The Lost Years: New Heading by Djinn

"Our orders are coming in now, sir." Uhura looked over at Kirk.

He tried to erase the deep frown he'd been wearing most of the day, but could tell he was barely successful at turning it into something more neutral. "And where are we to go?"

"Nogura says 'Captain's discretion,' sir. The message says you know the priorities." Her eyebrow rose.

Kirk shook his head. "Best speed to Vega Hydra. Have the science team start the sensor sweeps as soon as we're there." He knew there'd be nothing left to find there, not after so much time had passed since the big battle. But he had to at least look like he was trying to find Kirsu. If he wanted to keep the ship.

Uhura nodded, turned back to her board.

Kirk paced behind her, moving around the bridge and stopping here and there to watch the new stations. He was still learning the ship, and making no bones about needing to catch up. He'd been caught with his pants down too many times, and he didn't have a Decker to pull them back up for him anymore.

He walked over to Spock's station. "I presume Chris filled you in."

"She did, Jim." Spock looked up at him. "It is doubtful that there is any residue of the slayers' comings and goings. But I have made sure that the sensor sweeps will not find any trace of the portals opening, while at the same time making it appear that we are engaging in a good faith effort to find Kirsu."

Kirk found himself grinning. Hearing his name so easily from Spock. And playing these games again. It was just like old times. Almost.

Spock let an eyebrow rise. "Christine can get to Kirsu at any time, of course."

"I know that, and you know that. Let's make sure that no one else finds out."

Spock nodded.

Kirk almost asked him how his evening went with Chris, then bit the words back. He wasn't that big a masochist. Although he thought that some part of him wanted to hear that Spock and she had fallen into bed their first night together so that he could just quit hoping.

He'd spent the entire night listening for his chime, knowing that it was foolish. She'd either been with Spock last night or safely tucked away in her own bed. He'd made it clear she couldn't come to him. So why had he hoped she would try anyway?

He started to turn, and Spock said, "Was there something you wanted to say?"

Kirk shook his head. He found himself unable to move from the spot. "It's good to have you back."

"It is good to be back, Jim."

There was an uncomfortable silence.

Spock's voice was pitched very low when he said, "Christine tried to tell me what has happened since I left for Gol. It was confusing. She said that she let a vampire bite her?"

Kirk nodded. "David was an interesting man."

"David. Was she in love with him?"

Kirk shook his head. "But he had a message she resonated with. His methods weren't good, but his ideas were valid."

"So you did not mind that she let him bite her?"

Kirk shot him a look. "Oh, I minded like hell. But that was a hard time for us. Your messages had just come and we were getting so close--" He broke off, suddenly aware of who he was talking to. "It was a hard time for her. She almost gave up again."

"I see."

"But she didn't. Nobody rescued her from him. She did that. And she killed him in the end."

"She said you both did. That it was a joint effort."

"Well, to be honest, he sort of died for her." Kirk nodded. "But she was the one fighting him. She's the slayer. I'm just the sidekick."

"She said you have been learning to use magic. You must be more than just the sidekick?"

"Dabbling in magic," he grinned, the grin he used to throw people off.

"She said you have grown quiet powerful."

Kirk suddenly wondered if her entire conversation had been about him and if that was why Spock was asking so many questions.

"I've been working hard. I'll admit that." Kirk shook his head.

"You and she have become quite close?"

Kirk could feel his temper rising. What was Spock doing? "Yes. We're good friends."

Spock nodded, went back to entering some equations into his station. When Kirk turned to go, Spock's hand on his arm stopped him. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For giving her back to me."

Kirk could feel his face freeze. "I don't know what you mean." Despite how low they were talking, he felt as if everyone must be staring at them. He turned. No one seemed concerned with their conversation. Sulu and Chekov were saying something to Uhura that was making her laugh. The rest of the bridge crew seemed to be busy at work on their stations.

"I think you do know precisely what I mean, Jim. And I recognize your sacrifice."

Kirk smiled tightly. "Chris and I are friends. Nothing more."

Spock nodded. "I find myself wishing that she and I were better friends. Our time last night was uncomfortable."

Kirk wanted to ask if that was before or after they had screwed like minks. He refrained, even as he wondered when he had developed this aptitude for wallowing in his own misery?

"She seemed distracted," Spock said into the silence. "I believe she is distracted by you."

"I think you're imagining that. Why would I distract her?" He smiled, walked away before Spock could say something else that would make him uncomfortable.

As the shift wound down, he walked back over to Spock's station. "You in the mood for chess one of these days?"

Spock nodded. "Chess would be enjoyable. But not tonight."

"Dinner with Chris?"

"She did not say she wanted to eat. She did say she wanted to talk. That is good. She did not seem to want to engage in conversation last night."

Kirk wondered if Spock knew how that sounded. "Well, if talk is what you want, then I hope you get it."

Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "You seem uncomfortable talking about her."

"Not at all." Kirk realized his fists were clenched and slowly relaxed his hands.

"Well, I must go," Spock said, not moving.

Kirk nodded.

"Are you happy, Jim? You have the Enterprise back; you are no longer stuck at a desk, as Doctor McCoy puts it. Are you content?"

"Of course, I am. What more could I want?" Kirk tried desperately to form a smile that looked real.

"Of course. What more indeed?" Spock's eyes seemed to be boring into his.

"Go. Chris is waiting for you."

Spock said, "I doubt you are right. I will probably have to collect her."

"She loses herself in her work. Good trait in a scientist--you know that." Kirk was about to lay his hand on Spock's shoulder, then thought better of it, too much chance he'd broadcast everything he was feeling. "Have a good night."

"You too, Jim." Spock rose, relinquishing the science station to his replacement. With a last look at Kirk, he left the bridge.

Kirk heaved a huge sigh of relief as soon as Spock was gone. Was this how it would be for the foreseeable future?

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

Christine stood uncertainly at Spock's door. Steeling herself, she raised her hand, rang the chime for admittance.

The door slid open and Spock stood in front of her. He did not smile exactly--his post V'ger emotionalism seemed to be fading--but something lightened in his expression when he saw her. "I expected you sooner."

"I thought you'd come for me."

"I have been contemplating a complex issue."

"Oh." She wasn't sure what else to say. "Can I come in?"

"Please." He moved back, gave her room to enter.

She walked into the room. It was stark, as she expected. His personal items were neatly arranged. It was hot in the room, very hot. She'd forgotten that.

With Spike, she'd had to get used to being too cold, since he'd never seemed to realize when the apartment had been chilly. With Spock, she'd had to get used to always being too hot.

With Jim, she'd been just right. She sighed. She'd never be with Jim again.

Spock touched her shoulder, guiding her gently to the bed.

She resisted.

He smiled slightly. "I am not attempting to seduce you. Please sit."

She sat down slowly. He sat down next to her. Not crowding her. Just waiting.

She turned to look at him, and he stared back at her. His look seemed to be dissecting her, as if there was something important he needed to figure out and she held all the answers.

"What?"

His look changed, became more evasive. "You are still so beautiful to me."

She smiled, looked down. She did not think that was what he was really thinking about. "I'm older. You are too." He looked so grizzled to her, so worn.

He nodded. "I purged much in the fires of the Kohlinar disciplines. Excess emotion as intended, but also, I think, some of my youth."

"Did you really purge the emotions? Or just bury them? Because they came back, after V'ger, I mean."

He seemed to think about that. "Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I only buried them." He seemed to be studying her again. "It's true that as soon as I was free of the meld, I wanted to reclaim two things. My friendship with Jim. And you."

His eyes seemed to burn into hers. He was not trying to tone down their intensity, and she found herself unable to look away. It would be so easy to sink into him, to let him bond with her and take them back to where they'd been.

She finally forced her eyes away. "I shouldn't have run."

He didn't reply, waited for her to go on.

"I owed you more than that. More than leaving you in the night like that." She took a breath, heard it shudder as she tried to keep herself composed.

He reached out, touched her hand gently. "It is in the past now."

She turned her hand so that their palms were touching. "It's not in the past, Spock. It never will be until we talk about this. And I think you misunderstand me. My regret is not for leaving you; it's for leaving you like that."

His eyebrow rose, but he did not pull his hand away. "Why did you run? You knew that I was going to live. McCoy told me that you knew that and still you ran."

"Part of it was the Orb. I was so filled with despair from having destroyed it. But part of it was that I couldn't face it anymore--the slaying, the bond, the responsibility. I felt as if no matter where I turned, there was someone wanting something from me. It seemed like there was no part of my life that I controlled." She looked down. "Your death, Laura's, even Rosa's. They hit me so hard. Maybe I just wanted to stop caring about anything?"

"You should have told me that the bond would be too confining. I would have waited."

"Would you have? Because I remember how it was back then. How out of control I was. I think you believed you were providing me with some stability. Grounding me. And you were." She shook her head. "Besides, I was buried in it by then. I loved you and I wanted you and I didn't mind that you were there to steady me. I was too far into it to be able to tell the difference between support and a crutch."

"A crutch is often necessary for healing, Christine. As a doctor, you know that."

"But the bond would have been a crutch that never went away." She shook her head. "I'm saying this badly. As if I didn't like the bond. Which would be a lie. I loved being that close to you. You were closer to me than I'd ever let anyone be before."

"But after you left me? What then?" He met her eyes, his expression calm. "You let Spike in?"

"Let him in, yes. Loved him? No. Not the way I did you. Not in any sense but fondness."

"And lust." At her look, he shook his head gently. "I saw the two of you together, Christine, when you were slaying. It was clear from the way you kissed him that your relationship was a physical one."

"All right. And lust. But that's over. I told you Spike's gone."

"And you haven't seen him since." Spock's look was almost amused, as if he knew what her answer would be.

"Well. I've seen him, yes. But not that way."

"I would have killed him that night," Spock said softly. "If you had not stopped me, I would have killed him."

"I know."

"I have had the time to become grateful that you stopped me. And to regret deeply that I tried to force you to come with me." He narrowed his eyes. "Of all the emotions that I tried to put down through the Kohlinar, regret was the most resistant. I do regret what I did."

She tried to smile, could feel that she wasn't making it. "I couldn't go with you. Couldn't be with you the way you seemed to need. Not then."

