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

Part 2 of 2

McCoy turned to her. "You want to tell me what that was all about?"

She shook her head. Still shaken by what had just happened. The kiss and his reaction to it.

He'd kissed her.

She'd kissed him back.

It had been so nice. Until he'd panicked. She sighed.

McCoy sighed. "Okay, you're not going to tell me."

She realized McCoy hadn't seen the kiss, had probably only come out when Jim yelled.

"Alesson did a number on him."

"I watched the video. That was a dream channeler?"

"A modified one, yeah."

"You know those link to neural pathways. There is a residual effect."

She nodded.

"If he's dreaming, the dreams could get worse before they get better. He was on that thing for hours."

"I know." She looked away. "He's not cracking up."

"I didn't say he was." McCoy sat down on the bed across from her. "But he's not exactly himself either."

"I know," she said again. She turned over, stared at the ceiling.

"You'd tell me if you thought he was in trouble, wouldn't you, Christine?"

She turned back to him, surprised he even needed to ask. "You know that I would."

He stared at her, as if measuring her words for truthfulness. Finally, he seemed to relax. Walking closer to the bed, he asked softly, "So, you really thinking of going back to school?"

She nodded.

"You want me to make the call?"

"Would you?"

"Yep." He got up. He walked into his office, came back out with a padd. "Start on the application." He smiled at her, the open, easy smile she loved. Then his look grew more serious. "I know I haven't always been the easiest guy to work for."

She shrugged.

"I do value you. You're the best damn nurse I've ever worked with and you'll make an outstanding doctor." He seemed to be tearing up.

She smiled, touched. "I'll miss you too, Len."

"Hell of a time to spring this on me." He turned and walked back to his office.

She heard him make the call to Starfleet medical. Knew that Kirk would follow that call up if he had to with one of his own, to someone in Command who could make things happen.

Her future awaited. Whether she was ready for it or not.

She put the padd down, closed her eyes. Her future could wait a few hours.

---------------------------

Kirk stood next to Chapel on the transporter pad. McCoy had only just released her from sickbay. She pulled at her new uniform, saw Kirk watching her and stopped fiddling.

"Energize," he told the transporter tech.

"Energizing."

The transporter room disappeared, to be replaced a moment later with the transporter room on Starbase Two. Kirk picked up their bags and with a nod to the Starbase transporter tech, led her out into the busy corridors.

They rode a shuttle to the medical facility, were waved through the front entrance and walked through a garden area to the reception.

The aide on duty smiled at them. "Captain Kirk. Ensign Chapel, we've been expecting you."

She gestured to a waiting tech who took Chapel's bag from Kirk, then said, "This way, ma'am."

Kirk felt a moment of panic. "Where are you taking her?"

The aide looked up for her terminal. "She's in the junior officers' quarters, sir."

Another tech appeared. "If you'll follow me, sir."

Kirk saw Chapel look back at him, she looked slightly unnerved at being separated from him and it made him feel better that he wasn't alone in his anxiety. He steeled himself, nodded to the tech, followed him to the senior officers' quarters.

He could almost feel the Enterprise warping away without him. Spock had orders to deliver some medical supplies to Vedilon Prime. They'd be back to pick up Chris and him once they put their tangled psyches back together. Or tried to.

He stowed his bag in his room, followed the tech to the first of what seemed interminable tests and appointments. He was soon sick of being probed, poked, and studied. He was even sicker of answering questions about how he felt and if he was sleeping well.

The last doctor he saw prescribed some medicine that he hoped would help suppress the dreams by reducing the triggers his own body was producing-- hormones and neurotransmitters that rose with each dream, causing more dreams, which caused the hormones to elevate again in a vicious cycle. Kirk hated the idea of taking medicine, hated the way it made him feel. As if he wasn't in control, wasn't all there. But he was also exhausted enough to try them. The chance of falling into a dreamless slumber was too good to pass up.

But barely two hours into his sleep he awoke, crying out. He clenched his jaw, waiting to see if his cries had roused anyone. They had not.

He tried to relax. Was too keyed up to fall back asleep. As he lay in the dark, he started to feel sick. Nausea welled up, and he imagined a war going on inside him between the medicine he'd been given and the dreams. He tried to ignore the sick feeling, but then the room started to spin. He gave up and went to the bathroom, throwing up over and over until his stomach ached with dry heaves and his throat burned. The dreams were preferable. At least he wasn't useless after one.

He walked shakily back to the bed, trying to take slow deep breaths. The doctors had explained to him how the dream channeler worked. The pathways that had been burned into his brain would eventually lose power, but now they were open and all leading to the same thing. Bad, bad dreams. He needed to relax, stop the rise of neurotransmitters and hormones that only made the dreams stronger.

If he needed to relax, heaving his guts into the head night after night was not the way to do it. His body ached, his hands were shaking, and he felt dehydrated. Gingerly sipping water, he sat up reading for the remainder of his rest period, hopelessly glad when it was time to go to breakfast, then his next appointment. He endured more tests, psychological and physiological. He talked with his counselor, told him about the night he'd had. The counselor thought the side effects might lessen over time. But he didn't rule out that if Alesson had modified the dream channeler, he might have somehow ensured that the meds would be ineffective, or worse. It was possible that Kirk would only feel sicker as each reaction built on the next. When Kirk decided to give the meds a pass, the counselor made only a cursory attempt to dissuade him, then sent him to another specialist who used hypnosis instead of medicine.

By the end of the day, he was exhausted and sick of timetables and processes and hearing himself talk. He sat in the cafeteria, toying with his food.

"There room for me?"

He looked up, smiled--a real smile, the first one that day. "I thought I wasn't going to see you."

Chapel nodded. "They've been keeping me busy. Lots of evaluations. You too?"

He nodded.

"You look all in, Jim. Have you slept?"

"A few hours last night."

"That's not enough."

He pushed food around his plate. "I know."

"And you're not eating."

"They gave me some medicine to make me sleep. It didn't. But it did make me sick. I don't have much appetite."

She got up, came back with a glass filled with a pinkish thick liquid. "Drink up. It's full of vitamins and it tastes good."

"If you don't mind, I'll take my time." He sipped it. It did taste good. "How about you? Are you all right?"

"I'm resting. Finishing my applications."

He felt a pang at the idea of her going away. "Good."

She sighed. "I'm not sure I want to go."

"You should though. It's what you need to do."

She nodded grudgingly. "I know. I've gotten so comfortable on the ship. It doesn't stretch me, but it isn't scary either." She smiled. "My future is scary. The counselors are having fun with that."

"Counselors." He put a lot of disdain in the word.

"Why? What are yours saying?"

"To give it time. Let the dream channeler's effect go away. And to get back on the horse." He shook his head at the last one. His therapist had actually put it that way. Probably seen in Kirk's file that he liked to ride.

"They're probably not wrong."

He held a hand up and she didn't press him. He looked at her, really seeing her for the first time. "You cut your hair?" And it was dark. "Wow."

"I had this wild urge to look like I used to."

"I like it." He studied her. Her eyes looked bluer. More intense and catlike. "This was part of your therapy?"

She laughed. "No, I did it at lunch."

"I had to eat with my therapist."

"Poor Jim." She held out her hand.

He took it. Realized that other than the prodding hands of technicians, this was the first real contact he'd had with anyone since he got to Starbase Two. "It's been interesting talking to them...the therapists, I mean," he said. "They ask some strange questions though. I find myself trying to analyze what they could learn from some of them."

She nodded. "I know." She yawned.

"You're tired." He squeezed her hand. "Meet me here tomorrow for dinner?"

She nodded. He let go of her hand as she got up.

"Good night," she said.

"Pleasant dreams." He smiled, but, once she left, his smile faded.

One of them should have pleasant dreams. He knew it wasn't going to be him.

-----------------------

Chapel waited at the entrance to the cafeteria, watching as the doctors went by, wondering if she would feel any different once she was one too. She saw Kirk coming toward her and smiled at him.

"I'm sorry I'm late." He walked with her into the cafeteria. "We discovered my childhood today."

She nodded. "Mine too. We must be on the same timetable." She picked out some food, not really hungry. "It's a little invasive."

"It's a lot invasive." He didn't seem to be any hungrier. "And I don't know what we're accomplishing."

"It's annoying, but it may help." She looked at the dark circles under his eyes. "Did you sleep at all?"

"An hour. Before the nightmares came."

"Were they about me again?"

He nodded. "You're my dream girl."

"A little less sarcasm would be nice." She tried to joke but it fell flat.

He didn't even smile. "Believe me you don't want to be in these dreams."

"I believe you."

He picked at his food. "It's comforting, in a way, to know that it's not me, it's the damned aftereffect of that apparatus. But to not know when it's going to let up? I'm so tired, Chris."

"I know."

He pushed his plate away. "And I'm not hungry." His hands shook slightly as he picked up his glass of water.

She pushed her tray away. "I'm not hungry either." She got up. "Let's get out of here."

"And go where?"

"Somewhere quiet. Where we can talk."

He nodded, got up and grabbed his tray. She followed him to the recycler, then out of the cafeteria.

"Let's go find a bar, go get a drink," he said.

"I don't think we're supposed to leave the hospital."

He grinned at her. "Do you see guards? Or a big sign?"

She shook her head. "This kind of rebellion is just a way to regain control of your life."

"Whatever you say, Nurse Freud." He took her hand. "Come on."

They did end up sneaking past the reception while the aide was on break. Chapel fought laughter as they hurried out the door and into the garden area. She heard the whirr of a small cart and Kirk pushed her into the bushes, following her down. They watched as a technician drove by, slowing as he approached the exit. A guard stepped out, checked the cart as if for stowaways, then waved him through.

"I guess we aren't supposed to leave." Kirk breathed out heavily, impatience written in his face.

She took his hand, led him away from the gate, back toward the main building, keeping to the bushes. She heard a faint water-on-water kind of tinkle, turned toward the sound. A moment later, they were standing in a rose garden, the flowers surrounding a small fountain.

"Did you know this was here?" He let his fingers drag through the water, then flicked them at her playfully.

