The Lost Years: Unstoppable by Djinn

Kirk watched Decker walk away. It had been easier than he expected. Taking the man's ship. But then she was Kirk's ship first. And she always would be his. As long as he could command her, the Enterprise would be his.

Scotty shot him a sympathetic glance. Kirk smiled wryly. They both knew there was no way to make this better for Decker. Will had lost. It was just a question of how much that loss hurt, and would he stay once this mission was over.

If they survived this mission.

The shower of sparks from a nearby console seemed to echo the pessimistic thought. A klaxon went off, the sound different than he remembered.

The technician who had been working on the panel hit the comm switch. "Transporter room, come in! Urgent!" He looked at Scotty. "Redline on the transporters, Mister Scott!"

Scott was already moving as he shouted, "Transporter room, do not engage. Do not--"

"Too late," the tech said. "They're beaming now."

Kirk raced out of the room, not sure exactly where he was heading but pulled by a deep sense of urgency and dread down the corridor. He could hear Scotty pounding behind him.

The scene that met them in the transporter room was a nightmare. The transporter was trying to hold onto whoever was beaming in, but their patterns kept shifting, whirling and morphing. Then they started to form. Kirk pushed Rand aside, took the controls.

He heard a scream, a woman's voice. Rand turned away from the horror; he couldn't. He could make out enough of the male to see he was Vulcan. It had to be Sonak. He'd recommended him for this post, talked to him just a few short hours ago.

There had to be something he could do.

Kirk reached for the transporter control, desperately trying to call up some magic and finally feeling it answer inside him, unfocused, even panicked, but ready for him to use. But before he could try the controls again, the pattern stopped and the transporter chamber was eerily quiet.

He let his hand drop, felt the magic swirl inside him for a moment, then die back down. "Starfleet, do you have them?"

"Enterprise...what we got back didn't live long. Fortunately."

Kirk said all the things he was supposed to say, expressed his condolences to their families.

Who had the woman been? A new officer, excited and happy for her first tour? Or someone more experienced, someone who'd transported hundreds of times? Someone who'd never expected to die like that?

He turned to Rand. She was trembling. "There was nothing you could have done, Rand. It wasn't your fault."

She nodded, waited until Scott had left before saying, "I...I knew her, sir. The admiral."

He felt his hackles rise. "That was an admiral?"

Rand nodded. "Admiral Ciani, sir." Her voice broke. "Lori."

Lori had been beaming up? Why in god's name would she have done that when she had to have known that he and Chris were gunning for her--that Nogura was on to her? "You knew Lori?"

Rand looked up at him. Her eyes were filled with tears. "I served on Admiral Nogura's staff, sir. Just before I went into transporter specialist training. And Lori got me this posting."

"She did?"

"She was my cousin, sir." Rand looked up at him. "She was the pride of the family."

"She never mentioned you, Janice."

"That doesn't surprise me. We have a big family, sir, and she and I don't-- didn't exactly travel in the same circles. I was surprised she wanted to come up to say goodbye. I couldn't say no--she _was_ an admiral." Rand's eyes filled with tears again. "I'm glad you pushed me away from the controls, sir. I don't have to feel as if I killed her."

Kirk tried not to flinch. Had he done that? Had he killed Lori? Not that he minded killing Lori--she had been a monster and she'd gotten Carl killed, and nearly Chris, and who knew how many others--but he hadn't known it was Lori when he'd rushed in. What if she'd been just some random crewwoman? Did he kill Sonak and her by his rash action?

"Sir, I need to go make some calls...to the family. You understand?"

He nodded, distracted. Then he touched her on the arm. "I'm sorry, Janice. I didn't know."

She shot him a look that seemed to say there had been much he didn't know-- to everyone's misfortune.

He tightened his grip on her. "I didn't mean--" He suddenly felt the hair on the back of his neck rise, the familiar pop-crackle. It wasn't anywhere near as intense as the feeling had been with Lori, but still there, still similar. He opened himself slightly, tried to read her. A rush of pheromones hit him. He shut down quickly, dropped his hand. "Cousins?"

"Yes. But not close. I told you that." Rand's eyes were suddenly hard. She moved closer. "Captain, have I told you what an honor it is to be serving with you again." She reached for him and he suddenly understood why he'd always shied away from any involvement with her. Understood too why she had called so to the beast inside him.

She moved closer, the pheromones she was putting out were far less intense than Lori's had been, but somehow, Rand's were more obvious, easier for him to identify and to resist.

"I imagine Lori was the star of your family, Janice, if you are typical of it. You have all the subtlety of a photon torpedo."

She shot him a surprised look. She reached for him again and he exploded, tired of games, tired of bestial leers and werewolf pheromones that left him cold and made him feel dirty. As his anger erupted, a bolt of current arced out of his hand into hers. She screamed and yanked her hand away. Where the energy bolt had gone through her palm, the skin was charred black.

He'd finally learned how to do that. Weasel would be so proud.

She backed away from him. "What are you?"

"Didn't Lori tell you?" Maybe Rand wasn't lying about not being very close to her more illustrious cousin?

"She didn't notice me most of the time, let alone talk about anything important. Please? Just tell me what you are?" Rand's voice was no longer harsh; it had fallen to the almost little-girl tones she'd used on him when they'd served together before.

He didn't find the act any more alluring than he did her pheromones. "I'm your commanding officer."

Her smile fell. Cradling her hand, she turned to go.

"I didn't dismiss you, Rand."

She turned to look at him, held up her burnt hand--the charred edges already looked slightly less black. "I need to get to sickbay."

"I thought your kind healed fast."

"Are you saying I can't go to sickbay?"

"Man your post, Janice."

"You said I could make some calls."

"That was before I knew who and what you'd be calling. Do it on your break."

"You're meaner than I remember." Rand took a step toward him. She licked her lips, a quick, hungry movement. "But then I always knew it...always felt it. Did you feel it too? How much I wanted you?"

"Haven't I made it clear that I'm not interested?" He moved away from her. "Never have been, never will be."

"You have no one here. No Spock glued to your side, no McCoy to patch you up when you get hurt. You're alone. I could be an asset. Someone to watch your back."

"I've got someone at my back. Someone far scarier than you, Janice."

Rand smirked. "Who? Uhura? Chekov?"

"Chris."

She frowned, as if she couldn't figure out who he meant. "Chris who?"

He smiled. Either Lori had kept Rand completely in the dark or his former yeoman was an incredibly good actress. "Chapel. Your friend, if I remember correctly?"

"Christine? Christine Chapel?" Her laughter was cruel. "You think I'm afraid of her? She's harmless."

"She was never that, Janice." He turned to go, suddenly wanting to see Chris. "I expect you to behave on board my ship. Do that, and I'll forget what you are. I'm not one to hold your origins against you."

She didn't move. Her smile was mocking. As if she didn't think he could stop her if she wanted to misbehave.

"Push me, and we'll see how long you can live when the air is full of aerosolized wolfsbane. It won't harm a human. But a wolfgirl like you?" He gave her his coldest smile. "You can thank your harmless friend for that inspiration."

Her smile faded, and he hoped to god she didn't get a notion to do any research. Chris had told him when they'd been trying to come up with weapons to use against Lori that such a mixture would be lethal--for everyone. Even if she'd had that much wolfsbane lying around, she would never mix up such a biologically devastating agent.

"As you were, Rand."

He turned on his heel and left.

As he walked toward sickbay, Rand's word echoed in his ears. "You're alone." He wasn't quite as alone as she thought. McCoy would be back-- probably kicking and screaming, but still back. And soon.

But Spock? Spock was gone. Spock wasn't coming back. Kirk would give anything in his power to make it right between them again. He'd turned his back on his own feelings, kept Chris as a friend when everything inside him cried out for her as a lover--as a mate. He'd done that out of loyalty. Out of honor.

What if Spock didn't care about those things anymore? What if he couldn't care less what Chris did? Or with whom?

And how long would Kirk wait to find out that he could have had her all along if only he hadn't been such a fool? Would he wait until they were out of time?

A nurse looked up as he walked into sickbay.

"Doctor Chapel?" he asked.

"She took a break, sir. I think she went back to her quarters."

"Thank you, Nurse...?"

