Mazes of a Nightmare by Djinn

Modern man likes to pretend that his thinking is wide-awake. But this
wide-awake thinking has led us into the mazes of a nightmare in which
the torture chambers are endlessly repeated in the mirrors of reason.
- Octavio Paz

"I think that went well." Kirk leaned back in his chair, watching the delegates file out.

"Indeed." Commander Larkins rubbed at his back. "The trade agreement is safely secured." He tapped the pile of padds. "And Command will be quite pleased with our little outpost's efforts today, I think. Thank you for being willing to run the dog and pony show. Seeing the Enterprise up close and personal may well have clinched the deal. Although our diplomatic 'specialists' might argue they had the greater role."

"Whatever part we played is fine. I was in the neighborhood and Command was all for it."

Larkins smiled. "I imagine this isn't the kind of mission you most enjoy? After all the adventure you've seen, a little diplomatic exercise like this must seem frightfully dull?"

Kirk grinned. "Every victory matters. Even the smaller ones."

"You could be a diplomat yourself, Captain. Always the charming answer."

"Just the truth," Kirk said with a shrug.

"Well, I'm happy being an administrator. On such a beautiful world, how can I complain? You should see some of the city."

"No time, I'm afraid." He saw Larkins rub his back again and frowned. "You all right?"

"No. I threw my back out the other day. Damned fool stunt. I still think I'm a twenty-year old."

Kirk grinned. "I have those moments too." He sighed. "I'm glad I'm not twenty anymore."

Larkins nodded. "Made some bad decisions in those days. Not that my back thinks I've matured much." He laughed, then grimaced as the action seemed to cause him pain.

Kirk pulled out his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."

"Enterprise here, sir," Uhura answered.

"The talks have concluded. Prepare to leave orbit when I return."

"Aye-aye, sir."

Larkins started to get up then grimaced again. Kirk motioned him back into his chair.

"Uhura, patch me through to sickbay."

"McCoy here."

"Bones, we've got an overly energetic commander whose back is in dire need of a check-up, if you or someone on your staff is free?" He grinned at Larkins, who made a sheepish face.

"I'll send Chapel. I'm still running final diagnostics on the surgical unit--we upgraded it." There was a pause, then McCoy came back on. "The engineers are here, I've got to go, Jim. You know they'll screw things up in no time without supervision."

"Very good. Kirk out." He smiled. McCoy was probably driving the engineers nuts. But he wasn't the only one. Seemed like everyone was using the enforced downtime to get their stations upgraded and back at one hundred percent operating efficiency. Spock probably had his up to one hundred and fifty.

"You didn't have to do that, sir."

"You've been an excellent host, Commander. It's the least I can do."

"Enterprise to Captain Kirk."

"Kirk here."

"One to beam down, sir."

"Go ahead."

There was a shimmer, then Chapel appeared. "Someone's in need of medical assistance?" She smiled gently, the way she always did.

Kirk saw Larkins eying her with interest. Too bad they weren't staying longer. It would probably do her good to have a little fun.

"Commander Larkins threw his back out. I thought you might be able to help."

She walked over to Larkins, scanned his back. "You've got a bad muscle pull. Does it hurt right here?" She gently probed his lower back.

Larkins winced. "Quite a lot."

"I'll fix it in a moment. But while I'm here, let's check you out thoroughly." She began to scan the rest of him. "You need to eat more vegetables, sir."

Kirk laughed. She gave him the very same lecture every time he had a fitness physical. "If you don't mind, Nurse, I'll leave you to it. I'd love to see some of this city before we warp out of here."

"Enjoy yourself, sir. I'll comm you when I'm done." She didn't look up from her scans.

And Larkins didn't stop watching her.

Kirk smiled and let himself out. He nodded to the lieutenant on duty, then strolled out of the Starfleet offices, into the hustle and bustle of Cacetor's busy streets.

Evindahr was a neutral world, and its capital city was a natural place for diplomatic, defense, and trade meetings. Starfleet wasn't the only military with representation there. The planet itself was lush and beautiful, and Kirk let himself relax for the first time in three days. There had been a lot riding on this trade agreement, and he knew that Starfleet had wanted it more avidly than normal. He was just glad he'd been able to help Larkins deliver.

Kirk wandered the city happily; an hour went by, then two. He began to wonder what was keeping Chapel.

He looked ahead, saw that something was blocking the street. Several people were standing and waiting for the blockage to be moved. He saw the man ahead of him duck into an alley, never breaking stride, his cloak billowing out behind him. Kirk decided to take the same shortcut, and followed him in.

When he entered the alley, the man was gone.

Kirk stopped, his hand reaching for a phaser that wasn't there, hadn't been there ever since he began the negotiations. He reached for his communicator, but before he could call the Enterprise, he felt the tug of a transporter beam, and then the alley disappeared.

He materialized in a stone cell. "What the devil...?" He grabbed for his communicator, realized it was gone.

He saw someone standing at the door to the cell, face covered by the hood of a cloak. The man from the alley. Then he heard a low groan behind him.

He turned. Chapel lay on the dirt floor, near the corner of the cell. She slowly sat up, rubbing at her head.

She saw him, said softly, "Sir?"

He turned back to the door. "What's the meaning of this?"

The man pushed his hood back, revealing his face.


"I'm afraid Commander Larkins has been permanently detained." The man began to work at a spot just under his ear. A moment later he pulled and a mask of Larkin's face came off.

Kirk stepped forward, studied the man's true face. He was a stranger. "Do I know you?"

"It was a long time ago, Kirk." The man smiled. It was an unsettling expression. "I'll let you think on it." He turned and left them alone.

Kirk hurried over to Chapel, helped her up. "What happened?"

She was gingerly exploring her scalp. "I had just finished up, was doing a final scan when I noticed something odd in the readings." She grimaced. "I looked away from him for a second and he hit me."

Kirk turned away, paced to the door of the cell, then back again.

"Sir, do you know him?"

Kirk shook his head slowly as he racked his brain for who the man might be.

"He seemed to think you should."

"I know."

She sat down on the dirt and leaned against the wall of the cell. He noticed that her nylons were torn, a long run ripping up her leg as she tried to get comfortable. She seemed to realize he was staring at her leg, looked down and ran her finger up the run, then pulled her skirt down a bit.

"I'm not scared," she said quietly. She looked up at him, her eyes calm.

"Of course not." He tried to smile reassuringly. Even though he thought she probably should be afraid. He turned and looked out the door. He was glad she hadn't come over to stand by him, hadn't seen the room beyond their cell door. A room that looked as if it had been set up for one thing only.



"I trust you've had ample time to think?" Not-Larkins said from the doorway. Chapel noticed that he'd dropped the British accent he'd used as Larkins.

Kirk walked to the door, seemed to study the man. She debated getting up, decided not to, just watched the two men. Not-Larkins was standing so still he seemed a statue. Kirk stood equally straight, but she knew he was using the moment to try to figure out who this man was.

"This is so disappointing, Kirk." The man pulled out a weapon of some sort. "Here I've waited all this time for revenge and you don't even remember me?" He held the weapon up. "Back away from the door."

Kirk didn't move.

The man shifted the weapon to point at Chapel. "I'd prefer to have her here, but we don't have to."

Kirk backed away from the door.

The man tossed a pair of restraints at Chapel. They fell near her feet. "Put those on your captain, my dear. Hands behind his back."

She didn't move. Looked up at Kirk, saw him move his head in some sort of message, a message she wasn't sure meant 'do it' or 'don't do it.'

Not-Larkins sighed. Then he made an adjustment to the weapon and fired at Kirk.

The captain writhed in agony as the beam caught him, the bolt seeming to hold him upright even as he moved in reaction to the pain. Finally, Not- Larkins released the trigger and Kirk fell to the ground, hitting the dirt hard. He let out a grunt as he fell, did not try to break the impact in any way. He lay silently, not moving.

She crawled over to him.

"Now, Nurse Chapel, do I need to repeat my instructions?"

She reached back for the restraints, secured Kirk's arms behind his back. "I'm sorry, sir," she whispered.

Kirk didn't seem to hear her.

"Good. Now come here."

She walked to him slowly. Her attention was drawn to his left, and she stared for a moment, trying to take in what she was seeing. She swallowed hard, her vision swimming. There were shackles on the wall; strange tables and instruments were the only things in the room. It occurred to her that a person standing at the cell door would have an excellent view of whoever was in the shackles.

She didn't meet his eyes, didn't want him to see how unnerved she was.

"Turn around." His voice was almost gentle. His hands were careful as he secured her hands behind her back. "Now face me."

She turned slowly.

"Look at me."

She tried to channel Spock, his ability to not show one iota of what he was feeling or thinking as she looked up at their captor.

He stroked her cheek gently. "Such a sweet face. It was a lucky thing you were the one who beamed down. It will make this so much more interesting."

She pulled away and he let her go. "When your valiant captain is himself again, tell him the name that's eluding him is Alesson."

She watched him walk away, then went to clumsily kneel by Kirk, helpless to do anything for him except be there while he recovered.


Kirk struggled to sit up, a haze of pain still surrounding him.

"You're in restraints, sir. And you may be in shock. Take it slow."

He wondered why Chapel didn't help him, then realized she must be in restraints as well.

He forced himself to move carefully, deliberately. Just sitting up was more of a struggle than he wanted to admit. His head swam once he made it, and he felt a wave of nausea come over him. He tried to fight it, but lost the battle, turning away from her and throwing up over and over, until there was nothing but bile left.

He stayed bent over, unwilling to look at her, afraid that his eyes would betray how helpless he felt at this moment. As long as he didn't see that reflected back in her face, it wouldn't be true.

"He said his name was Alesson."

Kirk closed his eyes. It had been years since he'd heard that name, or even thought about the man. Years and a thousand decisions ago. Decisions that had not gone as terribly as that one had.

"Who is he?" Chapel asked.

How could it be Alesson? He was dead. Had died in the fire that had roared through the camp. Died along with his followers and their wives and children. "He's dead."

"Not quite, as you can see for yourself, Kirk." Alesson was standing at the door.

Kirk wondered how much he had seen, then realized that the man probably had surveillance of some sort in their cell. No doubt he could see and hear them any time he wished.

"Your face." Kirk forced himself to keep his head up despite how it set the world spinning. He tried to focus on the man's features. Add ten years, factor in some burn therapy. Could it be Alesson?

The man stared back at him calmly. His eyes--a deep dark green--seemed to shine in the low light. They were very much like Alesson's strange emerald eyes. And he was the right height and build.

Kirk closed his eyes. Willing to accept. "I thought you died in the fire."

"You mean you hoped that I did," Alesson said with a smile.

Kirk could finally see the man he'd hunted for so many weeks.

"Ah, recognition at last." Alesson pulled out a small controller of some sort, keyed something in.

There was a whining sound, like a transporter, then a low trough of water appeared near the front of the cell.

"I imagine you are thirsty."

Kirk didn't move. He looked over at Chapel. She sat motionless, watching Alesson.

"Eventually, you'll get thirsty enough to drink." Alesson laughed, a low, mean sound. "Like the animal you will become by the time I tire of having you as my unwilling guest." He looked over at Chapel. "I'm sorry to force you into the same humiliation, my dear. But I know you'd help him if you had your hands free. And I can't have that."

He put the controller into his pocket. Reached into another pocket and dug out some rolls. He tossed them into the cell. They lay on the dirt, looked old, hard.

"Not the freshest, but then what did you expect? Gourmet meals?" Alesson tapped the bars, a strange smile playing at his mouth. "I'm so looking forward to this."

He laughed again, then left them. His footsteps reverberated through the room, then the door slammed shut and there was silence.

"Sir, you need to drink. We both do."

"Like a dog?"

"Is there another way?" Her voice was mildly sarcastic and he shot her a look. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. But not drinking will do neither of us any good. Water is imperative to survival. And to healing." She struggled to her feet, walked over to the trough and knelt down, bending low to taste the water. "It's relatively fresh at least," she said, looking over at him. "Sir. Please?"

When he did not move, she sighed, then bent to drink. He watched her, almost wishing that he could bend as easily as she did.

He shifted as much as the restraints allowed, was glad he had relieved himself earlier. They had each turned away while the other had used the far corner of the cell as a makeshift lavatory. If he drank water now, he'd just have to go again. And he imagined Alesson wanted that. Wanted them losing control enough to soil their clothing. To lose their dignity.

"Who is he?" Chapel was inspecting the roll. She grimaced, turned away from it and moved closer to him.

"A criminal." Kirk looked down. It had never been that simple. Alesson had been a freedom fighter. He had just chosen the wrong government to fight against--he and his people, and their women and small children.

He sighed. "It was a long time ago. We were sent to find him after he fled off his own world. He was an insurgent. Had quite a following."

"He was violent?"

