Scientist by Djinn

The air is brisk as Christine leaves the lab for the walk home. She pulls her coat around her more securely, wishing the anger she feels inside could warm her outside.

"Hey!" David runs out behind her, ignoring the new guard who tells him to slow down--the old guards will fill him in soon enough on not trying to fetter the creative element. "Christine, wait."

She walks faster. She is tired. So tired of arguing with him. He is determined to use the protomatter. And she has run out of other options.

Two years ago, she was as hot to try it out as he is. Two years ago, she wasn't lying to Jim every time he tries to ask her about work--as well as every time it never even occurs to him to ask about his son. She sees his son every damn day, and he doesn't even know it.

It doesn't help that Jim seems more miserable in his own Earthbound job with every day that passes. He hates that part of his life, and the rest of it she is wrecking all on her own.

David catches up to her. "Christine. Stop. Please."

She turns to him, but doesn't stop walking. It's too cold to stand outside and argue. She shivers, pulls the stupidly ineffectual regulation jacket she grabbed that morning around her.

"Come on. Let's get some coffee and talk where it's warm." He takes her arm, steers her toward a nearby coffeehouse.

She yanks her arm away. "I don't want coffee, David. I want to go home."

He takes her hand, gives her the pleading look that is half Jim and half some terrible tempter out of myth. Loki, she decided long ago. David is Loki.

He moves his other hand underneath hers, trapping hers as he chafes it softly. "Please? Christine, I need you." He is leaning in, his look intense.

He can turn intellectual conversation into seduction. Even if he has absolutely no interest in her that way, he still can use his father's charm to get what he wants.

She lets him pull her inside. He orders for her and carries the drinks to a secluded table.

"I know you're angry with me," he says. "But we've tried everything else. It's time to bite the bullet."

She doesn't answer.

"I don't understand your attitude, Christine. You want this as much as I do. You're as eager to test out your theories as I am. I know you are. So what is the problem?" He leans in. "I can't believe you're letting your personal life get in the way of this."

"Stay out of my personal life," she says, only barely stopping herself from adding, "And your father's."

"Okay." He holds up his hands. "Christine, I need to know you won't fight me on this. Mother cannot know what we are planning."

She doesn't answer. He knows she won't tell Carol. There is no way she won't be blamed just as much as David. In this case, it definitely takes two to tango with protomatter.

He shakes his head. "We're not doing anything wrong. When this is over, history will laud us."

She is tired. Too tired to fight him. She wishes she never accepted his offer, never gave in to his charm. Her hubris was matched only by her stupidity--did she really think that she could keep this from Jim and not pay some kind of price?

Lies fester. Even if the person being lied to doesn't suspect they don't know the truth. The liar knows. And she pays for being false in every other aspect of her life with the person she has wronged.

Christine has been paying for some time now. The worst part is that she's started to close her eyes when she and Jim make love. She can't bear for him to see what lies inside her. What lies lie inside her.

She sighs.

What difference does it make anymore? But for her work on the project, David wouldn't even be at a stage to use protomatter. She made it possible for him to harness the damned stuff; she should see this out.

David suddenly looks over at the window.

"What's wrong?"

"I thought someone was there. Watching us."

She closes her eyes. He's getting paranoid, she's getting neurotic. If they're not doing anything wrong, why are they both so jumpy?

She gets up, her coffee mostly untouched. "I have to get home."

"But you'll be back tomorrow?"

She nods. She'll be back. She'll probably always be back. The siren song of this young genius and her own curiosity are too strong to resist.

Even though she knows she should resist. Should just tell him and his mother to go to hell and let them finish Genesis on their own.

"Christine. It's going to be all right. You'll see."

She turns and leaves, walking home as quickly as she can. Jim isn't there when she arrives. She hangs her coat up and wanders the rooms of their apartment, touching the things they've bought together since they moved back to Earth. So much shared property, so many shared memories.

And they are supposed to get married in a few months. That thought used to make her ecstatic. Now it just feels like the lies are closing in more.

She laughs at herself. Does she really think this will get worse when they are married?

How can it possibly get any worse?

She hears the front door open, walks back out to the main room. Jim is hanging up his coat, he doesn't turn to look at her.

"Hi." She moves to him, wrapping her arms around him. "Long day?"

He nods.


He turns, stares at her. "You'd tell me if you were unhappy, wouldn't you?"

"If I were unhappy with what?"

He shrugs. "With anything. Work. Us."

"Sure. Why? Are you trying to tell me that you're sick of us?" She grins, wants to turn it into a joke. She doesn't like how sad he seems or how hard his eyes are.

Work must have really been bad today. He has never come home like this before.

"No. I'm not." He seems disappointed in her answer, moves away and pours himself a drink.

She watches him, realizes she is still cold and wraps her arms around herself.

He glances over, his expression becomes even harder.

"Jim? What is it?"

"Nothing. It's been a bad day. Didn't end well." He stalks off toward his study.

She watches him go. Feels another crack creeping down between them. If love is a bridge, then this one is quickly becoming structurally unsound.

And she knows that most of that is her fault. Lies fester.

She's an idiot.

She's also trapped by her own ambitions. Ambitions she didn't even know she had before Genesis.

She debates going into his study but then she hears the music start up. Old jazz, the kind he loves and she doesn't. The message couldn't be clearer: "Stay away. I don't want you."

She sighs. She's not hungry, just cold. She decides to go to bed and warm up there.

She wonders if he'll join her before she falls asleep.

He doesn't.


"Christine, you seem particularly distracted tonight." Spock is looking down at the Ka'Vareth board.

It's true. She's made a mess of the game. Almost as much as she's made a mess of her life.

She pushes her chair back, tips one of the pieces over.

"It is premature to admit defeat."

"What are the odds that I'll win?"

"Approximately one thousand three hundred to one, given the way you are playing."

"Well, there you go." She gets up, walks over to the window, looking for Jim.

She can smell the food; it's almost ready. Where the hell is Jim? He knew Spock was coming over for dinner.

"You can trust me, Christine. If there is a problem, I would like to help."

"It doesn't concern you," she says more sharply than she means to.

"Of course. My apologies for intruding." He turns away.

She thinks she's actually hurt his feelings. "No. I'm sorry. That was rude." She turns away from the window. "It's just a rough patch right now. That's all."

She and Jim will be fine.

She just needs to keep telling herself that.

Believing it might be a good start too.

She looks back out the window, sees Jim. He's got Admiral Cartwright in tow. She sighs. He didn't tell her he was bringing Matthew. Fortunately, she's cooked too much food.

In the old days, he would have told her.

