters."

"Jim, just approve it."

"Doctor, I can make it an order?"

There was a long silence. "I'll be there in a few minutes."

"You're just down the hall, Chris. Be here sooner than that." He clicked off the comm.

Her chime came almost immediately. She entered his room stone faced, her eyes and mouth carefully set into her most professional look.

"Sit down, Chris."

"I prefer to stand, sir."

He sighed. "Have it your way." He got up and walked toward her. "So he shows up and you're gone?"

She didn't say anything, but her jaw set into an even harder line.

"Just like that?"

She looked fixedly straight ahead. The model of perfect Starfleet posture.

"Chris. Talk to me."

She finally looked at him. "What else do you expect? You think I can just ignore what's going on? He comes back and it all starts up again."

Kirk felt his own jaw tighten. "This isn't about him."

"It is and you know it. It's always about him." She looked down.

At the same time that she whispered, "I can't stay to watch this again," he said, "So you just throw away what we have because you can't stand not having him?"

They looked at each other in confusion.

"You don't want to leave me?" Kirk asked her finally.

She shook her head. "You thought I was resigning because I couldn't have him?"

He nodded. Then he let out a slow breath. "I thought you...and you thought I..."

"And neither of us had it right," she finished for him.

He walked over to the terminal; hit the 'Disapproved' button on her transfer request. "You're not going anywhere, Doctor."

As he stalked back to her, she held up her hand. "But what about Spock? I was there, Jim. Remember? In sickbay. 'This simple feeling'? What was that about?"

He pursed his lips, and shook his head slowly. "I'm not sure."

"Well, I think I am." She stared at him stubbornly.

"And what about you?" His voice rose in frustration and he began to pace. "Mr. Spock!" he used the words she had said when she first saw Spock on the bridge, his voice was a mocking falsetto. "What the hell was that?"

"I was glad to see him."

"Yeah, that's all it was."

She paced in the opposite direction. "Well, if you must know, on another level I was pretty upset that he was back. Maybe I was overcompensating?"

"That was joy, not overcompensation."

"And the way you looked at him in sickbay? You're telling me that wasn't pure joy on your part that he was back, that he was yours again?"

They stared angrily at each other for a long moment. Finally Kirk walked over to her. "We're arguing about someone who isn't even here." He reached out, pulled her to him.

She resisted. "He's just down the hall though, isn't he?"

"Yes, in another room. While we're here, together, in this one. And alone. We usually don't have a problem figuring out what to do when we're alone."

"Alone? How can we be alone when he's here?" She sighed. "Not that he hasn't always been here with us...between us. But then he was only a memory that neither of us could have. Now he's here, Jim. In the flesh. Have you thought out what that could mean for you?"

"Or for you?"

She shook her head. "That's not what I meant."

Taking a deep breath and deciding that he was very tired of talking, Kirk moved closer to her. "I want you. I know that you want me." He saw her close her eyes as he took her hand. "What's the problem here, Chris?"

"You're in love with him," she whispered.

"So are you." He pulled her into a long, passionate kiss. He could feel her still resisting for the first few seconds. Then with a groan, she wrapped her arms around him, began to kiss him back.

"Maybe we'll always love him. Maybe we have no choice in that. But we do have a choice right now. Do we stay together and discover what this is between us? Or do we throw it all away and never find out?" He kissed her again tenderly, then with more passion. "I want you...I love you," he said as they pulled away from each other. Her eyes widened and he smiled.

"Jim." She looked down. "This is going to be a problem. In so many ways. I don't think we were thinking."

He slowly slid her uniform off. "There won't be a problem. You and I are very good at sex." He grinned as he eased her down onto the bed.

"You know what I mean."

"Later, Chris. Don't borrow trouble." He pulled his own uniform off. Turning her on her stomach he began to kiss her neck, then her shoulders. He worked his way down her back, paying special attention to any spot that made her groan or tremble.

"Jim," she said, her tone pleading.

"What do you want?" He slowly pulled her up so that she was on her hands and knees.

"You. Now."

He moved into her and heard her moan in pleasure. "God, Chris, so good," he said as he reached around and began to touch her.

She made some comment but the words were unintelligible. Taking her incoherence as a positive sign, he continued stroking her. She pushed back and he could feel her clenching around him. It drove him wild and he began to move in earnest until he felt his own release descending. He pulled her to him more firmly, calling out her name as they both collapsed

He settled down at her side. She didn't look at him. "Chris?" When she turned her head, he was surprised to see tears. "What is it?"

"Why that way?"

He was confused.

"Why that way, Jim?" She turned her face away.

"We've done it that way before." He moved closer, nuzzled her neck. "You've always liked it."

"I wasn't feeling this insecure before." She still didn't look up. "Did you pretend it was him?"

"I believe I could ask you the same thing," he said gently, as he slowly ran his hand down her back, felt her react to his touch. "Whose name did I call out?"

"Mine," she mumbled into the soft spread.

"Who am I touching now?"

She didn't answer.

"Turn over."

"It's okay. Just forget it."

"Turn over, Chris."

She did as he said.

"I was making love to you."

Her nod was unconvinced.

"To _you_." He kissed her, slowly and deeply. It took her a long time to respond. He sighed and leaned back, studying her face. "His being back is unexpected."

She nodded. He waited, watching her face, as she seemed to struggle with something. Finally, she whispered, "If you want to forget this...forget us..."

He realized she was serious. Considering the offer, he thought about the encounter with Spock in the corridor. "I won't deny that it feels good to have him back on my ship...at--"

"--at your side?" she finished for him.

He nodded.

"In your bed?"

"He's not in my bed, Chris. You are."

"Now. But I replaced him, didn't I?"

This was territory she hadn't wanted to go before. He hesitated.

"I didn't want to know the truth before," she whispered. "Now I do."

He nodded. "We were lovers. I loved him. In all the ways that are important." Turning away from her, he stared up at the ceiling. "When he left me...my world ended."

She didn't say anything for a long time. "I should have asked before. I should have let you talk about it. You needed to talk about it. But I didn't want to know. Even though I already knew." She rolled to her stomach; propped herself up on her elbows and stared down at him. "Do you want to know the real reason I took Decker up on his offer?"