She smiled. "Tebeau, sir." She turned back to the inventory she was working on.

Chris was in her quarters? Wonderful. It was the perfect place to share his new insight before he had to get back to the bridge.

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

Christine sat wearily on her bed. Her brain felt muzzy, and she knew that she'd have screamed if she'd stayed in sickbay one more minute answering question after question that she'd never prepared for. Why had she thought it would be a good idea to be CMO?

When the chime rang, she didn't get up, just said, "Come." She had to repeat it for the computer--the first time it didn't hear her.

Jim smiled as he walked in. "Miss me?"

All tiredness forgotten, she ran to him. He caught her up in his arms, and her tension seemed to drain away. She felt herself relax for the first time since she'd reported to the Enterprise.

"What are you doing here?" She nestled her head against his neck, the warm, familiar smell of him calming her even more.

"Couldn't let you have all the fun." His hands were moving across her back, easing away her tension.

She felt herself begin to tremble against him.

He seemed to also, because his arms tightened around her. "Chris, what is it?"

"This is harder than I thought, Jim. I can face down vampires and hellbeasts, but I don't know what I'm doing as CMO. They all keep looking to me, and I don't think I can do this. I was crazy to think I was ready to be in charge of sickbay."

He stroked her hair. "For what it's worth, I think you are ready for it. But what if I told you that you don't have to?"

She pulled away, shook her head. "You're not transferring me off, dammit, just because we've got big-time danger out there."

He laughed. "Nothing quite so dire. In fact, you may have just made what I have to say sound like good news." He stroked her cheek, his touch gentle, tender.

She closed her eyes at the sensation. "What's your news?"

"I'm bumping you back to deputy."

She opened one eye. "Why?"

He laughed. "See you're convinced you can't do it until it's being yanked away."

"You're yanking it away?"

He nodded. "I'm not here as an observer, Chris. I'm here as the captain. And I convinced Nogura to bring back McCoy."

She couldn't figure out if she was mad or relieved at being demoted. Maybe when she wasn't quite so tired, she'd know what to feel. For now, all she cared about was that he was on the ship--with her. "And you think Len's going to beam up without a fight?"

He shrugged. "Reserve activations clauses are tricky things." He grinned, then his grin faded, his face becoming deadly serious. "I need him."

She felt a pang at his forlorn expression. Reaching up, she ruffled his hair. "I know you do."

"I had another reason for demoting you." His voice was huskier than she'd ever heard it.

She met his gaze, couldn't look away. "You did?"

He nodded. He touched her cheek again, but this time his hand lingered, tracing the lines of her face. "I couldn't do this to a direct report."

"Well, it's not advised, that's for sure." She leaned into his hand.

He smiled, it was a sad expression. But one full of determination. And desire. "He's not coming back, Chris."

"Spock?"

He nodded. "I have to accept that. He's not coming back. He'll never forgive us, hell, he probably doesn't even care about us anymore." He pulled her closer.

"He probably doesn't."

"That thing we're rushing to meet may kill us. We could die and I'd never have the chance to do this again." He moved slowly, nothing rushed or desperate about his motion as his lips touched hers, pressed down.

She moaned. He was kissing her. Finally, he was kissing her without pulling away in a rush just when the kiss got good. His arms tightened around her, his hands moving over her back, possessive and gentle and causing her skin to tingle everywhere he touched her.

He finally drew away. But it was a slow movement, and he held her still, his hands warm on her back. His smile was so sweet that she felt something twist inside her.

She loved this man so much it hurt.

"Jim?"

"He's not coming back."

She didn't argue with him.

He leaned in again, his lips touching down on her face for fleeting little kisses as he said, "I had to tell Will he wasn't captain anymore. I lied to him. I told him I was demoting him temporarily. But this isn't a temporary thing. Nogura gave me the ship, Chris. I'm not going anywhere."

"You're not?" She frowned, looked down. "You made a deal with the devil then. He'll expect us to find Kirsu even faster with both of us working on it."

"We'll deal with that. At least Lori's out of the way."

She frowned. "I don't understand."

"You didn't hear about the transporter accident?"

"I did. That was Lori?" Why hadn't Janice mentioned that? It wasn't everyday an admiral was killed in a routine beam up. "So she's dead? Why don't I feel safer? "

Jim didn't look any more relieved. "I know. Something feels off to me too." He seemed to be considering his next words too carefully.

"Just spill it. Whatever bad news you have."

"Rand's a werewolf."

"And I'm the tooth fairy, Jim."

"I'm not kidding. She's Lori's cousin. And she's a werewolf." He smiled slightly. "Not a very smart one..."

Christine just stared at him. Could her life get any weirder? She'd palled around drinking hot chocolate with her vampire nemesis without catching on that he was undead, now one of her friends turned out to be a werewolf. "It's a new thing? She was just bitten?"

He shook his head.

"How do I miss this stuff?"

He smiled. "You weren't looking for it." He sighed. "Janice isn't a threat. It's Lori I'm worried about." He shook his head. "How discreetly can you run some tests on those remains?"

"Pretty damn discreetly. Don't worry. I'll look into it."

"I want to be sure before we tell Nogura that she's dead."

"We can't work for Nogura. We can't give him Kirsu."

"Who says we will? All we have to do is make a good show of looking." He tipped her face up. "He doesn't need to know that you can get to Kirsu anytime you want. We'll hunt for it for a while. It may be the only way to protect it. Would you rather he had someone leading the search who might actually find it?"

"Someone like Decker?" She shook her head. "What's going to happen to him?"

"He'll become first officer if he wants to stay on the Enterprise. Or he can transfer off to a new ship and be a captain again. Nogura will see that he's treated right." Jim started touching her, his hands roaming all over her body, making it difficult for her to think.

"And us?"

"We're here. We'll be here. Together. Far away from the slaying and the madness. Although I think you're stronger now. So much stronger. We could have stayed on Earth and you'd have been fine. But I like it here better. Barring the big evil thing out there, you're safer here with me than on Earth with me." His lips were on her hair, near her ear. He whispered, "Notice that 'with me' part."

She smiled. "I did notice that."

"Emma told me I should be with you. Did you know that?"

She shook her head...barely--unwilling to do anything that might cause him to move even a millimeter away from her.

"She did. I told her I couldn't be with you." He kissed his way down to her neck, began to nuzzle it, his lips touching down gently on the marks David had made. "But I was wrong. So stupid. Spock's not coming back. Ever."

"No, he's not."

"I stayed away from you. I tried to do the right thing."

She wrapped her arms more tightly around him. "You did do the right thing. You didn't betray him, Jim."

"Didn't I? I've been in love with you for a long time, Chris."

"Not when he and I were together."

"No. Not then."

"So see." She let go of him so that she could stroke his cheek, enjoying the freedom she had, the unaccustomed joy of touching him wherever and however she wanted. "You aren't betraying him now. And he doesn't care anyway. Not anymore."

"I know." He kissed her, the gentle kiss quickly turning into something not gentle at all. He pressed against her, his need for her apparent as he pushed her back against the bed, following her down when she collapsed onto the soft covers. He kissed her for a long time, then she pushed him to his back. She stared down at him before kissing him again.

He moaned, his arms pulling her on top of him. His lips felt hot, his tongue seemed to be everywhere at once and she moaned. He pushed her off him, rolled onto her, his hands touching her places he'd never allowed himself to go near before. She began to undo his uniform.

He pulled away, his hand coming up to cover her fingers. "No."

"No? But you said."

"Not like this. Not a rushed five minutes before I have to get to the bridge."

She smiled. "But five minutes might be all we'll ever have."

He shook his head. "It'll take hours to get to the rendezvous point. We'll steal one for ourselves." He kissed her. "It won't be enough but it'll be better than this." His eyes were gentle, full of some tender humor. "I want more than five minutes, Chris. We've waited so long. We can wait a few more hours."

"Speak for yourself, buster." She fidgeted underneath him, saw him groan as her body rubbed up against some very sensitive parts.

"Witch."

She laughed, kissed him again. "You seem to have me confused with a werewolf, love." Spike's endearment seemed entirely appropriate.

Jim seemed to think so too. His smile grew and he kissed her again. Then he moved off her. "I have to get back. But we'll meet later. I'll comm you."

