Nurse

by Djinn

She tries to find words to calm him as he twists and turns feverishly on the small cot in the shuttle. He's the last one left. Of the six others, there is only the captain. And her, of course. The nurse. The one who ignores how sick she feels too. Ignores it so she can take care of him. Her captain. The friend of her boss, the friend of her unrequited crush. But not her friend. Although he's been kind to her. He has always been kind to her.

He calls out names as he tosses. Women he has loved. Women he has lost. Such wretchedness in his voice as he cries out for them. Such utter longing. She knows what that feels like. She knows what lonely tastes like. Bitter. Sour. Empty.

Her head hurts and she rests it on the side of the cot. The Enterprise will find them soon. She knows it. She just has to keep him alive until then. He was the last to fall. He's strong--superhuman, isn't he?

He doesn't look superhuman. He looks lost and small and easy to touch. Her hand lingers on his forehead, feeling for the fever. It's higher. She doesn't need a tricorder to tell her that.

He's burning up.

She sighs. Tired...she is so damned tired. But she forces herself to her feet, swaying a bit as her head gets used to being so far from the ground again. She takes a step, and the dizziness almost topples her, but she fights the sensation. She has to walk; he needs water. Both to drink and to cool down. He's too hot. Too dry. She can't let him get dehydrated.

She can't let him die.

One, two, three steps. And again. She finds her way by threes to the creek that runs down the hill. She fills the water container, then dips a cloth in the creek and lays the cool softness against her own burning forehead. The water drips into her eyes but she doesn't care, just blinks it away. She knows her makeup is a sweaty mess already. She knows she probably looks horrible.

It is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is to not lose her last patient. Her most important patient.

"Rest, Christine," he said to her, just before he collapsed.

She will rest when they are rescued. Or she will rest when she is dead.

But he will live. He has to live. She is a nurse, her patients cannot all die. And Kirk especially cannot die.

Spock would never forgive her. Neither would Len.

She pulls the cloth from her face, rewets it for him. It will cool him. It will feel good. Better even then it felt to her.

She wishes she could rest. She wishes she could give up. Just close her eyes and go to sleep. Forget about patients and captains and men who will hate her if she lets them down.

She turns, trudges back to the shuttle. Her brain is too tired to count by threes this time. A two-step then. The number doesn't matter. Just that she gets back to him.

She kneels down next to the cot but misjudges her momentum, crashing down on her knees. Tears rush to her eyes, and she blinks those away like the water drops.

He is watching her. His hand comes out and touches her cheek. "I'm sorry," he says and she is sure he is speaking to one of his long-gone loves. But then he says, "Christine, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get sick."

She laughs slightly. "I know, sir." She sets the cloth on his forehead. She didn't mean to get sick either.

He sighs in relief. She knows how good the cool cloth feels. Wishes she had thought to make another one for herself. It would have been easy, just tear a little more off her uniform. She didn't think of that when she was out by the water. She can do it now, pour some water from the container, but she doesn't want to waste it on her comfort. Not if it means she'll have to go get more.

She can't face getting up.

She has never been so tired.

He moves the cloth off his eyes and watches her. "You're sick?"

She shakes her head. No, she is not sick.

She is dying.

They both are. Unless the ship comes soon. She feels tears in her eyes. Tears of frustration. Tears of fear. What if she can't keep him alive? What if he dies?

"Christine?"

"Shhh. You can't make it better, sir." He begins to move and she stops him. "Lie quietly."

"There's room."

She stares at him, her brain too fuzzy to understand why he has said that.

He pulls at her, the hand on her arm barely gripping her. Normally, he is so strong. Normally, he is not dying from this hateful alien fever that has already snuffed out five strong men and women.

"Room for what?"

"For you." He moves again, his face contorting as pain comes over him. "Humor me. Rest." His voice is weak, but he is not asking her. He is ordering her to rest.

She pulls herself up, ungraceful and weak. The cot is too small for them; she is lying against him, and her face is too close to his. "I'm sorry," she says as she blushes.

The cloth on his face has fallen half off. She moves it back and he sighs. Then he leans forward, trapping the cloth between them. The coolness of the water on her forehead makes her sigh.

"Better?"

"Yes." She relaxes. The cot is hard but it is softer than the shuttle floor. Her legs stop cramping, and she can feel her eyes closing.

"How much time do we have?" His voice is calm. She can tell he does not want her to lie.

She does anyway. "I don't know."

He digests that. Then he pushes against her, his hand coming up to rest on her upper arm. Again he grips; again his grasp is horribly weak. "How long?"

"A few more hours at most."

He does not have anything to say to that, just sighs softly.

"They'll come, sir."

His hand drops from her arm. "They don't even know we're in trouble."

"Spock will come." She reaches out, brushes his arm with her hand. "He always comes for you."

"Yes." He does not sound convinced.

There is a silence in the shuttle. The man who never gives up has nothing to say. She rubs harder at his arm, trying to infuse some hope into him but only manages to use up her last bit of strength.

"Rest, Christine." His head falls away from hers slightly, and she is afraid he has died. But then she hears his shallow breathing.

Her breathing sounds only slightly more robust.

They are both so sick.