In the old days, they actually talked.

He and Matthew barrel into the apartment, laughing. Jim's smile fades a bit when he sees her.

That hurts.

But it's only fair. She can feel her own expression tighten as she looks at him.

She senses Spock is missing nothing. She is not sure how much of this Matthew is picking up.

She moves to the kitchen, gets the food ready. Matthew helps her, like he always does.

"Sure smells good, Christine." He grins at her.

"Thanks." She tries to relax, figures she will if she has a few more glasses of wine.

As if he can read her mind, Jim is handing her a glass of red. He's making short work of his own Scotch.

Great. If this keeps up, they'll be lushes as well as strangers.

Dinner isn't as painful as it would be if it were just Jim and her. Matthew and Spock are keeping the conversation going with tales of the cadets. Jim is smiling, but he doesn't chime in, even though she knows he must have a few funny cadet stories of his own.

Not surprisingly, she is afraid to share any funny Genesis-in-the-making stories. She's sure she'll slip up, mention Carol or David or something restricted.

Jim and the others never ask her about her work. They all know she's working on something very sensitive. They all understand that even though they might be cleared for it, that doesn't mean they need to know about it. They're all good officers that way.

It makes it easier to lie to them.

She knows she could talk about things more than she does. She could complain about the idiosyncrasies of her coworkers or talk about problems in general. It's what her colleagues do at home. But she's just as afraid that she'll accidentally mention protomatter as she is about outing her relationship with Jim's estranged ex-girlfriend and son. She knows it's her own guilt making her act so tightlipped. But knowing why she is doing it doesn't make it any easier to stop.

After dinner, Spock tries to help her clean up, but she shoos him out of the kitchen. She can hear the three of them out in the living room. They sound much more relaxed.

She hates to think it is because she isn't there.

She knows it might be exactly because of that.

When she's done cleaning up, she goes to her study instead of joining them. She finds it hard to concentrate on anything, finally gives up and stares out the window at what looks like a gathering storm on the horizon.

"You okay?" Jim is standing at the doorway, watching her.

She nods.

"They left. You didn't come out."

"I wasn't in the mood. Sorry."

He sighs, steps farther into the room. "Chris, we need to talk. I can't stand this."

"So talk."

His face tightens. The flip answer was definitely not the best.

"I'm sorry, Jim. I'm just tired."

"You're tired a lot."

He's right. She uses it as an excuse for everything. Even for sex lately. She's found that sex is just too much of a connection right now. It is getting too hard to hide the truth.

But she wants sex. She wants him. She wants to push him up against the wall right now. She wants him to grab her and kiss her and force her to tell him the truth about Genesis and David and Carol.

It's the only way he's going to find out.

"I know you're having an affair."

Her jaw drops. He knows what?

"I saw you--" he swallows hard "--and him. The other day at that coffee place near your office. Who is he?"

"You were spying on me?"

"I came by to surprise you. I was going to take you out to dinner."

"Oh." She stares at him, unsure what to say. Of all the conclusions he could have leapt to, this is the last one she saw coming.

"So. How long has this been going on?"

"Jim, I know how it must have looked, but that's not what you saw. He's just a friend. From work."

"Didn't look like just a friend. Your conversation looked like life or death to me." He smiles bitterly. "I'm familiar with how intense you can be. This was definitely you upset."

She moves toward him, but he shies away. "You're right, Jim. I was upset. But it was just a work issue. Something in the project that he and I disagreed on."

"Really?" He looks far from convinced.


He moves closer. "Then you won't mind if I talk to him. Ask him myself?" He steps forward, grabs her arms. "Who is he, Chris?"

She can feel her face go white. "Jim. I can't tell you that."

"Somehow, that's exactly what I figured you'd say." He lets go of her, starts out of the room. But he turns at the door. "You still planning on going to Harry's this weekend?"

She nods. She's been looking forward to seeing the ranch ever since Jim's uncle told them about it at dinner the last time he was in town.

"Well, don't. I need some time alone." His eyes are cold. Colder than she's ever seen them. "You stay here. With your 'friend.'"

"Jim. No." She reaches out for him. "Don't do this."

"Then tell me the truth, dammit!"

Her hand drops. "I am telling you the truth." The falseness of that statement rings between them.

"No. You aren't." He turns on his heel and walks out. She hears the door close to his study; the jazz starts up.

He doesn't come out all night.


The apartment seems particularly empty with Jim gone. He's back in Idaho. Apparently, he enjoyed his weekend so much that he decided to take some leave and revisit it for a long weekend.

He never asked her if she wanted to come.

Christine roams the apartment like a caged animal, pacing back and forth as if she has been locked inside her own home.

The comm unit rings and she races to it. Maybe it's him. Maybe he's missing her and wants her to come.

It's Harry.

"Hi," she says uncertainly.

"Hello, Christine." He looks over his shoulder, as if afraid he's going to get caught taking to her.

"Something wrong?"

"Well, something must be. You sure as hell aren't here, now are you?"

She looks down. "I'd like to be."

"Then hop the nearest transporter and get your rear end up here." He glares at her. He's not kidding around.

"I would. But--" She looks down. She doesn't want to tell Jim's uncle that his nephew would rather not see his fiancee.

They've postponed the marriage again. She supposes she should be grateful it's an informal thing. Easily scheduled and rescheduled. Because they've been postponing it ever since they left the ship. Probably about the minute Jim started to sense she was keeping something from him, and she started to pull back because of all the lies she was telling.

"Christine, Jim'll kill me if he finds out I called you. But you need to get up here. I don't know what's going on between the two of you, but..." He sighs. "Oh hell, look, I've got a houseguest right now. Sweet thing. Daughter of a friend. Real looker. Do you see the damn problem?"

She closes her eyes. Nods.

"Do you care?"

"Of course I care. It's just not that simple."

"They're getting on real well, girl. See my houseguest is just back on Earth after a bad breakup. I'm thinking she could use some comforting. I'm also thinking Jim seems awfully eager to be the one giving that comfort. You better get up here if you want to keep him."

He's cheating on her now. It's only fair--in his mind anyway. She hasn't given him any reason to think she's not cheating.

"Christine. Get up here."

"Okay." She feels something fill her. Resolve. Anger. Guilt. Everything.

The man she loves may soon be out of reach, and it's her fault.

But she can fix this. She can stop this.

She hurries out of the apartment, practically runs to the transporter station. Somehow manages to talk the tech into beaming her directly to the ranch. She hurries to the house, knocks loudly.

Harry answers. "Good, you're here. He's in the barn."