Kirk nodded. Violent, obsessed with changing the status quo. Sure that the government of his planet--the government that had allied itself with the Federation--was evil. Alesson had been a fanatic and a killer, but even so the Federation representatives had tried to make peace, to find common ground with him.

It was only when Alesson had murdered the representatives and left them strung up in the town square that the Federation leadership had lost its patience and had sent Starfleet in to deal with him. Kirk had been the one to lead the hunt.

"There was a fire?" Chapel asked, wrenching him back to the present.

"We had him cornered. Thought he'd give up, for the sake of the families. But he didn't. The fire--they had weapons, ammunition, even explosives. It was a powderkeg."

"And you were the spark." She sighed. "You thought he died?"

Kirk nodded.

"He didn't." She shot him a wry grin.

"No. He didn't." He looked at her, searching her face for what she was feeling. "I don't think he'll hurt you."

"We don't know that." Then she shrugged. "We don't know that he plans to hurt you either."

He laughed, the sound of air being quickly expelled louder than he intended. "Oh, I think it's safe to say, we do." He nodded out toward the main room. "Why else would he have the torture chamber ready?"

She looked down. Didn't argue. He wasn't sure if that was good or bad.


Chapel watched Kirk, worried that he had still not drunk any water. He needed the water, was still in shock from the weapon Alesson had used on him. But trying to convince him to drink would be a wasted effort and she knew it.

She shifted, attempting to get comfortable, almost wished she hadn't drunk any water. She had to go to the bathroom, did not relish trying to get her pantyhose down and was not desperate enough to just go through them.

But she knew it was just a matter of time. And she couldn't let that stop her from drinking again and as frequently as she could. It would be humiliating to soil herself, but she might not have any choice.

Especially if Kirk wouldn't bend enough to drink. She had a feeling the restraints would stay on until he did.

She heard Kirk laugh bitterly, frowned. "What?"

"I was just thinking that if I hadn't been so damned nice, you wouldn't be down here."

She didn't tell him she'd thought the same thing.

He moved awkwardly and she sighed. "If you won't drink, you should try to sleep."

"I'll sleep if you do." He shot her an annoyed look.

"You need sleep. Whatever that weapon did, it took a lot out of you. You'll be no good to either of us, if you don't rest."

He looked away.

"With all due respect, sir. I don't think we're going anywhere for a while. Wouldn't it be better to try to sleep?"

"Spock will find us."

She took a deep breath. "Alesson is probably still pretending to be Larkins. I imagine he'll throw them off for a while." She leaned back against the wall. "We could be anywhere on the planet. He probably has shields."

"Chapel, I don't want to hear all the reasons our situation might be hopeless. I can't think like that. I don't want you to either."

She looked away. Chastened. "Yes, sir."

He sighed. "I didn't mean to snap."

"It's okay." She blinked back tears, knew they were from the strain. And from the fear she didn't want to admit to, fear that Kirk could probably see anyway. "I'm sorry."

He sighed again. Then he slowly stretched out, trying to find a comfortable position. He looked over at her, his eyes hooded.

She wished she knew what he was thinking. And what he thought of her. Feared she would come up wanting.

"So damned practical." He shook his head slightly, then closed his eyes. In moments, he was asleep.

Chapel tried to relax, let her eyes close and attempted to find a more comfortable way to sit. She could picture Spock as he worked with the supposed Larkins. Could see the Vulcan's sense of panic suppressed into tight-lipped control as he got no closer to finding his captain and friend. And her. She almost laughed. She knew she didn't rate as high on the Spock emotional scale as Kirk did. Not by a long shot.

It was something she'd learned to live with.


Kirk woke with a start, his body aching, thirst roaring. For a moment he couldn't figure out where he was and he stared at the bars on the door, at the dirt floor that stretched out to meet those bars.

Then he remembered.

He tried to stretch cramped muscles, sat up slowly. He looked over to where Chapel lay curled awkwardly on the floor, breathing the slow, heavy breath of exhausted sleep.

He heard the door open, pushed himself slowly to his feet. His head felt fuzzy and light and he closed his eyes, concentrated on staying upright. When he opened his eyes, Alesson was standing by the door.

Kirk walked to him.

"She looks very uncomfortable," Alesson said softly.

Kirk didn't turn to look at her. "She no doubt is. Isn't that what you intended?"

Alesson looked away from Chapel. "She fixed my back. This is no way to repay that kindness." He shrugged. "On the other hand, she fixed my back on your orders. And I'm not overly worried about how you're feeling about all this." He laughed, the sound barely audible. "It's up to you, you know."

"What is?"

"How long you have to wear those restraints. All you have to do is bend enough to drink."

Kirk took a step back, away from Alesson and the water.

"So she has to suffer because you're too proud to lap up the water you so desperately need?"

Kirk looked away.

"And you once called me rigid." Alesson shook his head. "You can't always win, Kirk. I know that must be a blow, but it's a fact. You won't win. You won't walk away from this."

"Neither will you."

"Why not? You think your intrepid first officer and his impending rescue are much of a threat?" Alesson grinned. "He's currently chasing a ship that left orbit around the time you disappeared. Smugglers, I'm afraid, so they'll probably be hard to find."

Kirk fought any reaction. This was not unexpected news. He hadn't expected Alesson to make it easy for Spock to find them.

"Oh, such a stalwart hero you are. Just as the reports always portray you. I followed them avidly during my convalescence. Even more so when I was amassing the fortune I needed to pull this off. The shields around this room are the most advanced money can buy." He touched one of the bars, slowly, almost lovingly. "I've waited so long for this. I plan to savor every moment."

Kirk felt his mouth twist as it tightened. Tried to hide his anger. "She's an innocent. Let her go."

"You want to protect her? That's good."

Kirk turned, saw that Chapel was watching them. She met his eyes, didn't look away. He saw that the front of her skirt was wet and she seemed to realize he saw it. She reddened, looked away.

"I'm sorry," he said.

She shrugged. "I had to go. There was no other way. Why be sorry?" But her face got even redder.

"So pragmatic. A pity your captain can't be the same way." Alesson sounded amused. "And it's your fault, Kirk. If you'd just drink, I'd free your arms. She knows that, don't you, my dear? That he's doing this to you."

"He didn't lock me in this cell," Chapel said, but there was something in her tone, something lost.

Kirk sighed. He walked to the water, knelt quickly, intent on getting this over with.

"No, sir. Not for me." Chapel tried to struggle to her feet.

"Don't," Kirk snapped at her.

She froze.

He bent down, lapped up the water with his tongue. It tasted like heaven.

"Come here, my dear," Alesson said gently. "I am a man of my word."

Kirk kept drinking, intent on getting as much water as his body needed. He knew that Alesson would move on to something worse very shortly. He'd been a fool to ignore Chapel when she'd told him the water was necessary. She'd been right.

He heard the sound of her restraints coming off. Felt her trying to take his own off, but she was clumsy.

"I'm sorry. My hands are asleep."

He nodded, kept on drinking.

Finally, she had his hands free. He pulled away from the trough, shook his arms out, trying to stop the pins and needles feeling that was shooting through his hands. "Let her go," he said again to Alesson.

"I can't do that. She is the witness."

"Witness to what?" Chapel asked quietly.

Kirk had the feeling she was trying to reach out to Alesson, trying to forge some sort of sympathy between them. Yes, Kirk urged her silently. Do that. He didn't think it would help him, but it just might save her life.

"The witness to his pain, his humiliation. To my victory over him." Alesson smiled; it was a dark expression. "You will be there to see when he dies. You will watch every moment of it and later you will tell the world what happened here. How I broke the great James T. Kirk." He backed away from the bars.

Kirk clenched his hands tightly. "You don't need her. I know you have surveillance. Let her go and let the images speak for themselves."

Alesson shook his head slowly. "You would not have drunk the water for some video images. Only for her. She is your witness. She is also your hostage."

Kirk had not expected his pleas to work, but disappointment for Chapel flooded him anyway. She hadn't asked for any of this, had no part in what had happened all those years ago. Her life had been hard enough. Now this. Because of him.

He turned to her. "I'm sorry."

She shook her head firmly. "No reason to be, sir. We're Starfleet."

Alesson drew his weapon. "Let's see if you say that in a few hours." He motioned Kirk out of the cell, closed the door behind him. He pointed to the far side of the large room, where the shackles hung on the wall. "Stand facing the wall and put your wrists against them. They lock automatically."

Kirk tensed as he walked, hoping Alesson would follow him. Ready and more than willing to jump the man.

"I'll hurt her if you try anything, Kirk. And I'm not fool enough to get close to you while you're free."

Kirk reached the far wall, stood staring up at the shackles, unwilling to reach for them.

"Kirk, I'm warning you."

Kirk didn't move.

There was a short blast, then Kirk heard Chapel scream. He turned, saw Alesson let go of the trigger and turn back to him.

"Shall I continue, Kirk? Would you rather I tortured her?"

"Sir, no. I'm all right." Chapel was struggling to her feet, pulling herself up by the bars.

"I turned the intensity down a few levels. I want her to be able to watch. But perhaps I should turn it up again for the next blast? Give her a taste of what you got?" His hand hovered over the weapon.

Kirk could feel his mouth tightening. Hatred for Alesson roiled up inside him as he turned and slammed his wrists into the shackles, which fastened immediately. He pulled, could feel that they were solid in the walls. He looked over his shoulder, back at the cell. It hurt his neck to hold it that way, but he could just see them. He turned back to stare at the wall in front of him.

"Very good, Kirk." Alesson laughed. "You see, my dear. How useful you are. Now watch. Watch it all."

"Don't do this. Please," Chapel said.

Kirk turned his head, saw her staring pleadingly at Alesson.

"Please don't hurt him. You don't need to do that. You've already beaten him. We're here, at your mercy."

Alesson laughed. "Yes, you are. What is your name, my dear?"

"Christine," she whispered.

"Christine. Such a pretty name. Such a pretty woman." Alesson caressed her face briefly, then grabbed her by the hair.

She cried out briefly, then bit back any other sound.

"I am not stupid, Christine. I will not be cajoled into mercy. I have no mercy inside me. Haven't since the day that man"--he pointed at Kirk-- "killed everyone I ever loved." He pushed her away. "Don't try to reach the man under the monster. There isn't one."

He strode away from her. Kirk heard him grab something off the table.

"Now do tell me if I'm blocking your view, Christine." He laughed to himself. "Have you ever considered what a laser scalpel could do in the wrong hands?"

"No, please." Chapel's voice was frightened.

"Oh, but you must have wondered." Alesson ran the scalpel down the middle of Kirk's sleeves, parting them, letting them fall away to expose skin. He did the same thing to the back and front of Kirk's shirt until it hung in tatters around him.

"So much for the proud Starfleet captain," he said, his voice a purr. "This is going to hurt."

Kirk swallowed hard. Steeled himself for pain.

But was in no way ready for the searing agony that went through him as the laser sliced through the skin of his arm. Alesson went just deep enough to cut, not enough to hit an artery or tendon.

"I had to practice a long time with this to reach this level of precision," Alesson said. "Went through a lot of people before I got it right."

He struck again and again. Kirk fought to not cry out. Fought to not try to crawl up the wall or tear his wrists against the shackles to get away.

He lost the fight.

Alesson leaned in as Kirk screamed. "The laser has one drawback. It cauterizes as we go. So the pain and damage just don't linger." He backed away.

Kirk heard a drawer being opened, heard Alesson rummaging through it.

Then he was back. He leaned in again, said, "Fortunately, I have many other toys."

Then he punched Kirk hard, in the ribs, something cold and sharp over Alesson's knuckles bit deep as he hit, tore skin off as he pulled away.

Kirk clenched his teeth as the next blow landed. He would not cry out. Would not.

But his determination could not stop the grunts as each punch landed, as the terrible pain came over him.

"Time to change toys again." Alesson sounded like a small child on his birthday, unsure what to do next. "You tell me, Christine. What shall it be? Fire or whips."

She did not answer.

"Oh, you're no help." He came back with a small torch, hit the igniter, held the flame close to Kirk's face. "Fire it is."

Kirk shuddered.

And eventually, he screamed.


Chapel sat in the back of the cell, unwilling to watch any longer as Kirk was tortured. If she could have crawled into the stone surface of the cell wall she would have. Anything to get away from the sounds, anything to not have to bear witness to her captain's pain. She put her hands over her ears, was crooning softly to herself when she suddenly realized that the screaming had stopped.

She looked up, saw Alesson staring at her in disdain. "Hardly Starfleet material, are you? All you have to do is watch and you can't even do that right?" He tossed her a regenerator. She stared down at it uncomprehendingly as he walked out of the cell.

A few moments later, he was back, dragging Kirk behind him. The captain was covered in burns and welts and cuts, blood and other things staining his uniform. His eyes were glazed and unfocused. She hurried to him.

"Fix him up. I want him good as new tomorrow."

She stared up at Alesson. "You can't be serious."

"Good as new, my dear." He headed for the door.