"Please hold on," she says, knowing she should roll off the cot, should take up her place again. But she hasn't the will to move away from him.

She doesn't want to die alone on the floor.

She doesn't want him to die alone on this narrow cot. Not when their bodies can press against each other, give some small piece of hope, comfort. Simple human warmth.

"Please hold on," she whispers again, but this time she is not sure which of them she is talking to.

He moves then, pulling the cloth off his face. His eyes are bright with fever. She knows her own are probably just as strange looking.

"Are you lonely?"

"Not right now." She smiles, flinches actually. It is a stupid joke, made at the wrong time.

But he smiles too. "Your life, is it lonely?"

She nods. The movement hurts.

"Mine is too."

"I know, sir."

"Jim."

She shakes her head. "Sir."

He frowns. Then finally nods, accepting. He has never been Jim to her, trying to make it so now will not make it any more real. He is alone. She is alone. They are alone together.

But they don't have to be lonely.

"Spock will be here." Spock loves him. She wonders if he has any idea how much Spock loves him.

"Spock will come," he says, but there is no hope in his voice. He may know how much Spock loves him, but he doesn't believe in the miracle that love is, not the way she does.

She knows Spock will come for them. Because Kirk is there. And Spock will know that his captain needs him.

She will live as long as she can keep this man alive.

His hand comes up and brushes something off her face. "Don't cry."

She is crying?

"Christine. He'll come. You're right. He'll come."

The tears she can barely feel won't stop. She makes no noise, doesn't sob, but the precious water won't stop deserting her.

She can't afford to lose this much fluid.

She sees him close his eyes. "No. Stay awake, sir."

His breathing is raw, raspy, and hard to ignore as it grows more labored.

He is not holding on.

He is dying. Right now, he is dying. If she had a biobed, she could keep him alive until she found the right combination of drugs to fight this fever. But the shuttle only has this little cot, and it won't keep him breathing when his body can't fight anymore.

She closes her eyes. It is over. She lets go too. Feels dizziness come over her as her lungs seize in her chest. She takes another breath, and another. Hears him echo her, inhaling in rasping counterpoint. She knows their breaths are numbered.

They will die together then. No one will be left alone.

She touches his hand, feels his fingers clutch hers weakly. "Not alone," she manages to gasp, unsure if he can understand her.

But he squeezes her hand once.

The touch of his fingers on hers is the last thing she knows until she wakes in sickbay. She sits up slowly, feels as if her chest is on fire and immediately begins to cough convulsively.

A nurse runs over, easing her down. Len comes out from his office and holds her as she chokes and sputters. He asks for a hypo of bronchial relaxer. As he shoots her full of the drug, she feels the spasms in her chest finally relax.

"The captain?" she mouths, unwilling to say the words aloud, afraid she'll start to cough again.

Len points to the bed to her side. She looks over, sees Kirk sleeping. Len pats her on the arm. The relaxer is making her sleepy and she smiles. They didn't die. She didn't lose him.

She sleeps.

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

Life goes on. The fever leaves her tired. More tired than she can remember ever being. Len is worried about her, but she keeps working. Keeps pressing.

Len's worried about the Captain too. He keeps working as well.

She is not surprised. They are similar in that way. Hold to routine, work hard, dig in, and keep going.

Stubborn. She and the captain are both stubborn.

She remembers his words. His life is lonely. She wishes she could help him.

She knows she cannot.

Spock hovers near him. Trying to take care of him. She's seen him in the lounge, bustling around the captain like some mother hen. Kirk waves him away impatiently.

Spock has barely spoken to her. But then he never does.

She goes to the mess, grabs a tray and takes it back to her quarters. She is too tired to eat with her friends. Is too tired to do anything but work and sleep.

She wonders if Kirk is getting enough sleep. He needs it. He needs to rest. Their bodies are beaten, exhausted. They died after all. Len told her they were dead when he and Spock beamed down. But only just dead. Close enough to alive to be brought back, to be held captive somewhere between not breathing and breathing on the biobeds. Until he figured out how to help them.

She goes to sleep wondering how much more dead she would have needed to be to not come back. She can't decide if she is glad she's back.

Life feels very strange. Weakness and the sense of failure that has followed her from that planet, from that small sickbed of a shuttle, are making it hard to focus, hard to know what she really feels.

She should probably see a counselor, but she doesn't want to dredge this all up. Thinks it is safer to just push it down and away and let it join all the other pain she's ever known.

Why do some people get so much pain? And others get so little?

The days pass slowly. Her strength returns in fits and starts. She is tired and then less so, she cannot finish a shift without many short rests, and then she can do it with less.

She walks to the gym. She has never missed so many days before. She stands at the door, wanting to go in, but her body resists. She is tired. She turns, nearly runs into Kirk. He is standing just a few feet behind her, watching her.

"How are you?" he asks.

"Better." She studies him. His color is coming back. He is not so gray, is regaining the golden tan that he never seems to lose no matter how long they are in space.

She knows her own color is still blotchy. The fever leeched away the tone of her complexion, and she is too apathetic to spend much time trying to recreate it with cosmetics.

"I'm too tired to go in there." He holds out his hand. "Walk with me?"

