The Lost Years: Hellspawn by Djinn

Kirk stared out his office window, frowning deeply. He was sure he'd forgotten something...again.

"Careful. Your face might freeze that way."

He swiveled in his chair, saw Lori standing at his doorway. "One of the lies our mothers told us?"

Her smiled died. "No. Just a saying. A stupid one." She stepped into his office, carefully, as if she was unsure of her welcome. "Faces don't freeze. Unless they get cold enough."

He didn't answer, just watched her as she came toward him. He was more sure than ever that he was forgetting something, was suddenly hit by an odd sense of vertigo, then got a flash of the carrying case he'd made for his sword.

And the padd. The padd that Carl had made him take--the padd that Lori wanted. He forced his features to not change; no new expression must cross his face or she would know it was here.

He didn't know how he knew that, but he did. He had to keep the padd safe. Protect whatever secrets it held. Secrets he needed to look at. Up until now, he'd forgotten the padd every time he entered his office.

"I ran into your slayer." Lori put an almost mocking emphasis on the possessive.

"And yet you live."

Lori shrugged. "She's not that scary." She leaned forward, her eyes catching and holding his. "She's been bitten, you know."

"I'm aware of that." He leaned back, an unconscious reaction to her nearness.

"Kinky. And dangerous."

"I'm sure you're not one to throw stones on either of those scores."

Lori sighed. "You're making this difficult, Jim."

"Making what difficult, Lori? I don't even know what you want?" He studied her for a moment. When she didn't say anything, he said, "Is this the approach you used with Chris? Because I can't imagine she'd tolerate it for long."

"She didn't." Lori's look turned leering. "She's a great kisser."

He tried to hide his shock, knew he failed when Lori's leer turn mocking.

"Yes, she is," he said as evenly as he could.

She eased up on the mocking. "We're all on the same side, Jim."

He wondered if she'd used that line on Carl. "Sure we are."

"We are. Your slayer has something we want. She listens to you. Convince her to work with us."

"Convince me why I should."

"Because we all love Starfleet, and we'd all die to protect the Federation. And if we work together, then maybe none of us will ever have to die for it."

"Is that a threat?"

She frowned. "No."

He looked away.

She leaned back. "Jim. It's not." She looked down then back at him, seemed to be weighing how much to say. Finally, she leaned in again, said very softly, "Kirsu, Jim. It's the ultimate platform for peace."

"For peace?" He leaned in, shaking his head. "Peace how? And with whom? And what's Kirsu?"

She smiled, as if she didn't believe for a moment that he didn't know what Kirsu was. "Peace for the Federation. For those who want peace. Against those who don't."

"Are you being deliberately vague?"

"We could wage peace anywhere, anytime." Her eyes seemed to become unfocused for a moment, then she stood up. "I have to go. Nogura needs me."

"Who needs communicators when there's magic?"

She shot him a hard look. "You don't understand anything. Don't think your little magics give you any insight into what he's capable of, or what I'm capable of."

He could feel his lips tighten. He bit back the angry retort that he understood all too well what she and Nogura were capable of. He had one less friend because of their magic.

Not that he had any proof of that.

Yet.

She touched his hand, and he felt a jolt. He jerked away; his skin stung where she had touched him.

"If you came here to get me to help you with Chris, you've got a damned odd approach, Lori." He stood up. "I don't trust you."

"I know. But, Jim, you must know how valuable you are. We'd never hurt you." She smiled, this time the look seemed to only hold simple affection and respect.

He didn't smile back.

She shook her head and spun on her heel, heading quickly for the door. "She doesn't trust me either. But she trusts you," she said, not turning around. "Work on her."

He waited a few moments, afraid that she would walk back into the room the moment he headed for the carrying case. Finally, he got up and walked over to where he'd hung it. The thing seemed to shimmer slightly. For some time, he'd forgotten about it. Why was he remembering it now?

He opened the case, reached down carefully and retrieved the padd. He grabbed enough padds to hide Carl's among them and headed out of his office. He had a feeling he shouldn't look at it in his office--they might be watching him.

He half expected Lori to be waiting for him in the corridor, hand outstretched for the padd. But she was gone. He hurried out of his wing, heading toward Starfleet Medical. He needed to look at the padd somewhere that she and Nogura wouldn't think to look for him. He was betting that while they might be watching Chris after hours, they probably weren't paying much attention to her when she was leading her non-slayer life. As long as he didn't call her on the comm channel, he'd be okay.

Still, her office was too dangerous a place to try to read the padd in case he was wrong. They needed to find someplace out of the way to look at the information Carl might have died for. But first Kirk needed to find her. He slowed at the reception desk, saw the young man on duty look up in anticipation. Kirk waved him off, walking into the busy main hallway.

Where would Chris be at this hour of the afternoon? And could he find her? Could he call her the way Nogura had called Lori? Or would that be too dangerous? He didn't know how to shield, much less broadcast just to her. And he had no idea where she was.

But he'd found her before. If he wanted to badly enough, he could do it again. He ducked into an empty exam room and closed his eyes, thinking of Chris, of her smile, and her more-frequently-seen frown. He thought of how her blue eyes looked in the sunshine. And how they turned a stormy gray at night, how they seemed dark and mysterious. And beautiful. He sighed.

"Chris, where are you?" he whispered.

He had a flash of her in the immunology department, talking to another doctor. He hurried out of the exam room, took the elevator up, suddenly wondering how he'd known it had been the immunology department.

Magic. He smiled, hoping he was right. As he walked into the immunology anteroom, he saw her through a window in the door that separated him from the labs. Her back was to him.

"Chris," he whispered, thinking it as hard as he could, sure that he could reach her.

She turned around. Her smile was immediate. He wondered if he treasured the expression because she smiled so rarely. Or was he just lost? Lost for a woman he could never have?

A woman he could find simply by thinking of her?

She turned back to the other doctor, said something and then turned and hurried down the hall. He saw another bright smile light up her face, felt his own grin grow larger.

No. He wasn't lost. Not at all.

"Jim?"

"I need to look at this." He showed her the padd, hidden among the others. "Is there someplace we can go? Somewhere busy where we can fade into the noise? Somewhere they won't be watching?"

She didn't ask who they were, just thought for a moment, then nodded. "I know where."

"Lead on," he said, following her out and down the hall to a busy stairwell. They walked down a few flights, then she led him down another hallway and into the adjoining building.

He started to chuckle. Why hadn't he thought of this?

She smiled slyly. "Well, can you think of a busier place than the Academy library?"

"Have I ever told you that you're brilliant, Doctor?"

She laughed. "No, Admiral, I don't believe you have." She nodded toward an empty carrel. "Come on." As they sat down, she said softly, "It's so odd to be called doctor."

He nodded. "I know. Admiral still sounds like it should be anybody else but me." He could feel a frown beginning. "But then you wanted to be a doctor, you're moving forward."

She watched him, waiting for him to finish. He waved her off. Now wasn't the time. He busied himself with accessing the padd's data.

"You'd give anything to have the ship back, wouldn't you? To be a captain again?"

"Not anything." He turned to look at her. "But almost anything."