She doesn't wait, starts to run and then sees Jim come out. She realizes she is crying. No wonder the tech took pity on her.

Jim starts walking toward her, as he gets closer he sees she is crying and begins to hurry. "Chris, what's wrong?"

She throws herself into his arms. Tries to talk but is crying too hard.

"What's happened? Did someone get hurt?"

She pulls away. "No. I'm sorry."

She sees a woman come out of the barn, can't tell much about her except she looks pretty--and young. The woman watches them.

"Is that her?"

He doesn't look back. "That's Antonia. She's staying with my uncle until she gets settled." His eyes narrow. "Did Harry call you?"

She looks down. She can't even protect Harry. She hates lying. "Yes," she says. "He did."

No more lies. That's what her new policy will be.

No more goddamn lies.

"I'm going to kill him."

"Don't. He's just worried about you. About us."

"Chris, I'm not sure there's an us to worry about anymore." He sighs. "What the hell happened? We were so happy."

She nods. "It's this project, Jim. I hate the secrecy. I'm going to transfer out. I'll tell them that. We're at a transition point, it's the perfect time. I don't care about it anymore. I just don't want to lose you." She looks down. "Do you even love me anymore?"

"Oh, Chris." He pulls her close, his arms tight. His voice is more gentle than it has been for months. "Of course I love you."

She sees Antonia go back into the barn. "I'm not gonna ask you if you slept with her." She knows that might make it look like she did sleep with David, but she doesn't care. She just wants to start fresh. With no more lies.


She touches his lips with her fingers. "I don't want to know. Everything else is in the past. No more secrets. And no lies. From this moment on. All right?" She strokes his face. "I love you. I don't want anything to come between us."

She kisses him, feels him hesitate and kisses him with more passion until he responds, and his arms tighten around her.

"Do you have a bedroom here?" she asks.

"We have a perfectly good bedroom in our apartment. Let's go back there now." He looks guilty suddenly, and it hits her like a punch to the gut.

He did sleep with Antonia. He doesn't want to sleep with Christine in the same room.

Is it because he doesn't want to hurt her? Or because he doesn't want to hurt Antonia?

"You want a ride into town?" Harry calls from the front porch.

"We're going to have words, old man." Jim glares at him.

"That doesn't answer my question. Should I go fire up the flitter or not?"

"Yes," she answers for both of them. "Please."

Harry smiles and walks away, returns a moment later in the small flitter. They climb in; the ride to town is silent, but Jim keeps squeezing her hand, and she keeps looking over at him as if to reassure herself that he is really coming home with her.

"Next time I see you, Christine, I hope you can stay a while," Harry says as they climb out of the flitter.

"Me too." She smiles at him. "Thank you."

He nods solemnly. "Just as long as everything turned out okay. That way, I won't have to get mad that you went and told him I called you."

"Sorry. I'm a bad liar." If only that were true.

She follows Jim into the station, waits with him in line. He holds her hand. But there is something in his face, some sort of sadness she doesn't like.

Just how much does he feel for this other woman? Does he love Antonia?

"If you want to turn around, I'm sure she'll still be there." It is a stupid thing to say, but it is the only thing to say. Sometimes you have to be brave and face things head on.

But her heart breaks a little as she says it.

He hesitates a moment too long.

She pulls away. "Look. Just go back then."

He doesn't move. "It's not like that."

"Then what is it like?"

"It's just that I'm not sure we can be saved."

She feels all expression die on her face. They're terminal? As a doctor, she knows it's all over the moment she gives up on a patient living.

That is unless the patient has other ideas.

"We can be. I know it." She takes his hand. "We were happy."

"Past tense."

"We will be happy. Future tense."

He smiles slightly. The tech motions them forward and he doesn't seem to hesitate. She steps up too, gives the man the station they want.

The walk to their apartment is short, the elevator ride even shorter. Their apartment seems so cold, so empty.

He sighs as they walk in, turns to her. "At least keep your goddamned eyes open. I don't want to have to wonder if you're pretending I'm some younger man."

She looks down. It never occurred to her that David's age would be a factor in this. But Jim has been touchy about his final approach to fifty. She's not sure why--he's as vital as ever.

"You're the only one I see," she says, as she moves into his arms.

He kisses her, tentatively at first, then with more passion. They don't bother getting to the bedroom, fall down on the couch and make love with the old intensity.

She is careful to keep her eyes open.

She notices he does not call her name out, wonders if he is afraid to call out any name in case it is the wrong one.

As they lie together afterwards, there is something missing between them. The sex was good, their kisses now are sweet.

But the trust is gone. On both their parts.

She hopes not forever.


"You're sure you don't mind being hostess for this dog and pony show?" Carol is bustling around her office, getting ready to go check out the site for stage two. Christine hasn't been told where it will be--she's found that information on future stages of the project are off limits to her since she told Carol she was leaving.

And people seem to be watching what they say around her.

It's okay. She doesn't need to know anymore. Not if she's leaving.

Carol looks over at her. "It's just a couple of admirals. I guess that's the peril of having such a sexy project. We're constantly playing tour guide."

David doesn't play guide often, mainly because he invariably loses patience with the visitors. They're never as smart as he is.

Fortunately, David is going with his mother. Christine won't have to worry about what he might say to the brass.

"Thank you for being so understanding about my leaving," Christine says.

"I know it's been hard to lie to Jim. I hope you realize how vital your silence has been to the project's success?"

Christine nods. Although she thinks her silence has been more vital for keeping Jim away from David than for the sanctity of Carol's precious project.

Carol gives her a look that seems almost envious. "You're doing what you have to do to preserve something you believe in. I understand that. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had fought harder for Jim." She looks away, then she looks back. "I don't like that you're leaving though. David needs you, Christine."

She nods unhappily. She knows he needs her; she is his conscience. She's worried that he may not have one of his own.

"There will always be a place for you here, Christine. I want you to know that."

She nods, touched at Carol's warmth. She and Jim's old flame have never been close. But Carol treats her well. Probably because David and Christine have been joined at the hip since she came on board. And because they've gotten such amazing results.

David was right. The protomatter was the answer. It is the sole reason they are moving onto stage two. It is the reason they are ready.

She sighs. A part of her would like to see this out.

But that part isn't in charge anymore.

"Good luck with the tour," Carol says as David walks in. "Ready, kiddo?"

"Ready." He smiles at Carol. Sometimes Christine thinks his relationship with his mother is unhealthily close, might be worried if she didn't know that David preferred men. It was what made Jim's worries so silly. Not that she could tell him that.