She takes his hand, is surprised when he does not let go right away. He holds it for many more paces than she thinks he should. What is he doing?

"Are you lonely?"

"Not right now." It is still a stupid joke.

And he still laughs. "In general?"

She does not answer. This is not a narrow cot; they are not dying. Confession seems ill conceived.

"Christine?"

"I think I'm going to turn in," she says, aware that she is a coward. This man is reaching out to her. And she is not going to reach back.

"How can anyone get in if you always run?"

She turns to look at him. "Who wants in?"

He blushes. "I do."

She finds it charming that he can turn that red. Then flinches away at the thought. He is dangerous; he can charm her. It would be so easy to misunderstand. So tempting to do so. She walks back to him, pats him on the hand. "I'm your nurse, and you're transferring gratitude and relief. You think you're interested, but you're not." She turns away.

"You didn't save me. Len did."

She turns again, this time in anger. "I kept you alive."

"Okay. But you were dying, just like me. Don't make me out to be some lovesick kid."

"Lovesick?" She realizes it is her turn to blush. "I didn't mean to imply..."

"Transference? Interested?" He moves closer. "I just want to get to know you. I don't know you. Why don't I know you, Christine?"

She pulls away. "I'm your nurse. What more is there to know?"

He frowns. "A lot more, I think." He sighs. "But you have to want to let me in." He leans against the bulkhead, and she realizes he is as tired as she is.

"Get some sleep, sir." She turns away.

He does not follow her.

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

She studies her face in the mirror. Old. She looks old. And still so tired. Will she ever not be tired?

Why did she run away from him? The question is dangerous; she decides not to dwell on it.

Her chime sounds. She ignores it. She is off shift. Let whoever it is come back.

Her chimes sounds again. And again. And again. She stalks to the door, calls it open ready to give whoever it is hell for not going away.

It is Kirk. He could have used the override. But he didn't.

Which means he's here on a personal visit.

"I said I was going to turn in."

"We're not finished talking." He looks inordinately stubborn.

She realizes he has made her a project. He will befriend her or die trying. She moves out of the way, lets him in.

Her quarters suddenly seem very small. He fills them. They barely contain him. The sun king. The young Ra. James T. Kirk. Youngest captain ever. And he's in her quarters.

She sits down at her desk. "Why are you here?"

He sits on her bed. "Why shouldn't I be here?"

"We're not friends."

"We could be."

She sighs. He will have a counter to everything she says. "I'm tired, sir."

"Christine." He studies her. Smiles. "Chris."

The name makes her melt inside. Her mother called her that. It has been so long since she's heard it.

He sees that he has cracked her defenses and presses his advantage. "Chris."

"Don't. You don't want to go there." She stands up, walks over to him. "What do you want from me? Sex? Gratitude? Worship?" She crouches down in front of him, her hands on his knees. Sarcasm fills her voice. "What can I do for you, sir?"

Why is she being like this? Why is he so frightening?

"Jim," he says.

She looks down.

"Jim, Chris. Call me Jim." He takes her hand, pulls her up to sit next to him. "I'm sick of being sick." He looks over at her, gives her a shaky grin. "I'm sick of pretending I feel better than I do."

She feels her own barriers coming down, her guards that keep Len from knowing how hard she is fighting at times to stay on her feet. "I know."

"Bones said it was just going to take a little longer to get well."

She nods. "I think he's right." She's done her own research on the virus. It's tenacious but not invincible. The drugs they still take will kill it eventually.

He leans back, lies the wrong way across the bed, and sighs. "I'm so goddamned tired."

She watches him. His eyes close and his breathing slows. "Damn it, sir. Don't fall asleep."

He is moving, but not to get up. He shifts, curls toward her, his head in her lap. She wants to push him off; she wants to hit him. Instead, she strokes his head, her hand playing with his hair. So soft. And he is warm.

He groans, his arm comes up, sits snug around her lower back. She sighs. He still needs her. His nurse. Her back protests but she sits for too long letting him sleep.

He wakes just as her muscles begin to scream. He looks up, seems to see her discomfort. He sits up, tells her to lie down.

She does so, feeling her tired muscles finally relaxing. He curls up next to her, his eyes already shutting.

"This doesn't mean anything," she mutters.

"Fine. It doesn't mean anything." He pulls her closer, his hand resting on her arm.

She realizes it is how they were lying on that little cot in that deadly shuttle.

"What do you want from me?" Her tone is harsh, but she feels as if he is holding her off a cliff. And she is not sure if he is going to let go of her or not. "What do you want?"

But he is already asleep.

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

She wakes, feels someone pressed against her back, remembers it is the captain. His hand rests on her side, nearly on her breast but she doesn't think he's moved it there deliberately. His breathing is slow, easy. The breath of sleep.

She closes her eyes. She has not slept with a man since Roger. The real Roger, not the android imposter. The real Roger loved to sleep this way, nestled up against her, his head buried in her hair, his arm around her, deliberately holding her breast. Roger loved sex in the morning.

She wonders if Kirk does. Imagines he likes it at any time of day. He seems open that way, easy to please and eager to share the pleasure.