She nodded, touched him on the arm. "I'm sorry."

He shook his head. "Moot point now, Chris." He watched as the padd tried to display. Nothing was coming up.

"It's blank, Jim."

"That's impossible." He leaned in, told the padd to de-encrypt and display the data.

"Nothing to display." The message seemed an act of defiance.

He shook his head, leaned in and studied the total lack of results. He'd never actually taken the protection spell off the case, maybe the padd was still affected? Not that he was sure how he'd set the spell, much less how to take it off.

"Jim?"

"What's the opposite of protect?"

"Endanger?"

"Something less negative." He exhaled loudly. "I protect you. I...you. What is the word?"

"Release?"

Yes. That was good. "Release," he whispered to the padd.

The screen was suddenly filled with data.

"Wow. You did that?" She shot him a look of admiration.

He felt a grin starting. "I guess so. And I have no idea in hell how to do it again. I can't believe it's just the word."

"It's not. I said it and nothing happened." She smiled at him. "Intent. That indomitable Kirk will." Her expression grew soft. "And magic. Real magic, Jim." She smiled again, then turned to the screen. "Now, what do we have here?"

They ran through the data. It was as Carl had said. His science team had seemed to be searching subspace for something very specific. It was all there if you knew what you were looking for. And even if you didn't, it still looked damned odd. Kirk turned to Chris, saw that she was staring at the readings, her eyes narrowed.

"Kirsu," he said softly.

She nodded. "They want to use it."

"I know. Lori came to see me just before I came here."

"They'll ensure the peace with it. Or so they say." She shook her head. "And once they've ensured it, then who will they turn their power against?"

Like the Tantalus Field that his alter ego had used against his enemies in the mirror universe. Such a powerful weapon in the wrong hands. Or even in the right hands once there were no more enemies to fight.

They couldn't let Nogura have Kirsu.

"It's theirs, Jim. The slayers. It belongs to them now."

He nodded. "I know, Chris. We won't give away Kirsu." He closed down the padd and whispered, "Protect." He felt a shiver as something flowed out of him into the padd. He thought that this time he could probably wear it around his neck and Lori wouldn't notice it.

"But they don't need to know that we're not going to play." Her look was deadly serious.

"No. Let them think we might. It's safer for everyone."

She nodded. "And they aren't the only ones that want it. Silver does too. For the watchers." She shook her head. "At this point, David's the only one who doesn't want it."

"Seen him lately?" Kirk said as casually as he could.

She laughed. "Since I saw you at dinner on Saturday, you mean?" She leaned in, touched his hand. "No. I haven't. Maybe he's lost interest in me?"

Kirk let his eyebrows rise. "I doubt it. I wouldn't if I were David." His hand tingled where Chris touched him. It was a good feeling, nothing like the jolt of Lori's touch. He thought of her odd comment. "So, Lori mentioned that you were somewhat skilled in the kissing department."

She looked away.

"You're blushing, Chris." He turned his hand, twined his fingers with hers, a possessive move that he knew he should resist. "Something you want to tell me?"

"Just power games. Pack behavior." She shrugged. "It was nothing."

"Sweetheart, I've never seen wolves kiss."

They both seemed to realize what he'd called her at the same time. He looked away, but not before he saw a small smile cross her face.

"You've obviously been watching the wrong wolves, my friend."

"Obviously." He squeezed her hand, thanking her for taking them back to the ground he'd been the one to insist was safer. Friends--not sweethearts. He let go of her hand. "So what's next?"

She frowned. "I need to talk to LaVelle...and take her something. But I need to get to her from someplace that isn't crawling with watchers and werewolves."

"Weasel could probably shield you."

"I don't know him. And neither do you--at least, not well enough to trust with this." She smiled gently as she shook her head, taking the sting out of her words. She seemed to think of something. "But Tolvar already knows about the Kirsu slayers. He might be able to help."

"Yes, he might. He seems powerful. Weasel speaks highly of him."

"He just needs to help me find a place they can't spy on me." She began to smile evilly. "On the other hand, I have the bodyguard from hell. David isn't going to like anyone else following me. Odd to think that for once I'm safer at night with him around then during the day." She shot Kirk a funny look. "Why aren't you arguing?"

He took a deep breath. "I sort of ran into him."

"And it just slipped your mind? Are you insane?" Her voice was rising, causing the cadet at the next carrel to glare at them. "David could hurt you and I'd never--"

He stopped her with a gentle finger on her lips. "That's exactly why he won't hurt me. Because you'd never." He shook his head. "If you go up against him, he'll fight you. But for now, he'll leave you alone. And me too. And yes, I agree that he'll protect you."

"What did he say to you?"

"It's not important right now. Do you want me to keep Lori occupied tonight?"

Chris' eyebrows nearly disappeared into her hair.

He laughed, earning them another glare from the cadet. "I didn't mean like that."

"I hope not. Besides, she'll only be suspicious of your timing." She seemed to sigh. Then she leaned in and said softly, "I didn't tell you the other night, but Emma told me that Nogura--his family, I mean--was involved in Kirsu's manifestation in our dimension."

Kirk frowned. Why were they keeping secrets from each other?

She seemed to be reading his mind. She shook her head slowly. "We're telling each other now, Jim. Don't think of them as secrets. Just as things we haven't had a chance to say yet."

"All right. But we can't let things go unsaid for too long or they will become secrets." He thought of Spock, how their friendship had been torn apart--all because of the secret he'd kept from his best friend.

She still seemed to be on the same wavelength. "It's always about him, isn't it?" She got up, put her hand on his shoulder. "I have to get back to rounds."

He reached up, laid his hand on top of hers. "Be careful tonight."

She nodded. "I always am."

He looked up at her, saw that she was unconsciously touching the bite marks that had healed but left a scar on her neck. He touched his own reminders of being bitten and shot her a wry grin. Quite the pair. He wasn't sure either of them knew how to be careful.

"See you," she said, easing her hand away from his.

"Let me know when you get back."

She nodded, walked away toward the doors they'd come in by. He waited a few moments, then walked through the library and headed back to Command.

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

Christine doubled back for the third time as she headed down toward the piers and Tolvar. Tonight she had to be sure that no one was following her. She turned on every slayer sense she had, focused on anything that seemed the least bit unusual. It took her a very long time to cover the distance. To the casual observer she might have seemed a bit erratic, but she didn't care.

Finally satisfied that there was no one following her, she hurried down to the water. Tolvar was reading cards for a customer when she arrived. He looked up at her and nodded slightly, then went back to his reading. She ducked into the alley, waiting in the shadows, staying out of sight.

"It's been a long time, Slayer." Tolvar stretched as he walked into the alley. "Weasel tells me your friend is even more powerful than we thought. And he learns quickly."

That didn't surprise her but she hadn't come to talk about Jim. "I need your help."

He leaned against the wall. "What can a humble fortune teller do for you?"

"I need to talk to our mutual slayer friends."

"Ah." He frowned. "I don't believe I know how to reach them."

She smiled. "Oh, I know how to reach them. I just need a private place to place the call. One where I won't be disturbed...or observed. Can you help me?"