He turned his head, studied her. "Yes. I do."

"I wasn't going to. Not at first, when he initially told me about the position. I didn't think I wanted to go back out into space. And you and I...we were having so much fun. Until you gave me Saraswati. That day...what I felt for you was so strong it scared me. Because I was sure that I was the only one feeling those things...that what was happening between us would end. You'd leave me. And I'd be alone. Again. And I'd be heartbroken. Because I was already falling in love with you. So I guess I decided a preemptive strike was in order." She looked away.

"Because in our paradigm, people leave."

She nodded. "Or they're not who we thought they were."

He sighed. "The day you showed me David, was the day I realized something more was going on."

"You didn't say anything."

"I didn't want to. I was scared too. Spooked as hell, in fact. I'd lost everything I'd ever cared about, Chris. And here was this new person--" he reached up and ran his finger over her lips "--the last person I would have guessed--"

"--or picked," she offered wryly.

He nodded. "Or picked. And she was changing my life. Making it brighter. Making me have hope again. Making me forget."

"And then I betrayed you."

"And then you betrayed me." He pulled her into his arms. "What made you send the statue back?"

"Every time I looked at it, I saw you. I remembered what we did...what we had. It was killing me." She ran her fingers over his chest in light, glancing touches that made him shiver wherever they set down. He groaned softly.

"And the ship?"

"Taking the position...it suddenly seemed so empty. I'd lost you. I knew that. But I didn't want to leave you. It just seemed wrong."

"And now?"

"It's not wrong. But this may be." Her fingers stopped moving.

He pulled her closer, until she was laying half on top of him. "Why?"

"Spock. The others. Our roles here." She tried to push away from him but he held her fast. "We don't make sense. On Earth, maybe. But not here."

He looked at her, genuinely puzzled. "So we just throw away the chance for real love because the relationship is going to be a bit problematic?"

"A bit problematic?" She laughed bitterly. "Do you know what our friends are going to say? Do you know what _he's_ going to say?"

"Actually, no. Do you?"

"I can guess. If we go public with this."

"If? I'm not going to hide this, Chris. We'll behave, of course, in public. But if this works, it works in the open. In the light of day."

She grinned suddenly. "There's no day in space."

"A figure of speech," he said as he stroked her cheek. "You know what I mean."

"I do." Her expression was tender. "But I mean it, Jim. If you want him back. I'll step aside."

He frowned. "I'm not sure I'd step aside if you wanted to be with him."

She looked surprised. "Really?"

He shook his head. Running his finger along her jaw, then turning her face so she had to meet his gaze fully, he said, "There seem to be two Christine Chapel's in here." He touched her forehead. "The one that runs, and the one that fights. I don't think the fighter gets to come out and play very much, does she?"

She shook her head.

"Let her out, Chris. Fight for this." His hand tightened on her hair. "Fight for me."

She suddenly pulled his face to hers, kissed him roughly. Her eyes were a bit wild when she pulled away and said, "I love you."

"Then show me how much," he answered as he grabbed her hand and dragged it down to touch him. "See how much I want you."

Her hand tightening around him made him moan. She shifted to straddle him, and he watched her, never taking his eyes from hers as she rode him. She stared back at him, her look one of pure desire. Suddenly she arched, her head thrown back, a wild cry coming from her throat. The sound sent him over the edge and he clutched at her.

She fell lightly on top of him. Her breathing was heavier than normal, her heart beating fast against his chest. Her lips met his and he rolled so they were both lying on their sides. Looping his leg over hers and wrapping his arm around her waist, he pulled her tightly against him.

She sighed. "I love you. I don't want to leave you."

"Then don't. It'll work, Chris. We'll make it work," he whispered as their kisses turned sleepy. "I love you."

He pulled the cover over them and they fell asleep, still entwined, his lips resting on her forehead, her hand lying gently on his chest.


Chapel woke slowly and opened her eyes. For a moment she didn't know where she was, then she felt the reassuring hum of the ship's engines and felt Kirk's chest pressed against her back, his arm wrapped around her. Shifting a little, she felt his grip on her tighten. She smiled, pushing back against him slightly and moved her hips slowly.

"Good morning, Doctor." His voice was soft in her ear. "You seemed to have woken up in a good mood."

He shifted her slightly so that he could move into her. His hand caressed the front of her, roaming from her chest to areas much lower and more sensitive. His lips fastened on her neck and he sucked gently, then more forcefully.

"Marking me?"

He let go of her and she wondered if he had even been aware of what he was doing. She felt him kiss the bruised spot. "Probably. Sorry."

She didn't think he sounded sorry at all, and knew he wasn't when he moved to another spot on her shoulder and sucked at the skin more forcefully. As he continued to move against her, she shifted her hips back to meet his. Their rhythm and his touch sending her quickly over the edge, she felt him stop and wait as she slowly came down.

She began to rub against him again and he didn't move, just let her control the timing. She heard him groan, then his lips found her neck again and bit down slightly. His arm clutched around her ribs as he cried out.

As his breathing returned to normal, he let go of her and touched the marks he'd put on her neck and shoulder. She hissed in pain as his mouth found the one on her neck and sucked again.

"Sorry," he said, and this time he did sound contrite.

"Do you have a regenerator?"

He chuckled. "Actually I do. I planned ahead." His tongue licked against the bruised skin. "We seem to need it a lot."

"Does that bother you?"

"Does it bother you?" He turned her gently, kissed her on the mouth. "You seem to be the one needing it most of the time."

"That could change. And I can't blame the hand on you." She looked down, embarrassed. "I've never punched anyone before."

"Really?" His grin was admiring. "You're a natural then. Hell of a right hook."

She laughed. "I'll remember that when the intramurals come up and the boxing team is looking for their next star."

He ran his hand down her face. "I'd rather you didn't. I like the way these features line up now."

She smiled. "So only you get to mark me?"

He nodded. Something primitive glinted in his eyes. Something even more primitive in her responded.

"I love you, Jim."

"Love you," he replied, kissing her gently. He reached over to the side of the bed and opened one of the built-in drawers. As he pulled the regenerator out, he smiled sheepishly. "Would it shock you if I told you I'd rather not heal them? That I'd like to see them on you."