She did the same, was glad to see him smile. "No, I didn't." She took a deep breath, the scent of roses filling her head, then more water landed on her face. She giggled.

He raised his hand to get her again and she caught it. His fingers tightened around hers, then he pulled her to him. She ended up on his lap, his arms coming around her waist.

She leaned in, knew it was a bad idea but wanted to feel his lips again.

Kissing him was as wonderful as she remembered. He held the back of her neck with one hand, pulling her closer. She moaned, heard him make a similar sound.

When they finally pulled away, she was glad he was supporting her. His eyes were dark, and he played with her hair, his hands running roughly over her. He looked possessive, and very intense.

She slipped off his lap, took his hand and pulled him up. "Your place or mine?"

She saw him hesitate.

"Jim?"

He shook his head.

"Jim, I can't help you with the dreams. Only time will. But I can make reality less scary." She squeezed his hand. "I don't believe you would ever hurt me. I have faith in you. Let me help you have faith."

"Did your counselors tell you to do this? Or did mine?" He pulled away from her, walked to the flowers.

She hurried after him. "Of course they didn't." She touched his arm. "I know you want this as much as I do." She let her arm drop down his body, making sure she was right.

She was right.

He flinched at her touch. "That's immaterial."

"No, it's not." She didn't try to touch him again. "Jim, please let me help you."

He turned, stared down at her. Then he took a deep, shuddering breath and something shifted in his expression. He pulled her to him again, kissed her with such passion it left her breathless.

"This isn't a good idea, Chris." He said as he drew away for a moment. But he didn't stop touching her, couldn't seem to stop kissing her.

She pulled him toward the building. "Please?"

He seemed to shudder, but he followed her in. They rode the elevator silently, getting out on her floor. She glanced at him. He was walking to her room as if to a funeral. She pushed open the door, urged him inside.

He turned, waited for her to lock the door. "I don't know if I can..." He reddened.

She sighed. Then she moved until she was close enough to touch him. "We don't have to do anything. I just want another kiss."

He looked lost. His eyes seemed to flash a combination of desire and fear. "I do want you."

She moved closer, ran her hand down his arm. "And I want you. And if this will help you, how can it be a bad idea?" She nuzzled his neck.

"You're one of my crew." But he was stroking her hair, pulling her closer.

"Not for long. Not if I get into med school." She reached up, pressed her lips gently against his, not pushing him, waiting.

He crushed her to him, his lips hard against her, his tongue forcing entry into her mouth. She met him, not afraid. His teeth brushed her lips, his hands possessive as he pushed her against him. She realized that she couldn't get away from him, he was too strong. She felt a moment's hesitation.

And he knew it.

She felt him tremble, begin to pull away. She put her hand on the back of his head. Held him close. "It's all right. You're not hurting me. And I'm not going to hurt you."

"Chris, you don't know what kind of dreams I've been having." He buried his head in her neck. "They're horrible."

"I believe you. But this isn't a dream. It's real. And we're not going to hurt each other."

She led him to the bedroom, began to take off his clothes.

He pulled away.

She sighed. "If it's that you don't want me, then go. But find someone you do want and work this fear out."

He stared at her as if she was an idiot. "I dream about you every time I close my eyes. Of course I want you."

"Then stay with me. Fight this...with me." She stepped closer, then closer again. Began to undo his clothes again.

This time, he let her; he unfastened hers too.

She pulled his face closer, kissed him passionately. He met her, didn't pull away, even though she could feel him trembling.

He pushed her down to the bed, following her, gently touching her body. His gentle hands turned to firm, then controlling. But never scary. She relaxed in his touch, secure that he wouldn't hurt her.

"So strong," he murmured as he began to kiss her everywhere.

She made an odd whimpering noise, smiled in embarrassment when he pulled away from the spot he was kissing to study her.

He smiled. "Lonely, Chris?"

"Very. It's been a long time since..." She was completely embarrassed admitting that to him.

He nodded gently, seemed to understand. He kissed her neck, then whispered in her ear, "Are you sure about this?"

"I'm sure," she said, pulling his face back to hers so she could kiss him again.

His hands were everywhere and she arched, moaning. He moved on top of her, then seemed to freeze.

She wondered what he was seeing. His eyes were so distant.

"Jim," she pushed at his shoulder lightly, brought him back to the present, back to her. "Jim, I'm all right."

He refocused, seemed relieved to see her. He kissed her then, fiercely, almost desperately. As if he had lost her. Then he entered her and she gasped at the feeling of being one with him.

He moved, carefully and skillfully and she kissed him, pulling him down to her. He stroked back her hair. "Are you all right?" He held himself still, waiting for her answer.

"I'm fine. I'm better than fine." She smiled. "Are you?"

He nodded, quickly, with great relief.

"Let go," she whispered. "You won't hurt me."

"Chris," he moaned, as if her name was a prayer. Began to move again.

"It's okay. Just let go."

He kissed her, soul-deep kisses that seemed to sear her lips, seemed to mark her as his own. She ran her fingers down his back, heard him groan. He never quit moving, and his fingers found sensitive places, making her writhe with pleasure. He kissed her as she cried out against his mouth, following her into pleasure a moment later.

They lay together, both breathing hard. He started to get off but she wrapped her legs around him.

"Stay."

He kissed her. "I'm not going anywhere. But aren't I too heavy?"

"I don't care. I like this."

He kissed her again, lay still for a few moments, holding her. Then he eased off of her, rolling onto his side and pulling her against him.

She ran her hand through his hair, kissed him gently. "See, you didn't hurt me."

"And you didn't hurt me." He grinned, a shadow of his former expression but welcome to her nonetheless. "I like your form of therapy much better than the regular headshrinker stuff."

She smiled. "I like it too."

"How long has it been?" he asked, as he began to stroke her again.

She arched, rolled to her back and he followed her, his hands never leaving her.

"Chris?"

"Since Roger," she managed to get out.

"That's far too long, Miss Chapel."

She couldn't answer, could only arch her back and cry out as he touched her. He was smiling when she turned to look at him. A very satisfied smile.

"On the other hand, abstinence does accentuate response." He leaned in, whispered, "The entire building heard you."

"No, they didn't." She could feel herself blushing.

He nodded tenderly. "I'm afraid they did." He kissed her. "I didn't mind in the least."

She closed her eyes, let her heart rate and breathing come down from the cliff he'd sent her over. He touched her, his hand gentle against her.

She relaxed, smiling as he touched her cheek until she realized that his hands were still shaking. Her smile faded. She caught his hand, kissed it. "I think we should have more sessions tonight."

He nodded. "Many more."

Then his eyes clouded again and she shook him slightly.

"No, Jim. It's all right."

He nodded, went back to touching her but the haunted look remained.

"Dammit, Jim," she shook him harder, her voice fierce. "We'll do this until you know in your heart that you could never hurt me."

"That may take a while."

"That's fine." She saw him smile at her determination and pulled him to her. "You need this, Jim. We both do."

"I need you," he whispered, so softly she wasn't sure she had heard the words correctly.

"I'm right here," she said. She gave herself over to him, glad that she was helping him. Glad that he was touching her. Giddy with what he was making her feel.

She only wanted to make him feel better. And as the night progressed, she could tell that she was doing just that.

She only wished she could make him feel better when he fell asleep.

-------------------------

"Welcome back, sir." Spock got up from Kirk's chair. "I take it your visit was productive?" he asked softly.

"Parts of it," Kirk said. He still wasn't sleeping much. On the other hand, since he'd had Chris with him in her bed or his, he'd had plenty to do with the long rest periods.

He took the padd his yeoman handed him, could barely focus on the writing. He'd convinced the medicos at Starbase Two that he was fit for duty, but he knew in his heart that he wasn't. But he was home, on the Enterprise. He'd get well here. He could feel himself dropping his guard a bit. He didn't have to fool the doctors any longer.

He saw Spock watching his trembling hand and put the padd down. Maybe he shouldn't drop his guard too far. "Report, Mister Spock."

"Our last mission was completed successfully. We've been asked to rendezvous with the Potemkin before we put in at Beta Aurigae."

Kirk nodded. "Time to rendezvous?"

"Approximately three point five days." Spock leaned in, said softly. "Ample time for you to rest."

"Easy for you to say. You don't have my dreams." He tried to grin, could tell by Spock's face that he wasn't fooling him any.

"Perhaps Doctor McCoy could prescribe something?"

"The doctors at Starbase Two already did. The side effects were hell." He sighed. "Lethe. That's what I need." He saw that Spock got the classical reference. "I just wish I could forget what happened in Alesson's basement. Just wish I could shake the dream channeler now."

Spock nodded grimly.

Kirk sighed, then said, "Carry on, Mister Spock,"

As his friend walked back to his station, Kirk busied himself with the padds his yeoman kept giving him. He studied the specifications for the gravitational studies Starfleet wanted them to conduct of Beta Aurigae's binary system. Everything looked in order.

He fought back a yawn, forced his eyes to stay open. If he could just rest his head for a moment, just close his eyes for even fifteen minutes, he'd be fine. He stood up. "Mister Spock, you have the conn."

"Aye, sir."

He could feel Spock's eyes on him as he walked across the bridge, turned as he stepped into the lift and saw the Vulcan watching him, concern openly apparent on his face.

Again Kirk tried to grin, again he failed. He saw Spock's face tighten.

Then the doors closed. He considered going to see Chris, then an enormous yawn overcame him. He needed to rest. Just for a few minutes. "Deck five."

He eyed his bed with longing but worried that he'd oversleep...or have a nightmare. He sat down at his desk, rested his head on his crossed arms. He was asleep in minutes.

The dreams followed quickly. He struggled against them.

Then he felt something. A presence. Helping him. He smiled as a curtain dropped down between him and the dreams. Then another. Then another.

"Forget," he heard someone say, the sound ringing through his mind.

Forget what? He shifted, thought he felt warm fingers pulling away from him.

Then sleep overcame him. He went willingly into it, wondered why he was so tired. Gave up wondering, just surrendered to sleep.