He nodded. He took her arm and guided her down the alley. Taking a key out of his pocket, he opened one of the doors. It was a storeroom, a variety of mystical objects were on the shelves. She recognized some of the things he sold when he wasn't reading fortunes. She made a face. The smell of incense in the small room was overwhelming.

He smiled. "It's nauseating, I know, but it hides the smell of other things." He pointed down to the door frame, where a strange symbol had been carved. She knelt down, dipped her finger in the wet substance that had been rubbed on it. It felt oily, but it smelled like--she turned her face away, making another face. "Urine?"

"Gremlin urine. The best way for a quick and easy barrier. And difficult to fake. The smell is quite distinctive, don't you think?"

She nodded and took the moistened wipe he handed her. She was surprised that the smell came off, but whatever was on the towel was more powerful than monster pee.

"I need a new line of work," she said as she handed him back the towel.

He laughed. "Here. Bring it back when you're done." He dropped the key in her hand and left. The door locked behind him.

She reverently touched Laura's portal ring, which she'd jammed onto her little finger. It was one of the five lost by the Noguras--ancient now. Ancient and dangerous. But necessary. Christine had never tried to use it. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do.

Jim had said that Weasel told him to keep it simple when he did magic. It was probably good advice for her too. She touched the stone, and said softly, "Kirsu. Take me there."

Nothing happened.

"Damn it." Would it have killed LaVelle to give her better instructions? She probably had deliberately not told her some crucial step. Christine and she were going to have a little talk when she figured out how to get to Kirsu.

A portal appeared in front of her.

Christine smiled as she stepped in. Whatever worked. She couldn't call up Kirsu, but she had no problem calling up her annoying fellow slayer-- LaVelle didn't even have to be in the same dimension to piss her off.

The opening closed, and a surge of panic filled her. She felt as if the space jerked, and she lost her balance and fell down into a crouch, trying to catch her breath. She was being suffocated in this dank, cramped place--

She forced herself to breathe slowly. This wasn't the sewers. She was safe. She was fine.

"Kirsu," she muttered over and over until the portal opened and she threw herself out, landing on soft grass. She pushed herself up, feeling warm sunshine beating down on her. The air smelled of green herbs and a distant shore.

"Who are you?" A young girl backed away from her.

"It's okay. I'm Christine. I'm here to see LaVelle."

"It's all right, Magda. She's a friend." LaVelle walked down the stairs, her face not at all welcoming. "Not my friend, mind you."

"How've you been?" Christine walked past the younger slayer, invading LaVelle's personal space. "You miss me?"

"Not at all." LaVelle moved even closer.

Neither blinked, neither moved. Christine realized that they probably looked immensely silly to the young girl watching them. Some role models.

She took a step back and walked around LaVelle. "Can I come in?" she smirked as she bounded up the stairs and into the house.

She heard LaVelle call out, "Make yourself at home."

She turned around, waited for the other slayer to catch up. "Actually, I've brought something home." She pulled the amulet out from under her shirt, gently undid the clasp and slipped it off her silver chain. She handed the amulet to LaVelle, fastening the chain back around her neck.

"What is it?"

"According to the watchers, it's what keeps Kirsu tied to our dimension."

LaVelle glared at her. "The watchers? You asked them?"

Christine forced herself not to snap. "No. They volunteered the information. They're trying to get me to work with them." She touched the amulet's main stone. "Two people have already died for this. It's valuable and too dangerous to keep in my dimension."

LaVelle stroked the stone. "Does it work like the rings?"

Christine shrugged. "Maybe if you're a magician--it was sorcerers who made it. I think it's more of a focus. Some kind of link between the worlds."

LaVelle sighed. "I'm sick to death of magic. Orbs and amulets and links."

"Kirsu is magic. Are you sick of it?" Christine smiled grimly. "Because there are a lot of people who would like to take it off your hands."

LaVelle shot her a look. "If they try, it will be the last thing they ever do."

"It's easy to say that, LaVelle. But these are watchers. And powerful people in Starfleet. They have firepower--both conventional and magical-- at their beck and call. You have to be careful. Stay here unless it's absolutely necessary to leave."

"We won't let a slayer die when we can save her."

Christine nodded. "I know. Just don't take any extra chances, okay?"

"I might almost think you care." LaVelle smiled, the expression a bit friendlier than her usual glare.

"God knows why." Christine nodded at the amulet. "You have somewhere you can keep it safe?"

LaVelle nodded. She led Christine into an adjoining room, moved a carpet aside and lifted a trapdoor. "This has been here since the time of Helene the founder."

"And Nogura the original owner." At LaVelle's look, Christine pointed up to the carvings that ran around the wall. "Kanji symbols. It's Japanese. Put there by Tachikawa and Nogura, the men who conjured up the bridge to this place. Don't forget that at the end of the day you're squatters."

LaVelle tossed her a lightstick. "Fortunately, possession is still nine- tenths of the law."

"At the moment, it's ten-tenths, and there is no law here except what we make." Christine followed her down the steps. A small storeroom opened up into hallways that ran both ways. "This runs under the house?"

LaVelle nodded. "Comes out in two places. I guess your magicians felt a few bolt holes might be a good addition to their magic?"

Christine nodded. "I've got to bolt. I don't want anyone to wonder where I've gone." She hurried up the stairs. "Don't tell anyone about the amulet. Except Marion, I mean."

"Your will is my command, your highness."

Christine turned. "You could say thank you. Or would it kill you?"

LaVelle's lips tightened. "One of these days, you and I are going to have to figure out who's the boss."

"Fine. One of these days we will. But not now. We don't have time for this." Christine turned her back on LaVelle, hurried upstairs, and touched her ring. She thought of the storeroom, the reek of incense, the carved symbols. When the portal opened, she stepped in and closed her eyes until she sensed the portal opening again. She turned and dashed out; the portal closed behind her.

She looked at the ring. She felt safer with it close to her, but it was too conspicuous to try to wear. She couldn't continue to hide it in her apartment. Maybe Jim could help her fnd a better way to hide it? A magical way?

She pulled the door shut behind her and fished the key out of her pocket, handing it to Tolvar.

He smiled. "That was a quick call."

She made a face. "And LaVelle can still irritate me."

"She's not so bad. If you'd just quit challenging her."

"Me?" Christine turned away. "I'm not the problem."

He laughed. "Of course not, my dear. Give my best to Emma, won't you?"

"You've never told her about the slayers, have you?"

He shook his head.

"Why not? You and Emma seem close."

"We are. I love her dearly." He looked down. "But she is a watcher. You must never forget that. Not when it comes to our mutual friends."

"Are you saying I can't trust her?"

He shook his head. "She's a good woman. You can trust her in all things...except this." He caught and held her gaze. "You already know that or you'd have told her by now."

She smiled. "You're probably right. Thank you. For everything."

He waved her away as a young tourist wandered by. "Tell your fortune, pretty lady?"

Christine walked quickly away from the piers and back up toward her apartment. She kept looking around as she walked, not so much for anyone following her, but for something, anything she could fight. Damn LaVelle. Would it have killed her to be gracious for once?