"And now?" He moved closer to her. His hand on her neck made her shiver as it brushed over the bite marks. He pulled her collar away, stared at the scars and said, "This is where the vampire bit you?"

She nodded.

"Jim has that part of you, doesn't he?"

She froze.

"He has been with you through all of this. This vampire that almost turned you. The watcher who you had to watch die. Jim was there for all of it."

"He was." She turned away.

He turned her face back to him. "We need to talk about him."

She shook her head. "No. We don't."

"No?" He moved closer again, leaned in. His lips on her neck, running over the bite scars. His voice was low. "Do you feel anything when I do this, Christine?"

She moved away, studied him. "What do you want me to say?"

"That night we made love you did feel something. I could tell. I moved you. And that was what made it so difficult to understand. You were in my arms; you were my lover again. I did not expect you to refuse to be with me." His mouth quirked slightly, not a smile, just a miniscule hint of one. "Did you have feelings for Jim then?"

"No. And it's not why he didn't tell you where I was." She had not wanted to get into this with him, but she couldn't let him think that they'd betrayed him that way.

He brushed a strand of hair back from her face. She closed her eyes, felt his lips touch hers. It was nearly an automatic response to kiss him back, to relax into his arms. It felt familiar to be kissing him. Familiar and easy.

But not right.

She pulled away. He was watching her, and she found his expression difficult to read. He seemed less disappointed than sad. And resigned.

"I'm sorry. I just--"

His finger on her lips stopped her. "It is all right. That complex issue I referred to? It is us. You and me...and Jim."

She looked down. "Spock, there's no Jim in this."

"He is between us now, is he not?"

She shook her head. "He won't be. He won't betray you that way."

"But you would, wouldn't you?"

"You left us behind. How dare you come back here and act as if anything that developed between Jim and me is some betrayal of you. We had no way of knowing you'd come back."

"Were you lovers?" His voice was calm, his eyes placid. He did not seem upset, despite the intensity of his probing.

"Define that," she finally said.

"I do not have to, Christine. I look in your eyes and his, and I see it. I see the emotions, the affection. The love." He shook his head. "I do not know how to reach you when your heart is given to another."

"I'm sorry. I'm not with him, Spock. Not that way. He won't allow it."

"No, I know that. He is a man of honor. Even in my anger and hurt, I knew why he kept his word to you and did not tell me where you were. I hated him for that, but I understood."

"He was caught between us, Spock. He never wanted to be in that position. But once he was, he did the best that he could."

Spock nodded. There was a long silence as they sat on the bed, not speaking.

Finally, he said, "I have had time to analyze our situation. To try to determine what went wrong between us." He reached out, took her hand. "I think that nothing went wrong between us." He shook his head, as if at some foolishness. "We were simply never meant to be."

She closed her eyes. It hurt to hear him say that. Despite everything that had passed between them, it still hurt.

"Is that not so, Christine? Your infatuation with me was a safe place for you, was it not?"

She nodded.

"You never expected me to be interested. And I have analyzed my reaction to you. I believe we rushed our relationship."

"Yes. I think we did too." She sighed. "You didn't have the slightest interest in me and then, once you knew I was the slayer, it seemed like you suddenly wanted me."

"It was not until that moment that I saw you as a potential mate."

"And then you fought for me so hard. It seemed like I was always on the verge of running, and you were always pulling me back, loving me enough to make me believe, to trust and reach out."

"Yes. I thought I could save you. I thought you would always want me, that if I loved you enough, we would be all right. But I believe my reasons for wanting you may have been suspect." The puzzlement in his eyes took away any sting. "My love for you is real, but I believe you may also have represented an opportunity."

"For escape?"

"To live a life that I had denied myself. A physical relationship with a strong partner, a chance to bond. The Vulcan ideal without the Vulcan woman. You had professed to love me for so long, and I believed that. Your behavior was erratic, but I assumed it would change in time."

She nodded. "And if things had been different, if you hadn't died, maybe I would have been all right. Maybe we'd have lasted a lifetime." A slayer lifetime anyway. Short, violent. She'd already lived so long for one of her kind.

"Perhaps. Or perhaps the bond would have taken away the last remnants of control you had. I do not know why I considered that a good idea. To bond with you when your emotions were so chaotic. You were right. It was dangerous."

"Passion of the moment?"

"Indeed. And that is not a Vulcan failing but a human one." His mouth quirked up slightly. "I enjoyed that passion greatly. You were never afraid to offer me your body."

"No, I never was. Emma said that I did that to protect myself. Offered sex in place of anything more solid."

His hand rested easily on hers, and she reached over with her free hand and touched his skin lightly.

"She thought that I'd spent so much time hiding and running from who I was and what I'd been through, that I'd given up on anyone getting to know the real me. The only thing I could give in a mature way was my body. Everything else was buried so deep no one--including me--could find it." She drew her hand away, pulled her other hand gently out from under his. "You came close, though. The meld, the bond. The love you gave me. Love I never expected. You tried, Spock. I know how hard you tried. But I wasn't there yet. I wasn't ready. I needed to grow up."

"And you have. You are very different now. I can see it just in the short time we've spent together. You no longer need that kind of support."

"No. I no longer do." She smiled sadly. "We didn't bring out the best in each other."

"No. We did not."

She looked away.

"Do you think that could change, Christine? Could we not try as equal partners this time?"

She felt tears prickling at her eyes, one broke loose, ran down her cheek. "We're not the same people." And I don't love you anymore, she wanted to say but couldn't bring herself to. Couldn't bring herself to tell him how badly she wanted his best friend.

He reached out, wiped the tear away. The gesture only caused more to fall.

"Please do not cry." He drew her into his arms, held her tightly, soothing her the way he had done when they were together. "I am not sure what my future is. I only know that it will be on this ship. With Jim and my friends. Including you, if you plan to stay. Do you intend to stay?"

She closed her eyes, let herself relax in his arms. Her future loomed up in front of her, immeasurably large, murky with the unknowns that had been added into the equation when Spock had rejoined the crew. Could she stay on this ship? Could she see Jim every day and not want him? And might she not be tempted to take what Spock offered, to escape into him if she stayed? "No."

"No?"

She shook her head. "I can't stay here, Spock. I can't give you what you want, and I can't have what I want."

"Where will you go?"

"I have a job to do. There's a werewolf out there who's trying to turn my retirement home into her own version of the jungle book. I have to stop her."

"And you think Nogura will let you leave?"

She pulled away from him. "He'll give me a ship of my own if I sell it well enough. Or the watchers will help me."

"Neither are people you want to work with. Have you told Jim that you are leaving?"

She shook her head.

"He will not view this as good news."

"He'll get over it."

Spock moved away from her, his hands behind his back. He walked slowly across the room, then he turned. They stood at opposite sides, with as much distance as could be achieved in the small space put between them.

"You are in love with him?"

She looked down.

"He is in love with you."

She strode over to him. "He beat himself up the entire time you were gone for having betrayed you. He hated the distance between you. Nearly froze in that coldness. And then when you left...he missed you, Spock. Missed you so much that I know he would have given anything to have the old times back. The times before I asked him to lie. Before you found out that he had." She realized her fists were clenched, forced herself to relax.

"It doesn't matter if he's in love with me or not, Spock, because he'll never do anything about it. I was yours. Might still be if not for him. Being with me would be a betrayal, and he won't do that to you again." She turned away, unsure what was left to say.

"You _were_ mine, Christine. For a short time, you were mine. And I was yours."

She nodded, unwilling to turn around and see his face. She heard him move toward her, felt his hands on her arms.

"I loved you. I believe I still love you," he said.

"I know."

"You are no longer mine, however." He leaned in, his body firm against her back, his lips touching down gently on her hair. "I have seen how you look at Jim, and how he looks at you when he thinks no one can see. And when you told me of your life since I have been gone, it was apparent how much a part of that Jim has been. I can see how close you are. You are friends, better friends than you and I were. Perhaps...if we had taken more time?" He grew quiet.

She wiped at her eyes, trying to force the tears back. They hadn't taken more time, and they weren't better friends. And she felt as if she was being torn apart, having to talk about Jim this way, having to open up a piece of her heart that she was trying to seal shut so it wouldn't break her in two when she left.

"I can see that you would both like to be more than just friends to each other." He moved his hands, let his arms enfold her.

They stood like that for a moment, alone together in the silence of his room.

Then he said softly, "We are not joined. We do not touch. We shall be forever parted."

The words sounded as if they were from a Vulcan ritual.

"The bond was severed, by my own hand." His voice changed, became less formal. "You do not want it back?"

She took a ragged breath. Standing here, like this, with him close to her, it still felt good. Still felt warm and comforting. Spock was solid. He would take care of her. If she let him, he'd keep her safe.

And she'd suffocate. It was time that she took care of herself. And long past time that if she was with a man, it was for the good things he brought out in her, not the bad things he helped her suppress.

"I can't, Spock."

He did not seem surprised. "You are free to go where you will. To do as you wish." His voice dropped, sounded sad and small, when he said, "And so is he." He sighed against her. "The touch of you will always be in my mind, nothing more than a memory, but it will never leave me. I will never forget what it felt like to be with you." He kissed her neck. "You were my bond mate. But that time is over. Go to him, if it is what you both want."

She turned in his arms, stared up at him. She wanted his friend, and if she were to be with Jim, what would that do to Spock? Did she even have the right? Jim had already given up the idea of having her. He would never touch her, not when he knew what she meant to Spock. It was time for her to give up on having Jim.

"No," she said. "I think, given everything that's happened, that I should leave."

"Your future is here."

"No. Not anymore. I'm prepared to find a new future if it will mean that you and Jim can be friends again. That you can repair what knowing me has done to your friendship."

His face took on a kind of sadness. He slowly ran his hand down her cheek. "I do not wish you to leave on my account. And if Jim and I are truly friends, then our relationship must be stronger than what has happened. And it must be able to withstand you." He took her hand, led her to the entrance, then let go of her as the door opened to the corridor.

He did not step aside to let her leave, but led her out into the corridor and down to Jim's quarters. He rang the chime, then turned to look at her where she stood a few steps away. "We must do this together."

