The Lost Years: Course Correction by Djinn

Uhura looked around the cafeteria, saw Decker and turned to Christine. Her friend looked positively morose.

"Christine. Wipe that look off your face. Forget about Lori for five minutes." She still was having trouble believing the things Christine and Jim had told her had happened. The woman really had played them. Uhura was just glad that Nogura had shown up when he did.

"I'm not thinking about Lori," Christine said, but she did manage a smile.

"Well, then stop thinking about Jim."

"Easier said than done."

"Try." Uhura would have liked to have smacked both Christine and Jim upside the head, but striking fellow officers--even for their own good--was frowned upon. Especially when one of them was an admiral.

Decker saw her coming toward him and smiled. "Commander, I trust your meetings weren't as big a waste of time as mine were? Why do they insist we come down here for meaningless meetings when there's so much work to be done before launch?"

Uhura loved Decker's easy smile; it was so welcoming. "Bureaucracy uber alles? My meeting was only a moderate waste of time."

"Lucky you." He laughed, turned to Christine. "Doctor, I'm glad you could join us."

She smiled back. "Thank you for inviting me."

Christine sounded awfully formal to Uhura. She wanted to tell her friend to loosen up.

Decker's smile faded. "Is everything all right, Doctor?"

"I'm sorry, sir. It's been a strange few weeks."

Uhura knew that Jim and Christine had been looking with no luck for Lori nearly full time since the woman had tried to kill Christine. Her friend was tired...even if she didn't look it.

Uhura smiled, trying to cover for her. "Christine finished up her residency. Finally." She shot Christine a teasing look. She'd been giving her a hard time for missing all the prep work on the Enterprise.

"Think you can show up and take over, eh?" Decker was smiling. But there was something underneath the look. Something not so easy. Not so welcoming.

Christine met his eyes. "I know Nogura's forcing this CMO thing down your throat. He's got it in his head that I'm the one for the job."

"Are you convinced that you are?"

She took a deep breath but didn't look away. "I took a look at the other staff physicians' bios. Read their most recent evaluations. I think I can hold my own."

Uhura bit back a smile. Slayer Christine came out at the most interesting times.

Decker blinked, obviously not expecting that.

Christine smiled tightly. "If I'm going to be CMO, I should know what I'm up against, right? And the files were there for me. I want to be prepared. I imagine there will be some resentment."

Decker leaned forward. "I'm going to ask you a candid question and I want a candid answer. If you were in over your head, would you tell me?"

Christine didn't answer right away. Uhura knew Decker would like that. He valued a thoughtful, reasoned response. Ready, fire, aim, was not his way.

"I would." Christine scooted forward in her chair. "If I thought I couldn't handle it, I'd tell you. And I'd tell Nogura. It's only fair. For the crew, for the people under me. For you."

He studied her, then leaned back. He seemed to relax. "Okay. I'm going to hold you to that. If I hear that things aren't going well, I want it to be you giving me the bad news."

Christine nodded.

"For what it's worth, I wasn't wedded to the first selection. Didn't even know him."

She nodded again, then she leaned in even more. "I need to ask you something."

"Ask away."

"You're going to have to listen to me. I'm going to be your conscience. The one who tells you to slow down, to take a break, or to back off. And I can relieve you of duty. If you have doubts about my ability to be CMO, will you be inclined to listen to me? Or are we going to have problems right from the start?"

He laughed softly. "Not if you keep speaking your mind like that." He grinned at Uhura. "Commander Uhura knows that I like to see an officer capable of self expression."

Uhura smiled back.

Christine settled back in her chair and turned her attention to eating--or at least pushing bits of her salad around the plate. Decker watched her for a moment, then went back to his lunch.

"Did you find your perfect navigator?" Uhura asked. It had become a joke between them.

Decker shot her a look she didn't understand. He seemed suddenly nervous. "Lieutenant Ilia. Do you know her?"

Uhura shook her head. "What's she like?"

"Deltan."

Both her and Christine's head came up.

He smiled. "She's nice. You'll like her."

"Everybody will like her," Uhura joked and saw something flicker in his eyes.

He seemed eager to change the subject. "We're even getting a Vulcan science officer."

Christine's hand jerked.

He shot her a look. "You don't like Vulcans?"

"They're fine. Who is it?"

"A Commander Sonak. Admiral Kirk recommended him highly."

Christine nodded, seemed to relax. Uhura watched her. Had she really thought that Spock was coming back?

Christine never talked about him anymore. Had she forgotten him?

Decker got up. "I hate to eat and run. But I have another meeting. Doctor, I'll see you soon?"

She nodded. "I'll be up the day after tomorrow."

Uhura knew she was taking the next day off. It was time to say goodbye. Uhura would be doing that too. Len was coming home, finally.

They'd only have one day together. But it was better than nothing.

She hoped.

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

Kirk closed his eyes, tried to sense where Weasel was, where his teacher would stage his next attack from in this training exercise. He reached out, sensed nothing.