Christine turned and walked up the hill, realized she was heading for Jim's. He had told her to let him know she was back, she might as well do it in person. She nodded at the doorman, rode the elevator up, and walked to Jim's door. It suddenly struck her that she didn't even know if he was alone. It also struck her that she didn't care. She rang the chime.

It took him so long to get the door that she almost gave up.

He opened the door and smiled when he saw her. "This is a pleasant surprise."

She sniffed. Was that sulfur? "What are you doing?"

"Magic?" He pulled her in. "Weasel gave me an exercise to try at home and I'm just not getting it."

She followed him into his study where smoke was still swirling. He had the windows open to air out the room.

"It's like a nightmare chem lab."

"You're not wrong." He shook his head. "I'm trying to make a ball of fire."

"I was sort of kidding about that whole throwing lightning bolts business." She grinned, touched his shirt where it was singed. "Although it looks like you got part of it."

He nodded, snuffing out the incense that was burning around the room in the bowls of sand that held the sticks upright. Without the incense's sweet smell, the reek of sulfur intensified.

"So what have you learned to do?"

"Well, I'm hell on wheels with that protection spell. Of course, it's only one word and a whole lot of fear, so that's not so hard."

She smiled.

"I learned to ground today." He shook his head. "It's like any power circuit really. Only I have to think of myself as the vessel it's passing through, which is not what I'd want to be if it were real current."

"Did it work?"

He looked up at her as he dug through the closet for something. "Yeah, it did. It's strange stuff, Chris. It's as if I always knew how to do it; I just needed someone to remind me of that." He wrinkled his nose. "Big stinky sulfur balls notwithstanding." He grinned and pulled out a padded case that he tossed to her. "I finished this finally. I bet you forgot all about it."

She shot him a puzzled look and opened the case, laughing as she pulled out her new, improved, folding crossbow. "I had forgotten about this." She assembled it quickly and held it up. "I've missed this. Can we go kill something?"

"Bad day at the mystical office, hon?" He was already walking toward the door. "Come on. I'd love to let it air out for a while." He pulled the door shut behind them.

"LaVelle was her normal charming self, so yeah, I'm a little tense." She shook her head. "But mission accomplished. Except..." She held out her finger. "Can you help me hide this?"

"Hide it?"

"Like you did the padd. Only more so. I want it invisible."

He smiled. "I think that might take more power than I have."

She grinned. "Use mine. I've got plenty."

"I can try. You want to wear it?" He touched her chain. "It might be safer on this? Easier to hide?"

When she nodded, he stepped behind her and undid the chain. His hands seemed to linger on her neck and she shivered.

"The ring?"

"Oh." She pulled it off and handed it to him.

He slid it onto the chain and refastened it around her neck. Then he sighed, "I'm not sure I can do this, Chris. Invisible?"

"Sure you can." She wasn't sure why she did it but she reached up for his right hand, pulled it down, and around her waist. He moved closer, his hand on her necklace. She set her hands on his, pushing down slightly.

"Weasel says breath is key." Jim began to breathe slowly. He pushed against her as he inhaled, pulled away as he exhaled. She tried to synch her breathing to his, but something was off.

"From here," he said, as he pushed on her stomach. "Not from your throat. Don't move your shoulders. Keep your mouth closed."

She leaned back against him and closed her eyes, tried to breathe low from her stomach, from where his hand pushed down on her. In and out and in and out. She suddenly felt lightheaded, felt her body moving in perfect time with his, their breaths joining as they inhaled and exhaled. Without knowing why she did it, she began to pause longer and longer after each exhale, not taking a breath just sitting empty as she waited to breathe. Jim did the same thing, his hand moving a bit, pulling her closer.

She felt an energy beginning very low down and traveling up her belly into her lungs and up past her throat, past her forehead, out the top of her head.

"Let it ground," she thought she heard, but she didn't know how Jim could have spoken when he was breathing in such perfect rhythm with her.

The energy continued to flow out of her and she let it go, imagined it pouring back into the ground, then rushing back up through them, through their feet, their legs, their groins, back to their bellies.

Jim grasped the necklace. "Protect," he whispered.

She felt a tingling begin where the chain lay against her skin.

"Hide."

The tingling increased.

"By our will," he whispered in her ear, and she echoed it back.

The tingling increased, moving through her until she thought her legs would collapse. Jim's hand jerked against her and she lost the rhythm of their breath, opening her eyes as she seemed to fall even though she hadn't moved.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Why?" His lips touched her neck, so softly that if she hadn't been so in tune with him she'd have never noticed it. "We did it, Chris." He turned her so she could see their reflection in the window.

The necklace that she was running her fingers over was invisible. She smiled and turned to him.

His pupils were dilated. She thought her own probably were too.

"You're really good."

"I had the slayer booster pack." He grinned, then he looked down where the necklace should have been. "But damn. We are good."

She laughed. Tried to come down from the place the magic had sent her. She wanted to touch him so badly. Needed to touch him, to hold him and kiss--.

She grabbed the crossbow. "I think we should go now." She didn't wait for him to follow, nearly ran out of the apartment.

He was right behind her, pulling his sword case over his head.. "So you think there'll be lots of things to kill?"

She was obviously not the only one who found doing magic together a powerful aphrodisiac.

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

Kirk breathed deeply, trying to suck in as much as he could of the fresh night air. He felt as if every cell in his body was boiling over, as if the only thing that could cool him down was the woman who was hurrying ahead of him.

It had been one hell of a spell. He'd have to ask Weasel what exactly he and Chris had done. He had a feeling it was probably not something he should have done with a woman he was desperately trying to keep his hands off of.

He could still feel her pressed tightly against him, her breath in perfect union with his. He'd felt her power bubbling up. Her energy was different. Not targeted, not focused. Just there. For him to use if she let him. And she'd given it freely.

When he'd touched the necklace, he'd known there was no way they could fail. Together they were so powerful. Together...god if only they could be- -

But they couldn't. He was glad when they arrived at the cemetery, hoped they'd run into a whole nest of vampires. He felt as if he could take them all on himself. And still have more tension to work off.

She slowed and turned to him. "You okay?"

"I will be. How about you?"

She shook her head, a slow grin beginning. "My god, Jim. That was better than some sex I've had."

"I know. Imagine how good sex would be." He was instantly sorry he'd said that.

She just laughed. "I'm having a hard time thinking about anything but. Hopefully we'll find some big nasties to fight. Sublimation is a good thing." She loaded her crossbow.

"No stake?"

She patted her jacket pocket. "Never leave home without one."

He patted his pocket too.

"Good boy." She tugged at his jacket and he let her pull him to her. Her look was suddenly much less playful. "Jim. I want you so --"

"--I smell food," something yelled behind them.

Her smile was feral; he wondered if his own mirrored it.

They turned as one, as if they were still in the hold of the spell. The vampire looked confused as they advanced on him.

"What's the matter, big guy?" Chris asked. "Were you under the impression you were the scariest kid in the playground?" She lifted the crossbow, then put it down. "Nyah. Too easy." She grinned at Kirk. "It's not for close-in fighting, anyway."