"No, it wouldn't shock me. Nothing about us shocks me." She pulled his face to hers, took his lip between her teeth and felt him shudder slightly. She let go and he kissed her hard.

"So I don't have to heal them?" His grin was unrepentant.

"I didn't say that." She pointed at her neck and he turned the machine on, contrarily going to work on the spot on her shoulder. She grinned and saw his answering smile. Stubborn. Both of them. "Next time, I'll have to mark you up," she said softly.

"Yes. You will." He grinned but didn't look away from his task.

"You bring out the worst in me, Jim."

"I'd argue that worst and best could be interchanged in this instance."

"And I know better than to argue with you."

He laughed out loud. "That's a lie." He turned to look at her. "You argue with me all the time."

She grinned. "Not all the time. Some of the time."

"I rest my case."

"I think I bring out the worst in you, too."

He nodded, moving on to her neck with the regenerator. "It's entirely possible." He gave her a quick kiss.

"Is that healthy?"

He shrugged. "We're passionate people, Chris." He looked at her. "Does it scare you?"

She nodded.


"Doesn't it scare you?"

He turned off the machine, touched her shoulder where he had bruised her. "Scares the hell out of me, if you must know."

"Me too." She watched as he put the regenerator away.

Lying back, he pulled her into his arms. As she settled her head on his shoulder, he kissed her forehead.

"It's not all there is though. There's more to us than just the wildness." As he spoke, he pulled her closer.

"I know. I think that's what really scares me." She looked up at him. "The wild is easy. Love isn't."

He met her eyes, nodded. "I know."

"Especially not when my rival--"

"--and mine..."

She smiled. "And yours, is just down the hall."

"And I'm sure he's very happy there," Kirk said as he turned to check the chrono.

"It's later than we think, isn't it?" she asked as she pulled out of his arms and slid off the bed. "Can I use your shower?"

He nodded. "Alone or with company?"

She smiled. "I might get lonely alone."

He got up quickly. "Can't have that." As he followed her into the bathroom, he said, "Unfortunately, we don't have much time."

She adjusted the spray and stepped in, waiting for him to follow and close the door. She squeezed out some shampoo and spread it through her hair, then through his, massaging his head firmly as she distributed the lather.

"Damn. You're hired as a geisha." He practically purred as she touched him.

She turned him and handed him the soap. "Your turn," she said with a grin.

He seemed to be having trouble sticking to just getting her clean. "Jim," she said warningly.

He laughed and gave her a smart smack on the rear. "It's your own fault for tempting me with that massage. Rinse off," he ordered as he began to run the soap over his own body.

She watched him for a second.

"Rinse off, Doctor. That's an order." His grin was very evil.

"It's going to be a long day," she said, turning away and letting the water pour over her.

"Yes. It is," he agreed as he pushed her back and commandeered the water for himself.

She put her arms around him and kissed him quickly, turning him so that he was out of the water and she was getting the bulk of it.

"Even the shower is an argument," he said with a smile as he turned off the water. "I think maybe we should do this alone the next time we're running late," he said as he pushed her up against the wall, kissing her very thoroughly before finally letting her go and stepping out of the shower.

"Probably a good idea," she said, following him out and accepting the towel he handed her. "So do we have orders from Starfleet yet?"

He looked out at his comm light, which was blinking again. "Either that or I'm being court-martialed for running off with their ship."

"Never that," she said with a grin as she dried her hair quickly. For once, it was easy to put it up into the regulation bun.

He walked over and read his messages. "You're right. We have new orders. Best speed to Rigel VIII." He read some more. "Delivery run." He grimaced.

"From saving the day to courier in a few short hours," she said with a grin.

He laughed. Pulling on his uniform, he tossed her clothes on the bed. "You can keep a uniform here if you want."

"Uh huh," she said as she walked over and began to dress

He came up behind her. "Still convinced we aren't going to last?"

His hands were making it hard to get her clothes on. She found she didn't mind. "I didn't say that."

"No, you didn't." He nuzzled her neck. "Even if we didn't last, I'd give you your uniform back."

She laughed as she turned in his arms. "You would?"

He nodded.

"Then maybe I will leave one here." She kissed him.

When they finally pulled away from each other he said, "Ready to face the day?"

She nodded, following him to the door. "I'd be readier with some breakfast in me."

"No time, Chris. You have only yourself to blame." He turned to her as the door opened. "Vixen."

McCoy stood at the door, his eyebrow slowly rising. "Jim." He turned to her, took in her casual clothes. "Christine."

Chapel could feel herself blushing. Shit, shit, shit, she thought.

"Bones. What can I do for you?" Kirk's voice was admirably nonplussed.

"Just wanted to see if you'd had breakfast. But I guess you've already eaten."

Kirk grinned. "Actually, we haven't." He leaned over and to Chapel's shock gave her a quick kiss. "I'll see you later?"

She nodded and hurried off to her quarters, uncomfortably aware of McCoy's scrutiny as she fled. She heard Kirk say, "What, Bones, you've never seen a kiss before?" Then he laughed and moved off. She felt absurdly grateful that he was so self-assured. And that he wasn't trying to hide this.

As she changed into her uniform and snatched a nutrition bar, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. It's only going to get worse, she told herself. Len is the one most likely to be on your side. Frowning at the idea of what some of the other reactions might be, she touched the spot on her neck that Kirk had marked. He's worth fighting for, she told herself resolutely. He's worth braving the firestorm for.

She rushed to sickbay and busied herself with the report she was finishing on the Ilia probe. Their scans had revealed amazing technology and she saw some applications--if they could figure out how the technology worked--for limb replacement. She was so engrossed in the topic that she didn't realize McCoy was standing in the doorway until he said, "Have you lost your mind?"

Startled, she looked up at him. He was frowning, his expression a mixture of worry, disappointment, and some other emotion she couldn't identify.

"Is it such a stretch?" she asked quietly.

"Such a stretch, Christine?" McCoy let the door shut behind him and sat down across from her. "You were in sickbay yesterday. I know you saw the same thing I did."

She could feel her face tighten. "What did you see, Doctor?"

"Well, Doctor." His emphasis on the word was just short of mocking. "I saw two men who were awfully glad to be reunited. I know I wouldn't want to be the one that got caught between them."