Suddenly a jab of energy knocked him off his feet. He fell heavily to the mat Weasel had put down before they started.

Kirk had spent more time on his butt than he had standing. He rubbed at his eyes.

"Mac, I got to tell you. You are not impressing anyone today."

Kirk just nodded.

"You want to tell me what's wrong?"

"Other than that I've been chasing werewolves every night and getting no sleep?"

"Yeah, other than that."

Kirk pushed himself to his feet. "She's leaving."

"Christine?"

Kirk nodded.

"Got sick of you, did she?"

"She's shipping out."

"Oh. Wow. Did you know this?"

"It may have been my idea."

Weasel chuckled. "Man, you do like to make your life a mess, don't you?"

"She'll be safe on the ship."

"Safe? Safe from whom?"

Kirk could feel his jaw tighten.

Weasel sighed. "The woman loves you."

"I know."

"You love her."

Kirk nodded.

"Have you told her?"

"What's the point? She's going away. I have to let her go. For her own good. She needs to make a future, her own future."

"Yeah, it sounds pretty noble, all right."

Kirk shot him a look. "You were the one who told me to not to mess in a friend's nest."

"Well, yeah. But where is this friend? I thought he was a real person, not this hypothetical thing."

"Spock's not hypothetical."

"Well, he's also not here." Weasel sat down. "So when does she leave?"

"Today's her last day." Kirk looked at the chrono. It was early. She'd just be getting up at the visiting officer quarters. He'd wanted to invite her to stay with him when she'd moved out of her apartment. But he'd known that he wouldn't have been able to keep his hands off of her if she was with him for too long. The VOQ was safer.

"And she'll be back when?"

Kirk shrugged.

"Guess."

"It's a five-year mission, Weasel."

"Oh." He shook his head. "Sucks to be you, my friend."

"I was hoping for some encouragement."

"Sorry."

There was a long silence, then Weasel said, "I was in love once."

"Only once?"

Weasel nodded. "I was sort of focused on the magic. But when it hit, it hit hard. She was amazing."

"What happened to her?"

"She died." Weasel wasn't meeting Kirk's eyes. "Because of me. Because of a spell I did."

"I'm sorry. Is that why...?"

Weasel nodded. "It was not a good time for me. I was so single minded. I was convinced the rules didn't apply to me. I took too many risks. She was an innocent bystander. She got caught in the crossfire." He looked up finally. "The thing about love is that you don't know how strong it is it until it's gone. And then it's too late."

Kirk nodded.

"We don't get second chances, Jim. Life just doesn't work that way. When I told you to stay away from her, I'd never met her and I didn't know you very well. I'd never seen you together."

Kirk held up his hand. "I appreciate the pep talk but don't." He knew his face was hard. Unyielding. And a total lie. He wanted Weasel to talk him into doing the selfish thing. He wanted him to say it was all right to have her. To keep her. To tell her not to leave him.

"Okay. I won't." Weasel pushed himself out of the chair. "How long do you plan on moping once she's gone?"

Kirk shrugged.

"Life is pain, Mac. And you are determined to wallow. So I'm not going to get in your way." He motioned for Kirk to move back. "Now, let's try this again. And pay attention this time."

Kirk closed his eyes, reached out with his magic, looking for Weasel. Another bolt of energy knocked him backward.

It was going to be a long morning.

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

Christine stood outside the Los Angeles-Santa Monica transporter station. The sun shone down brightly, the water sparkled, and she could hear the sounds of children squealing from the rides on the pier. This seemed like an odd place to find a vampire. Or two.

She checked the instructions she'd printed out. It was a short walk according to the map. She set out, wondered at the lack of pedestrians as she walked past small houses and not-so-small apartment buildings. A few blocks later, she was into a business district and she checked the addresses until she found the right one.

She took the elevator to the top floor, and walked down the hall, finally opening a door onto a spacious and very well-lit corner suite of offices. "I'm sorry," she said, to the receptionist, as she took in the floor to ceiling windows through which a copious amount of sunshine was spilling. "I must have the wrong place."

The young man nodded, then answered the comm unit. "Angel Investigations. We help the helpless."

"Or maybe not," she said softly, walking back to his desk.

He transferred the call and said, "Can I help you, sweetie?"

"I'm looking for Spike."

"He's not here right now." The receptionist handed her a padd. "Feel free to leave him a message. If it's dirty, let me listen." He winked at her.

"Excuse me. Did you say you were looking for Spike?"

She turned. A young man, handsome, a bit dour, stood in front of her. Loomed in front of her might be more exact.

"I did. Do you know when he'll be back?"

"I expect him any time."

"Then I'll just wait..."

He didn't say anything. Just studied her.

"Not one for small talk, are you?"

"You're Christine, right?"

"You must be Angel."

He nodded.

"He's talked about me?" she asked.

"Oh, yeah," he said, with such a longsuffering voice that she laughed.

"Talked your ear off, I guess."

"Well, he can do that normally. It just gets worse when it's about a woman." He suddenly smiled.