Kirk drew his sword, laughing at her idiotic bravado. She kicked out at the vampire, hitting him solidly, knocking him back. The vampire scrambled to keep his feet, then he turned and ran.

"No way." Chris lifted the crossbow, took aim, and let the bolt fly. It was a perfect shot; the vampire exploded into dust.

"Well, that was unsporting of him," Kirk said as he pushed his sword back into the case.

"I'll say." She pushed the crossbow behind her back and walked with him toward the middle of the cemetery.

They strolled along in silence for a while, and he was glad to just get his bearings again, to come down from the high place that the magic had taken them.

"Can I tell you something?" she asked.

"You can tell me anything."

She took a deep breath. "Today...in the portal. I sort of panicked."

He slowed. "Well, you didn't know if it would work."

She shook her head. "It wasn't that. It was like being trapped...have I ever told you what happened to me in the sewers?"

"No. But David did." At her startled look, he said, "I need to tell you the truth about that. Not because it is the truth, but because David is going to pull it out and use it against you. And I want you to be prepared for it."

"How does he know about it?"

"Let's sit." He guided her to a bench, took a deep breath and told her what David had told him about the Cruciamentum, about her own watcher's role in the trial. He told her everything he could remember, didn't spare her.

She stared at him through the telling, barely blinking. He thought at first she didn't believe him, but then he saw the tears in her eyes. She believed. She knew. Maybe she'd always known, just hadn't been able to admit it to herself.

"I'm sorry, Chris."

"Roger did that to me." She blinked and a cascade of tears fell down her cheeks. She blinked again but no more tears fell. She smiled instead, a bitter, angry smile. "I shouldn't be surprised. Look at what his android self did to you. He might have done that to me too. In time. Made me into a proper mate." She looked away. "They're monsters. The watchers."

Kirk wasn't sure what to say.

"And they're still doing it."

He nodded, even though he knew it hadn't been a question.

"We'll stop them. Somehow." She seemed to shudder. "No more. No more of this." She gave him a hard look. "You knew and you didn't tell me."

"I was going to tell you."

She nodded, her face hard.

"Chris." He touched her arm, but she pulled it away. Not a jerk, just a gentle tugging, moving inexorably away from him.

"No." He pulled her to him, felt her tense. "No, I was just waiting for the right time. Stop it. Think of what we did tonight. Together." His fingers found her necklace, rubbed between it and her skin. "You want to pull away just because I was having trouble finding the right time to tell you something I knew would hurt you?"

She stopped pulling away, looked up at him. Her eyes were hurt and lost. "Why? Why do they do this to us? We're just kids when they find us. When they turn us into killers. How can they do it to us?"

She sobbed and he pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her and holding her as she cried. Strange, broken sobs came from her, as if she was still trying to hold it all in.

"It's all right. I've got you."

Her arms tightened around him almost painfully but he didn't make a sound, even as his ribs protested.

"I don't know why they do it, Chris. We'll stop it. Somehow, we will."

She let up on his ribs and he sighed in relief.

"Oh, Jim, I'm sorry." She smiled sheepishly.

"It's okay." He kissed her, a soft, gentle kiss that had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with trying to tell the scared little girl she'd probably never been allowed to be that it was all right. That he was there and nothing bad would get her. Ever.

She closed her eyes. When she opened them again, his Chris was back. But she looked older and terribly tired.

"Who do we trust, Jim?"

"Each other. We trust each other." He wiped her cheeks. "I'll never hurt you."

"Spock said that too. So did Roger. The words mean less each time." She looked away.

He tugged her chin gently until she looked at him. "I've never said them to you. They mean everything to me."

She sighed. Then she looked past him. "We've got company. Humans I think. Stupid ones."

He turned around and felt his heart catch in his throat. He turned quickly and grabbed Chris, pulling her close.

"Jim, what?"

"Just don't move. Not till they've gone by." He ran his hands down her back as if they were two lovers too hungry for each other to find a room.

As soon as he heard footsteps pass, he pulled away. He watched the two people walking down the path, the light falling on their blonde heads. Carol. And David.

"You know them."

He nodded.

Chris studied them. "Tell me."

He shook his head, an instinctive reaction. But not the right one. He'd kept this inside for so long. Only McCoy knew. And Spock. No one else. No one else but Carol and she didn't care how much Kirk hurt.

"That's my son," he said softly.

"Your son?" She stood, pulled him up.

"We can't. I promised I'd stay away." He felt an odd sense of panic fill him. His son was so close. And he had to stay away.

She forced him to look at her. "Jim. We're in the cemetery at night. They need us to follow them."

God, how could he have forgotten that? They were helpless. Alone. With the vampires and the werewolves and other ghastly things he'd learned really did go bump in the night. "They can't be a part of this."

"Look at me." When he didn't, she shook him. "Look at me, Jim."

It hurt. He looked at her. "Chris. My son. We have to protect him."

"We will. Come on." She pulled him, and they hurried down the path, following Carol and David.

When Carol and David turned off toward a row of graves, Chris led him into the bushes. They slowly worked their way closer, then she turned and looked him in the eye as if taking his measure.

He touched her arm. "I'm okay," he said softly. "I just didn't expect to see them. They've been offworld for so long."

"Well, they should have stayed offworld a while longer. This cemetery is far too busy these days."

She nodded past Carol and his son, to where a vampire was emerging out of the bushes.

"No." The word came out as a moan, a prayer.

Chris swung the crossbow around and sighted. "They'll never know he was there, Jim. Trust me." She let the bolt fly.

He smiled. He did trust her. She hit the vampire dead in the heart. He didn't make a sound, just stared at the bolt sticking out of him in confusion, then burst into a cloud of dust. Carol and David never even turned around.

She looked at him. "See. Nothing to fear. I'll take care of your son."

He nodded.

She took his hand in hers. "We'll make sure they get home okay."

He squeezed her hand back. In all his time with Carol, he'd never trusted her the way he did the woman standing next to him. The woman who had just saved his son.

"Your son has a name?"

"David."

"Popular name these days." She smiled tentatively, the expression growing bigger when he nodded and smiled too. She turned to watch Carol and David. "What's he like?"

"I don't know."

She turned and shot him a startled look. "You don't?"

"She wanted me to stay away."

"That's not fair," she said quickly.

He shook his head. "She wanted me to stay with her. Stay here, on the ground. Not be in space."

"But we're Starfleet. That's where we work."

He nodded. "I couldn't promise I'd stay with her. So I had to promise I'd stay away."

Her hand tightened in his. "I'm sorry, Jim."

"I know you are."

They stood in silence for a long time. Then she whispered, "So much pain. It's what marks us and molds us, isn't it? Not the good times." She shook her head. "They're so hard to remember. The good times."

"I know."

She looked over at him. "Do you know that most of the ones I remember now have to do with you?"

He squeezed her hand. "That's nice to say."

"Just the truth." She pushed him farther back into the bushes. "They're coming this way."