She moved to his side just as Jim answered the door.

He took one look at them standing together and a shutter seemed to fall down over his eyes. If Christine had ever needed to know how he felt, the stony look that covered his face would have told her the true story. He gave them a smile, forced but sincere nonetheless. "I see you two have buried your differences?"

"Yes, we have. May we come in?" Spock asked.

Jim made a face, threw his hands up in a way that seemed to say "Why the hell not."

She wanted to reach out to him, but was unsure what Spock expected her to do in this situation.

Spock walked to the viewscreen, stared out at the stars for a moment. Then he turned to look at them both. "When I was on Vulcan, I would lie on the desert sand and stare at the stars, trying to find the stillness within me. The anger I felt at both of you was nearly overwhelming, and I wanted to punish you. It is why I sent those messages to you." He turned to look out the viewscreen again. "It was especially cruel to send you her message, Jim. I was indulging my own desire for vengeance."

Christine looked at Jim; he seemed to be deliberately not looking at her.

"I'm sorry that I didn't tell you," Jim said to Spock.

Spock turned, his expression lighter than Christine expected. "I have asked you this before, but would you do it differently if you had the opportunity?"

Jim answered quickly, as if he had already thought about this too many times to have to over think it this time. "I don't see how I could."

Spock almost smiled. "I thought not. And it is all right. I understand now."

Their eyes met and held.

Christine looked away. They could finally be friends again, there was still a chance. If only she weren't in the way. She could stop whatever Spock was trying to do. Stop this before it went too far. "Jim, I'm going to request a transfer."

He turned to her, any indifference gone. "Transfer?"

"I do not think that losing the deputy CMO would be in the best interest of the Enterprise, Jim," Spock said easily.

He looked at him. "You don't?"

"Indeed, I do not. Nor do I wish for you to lose your...friend." He put an interesting emphasis on the word friend.

"No. I don't want to lose her either." Jim turned to her. "Do you want to leave?"

She couldn't answer him, not the way she wanted to. "Look at the three of us. I'll always be a reminder of what happened. But I know how strong the friendship between you can be. I saw it in sickbay, and I saw it as you worked together to stop V'ger. And I don't want to hurt that again."

Jim seemed about to speak, but Spock stepped toward him, cutting off whatever he'd been about to say.

"I agree with her, Jim. I do not wish for us to continue our association with so much tension between us. But I do not think that running away again is the answer." The look he shot her was firm, not angry but resolved.

"And your solution?" Jim asked.

"Perhaps we should all agree that the past is past and let it stay there." He looked at Jim, then turned to Christine. "Can we not try that? Agree that the hurt and betrayal is over?"

She looked at Jim. Saw him swallow hard. His eyes met hers, regret and something more briefly shining in them, then he clamped down on his emotion. He nodded. "I can do that."

Spock did not wait for her answer. "Good." He turned to go, stopping to stand by her. His shoulder touched hers, and he looked over at her. "The past is past."

She nodded. "Yes. The past is past."

He walked to the door. As it opened, he turned back to look at them both. "And, Jim, my relationship with Christine is also over. In the past. We are friends, nothing more." He turned to her, his face was a mask. "Or we will be friends eventually."

Christine remembered when Emma had asked her if she was friends with Spock. "We will be," she answered him and Emma finally too.

He nodded and looked at Jim. "She is no longer my bond mate. I have no claim on her." His expression did not change as he stared at Jim. Then he turned and walked out the door.

The door hissed closed, and Christine looked over at Jim. He was staring at her with a confused, slightly lost look. She probably had a similar look on her face.

He turned and walked over to the viewscreen. "That was damned odd, Chris. Bringing him here?"

"It wasn't my idea." She walked over to stand near him, looked out at the stars. "I offered to leave the ship, and the next thing I knew he was leading me to your door."

"I thought that you two...I mean, when you showed up together...."

"All Spock and I have done is talk. We didn't have sex."

He looked so relieved that she laughed, then felt bad that she did.

"I think he'd given up on that." She looked down. "In fact, I think he'd worked it all out--the part about him and me--while he was at Gol. And he figured out what was going on with you and me after the meld with V'Ger."

"I didn't help things by broadcasting when I touched you both. I must have given him everything I felt for you." He shot her a wry grin. "So much for my shielding. Weasel would be disappointed in me."

"Maybe subconsciously you did it on purpose?"

He shrugged, seemed unwilling analyze it. "It's done now."

"Jim, Spock and I both know that there is only one place he and I can end up. And that's apart. Even if I still wanted it back, it wouldn't work. We're two different people. We've been through too much, been through it without the other one there."

He looked at her, seemed to be trying to read the honesty of her answer. Trying to find the flaw in her argument. "But you love him?"

"And part of me always will." She couldn't lie about that, knew he wouldn't want her to. Knew that he'd understand.

And he seemed to. He looked away. Fell silent for a long time. Then he held his hand out to her.

She took it without hesitation. Felt him squeeze, holding so tightly that if she'd been anyone but the slayer she would have cried out with pain.

"It's okay," she said. "I'm not going anywhere."

"But would you have? Would you have left? Run again?"

"I'd have walked this time." She laughed softly. "And it would have been for the right reasons. Not because I was scared, but so that the two of you could save your friendship, or at least so that you could have a chance to try."

"I don't think he's over you." He started to let go of her hand.

She refused to let him slip away, held on tightly. "He may never be. But he released me. It was something he could never do before. He did it just now, and he did it earlier too in some kind of ritual--I think he divorced me." She smiled softly. Waited until he smiled back to say, "We have to honor that. We have to let him mean that. I think he needs to do it, as your best friend."

"Spock's not my best friend anymore." He turned to her. "He's one of them, but not the only one." His hand tightened on hers again. "I'd miss you so much if you left."

"If I did leave, my heart wouldn't go with me. I love you so." She looked down, could sense him moving closer.

He tipped her chin up until she was looking directly at him. "You know that if you want to leave, if this is just going to put you back where you were, then you should go. I won't try to stop you. I won't make it difficult for you. I don't want to do that to you again."

He seemed to be struggling for what else to say, so she took pity on him, touching his hand where it still held her chin.

"I don't want to leave. Not the ship. Not my friends. And especially not you."

"No?" He moved closer.

"No." She dropped her hand to his shoulder, held on to him, suddenly shaky. She felt as if she was drowning in his eyes, saw that he had the same expression. "I don't ever want to leave you."

He moved his hand, brushing her cheek, then her ear. His hand rested gently on the back of her neck, and he pulled her halfway to him. Then stopped.

"Chris?" He said her name as if he was a dying man in the desert and she was the water he needed to survive. Water that he wouldn't force out of the ground if it didn't want to come to him on its own.

"Jim." She closed the gap between them, her arms twining around his neck, her fingers tangling in his hair as their lips met. His arms went around her, pulling her closer.

She heard a moan, wasn't sure which of them had made the sound.

She kissed him frantically, unable to control how much she needed to touch him now that there was nothing in their way. She could feel her skin burning, could feel his energy rushing into her as he kissed her. Energy that was holding her close this time, not tossing her across the room.

He pulled away suddenly, stared at her with a startled look. "Did you feel that?"

She nodded.

He began to grin, a slow, sensual smile. "Like New Orleans."

She shook her head. "Better. This time, it won't wear off in ten minutes."

He grinned. "Well, you don't know that. I never did find that immune slayer."

"And you never will." She kissed him again, losing herself in the sensation of being as close to him as she wanted. Of not having to hold back.

His hands were everywhere, running down her body, in her hair, on her face, pulling her closer, as if he could pull her into him.

Then he seemed to force himself to slow, to push her away from him. "We have time. We don't have to--"

With a groan of frustration, she put her hand over his mouth. "Jim, it's been eighteen months. That's enough foreplay. And look what happened when we waited last time."

"You have a point. Now?"

"Now."

"Oh, thank god," he said, as he pulled her back into his arms, his mouth on hers again. He moved to her neck, kissing the skin, tongue skipping over the bite marks, finding a new place to suck on. The tingling between them increased as he sucked hard, his teeth never touching her.

Then he looked up at her. "I'd have done this even before Anacost."

She grinned. She hadn't tensed, hadn't felt threatened. But she liked that he'd stopped to tell her.

And she liked what he was doing, even if she'd have one hell of a mark in the morning. "Just don't bite. There anyway."

"Understood." He pushed her toward the bed, their clothes flowing off effortlessly, as if by magic.

They came together. It was thunder and lighting, sparks flying. They could not get enough of each other, and the intensity increased every time their bodies merged. She smiled, lost in the sensations, willing to wrap their lovemaking up in whimsical terms of fireworks and explosions. Then she realized that the flashes were real. Small bolts of lightning crackled around them, thunder clapped softly, filling the room with a low-pitched tone that caused every cell in her body to vibrate with more pleasure.

He was looking down at her, his expression one of astonished delight. "I think we did that."

"I think we did too," she said, smiling as he leaned down to kiss her gently.

They made love again, this time slowly and tenderly. The flashes changed color, moving around them lightly and sending shivers down her skin wherever they touched her.

"Magic calls to magic," she whispered.

"Yes." He smiled at her, his expression sweet and open. "And love calls to love."

She was overwhelmed, felt so much emotion rising up within her that she thought she might burst from the deluge. Love and trust, respect and enjoyment, all embodied in the man who was moving over her, inside her. She held him closer, willing to let the feelings grow, not wanting to run from him, or to hide from what she felt.

She thought Emma would be proud of her.

"I love you, Jim," she said. And, for possibly the first time in her life, she understood exactly what that meant.

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

Kirk woke slowly, aware of two things: the reassuring hum of his ship all around him, and the warm press of Chris's body next to him. He looked over at her, was rewarded with a bright smile from her.

He threw her a mock scowl. "You're supposed to be asleep. How can I wake you up like this if you're not asleep?" He kissed her, relishing the feeling of having her in his arms, of being able to touch her any way he wanted, any time he wanted.

She kissed him back just as passionately. She had slayer stamina and breath control. He was the first to pull away.

"Were you staring at me?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Why?"

"Because I can." She cuddled up against him. "It's a luxury. And I like looking at you."