She was charmed by the warmth the smile brought to his face.

"You're not what I expected," he said.

"I could say the same thing. You're probably the oldest vampire I've met. I mean I thought Drusilla was old."

"That's right. You killed Drusilla. I was her sire."

She tensed. "Were you fond of her?"

He shot her a startled look, then laughed. "Oh. No. Relax. It's fine. I mean, not fine fine, but not a problem."

She laughed. "Good. I'm glad we've got that straight."

"Can I get you some coffee?" He led her to a small room off the reception. "I have to admit, you're the oldest slayer I've ever seen." He seemed to realize what he'd said and quickly turned to the coffee machine. "I mean, you look great..."

"For my age?" She laughed again. "I like it with cream, thanks."

He nodded, seemed grateful for something to do.

"You don't get out much, do you?" she asked.

"No." He smiled again, a shy, sort of sad smile.

She had a sudden urge to take him out somewhere fun just to see if he could smile for any longer than a few seconds.

"Oh, now, see. This is exactly why I didn't want you to meet him." Spike stood at the door.

"Hey." She threw herself at him.

He caught her up in his arms. "Hey, yourself."

She could feel the grin he always brought out. It was nearly splitting her face. He was grinning too.

"I'll leave you two alone," Angel said.

"Oh, don't leave on my account," Spike said as he leaned in and kissed her.

It was a really good kiss.

When he let her go, Angel was gone.

"Now, that was fun." He let her go. "What are you doing here? No, wait, don't tell me. You decided you couldn't live without me and you're moving to la-la land?"

She laughed. "No." She touched his cheek, loving how lighthearted he was, even after centuries. She should take a lesson from him on enjoying life.

"Then what? You're getting married and need someone to give you away?"

She could feel her smile fade. "No."

He studied her. "You all right?" He led her out of the room, to an office. A sunlit office.

"Do you want to explain these windows to me?"

"They're necro-tempered. Some kind of magical process. Angel knows. He knows all the boring stuff." He leaned in. "We heard there was some trouble down your way? Whole lot of watchers and slayers."

She nodded. "Didn't see you busting your ass to get down there and help me."

"That many slayers, you don't want me. They tend to view a vampire as the enemy. And the soul explanation...it takes too long to get out."

She nodded. "We were fine anyway. But it was nasty. I lost someone--a couple of someones--who I cared about."

He cocked his head, studied her. "But you seem okay. Haven't been hitting the demon bars, have you?"

"No." She laughed. There was a whole chunk of her life that only this man had shared.

"Why are you here, pet?"

"Well, seeing you behind a desk was worth the trip."

He laughed, leaned back in the chair and kicked his feet onto the desk. He lit a cigarette and put his hands behind his head. "Better?" he asked between puffs.

"No smoking in the office, Spike," Angel called from the hallway as he walked past.

"You don't have to breathe it," Spike yelled after him. "You don't have to breathe at all. Big wanker." He grinned at Christine. "He and I don't get on."

She laughed. "I came to say goodbye. I'm shipping out. On the Enterprise again. And in a really strange sequence of events, I find myself the Chief Medical Officer."

He smiled. "That's great, Christine. How long will you be gone?"

"Five years."

"Not long then."

She laughed. Vampires did have a different way of looking at time. "No, for you, not long." For Jim? She sighed.

"Leaving something behind are you?" He leaned in. "Or someone?"

She nodded. "I'd rather not talk about it."

"Your choice." He smiled. "Are you excited? A new opportunity."

"I guess so. It's complicated."

"It's always complicated for you, love. You really need to simplify your attitude. Smokes, beer, football, and shagging. That's the way to live. Oh and harassing Angel."

She laughed. "I love you."

He reached over, took her hand. "I love you too. Sometimes, I wish..."

She nodded. "It would definitely be fun."

He smiled sadly. "We're so good at being fun together, but we don't tend to choose that otherwise, do we? Always diving into the middle of the angst pool."

"Yep. That's us. Angst addicts."

"I think they have support groups for that now." He grinned. "So, you going to be here a while? Maybe stay the night?" His grin grew larger.

"It's a tempting offer. But I can't." Part of her still wanted Spike. But it was a small part. She couldn't do that to Jim--didn't want to do it to him.

How long would she cling to the idea that she and Jim could have something? Five years? Ten? Would it end only when she saw him happy with someone else?

That idea hurt more than she could stand.

"This is that same bloke you were going on about before, isn't it?"

She nodded.

"You two still haven't shagged?" He laughed in disbelief. "You're losing your touch, Christine."

"Don't remind me." She stood up. "I have to get back. I just couldn't leave without saying goodbye."

He stood up and walked around the desk to her. "I'll miss you."

She pulled him to her, hugged him tightly. "I'll miss you too. Thank you. For everything."

He kissed her cheek. "You don't have to thank me, love. I got a real sweet deal with you." He let her go. "I hope your fella figures things out before too long. If I can tell you're in love, surely he can?"