They stood still in the shadows as the woman he'd once loved and the son who he'd never had the chance to love walked by. Chris gave his hand a final squeeze, then let go, stepping out of the bushes to follow them. To make sure they got safely home. Wherever home was for them.

Wherever it was, he knew he would never be welcome in it.

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

Uhura looked out the glass door into the darkness. She hadn't meant to stay this late but Nogura's staff had tasked her with a rush project that had taken her most of the night. She almost wished she'd had to work through to morning, then there would have been no decision to make. She knew it was dangerous out there, but she was tired and cranky and just wanted to go home.

But she also wanted to stay alive. She patted her jacket. Stake. One. Check. And she almost knew how to use it.

She felt a presence behind her and whirled, hand reaching for her pocket, then dropped it when she saw Admiral Ciani.

"Nice work tonight, Commander. That was exactly what we needed," Ciani said, smiling at Uhura as she walked past her, heading into the night without a care.

Uhura supposed it was easy to be carefree when you could turn into a wolf if you wanted to. She looked up at the night sky. Clouds covered the moon, but she knew that it was full tonight. She couldn't decide if it would be a good idea to run after Ciani or not.

She sighed and mustered her courage and headed out into the night. Ciani was just disappearing down a bend in the path toward town. Uhura hurried but when she got to the bend, Ciani was out of sight.

"Great."

"Lose someone?" The voice was English, male, and silky.

She turned around, praying that the man would be wearing tweed.

No tweed. No tweed at all. She tried not to react to the stranger who stood blocking her path to command.

"I'm fine," she said brightly, turning and walking quickly away. If she just didn't show any fear, she'd be fine. Besides, San Francisco was probably home to more than one black-haired Englishman who liked to walk around in the middle of the night.

"It's Nyota Uhura, isn't it?" He kept up easily with her, shadowing her, almost but not quite out of her peripheral vision.

She slowed.

"I believe that watcher I killed had a picture of you among all his other information on Christine."

"You have me at an disadvantage," she said gamely, reaching for her pocket.

"The name's Wharton--and you'll never get it out before I break your arm. So do us both a favor and leave your little stake alone."

She swallowed hard, couldn't bring herself to drop her hand. It would be giving up and an Uhura never gave up.

He took her arm, holding her close to him. "I'm not going to hurt you."

"Right. You're just walking me home."

"Actually, I am. It's dangerous out here, you know."

"Funny. I felt better until you showed up."

He laughed. "You have spirit. I like you."

"Yeah, yeah. All the vampires like me." She shook her head.

"You knew another one?"

"Drusilla wanted to make me a pet."

"Impressive. An old one taking a fancy to you. Of course, she was crazy as a loon."

"No shit, Sherlock."

He surprised her by laughing loudly. "I like you Nyota. I can call you that, can't I? Commander seems so formal."

"Can I stop you?"

He shook his head, and his grip tightened on her as they left the Starfleet grounds. She realized he was heading for the cemetery and looked around for someone, anyone who might help her. The street was deserted.

"I'm not going to hurt you. Just relax," he said, as he drew her past the gates and deeper into the cemetery.

She began to struggle.

"Shhh, I'm not going to hurt you."

"Why don't I believe you?"

"Perhaps because he lacks sincerity?" Emma stepped out of the shadows. "Hello, David."

He let go of Uhura. "Thank you, my dear. As bait, you performed admirably. And I find your company charming. Now run along."

Emma nodded. "Better do what he says, my dear. This is between David and me." She pulled out some sort of weapon. "Christine told me you were better provisioned than we thought. Body armor, David?" She tsked-tsked like he'd broken an important rule.

"Body armor that your little toy will have no effect on, Emma." He tsked- tsked right back at her.

Uhura backed away from Wharton. "You were following me?" she asked Emma.

"Yes. I thought he might come after you."

Wharton smiled. "I knew you'd think I would. You never did understand me Emma. Despite our closeness."

Her face tightened. "Don't you dare speak of that. You aren't David. You're just the dirty beast that took his place."

"Is that what you think, love? Is that what you believe?" He looked over at Uhura. "There's no demon. It's just another lie they tell the slayers. One that makes it easier to turn them into killers. But we always knew, in special ops. We always knew the truth. You don't have to be a monster to be evil." He turned back to Emma. "You and all the other watchers prove that. But that ends here. At least for you."

"Did you think I'd come alone? We knew you'd bring her here." Emma turned to the bushes. "You can come out."

No one emerged from the darkness.

"I knew to bring her here, because here is where I found your fellow watchers." He dug into his pocket and fished several bright things out. He tossed them on the ground. They were gold rings--as well as the fingers they had been attached to.

Uhura turned away with a strangled cry.

"I found your little trap and sprang it. Now, what were you saying about not being alone?"

Uhura stepped closer to Emma. "She's not alone."

Wharton shook his head. "You can't stop me."

Emma held up the weapon. "Go ahead, David. Let's finish this."

"Am I interrupting something?" Ciani stepped out of the bushes as if it was the most natural thing in the world for her to be gallivanting around the shrubbery. "This seems like an awfully tense situation. I'm a trained mediator, maybe I can help."

Wharton smiled. "I don't know what you think you're doing, kitten. But best move on."

"Kitten?" Ciani laughed. The sound came out like a growl. "You should move on, Mister Wharton. I'm not going to let you hurt Christine's friends."

"And just how are you going to stop me?"

Ciani smiled. It was the most feral smile Uhura had ever seen. Then she began to shudder...and to change. Her clothes ripped, fur erupted, and something between a wolf and a person stood before them.

Wharton laughed. "One little werewolf. Hardly a challenge, my dear."

Ciani howled, one long cry, then three short yips.

Another werewolf appeared behind her. And another. And a third. They growled, moving to flank Wharton. He seemed to be weighing his odds, shifting to the balls of his feet as if about to attack.

Ciani gave three more short yips. Three more werewolves emerged from the bushes behind them. Uhura moved even closer to Emma.

Wharton held his hands up in some kind of surrender. "Quite right. I'll just be going." He looked over at Emma. "Another time, dearest." Then he nodded to Uhura. "It was lovely meeting you."

Ciani snarled, the other werewolves echoed her growl.

"I'm going." Wharton moved past Ciani, then melted into the shadows.

Emma stepped forward. "What now?"

Ciani shook her head, and the change began again. A moment later the proper admiral stood before them. Naked.

She smiled seductively at them, then snapped her fingers. One of the other wolves went into the bushes, coming out with a pile of clothes. Ciani put them on. Slowly.

Uhura looked away. Emma didn't. But she seemed uninterested in Ciani's impromptu burlesque, more concerned with winning some kind of stare-down with the admiral.

Ciani stepped toward them. She closed her eyes, raised her hand and brought it down quickly.

Uhura's ears popped. Emma grabbed her head, as if the change in pressure hurt her. Then she stood straight again. "Why?"

"Why did I help you?"

Emma nodded.

Ciani smiled. "You're Christine's friend, Ms. Drake. That vampire would have killed you. You and Christine owe me. You'll tell her that for me?"

Emma frowned.

"What about me?" Uhura asked.

"You were never in any danger."

