Doctor by Djinn

Begin Part 2 of 2

She is staring into the microscope when Len nudges her.

"Someone's here to see you."

She looks over, sees Jim standing in the doorway. He gestures with a tilt of his head for her to join him.

"Time for lunch?" Len asks.

She puts the sample back in the stasis unit, turns the microscope off. "Yep."

"Sure have been taking lunch a lot."

"I always take lunch." She shoots him a look. "Is my taking lunch a problem, Doctor McCoy?"

He grins, ignoring the starch in her tone. "I just never see you in the mess hall. Jim either. It's the oddest thing." He winks.

She smiles as she shrugs. "You must be just missing us."

"Must be." He turns and goes back to his office.

She can hear him chuckling as she hurries to join Jim.

"Problem, Doctor?"

"Why no, Captain."

Their formality is fooling no one. But it makes them feel better. A little less like teenagers as they hurry down the corridor to the lift. They stand very far away from each other, know from experience that the doors can open awfully damn fast if you aren't paying attention.

Fortunately, it was Spock who caught them kissing. Christine isn't sure she's ever heard anyone clear their throat quite so emphatically as Spock did that day.

The doors open and they walk out, managing some sense of decorum as he palms the door to his quarters open and then waits for it to close.

But as soon as the door locks the outside world away from them, they abandon any attempt to act mature. Boots go flying, clothes land on chairs, the table, the end of the bed. She is very glad she no longer wears her hair in the elaborate styles she once favored. She would never be able to recreate them. A plain bun is much easier. She makes a point of complaining about it during her shift, redoing it during the day so that her colleagues are used to it looking different. It may fool no one, but like their formality, it makes her feel better.

She pushes him down onto the bed, climbs onto him. He's ready for her, and she sinks onto him and sighs. This completeness, it is overwhelming. And addictive. She is addicted to Jim. He is addicted to her. Sex is a drug, love is one too.

They can barely keep their hands off each other.

She keeps waiting for this feeling to go away, for the lust and urgency to wane. But it shows no sign of cooling down. The chemistry between them has been growing, not dying, since they first made love. The more she falls in love with him, the more she wants him. The better he gets to know her, the more he seems to desire her.

It is not her usual paradigm. She knows it is not his either. They both had one reality prior to this. Love ends.

Which isn't fair to poor Joe. She knows he wouldn't have left her. On the other hand, she's not sure if she really loved him or if she was just content to let him love her. Certainly, he was good for her pride, made her feel warm and wanted again. But he never touched her the way Jim does with just a glance.

The way Jim is touching her now, body and soul, as he watches her move sensuously. His eyes are intense, a tiny smile on his face as he thrusts up, meeting her own movements. His fingers are busy, and she arches her back, crying out.

He soon follows.

They have timed themselves. They can find pleasure in as little as ten minutes. They did it once, as a dare, tried to see how fast they could do it and still have fun. They can also make it last all night and into the morning. They haven't been late for shift, but they have cut it close.

She thinks they should buy stock in whoever makes the godawful nutrition bars they routinely wolf down before heading back after lunch or first thing in the morning.

She collapses on his chest, feels his hands rubbing along her back in feather-light touches that make her shiver. She raises her head, props her chin lightly on his breastbone.

"What?" He smiles, runs his finger down her forehead and nose till he gently taps on the tip. "What are you thinking about?"

"You . Me. Sex. Why we aren't over each other yet."

He laughs. His hand is gentle on her cheek. "I'm sorry. Did you want to be over me?"

"No. But it's been months."

"I know." He grins. Pure satisfaction in the expression.

She laughs. "And it just gets better."

He pulls her up so he can kiss her. "Isn't that what it's supposed to do?"

"Come to think of it..." She kisses him back, their lips soft and languorous now that their libidos have been momentarily appeased.

She rolls off of him and he cuddles her close.

"Does it bother you?" He is staring down at her the way she loves. Serious, tender. So at ease with her, his defenses completely down.

"That it's getting better?" She ruffles his hair. "I think I'm just not used to it."

He nods. "Maybe you should get used to it." He pulls her closer, loops his leg over her. The move is possessive and she absolutely loves it. "Maybe I should too?"

"I think you should." She closes her eyes for a moment, knows that he won't let them fall asleep. "So are you playing chess with Spock tonight?"

"Yep." He kisses her forehead. "Come sit with us for a while."

"I don't like to horn in on his time with you."

"I'd like you to get to know him better." He suddenly laughs. "Which given your past feelings for him is probably incredibly stupid on my part."

"Nyah. I'm over him--when does he get off shift?"

He laughs and she does too. She kisses the underside of his chin, then moves her lips toward his ear. He's very ticklish there, but only if she does it just so.

He moves away, laughing. "Would you stop that?" His fingers play along the small of her back, where he knows she is ticklish if he comes at it from just the right angle.

She jumps. "Stop that."

They kiss. It's a very long, very sweet kiss. His tongue moves carelessly in her mouth, and she moans as his easy movements begin to arouse her again.

He pulls away, grins as his fingers find her. His other hand is holding her tightly, and he pushes her up so he can kiss her chest. Soon he is doing more than just kissing. Competing sensations rocket through her as his sucking mouth and questing fingers nearly overwhelm her. He doesn't stop, and she can feel herself losing control. Soon she is crying out, and he lets her come down a bit before moving on top of her.

It always turns him on when he's brought her pleasure. She loves that.

She also loves what he is doing now, his motion sure, in and out and so damn good. He scoots her legs up, around his waist, then higher. She gasps at the feeling as he goes deeper, harder.

He is so unbelievably good at this.

He has told her the same thing.

She wonders if it is that they are both good, or if they just want each other so much that anything would feel like heaven.

She would not doubt it.

He finishes and lies still against her.

"I love you," she whispers.

He murmurs it back as he kisses along her collarbone.

She glances at the chrono. It is nearly time to go back but she doesn't move, just enjoys the feel of him on top of her, still inside her. She can't imagine not loving him, not feeling exactly this way. Not wanting to be with him always.

He touches her lips. "What?"

"Nothing."

She will not think sad things. Not when everything between them is so good.

Don't borrow trouble, her mother used to tell her. It's damned good advice.

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

She is sitting alone in the mess. It is an off hour, but she has finally pulled herself away from the research she started when Jim left the ship. She pushes food around her plate, stalling. She feels funny sleeping in his quarters without him there, but her own quarters are not welcoming. She's spent so little time in them over the last few months.

"Doctor?"

She looks up. Spock holds a tray. She smiles at him, a bit of a question probably showing in the smile. She is not sure what he wants.

He may not want anything. This may be his idea of small talk. Her title, maybe a nod, then see ya.

"May I join you?"

She stares at him, realizes what he has asked and nods too quickly, trying to make up for any rudeness.

"You feeling okay, Spock?"

He almost smiles. "I imagine you are missing Jim."

"I am." She wonders if he is perceptive for figuring that out, or if she is just obvious.

"The ship is different when he is not onboard."

The whimsy of the statement makes her smile. "Yes, it is different."

Jim would correct her. "She," he would say. "She is different." But Jim is not here. He is on Starbase 571, meeting with some admirals and other Federation brass. Two days out of her reach for the first time since he was wounded. She's used to him being nearby, if not on the ship then just down on some planet they are orbiting. But he is gone, off on a shuttle and far from her. The ache she feels surprises her, worries her a little.

She stops pushing her food around, begins to really eat it. Spock digs in to his own meal. She ponders the irony. Once she would have given anything to sit with him in the mess. Would have been falling all over herself to provide lively conversation, not sitting in this strange, easy silence.