Roger was that way too. Before he went off for parts unknown. Before he decided to live forever by transferring his humanity into something so inhuman.

Before he decided to make a blow up doll of his graduate assistant not of his fiancee.

He tried to explain it away, when they were alone. When he wanted to have sex with her, his long lost love. He had all kinds of reasons for why he hadn't been able to bear to see his fiancee everyday--not if she wasn't real.

That was before she knew he wasn't real.

She almost slept with him. But she couldn't stop seeing Andrea's face, couldn't drown out her silky voice. She kept remembering how her real Roger had said he didn't find Andrea appealing. That he preferred his women tall and coltish.

Not soft and curvy. He didn't say that. But Christine did, in her head, even back then. Now she feels like a fool when she thinks of Andrea. So she tries not to think of her.

Kirk's hand moves away, to safer ground, and his breathing changes. She wonders what he will do when he wakes up. She knows he does not have affairs with crewmembers. But here he is in bed with her. Not an affair, but not standard behavior for him either.

She taunted him with sex last night. Would she have delivered if that had been what he wanted?

Is she disappointed that it wasn't what he wanted?

She used to like sex too. Before it became so wrapped up in a love that might not have been real.

"Good morning." His voice is casual, as if it is not unusual to wake up in her bed. He rubs her arm. It is a friendly gesture, sweet and affectionate and not threatening.

She finds his innocence terrifying.

"I know you're awake."

He is as relentless in the morning as he was the night before. She takes a deep breath.

"Good morning," she finally says.

He leans in, kisses her cheek gently. "I have to go." She can feel him lift himself up slightly, realizes he is checking the time. "It's late."

She looks at the chrono. It is late.

"Don't let anyone tell you that you're not fun in the morning, Chris." He chuckles softly, squeezes her arm and rolls off the bed.

She watches him walk to the door. Before it opens, he turns, looks at her. His expression softens.

"What?"

He smiles. "Don't let anyone tell you you're not damned attractive in the morning either."

Then he is gone.

She pushes herself out of bed, walks to the bathroom. Her hair is a mess, her skin is blotchy, and there are dark circles under her eyes. There is nothing alluring about her. Roger would never have told her that she looked attractive. Whenever she looked less than perfect, he would fall silent, a look of disapproval playing on his face. She always got up earlier than he did, showered and put her makeup on before he was awake. Roger loved her artifice.

The man who just left appears to appreciate the natural Christine. She shakes her head. The natural Christine is a mess.

In so many ways beyond just looks.

She showers, puts on some make-up. She wonders if she cares about how she looks because she is getting better or because she might run into Ji--the captain during the day.

She wonders why it matters that she cares. It is probably a good sign that she does...for whatever reason.

Work seems less arduous to her, the shift goes by more like it used to before she measured every day by how much energy she didn't have.

"Feeling better?" Len asks and she can finally say yes. He smiles, relief clear in his eyes. "I've been worried about you."

She touches his arm. "I know." She smiles, the quirky smile she knows he likes. "I've been worried about me too."

By the end of her shift she is tired again, ready to sleep.

"Turning in?" Len asks.

She nods. Sees concern on his face and smiles. "It'll just take time. Isn't that what you told the captain?"

He nods, then looks confused. As if wondering how she knows what he told his friend.

She rolls her neck, the muscles are tight. She probably slept funny with Kirk next to her on her bed. She was probably tense. Tonight she will sleep alone, in peace.

She says goodnight to Len. She wonders for a moment if Kirk will show up at her door when his shift ends. But he does not. She is relieved.

She is also disappointed. She wants to mock the part of her that feels the lack of him. She doesn't know why he wanted to share her bed but she doubts it will happen again.

She stares at her ceiling and thinks of a million things all at once. Her mind is buzzing as if she has drunk too much coffee before bed. She fears she will never go to sleep, but then the weariness of her body overpowers her whirling mind. She closes her eyes. And sleeps.

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

The recreation lounge is crowded. A crew party on the Enterprise is something to be met with great anticipation. Most people don't like to miss them, and there is always much jockeying of schedules as the few who prefer solitude opt out so that others can go.

Christine can't decide what camp she is in. But she's here, so she must be coming out on the side of the partiers. For whatever reason.

She hopes to god that the reason does not have golden skin and hazel eyes.

She doesn't want to run her life based on the whereabouts of some male.

Even if it is a man she died with. And slept together with once. That's not relevant. They aren't lovers. And he's left her alone. Given up the need to be her pal, thank god.

It probably was transference. Just relief and gratitude. A shared traumatic experience bringing them together.

No reason not to enjoy the party. But also no reason to go to the party.

She sees him. He's in the perfect spot to watch the door. She doesn't flatter herself that he is watching for her, even though he lifts his glass in a silent greeting. He did the same to the people ahead of her, will do the same to the crewman behind her. It's just his way.

She wanders toward the bar. The mass of people between it and the door seems to suck the energy out of her. She sees a chair, considers sitting but is afraid to come to roost too soon. She needs to mingle, needs to make herself work at his. She's been alone too much lately. Dying hasn't been good for her social skills.