"He knows. He loves me. It's compl--"

"--Complicated. I know." He moved back to his chair. "Okay, beat it. I've got work to do."

"Is this even your office?"

"Yeah, it's mine."

She looked around the empty walls. "You should fix it up. Put art up or something."

"Make it mine?"

She nodded. "Put some roots down. It'd be good for you."

"Says the original rolling stone."

She laughed. "Well, I found one person I'd put roots down for. Unfortunately, that's not an option." She headed for the door. "Be careful." She looked back at him. "I mean it."

"You too."

They stared at each other for a long moment, then she smiled and turned away. She walked down the hall, saw Angel talking to the receptionist.

"You're leaving?" He smiled at her, the goofy smile that made her feel warm inside.

"I am." She held out her hand, didn't react at all to how cold his skin was when he took it.

He smiled. "So, you like our William?"

"He's a good man."

"If you say so." He laughed. It was only slightly mocking.

"You treat him right, or we'll have to have a talk." She gave him a mellow version of the slayer glare.

"I think you've got that backwards. I'm the one you should be worried about." He leaned in, said conspiratorially, "Spike loves to make my existence a living hell."

She laughed and shook her head. "It was nice meeting you."

"Likewise." He suddenly looked down, an awkward smile on his face. "If you ever want to get coffee?"

She bit back a laugh. "I'm sort of spoken for." By a reluctant admiral. And after him she figured the nemesis of this awfully cute if somewhat socially retarded vampire had a prior claim.

"Right. Had to try." He nodded, smiled one last time and walked into his office. No trace of awkwardness in his stride.

She saw Spike had been watching them from his office.

"How old are you two? Nine?" She shook her head.

Spike laughed, and she thought she heard a chuckle from Angel's office.

"Bye," she said.

Spike raised his hand, then walked back into his office.

The receptionist leaned in and whispered. "Come back anytime, sweetie. Things get really interesting when you're around." He winked at her, then went back to his work.

She looked at his forehead a little closer. Were those...horns? And was he sort of green?

He looked up. "Take a picture, gee." He made a face. "I'm a little bit demon. Do you have a problem with that?"

She held up a hand. "No problem. I was just leaving." She tried her best smile.

He huffed but finally smiled.

She opened the door and hurried away before she could get in any more trouble.

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

Uhura sat in the late afternoon Savannah sunshine, cuddled against Len. He tightened his hold on her, looked down and kissed her.

She sighed.

"I missed this," he said. "My backyard. You. A lazy afternoon."

She nodded.

"It's not the end of the world, hon. We'll see each other."

She nodded again.

"Ny. Talk to me."

"I feel like we're going off on different paths."

"That's because we are." He laughed softly. "Doesn't mean the paths won't converge every once in a while."

She smiled. "You believe that? That we can last?"

He kissed her again. "We can last. Till the sun doesn't shine, and the sea stops running to the shore."

She laughed. "Mighty poetic, Mister Doctor Man."

He grinned. "That was pretty, wasn't it?" He sighed. "I did miss you. It was a long time to be away. It's going to be even longer now."

She nodded. "If you don't want to wait...I'll understand."

He shot her a suspicious look. "You trying to get out of this?"

"No. But maybe you'll meet someone."

He laughed. "I'm a cranky old country doctor who's in love with a beautiful, talented woman who loves me back. Why in god's name would I want to meet someone?" He looked at her suspiciously again. "Unless you met someone?"

She shook her head. Unless David counted, and she didn't think he did. Especially since he was dead now. And he was evil. Sort of. "I guess I'm just worried about us."

"I know. We'll be fine."

She pulled away. "I'm also worried about Jim." It still felt a bit odd to refer to him as Jim. For so long, she hadn't been in the circle that called him that.

Len's face tightened.

She hit him on the shoulder. "Stop that! You're the big healer...stop being such an asshole about this."

His eyes widened at her language.

"He's going to be hurting. He loves her."

Len looked confused. "Her who?"

"See, if you'd been here, you'd know this already." She sighed, cuddled back against him. "He's in love with Christine. He won't let himself have her because of Spock. She's leaving and he's going to be hurting. That's what you need to know."

"Okay."

"And what I expect you to do is to patch things up with him and make sure he's okay. Because he's in love with her. Not just sort of interested. Really in love with her."

"I get the picture, darlin'."

"Okay." She tried to laugh. She hadn't meant to get so wound up. "I'm sorry. We've just been through a lot, the three of us. And I care so much about them and he's not going to have anyone when we're gone..."

Len tipped her head up, saw she was fighting tears. "Hey, it's okay. I'll make sure he's all right. I'll find a way to patch things up. It may take some time, though. He's as stubborn as I am."

She sighed. "I know."

He kissed her. "I'm sorry I wasn't here. I should have been here."

She shook her head, wiped away her tears. "No. You were where you were supposed to be. It was just hard. Without you." She kissed him softly. "I really love you, you know."