Soon, she wouldn't have to worry about it. Soon she'd be free of this project and the wedge it had put up between Jim and her.

She follows Carol and David out, veers off before the main entrance and goes to her office. She has a lot to do before the visitors arrive. And more to do after that if she wants to get home at a decent hour.

And she does want to. Things with Jim are better, but they are still so tentative around each other. She knows that only time spent together rebuilding the connection they've lost will make them more at ease.

And spending time with him is no hardship. Having sex repeatedly as a temperature check isn't bad either.

She forces herself to stop thinking of Jim, and finish transitioning her work. David has all her notes on protomatter, but there are other parts of her work that she can share with the rest of the team. It's just a matter of organizing the information.

A few hours later, she has them ready to go. Tomorrow she can finish up any miscellaneous files, visit the security office to be debriefed, and then she will be free. Finally.

She will also be out of a job. So far, Starfleet Medical seems to have forgotten about her--or at least they're not beating down the doors with her next assignment. Then again, they might not know where the Genesis doors are.

She will be so glad to get back to Starfleet proper.

"Doctor Chapel?" One of the other scientists looks in.

She imagines that when he calls her "Doctor," he is probably more interested in her biochem doctorate than in her M.D.

"Our admirals are here." He manages to put a sneer into the titles. David's dislike of all things military has rubbed off on too many of her colleagues, but she can't get him to moderate his hostility, even to set a better example.

What does he care about what kind of example he sets? Other than intellectually--he loves being the exemplar in that.

"Starfleet is the one paying our bills. We should all remember that."

"You're Starfleet, so I'd expect you to say that." He walks out.

She sighs as she gets up. She is one of the few Starfleet here. Carol has been astoundingly successful at keeping the military out. Other than those she and David particularly wanted on the project.

There are so many days when Christine wishes she wasn't one of those chosen few.

She sees that the lights in the conference room are on. The admirals will be waiting for her. She has filled in before on these little tours. Enjoys them actually. Interacting with the brass and selling the project as best she can to those who have a layman's grasp at best of the science behind the sexy premise is fun.

She walks into the room and forgets how to breathe.

Jim is one of the admirals. She can't even take in who the other is. Just stares at Jim as he looks up and immediately goes white, then his face begins to turn red.

Rage. She is looking at rage.

Somehow he manages to speak. "I didn't realize you were involved in Carol's project, Commander."

She nods. The other admiral looks at her strangely.

"What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" Jim stands up. "We're here for a tour. Give us one."

The other admiral looks at him sharply. Jim's words and tone are rude. No other word for it.

The other admiral doesn't have any idea what he's just wandered into.

She swallows hard. "I'm not the most qualified to give the tour. Perhaps another one of the scientists could---"

"--No, Chris. I want you to give us the tour."

She somehow nods. "This way then."

Jim seems to settle down as she takes them through the history of the project. But Carol told her that Jim knew about Genesis, at least in concept. Carol was working on it even back when they were together.

"And which section do you specialize in, Commander?" the other admiral asks, probably hoping to keep them on safe ground.

"Chris is a biochem specialist. That would be David Marcus's section, wouldn't it?"

She nods.

"And does he happen to have curly blonde hair? I think I caught a glimpse of him once through a window, but his back was to me. I may be mistaken." His eyes are unforgiving.

"No. You're not mistaken."

"I'm sure working together must be exhilarating? Must give you so much in common?" His tone is easy, as if he's just making conversation, but his eyes are angrier than she has ever seen them.

"We're friends."

"Close friends, I imagine."

"Not that close. We just work together."

"Ah." He looks over at the other admiral. "Enough small talk, right, Pete? We should let Commander Chapel get back to her work."

The other admiral nods.

A sick feeling is roiling up from Christine's stomach. She thinks she might throw up or pass out. Instead she reaches out, touches Jim's arm.

He jerks it away.

The other admiral doesn't notice. Just heads for the entrance. One of the guards lets him out.

"Don't go, Jim. We need to talk."

"You had an affair with my son. May still be having one with him. How much talk is necessary?"

"I wasn't involved with him."

He's not listening to her. "My son, Chris? That's sick."

"I swear to you. I did not sleep with him."

"Clever answer since you sleep with me every night. Did you have sex with him though?"

"No." She touches his arm again.

This time he looks down at her fingers, then slowly raises his head. "Don't do that again."

She has never been afraid of him.

Not until now.

She pulls her fingers away.

"I should have told you I was working with David and Carol."

"Yes, you should have. Why didn't you?"

She looks down. She's been trying to figure that out for too long. "It was because of the pro--" She swallows the rest of the word. He already thinks she is unfaithful, does she want to add unethical and insane to the list? "I made a mistake."

"You said no more lies."

"I'm leaving the project tomorrow. There won't be any more lies after I'm gone."

He just shakes his head. "Stay on the project, Chris. Stay with David. Because you're sure as hell not staying with me."

He turns on his heel and strides out. The guard sees his face and has the door open for him long before he gets there.

She feels as if she might faint, grabs the nearest piece of furniture for support and tries to figure out what to do.

She wants to run after him, but she knows he is too angry to listen to her. But tonight...she'll go home tonight and talk to him. When he's calmer.

She has a plan. Now if she could just remember how to breathe.


Jim is packing when she gets home. It's taken her the whole day to calm down and figure out what to do, how to make this right.

"I didn't sleep with him."

He just nods. Not as if he believes her, more as if he is too tired to fight about it.

"I know how I can prove it."

He turns to look at her.

"Spock. Let's go to his apartment. Now."

"A mind meld?"

She nods. She knows Spock will be able to tell that she never cheated on Jim.

It suddenly occurs to her that he might find out about the protomatter. Can she shield well enough to keep him from seeing that?

This is insane. She can't let him into her mind. He can't find out.

But Jim doesn't know that she's changed her mind. Maybe just her willingness to let Spock meld with her will be enough?

"All right. I believe you. You didn't sleep with him." He goes back to packing.

"You're still leaving?"

He nods.

"But I didn't cheat on you."

He turns to her. "Well, that's too bad because I cheated on you."

She swallows. "I know. I forgive you."

"You forgive me?" He laughs, a terribly bitter laugh. "You forgive me?" He drops the shirt he is folding, strides over to her.

The look on his face makes her take a step back, then another. The third step back lands her against the doorjamb.

"Where the hell do you get off forgiving me? You've been getting to know my son ever since we got back and you never told me. You never even hinted. And you forgive me?" He turns and walks back to the bed. "Carol at least was upfront about keeping him away from me. But you..." There is complete disgust in his voice.