"Life is strange," she murmurs.

He of course hears her. Nothing like Vulcan hearing. "How so, Christine?"

She smiles. "Once upon a time, you would never have been caught dead in this situation."

"Once upon a time you were not involved with my friend." He goes back to eating.

His world is a very simple place at times.

"You must be relieved." She grins, tries to show she is teasing him. "No more running in terror away from me."

"Terror would be an overstatement." His eyes almost seem to twinkle.

She laughs. "Mild horror?"

He lifts an eyebrow.

"Dismay."

"That might be accurate."

His words would have hurt her once upon a time. Now they just make her laugh again.

"Jim is very happy," he says quietly.

She looks up at him.

"You make him very happy."

She smiles, trying to let him know that she appreciates what he is saying. That she understands the gift he is giving her. "He makes me very happy. I guess we're even."

"I would not have picked you for him."

She bursts out laughing. "And you were doing so well."

He waits for her to stop chuckling. "You know what I mean, even if the words came out harsher than I intended." He gives her a stern look. "Moreover, I do not think that you would have chosen him for yourself either."

She nods slowly. He's right. She wouldn't have. Practically ran screaming when Jim decided he was interested in her. "Well, it is what is."

"Very Vulcan of you, Doctor."

She laughs. He no doubt means that as a compliment of the highest order.

"Do you like me, Spock?"

He thinks overly hard about the question and she makes a ticking sound, like the second hand on a chrono. He glares at her. Mildly of course.

"I do not know you well enough to say, Christine."

"Honest answer, anyway." She grins. "Aren't you going to ask me if I like you?"

"No." He continues to eat.

"Doesn't matter in the least whether I do or don't, huh?"

"It does not." The look he turns on her is amused, cutting the sharpness of the words.

"I'm so glad we're having this little talk." She leans back, sips her coffee.

If Jim were here, she wouldn't be sitting in the mess hall this late, trading gentle insults with Spock. She and Jim would probably be in bed by now--doing anything but sleeping. "I miss him, Spock."

"He will be home soon." His look is gentle.

"Did he ask you to look out for me again?"

"No. He did not." He pushes his plate away slightly, leans back and looks at her. "You seemed very alone."

She looks around the empty mess hall. "Spock, it's twenty-two hundred. Who eats at twenty-two hundred?" She leans forward. "Except people who want to eat alone."

He nods, a visual equivalent of touche.

She sighs. "I didn't feel like being with anyone. I think I'm wallowing in how much I miss him."

Jim's only been gone for four days. She can survive without him, she just doesn't like trying.

"Wallowing is often counter-productive. Jim would not be pleased."

"You're right, Spock. He wouldn't."

"Do you play chess?"

She shakes her head. "Sorry. Poker. Blackjack. Cribbage. Backgammon."

He looks interested. "There is a Vulcan game similar to backgammon. I could teach you."

"You don't have to."

"I am aware of that." He gets up. "Tomorrow, after our shift ends?"

She studies him, sees something shift in his face. "You miss him too?"

"I do." He takes her tray along with his own to the recycler, meets her at the door. "I will see you in the rec lounge tomorrow, Christine."

"Okay." She rides the lift up with him, walks with him partway down the corridor until he turns in to where his quarters are. "Goodnight, Spock."

"Goodnight." His voice is cut off by the door closing behind him.

She smiles, then walks to her own, very empty quarters.

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

The comm unit shrills in Jim's quarters. "Medical emergency, casualties arriving in sickbay."

She pushes herself up, reaching for her uniform as she rolls out of Jim's bed. Uhura has programmed the computer to page her in his quarters as well as her own.

Jim's already up, pulling on his pants. The crew is on shore leave. There should be no casualties.

They hurry to the lift, meet Len as he rushes from the other end of the corridor. "What the hell, Jim? That planet's as peaceful as they come."

They have to take Len's word for it. They haven't been down yet, planned to beam down in the morning.

The scene in sickbay is pure pandemonium. The group of crewmen look like they've gone ten rounds with a bunch of Tellarites. Two crewmen are trying to get to each other. One of them pulls away from the nurse holding him and leaps onto the other man. They punch each other brutally, seemingly uncaring that doctors and nurses are trying to pull them away.

Len reaches for a hypo of tranquilizer, hands her another one. They wade in after Jim who is already trying to separate the two men.

Christine reaches the nearest of the two fighters and jams the hypospray against his arm. He jerks, then falls to the floor.

Someone grabs her by the hair, yanks her away from the man. She falls back, feels something connect hard with her side, taking her breath away as several of her ribs crack under the vicious kick.

She looks up, sees a man bearing down on her. "Leave us alone." His face is savage as he kicks her again in the same place.

Jim is on him, knocking him off his feet. As the man goes down, a nurse slams a hypo against his neck and he collapses.

Christine forces herself up, reaches for the hypo another nurse holds out and pushes her way back next to where McCoy is trying to hold off two men. She shoots one with the hypo. He collapses, grabbing her sleeve as he falls, nearly pulling her off her feet. Her ribs protest as she pries his fingers off her sleeve and rights herself.

McCoy sedates the other. Four crewmen remain awake.

Jim looks ready to knock them out just on general principle. "Report," he practically yells, and the firm--and very pissed off--tone in his voice seems to reach them.

They straighten to attention. One of them looks confused, the rest just look surly.

Holding her side, she grabs a tricorder and scans the man who kicked her, then the others. They are all flying high on some kind of psychotropic compound. "Did you buy any recreational drugs?" she asks.

"Sir, no sir."

McCoy has grabbed another scanner. He runs it over one of the men. "Well, you ingested a hell of a lot of some very nasty stuff. I'd like to know how that happened." He moves over to her, scans her side. "You've got two broken ribs, Christine."

Jim looks over at her and she waves them both off.

"Fix them later." She adjusts her tricorder, moves closer to the crewman who seems the least violent. "What did you eat tonight?"

He thinks about it. "Something native. They said it was fermented meat."

She scans him again. "Fermented. Rotted. Whichever, I guess." She looks at Len. "It tests out much like ergot." She looks at Jim. "We'll want to get a sample when we're down there. See what effect it has on the local population. For humans, I think it's safe to say it acts like a hallucinogenic." She looks at the young man who seems calmer with each passing moment. "You're not just human, are you?"

He shakes his head. "My grandmother was Betazoid." He looks very tired suddenly. "Can I go?"

Len gestures to one of the nurses. "Go with Nurse Crandell. She'll get you cleaned up."

The other three seem to be getting more agitated as they sit. She moves to one. "Lie back."

"And if I don't want to?" He is eyeing her hypo suspiciously.

"You can spend the night in the brig," Jim says as he steps closer.

The man lies back; she shoots the hypo into him and he is snoring in no time. She reaches for the restraints, winces as her ribs complain.

"I can do it, Doctor." A nurse pushes her aside gently and secures the man.

Christine feels another hypo being pressed into her hand by Len. She goes to one of the other man, who glares at her as he lays back. "I don't like doctors."

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, we don't think much of you at the moment either." She pats him on the shoulder as his eyes close. "I'm sure we'll all feel better about each other in the morning."

She feels Jim's hand on her arm. "Let's look at those ribs."

"I think I'd rather have a doctor do it, love," she says quietly.

"I'm a highly competent field medic." He moves her out of the way as Len and the nurses move the first men they knocked out over to the biobeds.

Len hands her the regenerator. "I know you can do this yourself."

She laughs, then regrets it as the movement strains her ribs. "Damn."