---------------------------

Chapel half expected Kirk to show up during her shift, but he didn't. She hoped he was sleeping, decided to go to his quarters on her break.

He was just coming down the hall as she walked to his door, and she was so intent on her mission that she nearly collided with him. "Sorry. Oh, Jim, it's you."

She saw his eyes narrow, turned to check the corridor behind her. They were alone.

"Captain," she revised, surprised he'd insist on such formality, but knowing he cared deeply about appearances when it came to the crew. "I was worried."

He smiled. "I was sleeping. Overslept in fact." He smiled. It was his old expression.

"You slept?"

He nodded.

"No dreams?"

"Not that I remember." He gave her an odd look.

"That's great," she said, a huge smile breaking across her face.

He nodded. "Those therapists knew what they were doing."

"Well, you may have had a little extra help?" She laughed huskily.

He looked at her as if he didn't know what she was talking about.

Her smile faded. She felt a dark pain take hold.

Was he going to act as if nothing had happened?

"I have to get to the bridge," he said breezily.

"Right." She watched him walk away, felt a lump forming in her throat. Swallowed it down, swallowed everything down.

She went to the gym instead of the cafeteria, worked on the floor machines until the punching bag was free. Then she began to hit it for all she was worth.

Hands came out to steady the bag. "Your thumbs should be on the outside."

"I know." She quickly changed her grip. Didn't want to know why Spock thought he needed to spot her--or critique her form--at this particular moment.

"You do not know, or you would not do it wrong. If you were to hit something harder than this bag with your thumb inside your hand, you would break it."

She sighed. Didn't argue with him. How could she win? He knew everything.

"You seem upset?"

"Spock, what are you doing?"

"I am concerned about you. We shared consciousness."

She almost smiled at him using her own words against her. "Unconsciousness, you mean."

"Yes."

"I'm fine," she said, trying to make her voice so firm that he wouldn't challenge the assertion.

And he did not. Instead he said, "I have heard you are going to medical school."

"Haven't been accepted yet." She threw a hard punch, felt her shoulder wrench.

"Keep your arm level. The motion should be more of a push, less of a swing."

She tried what he said, found it worked better, delivered a nice, solid hit to the bag.

"You will be leaving the ship." It wasn't a question. It was more as if Spock was trying to convince himself of something. Only she wasn't sure what.

"Unless they start up med school on the Enterprise, that's how it works." Pain and disappointment made her mean.

He didn't seem to mind.

"What's wrong with you, Spock? You're suddenly so concerned about me? I don't buy it. Your mother hen act is more convincing around Jim"--she thought of how Kirk had looked at her when she'd used his first name, sighed--"I mean the captain."

"I know you have feelings for him."

She stared at Spock, thunderstruck.

"These kinds of situations can bring an unnatural closeness."

"Yeah, witness this conversation."

He nodded calmly. "Precisely."

She walked away, went to sit on one of the benches lining the wall.

He sat down next to her. "You saved him. I do believe that." He seemed about to take her hand, then thought better of it.

She fought back tears. "I thought there was more." She felt stupid.

He said nothing, just sat silently, offering support she was not sure how to accept.

Finally, she got up. "I have to get back to work."

He nodded. "Work is an effective means to forget. Going away to medical school will be helpful as well. If you need a recommendation from me, I will be most pleased to give it."

She nodded, touched by his offer. She turned away.

"And Christine?"

She turned back.

"I like your hair."

She smiled sadly, shook her head. "Thanks."

He nodded, got up and walked out of the gym. She saw several crewmembers eyeing her curiously. She glared at them until they turned back to their machines.

------------------------------

As Kirk read one of his padds, he shifted, his body till sore from Alesson's torture. He didn't suppose his long nap hunched over his desk had helped his sore muscles. But sleep had been wonderful. He felt as if he hadn't slept in a week.

"Incoming distress signal, sir," Lieutenant Lisa said.

"From where?"

"Camus II, sir."

He frowned. Something about that name sounded familiar. He turned to Spock. "Who heads up that team?"

Spock checked the databanks. "A Doctor Janice Lester."

Kirk nodded. Of course, it had to be his ex-girlfriend's planet.

Kirk swiveled in his chair to watch the junior communications officer. She was frowning as she tried to resolve the signal. Kirk suddenly wished Uhura hadn't gone on leave while he was on Starbase Two. Then Lieutenant Lisa smiled slightly, concentrating on the message. Her smile quickly faded.

"They're sick, sir. Radiation poisoning. The entire science team." She looked up at him, her young face stricken. "They need our help."

Spock turned. "We could divert there briefly and still make our rendezvous."

Kirk then turned his chair back to the front. "Mister Chekov, alter course to Camus II."

"Aye, sir," Chekov was already changing their heading.

"Mister Sulu, maximum safe warp."

"Aye sir. Warp six."

Kirk felt a surge of old pain surface as he thought of Janice. She'd hurt him, badly. Even though he'd been the one to walk out, she had left him long before he packed his bags. They'd been together a year. A tempestuous, tortured year.

He rubbed his eyes. He'd never expected to see her again.

Had hoped never to see her again.

Leaving her had torn his heart out. Just as it had when he'd lost--

He frowned. Hated it when this happened. Why did he think he'd lost someone? He frowned more deeply. More than one someones. He was sure of it. But why couldn't he remember?

Maybe he should get McCoy to check him out for head trauma. Lord knew he'd taken enough bumps on the head to cause a bit of amnesia.

He shook his head. Maybe he just wanted there to have been a special someone? He was tired of being alone, he knew that. Tired of flings and quick trysts on some shore leave spot or Starbase.

Again he had the strange feeling. Like he should remember something. He thought he felt water drag against his fingers, could feel himself flicking the drops at someone. Then the image was gone.

Aftereffects, the therapists would tell him. Post-traumatic hallucinations even. He trusted the doctors. They had cured him, cured him and sent him back home. And he assumed they'd helped Chapel too. That she'd been able to rest, to work out her own demons. He hadn't seen her until that strange conversation in the corridors outside his quarters. She'd seemed off.

Had she really called him Jim?

Maybe he should ask McCoy to check up on her.

She'd changed her hair, he realized. The new color made her eyes stand out.

For a second, he thought he could smell roses. He reached for the memory, but there was nothing.

He sighed. If he just left it alone, it would go away in time. It had happened before. Eventually, the strange phantom memories wouldn't bother him.

Someday he'd have to get them checked out.

Someday when he didn't have an old girlfriend to go rescue.

---------------------

Chapel stared down at the hypospray in her hand. Doctor Lester was mad. Just as Doctor Coleman said. There was no way Jim was trapped in her body.

She wished she could stop thinking of the captain as Jim.

There had been something in Lester's eyes though. Something that was far more Kirk than the light that had shown out of the captain's eyes. And it didn't add up. Radiation poisoning that wasn't there upon further tests. Supposed paranoia that had developed for six months--and nobody had noticed it? Nobody had reported it? She knew Coleman was a hack, but that was a lot to swallow.

Too much.

She filled the hypospray with a vitamin mixture. Added a very small amount of sedative. She'd said a light one. This qualified.

Barely.

She walked back in; Doctor Coleman had Lester back in bed, under restraints this time. She held the hypo to her arm, let it spray. Saw Lester frown slightly, obviously expecting more from the drug.

Then her face relaxed as the sedative started to work. But Chapel could tell she wasn't getting drowsy.

"I'll stay with her until she falls asleep, Doctor."

"She's full of crazy stories, Nurse Chapel."

She laughed. "I've heard more things from the mouth of raving crew than you could possibly know. Believe me, I'd know if this were the captain. And it's not." She smiled, trying for as perky and vapid a look as she could muster.

Coleman bought it. "Call if you need me."

She nodded.

As soon as the door closed, Lester said softly, "You really don't believe it's me?"

Chapel turned, studied the other woman. "Tell me something only the captain and I would know."

"Alesson."

Chapel nodded. "Go on."

Lester frowned. "He tortured me. You had to watch."

"Yes. And that's in the records Spock downloaded to the ship's computer. You could have read them."

"I didn't." She frowned again, as if she were having trouble remembering something.

"Starbase Two. Start with that."

"We were in post-trauma therapy. Routine after what we'd been through."

"That's not very convincing, Doctor." Chapel winced. Her voice sounded like Alesson's, when he'd asked Kirk to beg for her life.

Lester frowned too, again looking as if she were trying to remember something. "I remember roses."

Chapel perked up.

"Water." Then she shook her head. "Nurse Chapel, please? I am Kirk."

Chapel sighed. "You used to call me something different than Nurse Chapel."

Her expression softened. "Christine."

She shook her head, rose. "Nice try, Doctor Lester." She checked that the restraints were tight, then headed out of sickbay.

She didn't realize she was headed for the captain's quarters until she told the lift, "Deck five."

What was she doing? He'd made it clear he didn't want to be with her. But after almost believing Lester's wild story, she just needed a moment with him. A moment to reassure herself that this wasn't all a bad dream.

She shook her head. Unfortunate choice of words.

She buzzed at his door. Heard him say, "Come," and the door opened.

He looked up, smiled uncertainly. "Nurse Chapel, is there a problem?"

She felt her heart sink. They were back to titles?

"Sir, I'm sorry to bother you. Doctor Lester--"

"--Is there a problem with Doctor Lester?"

She shook her head quickly, surprised at his reaction, and at how flustered he looked for a moment.

It suddenly occurred to her that Lester was doing a better job of acting like Kirk than he was.

"Alesson really did a number on you," she said.

He stared at her, as if waiting for her to explain.

"Alesson?" she repeated.

He looked blank.

She forced a smile on her face. "That bartender...at Starbase Two. You remember? The one who made you the Vodka Nightmare?"

Kirk laughed, not very convincingly. "I should have known by the name, shouldn't I?" He looked down at his padds. "I'm very busy, Miss Chapel."

"I'm sure you are, sir." She smiled, again the vapid look that had seemed to work with Coleman.

Kirk smiled back. Chapel decided his grin was off.