She pulled him back for a quick kiss. "I love you."

He smiled. "I love you too." He ran his hand down her body, slowly, lingering over any area that gave her pleasure. He looked at her, and she saw some remaining hesitation warring with his desire. "No reason anymore not to do this," he said softly.

He seemed to need reassurance so she said, "Not a reason in the world to keep us apart."

Her words had the desired effect. He kissed her then whispered, "I'll see you later." He grinned. "All of you."

She laughed, wondered if she'd be able to hide the huge smile on her face until she saw him again. When they'd be together. Finally, they'd be together. Even if it was only until this unknown thing heading for Earth killed them all.

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

Kirk leaned back in the center seat, truly happy for the first time in a very long while. The ship was his again. And Chris was too. He had it all.

Possibly only for as long as it took to get out to the alien thing, but he'd take what he could get. Besides he'd beaten the odds before. Maybe it was the magic? Or just that he could never give up. It wasn't in his nature to accept defeat.

Why had he accepted it with Chris? Why had he thought he had to give her up out of some loyalty to Spock, when his friend had completely forgotten about him and her?

He sighed. Had he really thought Spock would just show back up on the ship and say, "Here I am, Jim. Ready for duty." Ready to be his friend again. All anger gone, all betrayals forgiven?

It was idiotic. Spock was gone. Forever.

Kirk watched as Ilia plotted a new course, away from the shuttle that had docked briefly with the ship before pulling away again. Chekov hadn't come back, which was probably good. Kirk was afraid that his security officer's neck was going to have a permanent crick from sneaking looks at the Deltan. Sulu too seemed to be unusually helpful with the nav board.

Kirk smiled. Ilia was attractive but maybe he'd been around Lori's pheromones too long because he didn't feel particularly drawn to hers. Or maybe loving a Slayer and before that a fire demon had spoiled him for a garden-variety Deltan?

His exec was obviously not immune. Nor was Ilia unaware of Decker. Kirk could tell there was significant history between them.

But that was none of his business. He smiled. He had some history of his own he wanted to rewrite. He could leave the bridge now and steal away for an hour or maybe two. With McCoy on board, Chris could sneak away without feeling guilty. Hell, she didn't have to even sneak. She could just take a break. He didn't think Bones would begrudge her that, and if he did, Kirk would have something to say about it.

He smiled. It had been touch and go there for a moment with McCoy. He hadn't been sure his friend would let down his guard, would let him back in. But somehow Kirk had found the magic words.

Such simple words: "I need you." Words he wasn't sure he could have said before. They would have meant admitting defeat. But somehow the time he'd spent with Chris and Weasel had taught him there was no shame in bending enough to say that you needed your friends around to keep you safe and sane. And on the straight and narrow.

He needed his friends. And he needed Chris even more. "Kirk to sickbay."

"Sickbay here, sir."

He thought he recognized Tebeau's voice. "Is Doctor Chapel there?"

"She and Doctor McCoy are on their way up to the bridge, sir."

"Perfect." He smiled. Had Chris felt him thinking about her? Thinking about the way he'd run his hands over her, how they'd kissed?

He realized he'd better stop thinking of those things if he wanted to leave his chair anytime soon. He forced his thoughts back to the probe; it had the desired effect.

There was a sudden quiet hubbub on the bridge, a murmur of voices all talking at once. Chekov walked past him, a strange look on his face. Kirk saw Uhura break into a huge smile; she glanced at Kirk.

He turned. Felt his breath catch in his throat. Spock. Spock was on the bridge--on his ship. His friend was back.

"Spock! Spock, where...how...?"

He knew the grin he was wearing threatened to split his face as he moved toward Spock.

Spock turned away, moving to Decker and the science station. "Commander, if I may?"

He hadn't even acknowledged his greeting. Kirk swallowed hard. His friend was back.

And he obviously had forgiven nothing.

Spock's voice was cold as ice as he said, "I have been monitoring your Starfleet transmissions, Captain, and your engine design difficulties." He began to punch something into the computer.

Captain still. Not Jim--Captain. Kirk felt his smile fading away.

Spock turned to him and Decker. "I offer my services as Science Officer."

Kirk's smile came back. He couldn't help it, he grinned as he ordered Chekov to log Spock back into active duty and his old position. Even a still resentful Spock at his side improved their chances of getting out of this alive.

Their chances. Chris. Chris didn't know Spock was here. Did she? Or was that why she and Bones were heading up?

The elevator opened. Her reaction was vintage Christine Chapel. "Mister Spock!"

McCoy was more restrained, "So help me, I'm actually pleased to see you."

Kirk watched Chris closely. For all her apparent happiness, she was watching Spock closely, as if he was a vampire that might turn on her any second. For his part, Spock barely glanced at her, turning and dismissing her and all of them as he went back to work.

Uhura took a step toward him. "That's how we all feel, Mister..." She trailed off as Spock turned a cold look on her, then turned to look at Kirk.

"With your permission, I will now discuss these fuel equations with the Engineer."

Their eyes seemed to lock, and Kirk searched desperately for the friend he had loved, the friend he would have died for. All he saw was a cold shell of a man who lacked even the scant warmth of a typical Vulcan. Spock turned away, clearly dismissing them all.

Kirk tried desperately to connect with him. "Mister Spock. Welcome aboard."

He thought he saw Spock hesitate for an infinitesimal moment but it could have been just wishful thinking. The doors closed on Spock's back. His friend had not even wanted to look at him.

Maybe Kirk should reevaluate those odds of survival again? He glanced over at McCoy who shrugged before walking over to Uhura's station.

Chris stood staring at Kirk. There was nothing happy in her expression. In fact, she looked stricken.

Kirk turned to Decker, "You have the conn, Will." Then he walked to her, touching her only long enough to get her moving to the lift.

"Jim--"

His curt headshake cut her off. She looked miserable as she stepped into the lift. They rode in silence until the doors opened and he led her to his quarters. When he palmed the doors opened, she hung back.

"Chris. We need to talk."

"I don't want to talk. Not about him. Not about how his coming back ruins everything." She turned and he reached out, grabbing her arm and stopping her.

He could feel her about to react, knew that he couldn't hold her. "Chris. Please?"

She turned back, tears in her eyes. "Don't. Don't use that tone with me. You know what it does. You know I can't fight you when you talk to me that way."

He nodded. Didn't stop using that tone when he said, "Come in. Please."

She pulled free of his arm and walked past him to the viewscreen. She stared out at the stars, her back hunched slightly.

"It would be easier talking to your face."

She didn't turn around. "He's not the Spock we knew. You saw him. He's purged his emotions. He actually did it."

"I'm not sure of that."

She did turn around. "Wake up, Jim. He's gone. He's not ever coming back." She wiped at her tears angrily. "He wasn't glad to see you or me or anyone else. He's not Spock. He just looks like Spock." She looked down. "Like a vampire. The real person is gone."

He stepped closer. "The real person isn't gone in that case either. You know it, and David proved it."

She closed her eyes. "He's not there, Jim. Don't throw us away."

He pulled her into his arms, realized immediately that it was a stupid thing to do. Would he ever be able to hold her and not know that he'd nearly had her?

"Don't throw me away," she whispered, her arms tightening around him almost painfully.

"I'm not throwing you away. I'll always be here. I'll always be your friend. Whenever you need me, I'll be there for you. You know that."

She pulled away. "I want more than that."

"I don't think that's possible. Not while he's here." He reached out, touched her cheek. "I can't betray him again."

He saw something hard in her expression, something fierce. "He's not the Spock we knew. I know that. You will too in time. And I can wait." She laid her hand over his. "I can wait for you to see that too. Then it won't matter to you, and we can be together."

He could feel the heat rising between them and pulled away. "It may be a long wait."

"I don't care; I can wait." She smiled, but the look was slightly mocking. "If I don't die in the meantime." She turned away from him.

"Chris. Please."

She waited.

What did he want her to do? What did he think he could have from her? Why torture himself like this?

"What, Jim? Please what?"

"Nothing. Never mind."

She nodded tightly and left the room without looking at him. He turned to the viewscreen. The stars had always soothed him in the past. Why did they make him feel even emptier this time?

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

Christine could not remember a time when she'd felt more frustrated. As she stalked down the corridor toward the transporter room, she tried not to replay the conversation with Jim.