He kissed her again. "Not that I mind, but just how long have you been staring at me?"

"A couple of hours."

He frowned. "Why didn't you wake me up? I would have tired you out."

She laughed, unable to say anything while he kissed her until she was breathless. Or at least until he was. He had a feeling he'd need to hit the gym more if he wanted to keep up with her in bed.

"Couldn't sleep?" he asked.

She shrugged. "I think I'm so used to patrolling and not having much of an evening left that my body refuses to sleep a full night."

"You can patrol the ship, if it would make your body feel better." He pushed the covers off her, intent on doing his own bit to make her body feel good. "In fact, that might be a good thing. We all might sleep better. Except maybe Rand."

She laughed. It was a light and easy sound and he stopped what he was doing and looked at her. She smiled again, a bright, happy expression. Not one he saw much, but one he thought he saw more than anyone else did. He ran his fingers over her lips, felt them curve up even more.

"I love you so much," he said.

She kissed his fingers.

"It was tearing me up inside, thinking of you with him."

She nodded.

He touched the mark he'd made on her neck. It had been a stupid thing to do, to mark her like that.

She smiled complacently, as if she loved that he'd done it. "I'm yours," she said softly.

He nodded.

"And you're mine."

He laughed as she pulled him down to her. "Yes, I am. Body and soul, Chris."

"Well, I don't know about your soul, but your body definitely agrees with you," she said as she moved under him, their bodies joining effortlessly.

They were well into the moment when he heard someone cough behind him.

"LaVelle," Chris said, as she peeked out from underneath him. "We're kind of busy here."

"Yes. I see. Stop."

Kirk rolled off Chris. He pulled the covers up over them both. "Haven't you heard of knocking?"

She rolled her eyes. "The portal isn't really the kind of thing you knock on. Pure energy and all that."

"Can't you do that firebolts thing and knock her back to Kirsu?" Chris whispered to him.

"I wish," he said with a grin, then he turned back to the other slayer. "Is there a reason you're here? Or did you just want to join in?"

LaVelle rolled her eyes. "Not likely." She sat down on the bed, handed Chris a root of some kind. "Does this look familiar?"

Chris nodded. "Aconite. Wolfsbane."

LaVelle nodded. "And it's suddenly in Kirsu. Lots of big stinky flowers erupting all over the place from these bulbs." She threw it down on the bed. "I told you no werewolves, not yet."

"I know. But it's a problem. The people I wanted to send your way...they're sort of bad guys."

LaVelle scowled at her. "Bad guys? Bad guys who know how to do this? How did they find us?"

"They already knew where you were, they just lacked the means to get to you."

"That's impossible. The founder Helene--"

"--Helene wasn't the founder. She just happened to find the rings."

"Are you saying that we don't belong in Kirsu?"

"Of course not. But don't act like you created the damned place." In her agitation, Chris leaned forward, and the sheet slipped off her. Kirk reached over and pulled it back up. She shot him a look. "There's nothing here she hasn't seen."

He laughed. "There's a lot I don't know about you, isn't there?"

"I mean living with a bunch of slayers she's used to the female body."

"Oh." He laughed, studied LaVelle. She didn't look all that comfortable with Christine's nakedness. He realized with a start what she was wearing. "Why are you in a Starfleet uniform?"

"I'm going to help you look for these people who want Kirsu."

"You're not a part of my crew. And where did you get that uniform?"

LaVelle smiled nastily. "I have my sources. And I think I'll stand out less as crew than as a civilian." She seemed to notice something, reached over and chucked Chris's chin up. The hickey he'd given her competed with the bite scars David had left.

"Do I even want to know what's happened to you?" she asked, letting go of Chris's chin.

"No," he answered for them both. "Now, do you mind?"

"Do I mind what?"

"Call the portal and go home," Chris said, turning her back on her and cuddling up against Kirk. "You can't stay here, there are two many people onboard that might be loyal to our enemies. And they'll notice you. If we need you, we'll call."

"She's right. Good-bye." Kirk turned back to Chris, hoping the dark slayer would take the hint and leave. He tried to lose himself in kissing Chris, but he finally had to look.

LaVelle was leaning up against a wall. "Don't mind me. Just finish up quickly so we can get to work."

Chris closed her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I don't think she's planning to leave on her own."

"It's okay." He kissed her again, LaVelle be damned. Then he looked up at the other slayer. "You. Turn around." Once she was facing the wall, he grabbed a uniform and hurried off to the bathroom.

A moment later, Chris joined him. She moved past him, into the shower.

"What about our guest?" he asked, noticing that she had a red mark on her chin, and another on her arm. He wondered what kind of marks LaVelle sported. He was almost sorry he'd missed it, if they'd come to blows.

"She's gone. I told her we'd be by in a bit."

"By? By where?"

"Kirsu. If someone is making wolfsbane grow there, then it's got to be magic. And maybe we can trace it."

"I'm not sure I'm that good."

She smiled. "Oh, you're that good. Remember last night? Because I do." She pressed him up against the wall.

He gave himself over to her and found out there were all sorts of interesting things you could do in the shower if your partner was exceptionally strong...and limber.

A visit to the gym was definitely in order.

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

Spock tried not to watch the lift doors. Jim was two point five minutes late for his shift. Jim was never late. He was usually early.

But he did not usually sleep with Christine. Spock tried to pay attention to what was on his terminal and not the lift doors. He failed.

A moment later, the doors opened and Christine and Jim came out. They appeared subdued as they came over to him. Christine leaned down and set a root on his terminal. "We need to know the origins of this." He began to move it toward his scanner and she stopped him, her hand cool on his skin. "On a stand alone, if you can make us one. We don't want this going back to Command."

"It has to do with Kirsu?"

She nodded.

He noticed her hair was wet and she smelled of some herbal-smelling soap. The same soap Jim smelled of. Spock looked away. "I will take this to the lab."

She stood up. "I'll ride down with you."

He nodded. Surprised. He turned and saw that Jim was watching him carefully.

"Good morning, by the way," his friend said.

"Good morning," Spock murmured back, trying not to notice how happy Jim looked, or how carefully he moved as he walked to the chair.

Spock turned to watch Christine. She seemed to be in no physical discomfort, although she had a strange mark on her neck.

She seemed to realize he was staring at it and said, "You won't mind stopping in sickbay first?"

He shook his head, unsure when she could have become wounded since he had seen her last. It looked like a bruise. She held her hand over it.

When the lift doors closed, he said, "I trust you are well, Christine?"

"I am. Thanks for asking." She looked over at him. "How are you?"

"I am fine." He did not say that he would have been better if she had slept with him and not his friend. He supposed there would be many things he would not say as he became accustomed to their relationship.

"You remember LaVelle?"

"The slayer?"

She nodded. "She paid us a visit this morning."

Spock suddenly felt better...and a little spiteful. He could remember how amorous Christine could be in the morning. Could only hope LaVelle put a damper on their morning activities.

"You don't have to look so pleased," she said softly, smiling at him. "For you that's a positively gleeful expression. Spock."

He looked away. "I am sorry. It is my human side, no doubt."

She laughed. "No doubt."

"What did LaVelle want?" Not that she had to want anything, as long as she had interrupted Jim and Christine. Perhaps she could stop in every morning?

Spock decided that not all of his post-V'ger emotionalism had worn off.

"That root is wolfsbane. Monkshood. Aconite. It has lots of names. We care because it suddenly showed up in Kirsu--blooming all over. Jim and I are going to take a look and see if we can trace it back magically. But I wanted to find out everything we could about it beforehand. It might give us an idea where to look for Lori. If it was Lori."

"Why would a werewolf want to cause the plant that repels her to grow?"

"In Kirsu, she doesn't have to worry about the change. But I don't think she plans to stay in Kirsu. And if she's going to send werewolves back and forth, she's going to have to be able to control the change in them. And this is the easiest way. Especially for the newer wolves. We don't know where she will want to go, but nowhere in this dimension is free from the pull of the moon."

"So a werewolf will always change while in this dimension? Chief Rand will change at some point?"

"No, she's been trained to not change." Christine frowned. "It doesn't have to be Lori, though. It could be Nogura. If he caused enough of the wolfsbane to bloom, then Kirsu would become lethal for the wolves. And he is good with flowers. His hobby is growing irises--and wolfsbane."

He nodded. "Logical."

Christine led him into sickbay. She grabbed a regenerator and then went into one of the heads. A moment later she came back, her neck devoid of the mark. He noticed that she didn't put the regenerator back in the drawer, but slipped it into her uniform pocket.

It suddenly dawned on him what had caused the mark or at least who. "Captain's privilege?" he muttered.

She shot him a startled look, but didn't answer.

He thought that was wise.

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

Christine watched Spock as he analyzed the wolfsbane. He seemed comfortable with her, not angry or resentful and for that she was extremely thankful. It would have been better to leave then to send him back to that dark place he'd been in when he'd hated Jim and her.

He made an adjustment to the tricorder he'd rigged to not communicate with the central databases and then looked up at her.

"What?" she asked.

"I did not say anything."

She smiled at him, waited for him to tease her, but he just went back to studying the herb. She had expected to be more uncomfortable around him, but she felt all right even if she wondered what was really going on underneath that tight Vulcan control.

He frowned for a moment, the expression barely readable unless you knew him well.

"What is it?" She moved over to look at the readings.

"This has been genetically reengineered. It is impossible to tell where it originated because its code is so different from the closest plant, which I believe is common monkshood, or wolfsbane as you call it."

She leaned in, "The mods, can you tell what they might have done to the plant?"

He pointed to one line on the terminal. "This appears to be the olfactory signature. It has been modified greatly--wolfsbane does not appear to normally have a fragrance." He touched the bulb. "When this blooms, the flower's scent will be detectable from great distances. And the poisonous attributes of the rest of the plant seem to be present in the fragrance. Minute quantities only. A normal human would probably not be affected."

"But a werewolf?"

He nodded.

"What about a slayer? We're not exactly normal humans."

"I do not know. And it would depend on how many flowers were blooming. The concentration might become lethal due to the number." He looked up at her. "You will have to check the Kirsu slayers for side effects of aconite poisoning. You know what they are?"