He smiled. "I really love you too." His arm tightened on her. "I'm going to miss the hell out of you. And I'm going to go broke flying hither and yon trying to catch up with that damned ship."

She laughed. "I'll spot you some credits."

He smiled. "Yeah?"

She nodded.

"Well, that's all right then." He kissed her again, and held her close.

They sat silently as the sun moved lower in the Savannah sky, closing down their last day together.

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

Kirk puttered around his quarters. He kept looking at the chrono. Eighteen more hours and she'd be gone.

He tried to ignore how his stomach tightened at the thought. He'd be fine. He had a life here that didn't have to involve Chris. He'd be perfectly fine.

Just a long way from happy.

He sighed.

His door chime rang. He hurried to it. Knew it was her before he opened the door.

"Hi," she said.

"Hi."

They stood there like two awkward teenagers.

"Can I come in?" she finally asked.

He moved aside immediately.

"I went to L.A. To say goodbye to Spike."

He felt a wave of jealousy.

"I met Angel. He's even older than Spike. But younger, I think, when he was turned. It's hard to tell."

Kirk found he couldn't care less about Angel's age. Was there a polite way to ask the woman you loved if she'd had carefree sex while she'd been gone?

She moved closer to him. "I just went to their office. Didn't stay long." She smiled.

He felt a surge of relief. "You could have stayed as long as you wanted."

"I know. That was how long I wanted to stay. Not long. I just thought...you'd want to know."

He laughed. "And I do." He sighed. "God help me, I do." He walked to his bar. "Can I get you a drink?"

"You don't have to treat me like a guest." She moved beside him. He could feel her next to him. Not touching him, but so close their personal energy fields were overlapping. He sighed. He even found her energy unrelentingly sexy.

"Jim."

He poured himself a Scotch and moved away from her. "Fix whatever you like."

He sat down. In the chair not the couch. His last memory of them on the couch was of waking up with her on top of him.

She surprised him by sitting down on the floor in front of his chair. She leaned back and hit his legs. Without turning to look at him, she put her drink down and moved his legs to either side, easing back between them.

He slid back in the chair, but his hand stole out to stroke her hair. He heard her moan softly, and he closed his eyes.

She was leaving. And he wanted her more than he would have believed possible. He wanted to slide off his chair and push her down and make love to her for the rest of their time together.

She took a sip of her drink. "Tell me to stay. And I will."

"I'm not going to tell you that." He laughed, the sound came out bitter. "Besides, it's too late. Nogura thinks you'll look for Kirsu." It wasn't true, but Nogura didn't need to know that. "If you transfer off now, he'll separate us as punishment. You will get that garbage scow."

She sighed but didn't argue.

He put his drink down and leaned forward, loosening her hair from its clips and letting it fall over his hands.

"Jim." Her voice was so soft. So sensual.

He wanted her. He wanted her so damn much it was killing him.

He let go of her hair, picked up his drink and took a long, desperate gulp of Scotch.

Then he put the glass down. Getting drunk was not the way to go.

"You report in at noon?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Are you excited?"

She shrugged.

"Help me out here, Chris."

She suddenly leaned against his leg, pressing her head on his thigh, as if hiding. He sighed. Then he leaned forward and gently pushed her away enough that he could get up.

She watched him silently. Her eyes were sad but otherwise unreadable. What did she want? Other than the impossible.

He began to pace.

"I talked to Decker yesterday," she finally said into the silence. "He seems okay with me being CMO."

"He doesn't have a choice." He immediately felt bad. "That's not what I meant."

"I know what you meant. And no, he doesn't have a choice. But he's taking it with good grace. He said he was ambivalent on the CMO selection, so the person I bumped isn't someone he'll resent losing."

"That's good then." He looked at her.

She wasn't looking at him.

"Did you think about it?" he asked, the words coming out before he could stop them.

She looked up at him. Confused.

"Sleeping with Spike?"

She didn't look away. "I did. For a moment. It would have been fun."

More fun than this, her words seemed to say.

"Why didn't you?"

"He's not who I want. He's a lovely, giving, fun man. And it would have been a wonderful diversion. Nothing more." She took a sip of her drink. "He's not who I want." She looked up suddenly, captured his eyes.

He couldn't look away.

"Is that the right answer? Is that what you wanted to hear?"

He felt stung. "I just want the truth."

"Well, that was it." She still didn't look away.

"Then that was the right answer."

She nodded, finally broke the spell and looked away.

He took a deep breath, turned to the window. He wanted her to go. He wanted her to stay. He wanted her to sit there, safely across the room from him.

He wanted her to get up, and walk across the room and press herself against his back, with her arms around him.

Like she was doing now.

"Jim."

He turned, pulled her to him. Kissed her hard, with all the passion he felt.

She moaned, kissed him back even harder. She moved against him, rubbing sinuously as her hands locked behind his neck, pulling him against her harder.

If he could, he would crawl into her and never come out. He thought she would do the same, she was moving against him with such urgency.

Was this how it had been for her and Spock?