"What the hell is wrong with you, Chris? What were you thinking?" He seems to sag. "How can I ever trust you again?"

"Jim, it was just..." She doesn't know what it just was. She's been stupid. So damn stupid not to tell him. She sees that now. But she couldn't tell him because he would have found out about the protomatter...

It always comes down to that damn protomatter.

Her own private apple in the garden.

She turns and walks out to the living room, slumps into the nearest chair. He's leaving her, and there's not a thing she can do to stop it.

Walking out, he sits down across from her. "Things haven't been good for a while now."

"I know." She can't meet his eyes.

"I think I'd almost prefer it if you were in love with someone else. Then I'd understand it. Why you kept him to yourself."

She looks up at him. She's not crying. She feels too numb to cry.

This is all her fault. That keeps ringing through her head. This is all her fault.

"Don't go, Jim."

"I have to. I can't stay here. I hate it here. I have since we got back."

It takes her a moment to realize that he means San Francisco, not their apartment.

"You're transferring?"

"I'm retiring." He laughs bitterly again. "I have retired. Effective today, I am gone."

"Where will you go?" She sees his face tighten. "You're going back to Idaho, aren't you?"

He doesn't look at her, just nods.

It stings. Hurts almost more than she can stand. He's going back to that other woman. Antonia.

"How do you know she'll take you back? You didn't even say goodbye when you left."

"I said goodbye later." He looks up at her.

"Oh." She thought he'd cut all ties with Antonia.

She was an idiot.

"And she's waiting for you now?"

He nods again.

"At least say goodbye to Spock."

"I have. He knows where I'll be."

She realizes he doesn't just mean Idaho. Did he buy a house? Does Antonia have one?

Spock knows where Jim will be, but Jim's not going to tell her.

She looks down. "It's really over then."

"Yes, it really is." He gets up, walks back into the bedroom. A few minutes later, he comes out with his bag. "I'll send for the rest of my stuff."

She nods.

He stares at her for a moment, his expression unreadable.

She blinks back tears, clenches her teeth so she won't say she loves him.

He doesn't care anyway.

"Goodbye," she says finally.

He nods, then walks out of the apartment.

And out of her life.



Christine looks around her office one last time. She doesn't need to leave now that the rest of her life has fallen apart. But she can't stay. Not any longer. She can't undo the lies, and she can't undo her part in whatever comes of using protomatter. But she doesn't have to stay to make it worse.

Her comm unit buzzes and she turns it on audio only. She looks like shit from crying all night.

"Christine?" It is Carol.

Christine hits the video.

"Oh, my." Carol winces. "I'm sorry. I truly am."

"You're sorry for setting me up? Or you're sorry that Jim left me?"

Carol makes a face. "Both?" She leans forward, a tentative smile on her face. "I did it for you."

"You did it for you. For the project."

Carol doesn't look away. "And for David. He needs you, Christine." She sighs. "I meant it when I said there would always be a place for you here."

"Thanks, but I'm leaving."

Carol looks stunned.

"You thought I'd stay here after you ruined my life?"

"I didn't ruin your life, Christine. It feels like that now, I know. I've been there. But you'll get over it. I promise you--you'll get over him."

"No, Carol. I won't." She starts to pack the few things that actually belong to her.

"He'll have someone else in no time, Christine. That's how much you mean to him."

Christine turns around, glares angrily at this woman who knows nothing about Jim. "He already does. And do you know why? Because of all the lies. Because he thought I was having an affair first."

Carol leans in. "Christine. He would have had a new one no matter what. That's how he is."

"No. It's not how he is. I know him. I know what he's like. He loved me. He would have been faithful." She slams her desk drawer shut. "I expect good references from you."

"Stay and you'll get them. I'm not making any promises if you leave."

"Screw me over again, and I'll tell David who his father is."

"You wouldn't."

"Oh, I would. You've left me with nothing but my career. If you ruin that for me, what will I have to lose?"

Christine thinks Carol might actually be sweating.

"Just calm down. Of course, if you want to leave the project, I'll give you great references. There's no need for threats."

"I'm glad we've come to an understanding." She looks down, then back up at Carol. "Were you jealous? Is that it?" Only she's not sure if Carol was jealous of her and Jim or of her and David.

"Don't be absurd. I really have to go now. I'm sorry, truly."

"Stop saying that. I know it's not true."

She doesn't wait for Carol to sign off, just hefts her bag and heads for the security office for her debriefing.

A half hour later she is free.

And utterly alone.

She cuts through the Academy grounds, sees Spock talking to Saavik and some other students and veers off on a side path. She can't face him right now.


She increases her pace, hopes whoever it is will just think she hasn't heard them.


She turns, sees Matthew running toward her.

"What the hell happened to Jim? He retired yesterday."

She tries to maintain her composure. "I know."

"Well, you need to talk some sense into him. This is ridiculous. He'll be bored silly in a week."

"Starfleet wasn't the only thing he left, Matthew."


"He's gone." She turns away as she feels tears welling up.

He stops her. "I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. I thought--"

"--You thought he loved me. Well, he did." She looks down. "I made some mistakes, Matthew. I...I blew it." She laughs, the sound nothing more than a puff of air. "I told him, a long, long time ago, that I wasn't any good at this. But did he listen?"

Her bag is suddenly too heavy so she moves it to the other shoulder.

"What's in here?" he asks, touching the strap.

"I left the project I was on. I'm looking for work, if you know of anyone who needs a heartbroken research scientist or doctor." She tries to smile, but her lips tremble too much so she abandons the attempt.

"I'll keep an eye out for you."

"Thanks, Matthew." She touches his hand. "I know you're his friend first." She starts to turn away.

"I'm your friend too." He looks concerned for her.

She wishes he didn't. His pity is somehow worse than Jim's anger.

"I better get going," she says.

"Right. I am sorry, Christine."

Everyone is sorry. She wonders if Jim is sorry, or if he is too busy screwing Antonia.

She turns away and walks back to the apartment.

All of Jim's things are gone. So much for sending for them later. She wonders if Antonia was with him or if he came alone.

She lets the bag drop off her shoulder, and it hits the ground hard. Something in it sounds like it has broken, but she doesn't care. She sits in his study, now nearly empty, and weeps.


Officially, Christine's on leave. Unofficially, she is a basket case. She hasn't called any of her friends to let them know what's happened, is unsure how one goes about that. It was so easy when Roger disappeared. Everyone felt sorry for her. The poor, abandoned fiancee.

And here she is full circle. The abandoned fiancee again. Only this time no one will pity her. This time it's her fault she's in this situation.