Jim takes the regenerator from her. "Let me?"

She nods. She'd let him do anything he wants. Anything.

"This better not ruin our shore leave," she mutters. Beautiful planets she can enjoy with him are a luxury.

He smiles. "Do you plan to work the whole time?" His touch is gentle as he moves the regenerator under her shirt.

She smiles. "One sample. That's all I want."

He nods, clearly unconvinced. He works for a long time, finally pulls the machine away from her skin, runs his hand down her side.

There is no pain. She smiles. "Thank you."

He nods. Then his expression becomes grim. "I was ready to kill him."

"I know." She takes the regenerator from him, moves to the comm unit. "Sickbay to bridge."

"Bridge here." It is Sulu. Sitting whatever extra shifts will let him put his backside in the captain's chair.

"Sulu, we have a dangerous food interaction. Tell those on shore leave to avoid a fermented meat dish."

"I'll take care of it, Christine. I'll have the transporter chiefs brief anyone going out on the next shift."

"Good idea. Thanks. Chapel out."

Jim is at her arm, urging her out of sickbay. "Let's get some rest."

She knows he means that she should get some. "Who would have figured you for such a mother hen?"

He smiles. "I know. Scary, isn't it?"

"Not really. I kind of like it." As they get in the lift and the doors close, she kisses him quickly.

"Well, I kind of like you, so that works out well." He grins at her.

They both know his feelings are way beyond kind of liking her.

And vice versa.

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

She is finishing up her study of the ergot-like compound from their shore leave. She's been playing with it for the last month, knows that her colleagues at Starfleet Medical will love having a shiny new example of unexpected chemical-endocrine interactions. Like ergot, this compound seems to leech serotonin while it increases adrenaline. Some advanced class will soon be having fun with her new bio toy.

"Christine?"

She looks up, sees Jan standing at the door to her office. "Hi." She smiles, but her smile dies as she sees the look on her friend's face. "Jan?"

Janice moves in quickly, sits in the chair next to Christine's desk. She takes a deep breath, seems to be trying to calm down.

"Jan, what's wrong?"

Jan looks up, she smiles deliberately, bravely. But her eyes are lost. "I'm leaving."

"Leaving the ship?"

Jan nods quickly. "You know I could have gone to OCS the last time I left? But I chose to specialize?"

Christine nods. She was surprised and a little disappointed at Janice's decision. But it had been Janice's choice whether or not to become an officer. It was her right to choose not to pursue it, even if Christine knew it was well within her friend's grasp. "So you're going now?"

She nods. "The captain is sponsoring me. Again. Only this time I'll really do it." She smiles, a half-twisted grimace that is part hopeful and part trying not to cry.

"Is it because of us?" Christine takes Jan's hand.

Her friend nods. "I'm sorry. I tried. But it just hurts." She straightens her shoulders. "And this will be good for me. I need to do this."

Christine nods. She squeezes Jan's hand. "I'll miss you so much."

Jan shoots her a disbelieving glance. "Would that be during the five minutes a day you aren't with him?"

Christine smiles, but it is a tight smile. The words sting a bit. "More like ten." Her answer isn't very nice and she shakes her head, unwilling to have this be how she and Jan say goodbye. "It's just new and--"

"--I know. I'm sorry I said that. If I had him, I probably wouldn't let him up to breathe, much less spend any time away." She sighs. She seems about to ask something, then appears to think better of it.

"What?"

Janice looks up. There is something terribly sad and sort of steely in her gaze. "What's he like? What's it like to be loved by him?"

She can tell Janice doesn't want some flip answer. She takes a deep breath. "Like being swallowed alive. In the best way possible. It's everything I ever dreamed of, only it's nothing like I dreamed because I'm not sure I ever imagined that anything could feel this good."

Jan looks down.

Maybe that was too much information? Flip might have been better. "Other than that it sucks."

Jan laughs, but it is a weak sound. "Yeah. Right." She slowly pulls her hand free from Christine's grasp. "I have to go pack. I wanted you to hear that I was leaving from me."

Christine nods. "I will miss you, Jan."

"I'll miss you too." Janice closes her eyes, then seems to draw herself up with some unseen strength. "I'll miss all of you. Take good care of him, all right?"

"Always."

Jan nods, leans down and gives her a quick hug, then rushes out.

Christine stands, wanders out to sickbay, feeling strangely adrift. She can't decide if she feels guilty. But she couldn't make Jim love Janice anymore than she could make herself love Joe enough to stay with him. Love is funny, and doesn't march to anyone's drum but its own.

Len walks out. "You okay?"

She nods. "Jan's leaving."

He leans up against the counter, studies her. "It's not your fault."

"I know." She smiles at him. "Joe's abrupt departure was, but hers isn't." She sighs, then she frowns. "Do you think I spend too much time with Jim?"

He shrugs. "Define too much."

"I can't. I'm not exactly objective when it comes to him. That's why I'm asking you."

"It's been close to a year now, hasn't it?"

She nods.

He sighs. "Christine, you're in love with him and he's in love with you. Neither of you have had a lot of happiness in your life. If you want to enjoy the hell out of it now that it's finally found you, I say bully for you."

She touches his hand. "That's so sweet."

"I thought so."

"You must be sleeping with someone or you'd mind not seeing your friend more."

He laughs. "It's possible."

"Who is she?"

"I'll never tell. I'm a gentleman, remember?"

If they weren't in the middle of sickbay, she'd kiss his cheek. "I never forget it, Len. Never."

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

It is late and she is lying on her stomach while Jim scratches her back. He uses just the right amount of pressure, his short nails teasing her skin the way no one has done for her since she was a child.

A hedonist, that's what she feels like. Being with him is turning her into a pleasure addict.

"Today's his birthday," Jim says softly.

She frowns, is unsure who he is referring to. She's pretty sure it isn't Spock.

"I've never sent him a present. I see things that I'd like to buy him, but I never do."

David, she realizes. He is talking about his son.

"Would she really object?"

His hand stops moving. "Yes. She really would." His voice is tight.

She decides not to answer, is afraid she will only irritate him. She has a pretty good idea that whatever she says will be wrong.

His hand starts moving again. "I'm sorry. You don't deserve me snapping at you."

"It's okay." She waits for him to say more.

"I used to imagine what it would be like to bring him on board when he was just a little boy. I could practically see how excited he would be, running from station to station. Talking to everyone." He falls silent. Then in a strangled voice, he says, "My son."

She turns slowly, pulls him down. "I'm sorry." She brushes his hair back. "I don't understand how she can keep him from you."

"You don't know her."

She thinks maybe he will say more but he doesn't badmouth Carol. She thinks he must hate Carol to some extent, but he doesn't rip into her. Just takes his pain and swallows it whole.

"Do you blame yourself, Jim?"

He looks away.

"It's not your fault."

"I was the one who had to be out wandering the stars. I was the one who couldn't commit enough to her, to my son, to stay on Earth."

"Why should you have?" She kisses his cheek, trying to somehow make this sadness go away. "You were in Starfleet. She had to know that when she met you."

"She did."

"Then why isn't it her fault?"

He looks at her and there is a strange emotion in his eyes. It takes her a moment to realize it is a banked rage. "Because if I let myself think it is her fault, I can't stand it. I'd want to..."

"Kill her?"

"Well, not literally."

"I understand." She rubs his back, is glad when he finally relaxes against her. "You would have made a great dad."

"An absentee dad."