She turned and left, wondering where the real Captain Kirk was. She found sickbay empty, realized that no one had noticed she was gone. She prepared a nutrient drink for Lester, made sure to put it in real glass. If she was the captain, she'd know what to do with it. If she wasn't, well, she was still closer to Kirk than whoever was using his body.

Lester looked up. "I must've sounded quite mad to you before."

Chapel said brightly, choosing her words carefully, "What you've been through would've completely broken most of us."

Lester didn't take the bait. "Well, I'll be all right now. Could I see your Dr. McCoy?"

"I'm afraid that's against Dr. Coleman's orders."

"Oh." Lester tried again. "Is a visit by that very kind Mr. Spock to be allowed?"

Chapel couldn't decide if there was a coded message there or not. "Perhaps that can be arranged before we reach the Benecia Colony."

Lester's reaction was instantaneous. And completely Kirk-like. "Benecia? Isn't the Enterprise going to rendezvous with the Potemkin at Beta Aurigae?"

Chapel nodded, gave her more information than she should have, figuring why not let Lester know what was in store? "Well, first we have to let you recuperate at Benecia." She handed her the glass, saw Lester eye it with interest. "You'll feel better if you have a little."

Lester took it. "I'll try. Thank you." She sipped at the dark burgundy liquid. "Oh, it is good. Thank you."

Chapel tried to look busy, checking the covers, waiting for the ruse Lester would use if she really was Kirk. A ruse that would get Chapel to leave.

She wasn't disappointed. "Could I finish it slowly, Nurse Chapel?"

She remembered Kirk's words from the cafeteria. He didn't like to gulp things down. It was a short straw to cling to as a clue, but given the rest of the evidence, she'd take it. "Well..."

Lester smiled up at her. The seductive smile looked different on a woman's face, the glint odd from blue eyes instead of hazel. But Chapel thought it was a pretty convincing Kirk.

"I promise I'll be good."

"Well, I'll be right back," Chapel said for the benefit of the security tapes. Tried on the perky nurse face one more time as she smiled and said, "I'm glad you're feeling so much better."

Then she turned and walked out of sickbay, determined to get to the bottom of things.

As she headed out the door, she heard the sound of glass breaking and smiled. "Go, Jim," she whispered, as she headed for her quarters.

-----------------------

Kirk worked with the broken glass at the restraints, afraid that Coleman would come in and find him...stop him. He was not as afraid that Chapel would come back. He had the feeling she'd handed him the opportunity to escape. He must have reached her after all, what he'd said about their time together in Alesson's prison.

He tried to go faster, but Janice's hands were smaller, weaker. He couldn't saw as fast as he liked, couldn't put the pressure he needed on the glass.

He remembered her constant complaints when they'd been together. She'd hated being small, hated how weak it made her feel. He could never sympathize. Brute force didn't matter as much as knowing how to turn your own strengths against someone else's weaknesses. Kirk had found that out the hard way in the Academy, when he'd run up against bigger boys who could clean the floor with him if he tried to outmuscle them. That was when he'd learned about balance and position. It was when he'd begun to fight a lot dirtier, but also a lot smarter. And he'd started to clean the floor with the giants.

Janice was fast and she was lithe. She could have learned a martial art, better prepared herself to have to fight if it came to that.

And strength could be improved at a basic level. Lifting weights, repetitive motion exercises to improve grip and dexterity. It was as he'd told Chris--

He stopped sawing. Chris who? He had a picture of Chapel, suffering, lying with her head in his lap. They were talking about the gym.

That made no sense.

He tried to focus on the memory. It was tied to the gym, to fighting. He could see the cell, it was Alesson's dungeon. Why didn't he remember more of this?

He started to saw at the restraints again, ran over what had happened. He'd been tortured, Chapel had been forced to watch. Alesson had poisoned her and she'd--

How had Alesson poisoned her? Why couldn't he remember that?

He'd killed Alesson. He felt a faint satisfaction at the memory. He'd shot him. With his own weapon.

How had he gotten the weapon away from him?

Kirk sighed in frustration. It had to be trauma from the experience. There was no other explanation for these memory gaps.

He sawed faster, forcing himself to pay attention to his current problem, which was much more important than a little problem with his recall. He had to convince Spock who he was. And then he had to get his body back.

The restraints finally separated and he dashed out of bed, running down the corridor to find McCoy and Spock. The door opened and he saw Spock, then he realized that she was there. Lester. In his body. She controlled the body that was charging at him, the hand that chopped down on a pressure point, stunning him.

He felt the guards take him away, was thrown back into a room, mercifully free of restraints. They left him alone. He knew it wouldn't be for long. He'd seen something in Spock's eyes, something that had flared when Kirk called McCoy by the nickname he had yet to hear Janice use with him.

Only Kirk would call McCoy Bones. He knew it, and Spock knew it.

The door opened and Spock and the lieutenant from security walked in.

Spock was here. Kirk sighed with relief. He was fine now. Everything would be fine.

Spock would meld with him and know the truth. And then it would be all right.

Kirk took a deep breath. Began to breathe easier for the first time since seeing Janice again.

------------------------

Chapel was convinced the person in sickbay was Kirk, but she couldn't understand why he hadn't spoken of any of the things that had happened on Starbase Two. How could he have forgotten what they'd shared? Or the name he'd called her?

Unless...the day it had started, he had said he'd slept fine. Had been napping, with no dreams. What if the dreams just before had been so violent that his mind had somehow invoked some strange kind of amnesia? To protect him perhaps? He had been exhausted, on the verge of collapse. It was possible.

He'd been with her the night before in her room on Starbase Two, and she'd witnessed nothing odd. He'd seemed fine in the morning when they'd reported to the ship. But that afternoon, he'd blown her off. Or just couldn't remember her anymore. If she could figure out why, maybe she could help him. And help him get his body back. Not that he would need much help on that score. He'd run straight for Spock, she knew that. Kirk would head for his best friend. The man he trusted more than anyone.

And Spock would need about two minutes with a meld to find out whether Chapel was right or not.

Chapel locked her door and settled in at her desk. She accessed the ship's security logs, using her own codes to get through the safeguards. Medical personnel at her level had a great deal of access. McCoy had even more and had the bad habit of keeping his passwords lying around rather than memorizing them. The video of the senior officers were locked away from her, but not from the CMO. She used his codes, accessed Kirk's files, selected the day in question, starting with the moment he arrived back on ship. He would have had to have been alone, she decided, telling the computer to only pick those scenes where he was by himself.

There was little to look at. Just a long shot of him sleeping, then waking up and going out in the hall where he would bump into her a moment later. She replayed the tape of him sleeping, noticed the timer skipped shortly after he had fallen asleep.

"Show missing scene between 4433 and 4477."

The scene replayed. Kirk slept. Then Spock walked in. He stared down at the captain for a long time. Kirk was moving slightly, probably already in a dream. Spock reached down, his fingers going to the meld spot.

Kirk quieted.

Then there was no movement, Spock stood like a stone, his face tense with concentration. Kirk was still, his face becoming more and more peaceful the longer Spock maintained the meld.

Chapel swallowed, nearly choked when Spock said, "Forget."

Then he let go of Kirk.

"No," she whispered, not wanting to believe what she'd just seen. "Replay scene."

She watched it over and over and over. She looked down, realized she had clenched her hands and her nails were digging into her palms painfully.

"Computer, show similar scenes, Kirk asleep or unconscious, Spock awake. No other personnel present in the room."

"State time parameters."

"Duration of mission," she said, afraid of what she would find.

The computer searched for a moment. "Seventy-two occurrences."

Chapel sighed. Given Kirk's propensity for racing headlong into the fray, she expected most of the video to be of him recovering in sickbay and of Spock sitting his ever-patient vigil. She'd walked in on that tableau many times.

"Cross-reference time settings with closest previous mission and display."

"Working. Ready. Displaying first occurrence."

As she expected, it was a scene of sickbay: Kirk tossing on the biobed, Spock standing silently, watching him. Nothing else happened. Chapel assumed she or one of the doctors had walked in. "Next scene."

She flipped quickly through similar scenes. Then she found one that looked similar to when she had seen Spock use the meld to erase Kirk's memory. She leaned forward, sighed when she heard Spock say that one word. "Forget."

She checked the time cross-references. It was just after the Rigellian Fever outbreak on the Enterprise. When Kirk and Spock and McCoy had beamed down to Holberg 917G to get some Ryetalyn. The girl. Chapel remembered that McCoy had mentioned a girl. Rayna. Said Kirk had loved her. But Kirk had never seemed to Chapel to be particularly broken up about her death. She remembered she'd thought him slightly shallow at the time.

But he hadn't been. He hadn't been allowed to mourn. Spock had taken that away from him.

"Continue," she said quietly, running her fingers through her hair in agitation as she flipped through more scenes of sickbay. She just couldn't understand how Spock could do this? Who the hell did he think he was?

"Hold image," she said, checking the timer. It was when they had discovered the Guardian of Forever, when McCoy had taken his disastrous journey through time.

It was little different from the other two. Kirk sleeping at his desk, his terminal still on as if he had given up mid report and only rested his head for a moment. It seemed to take Spock longer this time both to decide what to do and to establish the meld once he'd decided. But the effect was the same. Kirk's face relaxing as Spock's tightened with purpose, with determined concentration. He whispered, "Forget."

Chapel had never heard this story from McCoy. Except that Kirk had let a woman die. She wasn't sure what Spock was making Kirk forget, but she suspected it had to do with the same woman. The one McCoy had been so fond of. Edith. Chapel struggled for the last name, couldn't remember it.

Her console rang. She listened to the false captain's message about Spock and mutiny and sighed. It looked like Kirk hadn't gotten as far as she'd hoped. Then she got a private hail from Lieutenant Lisa. "Nurse Chapel to the briefing room on the double."

She logged out of the security system, and turned off her terminal. "On my way," she said.

As she passed the mirror, she noticed her hair was flat and mussed from her having played with it as she watched the security video. She pushed it away from her face and hurried out. Her hair didn't matter.

Sulu and Chekov turned around as she entered the briefing room.

"Christine? Do you know what this is about?" Sulu looked disturbed.