She can't stand the idea of her friends trying to offer comfort. Or of trying to explain the situation. It's too complicated, too full of things that cannot be spoken of. It's easier just to drift away, to be alone.

Her chime rings. She ignores it.

It rings again. Then whoever is there leans on the thing and won't let up. In annoyance, she rushes to the door.

It is Matthew. "I take it you're wallowing?"

"Screw you." She begins to close the door and he catches it.

"So you do have some spirit left." He shakes his head. "I've left five messages."

She shrugs.

"Four of them were about a position that's come open. You're interviewing for it in an hour."

"I am?"

"You are. Now go get changed."

She doesn't move.

"Christine, Jim's gone. He may never come back. Are you really going to let him take your life too?"

She goes into her bedroom, changes into a uniform, and puts up her hair. Glancing in the mirror, she sees she looks terrible and puts on some make- up, covering redness and puffiness as best she can.

When she comes back out, Matthew nods. "You'll do. Now come on."

As they walk to Starfleet Command, he says, "The position is in Emergency Ops. Their medical specialist just rotated out. It's busy and bustling and you won't have time to think about Jim."

She sighs. "Why are you doing this?"

"Hate to lose our investment after sending you to med school."

She smiles. It is perhaps the first time she's smiled in days. "Thank you."

"Just do a good interview." He leads her into Command and down the corridors to ops.

It is indeed bustling. People seem to be moving in their own version of controlled chaos. She sees Janice, has forgotten she has been assigned to ops. She lifts her hand in greeting as her friend waves at her. Then Matthew is leading her to a conference room off the main area. Five people are waiting for her.

She swallows. She hates interviewing, isn't sure she is up to one. Sitting down, she waits for the first question.

It seems easy, given her experiences. She answers it. The next is just as easy, and she starts to relax. Leaning forward, she smiles, ready for whatever they can dish out.

When it's over, she wanders over to Janice.

"Hey, stranger." Janice is wearing lieutenant commander bars. She's blowing through the ranks even faster than Christine.


"Long time, no see. But I guess you're busy with Jim?" Janice looks over at her, grins in what is only a mildly envious way.

"He's gone, Jan." She hates herself for blurting it out.

Janice smiles breezily. "I know he's retired. But that just means more time for you to enjoy him, right?" Her grin fades as she sees Christine's face. "What?"

"He left me."

"Oh, god, Christine. I'm so sorry." She touches Christine's hand.

The old Janice would have pulled her into a hug. The old Christine would have been crying instead of trying so hard to stay composed.

Janice waits for her to get control before she whispers, "How did this happen?"

She shakes her head. It's not that she doesn't know, she just doesn't want to say. "Little by little, I guess. It eroded over time. And I made some mistakes." Jim isn't blameless in this either, but compared to what she did, his infractions seem minor.

"You still love him?"

Christine nods. She can't say it. It hurts.

Janice seems to realize that. "So you're interviewing for Latcher's job?" She points down the way, to a station labeled, "Medical."

Nodding, she asks, "Do you like it here, Jan?"

"Yeah, I do. It's busy. Crazy busy a lot of the time. But believe me, there is no time to sit and obsess." She grins. "And you meet the most interesting people."

Men. Janice can only mean men. Christine can't imagine ever caring about that again.

Janice seems to read her mind. "You have to get back up on the horse."

"It's kind of hard to do. I'm too busy mourning that someone walked off with mine."

How could she have been so stupid?

Protomatter seems a lifetime away.


Commander Reed, the head of Emergency Ops comms her the next day to let her know she has the position. She actually feels some excitement over that fact. She wasn't kidding when she told Carol her career was all she had left. She intends to throw herself into it body and soul. She owes it to Matthew for looking out for her, and to herself too.

Besides, it's what Jim would be doing if he weren't so busy throwing himself body and soul at Antonia.

Only Christine wants to think that the other woman just has his body. That somehow she owns his soul and always will. Someday, she'll get him back.

Christine also worries that she is a little bit delusional.

But it's a happy fantasy, one that makes lonely nights not quite as long. So she goes with it.

She doesn't have to worry about occupying her days. Janice was right. Ops is crazy busy. And Christine loves it. There is no time to do anything but act and react. No time to sit and think of what ifs and if onlys. There is only the latest crisis and dealing with it.

She thinks they should prescribe it for anyone with a broken heart.

She looks down at her comms queue. The messages are rolling in like crazy. Three planetary epidemics, a strange bacterial outbreak at an isolated research station, and a handful of other medical emergencies. It's triage, on a galactic scale.

Janice looks over at her. Smiles. They go to lunch often, have picked up their friendship as if they never let it slide into something less intense. Christine is not sure if it is because they are both more mature, or because she is no longer with Jim. She hopes it is the former.

Not that it matters. Jim isn't coming back.

"I take it this was a good move?"

She looks up, sees Matthew smiling down at her.

She nods. "What are you doing here?"

He grins, pulls up an extra chair and sits down by her. "I love it here. Can't get enough of the place."

"The Academy isn't the most exciting place?"

"It's all right. But I won't be there forever." He points back at Admiral Kachowa's office. "I intend to make that my own."

"Well, then I pity the person who stands in your way." She finds herself smiling. She does that more often now.

As long as she doesn't think about Jim, she's okay.

"You free for lunch?"

"I am." She finishes the note she is working on, then gets up and sets her station to reroute any immediate comms to Warnick, the science specialist.

They walk in a companionable silence to the mess. Separating to find the food they want, they meet back up at a table near the windows.

"You don't have to look out for me anymore," she says as she sits down.

"I know. I'm not." He takes a bite of food, savors it. "This mess is so much better than the Academy mess."

"Well, we get all the VIPs. You just have a bunch of kids."

"True. But good kids. Our hope for the future. If the Klingons don't steal that future away first."

There have been more incursions on the borders. She reads the reports every day, shudders at the casualty reports.

He glances at her. "I take it you're no fan of Klingons either?"

"I'm not."

"Good to know." He eats for a few moments, then asks, "What do you think is going to happen to the Klingon Empire?"

"Well, the popular theory is that it will crumble under its own weight." Not unlike the way her relationship with Jim did. Or at least that's what she tells herself on the days she's not interested in wallowing in guilt.

"Yes, that is the conventional wisdom."

"You don't believe it?"

"I think we have to be ready for anything. I think that a lot of people are sleeping when they should be watching."

She frowns. "Or doing?"

He nods slowly. "Or doing."

"Starfleet's policy is to watch. We hear that enough times in ops when we have to deal with their damn raids."