She pushes him away so he has to look at her. "My father was in Starfleet, Jim. He was a scientist and an officer and he was gone more than he was on Earth. But that doesn't mean I didn't love him. Or that he didn't play a huge role in my life. It would have been the same for David. If Carol had just let you in."

He kisses her. "Thank you." He hugs her close. "I didn't have anyone to share this with last year."

"You can share anything with me, Jim. You know that."

He curls around her. "I do know that, Chris. I trust you."

She smiles, runs her hand through his hair. It is slightly damp from their lovemaking earlier. "Just like I trust you."

The look he turns on her is so tender it takes her breath away. "Stay with me forever?"

"Right here? In this bed?"

He grins. "Yes."

"Okay. Forever." She kisses him, their lips touching quietly. There is so much love in the touch that she wishes she could freeze the moment and live in it forever.

"I'm serious, Chris. We can't marry now, not if we want to stay together while we're on the ship. But later...I want to do this right. I want to marry you."

She studies him, feels a smile beginning. "Fortunately for you, I'm used to long engagements. Just don't disappear on me, all right?"

He kisses her. She touches his face, smiles at the idea that this man will be hers. That she'll be his. They lie quietly; his hand tightens on her, and she wonders what he is thinking. She glances at his face; his eyes are very far away, as if they are looking into some distant past or future that only he can see.

"I love you," she murmurs, low enough that the words won't bring him back unless he wants them to.

He turns to her. "I love you too. More than you'll ever know, I think." He sighs.

"Go to sleep, Jim. I'll watch over you." She kisses him again, not sure she will be able to get enough of the sweet way he is kissing her.

"We'll watch over each other," he says as he closes his eyes.

A short while later he is asleep.

She is surprised to realize she is crying. She wants to protect him, she wants to go to Earth and bring his son back for him.

She wants to give him everything. But all she has to give him is her love.

Fortunately, that seems to be enough for him.

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

She studies the Ka'Vareth board, frowning slightly as she tries to determine the least dangerous move. Comparing it to backgammon is a bit like comparing Chinese checkers to chess, but she's managing to hold her own.

She thinks.

Spock sits back and there is an expression of satisfaction on his face that she only sees when he has set her up. She studies the board harder, sure she is missing something. "What did you do?"

When she looks at him, he merely lifts an eyebrow.

"Yeah, that's helpful." She moves several pieces in a combination move that makes his eyebrow go even higher.

The satisfied look is gone.

She grins. "I've been reading up. T'Lur's and Stavol's works have been especially helpful."

He shoots her a glance. She can only call it annoyed. She chuckles.

"Most unexpected," he murmurs as he studies the board carefully. Before this turn, he's been moving his pieces quickly, almost carelessly.

She's pretty sure she has just risen in his estimation.

"Having fun?" Jim asks as he leans over her, his hands trailing down from her shoulders to her chest. He stops short of her breasts. His affection is public but never in bad taste.

"I think Spock was until my last move." She looks up at him, smiles. "I've been studying."

"It is most disconcerting," Spock says quietly.

"He doesn't sound disconcerted," Jim says, pretending to whisper. "He sounds damned pleased with you. Should I be worried?"

"Yes. We're thinking of running off together. It'll be a romantic life. Logic. Ka'Vareth. We'll talk about you a lot, probably. Until the guilt at having abandoned you eats into us and we fall apart." She looks over at Spock.

"Yes. What she just said." He moves a piece finally.

She smiles, moves her piece to counter then sees that he has set another trap for her. She pushes the piece back where it was, studies the board.

"Was your meeting with the Falkus delegation productive?" Spock asks Jim.

Jim sits down between them, shaking his head. "Depends upon how you define productive. If you mean listening to four very stubborn people argue for five hours until you have a splitting headache, then yes, it was highly productive."

She reaches out, pats him on the knee. "Poor Jim."

"Next time you can talk to them," he says to Spock, laying his hand over hers.

She looks over at him. Smiles. They no longer count how long they've been together in months. It is hard for her to believe that more than two years have gone by; the time has passed so quickly.

But it also feels like she's been with Jim forever. Like she'll always be with him. His hand tightens on hers and she realizes she is staring at him, with a no doubt sappy look on her face.

"You're not helping my game, love." She turns back to the board.

"Please continue to distract her, Jim." Spock gives them both one of his almost smiles.

"The Falkus were saying that the Klingons have been busy on the border areas again. We'll no doubt get the report from Starfleet tomorrow."

"No doubt." Spock frowns slightly. "I do not understand why they have increased these incursions into our space."

"Because they can? Because we let them?" Her voice is more bitter than she means it to be. Her eyes stray to Jim's abdomen, where the Klingon weapon ripped him open.

"Would you rather we had war, Chris?" Jim's look is patient though--he's no great fan of Klingons either.

Spock shakes his head. "I believe that soon we will begin to see signs of stress in the Klingon Empire. It may crack under its own weight."

"Well, let's just hope it doesn't take us all with it." She meets his placid gaze with a stubbornness that she knows is highly emotional.

"She's right. Watching the Empire fall and not getting sucked in will be difficult." Jim sighs. "What's that old saying? Why can't we all just get along?"

"Because over history, very few cultures have ever been able to 'just get along.'" Spock looks at the board. It is within his rights to call time on her.

She finally sees what he has done. It is intricate, and clever. But not inescapable. She moves one of her pieces backwards, is glad to see him frown.

"Which works did you say you had read?" he asks softly.

She laughs. "I forget." She looks over at Jim.

He's watching her, a gentle smile on his face. He loves her, and the thought of that sends a shiver down her spine. She loves him just as much.

She never knew it was possible to be this happy. If anyone had told her she'd find it with him, she would have laughed in their face.

But here she is. Happy. Serene even. With James T. Kirk.

And joking around with Spock.

The universe has one hell of a sense of humor.

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

The rec lounge is packed. The promotion ceremony is always a popular event, and Starfleet appears to have been particularly generous this year in the upward mobility department. Christine looks down, touches the full lieutenant insignia she thought she was lucky to get when Starfleet medical upgraded her two ranks for earning her M.D. She wasn't expecting to get another promotion this soon.

She shuffles forward, waits her turn. Each person earning promotion can choose who will pin on their new insignia. She doesn't suppose it will surprise anyone that she has chosen Jim. They've been together for over three years; everyone knows they are a couple. And the crew seems to approve. Certainly their captain is usually in a good mood, which everyone appreciates--and probably unfairly gives her credit for. Not that she's complaining.

She hears her name called, walks forward. He's grinning at her, a grin she still finds heart stopping after all this time. She can never be happy they caught that awful virus when five other people lost their lives to it. But still, if not for being stuck together on that planet, in that shuttle, they would never have fallen in love. She feels a perverse sense of gratitude to the malicious little life form that infected them.

He removes her old insignia, pins on her new. His hands are so gentle. She knows they can be firmer, not so gentle. She looks up at him, surprised to find herself aroused. His own expression is the one he gets when he is trying to not look aroused.

She can't wait until they get back to their quarters. Someday, maybe when they are very old, she will stop feeling her heart skip at the thought of going back to their quarters with him. He is like a drug she cannot stop wanting. And that's fine with her.

Fine with him too, she thinks. He loves that she still wants him. He loves to show her how much he wants her.

She walks off the makeshift stage, takes her place with the others in the back. There will be a receiving line, then a big loud party. It's the Enterprise tradition. Protocol, then rowdiness liberally facilitated with much alcohol.

They'll be handing out a lot of antitox in the morning.

She is surprised to see Len get up from his seat and follow her back. He hands her a padd. "I've been saving this as a surprise."