Music starts up; those in the crew who play instruments have been called into service. They play with gusto, even with some skill. Or maybe she is just feeling charitable tonight. She sees people move to the dance floor that's been laid down by someone. She finds it easier to get to the bar as more crew head over to dance.

"Wine--whatever's good," she orders and the impromptu bartender pours some kind of white. She sips at it.

"I wasn't sure you would come." His voice is pure silk in her ear.

She shivers. Hates herself for doing it. Hates him for making her do it. She knows he is not unaware of his charms. He knows what he is doing.

"I wasn't sure either," she says with no warmth at all in her voice.

"Beer," he orders, then takes it, moving her off gently, away from the dance floor, over to some tall tables.

"I don't want to sit," she says.

"Too bad. I do. I've been here longer and I'm tired."

The nurse in her kicks in and she feels guilty. "I'm sorry."

He grins. A weary grin, but still a showstopper. "I liked you better when you were being snotty."

She laughs softly. It's impossible to be mean to him. He just won't allow it. "Are you feeling better--when you're not playing host to this many people, I mean?"

He smiles, sips at his beer. "I am. How about you?"

She nods. Silence falls between them. She is not sure what to say, doesn't really want to say anything.

"I've left you alone."

"I've noticed." Her voice sounds more annoyed than she would have liked.

He laughs, which only annoys her more. She senses that he gets that.

She looks at the dancers. They seem happy. All paired up, at least for the duration of the current song. "Do you like to dance?" she asks him for no good reason other than it popped into her head and her mouth decided to give it voice.

"I do." He does not look like he is in the mood for dancing. He smiles at her. "I like talking too."

"Ah, the whole getting to know me shtick?"

He laughs again. Evidently, she is amusing.

Roger would not find this tough, acerbic Christine amusing. Roger preferred his women adoring. She studies Kirk. He does not appear to mind that she is practically running the other way--not that he is chasing her, but he does appear interested in something. She's just not sure what.

She remembers how Jan worshipped him. If he were Roger, he would have loved it. He would have taken her to his bed and made love to her. But Kirk isn't Roger. He didn't like the worship. It probably made it harder, not easier, for him to deal with his yeoman.

She was Jan's equivalent when it came to Roger. He showed no compunction in taking advantage of her hero worship.

She sighs.

"What are you thinking about?"

She decides to tell him the truth. "Roger." She debates mentioning Janice. Decides not to. It might be a betrayal of the confidences Jan trusted her with, and Christine doesn't betray her friends.

"You need to find someone else," he says.

"You perhaps?" Her tone drips acid.

"That's not what I meant." His tone is calm, gentle. But the words still hurt. And she can see that he realizes that. "Sorry. That came out wrong."

She waves his apology away. "It's okay. You're over your transference." She tries to grin, make it into a joke.

"I never had any transference to get over."

"Right." She is suddenly very tired. She can see that he is too. Together they are like competing hull breaches, sucking the life out of the room and each other. She stands up, leaves her wine. "I'm really tired."

He sighs. She can tell he knows why she is leaving.

"Chris."

"Sir, please." She looks at him, is afraid that there is something pleading in her gaze. What is she asking him for?

He stands as if he might come with her, walk her home or some other outdated notion, and she feels her expression harden. "Goodnight, sir." She gives him a hard look, one designed to keep him from showing up at her door because their conversation isn't over. Let him finish it now or just let her get the hell away.

"Goodnight," he finally says. His expression is unreadable, stoic. Vulcan- like. He could be sad or relieved or even angry and she would have no idea.

She walks away, gratefully heads to her quarters.

Sleep does not come for a long time.

She tries to pretend she is not waiting for the sound of her door chime.

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

She hears the red alert klaxons only seconds before the ship takes the first shuddering hit. She hates combat. Not because she is afraid, but because she has to just sit and wait for the casualties to start stumbling in.

Len rushes out, no doubt going up to the bridge. She wonders why he thinks he belongs there, but apparently no one else questions his presence. So she keeps quiet.

The nurses rush around and she watches them prepare to take in wounded. They are more experienced than she would like at this. A peaceful voyage of exploration--wasn't that how Starfleet sold this five-year mission?

The ship shudders again. Then it does more than shudder. It lurches. She grabs a biobed to keep from falling. Other nurses aren't so lucky. She feels her heart speed up. This is not good.

The wounded do start to stagger in then. She and the nurses help the ones they can, get others ready for the doctors. Triage--it hasn't changed for centuries.

She is busy with a badly burnt crewwoman when McCoy and a crewman come in with a stretcher. She cannot see who is on it, hopes it is not one of her friends and feels instantly guilty at the thought. No one deserves to suffer whether they be someone she pals around with or not.

The person on the stretcher is transferred onto a gurney and is pushed into the surgery. She puts whoever it is out of her mind. Reveau is the scrub nurse this time. The rest of them will continue to handle the men and women who come in. Many of the wounded leave again, determined to go back to their posts.

She always feels a thrill of pride in her colleagues during these nervewracking battles. They are all so brave.

The ship finally stops shaking and even more people stream into sickbay, finally free to get minor injuries attended to now that the fighting is over. She is cleaning up a head wound when Kirk rushes through the doors to the surgery area. Len comes out, puts his hand on the captain's shoulder. Len is smiling. The way he does when things aren't as bad as he originally thought. Christine knows all his expressions by heart.