Damn Spock. Damn his timing. Damn his perfect Vulcan mask. Damn his knack for ruining her sex life.

Damn, damn, damn.

She slowed as she approached the door. She was angry and she had a lot of pent up energy--energy that would have been better dispelled by having sex with Jim.

If she'd only pressed for that quickie. Maybe then he wouldn't have been so quick to let go of her.

Damn his honor.

Damn everything.

She leaned against the wall, forcing herself to breath slowly. As she waited for her blood pressure to come down some, it occurred to her that while she was keyed up and incredibly disappointed and even very angry, she was not out of control. She was not on the verge of running, or of losing it.

Christine smiled. She was stronger. She owed that to Emma.

The familiar sadness came over her. She didn't try to push it away. She missed Emma. Wished her watcher were here to go knock some sense into Jim for her. Although, from what he'd said, Emma hadn't had any better luck with him than Christine had.

Damn the man's stubborn sense of nobility. Spock didn't care what they did. Spock didn't care about anything anymore.

She pushed herself off the wall, channeled her inner bitch slayer and walked into Rand's territory.

Her friend looked up. "Christine."

Funny. She'd never noticed the odd little lilt Janice put in her name. As if she was talking to someone not quite at her level. Not quite worthy of her friendship. Is that how it had always been, and Christine had never noticed?

"Janice." Christine tried to inflect Rand's name the same way.

It worked. Rand's eyes narrowed. She walked over to Christine. "Something I can do for you?" She didn't smile, didn't bare any teeth, didn't show any pack behavior that meant she was subordinate. Her eyes were unblinking and hard. She was the alpha wolf, they seemed to say. Christine had better watch her step.

Christine stared back, her mouth in a tight line. Her eyes hard. Her message was just as clear. Alpha bitch here too.

It was a draw.

And then Rand's pupils dilated--she was afraid.

Christine laughed, grabbed her by the neck and slammed her up against the wall.

Rand's eyes went wide.

"Do you know what a slayer is, Jan?"

Rand nodded quickly.

She pushed Rand slightly up the wall, so her legs dangled a little. "Let me rephrase that. Do you _feel_ in your gut what a slayer is?"

Rand nodded again, this time smiling, her hands stroking at Christine's arm. "I'm sorry, Christine. Whatever I did, I won't do it again."

"I just want you to know that I'll be watching you. I don't trust you." Christine let Rand down. "And stay away from Jim. You come near him, and I'll kill you. Understand me?"

Rand quickly moved out of arm's reach. Her tone turned mocking; her old jealousy over Jim seemed to reassert itself. "You and the captain? Yeah right."

Christine kicked Rand's leg out from under her and followed her down. Her hand tightened on Rand's neck again. "Jan, I've had a really shitty day. Words cannot express how shitty my day has been. And it's going to get even worse because I have to go see my ex"--was he really her husband? "My ex-husband."

Rand suddenly looked very confused.

"And I don't anticipate that the visit is going to go very well. So don't piss me off." She tightened her hold again and Rand began to pant for breath. "You got it?"

Rand nodded quickly.

The door whooshed open, and Rand's colleague rushed in and knelt down next to Rand. "What's going on?"

Christine smiled at him. "Janice slipped. These new floors are murder." She smiled again, touched his arm. "I'm her old friend, Doctor Chapel.'

"Oh, Doctor. Well, that's okay then. It just looked kind of funny from the door. I thought you were trying to hurt her."

Christine smiled again, then turned to shoot a concerned look at Rand for his benefit. "You know our motto is 'first, do no harm,' right?"

He laughed and helped Rand up. "That's right, it is."

Christine pushed herself easily to her feet, touched Rand on the hand. "Do be more careful, Jan."

Rand scowled at her, but the expression was mixed with a good bit of fear.

"Have a good day," Christine said brightly, as she headed out the door. She waited for the lift that would take her to engineering for her next meeting, a meeting she didn't think would be quite so easy. Somehow, alpha rolling Spock didn't strike her as the most prudent approach.

Although it might make her feel better.

He didn't even look up as she walked over to where he and Mister Scott were working.

Scotty smiled at her. "Hello, lass."

She smiled back. "Be a dear and give me a moment with Spock?"

Scotty shook his head, a small, very nervous gesture.

"It's all right. I promise not to get him all riled up."

Scott made a face. Clearly he was not enjoying his time with Spock, and it looked like he thought that she wouldn't enjoy him either.

Spock's voice was shocking, the harsh tones--as if he'd not spoken for months--filling the small space they were working in. "Mister Scott, I suggest you do as she says. She can become quite violent when provoked." Spock's voice was devoid of any humor. He seemed to be simply stating fact. His facts...and the truth. He wasn't wrong. Not that Scotty had anything to fear from her. Spock on the other hand...

"She can?" Scott looked over at her. "Can you?"

She shrugged.

"All right then. If you want to talk to him, I'll not stand in your way."

She patted his arm as he passed her. "Thanks." She sat down and watched Spock work. "So, here we are. You . Me. The engines. Cozy."

He ignored her.

"How have you been since you drugged me and beat the crap out of Spike?"

She thought he missed a beat with whatever he was entering into his padd. So he could still be rattled.

She wasn't sure if that made her feel better or not.

"Guess you're not in a talkative mood? Well, I am. I'm wondering why you're here, for one thing. No one else seems to be asking that question." When he didn't answer her, she leaned in, whispered, "I think you're here to ruin my life."

He set the padd down.

She suddenly felt bad. "Spock? Talk to me."

He turned to face her, seemed to study her face for a very long time. "You are tired."

Of all the things he could have said, she was least prepared for that. "I am."

His eyes traveled to her insignia. "You are a doctor now."

She nodded. "I like it...being a doctor." She didn't know why she'd said that; he wouldn't care.

His eyes did not soften in the least. "I must focus on this task. It is an unnecessary indulgence to talk to you."

She understood unnecessary in the Spock lexicon. But indulgence? On whose part?

"Why did you come back?" she asked.

His eyebrow went up. "I did not come back for you, Christine." His face seemed to get even tighter as he realized he'd called her by her first name.

"Or for Jim either?"

"I came because I am needed. And my answers may lie with this entity we are en route to meet."

"Sure. Okay then." She stood up. "I'll let you get to it."

He nodded and turned away.

She felt a strange pain fill her as she watched him work. She'd loved him. She'd bonded with him. Part of her had died with him.

She leaned down, touched his shoulder very lightly.

He flinched.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I hurt you." She let go, turned away.

"It is of no consequence," he said, but his voice was not as even as before.

"Fine. But I'm still sorry." She watched him for a long moment, then fled.

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

Uhura watched the lift doors close on Kirk and Christine. Their body language was unmistakable. Angry, tense, disappointed.

She wasn't sure how she knew the last one, but she did. And she also knew it had to do with Spock's unexpected arrival.

She'd hoped that Kirk's presence on the ship, his willingness to grab it away from Decker would mean that he was also willing to finally reach out for Christine. But he appeared to be farther away from that point than ever. Although, he'd seemed so light, so happy, when he'd come back to the bridge, just before Spock appeared. He'd seemed so filled with possibilities.

"You ever going to let me in on what's going on in there?" Len asked, tapping her forehead gently.

She shook her head. "Just wondering what this means, Spock being back."

"You and me both." Len rested his hip on the bulkhead, arms crossed as he shook his head, mouth held in a tight line. "He's changed. That's for sure."

"He's not our Mister Spock anymore." She sighed. "I'm worried about Chris. And Jim."

Len nodded. "This has got to be a shock for both of them."

She pitched her voice as low as she could, so only he would hear. "No. I mean for them." She held up her fingers as if for quotation marks.

Len's eyebrow rose precipitously. "Them? I know you said he loved her, but you implied that nothing was going on."

"Not on Earth, but on the ship? With no Spock. I think maybe they could have had something." She grinned wryly. "Providing any of us have a future."

He chuckled. "Yes, well, there is that." Len turned and stared at the lift doors. "I wonder if he's still in there? Our Mister Spock."

Uhura shook her head. "I don't know." She saw Decker heading toward them and let the subject drop.