She nodded. "I've read up on it since we ran into Lori. Tingling followed by numbness, most symptoms are gastro-enteric in nature." Death was the final result though. Christine wondered how many people the Nogura's had killed as they'd searched for the right mixture of the aconite remedy they used on the werewolves. "It's a deterrent then, Lori wouldn't want to poison the landscape, she'd only want enough to harvest to suppress the change. This must be Nogura."

"I would be able to confirm that if I had a better sample? One bulb does not tell the entire story, as I know you are aware. It is possible they are both working this magic, in which case there may be more to tell."

She nodded. "You in the mood for a quick field trip?"

"To Kirsu?" At her nod, he said, "But I thought that you and Jim were going?"

She nodded. "We are. You can come too. The ship will be fine the short time we're gone, and we need your expertise there."

He seemed pleased.

She laid her hand gently on his arm. "Did you think we wouldn't want you there?"

He looked up at her. There was something sad in his eyes. "Dynamics alter as relationships change, Christine."

She squeezed his arm lightly. "I know. But that doesn't mean we don't need you."

He laid his hand over hers. "You did not need me while you were on Earth." His eyebrow went up, as if daring her to argue.

"Yes, we did. But we didn't let the lack of you stop us."

"Ah." He let go of her hand.

"Ah," she repeated, her tone a bit more teasing. "We couldn't exactly page you at Gol, now could we?"

"That is without question. The head priestess frowns on interruptions."

She grinned. "What was it like?" She checked his expression, ready to drop the question if he looked uneasy.

He just seemed to be considering his response. "It was harsh. Austere. There is little in the way of comfort there. Lack and hardship enhance perfect repose is one of the tenets." He shook his head.

"How far did you get?"

He looked up at her. "All the way." He seemed to be back there, on that place in Vulcan. He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing more than normal. "I was ready to take my place among the masters. It was my final test, and the easiest--a simple sharing of minds with the head priestess before she put the necklace that showed mastery of the Kohlinar discipline around my neck." He seemed to shake himself. "But V'ger interrupted that moment, and I was rejected."

"You could have followed V'ger your own way, Spock. Why come back to the ship? Why come back to us?"

"It was the most logical way. You were already on course to it; you had the resources to fully study it."

"And we had Jim. If you were monitoring our progress then you knew he had taken control of the ship."

"Yes. I knew that. But you misunderstand me if you think I came to the ship for him, or in some hope that you would be on it. I was rejected from the discipline not because I felt emotion when I contacted V'ger but because the moment I heard its call, it became my path. The priestess would have sent me back to training if I had experienced a stray feeling during the meld; she would not have rejected me for that."

"So she rejected you because you rejected Kohlinar first?"

He nodded. "Precisely."

"Fascinating."

He shot her a look, and she smiled to show she was teasing. His expression seemed to lighten again.

"Am I interrupting?" Jim grinned at them from where he stood in the doorway to the lab.

"Not at all." She thought at first he was smiling to cover up some jealousy, but then realized he was relieved that she and Spock were getting on. It still weighed on him, the fact that he had stolen her from Spock, but she had faith that he'd get over that eventually.

She held her hand out and he came to stand next to her. He didn't take her hand, but as Spock showed him what he had found, his hand came to rest at the small of her back. The warm touch of his hand, the slight press, it was both a comfort and a claim. It was a subtle thing, but definitely possessive.

She loved it. After having him push her away for so long, she found it heady that he wanted to make it clear who she was with, even if only to the two of them. She touched her neck, where she'd erased the bruise he'd left. He saw her do it, took in the now clear skin, and winked at her. His hand pressed down on her back more firmly, then he let go of her.

"So you'll come with us then, to get more samples." It was not a question, obviously a given. Jim turned to her, "Maybe he can take a look at the amulet, see if it might be acting as some kind of homing beacon."

Spock shook his head. "Jim, if it is using magic, then you would be far more capable than I of determining that."

Kirk shrugged, grinning. "We'll both take a look at it. One of us is sure to figure it out."

"Your faith in our abilities is undaunted, I see."

Jim reached over, touched Spock's shoulder. "Do you know a reason it shouldn't be?"

She smiled when Spock did not answer.

Jim laughed. "When you think of one, you tell me."

Christine saw Spock nod. He seemed to finally relax.

"Let's go then?" She looked at Spock. "The safest place to leave from might be your quarters. They won't expect us to be working from what should have been Commander Sonak's quarters."

"Agreed," Spock said, as he picked up the root and led them to his quarters. "Have you been to Kirsu, Jim?"

"Nope. It's a girls only club." He grinned at Chris. "Or so I'm told by the head slayer there."

"LaVelle is still in charge?" At Christine's nod, Spock said, "Has her disposition improved?"

"Sure hasn't," Christine said, fingering a red mark on her chin. She should have used the regenerator on that too.

"She doesn't like me at all," Jim said softly. "You might fare better."

"Doubtful, Jim. She did not appear to enjoy my company either the few times we interacted." Spock shot her a curious look as he palmed open his quarters and let them inside. "Do we not need the ring?"

She nodded.

"Are you going to retrieve it?"

"She already has it, Spock." Jim reached gently up to her neck, feeling around underneath her collar until he pulled the necklace out.

Chris could feel the short chain moving but could see nothing. The necklace was as invisible as the day they'd done the spell.

Spock leaned forward, studying what he was not seeing. He reached out, his hand moving across her collarbone until he found the chain. "Curious, it is there, I can feel it. Yet it appears to be cloaked."

"Try finding it if you drop it." She'd learned not to take it off at all. The chain was short enough that it didn't move much and no one seemed to notice the tiny bump in her uniform collar from the ring. "Who needs Romulans when we have Jim?" she said softly.

Spock looked at him in surprise and Jim grinned with pleasure. "I'm really good with protection spells. The rest...eh."

Jim shot her a look, bland enough to not be disrespectful of the lingering feelings Spock had for her, but one that reminded her he hadn't done the invisibility spell by himself. She smiled and looked down, easing the ring onto her little finger, it was just big enough to allow her finger to squeeze past the sturdy chain. She touched the stone, thought of the portal, and the air began to swirl in front of them.

The portal stabilized, and she looked at both of them before stepping through it. "Ready or not, LaVelle. Here we come."

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

Kirk followed Chris into the portal, heard Spock behind him. He couldn't help but smile. This was really working. They were together, a team again. The dynamics were different, but they'd get used to that. They'd be fine.

If they could just get through these first few days, he knew they'd be fine.

Although he wasn't sure he'd want Chris anywhere around if Spock suddenly came down with a bad case of Pon Farr. Hell, he wouldn't want to be around for that. Spock might not take it so well that Kirk had stolen her.

But other than that, Kirk would trust his life to his friend. Hoped Spock could say the same of him again. He looked back; Spock raised an eyebrow as he followed stoically, and Kirk smiled.

Just like old times.

There was a moment of bright white emptiness when the portal closed. When it didn't open right away, Kirk felt Chris's hand reach back for him. He knew she didn't like the portal's tight spaces, and he couldn't blame her, not after the sewers.

He caught her hand in his and squeezed: three short clasps. "I love you," was what he intended them to mean. And she seemed to understand. She gave him one long squeeze, then sent the three short ones back to him.

She loved him. God, it was wonderful having her, finally having her. He knew that he had to hide just how good it felt, at least for a while. Spock wasn't over this, might never be completely over this. Kirk didn't need to rub his face in it.

The portal opened, and Chris let go of his hand as Spock led them out into a brightly-lit field that was covered with brilliant blue flowers. They smelled odd, resinous, and slightly gamey. He noticed a group of slayers were trying to cut them down in front of an Asian-looking house that stood off to the side. Several other slayers were training with quarterstaffs in the distance. They stopped and stared at the strangers. One of the ones on flower duty ran into the house and nearly collided with a blonde woman who was coming out. Kirk thought she looked familiar.

"Marion," Chris whispered.

He saw Spock nod. There were some parts of Chris's life that his friend knew much better. Of course Kirk had been a bit preoccupied, first with Alma, and then with trying to cross over to the undead way of life to catch everyone's names.

He felt Chris's hand on his back, down low where he usually touched her. It felt good; it also felt damned possessive as she gently pushed him forward. Is that the message he'd been sending her all these months? No wonder she'd never understood why he couldn't be with her.

"Hello," Marion said from the steps. "LaVelle said you were coming."

"And where is she?"

Marion shrugged. "She came back from seeing you, told me you'd be coming, and then took off again."

"And you're not concerned?" Chris said, pushing past the men and walking toward the other slayer.

Marion smiled serenely. "If there were trouble coming, I'd have seen it."

"What do you call an infestation of wolfsbane if not trouble?"

Marion shook her head. "I had no warning of that. I don't think it's as dire as Velle does." She grinned. "But then that may be why I'm not the leader?"

"May be." Chris gave her a quick hug.

"She's getting a new slayer," Marion said, her look sad.

"Oh," Chris looked down. "I'm sorry."

Marion touched her hand. "She'll be all right, she'll be with us."

Chris nodded, then motioned Jim and Spock forward. "You can come in." She grinned at them then disappeared into the house.

Kirk motioned to Spock and hurried to the house. He saw that Chris was mobbed with young women all asking a million questions. She was laughing as she gently pushed past them. "Come on," she said to Spock and him as she disappeared into an adjoining room.

Marion clapped her hands sharply. The slayers all perked up and turned around.

"Outside. Now."

There was good natured groaning but they obeyed her. The house was soon empty.

Marion smiled. "Sorry about that. We get new girls all the time, but those of us who are older are an oddity. And I don't have to tell you how unusual it is for us to have men here."

She led them into the other room where Chris had pulled back a rug and exposed a trap door.

"What are you doing?" Marion asked, a deep frown beginning.

"I'm afraid by bringing the amulet here, I've exposed you to more danger. I think it's what the people causing the wolfsbane to grow are focusing on. Jim can fix that."

"I can?" Kirk muttered and saw Spock's eyebrow go up. "I can," he said with more confidence than he really felt.

Spock's eyebrow went up even higher. He moved closer. "Can you?"

"Hell, if I know. She obviously thinks I can."