She rushed after him. "You really think I'll make him better just so you can torture him again?"

Alesson smiled. "Yes. I do."

"I won't."

He smiled, gestured at the regenerator. "Well, I suppose if you're clever enough you could figure out how to make that instrument deadly and use it to kill him." His smile turned mocking. "Of course, if you do kill him, I'll torture you instead." He stroked her hair, laughed as she jerked away. "And you don't have the courage for that."

"Maybe I'll kill us both."

He shook his head. "You have too much courage to do that."

"Maybe I'll kill you."

He smiled again. "You can dream." He pushed the door closed, set the lock in place. "Good as new, Christine. By morning."

She shuddered at how he made her name sound.


Kirk woke, blinding pain coursing through him, spasming in his back, his thighs, and his clenched hands.

"Shhh. It's all right now." A voice, gentle. Not the voice of his tormentor. Who?

"Captain, it's me. Christine."

"Christine." His voice was raspy, and he swallowed hard.

A wet cloth was placed near his mouth, liquid dribbling out onto his lips. He opened his mouth, let the water fall, little by little. "Thirsty."

"I know. But it's not good all at once. You're in shock." She pulled the cloth away.

He heard the splash of water, then the cloth was back, more liquid being squeezed into his mouth.

"Besides," she said softly, "we don't have a cup. I tore this from my uniform."

He remembered now. There was only the trough, and Alesson had wanted them to drink like animals from it. And they had.

He closed his eyes, felt a cooling sensation on his temple, heard the slight whirr of a regenerator. Good as new, Kirk had heard Alesson say that before he'd passed out. She had to make him good as new. So he could be hurt again.

He tried not to shudder.

"I screamed." It wasn't a question. He knew he had.

"You did. But you didn't tell him anything."

"He doesn't want to know anything. This isn't about getting information. This is about revenge." He tried to roll to his side, take some pressure off his torn back, but as soon as he did, his stomach started to throb. "This is about hurting me."

She eased him over, gently pulling what was left of his shirt from the wounds. He hissed as she worked, trying not to react with any louder sounds as pain rocketed through him--living for the moment that the blessed coolness would begin again.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, and he realized she was crying.

"Christine. It's all right."

"No, sir. It's not." But she kept working, her hands steady as she took his pain away. "He's never going to let us go, is he?"

"You, I think. As his witness. When he gets tired of this. But not me." Kirk closed his eyes, then opened them again, fighting sleep.

He did not want to wake just to find Alesson waiting for him.

"They'll find us. Spock will find us. You know he'll never quit looking." Her voice was low and she was doing something with her fingers, something nice to his temples. "He'll find us, sir."

He couldn't fight any longer. Not when his body was screaming for rest and her fingers were so soothing. He yawned, felt his lip, already split from Alesson's beating, tear some more and grimaced. But the pain couldn't hold him, neither could the taste of blood in his mouth. He let go and fell asleep.


Chapel fought sleep, sat vigil over Kirk as he tossed fitfully. She got up, walked to the cell door.

She leaned her head against the cool bars, gripping them as if she could tear them off.

"I trust you slept well?"

She had not heard Alesson come in.

She glared at him.

"How touching, my dear. How very much a testament to your profession. Keeping vigil. I did right to pick you as my witness, not that I had a lot of choice." He smiled at her. "I imagine you watch things all the time. Patients, the aftermath of the crew's adventures, life. Always watching. Never doing." His smile turned pitying, seemed laced with scorn, as if she didn't measure up. "You didn't sleep at all, did you?"

She didn't answer him.

He smiled. "Is he as good as new?"

"No. You hurt him too badly for that."

"As long as I can hurt him some more, I won't complain." He held up a whip, there were small bits of metal at the end of the straps. "Do you know what this can do?"

"I can imagine."

He laughed. "Soon you won't have to. Soon you'll see it firsthand." He stepped closer to her. "Do not retreat to the back of the cell again. You're no good to me as a witness if you don't watch."

She started to back away from him and he grabbed her, tearing at her hair again, the same place he'd grabbed her the last time. She cried out. He pulled her hard against the bars, her cheek hitting painfully on the metal.

"Leave her alone."

She could hear Kirk struggling to rise.

"Sir, no. I'm fine." She couldn't turn to look at him, Alesson held her too tightly. "I'll watch," she said softly.

"I can't hear you."

"I'll watch," she said, loudly this time.

Alesson let her go. "Consider it an education in pain. Surely useful in your profession?" He pushed her away, opened the door.

As he walked past her to get to Kirk, she kicked out, trying to use the skills they'd taught her in the mandatory hand-to-hand class all officers had to take.

Alesson was ready for her, grabbing her leg and yanking it hard, pulling her off her feet. She hit the ground, pain shooting through her hip as it connected with the hard floor.

"Do not do that again." He kicked her in the ribs.

She curled into a fetal position, agony running through her. She fought tears, knew her pain was nothing compared to what Kirk would soon be going through.

"Get to the door. Take your position."

She slowly pulled herself up, struggled to the cell door as Alesson pulled Kirk to his feet and dragged him back out to the shackles. She gripped the bars again, knew that this time she had to stay, had to watch it all. She felt sick, the pain in her ribs and hip mixing with her nausea at what was to come.

She held harder to the bars. She would watch. It had been cowardly to try to hide. She would not fail Kirk again.


Kirk fought Alesson as he secured his arms, tried to kick out at him and earned a punch in the kidneys. He groaned, pain from the earlier beating competing with this new agony.

"Coward," he said, making his voice strong, secure. In control.

He hoped.

"You think so? I went to considerable risk to secure you, Kirk. To myself and to my own personal fortune." His voice dropped to a whisper. "My new identity will be destroyed if I let her go. She can identify me. Maybe I shouldn't let her go? Our little witness? What do you think?" His hand was pressing in on a particularly sensitive spot on Kirk's shoulder.

"She's an innocent."

"I know. That's what makes this such a difficult decision." Alesson's breath was hot on his ear. "I hate you enough to make my own capture worth it. And how else will the world know what I accomplished here unless she goes free?" He laughed, a low, dangerous sound. "But freedom, on the other hand, is quite enticing. And she will be all that stands between it and me."

"She's done nothing wrong."

"She cares for you. That's enough."

"I'm her captain. That's all." Kirk struggled to breathe as Alesson pressed in on him. Then he felt his head wrenched back, turned to look at where Chapel stood at the door.

"She didn't sleep at all last night. Kept vigil over you. Is that what your crew does?"

"She's a nurse. And a good one."

"We'll see." Alesson let go of him and backed away enough to shake out the whip he carried. The metal ends hit against each other, making deceptively pretty sounds. "This will hurt quite a lot." He laughed, ran the handle of the whip down Kirk's spine.

Kirk shuddered. Control, he had to keep control.

Then Alesson stepped back, said sharply, "It begins."

He waited a split second longer than Kirk expected, just enough to throw him off, to make him wonder when the blow was coming.

Then Alesson struck, the whip singing as it flew toward Kirk, the metal pieces tearing into his flesh. The pain was unimaginable.

He didn't cry out. Not this time, or the next. Or the one after that. But he knew it was just a matter of time before he lost the fight. Before he lost control.


Chapel bit back a cry of alarm as Alesson finally lowered the whip. Kirk's back was torn to shreds; he sagged in the shackles, no longer crying out. No longer making any sound at all.

Alesson walked over to her. She forced herself to hold her position, to steel her expression to one that was slightly less horrified.

"He is brave, isn't he? Fighting to not cry out. Fighting to not lose control." Alesson touched her hand where it gripped the bars. "What would you give to make his pain stop?"

She looked up at him in surprise. "What do you want me to give?"

"Would you pleasure me? Make me scream as loudly as he does from the bliss you could give me?"

"If that would help him, then I would."

Alesson laughed. "Would you do the same for him? Make love to your captain with me watching."

Chapel met his gaze, tried not to flinch at the mockery in it. "I'd have sex with the Klingon high council if I thought it would help Captain Kirk."

Alesson laughed. "Finally, some spirit." He looked back at Kirk. "You do not have to do any of those things, my dear. Nothing will help him." He smiled, almost tenderly. "He will suffer here and, eventually, he will die here."


"Because he took everything I cared about away."

"You were a criminal."

"That depends on your point of view. To many, I was a hero."

"I think you're a madman." She realized that antagonizing him was not going to help either Kirk or herself. "But a brilliant one. You don't need to do this to be superior to him."

Alesson smiled knowingly. "Very good, my dear. Try to trick me some more." He pushed the door open. "Your captain needs your help."

She hesitated.

"Well, go get him down." He nodded toward where Kirk hung. "Just hit the little button."

She hurried past him, nearly running to the wall. "Sir? Sir, can you hear me?"

Kirk opened his eyes, tried to smile at her. "I'm fine, Christine."

She bit back a sob as she looked at his back. The metal pieces had cut deep, torn chunks of skin out. "Of course, Captain."

She reached up, saw a small button and hit it desperately. It released the shackles, and she caught Kirk as he sagged, was nearly dragged to the ground as she tried to support him. He cried out in pain as she touched his ruined back.

He was dead weight, barely able to walk despite his repeated claims of "I can make it."

She was breathing hard by the time she got him to the cell. Alesson mockingly bowed her inside. "Good as new, Christine."

She glared at him. "I can't. You did too much."

"You can. And you will." He laughed. "If it makes you feel better, I'll concentrate on some other area tomorrow." He shut the cell and locked it, then, with a pleased smile, he left.

Chapel felt all the bravado go out of her, bit back a sob as she gently settled Kirk on the ground face down, trying to keep his back as clean as she could. "I'm sorry, sir."

"Christine? Is that you?" He seemed disoriented, barely conscious.

She considered that a blessing.

"It's me, sir." She reached for the regenerator, began to try to repair his wounds.

Blood trailed down his skin as she worked, running onto her uniform and blending with the blood from the previous day. The smell of it, and of the torn flesh, made her sick but she fought the nausea.

"Sorry," Kirk muttered, wincing each time she moved to a new area.

"Sorry for what?"

"Can't protect you."

"No, sir," she said softly. "I know you can't." She ran her hands over his damp hair. "I wish I could protect you."


Kirk opened his eyes slowly, surprised to feel someone--Chapel, he presumed- -pressed against his back. He shifted slowly, felt her move away.

"Are you in pain," she asked, her voice soft in his ear.

He tried to turn, felt his stiff body refuse. "Yes."

"Can I help?"

He could feel her reaching for the regenerator. "Don't bother. He'll be at me again soon anyway."

"It could be hours before he comes back. Why should you be in pain?" She began to probe gently with her fingers, stopping wherever she provoked a reaction from him and treating it with the regenerator.

"The pain keeps me focused."

"Bull." She laughed softly, as if embarrassed. "I mean, I don't think so, sir."

He let her work for a while. "We stink."

"I know. Try breathing through your mouth."

Her pragmatism provoked a chuckle, despite how bad he felt. But the amusement died quickly. He tried not to think of what was to come, found he couldn't. "So what do you think he'll use next? We've done whips and cutting and fire."

She dropped the regenerator. "Don't. Don't joke about it." The last word came out as a sob.

He turned over, forcing his body to respond to his commands. It took longer than he liked, and her face was composed by the time he could look at her. "I'm sorry."

"You said that."

She started to work on his arms but he took the regenerator from her.

"Christine. It's okay to be scared."

She nodded but wouldn't meet his eyes.

He tipped her chin up. "I'm scared."

"No, you're not." She reached out, surprised him by stroking his cheek. "You're angry and you're in pain and you're probably feeling humiliated. But you're not afraid."

He smiled softly. "I can't be afraid?" He immediately wished he could take the question back when her eyes welled up with tears. "Christine."

"You can. You can if you want." She turned away, rolled over so he couldn't see her face anymore.

He sighed. "Did you sleep at all?"

"A little."

"Come back here." When she didn't move, he said, "Roll over. That's an order, Nurse Chapel."

She turned over. Her expression was haunted.

He studied her face. There were dark shadows under her eyes and her eyelids were drooping. "You need to sleep." He touched her forehead softly. "Close your eyes."

She shook her head. "I need to take care of you."

"You already did that. Now close your eyes. As you told me not too long ago, you're no good to us if you don't sleep."

"Promise me you'll sleep too."

He nodded. Watched as she closed her eyes, waited until she was asleep before he closed his eyes, and dropped back off himself.


Chapel was startled out of sleep by a loud bang.

"Rise and shine." Alesson laughed, then whapped the bars again.

She struggled to a seated position, saw that he had a metal pipe in his hand. He smiled at her then ran it across the bars, causing a terrible screeching clang.

Kirk stood up, walked over to the door. For a moment, she thought he was going to grab the pipe out of Alesson's hands. It looked like Alesson thought so too, because he backed up a bit.