"I haven't had a chance to welcome you aboard, and there was no time for proper introductions, I'm afraid." Decker smiled warmly at McCoy, and Uhura's heart went out to him. Even in a situation this disappointing, he was still the epitome of class. "I'm Capt--Commander Will Decker."

"Doctor Leonard McCoy." Len held out his hand, ever uncaring of the protocol that said a salute, or at least standing at attention instead of lounging against her terminal, would be preferred over a handshake.

Decker took his hand with a grin. "Nice to meet you. I take it you were drafted?"

"You take it correctly." Len scowled. "I was supposed to be heading out for another relief mission with my fellow retirees. Now look at me. Racing to meet the unstoppable machine."

Decker nodded. "It will be interesting to see what it is. To find out what kind of intelligence lies behind that much power."

"There might not be any intelligence, sir. It might just be a killing machine." Uhura wished she could take the words back as soon as she saw Decker wince. "I'm sorry--"

He waved her apology away. "It was a long time ago. I'll get over it someday."

Len laid a hand on his arm. "No reason you have to get over it, son. Losing someone you love is a hard thing, no matter the circumstances around that death. And I was there. Your father died trying to make a difference. He gave himself up for us all. In my book, he was a true hero."

Decker smiled. "Thank you." Then his smile twisted a bit. "It was Adm-- Captain Kirk who stopped the machine though, wasn't it? He was the real hero."

"That depends on how you look at it. And how narrow you want to be," Uhura said softly. "I like to think there's room for all kinds of heroes, and all kinds of people."

Len's voice was very soft as he said, "He stole your ship out from under you, Commander. I know that's hard. But he's not a superman. He needs us around to make sure he doesn't slip up. Don't be afraid to question. Don't be afraid to tell him when he's wrong."

"You never are, Len," Uhura said with a smile.

"Nope. And it's why I'm here now. Damn fool that I am, I couldn't ever learn to keep my mouth shut around that man." He grinned at Decker. "I better go check on my sickbay." He frowned, shot a look at Uhura. "Christine going to mind that I call it that?"

Uhura shrugged. "That's for you two to work out. I'm not sure she really wanted to be CMO." She glanced at Decker. "And we both know it wasn't your original offer to her."

He shook his head. "Very few things on this ship seem to be the way I originally planned it." He shot her a sweet smile. "No offense, Commander."

"None taken. I'm where we always intended me to be." She saw the board begin to light up. "And I have work to do. If you gentlemen will excuse me." She busied herself with the incoming comms, felt Len touch her shoulder gently before leaving.

She sensed Decker watching her work for a few moments before heading back for the center chair.

The center chair that wasn't his anymore.

Uhura wished she could feel worse about that. Decker was a good man. She liked and respected him. But she was glad it was Jim that was in charge.

Jim would protect them. Just as he always had.

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

Kirk watched as Decker and the Ilia probe walked around the rec lounge. His heart hurt for Decker. He kept imagining how he'd feel if it were Chris, and he had to try to use her and the feelings she had for him to get information.

But it was to save the ship...and a lot more. Kirk kept reminding himself of that. He hadn't done this to be cruel to Decker; it was the only way.

The only way. What good did all his supposed magic do him now? Had he been able to use it in any useful way? Had he been able to save a single person with it? He hadn't even been able to reach Spock with it.

Maybe Chris was right? Maybe his friend wasn't ever coming back?

He stood up. "I'll be on the bridge, Bones. Call me if Decker has a breakthrough with her--with that thing."

McCoy nodded, sipped at his coffee.

As Kirk stepped onto the Bridge, Chekov looked up from his station. "Sir, airlock four has been opened; a thruster suit is reported missing!"

Spock. It had to be. He'd been so damned entranced with V'ger.

Hurrying down to the airlock, Kirk climbed into a thruster suit and went out into the blue murk to find his friend. His friend who might be a traitor, who might care more about this entity and its supposed answers than any of his former friends and crewmates.

Spock--he wanted to shake the Vulcan, bring him back to the man he'd once known.

What the hell had happened to all of them?

He saw a form ahead, a thruster suit drifting. He steered carefully to it, turned it to see Spock was unconscious...or dead. Kirk swallowed hard, reached out with the magic trying to find something, anything that would tell him his friend was still alive.

He felt a slight pulsing tingle come back to him. Spock was alive. Barely.

He got him back to the ship; the medics were there to meet him. Chekov must have called them. He struggled out of the thruster suit as the medics stripped Spock's off. They were faster, already heading down the corridor and into the lift by the time Kirk had escaped the confining suit.

He took the next lift, practically ran into sickbay. Chris looked up at him, shook her head slightly. He wasn't sure what that meant.

McCoy seemed to be watching them both. Kirk saw Chris look at Bones in a way she never would have before, her hard stare made McCoy look away.

Her mouth was tight, not quite a frown, as she checked the biobed readings. "What happened out there?"

Her hand dropped, was resting lightly on Spock's shoulder. Kirk wondered if she was even aware that she was touching him. She looked over at him, then followed his gaze. She stared down at her hand as if it was a traitor, jerked it away and reached for an instrument.

She began to move the scanner around Spock's head. "Now scanning pons area at spinal nerve fiber connection."

McCoy watched the console that showed the results of the scan. "Indications of some neurological trauma--the power pouring through that mind-meld must have been staggering."

There was a short bark of laughter. Kirk hurried to Spock's bed. Had Spock really just made that sound?

Spock looked up at him. The coldness was gone, and the friend Kirk had despaired of ever seeing again looked up at him. "Jim."

Spock reached out, took Kirk's hand in his. Kirk could feel something pouring into him through their clasped hands. It wasn't thoughts so much as feelings. He felt fear and pain and regret. And love and friendship and need. Spock needed him. Spock needed him again.

He had never stopped needing Spock. He wondered if that was flowing down the link back to Spock. How much he'd missed him. How much he needed his best friend back.

Spock's eyes softened even more. "This simple feeling...is beyond V'ger's comprehension."

Out of the corner of his eye, Kirk saw Chris's hand drop to the bed, the scanner resting on the mattress. He could imagine what was in her expression. The same thing as he felt. Spock was back. And that changed everything. For both of them.

He couldn't meet her eyes. Kept his gaze glued to Spock's.

Hoped he wasn't broadcasting everything he was feeling to his friend.

Spock was talking, softly, as if the effort to speak was great. He told them of V'ger's nature, that the thing was a living machine. "I saw V'ger's planet: a planet populated by living machines. Unbelievable technology. V'ger has knowledge that spans this universe. I should have known..." He faded out, seemed to lose consciousness.

Kirk shook him slightly. "Known what, Spock? What?" He shook him again. "What should you have known?"

Spock opened his eyes, seemed to forced himself to talk. "No meaning. No hope. And Jim, no answers."

"What answers?"

"Is this all I am? Is there nothing more?"

They were interrupted by Uhura's voice on the comm, telling them that they were nearly in Earth orbit. Kirk looked over at Chris; she was staring at him, her expression unreadable. Then she looked down at Spock.

"I need Spock on the bridge."

She didn't argue, her expression didn't change, but he thought he had hurt her somehow. She looked at the med tech and said, "Dalaphaline, twenty cc's."

Kirk stared at her for a long moment, then back down at Spock. His hand still tingled slightly. He saw Chris inject Spock; Spock turned to look at her. He began to smile, the expression so wistfully sweet that Kirk felt as if someone had smacked him in the gut.

"Get him up there as soon as you can," he spat out, then nearly ran out of sickbay, hurrying to the lift that took him up to the bridge. His bridge.

Spock came up a few minutes later. His look was warm, the expression Kirk hadn't seen for far too long. His best friend was back.

And now it was up to him to not chase Spock away again. Assuming they survived V'ger.

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

Christine followed Scotty onto the bridge. He had done it, Jim had found a way again to save them, to bring them all home. She looked around the bridge, realized Decker was gone.

She felt Uhura's eyes on hers, then her friend looked over at Decker's station and shook her head. Christine felt a rush of sadness fill her. He'd been a good man.

Then Uhura pointed up. She shrugged as if she was saying she didn't know where Decker was. Her expression was sad and a little awestruck.