"I know. But not all of Starfleet may feel that way." He leans in. "There are some people who champion a more direct approach to the problem of the Klingon Empire."

"A war?"

"Not exactly. But action nonetheless. Perhaps direct isn't what I mean. Indirect maybe?" He grins.

She gets it. He means direct action. Nasty covert ops and all the things that make someone in Starfleet intelligence have an orgasm. She decides to change the subject. Things you can't talk about in mixed company give her a rash now. "I like Emergency Ops. I never would have thought of doing this. I'm glad you made me interview."

"I knew you'd like it. You're just what they look for. Flexible, incredibly smart, you have experience in the field so you know what our fleet is dealing with. And you care, Christine. That's one of the most important aspects."

"I do care. I didn't think I would after Jim." She looks down. "And at night, he's still pretty much all I think about." She looks back up and grins. "But I'm usually so exhausted that I don't think about him very long."

He laughs. "See. Progress."

"Right." She sighs. "Do you miss him, Matthew?"

"I do. I truly do." He leans in. "I plan to keep tabs on him. He'll get bored eventually, and then we'll get him back."

"I'm not so sure about that."

"You'll see. We will."

They finish their meal, chatting about less weighty matters than the destruction of the Klingon Empire and the retaking of James T. Kirk.

As he walks her to the main corridor, Matthew says, "I know you miss him, Christine. But don't wait for him."

"You just said we'd get him back."

"I know. But I'm not sure when. I don't like to think of you alone." He seems embarrassed, looks down as he says, "Remember how I always found my way to the kitchen to help you serve?"

"I remember."

"That was always the best part of the evening for me. Our time."

She smiles. It is a sweet thing to say.

He smiles, shrugs. "And that's enough soul baring for one afternoon. I'll see you around." He gives her a slightly embarrassed grin, then heads down the corridor.

She goes back to ops, ready for another afternoon of craziness.


Weeks begin to run together. There are the latest crises and coming up with ways to deal with them. There are the parties when they handle a biggie, and donuts for the small victories. She'd be gaining weight from all the food if she wasn't so busy running things down when she's not on the headsets. There are very few parts of Starfleet Command or Medical she doesn't end up in for meetings, very few admirals she hasn't briefed at this point.

It's heady. It's exhausting. It's a rush.

Matthew stops by often. They go to lunch on Wednesdays when he's in the building for his briefings to personnel on the latest cadet achievements and infractions. And increasingly they go to lunch on other days. She's not sure she would survive without him.

Or without Janice. Her friend is the only one she can talk about Jim to. She doesn't go into specifics, doesn't want to hurt Janice that way. But it feels good to know that when the ache for Jim gets too bad, she has someone who understands. Someone who loved him too.

It's selfish and she's asked Janice if it would be easier not to talk about Jim. Janice just laughs at her. Give her one of her "ops" looks and tells her to shut up. Friends listen. Friends are there.

Her comm unit buzzes as another message drops into her queue. It's from Matthew. It says, "I have a social emergency. I know that is not your field, but perhaps you could branch out? Retirement ceremony tonight for an old friend. My date has the flu. Go with me? (I assume you have a dress uniform?)"

She laughs. Comms him back. "Social emergencies require serious compensation in the form of expensive booze."

Another message drops in her queue. "Agreed. Name your poison. Oh, and I'll pick you up at 1900."

She laughs and goes back to her emergencies. The day is uneventful, which for them means the Federation is not in immediate danger of collapse. She leaves the Beta Shift science officer with a laundry list of crises to watch. He just smiles at her. None of them would know what to do if things got slow.

Matthew is prompt, whistles appreciatively at her as she models her dress uniform. Reed made her get it when she first started, authorized it on her uniform allowance. Her old dress uniform is apparently woefully out of date.

He has a flitter waiting and she climbs in. They talk during the short ride to the club, and he hands her out with a gallant bow.

She laughs. Realizes she is enjoying herself with him. He takes her arm, an easy movement with no territoriality in it. He's glad to be with her. He enjoys her. Smiling, she tries to show how much she likes him too. And how grateful she is to him.

She meets more admirals, but most of the brass at the ceremony already know her from ops, maybe not by name, but enough to nod and murmur, "Commander," with recognition in their eyes as they do it. It's a nice feeling.

The ceremony is moving, the honoree a woman who made a difference wherever she served. When Matthew gives his tribute, Christine smiles. He is such a good man.

They wander to a bar set up outside on a patio, and enjoy the warm night air.

"You wanted expensive, right?"

She nods. Is about to order single malt and thinks better of it. "Champagne. The good stuff."

He makes a face. "Tiny bubbles are for the birds."

She laughs. "You don't like champagne?"

"No." He smiles. "But I'll get you some."

She wanders to the end of the patio, looking out on the city and the sparkling lights.

He comes out with something clear and full of ice for himself, and hands her a champagne flute. "Dom Perignon all right with you?"

She laughs. "Oh, yes." She sips at it and smiles as the bubbles dance over her tongue. "Good stuff."

"So is this. Good Russian vodka." He holds up his glass, touches it against hers. "To endings. And new beginnings." His expression is very warm. Very gentle.

She thinks she should be nervous. But being with him is low pressure. He may be saying he's interested in her, but if he is, it's in a subtle way. She'll worry about subtext when it becomes text.

"I have a confession to make."

She waits.

"My date didn't have the flu. Actually, I didn't have a date."

She laughs. "You planned this?"

He nods.

"I wish we could plan all our emergencies like that."

He seems to relax. She is about to say something else when a familiar voice calling out a greeting makes her turn. She hears a laugh she'd know anywhere, turns to see Jim and Antonia near the bar. She can feel her face freeze.

Matthew turns to see what she is looking at. He lets out a ragged breath. "I didn't know he'd be here. I swear I wouldn't have asked you if I had. I wouldn't do that to you."

Jim's hand is low on Antonia's rather over-exposed back. She is cuddling in close to him. Christine wants to go over and throw her drink at one or both of them. She also wants to sink into the floor and disappear. She does neither.

Calling on willpower she isn't sure she has, she turns back to Matthew. "It's okay. I'm okay."

He moves closer to her, as if hiding her from Jim. She pushes him away. "Let him see me. It's his loss, right?"

He nods.

The drinks have clearly gone to both their heads. Jim is with a beautiful woman in a gorgeous dress. The most that Christine can say for herself is that she's attractive in her dress uniform.

"It is his loss, Christine. If I were Jim, I'd have stayed and worked it out."

She smiles at him, supposes that is true. But then Matthew probably can't understand the anger that Jim felt, that she still feels both at herself and at Jim. Matthew seems to lack fire. His one true passion appears to be for the Klingons he hates so much.