"Ah, feeling better, Kirk? Looks like our nurse is finally earning her keep." He leaned in, said conspiratorially, "Do you know that she said she'd have sex with me if it would help you?"

Kirk didn't hesitate. "She's a loyal crewmember."

"Ah, very loyal. She said she'd have sex with you too." Alesson laughed. "Maybe she just likes sex? Ever think of that?"

Chapel bit back a retort; it wouldn't help the captain.

"You're in a good mood," Kirk said.

Alesson drew his weapon, threw the pipe away. "Yes, I am. Would you like to know why?" When Kirk didn't answer, he turned to Chapel. "Maybe you would?" He didn't wait for her answer. "See, I have this wonderful new toy. It's modified from a dream channeler. You do know what that is?"

Chapel nodded. They were all the rage. Shore leave tales were full of reports of the fabulous sex a person could have, all from a dream.

Alesson leaned in to Kirk. "See, she knows all about them. I think there's more than meets the eye to this one."

"Everybody's heard about them," Kirk said tightly.

"If you say so." Alesson opened the door, gestured for Kirk to come out. "The shackles are waiting, great Captain."

Chapel saw Kirk move, saw Alesson move just as fast. Kirk's hands were around Alesson's throat as the other man fired point blank into Kirk's chest. Kirk let go, fell down with a harsh cry. Alesson kept firing.

Then he stopped. Pulling the door shut with a loud slam and locking it, he said to her. "Take your place."

Chapel felt a surge of rebellion. "No."

He fired and pain filled her, pain so intense that her vision went black and her throat tightened up, making it difficult to breathe. She could feel her heart reacting, beating faster and faster. Too fast. If he kept it up, her heart would explode. She heard a scream, realized she was making the sound.

Then the pain stopped. She fell to the ground, sobbing in relief.

"Take your place."

She tried to get up but couldn't, and ended up crawling to the door, pulling herself up by will alone.

"There won't be much to see this time. It'll be happening in his mind." He nudged Kirk, forcing him to all fours. "To the shackles, you arrogant fool. And crawl if you have to."

Kirk pushed himself to his feet, staggered up to the shackles. Once he was secure, Alesson hooked another set to his feet, pulling them until Kirk was held tightly against the wall. Then he took the dream channeler, placed it on Kirk's head. The electrodes burrowed into his skull slightly, setting up the neural connections.

Kirk tried to get away, couldn't. He turned to look at her. His eyes slowly closed, and he sagged against the wall.

"Now, Captain Kirk," Alesson said, imbuing the title with disdain. "Let's find out what you fear? What's your worst nightmare, sexually speaking?"

He reached for a controller, watched something. Then he turned to her. "Like any dream channeler, this is looking for the strongest signal. The best reaction. But unlike your more mundane channelers, this isn't looking for pleasure prompts. It's looking for just the opposite. Oh, here's a strong one. Let's see what we've got."

He hit a button and Kirk suddenly straightened in his restraints. "What are you doing? Your different from a human woman. Oh. Yes. That feels good." He moaned, began to move against the wall.

Alesson looked back at her. "I guess we know what part of his body you'll need to concentrate on tonight?"

She didn't react, refused to give him the satisfaction.

Alesson was watching the signals again. "This is where it gets interesting. Watch."

Kirk suddenly stopped thrusting. "No! That hurts? What are you doing?" Then he screamed, loud, terrified. A worse scream than any he'd made when Alesson had physically tortured him.

Alesson hit a switch and Kirk sagged.

"I imagine he'll think twice before he beds another alien." Alesson grinned at her, as if it was a big joke the two of them were enjoying. "Let's see what else we can find." He waited for a second then hit the switch. "This should be good."

Kirk straightened up, tried to move his hands, as if reaching out to someone. "Spock? Spock, you have to let me help. I can't let you die."

Chapel closed her eyes. She knew this fantasy. When she opened her eyes, she saw Alesson was watching her, his smile grew mocking as he studied her.

She swallowed hard, forced her expression to clear, to be neutral. As if she didn't know where this would go if it was going to turn into a nightmare.

Kirk was moaning, moving sensuously against the wall. Then he jerked. "Spock? You're hurting me. Please, Spock. Stop now. Oh, god. Please stop."

In his dreams, Spock didn't stop. Kirk writhed, tried to get away. Then he screamed, screamed without ceasing.

Chapel stifled a sob. She knew this nightmare too. The Pon Farr gone bad. The one where Spock didn't love you, he killed you. Killed you with sex. It was a nightmare she had every now and then. Apparently, Kirk had it too.

Alesson let the scenario run on and on.

"Please stop," she begged.

He turned to her. "Do you think they're lovers?"

She didn't answer.

"I think they must be."

She shrugged, tried to make the movement as nonchalant as she could.

"Oh, fine. Be that way." Alesson hit the switch and Kirk sagged again.

This time he sobbed as he hung from the shackles.

Chapel closed her eyes. She hadn't thought that Alesson could break him.

Not until now.

"Let's see what else is in his mind, shall we?" Alesson watched her carefully, seemed pleased by whatever he saw in her face. "I'm sure there must be something worse he can think to do to himself."

She hoped to god he was wrong.

Unfortunately, he wasn't.


Kirk felt soft hands running down his back.

"Sir, it's me."

He flinched from her touch, aroused and terrified at the same time.

"It's Christine, Captain."

Christine? Yes, Christine Chapel. He was her captain. They were here; they were prisoners. Not having sex. Thank god they weren't having sex. He opened his eyes. "We're not having sex, are we?"

"No, sir," she said. "This is going to sting."

He felt a sharp tug on his scalp and winced.

"There, it's out now." Her hands were so soothing, running down his back.

He pulled away. They had all started out soothing, those lovers. Until they'd gone bad, started to hurt him. Or until he'd started to hurt them. "Get away from me."

She reached up, undid his shackles. "No, sir. It's all right."

He jerked away from her touch, fell to the ground hard, his hand hitting awkwardly, the angle all wrong. He heard bone snap, cried out at the sudden jarring pain.

He heard her sob. None of his tormentors had done that. But the ones he had hurt...they'd begged for mercy. Cried and cried and cried--

"I'll fix that. Just let me get you back to the cell."

Odd to think he'd be safe there. But he knew it was true. He'd be safe there...for a while.

He let her help him up, tried to walk on his own but staggered, didn't fall down only because she caught and steadied him. "Christine?"

"Yes, sir."

"It hurts." He looked down.

"You rubbed it. Against the wall." She sounded embarrassed. "I'll make it better."

He was suddenly mortified, realized what he'd said, what she'd said. "It's okay."

"Sir, you're bleeding."


"Not badly. Just..."

"Just let you work on it," he finished for her.

"Yes." She sounded grateful.

He wondered what she'd really meant to say.

He heard the door slam, heard Alesson's nasty laugh. "Hate him," Kirk whispered to Chapel. "I'm going to kill him. You watch."

Her hand tightened on his arm. "Shhh, it's all right, sir."

"How come you never call me Jim?" Did she not like him? He tried to look at her but his head was spinning. "I don't feel very good."

He felt her turn his head away, then he vomited. Over and over and over as she rubbed his back and murmured words he couldn't make out because of the pounding in his head.

He crawled to the water trough. Made a cup of his hands and drank. He tried to do it again but she pulled him back.

He felt a surge of anger. "I'm thirsty." He reached for the water.

She pulled his hands away from the trough. "Too much and you'll just throw up again."

"Don't tell me what to do." He pushed her away roughly.

She lost her balance, fell sprawled across the dirt.

He crawled to her, anger and fear filling him. Who was she to tell him what to do? "Don't push me."

"Sir, I'm just trying to do what's best for you."

Why wouldn't she shut up? She kept talking, tried to get up. He pushed her back down, his hands circling her throat. Then he began to squeeze, his hurt hand protesting. He ignored the pain.

"Captain, please stop," she croaked. "Jim, you're hurting me."

She'd called him Jim. And he was hurting her. Why was he hurting her? She took care of him. She was kind to him. The only good thing in this horrible place. He loosened his grip.

"This is an interesting aftereffect."

Kirk had forgotten his nemesis was watching. He let go of Christine, turned to the cell door. He stood, his hands outstretched. "I'm going to kill you," he yelled at where Alesson stood. Only there seemed to be two of his enemy, both laughing at him. Then there were four.

He collapsed before Alesson could multiply again.


"My, my," Alesson said. "I didn't know that would happen."

Chapel ignored him. Just went to work on Kirk's pelvic region, hoping she could get done before the captain woke up. His chest would need attention too. He'd rubbed it against the wall during his dreams, leaving a nasty abrasion.

"Ever the valiant nurse, aren't you?" Alesson crouched down, watched her intently. "I think he would have killed you if I hadn't distracted him."

"He isn't himself."

"Oh, you keep believing that. James T. Kirk is no murderer." Alesson pushed himself up. "Just ask my wife. Ask my children."

She turned on him, anger welling up inside her. "Why were they there if you cared so much about them? With your weapons and explosives. That was dangerous and you made it that way."

His face turned to stone. "Watch your tongue, Christine. Or I'll give you a ride on the nightmare channeler."

"You already have."

He smiled.

She turned away, started to work on Kirk's broken hand.

"Are you in love with him?"

She ignored him.

"Or is it just hero worship?" Alesson began to pace. "Was he kind to you at a difficult moment? Do you owe him for something?"

She remembered how Kirk had supported her when they'd found Roger. Yes, he'd been kind to her. Then and later. Always, really. He'd never teased her about Spock the way McCoy did. "He's a good man. A decent man. That's something you wouldn't understand."

She glanced at Alesson.

He didn't look particularly stung. "Yes, well, your good, decent man is going to die. And very soon." He smiled. "You've been an excellent witness throughout this. And a wonderful facilitator. Fixing him up so nicely. I don't know how I would have managed without your help."

She swallowed hard, did not look up.

"But you must be getting tired of just watching?"

She looked up at him.

"I plan to give you a far more active role in the next stage." He smiled, the expression so full of malice that she had to turn away.

He laughed. "Oh, don't fret, my dear. It will be over soon. And then you'll be free to leave. My witness to the world."

She shook her head. Not wanting to hear it, not sure she believed anything he said anymore.

Except she didn't doubt that he meant to kill Kirk. She wanted to think she wouldn't let him. That she'd stop him somehow.

But she knew it was a shallow hope.

Still, it was better than no hope.

"Well, I'll leave you to it. Pleasant dreams." He laughed again.

"You're evil," she said without turning.

He didn't reply, didn't even break stride as he walked away from her.

"Just stay asleep. And don't dream," she whispered to Kirk as she began to repair the small holes the electrodes had left in his scalp. "Don't dream at all."


Kirk reached out for Spock, saw his friend's expression shift. Spock changed to Elaan, then to Ruth. All of them intent on hurting him. He cried out, "No!" and jerked awake.

"Sir?" Chapel was watching him carefully, curled up on her side across from him. Not close enough for him to touch her.

He moved toward her and she flinched away.


She put her hand to her throat, an unconscious gesture, and he noticed a ring of bruises there. Had Alesson hurt her?

Then he remembered. Not Alesson. He had done it. "Christine. I'm sorry."

She scooted toward him quickly, as if she had seen something in his face that told her it was all right, that he wouldn't hurt her.

He wasn't sure he would have been that brave if the tables had been turned.

She slowly put her arm around him and he sighed at the feeling of contact. The dream was still with him, and he buried his head in her neck.

"Shhh. It's all right now. It's over."

He could still feel Spock pounding at him, could remember a dream where he and Spock had hurt Chapel. He tried to pull away, but she held him fast.

"It wasn't you. And it wasn't whoever you were with. They were all just nightmares. Do you understand?"

Nightmares. Yes, nightmares. Terrible nightmares. He sobbed, felt immediately ashamed of his weakness and wrenched away.

She let him go. Lay silently on the ground, tears running down her cheek, splashing softly in the dirt.

He watched her cry, his own need for release somehow contained in her tears. "I didn't mean to hurt you." He touched her neck, traced the livid bruises.

"I know."

He pulled his hand away. "I'll kill him," he whispered.

"I believe you."

He looked to see if she was humoring him, but there was something in her eyes, something calm and determined. She believed in him. After all this, she still believed in him.

"He deserves to die." Her expression was fierce but distant, as if she was remembering something. Something unpleasant.

"What did he say to you?"

"The usual. Mocking, hurtful things. I'll survive." She smiled strangely.

He moved closer to her, put his arm around her and pulled her in, until their foreheads were resting against each other. She moved her arm gently around his waist, her touch full of comfort.

"You can tell me anything," she said so softly he almost could not make out the words.

"About the dreams?"


He pulled away. "I can't," he said.

"It was Spock, wasn't it?"

He tensed and she held him more tightly. They lay chest to chest, her head in the space between his chin and neck.

"The Pon Farr gone bad? I have that dream too."

"Yes." The one word was utter surrender and she seemed to realize it.

She rubbed his arm slowly.