She shook her head, saw Spock sitting at the front, a security detail in the back watching him closely.

She sat down next to him, said softly, "I assume this hearing means that you realize that the captain and Doctor Lester have indeed switched bodies?"

He turned to her, surprise in his eyes. "Yes. I melded with her, realized it was Jim's mind."

"Hmmm." She looked over at him, gave him a hard stare. "And did you figure that out because of what was there or what was missing?"

His face froze, if that was possible for a Vulcan.

She smiled harshly. "When this is all over, we need to talk."

He nodded tightly, saved from a response by the arrival of the false Kirk, followed closely by Scotty and McCoy.

"Sitting with me is not a wise idea, Christine," Spock said softly.

"My crush is on record, no one will question it." She didn't smile. "Besides, I want to keep an eye on you."

"I will not run."

She knew he was telling the truth, but she didn't leave his side until he was taken back into custody and led away for an execution none of them could believe would take place.

She joined Sulu and Chekov in the corridor. Lieutenant Lisa came out a few minutes later.

"The captain's coming," she said, and they all hurried down the hall and around the corner.

"He's gone mad," Sulu said.

"_He_ hasn't," Chapel said.

Chekov nodded. "It's not like the captain to do this." He sighed.

"Get to your posts," Chapel said. "Don't do anything suspicious or you'll be arrested too. But when the time comes..."

They all looked as miserable as she felt.

"What are you going to do?" Lieutenant Lisa asked.

"I don't know." Chapel turned and headed back to sickbay. She might not be able to fight, but there was one thing she could do. She began to load up some hypos with a powerful sedative. Strong enough to drop an elephant. Or one raving psycho inhabiting the body of a starship captain. If he got close enough to her.

------------------------

"Janice? Why?" Kirk sat across from Lester. It felt so good to be back in his own body, to feel his strength, the muscles he had built, the not so muscled areas that were also his doing. The good and the bad, all his. She hadn't been able to hold on to his body, not as long as he was alive, and she hadn't been quick enough to kill him.

She turned to Coleman. "Leave us alone?"

Coleman's face twisted with jealousy but he got up and left them. One of the security guards accompanying him into the corridor.

Lester's face was composed. She'd stopped raving, stopped cursing him. She seemed resigned now to her fate. To being in her own body. "I hate being a woman."

"I've never understood that."

"Oh, you say that from your position. This ship, your faithful crew, the big chair." She looked away. "All denied me."

He shook his head. "You're an idiot, Janice. A brilliant, daring idiot. You've never understood how things work and that's been your failing. No, there's never been a woman starship captain. But there will be. There will be a woman who comes up from the ranks and proves herself."

"There are rules--"

"--Yes, and for the right woman, they'll bend over backwards to break them. The same way they did for me. All I heard as I fought to get here was that I was too damned young. That it would never happen. That I needed seasoning. Well, I didn't. I got here. And you could have too...if you'd been willing to work for it." He laughed softly. "But that's always been your problem. You want it, you feel entitled to it, but you won't work for it." He stood up. "What you did to me is a perfect example of that."

"I loved you," she said, reaching out for him.

"No, you didn't. You loved what I had."

"I couldn't kill you."

"And that's supposed to make me believe that you love me?" He shook his head. "You couldn't kill me because once again you weren't willing to work for what you wanted. It was easier to get your incompetent lapdog to do it for you."

She looked away. "Did you ever love me?"

He sighed. "You know that I did. My love was never in doubt. It was yours that was twisted so far out of shape as to be unrecognizable."

"What's going to happen to me?"

"Detention, either in a psychiatric facility or a penal one."

She looked away. "I'm not crazy."

"You're a long way from sane, Janice."

He watched her as she got up and paced. Tried to remember why he had fallen in love with her, if there had ever been a time when they had been truly happy. Probably before he got to know her well, before she showed him how insane she was.

"I did love you, Jim."

He didn't want to argue anymore. What did she know of love, anyway? Possibly, in her book, she did love him.

She turned to him. "I would have made a good captain."

"No, Janice, you wouldn't have." He stood up, nodded to the guard who stood by the door. "Let's go."

He heard her call out for him. Didn't stop. She was his past. A past he'd left behind long ago. A past he wanted no part of anymore.

"She's all yours, Doctor," he said to Coleman, who was being watched by the other guard. Coleman's sanity was in doubt too. He'd said he wanted to take care of Janice, but it was unlikely they'd end up together. The man had to know that.

Kirk walked away. Suddenly not caring what happened to either of them. He only wanted to forget that this nightmare had ever happened.

---------------

Chapel heard her chime ring, took a deep breath. It had to be Spock. She had been about ready to go to him. So of course, he came to her.

"Come," she called.

Spock walked in, his features composed, his stride measured.

As if she didn't hold the key to his destruction.

She was glad she was so angry at him. Otherwise, she might have been a little bit afraid.

"You wished to talk?" He stood in front of her.

"Why did you do it?"

"Specify?"

She did not think he was playing games with her. He was just being careful. Finding out how much she knew. If she'd figured out that he had wiped Kirk's memory more than once.

"You messed with his mind. I actually have a good idea why. You did it because he was in pain. And you can't stand to watch him suffer."

"Yes." He seemed to relax.

"But you had no right to do it." She suddenly didn't like how close he was standing, how easily he could pin her in the narrow area between her desk and the wall. She got up, pushed past him.

He moved back and let her pass.

"You took me away from him. The memory of me."

"Yes." He sighed, surprising her with the intensity of the sound. "It was not an easy decision, Christine. But you are leaving."

"I'm probably leaving. I haven't been accepted yet. And even if I am accepted, I'm going to Earth, not to another dimension. I would have seen him again." She paced, she'd practiced this conversation, but now she couldn't remember what she had wanted to say. "You didn't just take me away. You erased Rayna. And Edith. It was Edith, wasn't it?"

He nodded.

"You had no right."

"He was in pain."

"Yes. Humans feel pain. It's an emotion. You know those, Spock? Those feelings that overran you on Sarpeidon? With Zarabeth?"

He looked at her in surprise.

"McCoy told me. I think he wanted me to give up on you. I didn't tell him that I already had. A long time ago." She felt her anger rising again. "You're half human, Spock. You have emotions."

"I have them. I find them distasteful."

"And our emotions? You find those distasteful too? So much so that you can just wipe them away if they get too strong? If they become too unpleasant for you?"

"I did not do this for myself."

"Bullshit! _You_ didn't like seeing him in pain. _You_ didn't like feeling helpless while he suffered. You think I don't know what that's like? Why do you think I stuck a hypo full of poison in my veins? I thought I could make it better for him. But I only made it worse." She was crying, wiped her tears away angrily. "I love him too, Spock. I understand why you did it. But I hate you for doing it."

He swallowed hard, did not reply. Finally, he asked, "Will you tell him?"

"Either you will--now--or I will."

"I cannot." He moved closer to her.

She backed away. "Why? Because you know what you did was wrong?"

"He will not forgive me."

She realized he had her pinned between the bathroom door and the bed. She reached back, trying to open the bathroom door. He grabbed her arm, pulled her close.

"That's right, Spock. I'm the only one who knows. All you have to do is wipe my memory too and you'll be safe." She was sobbing, her words coming out rough and heavy but he seemed to have no problem understanding her. He pulled her closer, stared down at her. His face was no longer composed. In fact, he looked desperate.

Then he let her go and took a step back.

She followed him. "Go ahead and do it. Take it away. Make me forget how much I love him. Make me forget how much I hurt! That I'd actually like you to give him back his pain just so that he'll want me again." She was crying hard, pounding on his chest. "Make me forget too. I want to forget."

He pulled her to him. Held her as she wept. Not just for Jim but for what she'd seen and heard and cleaned up in that basement. Pain and sorrow and horror that the therapists had never come close to unearthing.

She wept it all out.

"Make me forget too," she whispered.

"I will not."

She pulled away, backed up until she hit the wall. "Can you restore his memory?"

He did not answer at once, seemed to be considering it. "The recent events possibly. I am less sure about the earlier ones." He looked at her, something lost and confounded in his expression. "Do you want him to feel that pain too? The loss of those loves?"

"It's his pain. And his choice. But you have to give him that choice. And if he wants all the pain back, you have to try."

"What if he does not want it back?"

She could not imagine James Kirk not wanting any part of himself back, but she shrugged. "That's his choice too."

"I did not intend to hurt him."

"But you did. I almost didn't know it was him in Lester's body. He didn't know we'd made love. He didn't remember what he'd called me. He would never have gotten away and found you, if I hadn't suspected it was him, if I hadn't given him the means to escape." She looked down. "And you came to me that day. In the gym. Why?"

"I knew how this would hurt you. I did not relish that. Creating pain for you when I took his away."

"And yet you did it." She looked down.

"He was suffering. He was not fit for command."

"He would have been. In time."

"There was too much pain. Too much fear."

She sighed in frustration. "That's how humans grow, Spock. Through pain. Through conquering their fear. We don't learn when it's peaceful and nice. It's not in our nature. I know he's told you that. But you just don't get it."

"I am not human."

"You're half human, damn it. Stop pretending that all you are is Vulcan. It's not Vulcan to love him like you do. And tell me, Spock. Is it Vulcan to take such liberties with another being's mind? Without their permission?"

He looked down, his expression one of shame.

"I didn't think so. Maybe you're a better human than you are Vulcan?"

He shook his head, but did not say anything.

"I met evil down in Alesson's chamber of horrors. I saw a man who was capable of ripping through a man's mind out of hatred."

He raised his head, eyed her with something akin to horror.

"But you did it out of love. And somehow, Spock. Somehow, that's so much worse."

He closed his eyes.

"You'll tell him then?" She felt no victory as she looked at him. Just a deep, dark sadness.

He nodded.

She stepped closer. "I lied before. I don't hate you, but I don't understand how you could have done this. How you thought it was all right to do this."

"Do you forgive me?"

"I'm not the one who has to."

He raised his hand, stroked her cheek gently. "He did love you. As much as you love him, he loved you."