Uhura stared at her. "You kept me after hours deliberately."

Ciani laughed. "Of course. How else could I save the day? I just didn't know exactly how it would play out. But it was easy to track you." She crinkled her nose at Uhura. "I like that perfume, by the way."

She brought her hand slashing down and Uhura's ears popped again.

"What the hell did--"

Emma's hand on her arm stopped her. The watcher shook her head, held her finger to her lips.

"You've got the idea." Ciani finger combed her short hair back into place. "Come on. We'll walk you both home."

With a silent admiral leading the way and six werewolves ranging through the bushes and shadows of the residential streets, it was the strangest trip home Uhura had ever taken.

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

Kirk saw his aide coming down the hall toward the briefing room he'd been stuck in all morning. "Everything all right, Commander?"

Hall nodded. "Admiral Nogura's secretary just commed, sir. He wants to see you ASAP."

Kirk rolled his eyes. When Nogura wanted to see someone, it was always as soon as possible-- it had been far too long since the man had to wait for anyone. "Was there something else, Commander?"

Hall nodded. "A message from Doctor Chapel."

Kirk grinned. Maybe Chris wanted to have lunch. He could do with a break from the brass.

Hall handed him the padd. "She made me repeat it back. I hope it makes sense to you, sir."

He had to read it twice. "Communications and visual capability nearly went dead last night. Fortunately that wild officer and a few of the pack she runs with intervened. All systems normal again. We owe her."

Kirk gave the padd back to Hall.

"It makes sense, sir?"

Kirk nodded.

Hall waited a moment as if Kirk might choose to share the hidden meaning, then he said, "Do you want to reply?"

"No need. I'll be talking to her later." He smiled at his aide, not sure, as ever, if he should trust the man or not. These days his gut told him not trust anyone except Chris and Nyota. It was an odd feeling to be at Command, surrounded by his peers--the men and women he'd risen up the ranks with--and to be too wary to trust a single one of them.

His brave new world. Some days he hated it. Wished he could go back to the time when he didn't see conspiracies everywhere he looked. Where he didn't have to consciously try to fortify his personal shields before he went to see his boss.

Nogura's secretary looked up. "Hello, Jim." She shot him the same warm smile she always gave him.

"Ellie," he grinned at her. "How's the old man's mood?"

"Pretty good today. Aren't you forgetting something?" She held her hand out to him, and he bowed, playing at being gallant. It was their little game.

He took her hand and felt his hackles rise. Another werewolf?

She frowned when he abruptly let her hand drop. "You can go in."

He nodded, trying not to hurry past her. Just how many of them were there in Starfleet?

"Jim?" Nogura smiled at him. "Come in. I believe you know my guest?" The admiral gestured toward the floor to ceiling windows that lined the side of his office.

Kirk turned toward them, felt his breath catch.

"Hello, Jim." Carol smiled tightly. For her it was a positively welcoming look.

"Carol."

"Why don't you both sit?" Nogura leaned back and tapped on a padd. "Doctor Marcus has been showing me some very ingenious research, Jim. I'd call it visionary. It only lacks funding."

Kirk shot her a look. "Dealing with the devil, Carol? I thought you said you'd never ask for military support?"

Her lips tightened.

Nogura laughed. "Let's just say the private funding sources have dried up."

Kirk nodded. He could feel the trap springing closed on him already. "What about academia?"

Carol shook her head. "You always told me I tended to think too big."

He shot a look at Nogura. Kirk knew that the Tachikawa-Nogura Corporation could convince academia not to play, not when even bigger grants were at stake. He looked back at Carol. Only one project could consume her enough for her to put her scruples aside. "You haven't given up on Genesis?"

Carol shook her head tightly.

Nogura set the padd down a bit harder than was necessary, as if to get their attention. "From here on out, that name, and anything to do with the project, is classified."

Carol leaned forward. "Then you'll fund it?"

"I'll take it to those who can make it happen. I'll let you know what they say but I'm sure they'll approve it. I tend to get my way."

Carol smiled, a more open expression this time.

"I know I'd love to have a scientific mind of your caliber here at Command." Nogura smiled at Kirk. "I'm sure Jim would love it too, wouldn't you, my friend? Having Doctor Marcus and her son around. Now that you're so firmly ensconced in the Command structure." He shot Carol a look. "Ensconced here on terra firma. No more shooting around the galaxy at lightspeed." His smile was easy, innocent. Just one old spacedog teasing another.

Kirk could feel his jaw tensing.

Nogura stood up, and Kirk and Carol followed suit.

"I'll be in touch as soon as I have the decision on your project, Carol." Nogura enfolded her hand in his.

She nodded to him then turned to Kirk, glaring at him, as if the conditions on her research had been his doing. "Jim."

"Carol." He watched her as she walked out.

Nogura stepped closer. "It's time for us to stop tiptoeing around things, my friend. You want your son, and I can make that happen for you. I wouldn't be above securing a private little agreement with the good doctor for visiting privileges for you in exchange for that funding she wants so desperately." Nogura walked over to his bar, poured them both a scotch.

Kirk sipped at his. It tasted funny, tingled and then went sour as it hit his tongue. Magic?

"You know what I want, Jim. Doctor Chapel holds the key, and you have a great deal of influence over her these days." He smiled as he sipped at his drink. "What's the matter? Don't like the scotch?"

Kirk put it down. "Tastes funny."

Nogura stepped closer. He seemed to be studying Kirk, then his eyes seemed to lose focus, as if he were staring into him yet past him. "Lori's been holding out on me. You're quite the powerful little magicmaker, aren't you, Jim?" His hand brushed down Kirk's arm, never in contact with the skin yet somehow touching him.

Kirk shuddered, took a step back. As he did, he brushed against one of the side tables, knocking it slightly. An ivory carving fell off and he bent to pick it up. As he set it back on the table, he noticed the flower arrangement. Irises. Blue and white and yellow. They had a strong smell-- a unique smell. He forced himself not to react to the odor that immediately put him back in the morgue, made him recall the moment when he'd had his hand on Carl's cold body, when he'd tried to find some trace of his friend's killer.

"You like the arrangement? My wife scours our iris fields for just the right flowers. She's known for her ikebana. She did a beautiful arrangement for Carl's funeral."

Kirk turned to look at him. Could he be so blatant about murder?

"Enemies are everywhere, Jim. It's important to choose the side you want to fight on."

"And what if I choose wrong?"

Nogura's eyes were like steel, then he smiled and patted Kirk on the arm. "You won't, Jim. You never do." Nogura took a deep breath. "You know, I was like you once. Just learning, just starting to touch the power deep inside me. I remember how it felt. What a rush I used to get whenever the magic went right." He smiled, as if he were reminiscing. "That was a long time ago, my friend." He shook his head. "I'm more powerful than you can even dream. Do you think you and your slayer can stand between me and what I want?"

Kirk grinned. "We already are. Or we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Nogura's smile faded. "Your son, Jim. He's what? Fifteen? He needs his father. I can see that Carol's a stubborn woman. I may be the only one who can make her see things your way." He turned away. "She's waiting for you in the corridor, even now." He grinned at Kirk's look of surprise. "And she's not happy."