He pulled away, no easy task when she was holding him so firmly. "Chris, no."

She sobbed in frustration, let go of him and turned away. "Why? Why no? I'll be on the ship tomorrow. We'll be leaving orbit soon after. What does it matter? Just love me. Just this once."

"I can't love you just this once. Don't you understand? If I love you at all, it'll be forever."

She moved back to him. "Then do that. Forever sounds good. I'll love you that long too." She tried to kiss him but he held her away from him. "Jim. Please. I'm dying. If you don't touch me..."

He pulled her close, held her tightly, but in a way that didn't allow her to kiss him. "I know. God, Chris, don't you think I know?"

"Why? Why can't we have this? Just one night?" She moved away from him, too strong for him to try to hold against her will. But she didn't try to kiss him. "I love you."

He shook his head, knew the expression on his face would be helpless. But resolved.

"I'm in love with you, Jim. I want you. I like you. I can't imagine life without you. What more do you need to hear? What can I say to convince you that this is right?"

He shook his head.

She collapsed against him. But she didn't cry.

He kissed her hair. "I will be your friend forever. I will die for you."

"But you won't live for me."

"You know why."

She sighed, then she pulled away. "I better go." She looked down. "I was hoping I could stay here tonight."

"It's not a good idea."

She nodded, not meeting his eyes.

"Chris. Look at me."

She shook her head.

"Look at me."

She slowly looked up. There were tears in her eyes.

"I love you. More than I have ever loved anyone."

She closed her eyes, her chin began to tremble.

"Just one more night, Chris. That's all there is to get through, and then you'll be safely on the ship, and your whole life will be ahead of you. A new life. Without the constant patrols. Without me." He touched her cheek, wiped a tear away. "It'll be better."

She looked up at him. "No. It won't." Her voice was flat, and unhappy. She suddenly stood very straight. "Am I dismissed, sir?"

"Chris."

She didn't answer. Just stood rigidly at attention.

He pursed his lips. Anger, desperate lonely anger filled him. "You're dismissed, Lieutenant."

"Thank you, sir." She turned, a perfect about face. Her stride was perfect. All the way to the door.

Then she sobbed.

He was beside her instantly, pulling her back to him, his mouth on hers, his hands holding her as close as he dared. He kissed her cheeks, her throat, her forehead, went back to her lips.

"Don't forget me," she whispered as he pulled away.

"I never could. I'll never--" He broke off, couldn't talk for the lump in his throat. He closed his eyes to hold back the tears that had appeared against his will. One of them escaped, ran down his cheek.

"Oh god, Jim. Don't. Please don't." She wiped the tear away, smiled brokenly as he kissed hers away. "I love you. I will always love you," she said, then she pulled away and fled.

As his door closed behind her. He held his hand out. "Chris."

He felt the emptiness of his world close around him, stumbled to the bar and poured himself another Scotch and drank it down quickly. Then he drank another. He drank past the point where he might call her back. Drank until all he could do was sit in his chair and think about her.

Until he passed out.

By the time he woke up, she was gone.

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

Uhura looked over at Christine. Her friend had said very little when she got off the shuttle. Her quarters were nice, but she didn't seem to care.

"Was it bad?"

Christine nodded.

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah. Me too." Christine's voice had the sound of someone who knew if she talked too much, she'd break down.

"Maybe...in time?"

"I don't think so." Christine opened her bags, started to unpack, then she stopped, holding a uniform close, staring down at the bed. "I feel like I'm going to die, Ny."

Uhura hurried to her, pulled the uniform gently away and forced her to sit. She knelt in front of her and forced her chin up.

"Christine, you listen to me. I believe love will always find a way. And I know that you love him. And that he loves you so much that it breaks my heart that this is happening to the two of you. But you have to have faith."

"Faith? In what?" Christine pulled away from Uhura's hand. "How do you have faith if you don't believe in anything anymore?"

"I'll believe for you."

Christine shook her head. "I'm pretty sure that's not how it works."

"It can. If you want it to."

Christine met her eyes, and Uhura tired to put her most unwavering belief in her expression.

"And Len? Is that what you believe for you two?"

Uhura had to look away.

"See. Not so easy when it's your own heart, now is it?" Christine's words were harsh, but she touched Uhura's shoulder, grasped it gently.

"I still believe. Len and I will be okay."

"I know you will. But Jim and I..."

Uhura nodded, stood up slowly. "It's not as if Spock is ever coming back."

"Preaching to the choir, Ny."

"He'll miss you."

Christine nodded.

"He'll want to see you."

She shook her head. "He's good at denying himself what he wants." She smiled sadly at Uhura. "Don't you have a bridge to report to?"

"Yes, I do. Dinner tonight?"

"You bet." Christine tried to smile. It didn't work very well. She turned back to unpacking, taking out a t-shirt and holding it tightly for a moment. Then she stuffed it back into the carryall and pushed the bag under the bed.

Uhura felt a strange sadness come over her. "I'll see you later."