Then Uhura looked over at Spock, and at Jim. She turned back to Christine, but Christine looked away. She couldn't do this--not now. She couldn't face the look of pity and compassion she was afraid she'd see in Ny's eyes. Christine knew that her friend understood what she felt for Jim. And she'd lived through all those years when Christine had been fixated on Spock, and had been there for the much shorter time that he and Christine had been together and happy.

And now both men were here, on this bridge, on this ship. With her.

Christine felt as if the air was heavy, as if she was a step behind what was going on around her. She heard Scotty offer Spock a ride back to Vulcan, heard Spock turn him down.

She desperately wanted something to lean against. This was not how she envisioned this mission ending. With all of them--_all_ of them--back together. She heard Jim order Difalco to take the ship out thattaway. She didn't laugh with the others at his whimsy.

She knew Jim's whimsy better than any of them now. She knew him better. And he was slipping away from her. He loved her and she loved him and it was wrong that he seemed so far away and was moving away even faster. Leaving her behind at warp speed.

Spock stood and walked toward her. His expression was calm and filled with affection, the Spock she'd known--god, it seemed so long ago now. This was the Spock she'd fallen in love with. The Spock who had fallen in love with her. But so much had happened. So much had come between the two people they had been before. His death on the fields of Sekanik, Spike, David. And Jim.

She'd changed. She was in love with Spock's best friend. And he was in love with her. And now that didn't matter. She could see it in Jim's expression as he walked toward them. His eyes caught hers and held. His gave nothing away as he turned away from her, toward Spock.

She swallowed hard, found it hard to get the motion to complete, as if her throat had closed up.

"Jim?" Spock's voice was full of affection, emotion he wasn't afraid to show, emotion that had been blasted out of him in that unimaginable mind meld.

She turned away, couldn't bear to see what that affection meant for her and Jim. She felt Jim's hand on her arm, looked up to see him touch Spock's arm as well.

He smiled at them both. The old Kirk grin that turned slightly sad as he looked at her. Then he rallied. "You two probably have a lot to catch up on."

"We do," Spock said. He looked at her, his lifted eyebrow adding emphasis to his assertion.

It was McCoy who came to her rescue. "Not so fast, Jim. I need to check Spock out. We rushed him up here so quickly that we never got a chance to scan for long term damage from that meld with V'ger."

"I feel fine, Doctor McCoy."

"Humor me, Spock." McCoy looked at her, seemed to incline his head just slightly toward Jim. "You and Christine can catch up as soon as we're done, Spock. Can't you, Christine?"

She nodded, trying to keep her expression neutral.

"Very well." Spock followed McCoy out.

She turned to Jim. "Sir, I need to speak with you."

"Later perhaps, Doctor?" He turned away.

"No. Now." She put every ounce of slayer steel in her voice.

He shot her an annoyed look. Something darker and more hurt shone through the annoyance.

"Please?" She used his tone, the one she could never resist.

He looked back at the rest of the bridge crew. Other than Uhura, they appeared to be ignoring them. He nodded slowly. "My office. Mister Sulu, you have the conn."

"Aye, sir."

He led the way to the lift and to his quarters. Once there, he hit the button that would seal off his quarters from the office.

"Don't want me to see the bed?"

"It's a new design. I'll have to get used to closing my personal area off when I leave." His tone was that of a perfectly correct starship captain, concerned with nothing more than normal protocol.

She sat down in one of the chairs. "So this is it? You just give me up without a fight?"

He sat down across from her. "This is Spock. The Spock you said would never come back."

"I was wrong."

"About that, maybe about lots of things."

"Not about the feelings I have for you." When he looked away, she leaned forward. "Not about the ones I know you have for me."

He sighed. "Those feelings are irrelevant now, Chris." His voice was cold.

"You can turn it off that easily?"

He finally met her gaze fully. And it was as if he dropped a veil that had been between them because hurt and desire shone from his eyes. "No, I can't. But I'll have to. For him. For you. To give you a chance."

"A chance for what?"

He took her hand. "Chris, I had eighteen months to get to know the real you. To fall in--" His lips twisted. "Give him a chance, get to know him again. He deserves that from you."

"Why?" She could feel him pulling his hand away, wanted to hold on and never let him go. But she let go.

"Because it's the right thing to do." He stood up and straightened his shoulders. She saw the captain standing before her, not her friend, not the man she loved.

She got up. "Getting to know him again won't make any difference."

"Why don't you try doing it before you say that?"

"Because I don't have to."

"Maybe you're scared to. Maybe you know that what we have--as real as it is, as strong as it is--isn't right. Not when he's back. Not when he still loves you."

"You don't know that."

He shook his head. "I saw how he was looking at you in sickbay. I saw how he was looking at you just now on the bridge." He sighed, the sound was ragged. "He's not over you, Chris. Are you so sure you're over him?"

She stood up and walked over to him. As she got close, he backed up until he was leaning against the viewscreen. She reached for him.

"Chris. Don't." The sheer pain in his expression made her drop her hands.

"Jim?"

"I can't hurt him again, Chris. No matter how much I want you."

"And what if I don't want him? What if I want you?"

He looked down, just shook his head.

"Well, I better get to sickbay then. Should I screw him now or can I wait a few days?"

He looked up sharply.

"Well? You have all the answers. How soon should we have sex?"

"Chris. For god's sake..."

She pushed forward, until there was barely a space between them. "Do you even care? Does it bother you to think of that?"

He tried to move but she held him. He looked slightly panicked. She leaned in, kissed him, felt him kiss her back. But it was a desperate, guilty kiss and he pulled away too soon. She wanted more; she pushed against him for more.

"No!" the sound seemed to fill her entire body and then she was flying through the air, landing hard against the opposite wall.

She sat up slowly. "Holy shit. Your magic has gotten stronger." She rubbed at her back.

He rushed over. "My god, Chris. I'm sorry."

She touched his hand, felt the remnants of the energy that had pushed her away from him. It seemed to crackle between them. A warning. Don't push him. Don't panic him. "No, Jim. I'm sorry. I know how strongly you feel about this. What I want doesn't matter."

He grasped her hand. "It does though, Chris. It does." He sat down next to her, slumped and shook his head. "You don't have to do anything. It's your life."

"But I can't have you." She leaned her head back against the wall. "I'll get to know him again. I will. But I'm not falling into his arms just because he's your friend and you want to put everything back together again." She turned to look at him. "Maybe Spock and I are like Humpty Dumpty. Some things you can't fix."

He nodded tiredly.

"Are we still friends?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Okay." She closed her eyes, unwilling for him to see the tears that were threatening.

She felt his hand steal into hers. Then he squeezed and she did sob.

His hand tightened on hers. "I'm sorry, Chris. You know if I could..."

"I know." She wiped the tears away angrily.

They sat for a long time. Then he pushed himself to his feet, pulling her up with him. "You were going to check on Lori's remains?"

She nodded. "I'll get right on it." She turned to the door. "What would it take? To make it all right for us to be together?" She looked over her shoulder at him, caught the look of longing that had filled his eyes.

He bit it back. Just shook his head.

They stared at each other for a long time before she turned and fled.

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

Spock watched McCoy bustle around and knew that the doctor was stalling for time. And given the emotions he had felt pouring out of Jim as he had touched Spock's arm, Spock believed he knew why McCoy was doing it.

He felt a wave of jealousy. But it was accompanied by an even bigger wave of regret. His friend's motive had been clear. He had been bowing out. Spock had read love and desire for Christine, but also pain. The pain of loss.

Spock was intimately familiar with that pain. Could read it all too well. Jim was in love with Christine. And he was walking away from that love.

Spock knew it was for him. It was something he would never have understood without the meld with V'ger. Joining with the machine had freed him somehow, given him insight into his own emotions. Or maybe it had been knowing that V'ger had been envious of him, that it wanted to understand all the feelings Spock had tried so hard to kill.

He had been a fool.

He had much ground to catch up on. And the first place was with Christine.

He wondered if she was in love with Jim. He was finding her far more difficult to read than Jim.

She came into sickbay, walking slowly and rubbing at her back. Her eyes were slightly red. She nodded tightly at him then went into one of the offices.

"I believe you can stop stalling now, Doctor McCoy," Spock said softly. "They appear to be done."

The medical scanner jerked a bit in McCoy's hands, but other than that he didn't give anything away.