"Who says I'm going to?"

"Christine. For the love of god, do you really think you can keep him now that Spock's back?" Suddenly his expression turned suspicious. "Or is this just a very twisted way to try to get Spock?"

"I can't believe you'd even ask that."

"Why not? He's all you've ever seen." Again his expression contained something unreadable.

"Maybe before. But things have changed. Jim and I...we don't make sense, I'll admit it. But despite that...we work. We fit."

He stood up. "Maybe before Spock came back." At her look, he touched her shoulder. "You deserve so much more. I just don't want to see you get hurt." His fingers tightened for second, then he let go.

"I thought you'd be happy for me."

He looked back at her. "Tell you what, if you're still with him in a month, then I'll be happy for you." He walked out of her office.

His words echoing in her mind, she found it impossible to concentrate on the report she'd found so absorbing earlier.


Kirk sat in the center seat, completely content to just watch his bridge crew at work. He caught Uhura looking over at him and grinned. She gave him a delighted smile.

"It's good to be back."

She nodded. "It's good to have you back."

He just smiled and turned back to the main viewscreen.

"Sir," she continued. "A lot of the crew were wondering if we're going to have a post-launch celebration."

He saw Sulu turn to look at her, a grin on his face. De Falco was also smiling.

"So the crew wants a party, do they?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well then let's give them one. How about tonight?" By tomorrow they would be on Rigel VIII, picking up their deliveries and no doubt engaging in a pointless round of dinner and parties. He'd had enough of that in the admiralty to last him a lifetime. But a real party, with his own crew, now that he could enjoy.


He nodded. "Recreation lounge is big enough to host it. Get catering working on it."

"Yes, sir."

He sent a quick message to Chris, keying in, "Party tonight. Be my date?"

A few minutes later, her response came, "I'd better be."

He tried not to laugh as he typed. "It's our coming out party."

Her response was instantaneous. "Oh, god."

He could imagine the panic in her eyes. "Don't think about that. You'll only worry it to death."

"I can't go. I have inventory to do."

"You inventoried everything yesterday. Multiple times according to Bones." Kirk looked up and realized Uhura was watching him as he keyed in the message. He tried to wipe the grin off his face until she turned back to her station.

"I feel sick. I think I have Taurian Meningitis."

"Unlikely," he keyed back. "Have to go. I'll pick you up."

A yeoman brought him some padds to sign. He read through them, intent on continuing to familiarize himself with everything about this refurbished Enterprise. He signed and handed the padds back to the yeoman.

Standing up, he looked over at Spock. "Care to get to know this ship?"

"That would be agreeable, sir. There have been many modifications."

Kirk nodded, calling out, "You have the conn, Mr. Sulu. We'll be in engineering if you need us," as he walked into the lift.

Spock followed him, standing quietly until the lift started to move. Then he looked over at Kirk. "I was not sure you would wish to spend time with me? Last night was not what I expected."

Kirk chose to ignore the comment.

Spock didn't let it go. "I know you were hurt by my actions."

The lift doors opened and Kirk barreled through. Spock followed more slowly behind. Finally Kirk allowed him to catch up.

"You don't wish to speak of it."

"I don't."

"Will you ever?"

Kirk stopped. "You just don't let up, do you?"

"I have hurt you, Jim. I wish to make things right between us again."

"Right how?"

Spock's eyes bored into his. "The way they were before I left."

Kirk shook his head, laughed bitterly. "That's impossible."

"Not impossible," Spock said. "Not if we want it enough. You told me that once."

"Well, I wasn't seeing someone else at the time."

Spock's face fell. Then he considered the statement. "That person is not here. And this is a long voyage."

"She is here, Spock. And the voyage isn't so long when she's sharing my quarters at night." He realized as he practically spit the words at the Vulcan that he wanted to make him hurt, wanted to see some damage.

"You are involved with a member of this crew?"

"Yeah. What are the odds?" Kirk started walking again.

"Who is she?"

"You wouldn't believe me, if I told you." Kirk smiled grimly.

Spock was more intuitive than Kirk had given him credit for. "That is why you demoted her?"

"I demoted her because I needed McCoy back. I wanted my old crew back."

"But now that you are not her direct supervisor..."

"It's convenient, yeah."

Spock was silent, obviously thinking about this new development.

Kirk nodded to some passing crewman and then turned into engineering.

Scotty looked up and grinned. "Inspection, sir?"

"No, Mr. Scott. I learned the hard way that I don't know as much about this ship as I should. And Decker isn't here to pull my butt out of the fire. So I want you to show me anything and everything that's different."

"Might take a while, sir."

"I've got time. At least till tonight." He grinned at Scotty. "You did hear about the party?"

"Oh, aye, sir. News like that travels fast." Scott turned to Spock. "And would you be wanting the same tutorial, Mr. Spock?"

"I would."

"Well then, let's get started." Scott led them around engineering, pointing out a tweak here, a major modification there.

Kirk took it all in, trying to organize it into categories that would best suit an emergency situation. After several hours, he held up a hand. "I think I've reached saturation point, although I'm sure Spock could listen all day. I'll be back starting tomorrow for more sessions...until it's all in my head the way it should be."

"Very well, sir."

Kirk headed back to the bridge, Spock in tow. They walked in silence for a long time.

Finally, Spock said, "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Kirk glanced at Spock and saw him wince. "I'm serious, Spock. What are you sorry for? Is it for what you did? Or is it merely that what you did caused you to lose me? Because there's a big difference."

"I had to go to Gol."

"Yeah, that's what your message said."

"You don't understand...I had to go."

"Explain that to me. 'Had to go.' Because you make it sound so spur of the moment."

"It was a sudden decision."

"Spock, you knew Commander Sonak, right?"

"Of course."

"His uncle was recently accepted to study the Kohlinahr discipline." Kirk watched Spock as he continued, "Sonak said there were months of applications, interviews, lots of suitability screens. This isn't something you just run to, Spock. Gol was a choice. A calculated choice. One you decided on either before or after you left me. But one that you had plenty of time to back out of. You didn't do that."

Spock did not answer.