"You can see that?"

Nogura laughed. "I could if I wanted to. But no. I just know people. She's already figured out what her funding will be tied to. She's not stupid. You'd never fall in love with a stupid woman. It's why I hold such high hopes for you and Doctor Chapel. She seems like a fine woman...a fine officer." Nogura's smiled faded. "I know you care what happens to her."

Kirk shook his head. "Don't threaten her."

"You misunderstand me. She's slated to ship out on the Enterprise. Wouldn't you rather have her on Earth with you? There are so many wonderful postings here she could take advantage of. With the right sponsor..."

Kirk didn't reply. Chris was going where she needed to go. Away from the slaying, away from this madness. And he was fine with that. She was his friend. Nothing more.

Nogura laughed as if he were privy to the lies Kirk was telling himself. "Ever the altruist, Jim. Show some of that altruism for me and for your Fleet. Get me what I want." He walked back to his chair and sat down, the discussion clearly over.

Kirk turned and left. Ellie looked up as he walked out but didn't say anything.

Carol was pacing in the corridor. She turned, stared at him hard. "You put him up to this."

"I didn't."

She moved closer, her voice dropping lower. "He made it very clear that he's your friend. I can't believe you would do this, Jim."

"Then don't. I didn't have anything to do with it, I swear it." He thought he saw her soften somewhat. "Carol. I've done what you wanted. Why would I pull this now?"

She sighed. "I'm so close, Jim. So close to getting the go ahead. I can't lose it now."

"I know." He'd never understood her obsession with her pet project, but after this many years, he knew better than to say so. He tried another tack. "We're both on Earth, Carol. What would it hurt?" He saw her face harden and wondered what had happened to the young woman he'd loved so much.

"Jim, why change things now? It'll only confuse David."

"He's old enough to know. He needs a father." Nogura's words seemed to come out of his mouth unbidden. The man had definitely known exactly which of Kirk's buttons to push.

"He's got a mother. I've had to do everything for him and I've done it well."

"That was your choice."

"The only choice I could make. You wouldn't have been in his life even if I'd stayed with you. You would have been out there." She gestured up, her hand motion full of anger and disdain.

It was the old argument and he'd heard it all before, had no interest in revisiting it.

He sighed. "You knew I was on a ship. You fell in love with me anyway."

"I was young and stupid." She was angry and growing angrier. But she would never yell, would never lose control. Not this Carol. This cold, hard Carol.

He had a sudden urge to be with Chris. She should have been even harder than Carol was, certainly had the right to be after her harsh life, but she wasn't hard. He pictured Chris as she'd stood the night before--her aim steady as she'd killed the vampire that would have torn into Carol without a thought.

And he could never tell Carol that. That he'd kept his promise even then. He'd stayed away. Hadn't even followed when they'd turned down to the row of apartments. Had let Chris shadow them but he'd held back. He didn't want to know where they lived. He'd made a promise.

And he lived up to his promises.

"You think because you're stuck on the ground that I'll let you see David?" Carol shook her head. "You're all alone and at a desk and you think that gives you the right to have him in your life?"

"Not the right maybe. But the need...Carol, I need to see him."

"Is this where you remind me of my funding?" She laughed bitterly.

"I told you that I had nothing to do with that."

"But will you use it now that it's part of the deal, Jim? That's the real question, isn't it?" Her look changed, as if all the air had been knocked out of her. "The sad thing is that I just might do it. Trade him for the funding. This is my last chance."

"Would it be so bad to let me see him? To have me around?"

Her look softened slightly. Had he finally found the right approach? Was Carol lonely too?

Then she shook her head. "I can't believe you'd try to pull the smarm approach on me. Don't you think after all these years that I'm immune to your charms?"

He reached for her, touched her arm. "Carol--"

She jerked away as if he'd stung her. "Stay the hell away from us. Neither of us will ever need you."

"Am I interrupting?" Chris said from behind Kirk. She smiled but her eyes were wary and he wondered how much she'd heard of what Carol had said.

Chris moved closer, took Kirk's arm. "Who's your friend?"

"A new bimbo, Jim?" Carol's mouth tightened in an ugly way.

Chris held out her hand. "Doctor Chapel. And you are?"

Carol grudgingly took her hand. "Doctor Marc--" She made a low moan.

Kirk thought he heard bones pop in Carol's hand.

Chris leaned in. "I don't like being called a bimbo. And your attitude toward Jim bothers me." She squeezed a bit more and Carol winced. "When I let go, maybe we can start over again?" She dropped Carol's hand.

Carol moved her fingers tentatively. "You're insane."

"Maybe. But not a bimbo." Chris turned to him. "Are you done here?"

"Long past." He let her lead him away.

"Wow, nice lady, Jim. What did you see in her?" She dropped his arm, but moved closer, her shoulder bumping his occasionally as they walked.

"She wasn't like that before. She used to be warm."

"Uh huh." She shot him a look.

"Did you break anything in her hand?"

"Felt like doing that. But no." She looked over at him. "Why is she here?"

"She needs funding for a project. Nogura has funding. If I get you to give Nogura what he wants, then Nogura will make sure I get to see my son."

Her face fell. "Jim. No."

"Of course, no. We won't give him what he wants."

"No, I mean how could he?" She looked as though she'd like to go back and give Nogura a piece of her mind. Or her fists.

"It's doesn't matter. I won't give him what he wants."

"But your son? Maybe if we played along..."

He shook his head. "Just drop it, Chris. All right?"

She rubbed his back, high up between his shoulder blades--the place he usually touched her when she needed bolstering. "I'm sorry."

He nodded. They walked in silence for a while.

He finally said, "Your message was rather cryptic."

"Well, I couldn't just say that Ny and Emma were nearly killed by a vampire. Or could I? Is Hall one of Nogura's people?"

He shrugged.

"Lori saved them, Jim. But from what Ny said, Lori wanted to make the big gesture so we'd owe her. So I guess I have to go to her."

"Is that where you were headed when you saw Carol and me?"

She nodded.

"Lori can wait. Have lunch with me first?"

She grinned. "Okay."

"You're such a tough sell." He squeezed her hand, a quick steadying touch. He needed to feel her warmth. Needed to know that there was more than Carol's coldness and Nogura's dark magic.

"You mean you want me to play hard to get?" She laughed, her fingers running lightly over his, as if she also knew he needed the contact. "Damn, I knew I was doing something wrong."

He smiled at her. Her touch and her smile and the smell of her perfume soothed him. He looked up suddenly.

"What?"

He could suddenly smell the irises, their almost sickeningly sweet fragrance. "I have the proof I need. To tie Nogura to Carl." He wasn't sure if they should be discussing anything sensitive. How much could Nogura really see and hear?

She waited.

He shook his head. "Later. When we're not here."

She nodded, following him into the cafeteria. "Why don't we eat outside? It's a beautiful day." She smiled. "We don't see enough of the sun."

"No, we don't." He let her lead them out of the stifling atmosphere of Command and into the bright sunshine.

End part 1 of 2