"Yes, that was it." Other images assailed him. He had not always been the victim in the nightmares. "I hurt people."

"You didn't hurt anyone. They're called bad dreams for a reason, Jim. Because they're just dreams, not real."

He liked the sound of his name on her tongue, how it made him feel closer to her and more human.

"Alesson said..." She shook her head, trailed off.

He waited. Finally, he asked, "What did Alesson say?"

"He thinks you and Spock are lovers."

Kirk sighed. "He isn't the only one." He started to pull away.

"Please, don't. I'm sorry." She sounded miserable.

"You just had to know?" He was irritated with her, but let her pull him back against her. "You couldn't leave it alone, chalk the closeness I have with him up to friendship--the kind that comes along once in a lifetime, if you're lucky? I trust Spock. Trust him with my life. With my ship. With everything I have."

"I'm sorry," she said again.

They lay in an uncomfortable silence.

"You have the same nightmare?" he finally asked.

She nodded against his chest. "Only I'm not his friend."

"I know." He didn't say it to be cruel, but his tone came out harsher than he intended. "I mean--"

"--I know what you mean." She shifted slightly. "You need more sleep. We both do."

He knew she was right, sleep would heal him. Just as long as there were no dreams.

"I'll be right here," she said. When he didn't close his eyes, she sighed. "Then eat something. The rolls are still good, barely."

"You ate?"

"And you should too."

His stomach protested the idea. "Not hungry."

"Then close your eyes. Sleep. I'll watch over you."

He kissed the top of her head. "You're brave."

She pulled away, looked at him, meeting his eyes. "No, I'm not. I haven't been." She looked down. "How many times have I had a chance to do something and I didn't take it?"

He frowned. "To do what?"

"Fight him. Distract him. I don't know."

He smoothed back her hair. "You did try. I remember that."

"I never tried again."

"Maybe that's not your role here? Maybe it's your job to get out of here? To bring him to justice?" He looked away. "Once I'm dead."

"Don't talk like that." There was something wild and haunted in her eyes. "I don't want to hear you talking like that."

He closed his eyes. Pretended to sleep and then yawned as he felt his body relaxing, giving in to sleep for real.

Her hand traced patterns on his back and she whispered, "Spock will find us, Jim. He will."

Kirk nodded, but in his heart he knew that Spock would only find one of them alive. He would only find her.

If she was lucky and Alesson didn't kill her too.


Chapel paced the cell, trying not to make any noise as she walked. Unwilling to wake Kirk, but antsy, sure that Alesson would come in at any moment. She'd been up for hours, walking, moving, trying to do anything but sit and think. She'd run through human anatomy, Vulcan anatomy, and was now moving on to Andorian anatomy.


She turned, saw Kirk struggle to his feet and head for the part of the cell they used as a latrine. "Turn around."

She did as he ordered, tried not to notice how bad the cell smelled, how bad they smelled. She pulled at her dress; it was stained with his fluids and some of her own. "How are you feeling?"

"I'll live." He said it almost defiantly. "You can turn around."

She did, watched him walk to the trough, scoop out some water. It was no longer fresh, in fact, they should probably be worried about what might be growing in it.

He sighed, looked over at the roll, which at this point was more like a rock. "Is that still safe to eat?"

She nodded. "I think so. If you don't mind a little mold? But soak it first. You'll break a tooth on it otherwise."

He grabbed the roll, dusting the dirt and mold off before soaking it in the water, then biting gingerly into it. "Terrible," he said with a grimace.

"Better than nothing."

He shrugged, his concession to the inevitable, she supposed.

He met her eyes, then his gaze traveled down to her neck, to the bruises he had put there. "What I did...if I hurt you..."

"You didn't. Not permanently." She smiled.

He shook his head and looked away.

She walked over to him, knelt down. The last remnant of her panty hose split as she did so and she sighed. "Quite the attractive pair we are."

He smiled slightly, tugging at his ruined shirt. "Yes, very pretty." He pulled the shirt off and tossed it on the ground.

"Even beat up, you're still the golden boy." She shook her head, dug her fingers through the hair she had long since let out of its intricate bun. It was hopelessly tangled. "I doubt I can claim that."

"You look good." He touched her knee. "Threadbare but good." He turned his hand over, palm up.

She took it, felt him squeeze. He didn't say anything, just held on to her.

"I'm sorry," she said. "What he did to you--"

He held up his other hand, his lips twisting. She shut up, settled for holding on tight to him. Kirk let her hand go, moved closer to her and pulled her down to sit against him, his arms coming around her. His skin was warm against hers. At least Alesson kept the place heated. Probably didn't want to risk losing his prize to shock.

Kirk's arms tightened around her. Somehow she knew that he was trying to comfort himself as much as her. She felt his face on her hair, and she turned slightly, wrapping her arms around him and holding him.

Neither of them said a word for a long time. Then he pulled away.

"Where is he?" Kirk asked

"He hasn't been here at all."

"How long have you been awake?"

She looked away. "Long enough to know he hasn't been here at all."

He touched her cheek. "You don't have to watch over me."

"What else am I good for? I'm the witness." She spat the word out, sick to death of being the observer.

He sighed. "Being the witness may save your damn life, Chris."

She smiled. "My mom used to call me that."

"Do you mind if I do?"

She shook her head. "Not at all, sir. It sounds nice. Nobody calls me that anymore."

"Call me Jim. You did earlier."

"Jim." She smiled. "Not many people get to call you that."

He looked away. "I know."

"Do you ever get lonely?"

"I'm human, aren't I?"

She laughed. "Oh, yes. You're very human." She touched his hand, tracing the veins. Blue veins on pale pinky skin. Human. Not a Vulcan. Not an android pretending to be human.

Kirk slowly drew his hand away.

She looked up. "Sir, I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by that."

"Shhh." His look was infinitely gentle. "You may not have meant anything, Chris, but I'm feeling a bit vulnerable right now."

She could feel her face redden.

"Stupid, isn't it?" He laughed bitterly. "They were just dreams."

She looked at him, suddenly understanding what he was saying. "So, you weren't aroused, just now? You were afraid?"

"I prefer wary. And you might not want to make sweeping assumptions on the aroused part." He seemed to shudder slightly. "How many hours was I under that dream thing's spell? Five? Six?"

"A lot more than that, I think."

He nodded. "I keep seeing...things. Hearing...things. Me, the person I was with. Always hurting. Always pain."

She swallowed hard. "They were just dreams."

"Dreams that wouldn't end. Dreams that follow me now into sleep. That I can't shake even when I'm awake." He wrapped his arms around his body, seemed to pull away from her even though he had not moved.

"I'm sorry. I know I can't understand what it was like."

"No, you can't." He sounded tired, snappish.

She didn't push it. Turned away. "I'm tired too."

"I know."

She heard him scoot over to her, felt him urge her down to lie on her side. He followed her, pulling her against him, her back to his chest. He felt warm. Warm and solid next to her.

How long had it been since she'd slept like this with a man? Had it been since Roger--the real Roger? Had it been years since she'd been touched?

Too long. Too damned long.

"Sleep," he whispered, his arm wrapping around her waist, coming to rest just under her breasts. His touch might have been lewd, but it wasn't, instead it felt comforting, made her feel more secure.

She closed her eyes. "Maybe he'll never come back."

"Maybe," Kirk agreed.

It was too much to hope for, and she knew they both realized it. But it was a nice thought to go to sleep by.


Kirk listened to Chapel breathe, waiting for Alesson to interrupt them, to bring back the pain and the fear. He didn't want to admit it to her, but he was afraid to relax, afraid to let down his guard.

Afraid that the minute he did, the door would slam open and his enemy would come striding to the cell door. And it would begin again.

Pain. Humiliation. Despair.

Kirk took a deep breath, fighting for control. Felt Chapel tense in his arms and realized he had woken her up.

"Jim?" She tried to turn, but he held her against him.

"Don't." Don't look at me, he wanted to tell her. Don't push me. Don't watch me as I break.

She seemed to understand, lay still and pressed herself more firmly against him.

He buried his face in her neck. Just to hold her was a comfort.

He wondered why Alesson allowed it.

She sighed and he pulled away thinking she was uncomfortable.

Her hand on top of his stopped him. "Don't."

He knew she meant, "Don't go. Don't leave me. Don't pull away."

He wondered when they had learned this strange code, where one word could mean so many things.

She shook and he realized she was crying. "Chris. No."

"I'm so afraid, Jim. I'm afraid he's going to kill you and I won't be able to stop him. I won't even be able to try."

"Shhh." He stroked her hair. "Spock will come through those doors any moment."

She sniffed. Clearly didn't believe him.

"He will. He'll save us." He closed his eyes. When had he given up on saving them himself?

"You're a good man."

He smiled.

"I mean it. You're a good man. And this shouldn't be happening to you." She turned in his arms, faced him.

He wiped her tears away. More took their place.

"You've always been kind to me," she said.

"It's not hard to be kind to you."

Her look grew shuttered.

"What?" he asked softly.

"I think it is hard to be that way with me."

"Roger wasn't kind?"

She smiled grimly. "Roger and I had an intellectual partnership. He was not tender. Not mean but not particularly kind. Cold at times, like Spock." She looked down. "And he treated me like McCoy does sometimes. As if I didn't matter. As if I didn't exist."

"I can't believe that. I saw how he was with you. The android Roger, I mean. But he was built from the real thing. His memories. His feelings."

She shook her head. "Memories grown much fonder when he was the only human among those androids for all those years. Feelings that he never expressed to me until it was too late, until he was gone and all that was left was a mechanical body full of longing and delusions."

Kirk didn't know what to say, didn't know how to make it better.

She looked up at him. "In all my life, I've never felt this comfortable with someone." She shook her head again. "What does that say about me?" She began to cry again. "What does it say that I can just stand by and watch while he hurts you? When you've been kind to me. You've always been kind to me."

"Shhh." He pulled her close, let her cry. Almost wished he could allow himself the same release. "You have no choice. You have to make it out of here. He'll kill me but he very well might let you go. Don't do anything to jeopardize that. That's an order, Chris."

She looked up at him, an unexpected spark of defiance in her eyes. "I won't let you die. Not if it's in my power to stop it."

He smiled sadly, brushed her hair back. "It won't be. But I appreciate the sentiment."

She looked away from him. "We'll see."


The door slammed open and Chapel felt Kirk pull away from her. He sat up with a start; she was only a moment behind him.

"Hello." Alesson smiled in a way she thought very dangerous. He pulled his weapon out, pointed it at her as he unlocked the door. "To the shackles, Kirk. Now."

When Kirk didn't move, Alesson fired at Chapel. The pain was worse than before; she fell back to the dirt, body convulsing in pain. She tried not to scream, tried not to give Alesson what he wanted. She resisted for mere moments, then her screams filled the room.

He fired on her forever. She gave up hoping it would stop. But it finally did. She rolled over, coughing hard, unable to catch her breath.

Kirk was there, touched her shoulder. "Chris?"

She couldn't get any words out, was fighting just to breathe.


"She'll be fine, Kirk. Now get to the shackles. Or I'll hurt her again."

Kirk stood, walked past her.

"Jim, no."

He didn't stop, just walked away from her as she pushed herself up, fighting to stay upright. She heard the sound of the shackles closing.

"Come out, my dear." Alesson walked away from the cell. "I told you that you would be involved in this stage."

She pushed herself up slowly, fighting vertigo and muscles that wanted to cramp. She took a step, then another. Into the main room to where Alesson stood.

He had his weapon trained on her.

She grabbed one of the tables for support. "What do you want from me?"

"You've been such an outstanding angel of mercy. It's only right that you now get to play the angel of death." He gestured to a hypospray that sat on the table. "It's poison. Quite instantaneous. He'll barely feel it." He smiled. "You must give it to him."

She pulled her hand away, took a few steps back.

"Tell her, Kirk. Tell her to do it." Alesson laughed, the sound was bitter, as if he was not happy with how things were going. "As you suspected, I've been watching your touching private moments. And you weren't far wrong when you told her that your Vulcan friend would be coming through those doors at any minute. We have more time than that, but not much more." He walked over to Kirk. "I'll let her go. But you know the price. You've always known the price. You, the man who never gives up, are going to have to surrender. If you want her to live."

"Jim, no."

"I'll kill her first if you prefer. She can die at my hand, her screams loud in your ears. And then you'll die too. Is that what you want? Is that how you'll repay her for her kindness?"

"Don't listen to him," she said.

"Chris. Come here." Kirk's voice was pure command. No hesitation at all. Ordering her. Ordering her to come to him. Ordering her to kill him.

"No." She backed farther away.

"Chris, get the hypospray and come here."

Alesson backed away. Out of Kirk's range. Far from her too. He kept the weapon trained on her.

"Chris, please." Kirk's voice was less sure, rigid, tortured. As if she was making this hard on him. Harder than it had to be.