Spock pushed off the biobed. He touched McCoy's hand. "Does she love him?"

McCoy's expression wasn't guilty so much as confused. "I've been gone a lot, offworld. I'm not sure what is going on." He shrugged. "I just thought they needed some time to--"

"--I am not angry with you, Leonard." Spock saw McCoy's eyebrow go up at his use of his first name. "I know you did it out of love." He studied the door of Christine's office. "She does not seem overjoyed to see me."

McCoy shrugged again.

Spock could feel a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, didn't try to stop it. McCoy frowned, lifted the scanner again.

Spock shook his head. "It is just an aftereffect of the meld. The excess emotionality will pass."

"If you say so."

Spock nodded. "I must speak with her."

"You _must_?"

Spock nodded, conceding the point. "I _want_ to speak with her."

"Okay, then go talk to her."

Spock turned.

"And Spock. Go slow. She's been through a lot."

Spock realized his friends all had the advantage of him. He had no idea what she had been through. "I will go slowly." Unlike when he had found out she was the slayer and he had rushed them far too quickly into being lovers. Why had he done that?

This time he would go slowly.

Christine looked up as he came in. Her face was a mask. A perfect Vulcan mask.

"May I sit?" he asked, gesturing to one of the chairs.

She nodded. The mask did not slip.

"Not even one smile?" he asked.

She sighed. Shook her head, but a sad smile crossed her mouth for a moment.

"You were kind to me when I first arrived. You told me you were sorry."

"I was sorry," she said.

"Was?" He could feel his own mouth turning up again into a small smile.

She seemed surprised. "Am sorry. I am sorry that I hurt you."

He nodded. "I too am sorry that I hurt you." He looked down. Shame flooded through him when he remembered how he had tried to take her against her will back to Vulcan with him. He let the shame fill him, then let it dissipate. It was part of his past; he could not undo it. It did not have to be part of his future. "Is Spike all right?"

Her eyes softened. "He is."

"You loved him."

"It wasn't like that. I mean, yes, I do love him but I'm not in love with him. Our relationship was never what you thought. He found me when all I wanted to do was die. He saved my life when I couldn't be bothered, put me back on the road to healing."

Spock nodded.

"Do you understand what a dark place I was in when you bonded with me?"

"I knew that then." He was unsure where she was going with this.

"Wasn't it dangerous to bond with someone in that condition? What if I'd descended into true darkness? What would that have done to you?"

"I was strong enough to hold us both above the pit."

"Interesting choice of words, Spock." She stood up. "Do you mind if we walk?"

"Not at all." He followed her out of her office and sickbay.

Once they were out in the corridor and moving, she seemed to relax a bit. "If you had waited...Spike left soon after you ran off to Gol. If you'd given me time. If you just hadn't been pushing so hard to get me to do what you wanted, you probably would have won me over."

He watched her face as she talked, trying to assess if she wished he had waited, if she wished things had gone differently for them. Again, she was a cipher.

"Perhaps I was in a dark place as well, Christine?"

She nodded. "It's in the past now, isn't it?"

It was what he had been thinking. "Yes. It is."

"And now? What do you want from me now?"

He wanted to say "Everything," but the expression on her face told him to tread carefully. "To get to know you again." He saw something in her face twitch, as if his words had hit a nerve. "Was that the wrong thing to say, Christine?"

"No. It was the right thing to say."

"You do not seem very happy about that."

"It's just a surprise to see you after all this time. Your last communication wasn't what I'd call pleasant."

"No. I know. I was angry."

"Yeah, that came through."

She seemed angry too. He wanted to reach out, touch her and try to read her while he was still open to the emotions, but she was more closed off to him than ever. Being a receptor meant nothing if there were no transmissions coming in.

"Christine, do you still love me?"

She finally looked at him. "How can I answer that? You've been gone for so long. You have no idea what I've been through. And I have no idea who you are anymore."

"Yes, you do. I am who I ever was."

"Oh, I see. So you're still the man who knocked me out and tried to kidnap me?"

He looked away. Could she not let that go?

"The one who beat Spike up? The one who sent messages intended to hurt me and your best friend?"

Spock could feel anger rising inside him. Another remnant of the meld. He pushed it back. But not before he said, "Is now the time to talk about Jim, Christine?"

She shut down, her face going blank before his eyes, her anger seeming to fade away. "We don't need to talk about him. So he didn't tell you where I was--get over it."

"I can get over that. But perhaps it is what happened since then that we need to discuss." He thought he saw a mild trace of panic on her face, strove to make his voice as calm as possible. "I am not angry. These are not words of remonstrance, Christine. But when he touched me, when he gave you back to me, I read certain things from him."

She closed her eyes.

"But you are here and he is not. I know the sacrifice he is making for me...for us."

She turned away.

"I do not expect you to welcome me back with open arms. Not immediately. I know there is much we have to work through. But should we not honor his choice? Should we not try to get to know each other again?"

She looked at him, her eyes miserable.

"Ah. You love him."

She didn't move.

"It is all right, Christine. You do not need to lie."

She shook her head, her eyes so tired, more tired than they had been when she'd come to him in the engineering room.

He touched her cheek. "You are exhausted."

Her expression softened. She nodded.

"I will leave you alone for a while then." He dropped his hand reluctantly. It felt so good to touch her. "Perhaps dinner tonight?"

She nodded again. Almost in defeat.

He pushed her gently into a cross corridor, out of the main passageway. "Christine, do you want this? Do you want to get to know me again?"

She turned away and he realized she was trying not to cry.

"Did you love me?"

She turned on him, her eyes filled with tears, tears that ran down her cheeks. "How can you even ask me that? I loved you more than anything. There's a part of my heart that I'll never get back because it's yours and it died with you."

She sobbed, and the sound cut him to the heart. He pulled her to him and held her. He didn't say anything for a long time, just let her cry.

"I'm sorry, Christine. If we could go back to that moment, I would have to do it again. You would have followed me into death." And with that he suddenly understood what Jim had done, and why he'd said that he'd keep Christine's location from him all over again if he had it to do over. Some things you did not because they were easy or because you wanted to. You did them because you had to.

"Maybe that wasn't your decision to make for me?"

"I believe it was." He sighed.

"I did love you," she said, as her arms stole around him.

He felt a surge of satisfaction, then realized she had used the past tense. He decided not to point that out to her when she was finally holding him. He would just have to make her love him again.

She had loved him once enough to bond with him. That day would come again.

She pulled away from him. "I have to go check something out." She looked up at him. "Be careful of Rand. She's on the enemy team."

"Rand is?" He frowned. "She is working for the Klingons?"

She smiled, a mirthless smile, but the expression was at least closer to the real thing than anything else she'd given him so far. "No, not the Klingons. There's a lot you have to catch up on."

"You can tell me what I have missed. At dinner."

"Yes. At dinner." She looked resigned. Like a prisoner walking to her fate.

Spock forced himself to ignore the look. "I will see you then."

She nodded again, then turned and walked quickly down the hall back to sickbay.

He watched her until she was out of sight.

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

Christine sat in her office, staring at the screen but not making any sense of the words. Gods, she was tired.

"You okay, kid?"

She felt Len's hands on her shoulders. "I'm not."

He squeezed gently. "You know he loves you."

She wasn't sure which "he" Len was referring to, decided it didn't matter. She leaned back against him and looked up. "It's a mess."

"I'll agree with you there." He let go of her, sat down in the other chair. "I'm here. I know I haven't been around much, but I'm here now."

She smiled, nodded. She was glad he was back. She was glad she didn't have to make all the decisions. Not when she had to be the slayer too. Not when he was her friend and mentor and the only one who understood what she was going through.

"Hey," Uhura said from the door.

One of two, anyway. Christine felt another surge of relief at seeing her friend, then blinked rapidly as tears started to get away from her.

Len got up, said brusquely, "I'll be outside if you need me." He touched Ny's arm as he passed her, and she shot him a loving smile.

She moved into the room, held out her arms. "Oh, Christine. I'm sorry."

Christine let Uhura lean over her and pull her into a close embrace. She didn't try to stop the tears this time. She didn't have to say what was wrong, and Ny didn't try to make it better. She just stroked Christine's hair and said, "Shhh. I'm here."