She looks at it. A request from Starfleet Medical to speak at the annual conference. She's continued to send in research after finding the ergot- like substance. Apparently, the various compounds she's found are enough to base a presentation on. And they want her to sit on a panel. She looks at Len. "They want me to speak?"

He nods. "Guess I'll be staying here this year." He doesn't look terribly upset. He's been enjoying the company of Lieutenant Commander Parkins ever since she transferred onto the Enterprise. Christine never knew Len to frequent the security section much, but he's nearly as creative at making it down to see his favorite redhead as he used to be in getting up to the bridge. Which means not at all creative and totally ballsy when it comes to leaving sickbay. He doesn't make up an excuse, he just goes.

He gives her a hug. "Congratulations, Doctor. You get to speak in front of all those people." He laughs as he sees her go white, and pats her on the arm. "You'll do great. Just remember not to lock your knees. And imagine the audience naked."

"Go away now," she mutters. She stares at the padd. They really want her to speak? She didn't realize what she'd been collecting was going to be that interesting.

The ceremony ends, and people begin to go through the line, before heading to the bar. A few rebels skip the line altogether and make a beeline for the booze.

Uhura is near the front of the line. She pulls Christine close. "Welcome to the ranks of the exalted."

Christine rolls her eyes. "You mean the ranks of more responsibility, more headaches, and still being junior to most everyone that matters."

"Yeah, that too." Uhura winks at her. "You know Jan graduated OCS as a Lieutenant JG?"

Christine nods. "Top of her class. I'm so proud of her." It doesn't surprise her that Jan grabbed the coveted number one spot and earned two ranks. She certainly had enough experience to make it.

It was funny really. Christine never figured that she and Jan would ever be anything approaching hard chargers and yet they seem to be exactly that. It is probably for the best that Jan left the ship, that she finally decided to run after her future, not lust after Christine's present. Which doesn't sound very charitable and Christine regrets it. Even if she knows it is more true than not.

Uhura moves on, and Christine is busy accepting well wishes, trying desperately to remember names. Fortunately, Jim knows everyone and being with him has made her better at learning people's names. Being with him has been an invaluable lesson in command.

"Christine," Spock's voice is soft. "Congratulations."

She grins. "Thanks. Who'da thunk it?"

His eyebrow goes up, which was exactly the reaction she wanted. "I mean, it's an honor and a thrill, sir."

"Indeed." He graces her with the small lift of his mouth that could almost be a smile.

She touches his hand, smiles. "I am honored, Spock."

"You deserve the promotion, Commander."

It really is thrilling to be addressed that way. "Thank you, Commander."

He nods and moves down the line. Spock knows everyone's name too but she expects that from him. He is a Vulcan after all.

Jim is standing before her. His grin is warm and full of pride. He loves her to excel. "Commander?"

"Captain?" She grins back at him, lets him knows that she is pretty darn proud too.

"I'll catch up with you," he murmurs as he continues down the line.

She can finally escape the protocol and get to the bar. She orders a wine and a scotch for Jim. When she feels his hand on the small of her back, she slips the glass into his hand.

"Bless you, my child," he winks at her. His hand is pressing firmly and as he sips at his drink, his eyes are dark.

He wants her. Right now. If he weren't captain, if she weren't a guest of honor, they'd be hightailing it to his quarters.

A few hours later, they are doing just that. Only they are hightailing with decorum. Although she suspects that Jim would like to throw the other riders off the lift as they turn what could have been a speeding turbo into the starship equivalent of the local flitterbus.

They finally arrive at their deck, hurry off the lift. He takes her hand, pulls her after him.

She laughs. "What's the rush?" She winks at him. She knows what the rush is. Is tempted to beat him to the door and palm it open herself.

"I want to be the first to make love to you now that you're a lieutenant commander."

"I think that's a given, Jim." She laughs as he pushes her through his doorway, as he locks the door. "You know, I may not be in the mood tonight."

"No?" He is peeling her uniform off.

"No." She makes short work of his uniform. "In fact, I'm sure I'm not in the mood."

"Is that so?" he asks as he pushes her up against the wall and enters her.

She gasps, lifts one leg to circle his hips and pull him closer, deeper. "I'm afraid so. In fact, I don't think I like sex anymore."

"Really?" He is touching her and she begins to moan. "That's too bad."

She is clutching him, and he has his eyes closed as he moves against her. His lips find hers, and the kiss is fierce and sweet. They know each other so well. Know how to make each other crazy, how to make love quickly, know how to draw the sex out. Know what is good all the time, what should be saved for special occasions. There isn't much they haven't tried, very few pleasures they haven't shared. And yet...they still have days like this where they can't keep their hands off each other. He made love to her right before the ceremony too. Wanted to be the last to make love to her as a lieutenant.

She shudders and cries out and hopes no one is near the door. He follows her a moment later, muffling his own cries in her hair, just above her ear. His breath on her tickles and she jumps, causing him to jump too in reaction, both of them so sensitive.

"I'm so sorry you don't like sex anymore." He kisses her, slipping out of her and pulling her to the bed. He sees that she is still holding the padd, takes it from her. "What's this?"

As they cuddle on the bed, he reads it through. "This is great." He kisses her.

He is her biggest supporter. She loves that.

"You're going to go?"

She nods. Gulps. "I hate speaking in public."

He kisses her. "Everyone does at first. You just have to get used to it. I'll help you."

"You will?"

He nods. "When I was a cadet, my eyes would glaze over, and my knees would shake, and all I could hear was my heartbeat in my ears. But you give enough briefings and you get over it." He kisses her. "You'll be great." He makes a face. "Besides, weren't you the one who had to give the 'don't get caught with your pants down' lecture?"

She rolls her eyes. She hated being in charge of the alien sex talk for new crewmen and women.

He laughs. "If you can lecture on sex with someone who sports tentacles, then you can lecture on anything. Especially something you know well."

She giggles as he tickles her, then moans as his movements become less playful, more deliberate. "Are you saying I don't know tentacley sex well?"

"No. I'm just saying you know the stuff you research a lot better." He kisses her, his fingers moving relentlessly against her.

She arches, tries to move closer, but he is teasing her. He'll want her to say please before he lets her come. And she'll do it. She'll beg if she has to. And it won't bother either of them in the least. Because some other time--or maybe just later--she'll make him beg.

"What do you want?" he asks her.

She pulls his face down to hers. "You. Forever."

"That's not the stock answer, Commander." He looks at her sternly. "Improvising now that you're a higher grade?"

She nods. "I love you."

His eyes soften. "I love you too, Chris." He kisses her, the tender kisses she is not sure she will ever get enough of. Then he pulls away, and his eyes sparkle, and his fingers begin their lovely dance again.

"What do you want?" he asks.

"Com-pletion." She grins; she has not yet begun to improvise.

He laughs and his fingers speed up.

"How do you ask?" He nuzzles her neck.

"Please?" She sighs as he sucks on the skin underneath her ear. "Please, please, please."

"Since you ask so nicely," he murmurs as he goes back to marking her neck up.

She closes her eyes and lets him push her over into pleasure. It is a very long fall down.

She lands, feels him pulls her closer, his leg looped over hers. He is aroused again and she reaches down for him.

He moans. It is one of the loveliest sounds she knows.

This will never get old. Never.

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

The conference room is full and Christine gulps as she looks out at the group. Then she tries to remember all the things Jim told her. He has worked with her for months, even pulled others in. She thinks there isn't one of her friends who couldn't give this lecture.

She wonders if any of them will speak to her when she gets back.