Kirk smiles but seems to sink in on himself a bit as Len leaves him to go back to his patient. She finishes with the person she's tending and waits as Kirk crosses the room. He is holding his arm stiffly, as if moving it hurts.

"What happened?" she asks as she gently touches his arm.

He flinches. "Should have been in my chair but thought I was helping by walking around. Found myself in a heap on the stairs when the ship lurched."

She nods. They were seeing a lot of injuries from that one hit. She scans his arm. "It's broken." She eases him gently to the closest bed, waits as he hops up, using his good arm to push himself. "It'll take a few minutes."

"That's fine." He glances back at surgery as she begins to scan his arm.

"Is it Spock?" she asks.

He looks at her, as if he cannot believe she doesn't know who is in the other room.

"I've been a little busy," she says softly.

"Yes, it's Spock. Bones says he's going to be fine, but he may have just been trying to make me feel better."

She smiles. "That wasn't his 'I'm lying through my teeth' look. Spock will be fine."

He seems to relax. "Really?"

She nods. Then she looks over at surgery. "What happened?"

"Energy pulse. A back feed through his console. He was thrown across the bridge."

"Yikes." She smiles at him. "He's tough. You know that." She turns his hand slightly, to get at the arm from a different angle. "He's probably in a healing trance now. It will be hours before he comes out of it." She knows this from embarrassing experience. She hovered over him too many times in the past.

Len can hover this time.

"Are you in love with him?" Kirk's voice is pitched softly. This conversation is just for the two of them. Thank god.

"Do you have to ask? I thought it was common knowledge on the ship?"

"It is. That doesn't mean it's right."

She smiles, turns the instrument up to work on the worst part of the break. "What do you think?"

"I think you're adept at picking the safe route. I think you might choose him because he's low risk. You can love him forever and never have to make a scary move."

"Not very flattering, Jim." She realizes what she has called him, hopes he won't notice.

She should have known better.

"Ooh, progress," he says with a grin.

It should be illegal to light up a room like he does when he smiles.

He watches her work. "You have a gentle touch."

"It's my calling." She looks up at him, smiles mockingly. "I'm the nurturing type."

He nods thoughtfully, as if he hasn't noticed her sarcasm, but she knows he misses nothing. "The selfless nurse."

"That's me."

"But what do you want?"

"Why do I have to want anything?"

He laughs. "You're too damn clever, Chris. Answering a question with a question."

She shrugs, but can't bite back the smile. It's fun to spar with him.

"Everyone wants something just for them. What do you want?"

She looks up, feels her eyes go hard. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

"You think I won't?" His eyes have gone hard too.

Suddenly, sparring is much less fun. She pulls back, turns off the instrument. "All better. You can go check on Spock." She turns away, busies herself at the nearest console.

He sits for a moment then she hears him sigh. "Why does it have to be like pulling teeth with you, Chris?"

"Why does what have to be like that?" She turns to stare at him. "What do you want?"

"I don't want to hurt you."

"I didn't ask you what you don't want." She turns away. If he won't leave, she will. She's worked hours with no break. She's long overdue.

Besides she's getting good at leaving him in her dust.

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

The planet is glorious, just the place to do some final recuperations. Shore leave has been a long time coming.

The breeze blows across the grass that runs from the front of the hotel down to the shore of a large lake. Boats whip across the water, and another one pulls away from the dock, joining them. Her friends are on the boat; she waves to them.

Then she walks over to the sand and stares down at Kirk. "This spot taken?"

He looks up at her, shielding his eyes from the sun. "You want to sit with me?"

"Want may be too strong a word."

She smiles when he laughs again. "You're a masochist, Jim." It feels odd to say his name, and it comes out sort of stuttered.

"Why's that?"

"You laugh whenever I get a good one off."

"I enjoy a quick wit." He grins. "Please join me, Miss Chapel."

She spreads her towel out and sinks gratefully to the soft surface. The sand gives as she lies down on her stomach.

"I suppose you need me to put lotion on your back?"

"Nope. Thanks."

He looks over at her and she realizes that he is laughing silently. She can't think up anything witty to say so she smiles back.

He shakes his head and closes his eyes. "This sunshine is heaven," he says softly.

The sun is baking down on her, and she feels muscle aches that have not gone away for days easing in the languid heat. "For once you'll get no argument from me."

"So we finally found a safe topic." He looks over and grins. "The weather."

"There's a reason it's a classic." She giggles, then looks away. The sound is out of character. Too light. She glances over at him.

He looks charmed.

Great.

"That was not a giggle."

"Was too."

She rolls her eyes. "No. It was nerves."

"I make you nervous?"

This is not a safe topic. "So does it rain here?"

"Chris. Answer the question."

"I seem to have forgotten it." She lays her head down, pretends she's asleep.

Sand dusts over her, falling on her back. "Hey!"

"Answer the question. Do I make you nervous?" He says each word slowly and carefully as if she is not very smart.

She just glares at him.

He scoops up more sand. "Next time it's going in your hair."