"See, I waited for you. I was sure you'd come back." Kirk rubbed his forehead. "You didn't come back. And I waited for far too long."

"I'm sorry."

"I know you are." This time Kirk didn't bother to ask for what. He knew the answer anyway. Spock might regret that he had thrown away the relationship they'd had, but he would do it again, if only to find out that Kohlinahr wasn't his way. Maybe it was how it was supposed to be? Who could say how effective Spock would have been against V'ger if he hadn't just come from Gol, if he weren't functioning at that level of isolation? Maybe everything was working out the way it was supposed to.

"Are you happy with her?"

Kirk looked over at Spock, met his eyes. "Very."

"She is a good woman."

"She is."

"And quite intelligent."

Kirk nodded.

"Do you love her?" Spock asked, nearly whispering the question.

"I do."

"Do you love me, Jim?"

Kirk had been expecting the question. "I do. I always will. But we're friends now, Spock. Just friends. She's in my life. I don't intend to change that."

"Of course," Spock said evenly as they arrived at the lift. "I do not mean to pry."

Kirk frowned. "It's okay. If you're going to be my friend, then you're going to have to deal with her too."

Spock nodded. The lift arrived and Kirk entered it. Spock hung back.

"You coming?"

"I think I will check on the science section while I am on this deck."

Kirk nodded. "Whatever you think best." He looked away as the lift doors closed. When they opened on the bridge, he took his seat and turned to Uhura. "I miss anything?"

"A synthesizer malfunction and a question on decorations protocol." She grinned. "In other words: no."

He smiled. "Wonderful." Leaning back in the chair, he took a deep breath and called up a schematic of the engines. He reviewed what Mr. Scott had told him as he studied the diagrams. Soon he'd again know this ship like the back of his hand. And he'd love every minute of getting to that point.


Chapel sat in her chair and thought up more excuses for not going go the party. When the door chimed and Kirk walked in, she looked up and said, "Necrotizing fasciitis."

"Gesundheit," he said with a grin.

"No. I have that. It's a disease."

He shook his head. "Flesh-eating bacteria are a little spare on the ship right now."

She scowled. "You're the only non-medical person I know that would even know what it is."

"The benefits of a strong background in classics. Word derivations. Or I've been hanging around Bones too long." He pulled her out of the chair. "You look great. Let's go."

"I don't suppose you'd buy pulmonary edema?"

He glanced at her chest. "Any swelling in your chest is natural and very much appreciated."

"It means having to do with the lungs."

He pulled her into his arms. "I'm quite aware of that. But I can't see your lungs and I can see your chest." He kissed her. "In fact I can do more than see."

She pulled his hands up and nodded. "Yes. Good idea. We could stay here and you could do more than see my chest."

He shook his head. "We only have to do this once. Then it's out, and you can start to relax. Please god," he added not quite under his breath.

She sighed.


"Oh, all right. Let's go." She walked with him to the door. "Fatal thrombosis?"

He just glared at her and led her to the lift. "Nothing you come up with will work."

"Extreme nausea?" She really did feel sick.

He turned back to her. "Is it that you really don't want them to know?"

She shook her head.

"Then what?"

"Everything will change."

He shook his head. "It's just a party, Chris. With all the people we care about."

She nodded.

He sighed as they walked into the lift. "The fact that you aren't even arguing worries me more than anything."

She took a deep breath and smiled up at him. She could tell by his look that it wasn't very convincing. The lift doors opened and they exited into the crowded corridor outside the recreation lounge. She slowed as they neared the door.

"Just once, then it's over, Chris."

She felt his hand on the small of her back, urging her forward. As she walked into the lounge, she glanced over at him. He gave her a tender look and rubbed her back. With a smile, she turned back to the crowd and saw Rand looking at her. Her friend didn't smile as her eyes dropped to where Kirk's hand rested on Chapel's back then returned to her face. She shot Chapel a look of hurt betrayal, then turned and disappeared into the crowd.

So the first casualty of this is my friendship with Jan, Chapel thought with a pang. Then she saw McCoy staring at her from where he stood with Spock. Make that the second casualty, she corrected.

She saw Uhura wave to her from a table where she sat with Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. She smiled and gestured that she'd be there in a moment. Turning to Kirk, she said, "I've got to go find Janice."

He nodded absently, already moving to where McCoy and Spock waited.

She found Rand sitting in a couch on the balcony. Her lips were set in a stern line and when she looked up at Chapel there was no welcome in her eyes. "Were you going to tell me?"

Chapel sat next to her. "Eventually. It's still so new, Jan."

"And fragile." Rand pointed to where Kirk was laughing with Spock. McCoy wasn't with them anymore.

Chapel swallowed. "Not as fragile as you might think," she said.

"Sure." Rand turned away. "You just keep telling yourself that." She looked back angrily. "I couldn't land him and you think you can?"

"I'm with him, Jan. I'm sorry if that hurts."

"How did this happen? I didn't even think you two ran in the same circles."

"You were all on the ship, getting ready to ship out. We were down there. And in the same place emotionally. Sometimes that's all it takes."

Rand stared at her angrily. "How could you do this to me?"

"Jan, at the risk of hurting you more, this isn't about you."

"No? And if I'd gone for Spock when you were so head over heels for him, wouldn't it have been about you?"

"It's been a long time since you and Kirk--"

"--Some things don't change. You know that." Rand looked down. "Some feelings don't go away."

"What feelings," Uhura asked as she came up the stairs. "And why are you up here?" She saw that no one was smiling and her eyes narrowed. "What's going on?"

Rand stood up. "Christine has a new fella in her life. Someone that she didn't want to tell us about."

Uhura looked at her in question. "Who?"

Rand pointed down.

Uhura was still not getting it. "Spock?"

"The other one."

Uhura stared at Kirk, then slowly turned to look at Chapel. "I don't believe it."

Chapel closed her eyes for a moment and tried to control her anger. "Why is it so hard to believe?"

Rand laughed meanly, her expression one that Chapel didn't recognize. "It's just that it's you, Christine. I guess if we'd known it was that easy to bag him..."

"Janice," Uhura said to her warningly but the look she turned on Chapel was hurt. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Chapel looked down. "I wanted to, Ny. But I wasn't sure you'd understand."