She feels a moment of panic as the moderator introduces her, another one as she begins her talk. But then the practice--and the fact that she does know her material backwards and forwards--kicks in, and she begins to enjoy herself.

Then the presentation is over, and hands go up in the room. She sighs in relief; she was afraid no one would ask anything, except maybe when she was going to stop yammering and sit down.

She realizes as she answers the questions that she is having fun. One question from a young man in the back row is more complicated than the rest, making her dig past her recent research into her biochem background to answer it. He follows it up with an even more complex question.

She sees the moderator giving her the five minute warning, says, "We'll have to take that one offline."

He nods, stands up and goes to stand by the door, clearly not caring that he is being rude to the speaker who will follow her. She walks over to him, pushes him into the nearest row with empty seats.

"I want to talk to you."

"And I want to hear Doctor Adams speak."

He gives her a pout that looks startlingly familiar. She glances at his name tag. Swallows hard.

"What?" He asks, narrowing his eyes.

His eyes aren't anything like Jim's. A strange blue-green, not hazel. And he doesn't really favor Jim in any way. Until he grins. It is Jim's grin.

Which makes sense. Since he is Jim's son.

"Nothing. Just be quiet so I can listen."

He rolls his eyes, but shuts up. As soon as the lecture is over, he grabs her hand and draws her out of the conference room and down the hall. He pulls her into a small meeting room that stands empty and shuts the door.

She almost laughs. If Jim did that, it would be for one reason only. But she sees David's impatience as he sits at the table and pulls out his padd. He hands it to her, and she looks down and sees an equation and a bunch of notes. Frowning, she studies it, then she looks up at him.

"You can't be serious?"

"I've read your dissertation. Yours is one of the only ones to speculate on the potential uses of protomatter."

She stares again at the equation. "That was only a small portion of my dissertation. And I never said it would be smart to use it. Any reputable scientist knows it is highly unstable."

"Yeah, yeah, and damn near unethical to even discuss it." He leans forward, brings up another screen. "But what if it did this?"

She stares at the screen as it shows a strange effect. "Acceleration. Regeneration."

He shakes his head. "No. Gen-eration. New. This is new growth, new life."

She bites her lip as she watches the numbers growing. "You're involved in terra-forming?"

He smiles. "Something like that." He hands her another padd.

She frowns. It is a standard Starfleet non-disclosure agreement. He's Starfleet? "How old are you?"

"Old enough. Just sign and I can show you the rest of this, Doctor Chapel." He smiles at her, this time the expression is a little shy. "Or can I call you Christine?"

"Sure," she says absently as she reads the agreement then presses her finger against the padd. It accepts her agreement, beeps and shows that her clearances have just been upgraded.

He presses the other padd into her hand. "We're eighteen months away from start-up. That's when we're going to need you."

"Why me?"

He smiles. "Isn't it time you put those great ideas you had when you were my age to the test?" He leans in. "We both know protomatter can be harnessed. And safely. I feel it in my guts and I know you do too." He laughs. "I read your supporting research too. There was a lot more in that about protomatter than in the actual dissertation."

"I was warned to tone it down." She looks down. She's never told anyone her advisor made it clear that if she wanted to graduate, she would redo her dissertation, or at least the part on protomatter.

"I'm not advertising my interest in it widely either." He smiles--a smile that seems to include her in a very small, very select, and very smart group. "My dissertation won't even mention it. But I'm not ruling it out for the project--if other methods don't show fruit. You can help me with those too. The other methods." He smiles again. "For now, it's just hypothetical. Even others on the project don't need to know. Especially not my mother. Got that?"

She nods, is still trying to catch up with what he has said. "You're still working on your dissertation?"

He grins, this time the expression reminds her less of Jim because there is something calculated in his expression. "That's one of the things we're waiting for. Me graduating." He laughs and takes the padds from her. "I have to go. There's someone else I want to catch up with on a different matter." He stands. "You know you can't discuss this conversation with anyone?"

"I did read the agreement."

"Yeah, well, I like to remind people of that. Especially people who serve with overzealous Starfleet captains."

She looks up at him. Does he know that Jim is his father after all? "You mean Captain Kirk?"

He nods. "Rumor is he's your lover." He shakes his head. "What is it with you brainy types and that overgrown boy scout?"

She laughs. The title may fit Jim--he is always prepared. But she still doesn't know if David thinks that he's insulting his father or just some ex- lover of his mother. And of his new-found kindred spirit.

"Not a word, Christine. I'll be in touch." And he hurries out the door.

He certainly leaves her as breathless as Jim does, if for completely different reasons.

She wanders out of the meeting room, sees that the break is winding down. She attends the last session but has a hard time concentrating. It's been a long time since she thought about protomatter. But David was right. Back in her youth, she was sure that it could be used--and used safely.

She sighs. It's utter folly to think of that now. If she were to mention her old ideas to anyone in the audience they would look at her like she'd lost her mind. And rightly so.

But still. What if it could be harnessed?

She sighs. Protomatter is unstable. Possibly as unstable as that handsome young man's enthusiasm for it. She should forget all about this meeting.

The audience claps and she does too. But she has heard none of the lecture. She looks around, sees that David has come in, is standing at the back. He smiles at her as if he knows exactly what she is thinking about so hard. He makes a zipping motion across his lips. She turns around.

When the session is finally over, she hurries out and up to her room and comms the Enterprise.

"Chris." Jim is in his quarters, has his robe on.

She feels herself relaxing. Just seeing him is good for her psyche. "Hi."

"How'd the talk go? I was thinking of you a few hours ago."

She smiles. "It went great. And I had questions and everything."

He grins. "See. I told you that you'd be wonderful. Anything else exciting happen?"

She sees a blonde head, blue-green eyes sparkling at her. "One of the people asking questions was this really bright kid. Name of Marcus. Think he said his first name was David." She smiles at Jim, teasing him.

He has a look of wonder in his eyes. "My David."

She nods. "Yep. He obviously takes after you. Very smart."

"His mother was no lightweight in the brains department either." He grins. "What are the odds?"

"You'd have to ask Spock." She smiles, and feels a twinge of guilt at the evasion. But she can't tell him that David wanted to meet her, that there was nothing coincidental about his being in that room to listen to her.

"Did you talk to him much?"

She hesitates and he frowns. She hurries to say. "Just a little. It was sort of strange." That at least wasn't a lie.

"I bet." He smiles. "He's a good kid?"

She remembers David's calculated smile, and the way he held protomatter out to her as if he were the serpent and it the apple. "Seems like it." Her tone doesn't support the words, but Jim doesn't seem to notice.

"My son. The scientist."

"Yep." She is afraid of what else he might ask so she changes the subject. "Other than that, it's just been boring old conference stuff. Presentations that don't work, speakers who don't show up, or worse, who do."

He laughs. "Sorry to hear that. Anyone mention what kind of assignment they're thinking of for you next?"

She wants to say, "Yes, I'm apparently going to help your son use protomatter to destroy the fabric of the universe." But she can still see David zipping his lips, can still hear the padd's beep as she agreed to not talk about this. She opens her mouth, but no words come out.

"Chris?" He frowns.

"Just some research stuff. Nothing too exciting. I guess I'm a little disappointed." She rubs at her temples, as if she has a headache, desperate for an evasion. "Or maybe the excitement just caught up with me."

"If I were there, I'd make you feel much better."

She laughs. This is much safer ground. "I know you would."

"Lie back and I'll do it right now." He grins, mischief clear in his face. "Or I'll tell you how to do it."

She does what he says. And sincerely hopes that Starfleet doesn't decide to randomly audit the comm channel they're using.