"Obviously."

"Be glad you get to be the smart, strong one. This magic stuff is nerve wracking."

Spock shot him a look that was almost a smile. "I'm sure you thrive on it, Jim. You have never been able to resist a challenge."

Kirk grinned at Spock, then moved to help Chris pull the trap door up, which was stupid because she didn't need his help. But she smiled thanks at him anyway. A houseful of slayers and he wanted to hold the door. Gallantry died hard. And he thought Chris would be sorry to see it go, if he ever did give up being chivalrous.

It was pitch black in the stairwell, and Marion handed them some lightsticks. As they walked down the narrow steps, he could feel the magical energy growing thicker around them. "It's a goddamned beacon," he whispered. He could feel it, even from the back.

Chris looked up at Spock. "Do you feel anything?"

He shook his head.

"Me neither," she said. "And it's not causing you to lose sleep any, is it, Marion?"

"No..."

Kirk looked at her. "Is there a but in there?"

"We recently took in a young girl. She's not a slayer." Marion looked up at Spock. "She's like you."

"A Vulcan?"

Marion nodded. "She stays close to the door and keeps muttering about something--we think it's power. But we don't speak Vulcan and we're not even sure that's the word she's using."

"Tepul?"

She shook her head. "I don't think that was it."

"Where is she?" Kirk asked.

Marion pointed up. A young girl, about ten stood at the top of the stairs, looking down at them. She was clearly Vulcan.

"Where did you find her?" Spock asked as he took a step toward her. "Do you understand me?" he asked her in Vulcan.

"Father?" She seemed fascinated by Spock's ears, even as she peeked out from behind the door.

"Saavik," Marion said softly, her tone obviously more important than the words. "Why don't you come down?"

Kirk leaned in to Spock. "That wasn't Vulcan she was speaking, was it?" His universal translator had rendered the words fine, but he could tell that something was off in her accent. She didn't sound like any Vulcan he'd ever heard.

Spock shook his head. "It was Romulan. But she is not Romulan. Not completely anyway." He knelt down, touched his ears, then pushed back his hair, showing her his forehead. He rubbed his hand on it. "We are the same."

Saavik rubbed her own forehead. She slowly came out from behind the door and walked down the stairs. She leaned up against Marion for a moment, then reached out to Spock, touching his ears and forehead the way he had. "Father?" She smiled.

"No. I am not your father."

The girl's face fell and she turned away.

"Way to go, Spock. Crush the kid." Chris walked over to Saavik and knelt down.

Saavik stared at her, then reached out and touched the necklace around her neck. The invisible necklace.

"Wow." Kirk moved up and knelt down. He smiled at Saavik, concentrated for a moment, then held his hand out.

She looked at him as if assessing him, then she smiled and set her hand in his. Power poured into him. He didn't resist, just let it run through him and out into the ground. It was stronger than anything he'd ever felt.

"She's strong. So strong." He ran his other hand down her hair, trying to let his power run into her, trying to show her she wasn't alone.

She laughed, slapping her other hand down on his, pressing it into her head harder. "More."

He shook his hand, gently pried his hand away. "No. No more."

He looked up at Marion, then at Spock. "She needs training. This kind of power can't be left undisciplined. It could damage her...and everyone around her." He looked back at Marion. "You said you found her? Where?"

"At a merchant camp where we go to trade. They caught her hiding in the cargo in their warehouse. They know she smuggled herself out, but they don't know from where."

"I do." Spock's face was a tight mask. "It has always been a legend. Hellguard. The planet where Vulcans are held captive. Forced to dig in the mines for the Romulans. The planet that houses half-breeds such as this child."

Kirk turned back to the girl, realized he could no longer feel the power the amulet was putting out. Hadn't been able to since she'd come down the stairs. "She's dampening the amulet's energy field. You could use that. Has she been down here before?"

Marion shook her head. "It's forbidden. Not that she cares about rules. She does whatever she wants, but she's so sweet about it that none of us ever gets mad."

"Sounds familiar," Chris muttered.

Kirk fought his grin.

Marion continued. "But I've never caught her trying to sneak in. She sits near the trapdoor all the time though."

"Where's the amulet," he asked.

She pointed to a wooden cask. "In there."

Kirk stood, took Saavik's hand and led her to the cask. "Can you find it? The powerful thing?"

She opened the cask and pulled out the amulet, gravely handing it to him.

"Thank you," he said with a smile. Then he knelt down. "I need you to go upstairs," he said very seriously. "Just for a few minutes. Okay?"

She looked at him solemnly, then turned and ran upstairs, taking her place behind the doorway. She smiled shyly at him.

Chris turned to him with a grin. "Is there anyone you can't charm?"

He looked up at the little girl. He wasn't sure who had done the charming in this case. Then he looked back at the amulet, which seemed to pulse in his hand and he studied it as he opened himself to the power. He could feel it as it stabilized the links between Kirsu and the other dimensions. He followed the power, saw that it tore holes in the walls between the dimensions, then tore other ones as it came streaming back into Kirsu. The holes closed, eventually. But while they were open, any magician who could find them, could get through, perhaps not with his body, but at least with his will.

"Saavik," he called without turning around. "Come here."

She pounded down the stairs. "Hurts," she said as she touched the amulet. "Holes all around."

He nodded. "Yes. All around."

She took it from him. "Fix them." She closed her eyes.

The power flow was suddenly gone. He touched the amulet. It was still sending out the power, but in a tiny stream. Just enough to punch a pinhole through and back. And the holes closed instantly. He touched her hand. She seemed in perfect control of the device.

He felt a sudden chill go through him. What if Nogura had been right? What if the Romulans were a bigger threat than anyone knew? What if Saavik wasn't an aberration? Wasn't some kind of magical prodigy? What if she was a prototype?

He had to know what she was. Was she evil?

"Chris, I need some extra power." He reached back, felt her clasp his hand, not asking why or how much. Just trusting him.

He squeezed. Three small clasps. Then he said, "Let me in."

He felt her barriers drop, the same way they had when he and Weasel had used her memories to manifest Laura. Her trust in him nearly made him gasp. She had left nothing hidden this time. Everything she had was at his disposal.

He touched Saavik's chest, over her heart. She did not flinch, just smiled at him as if the power flowing between them could only be good. Then she opened herself to him too. He closed his eyes in relief. There was no evil in her. He'd been so afraid--what would he have had to do to her if she had been evil?

He felt Chris squeeze his hand, felt her concern pour into him.

Then Saavik leaned forward and laid her cheek against his. She slipped the amulet between her shirt and his hand and whispered, "Protect."

It was as if an explosion went off in the room--and in his head. He felt something flare between him and Saavik. He was flung back and Chris caught him, but there was no one to catch Saavik. She flew back and hit the far wall. She sat stunned for a moment, then laughed and held up her hands.

The amulet was gone.

"Oh, no," he whispered.

"Try your ring," Chris ordered Marion.

As they slipped the rings on, two portals began to form.

"Pretty," Saavik said with a satisfied smile. She stood up and walked over to Marion. "I'm hungry." Then she walked up the stairs and disappeared around the corner.

"What the hell just happened?" LaVelle took the stairs two at a time. "I heard an explosion and--" She took in Spock, then Kirk. "Why are you here?"

"Your amulet was leaking," Kirk said, pushing himself to his feet and trying not to look as unsteady as he was. He felt like following Saavik's lead--he was suddenly starving too.

"Where did it go?" Marion asked.

He shrugged and gave her his best "everything will be fine...really" grin.

Nobody looked very convinced.

"I'm starving. I'll be with Saavik if you need me. Hopefully, she and I can figure out where we sent the amulet." He turned to Spock. "Don't you have some plants to analyze?"

He left them staring after him. As he bounded up the stairs, he saw Saavik waiting for him.

"Hungry," she said as she held her hand out.

He took it. "Any idea what we just did?"

She looked up at him. "We fixed the holes."

"I got that part. But how exactly?"

She shrugged. It was a perfect imitation of his own. "It's between the worlds now." She looked up at him, her face very grave. "Safer that way."

She pointed out the window. He saw that the flowers that had been so intensely blue were fading, withering. Dying. The holes were closed. No more magic.

And if Spock didn't work fast, there'd be nothing left to analyze. He saw Spock at the doorway, saw him take in the scene, then hurry out with his tricorder.

"Safer that way," Kirk murmured.

Saavik rummaged through the chiller and stuck a sandwich in his hand. "Eat. You're hungry."

He took a bite and grinned at her. It was the best sandwich he'd ever eaten.

Chris came in, smiling as she watched him with Saavik. He offered her a bite of his sandwich, but she shook her head.

"Did you feel any of that?" he asked.

She nodded. "But from far away. I was just the generator, remember?" She grinned at him as she watched Spock hurrying from dying plant to dying plant. "I bet Nogura and Lori are cursing right about now."

Kirk nodded, then looked down, watching Saavik lean against him as she ate. "What are we going to do with her?"

"She's Vulcan. I think that's Spock's decision."

"She's only half-Vulcan, Chris. And she's full of magic. Will they know how to nurture that? Or will they crush it all out of her."

Chris shot him a strange look, then said quietly, "It may not be possible to crush it out of her. She may have been bred for it."

He nodded, let his hand drop to rest on Saavik's head. He felt the comforting flow of her power, it curled around his now, as if they were in perfect synch. "She could have been a weapon. If she hadn't escaped..."

"I know." Chris glanced down at the girl, then back at him.

LaVelle came in, her stride heavy and rushed.

"Calm down," Chris said before the other slayer could say anything. "We just helped you."

"You just sent our amulet god knows where. I fail to see how that is an improvement."

Saavik pointed out the window, her mouth too full of food to talk.

Chris talked for her. "No more stinky flowers. Which is good, because they might have built to toxic levels."

LaVelle stared out at the fields, covered now with dead and dying plants. "I owe you an apology."

Kirk laughed. "Well, we still don't know where the amulet is. Except that it's between."

"Between what?" For once LaVelle didn't glare at him.

"The worlds?" He shrugged. "I'm new at this and she's just a kid. We're not exactly the dream team."

The other slayer actually laughed. "Well, you'll get no argument from me there." She turned to Chris, nodded with her chin toward where Spock worked in the fields. "So he's back too, huh?"