Finally, Christine pulled away. She nodded tightly as if saying she was all right. They both knew it was a lie, but a necessary one.

"I have to get back to the bridge."

"I know. Thanks."

Uhura started to walk out then she turned back. "I ran into Janice on the way down. She's acting really strange."

Christine rolled her eyes. "She's a werewolf."

"She is?" Uhura shook her head. "Did we know that?"

Christine laughed. "No. We didn't."

"Shouldn't we have?"

"Probably." Christine called up the morgue reports from Starfleet Medical's central files. The coroner's report on Lori was brief. It was mainly a chemical analysis of the remains.

"Is Janice dangerous?"

"I don't know. I'm trying to find that out."

Uhura touched her briefly on the shoulder. "I'm here for you. If you need to talk...if things get too weird. I mean weirder than normal."

Christine smiled. She'd be lost without Nyota, thanked every god she didn't believe in that the two of them had repaired the rents in their friendship. "I will."

She heard Uhura leave, heard her talking to McCoy then she lost herself in the analysis of the remains. She checked the DNA and it matched Lori's. But something seemed off. A werewolf usually had high amounts of lysine and tryptophan in their systems. If this had been Lori, Christine could expect to see that. And they were higher than normal. She checked further. She kept reading the report, sure she was missing something.

Then she saw it. Aconite. Wolfsbane. Used to control the change. And control the wolf. Lori wouldn't have taken it, was long past needing it. But a new werewolf would need it to keep from changing if it were the three days around the full moon. And it had been, when they'd tried to beam up. But to replicate the DNA--had Lori cloned herself, and then put the clone into the transporter?

But Sonak had been there, he would have noticed. But maybe that didn't matter. If Lori had her own person on the Earth side of that transport, she could have easily switched out the bodies. Sonak would have been helpless to stop it, would not have understood what was going to happen.

But that meant that the accident had been planned.

Christine stood up, exited out of the database, trying her best to cover her tracks. She headed for the transporter room. Rand wasn't there. "Oh, Doctor Chapel," the crewman from earlier said. "You just missed her. She's gone to the gym."

Christine nodded, turned around and headed to the gym. It had been redone too, was bigger than it had been. Rand was flirting with a burly crewman who was working out at the weights.

Christine walked over, grabbed her arm and said, "We need to talk."

"She was talking to me, Lieutenant." The crewman had to outrank her if she was using her rank.

"She'll be back in a second."

The man grabbed her arm, bore down only slightly, as if he didn't want to hurt her. "I said she's busy."

Christine twisted her arm from under his, leaving him staring at where it had been. She grabbed his wrist, put some pressure on it. She saw his eyes widen in surprise at her strength. "And I said that she'd be right back. Now go back to your weights and there won't be any trouble."

The man moved back, and Christine hustled Rand into the women's locker room. It was deserted. Christine slammed Rand up against the lockers.

"You love to do that, don't you?" Rand's eyes flickered with fear but she smiled her mocking smile. "I guess your day didn't get any better?"

Christine let go of her. She just didn't have the heart for this after all that had happened. And she was afraid she might lose control. She'd dearly love to beat something evil up right about now. She just wasn't sure Rand fit that description.

"What? Lose your nerve?" Rand smiled. "Doesn't surprise me. You always were a lightweight."

"And you always were a spy for Nogura and Lori."

Rand shrugged. "I did what they told me."

"Does that include committing murder?"

Rand's eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"

"Sonak."

"I wasn't at the controls. That was your boyfriend."

"Before that." Christine moved in closer. "You set the whole thing up. The overload, everything."

"You think I murdered Sonak and my cousin?" True anger flared in Rand's eyes. "You think I could do that? They were innocents." She looked down. "Well, maybe Lori wasn't. But Sonak? Why would I hurt him?"

"Maybe because Lori told you to? Just like she told you to spy on us. You knew I was the slayer. That I was here. And then with Jim on board unexpectedly, you had to do something."

"I didn't know you were the slayer until you came into the transporter room and started throwing your weight around. The only person Lori and Nogura cared about back when we all served together was Jim. And this time they didn't tell me any different. It's not like I can ask them to explain themselves."

"Because he owns you and she controls you?"

Rand looked down. "Something like that. You wouldn't understand."

"Lori showed me the pens."

Rand made a face but she seemed to relax a little. "Then you know why I can't fight him. She was the strongest of any of us, and she couldn't fight him. Why should I try?"

Christine sighed. This was going nowhere. "You know that it would only take one mind meld with Spock to get the truth out of you."

Rand blanched. "He'd never do that."

Christine tended to agree with her. But it wasn't important if Spock would or wouldn't, Christine just had to make Janice believe he might be capable of it. "Oh, I think he'd do just about anything I asked him to right now."

Rand seemed to shrink. Christine wondered what her life had been like. How much of it had been spent in the pens? Learning not to shift, learning or being punished when she didn't learn fast enough? After the harshness of Nogura's treatment, it was no wonder that Rand had fallen for Kirk. He'd probably been the first authority figure to not treat her as a freak-- to treat her with any kindness.

"Okay," Christine said as she backed off.

Rand reached out. "Do you think I'm capable of murder?" Christine's answer seemed to matter a great deal to her.

"I've become jaded over the years, Jan. There aren't many people I don't think capable of just about anything." She walked away.

Rand followed her out, but not too closely.

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

Kirk picked a table out of the way of the main traffic in the mess. He just wanted to be alone. To wallow in his pity party by himself.

He saw Spock and Chris walk in. Chris seemed to be looking for something. When she saw him, she walked over. Spock following behind.

"Hi," he said, making his voice a careful neutral for her, then realized that he should be friendlier if he wanted it to look like nothing was wrong. He tried again. "Here for dinner?"

She nodded, and he tried to ignore the look in her eyes. The look that said she was not happy about how things had gone, that she didn't want to have dinner with Spock. The look that asked him to fight for her.

He wouldn't fight Spock for her. She knew that.

She sat down, and Spock took the chair next to her.

"It wasn't Lori in the transporter," she said softly. "I think it was a clone."

He frowned. "Then the accident was no accident."

"Right."

"Then Rand..." he started to get up.

She touched his hand. "No. I think she's not involved other than getting Lori up to the ship."

Kirk noticed Spock was watching Chris, seemed fixated with her hand on Kirk's. He pulled away from her gently, and Spock seemed to relax.

Did his friend know? Surely Chris hadn't told him?

"So, she's still out there?" He leaned back a bit, trying to get away from her.

Chris nodded, then she got up quickly, as if hurt at his actions. "I'll let you get back to your dinner." The word "alone" hung between them.

"Yes, thanks. Enjoy yours." The word "together" was also unspoken.

She nodded tightly, then turned and walked away. Spock stood for a moment, staring down at him. Kirk began to feel uncomfortable.

"It is good to serve with you again, Jim," Spock finally said. "I missed you." He seemed to trip a little over the words.

"I missed you too, Spock." That, at least, was the full truth. There had not been a time when he had not missed his friend.

Spock nodded, then turned to join Chris. Kirk watched as he said something to her, and she nodded tightly. Spock looked unhappy for a moment, then he said something else, and Kirk saw a small smile on her face.

It was as he had thought. She just needed some time with Spock.

He had to let her go so that she could give his friend a chance.

Rand walked into the mess, glanced over his away. Her smile seemed an open invitation as if to say, "I'm here. I'm here for you."

He turned away, but then he had a perfect view of Chris and Spock. Chris still didn't look happy, but she didn't look like she was going to bolt. She smiled at something else Spock said.

Spock looked extremely content. Back with his woman.

Kirk put his fork down, suddenly not hungry. He picked up his tray and dumped it. He'd go to the bridge, sit another shift and try to remember that he had it all back just the way he wanted it. His ship, his friend.

So he was without Chris--wasn't that his destiny? Hadn't he told Spock that so many years ago? That he'd always be alone.

No beach to walk on.

No slayer to love.

He turned and watched them again. Then he turned and hurried out. Some things were too painful to watch. At least for now.

He'd get used to it. He'd get used to seeing them together.

He'd stop remembering what if felt like to hold her, to love her.

Someday.

But not just yet. No magic in the world could get him to that point tonight.

FIN