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

"God." Len throws down his tricorder in anger. "What the hell are we supposed to do here? There's nothing but parts."

Christine closes her eyes; the scene is horrible. Body parts lay all over, separated from the dead by those terrible Klingon axe things.

A few Klingons lie dead, still holding onto their weapons, killed by the settlers. But so few compared to how many of the settlers lie dead.

She opens her eyes. The smell is horrible. The Enterprise was nowhere near the planet when it was attacked. The settlers didn't stand a chance.

If only they hadn't settled in this no-man's land on the border between Federation and Klingon space. But that's where the empty hospitable words are. The ones closer to the heart of the Federation are already settled or uninhabitable.

Her mind wanders back to what David shared with her at the conference. Terraforming: it was the answer. But it was so slow. If they could speed it up--the way he showed her. It would be a miracle. They could make a huge difference in the lives of future settlers. Settlers who wouldn't have to die because the world they chose was too far away from the Federation to be adequately protected.

"Doctor McCoy," a security man calls. "Over here."

Len rushes over, helps him pull two children out from under the porch of one of the dwellings. This is what they are finding. Entire towns slaughtered but for a handful of survivors.

Why? Why did the Klingons have to do this? They are animals.

She hears Jim echo her thought. "Animals."

She moves closer to him. "How could they do this?"

He just shakes his head.

"There is no honor in this, Jim. Isn't that what they are supposed to care about? Honor? Where is the honor in slaughtering unarmed farmers and miners?"

"I don't know, Chris."

"They weren't doing anything to the Klingons."

"The border's in dispute." He holds up a hand at her look. "I'm not saying that makes it right."

Len motions her over and she hurries to him. "This little guy's going to be fine. And I've scanned his sister. She seems to be fine, but doesn't appear to want to talk to me. Thought maybe you might want to give it a try?" He leads the little boy off.

Christine kneels down by the girl; she holds her arms open, not expecting the girl to respond. But the child launches herself into them, nearly knocking her over.

"It's okay. I've got you." She runs her hand down the girl's hair, gently feeling for bumps--the tricorder is fine, but she likes to use her hands too, feel for injuries not just scan for them.

The child seems to respond to her touch. She presses more firmly against her as Christine continues to stroke her hair. She is dirty but does not appear to be hurt. "Do you want to talk about what happened?"

The girl only sobs.

"What's your name?"

"Karla T'ovrala." She pushes against Christine again, as if she would like to crawl inside her.

Christine looks around at the carnage. Maybe the child would like to crawl somewhere safe and anywhere but here.

"It's all right, Karla. They're not going to hurt you."

The girl pulls away from her, begins to talk and now that she is finally talking the words come out in a rush. "They didn't see us under there. But I could see out. I pushed Jemm away. I didn't want him to see what they did to our father..."

Christine sighs.

"They're dead. My father. My mother. My older sister. She was the one who shot that Klingon over there." She walks over to the downed warrior and kicks him. Over and over and over until Christine finally pulls her away.

"Don't. Honey, don't."

"Why not? They hurt us; I want to hurt him!"

"I know. But it won't make it even. It won't make things any better." Christine wonders if that is true. If it makes Karla feel better, maybe she should let her do it.

"I hate Klingons," Karla says, then she sees two other children being led out of one of the houses and runs to them.

Her brother slips away from Len and joins the other children too. Len watches him, then walks over to her.

"How many have we found?" she asks.

"Six including these four. That's all the life signs we picked up in this town from orbit."

Six people. Out of forty-six.

"Animals," she says again.

She's with Karla. She hates Klingons.

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

She turns to look at Jim. He's lying in bed and looks uncomfortable. He's been hurt--again. She sighs. After four years, she should be used to this.

But she never is. Every time he shows up wounded in sickbay, her heart rushes to her throat and she is sure she will lose him. It's silly and melodramatic and she knows better than to share her fears with him. Especially, since half the time he walks in under his own power and it is nothing more than a scrape or a break that brought him to see them.

She checks the sling around his arm. The bones in his shattered arm are nearly regenerated, but Len wants to avoid putting any undue strain on the arm. The sling doesn't really do that, but it annoys Jim enough to remind him he was wounded and he should take it easy on his arm while it's healing.

But it makes him damn cranky to sleep with.

He begins to pulls the sling off, and she makes a disapproving sound. He glares at her. "You wear it for a day and tell me it's not hard to sleep in."

She suspects Len may have given Jim the scratchy fabric on purpose. He hates repairing something he's already fixed once. And with Jim, he's always having to do that. The man is a menace when it comes to taking it easy on himself.

She smiles. At least he isn't climbing rocks or trying out for the ship's gymnastic team. He's not thrill seeking out of boredom--his injuries are just part of being captain of the Enterprise, as he defines it, of course. Hands-on, devil-may-care, first into the breach, etcetera.

"What are you smiling about?"

"You." She snuggles up against his good arm. This isn't her normal side of the bed to sleep on, but it seemed better to not be bumping up against his hurt arm all night. And she does tend to sleep close.

When she slept with Roger, he slept close to her or very far away--nothing in between and all according to his mood and level of desire. If she woke up and he was curled around her, it nearly always meant he wanted sex.

Joe slept like a little kid. Dead to the world with arms and legs akimbo. They would start out curled together but always ended up apart.

Jim and she are always touching even if they are on opposite sides of the bed. She often wakes up to find that he has reached out during the night to touch her arm, or that she has put her foot on his leg. There is always some contact between them, and usually she wakes up to find them crushed together, front to front, or spooned, the one in back holding on firmly.

She loves waking up with him. She loves sleeping with him.

She loves doing just about anything with him.

Except trying to make him mind when he is injured.

"You're just going to ignore my complaining and hope I fall asleep, aren't you?"

"Yep."

He kisses her forehead. "I'm not going to."

"Oh." She runs her hand down his stomach, down and down and he starts to laugh.

"You think you can distract me with that old trick?" He looks over at her, smiling. His expression changes as she begins to distract him in earnest. "On the other hand, I do admire a doctor who takes matters into her own hands."

She laughs. He does not talk for some time, and she moves down, avoiding the sling as she kisses her way to where her hand is causing all sorts of trouble.

His good hand follows her, rubbing her back, her head, then settling lightly on her neck, scratching gently across her skin. His fingers tighten on her shoulder as he cries out softly and she moves back up and cuddles in again.

"What were you saying?"

He kisses her. "I have no idea."

She slowly strokes his hair and he moans happily and closes his eyes. In minutes, he is asleep and she sighs in relief. It's been a long day and she is exhausted. She follows him into slumber.

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

The Ka'Vareth board mocks her. She contemplates sacrificing one of her pieces for a better move three rolls down but knows that Spock will see through her ploy. She sighs, studying the board some more.

"But for your sighing, your level of play is almost Vulcan."

"I'm sure that's supposed to be a compliment," she says, the smile she flashes showing that her grumbling is fake.

He nods. "I believe you could hold your own at the annual tournament." He leans in. "That too is a compliment."

She laughs. "You're just trying to get me to tell you the titles of my latest reference books, aren't you? Well, I'm not going to. I need some advantage." She finally advances one of her pieces to a temporary safe spot. It is a boring move, but a careful one at least.

And when did a Vulcan ever worry about being boring if prudence was served?

"So what are you going to do once this mission is completed?" She looks over at Spock. It is hard for her to believe that five years is nearly over.

"I believe I will accept Starfleet's offer of a billet at the Academy."

"Shaping young minds appeals to you?" She smiles.