"One big happy family," Chris said easily.

LaVelle looked down at Saavik. Her face was as gentle as Kirk had ever seen it. "She's not a slayer. Can you help us with her?"

He nodded. "Can she stay here till we figure out the best place for her?"

"Of course. She's no trouble." LaVelle grinned at Saavik, then turned to go. "You can see yourselves out?"

"You're welcome," Chris called after her.

LaVelle turned around. "It's a bit premature to say thanks. We don't know if this is a good thing or not, now do we?"

Before Chris could respond, Kirk touched her arm. "Let it go," he said softly.

"Fine."

Saavik giggled. When he looked down at her, she said very softly, "Fight, fight, fight."

He laughed, knelt down so Christine couldn't see them giggling together at the idea of the two slayers coming to blows.

He touched Saavik's hair again, and she leaned into his hand. All he could feel from her was perfect trust...and the slightest hint of pure mischief. "You'll be safe here for a while. Then we'll come for you, okay?"

Saavik nodded. She touched his ears. "Different." She looked at Chris. "All different."

"Human," he said softly. "Just human."

"Human," she said. She laid her hand on top of his shirt, just over his heart. "Come back."

He nodded.

She smiled then ran out of the house, out to where Spock was working.

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

Spock found that he could not get Saavik out of his mind as he tried to analyze the readings he'd taken of the wolfsbane. He sat in an empty office in the science lab and worked quickly, but thoughts of the little girl kept intruding.

Jim had made it clear that it was Spock's call what should be done with her. Spock did not think that taking her to Vulcan now would be the best thing. Vulcan prejudice was deep seated. If he took a Vulcan-Romulan girl home, there would be questions about her origins. And she would be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny he had been as a child. She'd be under the same pressure to measure up, to repress her Romulan side.

And she'd be the only one, just like he had been.

But she didn't have to be. Not if they could find Hellguard. She had said there were others like her. Not like her and Jim--Spock supposed she'd meant the magic. But like her and Spock. She'd touched her forehead and ears. There were other half-breeds, like them.

If he could rescue them all, then she would be just one of many. And she might not stand out with her magic. He could take her home; his mother would know how to raise her. And Jim and Christine would know magicians who would help.

He would speak to his father. This was a matter for Vulcans to pursue. His father would know the best way to handle this.

And for now Saavik was safer in Kirsu. And Kirsu was safer with her there. He remembered her solemn face as she had told him, "I protect this place."

He'd nodded absently.

She kicked at the grass until he turned to look at her. "_I_ protect here." She looked back at the house. "He--the human--protects where you are."

"Are you saying you want to stay here?"

She had nodded. "They need me." Then she smiled, an expression that seemed shocking on Vulcan features. Unless you considered Sybok. Which he did not. His mind, even now, shied away from thoughts of Sybok.

Then she had said, "But not forever." She'd laughed, skipping away and picking up a quarterstaff that was easily three times her size. She challenged one of the younger girls with it.

She had done quite well with it too. He supposed there were worse things than growing up with slayers. She'd acquit herself well in anything that required fighting. He repressed a small smile. If he had known better how to fight, perhaps a few Vulcan bullies who had tormented him with their words and biting sarcasm, would have been afraid of his fists instead of just raising their pure-Vulcan eyebrows at his attempts to fight.

He turned back to his analysis. Saavik was not a problem he could solve now, but the origin of the plants was. The monkshood was indeed of two kinds. From two distinct magical sources, no doubt, since their properties were so different. He'd make a full report to Jim and Christine when they were all alone again.

He could not get the image of their clasped hands, the easy way Jim had reached back for her, and she had met him, offering him her strength without ever knowing what he wanted it for. And how she had caught him, how he had let her. Spock had expected Jim to pull away, but he seemed comfortable that she was stronger.

He seemed comfortable with everything about her. They seemed bonded so tightly, without benefit of any bond. Spock understood now that he'd never had a chance with her. Not when Jim and she'd had so much time to fall in love, to become friends, and to get to know each other in a way he and she had never done.

They had rushed into their relationship and it had hurt them. In the end, it had helped destroy them. He would not make that mistake again...if the time ever came when he believed his heart could hold anyone but her.

He closed his eyes. It hurt. He had no one to tell that to. No one he trusted enough to share it with except the very two people who he could never tell it to. But it hurt.

It hurt unimaginably.

He sighed and rose, shutting up the office and taking the tricorder to his quarters before heading down to the mess hall. The room was crowded and he almost took his tray back to his quarters but somehow that seemed like defeat to him. And he knew that if he did it now, he would always do it.

He looked for Jim and Christine but they were not in the room. Then he spotted a free table in the back and made his way to it. Ignoring the noise around him, he concentrated on each bite of food as if it was a meditation. It would have been a more effective meditation if he had not looked up every few minutes to see if Christine and Jim had come in while he had been contemplating his broccoli.

"This seat taken?"

He looked up, frowned as he saw Chief Rand standing with a tray, waiting impatiently.

"Look, it's the only seat left in the whole mess. I checked. Now, can I sit or can't I?" She seemed exceptionally agitated in addition to being unusually brusque with a senior officer.

He nodded at the chair and she sank into it with a graceful, almost feline movement. "Thanks. Normally, when the place is this crowed, I just take dinner back to my quarters but my roommate's there and I'm not in the mood for feminine company tonight. You know?"

He let an eyebrow lift be his comment.

"You don't have any idea what I'm talking about, do you?" She leaned in. "See the moon was just full back on Earth, and I'm still a little antsy." She moved a bit in her chair before cutting into some very rare meat.

Spock looked away. "I can see you are slightly anxious."

"Slightly?" She laughed. "So where's your ex-wife?" She was watching him carefully, as if she was not sure the term fit. Something in his look must have shown her she was right, because she leaned forward, smiled almost savagely. "Lost her to my heartthrob, didn't you?"

He chose not to answer. Tried to go back to meditating on his vegetables but found himself looking back at Rand. With some interest. He pushed that thought away quickly.

She laughed, as if she knew exactly what he had been thinking. "Sorry. It's the pheromones. I didn't think Vulcans were susceptible though. Good to know you are, I guess." She shook her head. "You know it used to be Christine and me doing this. Commiserating. Me over the captain, her over you. We were pretty pathetic." She frowned, then her lips quickly turned up into a smirk. "Of course, I was a lot busier when I wasn't commiserating than our Chrissie was, if you get my drift?"

He was not entirely sure he did, but as the conversation seemed to be revolving around sex, he assumed it had to do with that. "Ah," he said, hoping it would cover a multitude of expected responses.

It seemed to. "Wasn't I shocked to find out she's with the captain now? And that she was married to you? How'd all that happen?" She was eating her food rapidly, but not in a graceless way. She was just an enormously efficient carnivore.

"It is a long story."

"I bet. Well, some other time then." She smiled at him. "Because I don't have time to sit and chat."

"You don't?" Not that he cared one way or the other if she stayed. But he was finding her somewhat manic informality perplexing.

She nodded. "I'm surprised Christine the saint didn't fill you in on me."

"She did tell me you were a werewolf."

"Yeah I figured, since you do seem to be following this conversation. Frankly it's a relief to be able to talk about it to someone." She laughed. "And you're not afraid of me, are you? She seems to think I'm evil."

He studied her. She did not look evil. But he was not entirely certain if evil had a standard look. "Are you evil?"

She shrugged. "Guess it depends on who you ask. I don't happen to think so. I don't kill folks; I don't change into a raving depilatory-challenged beast three times a month. So I think I'm doing okay."

He was not sure how to answer that. Did one congratulate a werewolf on not killing? He studied her as she ate; she looked different than he remembered. Older.

She looked up, smiled, this time a knowing smile. "I know, I know. I look tons older and not as pretty. It's because the glamour's gone." At his look of utter incomprehension, she said, "The glamour. A spell to make something or someone different...in my case, more appealing. Nogura did it so the captain would want me and I'd have better access to watch him. Of course, it never seemed to work."

"So your attractiveness was enhanced?"

She nodded. "And I'm glad it's not anymore. This is me, I've earned these lines, you know? Who wants to go around looking like the cute little teen queen all their lives? Used to drive me nuts when people reacted to it. Why do you think I was always showing off my legs? They at least are mine." She laughed as she ran her hand up the trousers of the new uniform. "Now I have no pretty face, and my great gams are all covered up."

He studied her. It was true that her face was no longer as youthful, but her eyes were a vivid dark blue and her blonde hair was thick and shiny. Her skin wasn't the smooth and ageless complexion she'd had before, but it was tanned and healthy looking despite the lines. More real. "You are still attractive," he said.

"That's so sweet of you, Spock. Christine was an idiot to let you go."

"No, she was not." He realized he had just opened up to Rand and quickly changed the subject. "You said you had earned the lines in your face. Has your life been so hard since you left the Enterprise?"

"Not since. Before. You have no idea what it's like to grow up a werewolf, knowing that you have two natures fighting for dominance."

He lifted an eyebrow, and she laughed--the first real laugh he'd heard her give.

"Well, maybe you do at that," she said. "It was horrible. Feeling constantly under the gun to sublimate the part of me deemed less appealing-- but no less natural. I can still see Tsuya Ito's face when she'd use that cow prod on me. And those god awful herbs." She seemed to shudder. "I learned to repress it; I learned not to give in to the wolf. But I was a slow learner--not because I was stupid, more because I was rebellious--and when I finally was let out of the pens, I looked a lot older than I was."

"I am sorry."

She studied him. "I believe you are. But you always knew, even if you didn't know what you knew." She shook her head. "Do you remember what you said to me when the captain was split into two people by the transporter, after he attacked me? That the dark captain had some interesting qualities? It was entirely inappropriate, you know, to say that to someone he'd tried to rape."

He looked down. He had always wondered why he'd said that to her. It had been inappropriate, and he could not understand his motives for doing it. "When I touched you, when I was trying to help you, I read something."

She nodded. "No doubt. I'm not good at shielding. And I like it wild-- but not that wild. He was a little too bestial even for me." She pushed her tray away. "Well, that was satisfying. Now I have to find a partner or two." She looked around the room, stopped at one point, smiling broadly.