"I'm your friend. Why wouldn't I understand?"

Rand snorted. "Oh yeah, you'd have understood."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Uhura looked from one to the other.

"It's just that...you've always acted like he was yours," Chapel finished weakly.

"We're friends."

Rand laughed. "Yeah, great friends. I don't suppose he mentioned to you that he and Chris were involved?"

Uhura glared at her. "Maybe he didn't mention it because it isn't as serious as you both seem to think it is?"

Chapel stared at her friend. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Christine. Come on. This is Jim Kirk we're talking about. You and the Captain? I just don't see the words 'long term' written next to this, you know."

"Then you don't really know him."

"But you do. After what? A few months?" Uhura narrowed her eyes. "I've watched him a lot longer than that. I know what he's like...and what you're like. I'm sorry, but this just doesn't seem like a match made in heaven."

"This is so typical of you," Rand noted. "You think you own him."

"I never said that."

"You sure as hell act like it, Ny," Chapel felt her frustration bubbling over, making her meaner than she intended. "You were always the one up there, weren't you? On the bridge, the inner sanctum...with him. While we were just allowed to visit occasionally. Well, wake the hell up, we're your peers now, not the low ranking peons we once were."

"Don't think you can win me over to your side," Rand countered. "It's you I'm mad at, not Ny."

Chapel turned to Rand and said softly, "I know it hurts, Jan. But can't you just be happy for me?"

Rand made a derisive sound.

Chapel looked at her in true confusion. "Do you really begrudge me or him happiness?"

"Of course not. I wish him all the best." Rand looked down at Kirk and Spock and said spitefully, "And he looks pretty damn happy now. With him. Not with you."

Chapel nodded shortly. "I can see this is going nowhere. I'll just go somewhere I'm wanted."

Rand looked down at the two men. "I hope you don't think it's there. Because they don't look like they need a third wheel."

"Ny?" Chapel said helplessly.

"I don't understand you at all," Uhura said in a dead voice.

Chapel looked at them both for a long moment then turned quickly and hurried away, nearly knocking Sulu and Scotty down as she passed them on the stairs.

"What's going on?" she heard Sulu ask.

Chapel was about to leave the recreation lounge when Kirk caught her eye and motioned her over. Taking a deep breath, she joined him. Spock nodded and excused himself.

"Hope I didn't interrupt anything?" Her tone was bitter.

"You look like shit. What happened?"

She gestured with her chin to where the others still stood on the balcony, watching them with grim expressions. "Didn't go over well. Told you it wouldn't."

"They're not thrilled?"

"Not thrilled? Try hostile. Or incredulous. Or appalled." She turned her back to the balcony. "A few minutes ago, I was one of them. Now I stand between you and them."

"You're being overly dramatic." He took her arm and led her to the bar. "I think we both could use a drink."

"Scotch?" she asked bleakly.

"I was thinking of something softer." He ordered them some wine and nodded to the crewmembers that came up to say hello. His hand strayed often to the small of the back, resting there in what she recognized was as much a protective gesture as a possessive one.

"Chris?" Sulu stood behind her.

She turned, moving away from Kirk. "Hikaru. Sorry about almost running you down." She smiled at him tentatively.

"I never said congratulations."

She looked at him startled.

He grinned. "I mean for getting your M.D."

"Oh. Thanks."

He stepped closer. "I know that was a lot of work. And you finished early, didn't you?"

"A year early." She smiled gratefully at him. "Thanks, Hikaru."

He shrugged. "Give them time. They'll come around." He looked up and his eyes rested on Rand. Chapel thought she saw a tinge of sadness in his expression. "Or at least most of them will."

"I hope you're right."

"Even if they don't, you have to do what you think will make you happy. Did you know that my parents were against my joining Starfleet? I was supposed to take over the family business, like my father had done, and his father, and his father before him. All the way back to my great-great- great-great grandfather who founded the company."

"Quite a legacy."

He nodded. "And one that I wanted no part of. I wanted to fly, and I wanted space. So I went after it and never looked back. I didn't let anyone stop me either, no matter how much they disapproved." He smiled. "And they came around. It took years but they did."

She laughed. "It was a really good pep talk until the 'it took years' part."

He grinned. "Guess I need to work on that."

"Guess so." She took a sip of her wine.

"Sulu," Kirk said as he turned away from the group of crewmen. "I take it you're one of the few actually talking to us about this?" His tone was casual, but his eyes were steely.

Chapel suddenly realized Kirk's self-assurance was part act. He did care how their friends took it. The fact that he felt some strain from this made her feel absurdly better.

"Not my business what you do. And if you're happy, then more power to you." Sulu raised his glass. "To happiness."

"Here, here," Kirk said as both he and Chapel raised their glass.

"Are we toasting something," McCoy asked as he walked up.

"Happiness," Kirk said firmly.

McCoy shot her a look. "I'm all for happiness." He smiled. "How about a toast to being all together again. Don't know how you managed it, Jim. But you've got it all back."

Chapel expected Jim to turn to look for Spock but instead he glanced at her and smiled. "And more."

She couldn't resist his expression, found herself grinning back.

"To more then," Sulu said.

"To more," Chapel echoed. She met Kirk's eyes over her glass. With a devilish look he let his finger dip into the wine and casually lifted it to his lips, sucking the wine off.

The other men seemed oblivious, as her grin grew broader. "Stop it," she mouthed at him and he shot her an innocent look.

He looked up at the balcony, his expression determined. "Let's go join the others."

She felt a sense of panic.

"It'll be fun," he said, as he took her elbow and steered her back up the stairs, the others in tow. "So why's the party up here?" he asked.

Rand didn't look at Chapel as she answered. "It was getting crowded down there."

Kirk dropped his hand from Chapel's arm and let it encircle her, his hand coming to rest at her waist. Rand's eyes followed the movement.

Kirk stared at her blandly, then turned to Uhura. "You're awfully quiet, Nyota."

She gave him a half-hearted smile. "Just enjoying the party, Captain."

He nodded. His hand tightened slightly on Chapel's waist. She could sense his frustration as he took what seemed like an extra deep breath.

Spock's voice sounded from behind them. "It is an enjoyable party."