She sobbed. Took the few steps back to the table, grabbed the hypospray. The metal felt cold in her hands. Cold and dangerous and impersonal. No way to bring death. No way to snuff out such a bright light.

A light the universe needed.

She walked to Kirk. Her eyes locked with his and she said softly, "Not if it's in my power to stop it."

His eyes widened. "Chris. No."

She slammed the hypospray home. Into her own arm. Then she smiled at him. "I'm tired of watching. This is something I can do."

The poison burned as it went in. She felt dizzy, lost her balance and collapsed onto the floor.

"Chris!" Kirk thrashed above her, trying to get out of the shackles.

She felt a tugging pain in her chest, clutched at her throat, trying to breathe.

"Oh, that's wonderful." Alesson ignored the furious Kirk, knelt down beside her. "Did I say it was instantaneous? I must have been confused." He helped her sit up. "It's actually quite slow acting. He'll have ample time to watch you die."

"No," she said, as despair filled her.

"Oh, yes, my dear." He smiled almost tenderly at her. "I've upgraded you from spectator to pawn." He looked up at Kirk. "One that I'll sacrifice because it hurts you."

She jammed the hypospray against his arm, let whatever poison remained in the instrument flow into his body. She only hoped it would be enough to take him with her.

He just laughed. "I took the antidote before I came in. Did you think I would risk you using the poison against me?"

He pushed her away. Pulled his weapon back up. "Get him down. Go back to the cell."

She just stared up at him. "You wanted me to do this...why?" she asked, hating how helpless she sounded. How weak.

"Watching you die for him now that the two of you have gotten so close? Why, what greater torture could there be?" Alesson stepped away. "You should work on your self-esteem in the time you have left, Christine. Don't you realize that you're the reason he keeps fighting?"

She pushed herself up, the pain in her chest enough to make her move very slowly but not getting worse. Not yet.

She reached up to release Kirk's shackles, grimaced in pain as the movement sent a wave of pain down her arms, and into her back. "I'm sorry. I thought I was--"

"--Shhh." He pulled her to him, helped her back to the cell.

Kirk eased her down to the dirt floor, then he turned to Alesson. "You mentioned the antidote on purpose."

"Very quick, Kirk." Alesson smiled. "There may be a way for you to win it." He laughed. "I'll be back later. When she's in more pain. Oh, and in case you haven't figured it out, your Mister Spock is still chasing will- o-wisps some distance from here." He laughed, and the mocking sound seemed to echo in the room long after he was gone.

"He played me," Chapel said, unable to meet Kirk's eyes.

"He played us both." He knelt down next to her. "How can I help?"

She shook her head. "I'm not sure you can. We don't know what he meant by slow acting. Hours? Days?" She forced herself to look at him. "I'm sorry."

He sighed. Pulled her close, tried to make her comfortable. "I'll get you that antidote."

"It's just more games, Jim."

"I know. But I'll get it for you anyway."

She had never heard him sound more certain about anything.


Kirk sat quietly, trying not to wake Chapel as she lay with her head in his lap. For once, he hoped that Alesson would show up, would give him a chance to make things better. Just the hope of it...he'd take just the hope of helping her.

She moaned and he dipped the rag he'd torn from what remained of his uniform shirt in the trough, squeezed it out, then wiped her damp forehead and cheeks.

She opened her eyes. He wondered if she had slept at all. Her face tightened and she tried to shift. Tears welled in her eyes, and he closed his eyes at such a visible sign of the pain she was in.

Pain that was only going to get worse.

Pain that he blamed himself for. He should have known what she was going to do. Should have realized that they were being manipulated. That her very presence in the cell was to bring him down, to make him suffer more when she was gone. He imagined his death would not be quick or anytime soon. Alesson would want to let him suffer. Alone. Guilty.


"Hmm?" He forced his features into something less angry, less gravely concerned. Less full of hopelessness.

"I'm thirsty."

He scooped some water, dribbled it into her mouth. "More?"

She nodded, then grimaced at the motion.

He gave her more water, then stroked her hair, trying to help her relax. She closed her eyes and he thought she had dropped off. He touched her cheek, letting his hand drift over the planes of her cheekbones, to touch her lips. He shook his head, looked away.

She moaned, awake again, or never asleep to begin with. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

"What are you sorry for?"

"Everything." She blinked hard and a tear worked its way loose, trailed down her cheek. "You would have been better off with anyone else."

He smiled softly, wiped her cheek. "That's not true."

"I can't fight."

"You have a gentle touch." He shrugged, careful to keep the movement from jarring her. "You can learn to fight. Security runs classes."

She smiled sadly. Didn't respond.

He stroked her hair again. "What else do you want to do with your future?"

She looked away. "I don't have one, Jim. I can't pretend that--"

He briefly touched his hand to her lips. "Stop it, Chris. It's not pretend. It's faith. In the future. In our future. Alive, back on the Enterprise. Out of here."

She sighed.

"Do you see your future on the Enterprise? You've stayed on, but your search for Roger is long over."

She nodded. "Yes. Long over. Too long." Her expression became remote, as if she was seeing into the future. "I'd like to finish my degree."

"Your MD?"


He nodded. "When we get back, you should apply."

"I missed the deadline." She saw his look and smiled slightly. "I think about doing it all the time. I just never do it." She shook her head. "I'm an observer even in my own life."

"You don't have to be."

He stopped stroking her hair, and she leaned into his hand, pressing against him like a cat asking to be petted. He smiled, moved his hand down her hair again and heard her sigh. He felt a rush of tenderness for her, knew it was exactly what Alesson had planned for him to feel as soon as Kirk had called Chapel down from the ship and into this nightmare. But he couldn't push the feeling away just because he knew he'd been manipulated into opening up to her.

He had opened up to her, and she to him. They were connected now. No matter what happened, he knew neither of them would ever be the same again. And no one would understand what they had gone through.

"You're so sweet," she said, her voice barely more than a whisper. "I never knew that."

He smiled. "Don't let it get around. It'll ruin my tough guy image."

His smile faded. Some tough guy. A tough guy wouldn't be afraid to sleep, wouldn't feel a shiver at the thought of dreaming.

A tough guy would have gotten them out of this.

Her hand came up to rest on his. Their eyes met and he wondered if she could tell what he was thinking. There seemed to be infinite compassion in her expression. Forgiveness for them both.

"I'm glad it's you," he whispered.

She nodded, then gasped as another wave of pain seemed to crash over her. It lasted longer than the others, took more time for her to relax.

He took a deep breath. Fought off his impatience. Alesson was watching them. He'd come when he was ready. And Kirk had to be ready for him.

To do what, he had no idea. But knowing Alesson, it wouldn't be pleasant.


Chapel moved and pain roared through her body, ending up as a searing flash in her head. She closed her eyes, tried not to groan. She knew Kirk was worried about her, didn't want him to see how much worse the pain had become.

But then another wave took her, more intense than before, and she cried out before she could clamp down on the sound.

"Chris." He was out of words. Just said her name every time she groaned or called out.

"I'm all right," she tried to say, but the words came out garbled, even to her.

"Shhh," he said. "Just be still."

She wished she could be. She wished that she could turn over without pain, or close her eyes and fall asleep. She felt nearly sick with her need for sleep, but the pain kept her awake, kept her from doing more than drowsing.

She had expected Alesson to show up, to torment them, mock her pain and make Kirk humiliate himself for the antidote. But he had not come. She began to wonder if there even was an antidote. She briefly fantasized that Alesson was lying sick too, from the poison she'd injected him with, dying alone just outside the door. He'd die and then she'd die and then Kirk would be left in the cell, alone.

Alone with her dead body. She wondered if Alesson would drag her corpse out when she was dead. Or would he leave her there to rot, to torment his enemy.

"Chris," Kirk lay down next to her, careful not to jar her. He wiped off her face, his touch gentle, his mouth set in a firm line.

He was not giving up. She wished he would. She was tired of keeping up the act. Tired of pretending that she believed they'd be rescued.

The outside door opened and Kirk jerked. He rolled away from her, went to the cell door.

"Eager to see me, I imagine." Alesson held a hypospray. "I bet you can guess what's in here."

Kirk moved toward him.

Alesson nodded. "You realize you have to win it."

"Jim. No." It hurt her to talk.

And it had no effect; Kirk kept moving away from her.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked.

Alesson smiled. "Tell her about that day. The day you murdered my wife and children. The day you rained fire down on us." He leaned forward. "Tell her the truth. The truth you've probably never even admitted to yourself."

Kirk's lips tightened.

Alesson shrugged, put the hypospray back in his pocket. "I guess your reputation is more important to you than she is." He started to walk away.


"Let him go, Jim."

Alesson turned back. "Tell her the truth about that day."

Kirk turned to her; she saw something haunted in his eyes, before he seemed to steel himself. "I was younger than. Not as experienced."

"Ah, the excuses start."

Kirk shook his head slowly. "Not excuses. Just background. I was overeager maybe." Alesson made a noise of disgust and Kirk said quickly, "I was overeager. No maybe about it. I ordered the attack on the compound. We used too much force." He looked down. "I didn't know that the weapons were stockpiled. Our intelligence didn't include that fact. And you had them behind shields. We didn't know."


Kirk sighed. "I didn't know. I ordered too much firepower. The compound went up...too fast, much too fast."

"So, whose fault is it that my wife is dead? That she was burned to death in the conflagration you called down?"

"Mine," Kirk said softly.


"Mine!" Kirk yelled. "It's my damned fault that she's dead. Are you happy? Does that make you happy?" He pointed at Chapel. "She had nothing to do with it, Alesson. Nothing. And you torture her despite knowing that. What I did was an accident, but what you do is on purpose. That makes you worse than me."

Chapel smiled, was glad that Kirk was fighting back, even if it wasn't going to win them any points with their tormentor.

"No, Kirk. Unlike you, I'm a merciful man. I'm willing to give her what she needs. If you beg me for it."

Kirk sank to his knees. "I beg you."

Alesson raised an eyebrow, seemed amused. "Hardly heartfelt."

"I beseech you," Kirk said, the words still sounding forced.

"Try harder."

"Jim. No more."

Kirk looked back at her. "She helped you. She touched you and healed you." He looked at Alesson. "She moved you; I saw how you looked at her."

"That was just interest in my new toy."

"She's a good person. Better than you and I. Not involved in what we do. Not a fighter but a healer. We need people like Christine Chapel. We can't afford to kill them. Without them, we'd have no reason to be better than we are. Without them, we truly become animals, no mitigating presence in our lives."

"She's not in my life, Kirk. She's in yours. And not for much longer if you can't be more convincing than that."

"Please?" Kirk closed his eyes. "Please? I beg you." His voice trailed off.

"I'm just not moved."

"Go away, Alesson," Chapel managed to say, even though the words seemed to rip through her lungs, pain searing her throat and mouth with each syllable. "Let me die in peace. He'll never beg enough to make you happy. He's not capable of it, and I'm glad he's not."

"She'd rather die than have you beg further. Speaks even though it hurts her." Alesson stepped closer. "I find her argument compelling. Here."

Kirk opened his hands, caught the hypospray as Alesson dropped it into his hands.

He hurried to her, laid the hypo against her arm. There was a hiss, but no tingle, no feeling of liquid being aerosolized and forced into her skin.

"Empty." She shook her head slightly. "More games, Jim."

Kirk tore the hypospray open. There was no canister inside.

"Oh, did I forget this?" Alesson was holding up a glass vial, in his other hand he held his weapon. "The last dose I have. I should be careful. This glass is very brittle." He held the vial out, waited for Kirk to come near him. Then he dropped the vial just before Kirk reached for it.

The glass shattered on the hard dirt floor.

She could only see Kirk's face from the side, but his jaw tensed, his lips tightened and he launched himself at Alesson.

Alesson fired.

But Kirk didn't fall down. With a scream that seemed equal parts rage and pain he flew into the bars, reached through, grabbing Alesson's hand and forcing it back, turning the weapon against him.

Then it was Alesson who screamed.

Chapel forced herself up, ignoring the pain as she watched Kirk holding down Alesson's finger over the trigger. Alesson fought hard, trying to shake Kirk loose but he couldn't. He screamed again, short bursts of anguish and then one long scream as Kirk did not let up.

A few minutes later, Alesson quit fighting, his legs jerked and Kirk caught him and pulled him closer to the bars, wrenching the gun away, still firing.

Alesson went limp. But Kirk didn't stop the beam. He didn't stop until much, much later, when the weapon ran out of charge. Even then he kept his hand on the trigger, didn't let go of his enemy but sank to the ground with him, pushing the weapon against Alesson's head.

Chapel forced herself to crawl to him. She bit back a cry as the motion set her nerves screaming. "He's dead, Jim. Let him go now. You killed him. Just like you said you would."

He looked over at her, his eyes blank, no recognition. Then he seemed to come back from whatever place his rage had sent him. He let go of Alesson, ran his hand down her cheek. "I said I'd get you the antidote."