"Thank you for telling me." She let her eyes grow hard. "Now get your hand off my face."

He nodded, pulled his hand away. "I..." He turned away.

"You can't even say you're sorry? Spock. That's so sad." She watched him walk to the door. "I hope you learn to say it before you tell him the truth. Because he's going to need to hear it from you."

He did not answer her, just walked out her door, leaving her to try to still a heart that raced with pain and anger and a small bit of fear.

---------------

Kirk was just leaving for dinner, saw Spock coming down the corridor. Smiled at his friend. "Can I interest you in a game of chess?" Then he frowned.

Spock looked upset.

"What's wrong, Spock?"

"I must speak with you."

"Of course. Come in." He palmed his door open, motioned for Spock to go in ahead of him. "What's on your mind?"

He thought he saw Spock flinch.

"Spock?"

"I do not know how to tell you something. But it is important and I must find a way."

"Just say it, Spock. You know there's nothing you can't tell me." He smiled, remembering how Spock had believed in him when he had been in Janice's body.

"I have trespassed."

"What?" Kirk poured himself a drink, looked over at Spock. "You sure I can't get you something? You look like you could use a drink."

And Spock suddenly looked like he was considering having one.

"Spock? For god's sake. What do you mean you've trespassed?" He sat down in front of his best friend, waited.

"You were in pain. And I wanted to help." Spock was unusually tentative, watching Kirk for a reaction.

"And...?"

"I erased that pain."

Kirk smiled. "You say it like it's a bad thing. Obviously I don't remember it. Was it after a fight? Was I hurt?"

"It was not physical pain. It was...emotional distress."

Kirk frowned. "And you took it away?"

Spock nodded.

"How did you do that?"

"I"--Spock actually gulped--"I erased your memory. A part of it that was linked with the distress."

Kirk wasn't sure he had heard Spock right. "You did what?" He stood up, suddenly needing to be anywhere but close to Spock. "How much of my memory? When?" He turned to look at Spock. "Why?"

"Because you were suffering." Spock looked down. "Recently. And not so recently."

"How much?"

"It is difficult to calculate. Memories are complicated." Spock's voice cracked. He coughed. "They may still be there, I tampered with the linkages."

"Meaning you can put them back?" Kirk took a long gulp of his drink, then put it down. It tasted horrible. Or maybe that was just the aftertaste of the truth.

And of illusion.

"I can try."

Kirk walked over to him, sat down next to him. "Then do it. All of it."

"You do not know the enormity of it."

"I don't care, Spock." He knew his tone was harsh, harsher than he'd ever used with the Vulcan. He didn't care. "Put. Them. Back."

"She said you would want that."

"She? She who?"

"Christine."

Kirk shook his head, unsure why Chapel would care one way or the other.

"You will understand in a moment." Spock raised his hand to Kirk's face. "I did it for you, because I thought it would help you. I hope you can forgive me."

"You have me at a disadvantage, Spock. Until I know what you stole from me, I can't say, now can I?"

"Of course not." Spock took a deep breath. "Close your eyes."

Kirk closed his eyes. Felt Spock's mind slip easily into his. And why not? He'd never tried to block him. Never thought he needed to.

"I am sorry," he heard Spock say.

Then there was only silence as Spock moved deeper into his mind.

Kirk suddenly saw Chris, laughing as he flicked her with water. Surrounded by the smell of roses. "Chris," he said out loud. Spock had stolen Chris? Why?

Then the rest rolled in on top of that memory. The dream channeler, what she had done to try to save him, how he had killed Alesson. Their time on Starbase Two, how she had comforted him, helped him. How he still hadn't been able to sleep.

He could feel his hands shaking.

"I can stop now," Spock said.

"I want it all back," Kirk said, flinching as the memories of the nightmares he'd had flew back at him, surrounding him, trying to pull him under.

You're just nightmares, he told them. Go away.

Miraculously, he felt them subside.

Spock sighed, let the meld ease. "The neural pathways have healed since I took these away. The dreams may not haunt you anymore."

"Do you want credit for that?" Kirk shifted impatiently, refused to open his eyes. He didn't want to see Spock right now. "You said not so recent memories. What else did you decide I wasn't strong enough to handle?"

"Jim, it was never like that."

"Just give them back, Spock. Give them back and get out."

"Of course." Spock reinitiated the meld.

"Oh, god." Kirk felt a huge weight settle on him as Spock seemed to dig through his memories of months past. "Rayna."

Grief, enduring and terrible settled over him. As raw as the day he'd lost her, the grief was worse for knowing that he'd forgotten her all this time. "How could you?" he breathed.

"I am sorry, Jim. I thought it best."

"What else?" Kirk screamed into the meld. "What else did you steal?"

Spock was gone for a long time. Kirk could feel him far away, in memories grown dim now. Memories from early in their mission.

"Jim, are you sure?"

"Just do it." Then he realized what Spock was giving back to him and felt a shiver run up his spine, settling in his arms. "No. Oh god, Spock. How could you?"

Edith. He'd let Edith die. He'd let the woman he loved die. For the sake of humanity. For the sake of the world.

He wrenched away from Spock, felt as if part of his mind was tearing as he broke the meld before Spock was ready. Spock cried out.

Kirk heard the terrible squeal of the truck's brakes, the awful thud as it hit Edith, sent her flying. "No." He sank to the floor. "No, god, no."

"Jim."

"Get out. Get out."

He heard Spock flee.

"Get out."

----------------------

There was a frantic pounding on her door. Chapel hurried to it, wondering if her chime was out.

Spock rushed in. His face was flushed a dark green and his eyes were wild. "You must help him."

"You told him?" She saw him nod, the gesture unnaturally fast for him.

Everything about Spock screamed panic.

"And he wanted it back?" she asked.

"Yes. All of it. Why?" He grabbed her arms. "Why would he want that back? I do not understand."

"It's all right. I'll go to him."

"He will never forgive me," Spock said.

She had never heard anyone sound so forlorn.

"Jim is a good man. He will forgive you. In time." She touched his hair, stroked it like she would a small child. "Go to your quarters, Spock. Meditate."

"Yes. I must do that. I must calm myself. I must gain control."

She nodded. Hurried out, trusting he could find his quarters on his own.

The lift seemed to take forever, and it made too many stops during the busy dinner hour. She wanted to push everyone out and hit the emergency bypass. But she waited.

Finally it arrived at his deck, and she hurried out and down the corridor to his quarters. She rang for admittance but there was no answer. She hit the switch, "Chapel, Christine, Ensign. Emergency medical bypass authorization four-five-five-beta."

The door opened. She saw Kirk on the floor, rocking slowly, tears streaming down his face.

"Oh, sweetheart." She approached him carefully, not sure what he would want from her, if anything.

He looked up. "Chris?" He seemed relieved to see her. "Chris."

"I'm here."

"I forgot you." He pulled her down, onto his lap, hugged her close. "How could I forget you?"

"It's okay."

"And Rayna. He took her away."

She pulled away. Wiped his cheeks. "I know." She waited.

"Edith." He searched her face. "You know he took Edith?"

"I know."

"You found out?" Kirk pulled her close, kissed her desperately. "You found out?"

She nodded.

"Why?" His voice was so broken, the one word coming out in a voice unnaturally high and cracked. "How could he?"

"He loves you, Jim. He was only trying to help."

"He stole my memories," he screamed at her.

She flinched and he was immediately hugging her close.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." He was shaking hard. His skin was freezing.

"Shhh." She crawled off him. Pulled him up. "Come on."

"Stay with me, Chris."

"I'm not going anywhere." She led him into the bedroom. Drew back the covers, and pushed him gently into the bed, pulling off his boots and her own before crawling in next to him.

She tucked the covers around them both, pulled him close and rubbed his back as he hugged her almost painfully close.

When he was finally quiet, she said, "Tell me about them?"

He looked at her.

"I mean it. If you want to. I'm here. And I'd like to know."

He looked down. Then he began to talk. He started with Rayna. The tragic girl's story broke Chapel's heart.

They had both loved androids, she realized. She wondered why life was so cruel.

Then he told her about Edith. All the things McCoy had never realized. She had never realized how huge a sacrifice Kirk had made, how much he had given up for the rest of them. So that they could exist.

She loved him even more than before.

Then he began to tell her of a third person. It took Chapel a moment to realize he was talking about her. She smiled at him, kissed him on the forehead tenderly.

He pulled her closer, kissed her hard, ripping off her clothes as he did so. She didn't try to stop him, helped him get his own off. He was like a man possessed. His lips moved over her body, his hands stroking and prodding. He was tender one moment, fierce the next.

"Lost you," he kept muttering.

She let him do whatever he wanted, kissing him wherever she could reach, her hands moving over his body, holding and fondling and stroking.

Then he was inside her and she had to close her eyes. She had thought this feeling was gone forever.

"Chris, look at me."

She opened her eyes, let him see how moved she was. Tears ran down her cheeks in a silent fall.

He kissed her, his mouth so tender on hers that she sobbed.

"He stole from both of us," Kirk said softly. His voice was low. Dangerous.

"Yes. He did."

"My friend." Kirk's mouth twisted horribly. "My best goddamn friend." Tears came to his eyes and he tried to pull away.

She held him to her. "No, whatever you feel, that's fine. Whatever you want to do, I'm here. But don't hide from me. Don't hide."

He kissed her then began to move inside her again. An angry tear rolled down his face, dripped down to her cheek.

He kissed it off.

She thought her heart would break for him. "Jim," she whispered. Then she said it again and again. Because she could. And because no one would ever be able to take that away from her again.

-------------------

Kirk woke slowly to the sound of his message console beeping insistently. He looked over at where Chapel lay tangled in the covers and smiled.

He scratched at his eyes. They felt puffy and sore. He couldn't remember the last time he'd cried. He could never remember having wept with such intensity. Talking to her about the memories had helped. Talking and loving her when the talking was over. The grief was still there, but not so raw, not so overwhelming.

And Spock had been right about the neural pathways. They did seem to have healed. He'd slept a deep sleep, with just normal dreams. They hadn't been particularly pleasant, but they also hadn't been the full-bore nightmares that Alesson's apparatus had spawned.