Christine nodded, was still standing with her back to her when Uhura let the door close between them. Uhura tried to tell herself that Christine was just thinking. Tried to pretend that her friend wasn't crying.

It didn't help. In fact, it only made her feel worse.

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

Christine sat at the end of the conference table, staring down the other doctors. She tried to pretend that they were vampires, realized she was overdoing it when they all suddenly looked away, or down at their notes. She made a mental note to not terrify her staff.

Smiling, she tried to dial the intensity in her expression down a few notches. They began to relax and interact more normally with her. The meeting was just a formality at this point. They hadn't even left orbit yet.

She was intensely aware of the beautiful blue ball spinning below them. Aware of the man who was on it, maybe looking up at where he'd know she was.

She missed him so much it hurt.

After the meeting, she left sickbay, wandered the ship, relearning the corridors and decks. She saw a familiar figure getting off the turbolift and called out, "Jan?" and hurried down the corridor.

Rand turned, her smile was strange. Not as happy as Christine expected it to be. "Christine. I'd heard you were going to be here."

"Yeah, I'm CMO."

"You are?"

"I know. It's weird. Don't ask."

Rand didn't look like she was going to. Christine studied her. She looked so different. Older, but more real than the cute, bubbly woman she'd known before.

"You look good?"

Rand laughed. "Older."

Christine laughed too. "Well, aren't we all?"

"I like your hair dark. It suits you better than blonde."

Christine smiled. "So you didn't like it blonde?" Her smile faded when Janice didn't answer. "Jan, is everything okay?"

"Sure, why wouldn't it be?" Rand touched her hand. "I'm sorry; I'm just in a hurry. We'll catch up later?"

"Okay."

Rand started to walk away, then turned and gave Christine a real smile. "I am glad you're here. I just have to go. I'm sort of expecting a comm. A family thing." She rolled her eyes.

"Say no more." Christine smiled.

Rand nodded and hurried off.

Christine took the lift to the bridge, watched the crew doing the final preps on their stations. Sulu looked up and saw her. His smile was huge.

She wandered over to his station. "Where's the captain?"

"In engineering. They're having some trouble."

"Nothing serious?"

He made a face.

"Oh. Well, I'm sure he and Scotty will get to the bottom of it."

Sulu nodded. "Neither of them will give up until it's fixed." He leaned toward her, his voice pitched very low when he asked, "Did you ever get a chance to use those bullets?"

"No. And my great-great-grandmother is spinning in her grave over what I did to her silverware."

Sulu laughed. "I'm sure it was for a good cause?"

She nodded. It had been. And it had been an excuse for Jim and her to spend lots of time together while they were looking for werewolves--one in particular.

But that part of her life was over. No more werewolves, no more patrols, no more slaying. Her life was back on track. She was going to be a doctor. She was going to do what David had told her. Preserve life instead of taking it.

It was a positive step. And someday, when she was far enough away from Jim, maybe she'd feel better about it.

Someday maybe she'd be happy again.

But she wasn't holding her breath.

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

Kirk sat in the cafeteria, pushing his food around. Chris had only been gone for a few days, he had to get over this. At least, he'd stopped drinking. He'd thought Weasel was going to expel him from sorcerer school if he showed up hung over for his lesson one more time.

He got up, threw his tray into the recycler. He'd be hungry again someday. Someday when the ship and Chris were gone and not hanging right over his head.

Just out of reach.

He walked back to his office. Work waited. His boring, boring work.

Hall looked up as he walked in. "Admiral Nogura wants to see you, sir."

Kirk nodded, headed for his office.

"Now, sir." Hall gave him an apologetic look. "His secretary said as soon as you got back."

Kirk sighed and turned around. He walked the short way to Nogura's office, saw that Lori's former digs were closed off, a security device on the door to keep everyone out. He wondered what kind of magic was at work in the room. So many of her things still inside--Kirk knew enough about sympathetic magic...and curses, to not want to be in her shoes. The old man did not seem to be in a forgiving mood.

Not that Kirk blamed him. She'd tricked him into killing Carl. Tried to kill Chris.

Ellie looked up as he walked in. "Oh good. He's in a foul mood, Jim." She commed Nogura. "Admiral Kirk is here."

"Send him in," Nogura bellowed.

"See?"

He nodded. Walked into the room. He could feel Nogura's anger the minute he walked in. Energy pounded at him and he fortified his own shields, the act coming almost without thought. The bombardment of negative energy became far less noticeable.

Nogura waved him to a chair.

"You look like a man with a problem." Kirk said.

Nogura glared at him. "I've got three of them."

"Lori's one. What are the other two?"

"Did you find Lori?"

Kirk shook his head.

Nogura didn't look surprised. "Damn her. I taught her too well." He shook his head. "I was a fool to trust her."

"Maybe you need to rethink your methods. She seems to harbor a pretty big grudge."

"My methods have been tested and perfected over the centuries, Jim. They're harsh, but they work. And nobody's forced into it."