She laughs. "How old are you?"

"Old enough. Older than you."

"By how much?" She's seen his file countless times; she knows exactly how much older he is.

He smiles. "Nice try. Answer the question."

She sighs. "Yes." There, she has said it. He makes her nervous.

"Why?"

"Because I don't know what you want from me."

His look is serious, his eyes gentle as he says, "I'm not entirely certain of that either."

They stare at each other for a long time. He is the first to look away as he lays his head back down. "This is nice. Just spending time."

"In other words, don't make it what it's not?"

"Don't put words in my mouth." He sighs. "You know, most men would be put off by the prickly act."

"It's not an act," she says, and immediately wishes she hadn't.

"Was it Roger? Did he make you this way?" He sits up, seems intensely interested in her answer.

She shrugs.

"Did something happen? Something bad?" He seems unsure how to continue.

"Nothing like that, Jim." It's getting easier to call him that. "It's just..." She sighs. "Some people are good at the whole relationship thing. They just seem to get how it's all supposed to work. Others of us...well, it's not so easy."

"And you fall in the latter?"

She laughs. "You have to ask? You've dealt with me. Do I appear to get it?"

He smiles a bit wickedly. "You have your moments."

She laughs. Feels herself relaxing around him. She sets her head back down on the towel, watches him. "It's not like you've said that a relationship is what you're looking for. I am running away from you, but I don't even know what you want." She scoops sand up in her hand, lets the warm grains run through her fingers. "You don't even know what you want."

"That's true." He is staring out at the lake with a strange look on his face.

"You're lonely?"

He nods.

"And you think I can help with that?"

He shrugs. Then he looks down at the sand. "I don't mess in my own nest."

"I know. That's what makes this so confusing."

"How do you think I feel? It's my rule I seem to be in danger of breaking." He looks at her. His eyes are sad. So sad she is suddenly willing to stop running just to make him stop looking at her that way.

Then he looks away. "We don't have to figure this out today, do we?"

She realizes that this time it is he who is running away. Or at least running backwards a bit. She takes pity on him. "No. We don't." She closes her eyes. "This is nice."

She hears him lie back down. She reaches out to run her hand through the sand, touches him instead. He grasps her hand, squeezes, and doesn't release it right away.

When he finally lets go, she feels her last resistance fade. "Don't let me burn," she whispers.

"I won't," he says.

She falls asleep. Secure that he will keep his promise.

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

She stares at her terminal. The application for med school sits blank and full of the potential to change her life.

She pulls it into a note, sends it to Len with a question at the top of the message: What do you think?

A moment later, his reply pops up: Long overdue. You want a reference?

She laughs. Sends back: Eager to get rid of me?

She hears footsteps coming toward her. She turns, waits for Len. He has no patience for messaging.

"You know I'm not eager to get rid of you," he's saying. He always shows up already talking. She knows him so well at this point it's a little scary. It's one of the reasons that she hasn't moved on. She's afraid that she'll never understand a boss this well again.

"I'm scared," she says. She is not normally so honest with him.

"Of course you are. It's a big step, Christine. But you've got more degrees than I have even without the M.D. I think you've more than proven that you can hack it in school. So what's the problem?"

She shrugs. What is the problem?

What holds her here?

She tries not to flash on hazel eyes that twinkle with amusement. Jim's eyes are not a factor in this decision. Or his smile, or his soft gaze when she's finally dropped her guard around him.

They're not lovers. They just meet up a lot. He talks to her. She is learning to talk to him. He listens almost as well as he used to badger her to open up.

She's never been with someone who really heard her. Not until now.

But they're not lovers.

Not yet.

She sighs.

"You've been seeing a lot of Jim, haven't you?"

She looks down. "Not so much."

He chuckles. "He likes you. You like him. Nothing wrong with that."

"We're just..." What the hell are they? Friends? Colleagues? Fellow survivors of a deadly virus? What?

They aren't lovers.

Not yet.

Len sits down. "Christine. If I disapproved, I'd tell you so."

She waves his words away. "He doesn't shit in his own nest." The words sound too rough. The swear word sounds crass.

"I tend not to view love as shitting, Christine. Maybe you should try not to. It might improve your outlook."

"I didn't say it was love."

"You didn't say it wasn't." He grins at her, the busybody who comes out at the strangest times. "So, you don't want to leave him?"

"I didn't say that either."

"Hell of a lot you didn't say. So what are you saying, darlin'?"

She laughs. She has no earthly idea what she is trying to say. "So, you'll give me a recommendation?"

He nods, stares at her as if waiting for more from her. When he finally gets up, he looks disappointed in her. "I'll let you get to that."

She nods.

He walks to the door but turns at the last minute. "Maybe you should tell him that you plan to do this?"

She frowns.

"Don't let the official notice be the first he hears of it." He looks down. "Jim's a good man. If he's reaching out to you, breaking his own personal prime directive, then you need to be gentle with his heart. Don't hurt him, Christine."

She is taken aback. The idea of her hurting Jim is ludicrous. What is it the nurses call him? Captain Cock? How can she hurt that?