The message console beeped louder. He sighed, eased out of bed and pulled on a robe. He checked the incoming messages; the last one was from Starfleet command, from Nogura's office. He coded in the frequency, waited for the call to connect.

He heard Chapel stirring, saw her look over at him. He smiled softly, put his finger to his lips and made a face. She nodded, lay back and watched him with a gentle smile on her face. The covers had slipped, exposing her breasts. She pulled them up.

He reached over and pulled them back down. She smiled. He smiled bigger.

She was back. She was back and she was his and he wasn't going to let anyone take her away from him.

Except medical school. He'd let her go for that. He smiled at her again, then turned to the terminal as Nogura came on.

"Jim?" Nogura frowned. "You don't look so hot."

"You try being tortured and then trapped in your ex-girlfriend's body, sir."

"Enough said. Glad you came through both all right." Nogura leaned back, his face taking on what Kirk had dubbed his "Snake Oil Salesman" look. "I have a proposition for you."

Kirk steeled himself. He had a feeling this wasn't going to be anything he liked.

"How'd you like to be head of Fleet Ops, Jim?"

Kirk's eyes widened. He looked over at Chapel. She smiled, happy for him.

"It's a great honor, sir, for you to ask, but--"

"--Don't give me any hooey about not being able to leave the Enterprise. You're going to bring the Enterprise home. It's time for her to be refitted anyway. It'll be a year at least before she's ready to put out again."

Kirk could feel his smile fading. "Refits, sir?"

"That's right. Time to modernize."

Including the captain, Kirk guessed.

"We'll talk more when you get back. Maybe by then I'll be calling you Admiral, eh?" Nogura barked out some laughter.

Kirk just nodded as the connection went dead.

"Refits," Chapel said softly.

"Refits," Kirk echoed with a shake of his head. Janice wouldn't have gotten much out of her takeover. Two days he'd had to get the ship to Starbase II and turn Coleman and her over to the Federation authorities. Then however long it took to get them home from here. He laughed.

"What?"

"I'm just thinking how furious Janice would have been. Work that hard to get the Enterprise, only to have it yanked away." He shook his head.

"When are you going to tell the crew?"

He sighed. "Well, no time like the present, huh?"

She nodded.

"Kirk to bridge."

"Lieutenant Lisa here, sir."

"Ship-wide announcement, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir." A second later, she said, "You can go ahead, Captain."

Captain. He loved the sound of that. He didn't think Admiral would sound half so satisfying as his current title did.

"Attention, all personnel. This is Captain Kirk. I've just received notification from Starfleet Command that our mission is officially at an end. We're going home." He could imagine the excitement of some crewmembers, the disappointment of others. "It has been the highest honor to serve with all of you. No captain has ever had a better crew. Kirk out."

He took a deep breath.

Chapel crawled over to him and he moved to the bed.

"That was nice."

"Nice." He shook his head. "What am I going to do at a desk, Chris?"

"Well, I don't know. Find a way to make a difference, like you always do, I guess."

He smiled at her. Touched by her faith in him.

She looked down. "And maybe it's selfish of me, but I'm kind of glad to hear that you'll be around."

"Maybe more than you want."

She shook her head. "Not possible. I lost you, remember?"

"Yeah, about that. Why'd you just let me go?"

She shrugged, her expression sheepish. "I haven't had the best experiences. Men do that sometimes. Walk away."

"I don't."

She nodded. "I should have known that."

"Yes, you should have. If I ever do it again, I want you to assume anything but that I wanted to do it." He kissed her, pulled away only when his door chime rang. "Better get covered up."

Her expression was startled. "You don't want me to go in the bathroom or something?"

He shook his head. "Not unless you want to?" He grinned. "Whoever it is, I'll get rid of them."

He opened the door, saw McCoy. Barely got "Bones," out before McCoy pushed past him.

"What in the Sam hell is going on here, Jim? The mission's over? What are you thin--" He saw Chapel and stopped dead.

"Why, Chris," Kirk said with a grin. "We've finally found a way to stop one of his rants."

She laughed. "Hi, Len. You weren't supposed to barge in."

"Oh. Yeah." He turned around. "So are they giving you another ship?"

"Not exactly." Kirk forced himself to smile.

"Don't tell me you're taking a desk job?"

"Looks like. Director of Fleet Operations, I think." He winked at Chapel.

She smiled back.

McCoy made a face. "Sounds great. Won't be. You belong in space, Jim."

"I don't think I have a choice." Kirk suddenly wished McCoy would go away.

"Bull." McCoy stomped to the door. "If you do this, Jim, it will be the biggest mistake you ever make. I promise you that."

"Maybe you could be a little supportive of him," Chapel said.

Her fierceness surprised Kirk. It also pleased him.

"I'll leave that to you, Christine." McCoy stared at the two of them, then shook his head. "Cussed damn fool, don't say I didn't warn you," he said to Kirk, as he barreled back out the door.

Kirk stared at the doors. "I wish he'd speak his mind."

Chapel laughed. "Come here. I'll make you forget all about him."

He shot her a look.

"Sorry. Bad choice of words."

"And don't you forget it," he said, his tone very firm. Then he frowned. "That's a hard word not to use."

"You see the problem."

"I'd rather see you." He walked over to her, pulling the covers off her. He felt very possessive of her, wanted to show her that he cared, that he did need her. That she was his.

And he was hers.

She smiled as he stared down at her. "You gonna look all day, or you gonna do something with me now that you've stolen all my covers?"

"I'll take option number two," he said as he joined her on the bed.

Option number two took them quite a while to fully explore.

------------------------

Chapel's message console was blinking when she got back from Kirk's quarters. She brought up the message, was surprised to see it was from Spock. It was short and direct, as she'd expect. "I must speak with you. Please come to my quarters."

She hurried out of her quarters, headed up to his. Rang his bell.

He answered immediately. He was out of uniform, dressed in a dark robe.

"You wanted to see me?" For all the times she'd been at Spock's door on one pretext or another, Chapel didn't think she'd ever uttered those words.

"Yes. Please come in." Spock moved aside to let her pass.

She walked into the room and stopped short at the sight of the bare walls and cabinets, two bags sitting neatly by the bed. "What...?"

"I am leaving the ship."

She turned to face him. "Leaving?"

"I heard the announcement. The ship is to go into refits, the mission is over. It is time for me to go." He looked away. As if afraid to meet her eyes.

That was something Spock never did.

"You're leaving him. You're running away."

He did look at her then, and she thought his eyes contained a spark of some strong emotion, but she couldn't decide if it was pain or fear or possibly anger.

"Spock, you made a mistake. And you hurt someone--several someones--in the process. Including yourself, because now you feel bad too. It's how it works. We hurt someone, and we hurt. We feel guilty. Sick inside. It's a natural reaction. We've all been there." She sat down on the bed, as if by settling in the room she could make him stay on the ship.

"It is not a place I intend to stay." His voice was firm, but he sat down in his desk chair.

"And you won't have to. Not forever. Jim's a good man, and he's your friend. He loves you. And he'll forgive you, but you have to give him time to do that."

"How much time?"

She smiled sadly. "As much time as he needs."

"Ah." Spock looked down. "And how much time do you think he needs, Christine?"

"I don't know how much time he'll need. He's hurt now, and very angry. He's going to have to separate what you did from what Alesson did." At Spock's look of disbelief, she shrugged helplessly. "I think, right now they're running together. Pain and betrayal. From his worst enemy and his best friend."

He looked away again. His lips set tightly.

"But he loves you, Spock. He will forgive you."

"It does not feel that way." He actually grimaced.

"What?"

"I use human terms so easily now." He put a disdainful emphasis on the word 'human.'

"You're upset because you said 'feel'? Well, you do feel, Spock. And we both know it. I saw you last night. How frantic you were. Despite all your Vulcan logic, you do feel."

He nodded slowly. "That can be changed."

"What?"

He rose slowly. "It is time for me to choose my path."

"Your path is with Jim Kirk."

He shook his head slowly, sadly. "I do not think it is."

"Where will you go?"

"Back to Vulcan. There is a place there...a place of pure logic."

"And no emotion?"

"Precisely." His tone was cold, cutting, and very final.

He gathered up his bags.

"You're leaving now?"

"Yes. I am meeting a shuttle bound for Vulcan. It will arrive at Starbase Two in one point five hours." He headed for the door.

"You're not going to say goodbye? To Jim? To Len?" She got up hurriedly, stepped in front of him as if she could keep him from going. "You can't just leave."

"I can. And I must. I am retiring from Starfleet; everything is in order."

"Not everything. Jim doesn't know."

"He will. Eventually." He set the bags down, moved her gently aside. "Say goodbye to him for me. And to Doctor McCoy."

"No."

"You must, of course, do as you think best." He touched her hand, an odd expression on his face. "You will have to watch out for Jim now. You will do that?"

"You know I will."

"Do you know what he will do?"

"Why don't you ask him yourself?"

He gave her a longsuffering look and she relented.

"He's been offered a job at Command."

He nodded, as if the news was not unexpected, but also not particularly welcome. "He will not thrive at a desk. I do not think you will find him an easy person to be with in those circumstances." He pulled his hand away. "But I know that you love him, and that he loves you. I am...sorry that I took that away."

"Spock, can't you see? I forgive you for that. He will too. Just give him the time to do that. Don't run away."

"I am not running." His mouth lifted slightly, in what looked to be a small smile. "I am walking purposefully toward my destiny."

"A destiny without Jim?"

"I am afraid so." He held up his hand in the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, Doctor Chapel."

"I'm not a doctor yet."

"You will be. Tell Jim...tell Jim that I am sorry. For everything." Then he turned and walked out of his quarters.

Chapel stared at the closed doors. "Live long and prosper, Spock." Then she walked to the communications console. "But if you think I'm going to let you run away without telling him, you don't know me at all."

Then she wondered if maybe he was counting on that.

"Chapel to Kirk."

"Kirk here." He sounded different, almost happy. A new intimacy seemed to have crept into his voice, even on those two innocent words.