"Enjoyment would be an emotion, Mr. Spock," McCoy ribbed.

"Language is unfortunately imprecise." Spock turned to Chapel. "I did not get a proper chance in sickbay to congratulate you on your achievements."

She nodded, unsure what to say, not completely sure of what he was really saying.

An uncomfortable silence fell, then Chekov said in a too-bright voice. "I wonder what's happening to Captain Decker and Lieutenant Ilia?"

"I like to think they're here in spirit," Kirk said. "Watching us."

"It's a nice idea," Chapel agreed.

"That love transcends death?" McCoy asked.

"We don't know that they are dead, Bones."

"The Decker and Ilia we knew are, though," Uhura said thoughtfully. "Whatever they are, wherever they are, they aren't the people we knew."

"But that happens in life, too. People change. Move on with their lives and leave what they were behind." Kirk looked at Spock, then over at Chapel. His hand tightened on her waist. "Most of the time they're still recognizable, but the changes are there."

Rand stood up. "Don't mean to break up the party, but I'm going to go check on my section. Make sure they're having fun."

Chapel looked down as the others made their excuses too, leaving only Spock standing with them. She looked up and saw that he was watching her. She pulled away from Jim's arm.


She looked around. There was no one near them. "Let's get this out before we explode."

"Get what out, exactly?" Kirk sounded irritated.

She turned to Spock. "Just what 'achievements' were you referring to?"

His eyebrow rose. "Successfully completing your medical studies, of course."

She smiled tightly. "Nothing more?"

"I am afraid that I lack information on your other career accomplishments."

"What about the personal?"

Kirk sank down into the couch with a sigh. "Could you two stop?"

They both looked down at him.

"I'm not kidding. I'm damned tired and you're not helping." He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

"I'm sorry," she said softly.

Spock nodded.

Kirk opened his eyes. "Here's how it is. You--" he pointed at Chapel "-- are my lover and my friend. And you--" a nod to Spock "--were my lover and still are my friend." He took a deep breath. "Any questions?" When neither of them said anything he stood up. "Great. Glad that's settled."

He looked at Chapel, his voice was low, his words clipped. "We're going to mingle now. You will relax and enjoy yourself." He turned to Spock. "You're coming with us. That way, nobody has cause to wonder when we're going to explode and start fighting."

Chapel thought he sounded dangerously close to exploding all on his own. She realized he was waiting for her to say something. "Of course, Jim."

"As you wish, Captain."

"Good. Then that's settled. And we're all straight on how this works." He shot them both a glance. "Aren't we?"

They both nodded.

"Wonderful." He stalked off without them.

Spock who lifted an eyebrow slowly and said, "I believe we have irritated him."

"Still the master of understatement, I see." She saw Kirk glance back at them. "We better get going."

They walked together down the stairs.

"Did you come back for him?" she asked him, before they reached Kirk.

Spock shook his head. "I came back for V'ger. I am staying for him." At her surprised glance, he did not look away. "He is with you now. By his own choice. I will learn to accept that. But I do not intend to go away."

She looked away. "He still loves you."

He nodded. "But it is not enough. Not when he has you."

She turned to study him, not sure what he was saying.

"He loves you too, Christine. That is something I will also learn to accept."

Kirk walked back to them. "Will you two hurry up?" He shot them both a stern glance. "You aren't fighting, are you?"

"No, Jim," Spock said.

"Just a friendly conversation." She backed him up.

"Not too friendly, I hope." Kirk's look was slightly jealous.

"Like that's going to happen," she rolled her eyes and turned to Spock. "At least you don't have to worry about me stalking you now."

"That was not one of my worries when I chose to stay." Spock was studying her closely, an unexpectedly warm interest in his eyes.

She frowned. What was the look he was giving her? If he had looked at her like that just once during their original mission, it would have given her fodder for daydreams and fantasies for months. She glanced at Kirk. He was frowning, not missing any of the exchange. Laughing sharply, she watched as they both reacted, as whatever spell Spock had been trying to weave was broken.

"No, Mr. Spock. I'm definitely only going to be stalking one man." She smiled at Kirk. "If he'll have me." She held out her hand, feeling as if she was standing on the edge of a precipice.

His hand clasping hers pulled her to safety. "He'll have you, Chris."

She smiled and he grinned back.

Without letting go of her, he turned to Spock. "Now, old friend, come mingle with us, and I'll let you set up the chessboard tomorrow night."

"An offer I cannot refuse," Spock agreed.

Kirk looked over at her. "I'm assuming you won't mind us playing chess?"

She shrugged, wondering what he would do if she said that she did.

"Good." He saw a group of engineers standing near the bar and headed toward them. "We're working this room, and we're not done until we've said hello to everyone here. Got that?"

They nodded obediently.

"Wonderful." He let go of her hand and pulled slightly ahead.

"Tyrant," she mumbled.

"He can be dictatorial at times," Spock agreed.

"I heard that," Kirk turned and said under his breath just before they reached the engineers. He effortlessly turned on the charm as he began to talk to the crewmen.

Chapel found herself grinning as she watched him. She glanced over at Spock and he was wearing a similarly fond look. "We look like bookends, Spock. Too weird," she whispered.

Spock glanced over at her and nodded imperceptibly. "For him, even the weird is acceptable," he said in a quiet voice.

"For him, anything is," she agreed. She looked back, trying to see if Rand was still watching her. She didn't see her in the crowd, but Uhura looked away when their eyes met. She sighed.

"They do themselves no credit with their behavior," Spock said unexpectedly.

"You don't know why they're reacting the way they are. And it's a bit of a shock for them." She wasn't exactly sure why she was defending the others.

"It is none of their business," he pointed out logically.

She laughed softly. "Look at him, Spock. He's everybody's business."

They fell silent and just watched Kirk as he worked the crowd, moving easily from a welcome for a new crewman to a catch-up session with an officer he'd served with before.

"He's home," she whispered.

"Indeed." He raised an eyebrow. "I believe we were ordered to mingle, Doctor?"

"I believe you are right." She smiled at a group of crewmen and went to meet them. Maybe he's not the only one that's home, she thought. Maybe we all are. She resolved not to worry about it. Only time would tell what would happen to them all. Time and their own choices.