"She was, by her parents. That little girl was. They didn't ask for it."

"Well, maybe the children are. But they're too young to know what the impact of turning down the opportunity would be. They have no idea how hard it will be to survive in the world without some control." He shook his head. "Lori seems to want them to be free of it. Free but not in control. There cannot be freedom without discipline. That's always been the thought behind our methods." He rubbed at his eyes. "But Lori's not my primary problem."

"What is?"

"We have an alien...thing"--Nogura frowned at such sloppy terminology--"of incredible destructive power heading straight for Earth. I need to send the Enterprise out. But Decker..." He stared at Kirk. "Tell me straight. Can he handle it?"

Kirk shrugged. "He doesn't have seasoning. This wouldn't be my first choice for a maiden voyage."

"I don't have a choice. The Enterprise is our most advanced ship."

"It hasn't even had a shakedown cruise. Send another ship."

"The ones that come closest in capability are too far away. It has to be the Enterprise."

"Then Decker will do as well as he can." Kirk didn't say that he could do better. He and Nogura both knew that already. "You said you had a third problem."

"Assuming we survive the...whatever it is, Carol Marcus turned down the funding proposal."

So Carol had stuck to her guns? Kirk smiled. Her tenacity when it came to her principles was one of the things that had attracted him to her in the first place.

"The trouble is that we want Genesis, Jim. And only she can deliver it. And she won't."

Kirk began to smile.

"You have an idea?" Nogura leaned forward.

"Carol is very displeased that I'm on Earth. I thought she'd be more forgiving, but she hasn't been. I think she's afraid I'll corrupt David." Kirk leaned back. "So you have two choices if you want Genesis. Move the project off of Earth. Or move me off of Earth."

"I can't move the project. It'd be ridiculously inefficient. Everything she needs is here." His eyes narrowed. "Move you where?"

Kirk smiled. Shook his head. "Lori's on the loose, possibly running free out there somewhere." He gestured up, toward the heavens. "Now this thing? Stop the thing, deal with Lori, and find Kirsu...are you sure Decker is up to that? At the very least, he'll ask questions. Too many questions."

"What's your angle, Jim?"

"Give her back to me."

"The Enterprise? You're mad."

"I'll deal with this probe. I'll find Lori and Kirsu." He crossed his fingers, sent a plea for forgiveness to the gods of truth.

"Decker and your slayer can do that."

"But Decker can't deliver you Genesis. With me gone for another five years, Carol will say yes. She'll stay on Earth."

"I could just move you somewhere else."

"I could just quit and stay here."

Nogura stared at him. Kirk refused to blink.

"Does that mean I have to transfer Doctor Chapel off the ship?" Nogura looked prepared to do it.

Kirk shook his head. "Keep her there." He needed to be close to Chris again. He wasn't sure what that meant in the long term, but to have her with him again, his best friend now, someone he trusted implicitly. That would be worth everything. And maybe, in time, Spock wouldn't matter so much. He smiled. Maybe in not much time at all. Weasel had said it. Where the hell was Spock?

This time, damn it, he was going to reach for it all.

He'd get her...and his ship.

Nogura gave him a grudging smile. "Where's your sense of honor?"

"Rapidly fading."

Nogura laughed.

Kirk suddenly had a wild idea. "I want her demoted though. To deputy CMO. Transfer off whoever was supposed to be that."

"And put who in her place?"

"McCoy. Reactivate him."

Nogura made a face. "Jim. There's a limit."

"I need my team. My whole team. You can't get me Spock. I know that. But give me McCoy. I need him." He did need Bones. His conscience. The burr under his saddle. The one man who'd never stop telling him the hard truth.

And Uhura and Bones could be together.

And Chris wouldn't report directly to him.

Kirk smiled. It worked out all the way around.

Nogura stared at him. Then he sighed. "I have a feeling I'm going to be very sorry about this." He made the call to personnel.

Kirk imagined Bones getting the news in Savannah. He'd be livid. He'd be beyond livid.

Kirk grinned. Then his grin faded. He hoped he could tell Chris before she heard it from someone else.

"You can tell Decker yourself. And your girlfriend. Since you've maneuvered me into this." Nogura's face tightened. "Decker was your recommendation."

"I know. And, next to me, he's the best man for the job." Kirk met Nogura's eyes, didn't look away.

He could feel the magic crackling between them as the final battle of wills took place in a way that only they could see.

Nogura finally nodded, and the magic pounding at Kirk's defenses faded away.

"I could still squash you like a bug," Nogura said. "And don't forget it. But, where your ship--and a certain woman--are concerned, you seem to have enough passion to take me on."

Kirk sat back. "Then she's mine?"

"She's yours. I hope you enjoy her. Both of them." Nogura walked to the bar. "Let's drink to the occasion."

Kirk laughed. "You drink. I'll watch."

Nogura tipped his head in defeat. "As you wish."

Kirk walked to the window, looked up, high into the sky. His ship was up there. And Chris.

He'd be with both of them soon.

FIN