"Sir," she said, knowing that would get his attention. "You need to get down to the transporter room at once. To say goodbye to a friend."

There was a pause.

"At once, sir."

"On my way. Thank you, Chris." The line stayed open. He must have run out from wherever he was without saying 'Kirk out.'

"Chapel out," she said softly. The line went dead.

"Hurry," she urged him. Hoping that he would be able to find the words to make Spock stay. Knowing that the probability was not high.

-----------------------------

Kirk rushed down to the transporter room, nearly knocking over a startled crewman as he rounded the corner. "Sorry," he yelled, not slowing.

There had been a frantic note in Chris's voice. He could only think of one friend who might want to leave the ship without saying goodbye to him.

"Wait," he whispered. "Please wait."

Spock was just climbing onto the platform when Kirk barreled into the room.

"Sir?" the startled transporter operator asked.

"Could you give us some time alone, Chief?"

"Of course, sir." She left the room.

Spock set his bags down on one of the pads, turned to face Kirk. "Christine called you."

"Yes, she did."

"She seemed quite adamant that I should not leave without saying goodbye."

"She was right. She usually is." Kirk walked to the pad, stood at the bottom of the stairs, staring up at Spock. Trying to figure out why this was happening. "Where are you going?"

"Home."

That hurt. Kirk wondered if Spock meant it to. "You used to say your home was here. With us."

"With you, you mean." Spock shook his head. "Our mission is over. We may be separated."

"Then we stay friends even though we aren't together as crewmates. That's par for the course in a fleet this size." He took a step, saw Spock's face tighten and decided not to push him. Yet. "What will you do on Vulcan?"

"Have you heard of Gol?"

Kirk felt his face freeze. A shiver seemed to crawl down his spine. "You're going there?"

Spock nodded. "There is a discipline called the Kohlinar. It is the pursuit of pure logic."

"What of emotion?" Kirk could barely get the question out.

"All emotion is purged. Expunged."

"Thrown out. Like garbage." Anger filled him and Kirk didn't try to hide it. "What the hell, Spock? This is what you do because you screw up? You throw away the feelings that made you do it in the first place? You throw out us? Me?"

Spock took a deep breath, did not answer.

Kirk could feel his mouth twist, the anger inside him turned mean. "I guess that's par for the course. How different is it than what you did to me? Don't like something? Get rid of it. Don't deal with it. Don't admit to it. Just erase it. Purge it." He did take a step up, then another. Ended up in Spock's face. "Just throw it away."

Spock looked angry. "You and McCoy have ridden me for the past five years about showing emotion. Wished for me to let it out. The few times I have made decisions purely on feeling, they are wrong. They hurt you and now you are angry at me. I do not know if you will ever trust me again." He closed his eyes. "And it hurts. Why would I choose this? This pain?" He opened his eyes, they were steel. "There has to be more."

"And you think you'll find it in logic?"

"I will soon discover that. I go to Gol as soon as I arrive home."

Again that word. This time Kirk knew Spock was using it to hurt him. And this time it didn't sting so much as anger him. "Fine, Spock. If you're that big a fool, go home. Go to that planet you hate."

"I have never said--"

"You didn't have to say it. You stayed here, with me, with all of us. For all these years. Not because you had to, but because you wanted to. Because this was the only place you ever felt at home. At peace."

Spock looked down. "Please call the transporter technician back in. I will be late for my shuttle."

Kirk smiled meanly. "Somehow I doubt that. You've no doubt built the chance for this confrontation into your timetable. You're like that, Spock. Thorough." He backed away. "You're always welcome back. I want you to know that."

"Does that mean you forgive me?" Spock's voice was almost taunting.

"No."

"I did not think so."

Kirk stepped off the platform and walked to the door.

"Jim?"

He stopped.

"Live long and prosper."

Kirk turned slowly. He stared at Spock, trying to reach him, to make some sort of connection that could cut through the anger and hurt he felt, that he knew Spock felt too. There was nothing. "Peace and long life, Spock. I hope you find whatever it is that you're looking for." He didn't wait for Spock to answer, just hurried out the door.

The transporter tech looked up. "Sir?"

"Sorry for the delay, Chief. Carry on."

"Yes, sir." She hurried back to her station.

Kirk turned, looked through the doors. Spock was staring out at him, no emotion on his face, or in the dark intensity of his gaze. The doors closed and Kirk turned away.

Chris was standing at the end of the hall, her face one of compassion and misery. He walked toward her, felt his throat tighten and tried to swallow.

"Come on," she said, as she took his arm.

He let her guide him, not caring if anyone saw them. What did it matter? They'd soon be off the ship, on Earth. Together. He could be with this warm, gentle woman who wouldn't be afraid to love him.

"Thank you for calling me," he whispered.

"I'm sorry he's leaving," she answered as she steered him into the turbolift, called for deck five.

He leaned against the wall, feeling old, tired. "Are you sure I'm not still on that damned dream channeler, Chris? I'm losing everything. Spock, this ship, nearly you."

"I'm afraid this is real life." She followed him off the lift.

He palmed open the door to his quarters, stepped inside. Her arms went around him as soon as the door closed. He held her tightly, burying his head in her neck, letting the warm smell of her comfort him as he fought back tears.

He loved her for not telling him to let go. He loved her for not telling him it was going to be all right. He loved her for just holding him silently, her hands running down his back, through his hair, her every touch a comfort.

"I love you," he whispered.

She tensed, pulled back and studied his face. She stroked his cheek, smiled gently and kissed him on the forehead. "Tell me that someday when your heart isn't breaking."

"I will."

She kissed him again, this time on the lips. Easy, comforting kisses. "I love you too, Jim."

He pulled her closer. "He's really gone."

"I know." She pushed him to his bed, curled up next to him on top of the covers. "I hate that I found out what he did." She kissed his cheek. "And I don't. I lost you because of him."

Kirk nodded. "It was wrong."

"Yes. He doesn't understand that pain makes us grow."

"He doesn't want to understand."

"Forgive him, Jim. Or it will eat away at you."

He nodded, found himself again wishing that he could be as flexible as she was. As able to bend in the wind.

But he wasn't able to bend. He'd stand. Or he'd break. But he would not bend.

She was watching him, a worried look on her face.

"I'm all right."

She nodded.

"I have to get back to the bridge," he said.

"Just a few more minutes." She curled against him again.

He closed his eyes, imagined having this all the time. Her warm body pressed against his, her sweetness. Her love. He could get used to it. He pulled her closer, kissed her. Passionately this time. Wanting her. Wanting to blot out the scene in the transporter room.

She pushed him away gently. "That's the not the way. And you have to get back to the bridge, remember?"

"Maybe it's the only way."

"No. I don't believe that." She held her hand against his chest. "It hurts. Let it. Deal with it. Don't try to bury it."

He looked away. Wasn't that what he'd just tried to tell Spock?

She kissed him brusquely. "Time to get up, Captain Kirk. Our future lies ahead."

He smiled, shaking his head. "I told you to have faith."

"And you were right. It arrived and here we are." Her eyes glistened with tears. "And everything's terrible."

"Not everything. You're wonderful." He kissed her slowly, trying to show her that he did love her, did believe she was one of the few good things left in his life.

She sighed, but he couldn't tell if the sound was happy or sad. He pulled away, stared at her.

She smiled, the expression the one he'd first learned to love in that awful cell. The smile that said "It's going to be all right." The smile that said she trusted him and had faith in him. That she believed in him no matter what.

He smiled back, then pulled her up. "Back to work."

She nodded, followed him off the bed. She reached over, smoothed his hair. "You have bed hair."

"I hope to have that a lot with you around."

She smiled, a happy smile. Happy, despite the rest. That's what they could be. Happy, despite the rest.

"Do you want to tell Len about Spock, or should I?"

He took a deep breath. "Bones isn't happy with me right now."

"He just thinks you're making a mistake giving up your ship."

"I don't have a choice." He wondered if Spock believed that he'd had no choice. Was he taking the worse of two options because he couldn't think of a way out?

"Not any that are appealing," she agreed. "Although, for the record, I'd follow you into space on a freighter."

He grinned. "I believe you would too." He sighed. "I'll tell Bones. Later."

She nodded. Kissed him and drew him to the door. They rode the lift up to the bridge together, he left her in it as he walked to his chair. He looked back; she was watching him, her eyes full of loving concern.

He smiled just before the doors closed, saw her smile back. His future. She was warm and human. And she loved him.

He looked around the bridge, watched his crew work. His crew, his bridge, his ship. Soon to be someone else's. He sighed. He'd always known this moment would come. That eventually he'd have to leave the ship behind. He'd just thought he'd be readier for it than he felt.

Early in his career, he'd wanted to make admiral. Now he'd give all the likelihood of that for one more year as captain of the Enterprise.

Unfortunately, no one was going to take him up on that deal. The next step in his career awaited, whether he wanted it or not.

"Heading, sir?" Chekov asked softly.

"Home. Take us home, Mister Chekov."

"Aye-aye, sir. Setting course for Earth."

"Warp factor four, Mister Sulu."

"Warp four, aye, sir." Sulu turned around, looked at him. His eyes were full of the same nostalgia Kirk felt. "If I might make a suggestion, sir?"

"I'm open to those."

"We could take the long way home?"

Kirk laughed. "We could." He began to smile, imagined Command's irritation. "Do it. Take the scenic route." He looked around the bridge again, this time catching the eye of each member of his crew, leaving them with a grin, a different one for each of them, expressions that he'd perfected over years of getting to know them. "Let's see the sights, shall we?"

They all smiled.

"Adjusting course to"--Chekov's grin was huge--"the scenic route."

"Warp four, Mister Sulu."

"Aye, sir. Warp four."

The ship sped away from Starbase 2, leaving behind his best friend. The first of many friends he'd have to say goodbye to.

He'd think about that once they got home. If they ever did. Chekov was doing some interesting things to his console. Kirk wondered how long the scenic tour was going to take.

He leaned back in this chair. Smiled. Years would be fine with him.

FIN