She looked down at the shattered glass. "It may not be an antidote. It could just be water."

"It's the antidote," Kirk said stubbornly. He began to rifle through Alesson's pockets until he found the key to the cell and opened the door. Kicking Alesson's body out of his way, he went to the table near the shackles, where the hypospray had been, began to rummage around.

When he came back to her, he had a small container in his hand. He crouched down, picked up the bottom of the vial, where a small amount of liquid remained and put it in the container, sealing the top. "Bones will be able to make more." He helped her up. "Can you walk?"

She wasn't sure she could, but found herself nodding.

He smiled. It was a scary expression, as if he were not quite back yet. As if he were still firing at Alesson. "I'll help you. We're going to make it, Chris. You have to hold on."

Pain erupted again as he pulled her to her feet but she didn't cry out. He supported her as they walked out of the cell, over to the table. She held on while he looked through the rest of the drawers. He found another weapon in one, their communicators in another.

"Kirk to Enterprise."

There was nothing.

"Shielded," she croaked.

He nodded grimly, helped her out the door and into a plain hallway. A long, steep flight of stairs was the only way out.

He tried the communicators again. Nothing. "We have to go up."

She felt all her strength ebbing. "I can't."

"You can, and you will. That's an order, Nurse Chapel."

She felt stung, tried to straighten up.

He held on to her. "I'll help you, Chris. We'll make it together."

She nodded, trying to fill herself with faith and determination. It lasted all of five steps.


Kirk was sweating as he manhandled Chapel up the staircase. She was trying to help, but her strength had given out about three quarters of the way up. He'd have picked her up if he wasn't afraid that his own strength would give out.

"Jim. Please." She turned her head, threw up again.

He noticed there was blood mixed in with the bile.

"Come on, Chris. Just a few more steps."

She sobbed, pushed herself forward, and he steadied her.

"That's it. That's right."

They finally reached the top. He eased her down, then pulled out the weapon, pushing the door open slowly.

There were no guards, no appearance of activity in what looked like the main floor of a private dwelling. He hefted Chapel up, helping her out into the hallway. He pulled out a communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."

As he expected there was nothing.

Chapel sighed.

"They're out of range. We need to find a stronger communicator." He stroked her hair. "I have to figure out where we are. Will you be all right alone for a few minutes?"

She nodded.

He settled her into a chair, then hurried down the hallway to what looked like the main door. A panel beeped intermittently, and he studied the readings. It was a shielding mechanism of some sort. He turned it off. The beeping stopped.

He pushed the door open. Saw that Alesson had moved in across from the Starfleet outpost. The man had balls, he'd give him that.

He hurried across the street, startling the same lieutenant who had been on duty the day he disappeared.

"Sir? But we thought--"

"No time. I have a critically ill officer. Can you hail the Enterprise?"

"Yes, sir. They're on their way back. Shall I call a medic too?"

"Yes. I'm across the street, I'll leave the door open."

"You've been across the street this whole time?" The man was clearly confused.

"It doesn't matter, Lieutenant. Tell the Enterprise maximum warp. I need them here now!" Kirk ran back across the street, was nearly run down by a local transport as he did so.

He ignored the driver's angry yells, tore up the stairs and back into the house. He hurried down the hall, afraid that he'd find Chris dead.

She wasn't. She looked up as he ran toward her.

"Help is on the way." He smiled at her, was disheartened at how much effort it took for her to nod. He knelt in front of her. "Maybe I should have left you down there. The stairs were too much..."

She flinched. "No."

He couldn't stand the thought of her lying there next to Alesson either. "No," he agreed. "You're strong, Chris. You'll get through this. You eat all those vegetables, remember?"

She smiled slightly. "I don't."

He shook his head. "Just the standard lecture, huh?" He ran his hand down her hair. It was matted and dirty, and he wondered if she would be able to work out the knots or if she'd have to cut it off.

He heard a strange wailing, realized it was some sort of emergency siren. Several medics came up the stairs, running down the hall toward them.

They had a transport gurney but he waved that off. "My ship is on the way. Is there anything you can do for her now?"

One of the medics scanned her. "She's dehydrated." He turned to his partner. "We need fluids. Type 5-4b." He saw Kirk's frown, smiled gently. "Human, sir."

Kirk nodded.

The other medic attached a drip mechanism to her arm.

"I've been poisoned," Chapel said, each word a struggle. "It's systemic, slow-acting. Loss of motor--"

The medic laid a gentle hand on hers. "It's all right, ma'am. I can see what's going on." He scanned some more. "I can help you with the pain." He reached into his bag, brought out a hypospray, filled it with a combination of things. At her look, he nodded gently. "Don't worry, this won't sedate you."

Chapel nodded. As he sprayed the mixture into her arm, her face relaxed. She smiled up at Kirk.

"Spock to Kirk."

Kirk flipped the communicator open. He'd never been happier to hear Spock's voice. "Kirk here."

"Sir, I am extremely gratified to know you are all right. I assume Miss Chapel is the critically ill officer?"

"That's right. I need you here at once. Poison. I have the antidote"--he saw Chapel shake her head--"possible antidote. McCoy should be able to synthesize it."

"We should be there in twelve point five minutes."

"As fast as you can. Kirk out."

The medics stood. "That's all we can do for her, sir. We'll stay here until your ship arrives."

"Check him out too," Chapel ordered.

Kirk was amused that neither medic argued with her, just began to scan him.

"He's probably dehydrated too," she said.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Doctor," Kirk whispered and she smiled slightly. As soon as she was out of the woods, he'd make a call to Starfleet Medical. See what strings he could pull. Or get McCoy to use his contacts. Maybe that would be better.

The medic fixed a fluid drip to his arm, it stung at first where it was attached, then the anesthetic kicked in.

"Sir, I don't think I want to know what you've been through." The medic glanced over at Chapel and she shook her head in agreement. "Are you in pain?"

"I'm fine."

"You need rest. Both of you do."

"He won't rest," Chapel said, sharing a long look with the medic.

"Gotcha." He reached into his bag, began to mix up a hypo.

"No meds," Kirk said.

"It's just an immune system enhancer, sir. And a vitamin supplement."

Chapel nodded. "It'll keep you going."

Kirk nodded, let the medic inject him.

The man smiled, said softly, "She's strong. And she has you. That's important."

Kirk smiled, unaccountably touched by the man's words. After Alesson's cruelty, the gentleness of these strangers threatened to undo him.

Chapel touched his hand, smiled in a way that let him know she understood what he was feeling. Kirk nodded, squeezing her hand very gently, afraid he'd hurt her. He watched as the medics cleared their things, moving a discreet distance away.

The first one brought a chair over. "You'll be more comfortable in this, sir."

"Thanks." Kirk pulled the chair close to Chapel's, took her hands. "The pain is better?"

She nodded.

"They'll be here soon, Chris."

"Thank you." Tears welled in her eyes.

He leaned in, touched her cheeks, wiping the tears away as they fell. "For what?"

"For killing him. For making it stop."

"I wish I could have done it sooner."

"Doesn't matter when you did it, just that you did it." She leaned back, closed her eyes. Seemed to find it harder to breathe.

Hurry, Spock, Kirk implored. Please hurry.


Chapel was fading in and out of consciousness. She felt Kirk's hand on hers, could feel the hiss of a hypo as the medic gave her another dose of painkiller.

Then she heard Spock's voice again. She groaned as Kirk drew his hand away.

She tried to concentrate, could only make out a few words. Enterprise. Medical team. Standing by.

Then she felt Kirk gently pull her to her feet.

"We're going home, Chris," he whispered, as he held her close, supporting her as the transporter took them.

A second later, they were in the transporter room. She saw Spock step up to the pad, felt his hands on her as he helped Kirk move her. Heard McCoy say, "Where's the antidote?"

"Probably not. Just a trick," she muttered, not sure if anyone heard her.

Kirk said fiercely, "It's the antidote."

"We'll find out."

The room began to spin and the corners of her vision became dark and blurry. She looked up at Spock. "He's hurt too. Don't let him..."

Then the world went black.

She woke again in sickbay, the room was darkened and she was afraid for a moment that she was going blind. She tried to move, realized they had restrained her. She began to fight, pain overwhelming her as she did so. She faded in and out, felt hands on her, soft voices begging her to be still.

She tried to breathe, couldn't get in any air. Coughed, the action only bringing more pain. But no air. She coughed again.

"Just hold still, Christine," McCoy said.

She tried not to gag. Felt him stick a clearing tube in. She nearly threw up as it hit the back of her throat, clearing away blood and mucus.

Her head flared with pain and she pulled away. The tube was pulled out of her mouth and she breathed deeply. Then the pain in her head intensified and she cried out.

Kirk leaned in again. "Shhh, Chris. It's all right."

"Here, you do this," McCoy told someone. M'Benga? Or one of her nurses? "I have to check on the antidote."

She tried not to move, tried not to make the pain in her head worse by shifting. Her throat sealed up again and she was lifted up, the tube used. She gagged, nearly threw up again.

It was harder to breathe. She moaned. She could hear the biobed readings dropping. Pulse, respiration, everything dangerously low.

She wanted to give up, to let go. Would have, if Kirk hadn't been there, urging her to fight.

But even that couldn't hold her forever. The readings were whispers. She wanted to quit fighting. She was so tired.

"Can you help her, Spock?"

"I can try," Spock said. Then he was hovering over her, his hands reaching for her face.

"No," she tried to pull away.

"He won't hurt you, Chris." Kirk smoothed her hair back.

She relaxed at the familiar feel of his hand on her. "Jim?"

"I'm here." He leaned in. "It was the antidote, Chris. McCoy is making more now. It won't be long. But you have to hold on."

The world went black again and she cried out.

Then she felt his hand on her hair again, thought she felt his lips on her cheek.

"Spock is going to help you. You have to let him. Will you let him?"

Her vision cleared and she saw them both, so close. She was breathing hard, pain rising in her chest with each breath.

"Do it, Spock."

Spock's hands touched her face. They felt hot against her already clammy skin. She tried to get away, felt his fingers pressing against her cheek. She cried out.

Then she felt his mind, trying to reach hers. Gentle and concerned. He wanted to help her. For Kirk's sake. And for her own. His mind overwhelmed hers, and she let go, let him lead her somewhere dark and quiet. The pain lessened and she lay still.

"Yes, that's it. Just rest." Kirk's voice was soft.

She smiled. "Jim." Felt the word echo in Spock's voice deep in her mind. They both loved him so. She smiled. Tried to thank Spock. Sensed him telling her no thanks were needed.

"Rest," Kirk said.

Spock's mindvoice reinforced the suggestion.

She let the blackness take her.


"I hope it's not too late," McCoy said as he injected Chapel with the hypo.

Kirk paced, looking at Spock who shook his head slowly. Kirk didn't want to ask if that meant the Vulcan thought she had time, or that she'd run out. Spock frowned, then moved his other hand to Chapel's face.

"No," Spock whispered. "Stay."

Chapel thrashed under the restraints, as if in some kind of weird reaction to the antidote.


McCoy shook his head helplessly. "She may be too far gone."

Spock tried to hold her head still as she moved, managed to maintain the meld.

She finally lay still. Breathing heavily but something in her face looked better.

"Yes, relax. Sleep now." Spock slowly pulled his hands away from her.

McCoy watched the readings on the biobed. They were all heading upward. "It's working."

Kirk sagged into the chair by the bed. "Thank god." He suddenly felt overwhelmed, took a deep breath, then another.

Alesson hadn't won.

"I killed him," he said, looking up at Spock. "The man who took us."

"Yes, Jim, I know. I sent a team down to search the house you were held in. They found surveillance video; I had it transferred to the Enterprise."

Kirk nodded.

"The man who took you? Who was he?"

"An old enemy. His name was Alesson."

Spock waited, seemed to accept that Kirk wasn't going to say more. "They found traces of DNA--more than just yours and Miss Chapel's--in his basement."

"Larkins probably. And others. He practiced..." Kirk closed his eyes.

"We will try to find out who they were. Notify their next of kin."

Kirk nodded. Then he yawned, a huge yawn. He could feel his eyes drooping.

McCoy nodded at Spock. The two of them walked over to him, pulled him from the chair and led him to the next bed.

"She will recover," Spock said.

"Now, you have to rest." McCoy watched as the biobed began to record his readings.

"No, she still needs me."

"I will stay with her until you wake," Spock said.

"You need sleep as much as she does," McCoy said, as he pumped a hypo into Kirk's arm. "This is just a light sedative. It will help you relax."

Kirk saw McCoy lift the restraints, began to panic, suddenly back in shackles, waiting for Alesson to move on him. "No!"

"It's okay, Jim." McCoy dropped the restraints, grabbed for another hypo and shot him with it. "This will help you sleep. Just for a while. No restraints, I promise."