She looked over at Kirk, returning the grin he shot her. Her choice was clear. She could only have faith that his was as well.


Kirk yawned as he walked down the corridor toward his quarters. He saw Chris look at him uncertainly and he reached for her hand, pulling her to him. "Stay with me?" he asked.

"Of course," she said, as she glanced uneasily at Spock who was walking next to Kirk.

Let him get used to it, Kirk thought, as he stopped to palm open his door. This is how it is now. Spock's fault really...he left and things changed.

"Goodnight, Doctor Chapel. I will see you tomorrow, Jim," Spock said softly as he kept walking toward his corridor.

"Tomorrow, Spock." Kirk called after him. He let Chris precede him into the room. She turned and he saw that she was as tired as he was. "Come here," he whispered.

She didn't hesitate. Her arms went around his neck and she lifted her lips to his. He kissed her gently.

"Rough night," he said.

She nodded. "My friends are really mad at me."

He shook his head. "Wouldn't it be easier to be happy for you?"

"Not when they--" she stopped abruptly.

"Not when they what?"

She shook her head.

"Chris?" When she turned away, he pulled her back. "What?"

"You're a handsome man, Jim. I know you're not oblivious to the effect you have on women." She looked down. "Do you think they'd be unaffected?"

He frowned. "You always were." He shrugged. "And familiarity breeds contempt or something like that." When she didn't look up, he considered what she was saying. "Rand I can believe. I always knew she had a crush. But Uhura?"

"I'm not saying she's madly in love with you. I'm saying that she feels possessive of you. That I'm encroaching. Or something. And I should have told her." She smiled sheepishly.

"And we're not going to solve it, or fix it tonight." He kissed her again, pulling her close, then feeling her press against him even more tightly. Her hands played with the hair at the back of his neck, making him shiver. He could feel his body responding to her.

He let go of her and sat down on the bed. "Get undressed."

"You don't want to do it?"

"I want to watch you do it." He smiled.

She seemed embarrassed but she began to pull off her boots and socks. She looked at him, shooting him a wry grin. "Oh, I'm supposed to make this sexy, aren't I?"

He chuckled. "It's hard to make shoe removal enticing. I'll waive the sexy requirement on that part of the exercise."

"You are such a pushover," she said with a seductive smile as she approached him. Stopping just out of arm's reach, she began to slowly draw up her shirt. Her smile became wicked as she lifted it over her head and let it drop behind her.

He exhaled loudly. "Come here."

She shook her head. "You said you wanted me to do it." She let one strap of her bra fall off her shoulder.

"Come. Here."

She shook her head again. The other strap fell. He was off the bed and across the room quickly, pulling her into his arms and kissing her. She responded passionately, her tongue dueling with his even as she pushed him back to the bed. Then she wrenched away from him and said, "You said you wanted me to do it."

He sat back down and nodded. "Then do it."

She unhooked her bra and let it drop to the floor. Then she slipped out of the loose trousers she had worn. She took the few steps to reach him. "I need help with these."

He reached down and ripped the panties off her.

She gasped as he did it, startled and aroused at the same time. She swallowed hard and looked down at him. "You seem to be overdressed."

"I'll remedy that." He stood up. "You lie down."

She sat down on the bed, then slid back till she was lying on it. As he began to take off his clothes, he didn't take his eyes from her. She stared back, and licked her lips without thinking. He let the last of his clothes drop and crawled up the bed to her.

"Put your hands over your head," he ordered and watched as she did it. "Stay that way," he said firmly, as he bent over her, touching her intimately.

"Ahhh, Jim, god, don't stop," she said as she began to buck, her words turning to cries of pleasure, then to sighs as he pulled away from her. She reached down and pulled him up to her, kissing him deeply. "Love you," she mumbled between kisses.

He stroked back her hair and watched her eyes as she came back down from the place he had sent her. Her skin was flushed in places and he traced the pattern as her breathing slowly stilled. When she opened her eyes, he smiled at her. "I love you, Chris."

They kissed and she pulled him unresisting on top of her. For all the fire he felt inside, he wanted to go slow, be tender tonight. He took his time as he positioned himself, found a deliberate rhythm and kept to it, groaning as he resisted the desire to go faster.

She stared up at him and kissed him, their tongues entwining as he moved against her, her hands clutching his arms as she began to shudder again. As she clenched around him, he found his own release. She pulled him down to rest against her, and he sighed happily as her fingers traced a pattern on his back. He finally rolled off her and pulled her into his arms.

"So sweet," he whispered. She smiled softly and he kissed where her mouth turned up. His lips touched something wet and he pulled away. She was crying. "What is it?"

She blinked back more tears. "I'm not used to being this happy. It scares me."

He nodded, wiping away the tears with his finger. "Get used to it."

A shadow flickered in her expression. He wondered how long it would take her to accept that he had made a choice...had chosen her. He remembered how Spock had been looking at her at the party. It hadn't been desire precisely. Just more like Spock had wondered what made her so interesting to Kirk. As if he might want to find out for himself. He wouldn't, Kirk thought. Then wondered who _she_ would choose if the occasion ever arose.

"You're very far away," she said gently.

"Thinking about choices."

"Rethinking them?" she asked.

"No. Wondering what you would do in my place."

"I don't understand."

"If it were between me and Spock, which of us would you choose?"

She frowned. "That choice will never come up."

"Well, maybe it should."

"Okay." She thought about it. "I'd choose you."


She grinned. "Better the devil you know..." She cuddled against him. "Because I like you, and I want you, and I love you, that's why." She kissed him. "Because we just work."

He nodded. "Because I won't leave."

Her face became serious. "And neither will I."

"I know." He pulled away long enough to draw down the covers. She crawled in between the sheets and he followed her. "Things will work out. With Rand and Uhura and the others, I mean. They'll get used to this."

"Hopefully. But it doesn't matter. I'm not giving this up."

"Good." He pulled her into his arms again. "Go to sleep, Chris. It's late."

She shut her eyes and he watched her sleep for a long time before saying, "Lights out." As the room fell into darkness he looked over at the stars streaming past his window and let their motion, Chris's soft breathing, and the barely perceptible hum that was the normal sound of the Enterprise lull him into sleep.