He is already shaping a few. His ward Saavik is about to start at the Academy, clearly following in Spock's footsteps. And, during their last stop at Vulcan, Christine and Jim met another young Vulcan who seemed to adore Spock. Valeris was the quintessential girl next door who has a crush on the older, handsome neighbor boy, but she was still a Vulcan girl next door. Without a doubt, one of the brightest young women Christine has ever met--and personable to boot. In fact, she seemed to seek Christine out. Seemed to actually enjoy spending time with humans.

Or maybe it is just that Spock enjoys spending time with humans and Valeris wants Spock. Christine isn't sure it matters. The girl charmed her, whatever her motives.

And she's not one to lecture someone for their crush on Spock. Lord knows she suffered long enough.

Although in Valeris's case it might not stay one-sided. Christine had the impression that Spock was surprised at how his little neighbor was growing up.

"You are thinking about something amusing?" Spock shoots her a wary glance. He knows most of her looks by now. Probably realizes she is thinking about something that affects him--and not necessarily in the most dignified way.

"I was thinking about Valeris. She impressed me." She pauses, waits for the kill. "And you too, I think?"

He gives her a long-suffering glance. Since she gave up on him, she occasionally plays matchmaker. He resists all her attempts to fix him up.

"Valeris is a most gifted young woman."

"Uh huh." She says, watching as he moves his piece strangely. Has she rattled him, or has he just set another trap for her? "So, you'd never notice that she is also very attractive."

"She is also very young."

"Well, young women have a way of growing up, Spock." She looks up from the board and grins at him. She has rattled him. A combo move puts her four slots away from the win.

He almost frowns.

"Distracted, Spock?"

"If I am, it is because you insist on prattling about irrelevant things."

"Ooh. Testy." She rubs her hands together. "You only get testy when you know you've lost." She leans back, sips at the Vulcan tea he's gotten her hooked on.

"I have not yet lost." He moves some pieces around in a daring, if futile, arrangement.

She quickly counters. This game is hers, but if he wants to prolong the agony, she won't stop him. "So you don't think she's attractive?"

"I did not say that."

"So you do?"

He sighs. "Christine, there are times I preferred our interaction when you were in pursuit of me. You were far less aggressive."

She laughs. Several new crewman sitting nearby look over, as is if in shock that she could find anything a Vulcan says amusing. She winks at one of them. Maybe someday he'll get to know a Vulcan up close and personal, and realize how wrong he is.

"See, you are trying to distract me, but I won't fall for it. Why don't you just answer the question?"

"There were too many questions. I have lost track." He makes his move, a slightly desperate, almost reckless attempt to get the advantage back.

It is futile. She blocks easily. "Bull. You never lose track." She watches him as he studies the board. "But you may be partly right. I'm happy with Jim; I'd like to see you happy with someone. And I really like Valeris."

He gives her the eyebrow.

"Would it be so wrong to double date?"

The look he gives her answers that question.

"It was just an idea. Maybe by the time she is old enough for you to date, you'll think better of the concept?"

"There are always possibilities."

She laughs. It is a stock phrase of his that, when he says it to her, means, "There's not a snowball's chance in hell of that happening, but dream on."

He moves again, a last-ditch effort to throw her off. "What do you intend to do when we return to Earth?"

She pretends to study the board. David has been in touch several times. He is definitely wooing her away from the other offers she's received. She hates to admit how much his ideas excite her.

Or how guilty she feels that she isn't telling Jim about the comms.

"Research probably." She moves several of her pieces off the board. There is no way he can win now. Even he has to see that. She is in the last stage while he is still protecting himself.

"You wish to remain with Jim?" He sees her look and says, "I mean of course, located with him. I did not intend to imply anything about the endurance of the relationship."

She laughs. A bit nervously. Her own guilt is coloring her reactions to his innocent comments. "Yes. I want to be with him. I've had him for most of five years. I can't imagine being split up now."

"Nor do I think he will allow it. You know that the Academy has offered him a position? Under Admiral Cartwright, I believe?"

She nods. She can't believe he is considering it, not after how much he hated being on Earth the last time. But he is considering it. And she knows it is for them.

"What do you think?" She looks at him.

"I believe his first, best destiny is on a ship."

"I'm with you there, my friend. This ship in particular. But what if they won't give her to him?"

Spock steeples his fingers. He has abandoned the game, a silent statement of defeat. "They will not give him this one. She will be used as a training vessel."

"Really?" She wonders if Jim knows that. Thinks that he must, if Spock already knows. He probably didn't tell her because the thought hurts too much. Or because the Enterprise truly is out of reach now and there is no reason to even address the possibility of keeping her. He can be practical.

Jim and Len wander in and Spock puts the board away, but not before tipping one of his pieces over so she knows he is acknowledging the loss, and is not just making more room at the table.

Jim and Len sit down. The four of them will talk for a while; the sessions get longer each night. As if they know they should enjoy each other's company while they still can.

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

She is packing the last of her things. There is nothing left to go in the trunk so she closes it up and pulls it outside the door next to Jim's. She sees others in the corridor. The quartermaster's shop will be along soon to collect and forward them to wherever their owners end up.

She sighs. There is a trunk outside the quarters that used to be hers. She gave the rooms up last year. There was no point in holding onto them anymore. She and Jim seemed destined for the long haul, and it was a waste of resources to keep the space when she was never in it.

She goes in the bathroom, stares at her face. Five years older. But she looks happy. And maybe even younger because of that happiness.

She hears the door open, hears Jim call softly, "Chris?"

She walks out, sighs. "Stem to stern?"

He nods. He has been saying goodbye to his ship--to his other lady. No deck will have been neglected. He has been gone for some time.

She realizes with a start that she is crying, and he opens his arms to her. She rushes to him, sobbing as he holds her tightly.

"I don't want to leave."

"I know, Chris." His arms tighten around her. "We've been so happy here."

She closes her eyes. His words are what she would have said. They have been so happy here. Neither of them knows what the future will bring. Or how well they will do in it.

She thinks they are both more than a little scared.

"I love you," she says fiercely. "I will love you forever." She dares the universe to argue with that.

"I love you," he is pushing her back, onto the bed with the sheets and blankets that ships services will pick up once the crew has gone, just as they delivered them at the start of every week.

She kisses him, pulling her onto him.

Their lovemaking is frantic, almost desperate. As if with each kiss and thrust and touch they can pull some of the Enterprise inside them.

As if she can keep them safe and together.

When they finally lie quietly, he looks over at her. "I don't know what the future will bring."

"I know."

"I want to say that we'll be together forever, but I don't know that. I do know I'll fight for you."

She kisses him fiercely. "I'll fight for you too."

He brushes her hair from her face, then gently strokes her cheek. "And I also know this. I will never, ever love anyone as much as I love you."

She nods. "I know. I'm not sure I could ever love anyone else after this. I think you've ruined me."

He kisses her and she feels him against her and opens her legs and this time the sex is slow and easy and full of love.

They've talked about it finally, the specter between them has a name and it's called the future.

It's scary, and it brings things they cannot see.

But they'll face it together.

She won't think of bad things. She loves Jim. He loves her. Why shouldn't that last?

They dress slowly. He grabs his bag, hefts hers onto his other shoulder. He holds out his hand and she takes it. He looks back--one last glance at the room that holds so much love. She wonders if the next occupant, whoever that might be, will feel their love still resonating in the walls and carpet and furniture.

"Let's go," Jim says as he leads her out of his quarters and to the transporter room.

And she follows him. To their future.

Whatever it may bring.

FIN