He seems to read her mind. "I know his reputation. I also know yours. Yours isn't accurate, why should scuttlebutt get his right? He's a hell of a lot more complicated than some two-bit lothario. And if you haven't figured that out yet, then you aren't smart enough to go to med school." He turns on his heel and walks out.

She can feel her face redden. When Len calls her on the carpet, it hurts. And he's usually right. She will tell Jim she's thinking about this.

She will.

She stares at the application.

She will. She just doesn't know when.

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

She walks around the observation lounge. It was her idea to come here but now she is unsure why.

Jim is looking out at the stars. He never seems to tire of the view; his eyes always find the viewscreen in whatever room he enters, as if reassuring himself that his stars are still out there.

Space is where he belongs. Space is not where she wants to be anymore. Not when there's this sudden, burning need inside her to finish the journey she interrupted when Roger disappeared.

But she doesn't want to say goodbye to Jim. She wouldn't admit it to Len, but she is in love with their captain.

But then she falls in love so easily. And it's easy to love Jim. She thinks he might love her too, but he hasn't said. They've both been careful to discuss anything and everything--except what they feel for each other.

She believes it's why they aren't lovers yet. She believes it's the only reason they aren't lovers yet.

She wants him. God help her, she wants him so badly she feels as if she'll explode if he doesn't kiss her.

But she never says that to him. And he doesn't kiss her.

She moves next to him. "I think I'm going to leave."

He turns and frowns. "You're tired?"

She shakes her head and sees him get it. His face falls and she looks away.

"When?"

"Soon. I'm applying to med school. Len thinks I'll have no problem getting in. It starts in a few months." She needs a referral from her C.O. She doesn't want to have to ask him for it.

He turns back to the viewscreen, looks out at the cold stellar fire that lights up the blackness of space.

"I'm sorry," she says.

He shrugs. "It'll be good for you. You'll make a fabulous doctor." He is not just being nice. There is sincerity in his tone.

She suddenly can't see, realizes she has teared up. "Thanks," she chokes out.

He turns her to him. "Chris?" He wipes the tears off her face. "If you want this, why cry?"

She shrugs. She won't be the first to say it. Not this time.

He lets go of her arms. His sigh is the saddest sound she's ever heard. "I'll miss you," he whispers.

"I'll miss you too."

She thinks he will say more, but he just stares into space. She starts to turn away.

"It would have been nice."

She turns back to him. "Yes. I think it would have." She looks away. "But I guess we'll never know."

"I guess not." He is searching her face for something. Maybe for anything. Anything at all.

She is giving him nothing.

She won't be the first to say it.

He moves closer, his hand is soft on her cheek, then on her hair. "Let's do this right?"

She can feel her heart beating too fast. "Okay."

And then she is in his arms and he is kissing her and she realizes that up until this moment no one has ever really touched her. Not like this. She feels as if her whole body is being kissed, not just the lips that are joined with his.

"I love you," she whispers, suddenly willing to give him everything. She feels the tears again. They fall as they did in the shuttle when she was dying. Is she dying now?

"Chris." He pulls her closer. His mouth is frantic now. As if he can hold her with the power of whatever it is he feels.

She has not missed that he has not told her how he feels.

She pulls away, strokes his cheek. "I wish I could stay."

He nods. He is no stranger to destiny. To choices and duty and the need to follow the path you were meant to walk.

Even if it's one you were meant to walk alone.

"I wish..." She looks down. What does it matter what she wishes?

He kisses her one last time. "I do too." Then he pulls away, and before her eyes he becomes Captain Kirk again. The man she never knew at all.

It breaks her heart to see him pull away.

But then that's probably fair. It's possible she has just broken his heart.

"Do you need a recommendation?" he asks gently.

She nods, afraid her voice will break if she tries to use words with him now.

"I'd be honored." He starts to turn away.

"Why, Jim?" At his look of confusion, she says, "Why me? Why did you choose me?"

He shakes his head. "You really don't know?"

"I never have." Tears are falling again. She will dry up and crack apart into a thousand grains of sand if she doesn't stop crying.

He steps closer. "When we were on the shuttle, I saw you. I saw who the nurse I'd known all these years really was. You were strong, and you were brave. You tried to ease the suffering of others while ignoring your own exhaustion. And you helped me bury our shipmates. You were dead tired and already getting sick, but you helped me."

She blinks back tears.

"I fell in love with you long before it was me you were tending. I didn't have to transfer anything to you. It was there already." He steps even closer. "I admire the hell out of you, Nurse Chapel. And I'll miss you. More than you probably realize."

His lips find hers again. She clutches him, tries to find the words to tell him she'll stay but her mouth won't cooperate.

She wants him. She wants him so badly.

But she has to go. She has to do this.

And she can see by his eyes when they pull away that he knows it too.

"It doesn't have to be over just because I'm leaving."

"It won't be. We'll always be friends."

"Kissing friends?" God help her but she wants to be back in his arms. More than almost anything.

He laughs. The sound is bitter. "Maybe you can do that. I can't. I have to start pulling away a bit now. I'm sorry."

She nods. It hurts, but she will do whatever he needs her to do.

He turns and walks away from her. She watches him until the doors close behind him, leaving her alone with his cold, cold stars.

FIN