Kirk saw Spock and McCoy trade looks. He turned, saw Chapel sleeping too. "Chris," he said softly, reaching out to her before finally surrendering to sleep.


Chapel rolled over, felt a tug of discomfort as she did so. She slowly opened her eyes, took a tentative breath, realized it didn't hurt to inhale.

"Are you feeling better?"

She turned. Saw Spock sitting by her bed. "Jim?"

Spock motioned to the next bed.

"You had to sedate him?" She smiled slightly.

Spock nodded, looked slightly amused also. Then his expression grew more serious. "We were fortunate that the antidote worked. You nearly died."

She nodded, taking another deep breath. She grimaced. "I smell like I died."

His eyebrow rose. "You have been through a lot."

"I know what you did for me. Thank you."

He nodded.

They sat quietly for a few minutes. Then he leaned forward. "I have watched the video. I know what happened in that basement." His face clouded.

Chapel thought of the dream channeler, how prominent a role Spock had played in that, even if only in Kirk's mind. "Then you saw how brave he was."

"I saw how brave you both were."

"It was hell, Spock." She smiled wryly. "Made the Platonians look like amateurs."


She was distracted by the sound of Kirk calling out; he thrashed a bit, then sat up with a loud, "No!"

"Jim?" Both she and Spock said it at once.

"I'm fine. Just a dream." He saw her concern, looked away for a moment. He was breathing hard, and she saw a sheen of sweat on his forehead.

Not a dream, a nightmare.

Spock rose slowly as Kirk stretched, then swung his legs over the bed and eased down.

"Are you all right, Jim?" he asked.

"I'm fine." Kirk walked stiffly over to her bed. His smile for Spock was warm and welcoming; it became even more so as he looked down at her. "How are you?"

"I'll be fine," she said. And for the first time since their nightmare had begun, it wasn't a lie.

Kirk nodded, then turned to Spock. "A man of your word, as ever, Spock. I'm awake. I take it you've been here since you and Bones ganged up on me."

"I have," Spock said, making no attempt to defend whatever he and McCoy had done. He looked down at her, then over at Kirk. "If you will excuse me?"

Chapel smiled at him. "Thank you."

Spock nodded.

Kirk walked to the chair as Spock moved away. As they passed, he touched Spock on the arm, then turned back to her, sinking into the chair and smiling, as if he couldn't believe she was all right. "You're really okay?"

She nodded. "He didn't win."

"No. He didn't." Kirk leaned in. "He underestimated you."

"I don't know about that."

He nodded. "I do."

They sat in silence, an easy silence, filled with nothing. And everything.

He took her hand, squeezed it gently.

She squeezed back, harder. "I won't break."

"I know." His expression darkened.

"You didn't break, Jim."

He nodded, but something seemed less assured in the way his shoulders were set, in how he looked away rather than meet her eye.

"Why don't you go get a shower? Get back to real life. I'll be fine. And jealous."

He smiled.

"I don't think I'll ever be clean again," she said, trying but failing to find a way to breathe that did not include smelling how ripe her odor had become.

"I know the feeling," he said, again his expression darkened.

"Go, Jim. You have reports to file, no doubt. And a ship to check on. I'll be here when you get done. Or if I'm lucky, McCoy will release me and I can shower."

He nodded, stood slowly. Then he leaned down, laid his lips on her forehead. "I thought you were going to die."

"You didn't show it. You kept me here. I was afraid to disappoint you."

He smiled. "You couldn't do that if you tried."

Their eyes locked and held, and she reached for his hand again. He squeezed, hard this time. The touch comforting, familiar now.

"Go. Get clean. And eat something," she said, pushing him away.


"Anything you want. Just stay away from moldy rolls."

He laughed, but not very hard.

"We have to be able to talk about it, Jim. Repressing what happened isn't a good idea."

"I know." He gave her hand a final squeeze and left.

She watched the door close behind him, saw McCoy come out of this office. She looked over at him.

McCoy smiled, walked over to her with a glass of light green liquid. "You gave us quite a scare, darlin'."


"Even poor Spock was worried about you." He handed her the drink. "Supplements. Just what the doctor ordered."

She sniffed. "New flavor?"

"Mint julep."

She laughed.

"Or lemon-lime. I get mixed up." He smiled down at her.

She sipped at it.

"Drink it all, Christine."

"You're a lot worse than I am. How about letting a body finish this in peace?"


She rolled her eyes, but did as he said. The last bit went down the wrong way and she began to cough.

He took the glass from her, put it down then steadied her as she coughed.

When she could finally talk again, she said, "See, slow is better."

"I stand corrected," he said.

"When can I go, Len? I'm dying to get clean."

"You aren't released, not by a long shot. But you can use the shower in the break room if you want."

"Really?" She pushed the covers off.

"Slowly. And not a long or particularly hot shower."

She nodded, let him help her out the bed. She took a step, expected to feel weaker than she did. She took another step, then another. Smiled as her strength seemed to come back with each new movement.

"You're a hell of a lot tougher than anyone knows, Christine." McCoy walked with her to the break room. "Although I think Spock is deeply aware of that after that meld. And Jim seemed certain he could keep you here with us."

"By his will alone," she said with a smile.

"Will. And maybe something else? The experience down there brought you two a lot closer?"

She shot him a look, but there was no condemnation in his expression. Nor was he trying to pump her for gossip. He looked curious, but more in a professional way than personal.

"Just ask what you want to ask."

"Torture's a tricky thing. And being held captive. A lot of potential problems for both of you, if we don't work now. He's going to resist that idea. You may be able to sway him when the rest of us fail."

She nodded, not surprised at where he was going. "He's traumatized. He bore the brunt of it."

"You're not free of this either. After all, you're the one who nearly died."

She nodded. "We both probably need help. But he may not open up."

"Starbase Two is on our way. I'm going to recommend to Jim that you both spend some time there. You'll back that recommendation?"

She nodded. She didn't relish intensive face time with the counselors. But she understood the dangers of post-traumatic stress as well as McCoy did. "He won't like it though."

"He doesn't have to. It's standard policy. And I'm CMO. And you're my secret weapon." He handed her a towel and a new gown. "Go. Get clean. Then back to bed. Understand?"

"Change the sheets on the bed?" she said with a cajoling smile.

"I'm a doctor not a chambermaid." When she shot him a pleading look, he gave a resigned sigh. "What I do for my friends."

"Thanks, Len."

She waited until he was gone, then stepped into the small shower room, closing the door and pulling off the medical gown. She let the sonic shower work at her. After a while she switched to water, trying with little success to work out the tangles in her hair.

Finally feeling clean, she turned the shower off and got dressed. She tried to get a comb through the ends of her hair, ended up tearing the knots loose with a few choice swearwords.

She studied her long hair. When she was released, she'd cut it off. Maybe go back to her real color. It had been years since she'd been a brunette. She walked out of the break room, saw McCoy in his office. "I don't suppose you'd call the barber down?"

He shook his head. "When you're all better. Not before."

She made a face at him.

He was not moved. "Go back to bed."

She knew better than to argue. Plus he was right. She needed sleep. The shower--as lovely as it had felt to get clean--had tired her out.

She lay down on the bed, was touched that McCoy had added an extra pillow. She let her head sink into it, and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.


Kirk sighed, finally feeling clean again. He pulled on a new uniform, and hurried out of his quarters. Sickbay was quiet when he got there. McCoy looked up and smiled at him. He motioned that Chapel was asleep and that Kirk should come over.

"She's all right?" Kirk asked as he sat down in the chair across from McCoy.

"She will be. How are you?"

"I'm fine." He hurried on, did not want to talk about what had happened. "Listen, has Chris ever mentioned going back to med school to you?"

"Sure, every semester. But she never does it. Why?"

"I think she's ready to do it. But she's missed the application deadline, right?"

McCoy nodded.

"You have any contacts that could help make that deadline a bit softer?"

McCoy leaned back in his chair. "I suppose so. And I'll be happy to. If she asks me, Jim."

"She will." Kirk smiled.

"Well, she won't be doing that right away. You know there are topnotch medical facilities on Starbase Two?"

Kirk frowned. "I thought you said she was going to be fine?"

"She will be. You both will be. But as part of the healing process, you need to see the counselors at Starbase Two."

Kirk could feel himself shutting down. Hadn't Alesson screwed with his head enough? Did he now have to open himself to some Starfleet headshrinker's questions? "I don't think that's necessary, Bones." He stood up. "But I appreciate your concern." He began to walk out of the office.

"It wasn't a suggestion, Jim."

Kirk froze.

"It's an order."

Kirk turned around, could feel his mouth twisting. "You can't--"

"I can and you damn well know I can." McCoy stood up. "Now, do you want to inform Chekov of our change in heading, or shall I?"

Kirk stared at McCoy, as if he could make his old friend back down under his glare.

He should have known better.

"Fine, I will," McCoy said with a resigned shake of his head.

"I will." Kirk walked to the communications console, slapped the button down. "Kirk to Chekov."

"Chekov here, sir."

"A small course revision, Mister Chekov. New heading to Starbase Two." He saw McCoy raise an eyebrow, waiting for the rest of the order. "Mister Sulu, warp five."

"Aye, sir." Chekov and Sulu responded together.

"Kirk out." He backed away from McCoy, wouldn't look at him.

"I'm sorry, Jim. It's for your own good."

Kirk didn't reply, just walked out to the ward area, taking the chair next to Chapel's bed. It took him a moment to realize she was awake and watching him.

"Starbase Two, huh?"

"You knew?" he asked.

She nodded. "Post-traumatic stress is--"

"--Don't you start on me too." He got up, began to pace.

"Jim, you were having a nightmare. I saw you wake up from it."

"So? A nightmare. Everyone has one now and then."

"What was it about?" She met his gaze calmly.

"Nothing. Just nightmare stuff." He walked back to the bed.


He looked away.


He nodded. "Just a dream." He sat down. Took her hand, realized her hair was still damp, that she smelled good. "McCoy let you shower?"

"Yes, and don't try to change the subject." She shook her head. "These dreams...they'll only get worse."

He nodded. He lacked the energy to fight her.

"Was it Spock again?"

"No. It was you. I was hurting you."

She squeezed his hand. "It was just a dream."

"Didn't feel like it."

"Well, that's why we need to see the counselors. They're good at this. They'll help us."

"Are you having nightmares too?"

She shook her head.

"You're lucky."

"Traumatic stress can show up in a lot of different ways. A panic attack some moment when I least expect it, headaches possibly, or depression. The idea is to work some of the stress out before it manifests. Head it off at the pass?"

He smiled slightly at her efforts to make him understand. Then he looked away. He knew she was right. But seeking treatment seemed awfully close to bending.

To admitting he'd been broken.


He turned back to her.

"I know you'd never hurt me." She let go of his hand, reached up and stroked his cheek. "You have to believe that too."

"I want to believe that. But..." He sighed.

"Why don't you go up to the bridge and let me sleep?"

Her eyes were so gentle, her touch on his face so careful. He wished he could crawl into the bed with her, lie pressed against her the way they had in the cell. Just the two of them. No world, no tormentor, no reality of stress and therapy and choice taken away again.

He leaned down, kissed her forehead. "Sleep well."

"We'll be okay, Jim."

He wished he could believe her. He turned, then remembered what else McCoy had said. "Tell McCoy if you want to go to med school. He can pull some strings."

She nodded, but something in her expression seemed off.


"You want me off the ship?"

He looked at her in confusion. "No."

Her face fell more.

He walked back. "I don't want you to go, Chris. But you need to do this."

She nodded, not looking at him.

He had hurt her. He leaned down, his hands on either side of her face. "Get that damned degree and then come back to me." He kissed her on the lips. A light kiss, one that he tried to keep just friendly, but her lips opened to him, and the kiss deepened despite his best intentions. She gave a low moan, her arms coming around him.

He pulled slowly away, his hands shaking. His nightmare seemed to superimpose itself on top of her. He saw her bleeding and in pain, hurt by him, by what this could lead to. With a low animal sound of fear, he pulled away from her. "I'm sorry."

"Jim. No. It's all right." She reached out for him again.

But he kept seeing the dream Chris lying on his bed, eyes glassy. In the nightmare, he'd cut her throat, let her bleed to death as he'd used her. "No!"

"Jim, please."

"What the devil is going on here?" McCoy took one look at Kirk's face and reached for a hypo.

"I'm all right, Bones." Kirk fought the panic, forcing himself to breathe more normally.

"You're a long way from all right, Jim." McCoy took a step toward him, but he didn't reach for the hypo again.

"Bones, I'm fine." Kirk tried to grin, knew that he failed but kept the expression up as he headed for the door. "Duty calls."

"Oh, no you don't. You're off duty, Jim. Stay here, or go to your quarters. But you're not to go near the bridge. You understand?"

Kirk nodded. Threw a shamed look at Chapel, then hurried out.

End part 1 of 2