He saw Sulu and Chekov both wave at her. She glanced over at him, saw his disapproval. "Oh don't worry. I won't do them both--at least not together. I save that for shore leave and complete strangers." She eyed him speculatively. "I bet with you I wouldn't need two. You might be able to keep up with me."

"We shall never know, Chief Rand."

"Please, my name is Janice. Use it." She laughed, and the sound was like a low growl. She seemed embarrassed by the sound. "I really have to go. Are you sure I can't change your mind? I may not be as pretty as you thought, but I'm also not as stupid." She reached out for his hand.

Another hand came out of nowhere and slammed hers down. Christine was there, glaring down at them both.

"Ow," Rand said, staring daggers at Christine's hand.

"Spock, she's not on the home team."

"That has not been proven," Rand said.

"Oh, I think we know enough to say that." Christine pushed down harder and Rand grimaced.

Jim came up behind her, his expression one of concern even as he moved in such a way that would hide what Christine was doing from most of the mess hall. "Do we have a problem here?"

"She's hitting on Spock."

Jim leaned in. "Spock, you might not be aware of this but she's a were--"

"--wolf, yes I know. Ms. Rand and I were just discussing the drawbacks of having a dual nature."

Christine laughed bitterly. "Oh, I'm sure you were."

Spock reached over, pried her hand off Rand's and said, "Stop bullying her, Christine. She merely sat here because there were no other places free."

"Excellent timing on her part then." But Christine backed off. "Well, you do whatever you want to, Spock. Just don't let her bite you." She glared at Jim. "What is it with you guys and these damn wolves?" She stomped off toward the synthesizers.

Jim smiled gamely. "We'll leave you two alone. Spock. Janice." He hurried after her.

"Thanks," Rand said. "I didn't expect you to do that."

"Christine can be overly zealous in her application of force."

"If that's your way of saying she's a violent bitch, then I agree." She held up her hand, there was a half-healed burn in the middle of her palm. It looked painful. "Of course, our captain isn't exactly a lightweight in that department, either. They're really quite suited to each other, don't you think?"

"Jim did that to you? Unprovoked?"

"Well, no. I was coming on to him." She smiled, a silly grin that he realized might be her true smile. "I may have had it coming. But that's not the point."

"Of course not."

She leaned forward. "Are you sure I can't tempt you? I'm enjoying talking with you. We could talk more after and after...and after." Her grin turned into a leer.

He shook his head, but he knew that his amusement was probably showing. Part of him was tempted. The part that didn't like seeing Jim and Chris laughing as they waited their turn at the synthesizer was tempted. Was that his wolf?

She got up slowly. "Fine. I'll leave you alone. Perhaps we could eat together again?" She nodded at her plate. "I'll try not to order something that bloody. Your disgust was pretty obvious." She smiled, the silly smile.

He decided she was quite attractive when she used it. It was spontaneous, the utter opposite of her carefully executed seductive smile. And much sexier.

Why had he thought that?

She smiled again. "Sorry. Pheromones. I can't help it, it's that time of the month." She laughed softly, then her smile faded as he did not react. "Guess that's not a joke on Vulcan? Oh well. Live and learn." She picked up her tray. "Have a nice evening."

He watched her dump her tray and then slink--there was no other word for it- -over to Sulu and Chekov's table.

He forced himself to look away, to focus again on the present, on the task of taking in nourishment, and being mindful of the gift that each bite was. He had limited success. His own state of mind over Jim and Christine, coupled with blonde hair, blue eyes, and the lingering effect of pheromones made focusing on anything but Rand's offer almost impossible.

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

Kirk glanced back at Spock and Rand. "Should I be worried about that?"

Chris followed his gaze. "He's pretty vulnerable right now."

He grinned at her. "I resisted one of them at my most vulnerable."

Her expression softened. "Yes, you did, didn't you?" She looked back at Spock. "I guess he can take care of himself."

"You want to eat in my room?" he asked softly. He might have been able to resist Lori, but his slayer was another thing altogether.

Her quick nod made him chuckle.

"Order something we can eat later," he whispered.

She laughed, punched a code into the synthesizer and handed him his tray. He didn't even look to see what it was, didn't care.

They hurried out of the mess and to the lift. Uhura and McCoy were just coming out.

"Jim, Chris." McCoy said.

"We won't hold you up," Uhura said, as she pushed McCoy toward the mess.

Kirk looked back at her, saw that she was watching him. She winked and grinned and then turned back to McCoy.

Kirk smiled. Nyota appeared to be a very big fan of the Chris and Jim show, and that made him happier than he could say. He wasn't sure where McCoy fell out on the whole issue--it was probably harder for Len, having to choose between him and Spock. Uhura had been with them through the last months. She'd been part of it. She and Chris had been his family.

"We going to get off the lift?"

He realized the doors were open and Chris was standing in front of one so they wouldn't close.

He laughed. "Woolgathering."

"Some wool." She bumped up against him. "I think I'm jealous."

He shook his head. "Don't be, I was thinking about us. About what we've been through. You and me. And Nyota."

She nodded. "Spock will never have that. No matter how much we bring him up to speed. Neither will Len. They weren't there. And we went through hell, the three of us. We went through it together, and I think it changed us."

He smiled. "I know I trust you both implicitly after everything." He remembered how she had opened herself to him with Saavik. "And I know you trust me that much too."

Her eyes were soft, happy and loving. "And you know how far I've come to be able to do that. I do trust you."

He palmed open his door and set the tray down on the desk.

She put hers down too. "So, what did you have in mind?"

He shrugged. "I thought we could play whist or something."

"Whist, huh?" She moved into his arms.

"It's a highly underrated game."

"I think you need four for whist, sweetheart."

"Oh, well, I'll go get Bones and Ny then." He tried to pull away, acting as if he was going to charge out the door.

She laughed and pulled him back to her.

He didn't fight her, let her push him toward the bed. "Why, my dear, you seem awfully eager to get somewhere."

She nodded playfully.

"Could it be to the bed?"

She nodded again. As they passed the comm unit, he saw that it was blinking.

"Damn." He pulled away from her and sat down at his desk.

She came up behind him, began to rub his shoulders, then leaned down and started to nuzzle his neck.

He grinned. "This message makes no sense, why do you think that is?"

She laughed. "I have no idea." She began to run her hands down his chest. "Hurry up and read already."

He pulled her around and onto his lap. He kissed her for a very long time, until he felt her go limp in his arms. "Take this off," he said, as he pointed to her uniform.

"Now?"

He pushed her up. "Yes." He hoped it would distract her long enough for him to read the message. He scanned it quickly. New orders, new mission. A real one this time, not this fake scavenger hunt for Kirsu.

He commed the bridge; Lieutenant Commander Harkins answered. "New orders, Commander. Are we on track?"

"Aye, sir. We're en route to our destination. ETA eighteen hours."

"Affirmative, Commander. Kirk out."

Chris smiled. "So we can quit hunting for Kirsu for a while?"

He nodded. "Even Nogura can't justify the flagship ignoring a real problem in order to gallivant around the galaxy running bizarre scans that nobody understands."

"Thank god for that."

He noticed she was still in uniform. "I thought you were getting out of that."

"I was having trouble with the fasteners."

He grinned as he walked over to her. "And you like the idea of me doing it, don't you?"

She nodded. "I do."

He leaned in, kissed her and undid her uniform, pulling it off. He could feel her making short work of his own clothing.

He hugged her close, his mouth close to her ear, his breath making her hair move as he said, "This will be a luxury to me for a long time. Having you here. Falling asleep next to you, waking up with you. I don't take it lightly; I want you to know that."

She pulled back, stroked his cheek softly. "I know you don't."

"I love you, Chris. I don't know when I've felt like this. It's not just that I love you; it's that I believe there's nothing I can't tell you. Nothing I can't trust you with." He made a face. "Not that at times there won't be information I can't share."

She nodded. "I know." She kissed him gently on the cheek, whispered, "Can we talk lying down?"

He smiled, let her pull him to the bed. They fell onto it and didn't talk for a very long time. Wherever he touched her, he felt a tingle, as if some magic of her own was mixing with his.

"I love you," she murmured, tracing patterns down his back.

He shivered at the light touch. "I love you too."

She looked over at him, her face suddenly serious. "I would have waited for you."

He smiled.

"Forever."

He shook his head. "Forever's a long time."

She nodded. "And not often something a slayer thinks about." She smiled wryly. "So maybe I'm not saying much since for a slayer, forever isn't very long."

"Don't talk like that. Like it's a given that you'll die early. You have me and Spock with you, and you know neither of us will ever let anything happen to you. You have Ny and Bones. And there's a vampire out there who would probably die for you too." He kissed her. "Don't say you won't be here. I can't bear it."

She nodded, didn't speak, and he realized she was about to cry.

"Chris, there's nothing we can't do together if we never stop trusting each other. Saavik showed me that today. She knew what I was doing when I was trying to see if she was evil. She knew and she trusted me not to hurt her. Then she used that power between us to send the amulet somewhere that it wouldn't hurt anyone. She's just a little girl, yet she knew what to do." He kissed her again. "We have to trust that way. We have to know that way. To believe and have faith."

"I believe in you." She smiled slowly. "And I believe in me...finally."

"And us?"

"And us. I'll believe in us forever." She pushed him to his back, followed him. "Funny thing though. I'm suddenly much less concerned with forever."

"You like the immediate future better?"

She nodded, and he closed his eyes as sensation overwhelmed him.

"I'm growing awfully fond of it too," he said.

She laughed, bent to kiss him, and he lost himself in her lips and her touches and her strong, flexible body moving against his.

He closed his eyes. No matter what they did, the future would come, and forever would take care of itself. They couldn't know how long they'd have together. All he and Chris could do was enjoy the moment they were in. Enjoy all the moments. However many they were given.

He smiled. That was all very philosophical, but he knew them. He knew what they'd fought already. And they'd come out okay. Together, they'd come out just fine.

The house might always win, but the house had never met Chris and him. If he were a betting man, he'd take the longs odds and bet on the two of them making it to forever.

And then some.

FIN