She turns, sees Jim looking their way. He is scanning the crowd, but he freezes as he sees her. Their eyes seem to lock, even if that's impossible with the distance between them. For a moment she forgets to breathe.

Then he is pushing Antonia inside gently. She imagines they will find a reason to go. Her date outranks him after all. She gets to stay.

She'd rather leave with Jim.

She'd rather do a lot of things. None of them are going to happen.


Her chime rings and Christine gets up from her couch reluctantly. It's been a long time since she's had a day off and she would rather spend it alone, in the quiet that can never be found in ops.

She opens her door, sees Spock standing there. "Hello."

"Hello, Christine." He holds up the traveling Ka'Vareth board that kept them so entertained on the Enterprise. "I thought you might enjoy a game?"

"And you just happened to know that I'd be off work?" When he does not answer, she asks, "Why are you off work?"

"The Academy is on break." He sets up the game on the coffee table.

She makes them both tea then joins him. "Long time."

"Yes. I waited for you to come see me. I did not want to press you. Not when I knew you would be hurting."

She nods. She thought about going to him. But in the end couldn't bring herself to do it. "You were Jim's friend first."

"That is true. But I am your friend as well now."

"I betrayed him."

"Yes, he indicated it had something to do with his son, I believe." Spock does not look like he is judging her.

Why isn't he judging her?

"That's the short version, yeah."

"Unless you plan to tell me the long account, the short version is all that I have."

"I'd rather not."

He nods, as if it does not matter much to him either way. He makes his first move. "I have missed you, Christine. And our games."

She has not played the game for months. Fortunately, it is not something you forget. Not once it is in your blood. She moves a frontpiece in a daring opening.

"Interesting." He looks up at her. "You would not have made that move before."

She frowns. "Yes, I would have."

"You have never made that move before." He moves to counter her boldness.

She supposes if anyone can keep track of that kind of thing it is him. She makes another move, even more daring.

He almost frowns, appears to be trying to deduce if she has a strategy or is just winging it. "I think Emergency Operations is changing you."

"In a good way?"

He looks at the board. "That is not certain."

She laughs.

"Have you seen Jim?" he asks.

Her smile fades. "No." The word is full of meaning and finality. It says, "Don't ask me about this, Spock. Leave it alone."

Spock does not appear to hear it. "I have seen him. He does not appear to be thriving in retirement."

She feels irrationally happy at the thought. "No?" This time the word begs for more details.

"Matthew has asked me to watch out for Jim." He raises an eyebrow, as if asking her to figure out what that means.

"Ah. For 'Operation: Bring Jim Back Into the Fold'?"

"Yes." He waits for her reaction.


"I prefer the word strategic."

"Whatever." She smiles at him. "So you think he's ready to come back?"

"Not yet." He moves a piece in a rather daring move himself. "But soon."

"I see." She studies the board, tries to figure out what the hell he is doing. If they are both playing a "seat of the pants" strategy, the game will be pure chaos. "And just how are you going to entice him back once he's ready?"

"I will not. You will."

She sets the piece she was moving back down. "What?"

"Admiral Cartwright believes Jim still loves you. I believe that as well."

"You didn't see him when he was leaving."

"He did come to me, Christine."

She looks down.

"I know exactly how hurt he was. I know exactly how you hurt him."

"Exactly?" She is suddenly worried. Did Jim meld with him? Does Spock really know everything? What happened to the short version?

"We did not meld." He takes a sip of tea. "Are you going to play eventually?"

"Oh." She sets the piece down, not paying any attention.

He doesn't seem to realize that. Studies the move as if she has invented a new strategy.

She waves her hand in front of his eyes. "Spock, forget the damn game. What do you mean I'm going to bring him back?"

"Just what I said. He is growing restive. The last time I visited him, he spent much time on the front steps, staring up at the stars. I am not sure he was even aware that he was doing it."

"Okay, so he's bored." She hopes that he's bored with Miss Perfect too.

"And I believe he misses you."

"You do?" She laughs. "Have you actually seen Antonia, Spock?"

"Oh, yes. She is stunningly beautiful." He says it as if he is appraising an old painting.

"And have you looked at me lately?"

He almost smiles. "No, because you have been avoiding me."

"You know what I mean." She sips her tea. "I'm not in her league. I don't even own a dress like that."

He frowns, apparently Matthew didn't fill him in on Antonia's fashion sense.

"Long story. But I think Jim's got the package deal here, Spock."

"She lacks your fire. She lacks your intelligence."

"She's dumb?" Christine knows she is too eager to hear that, but can't help herself.

"Jim would not stay with a woman who was of lower intelligence. But she is not like you."

"Maybe that's exactly why he loves her. Because she's nothing like me?" She leans back.

"There is a chemistry between two people who are well matched and care deeply for each other. An energy, if you will. You and Jim have it. Jim and Antonia do not. If you are the one who offers him his life back, I do not believe he will be able to turn it down."

She laughs. "Who knew you were such the scheming diplomat." In ops being called a diplomat is not necessarily a compliment.

"Admiral Cartwright will tell you when it is time to begin Operation--what did you call it?"

"'Operation Bamboozle Jim'?"

"I think that was not it. But it is close enough." He goes back to studying the game.

She knows her game is ruined. All she can think about is Jim.


She and Spock meet regularly for a game. It has become habit, just as eating lunch and the occasional dinner with Matthew has become a habit. Just as flying on pure adrenaline day in and day out has become a habit.

She can throw a briefing together in five minutes. She can work up scenarios with the best of them. Reed has begun to leave her in charge. At first she felt funny--she was one of the newest members of the team--but no one seemed to mind.

"You're a leader, Christine. Get over it." Janice smiles at her over drinks after work.

"But you've been there longer."

"Only by a few weeks. And I have no desire to be Reed's exec. Believe me." She frowns at Christine. "Don't you get that they're grooming you to take her job?"

"Who is?"

"Cartwright and Kachowa."

"You're making that up."

"I'm not." Janice grins at her. "Friends in high places."

Christine walks home thinking about the possibility of taking Reed's job and realizes she wants it, wants it badly. She's ready to move beyond medical. She reads the other sections' reports routinely. She loves to watch how all the pieces fit.

Matthew is waiting for her in the lobby when she walks in.

"Hi," she says.

"Hi. Can I come up?"

"Sure." They ride in silence up to her floor, walk in silence down the hall. Once inside, she goes to the bar. "Vodka?" She keeps the bar stocked. Jim taught her the value of being a good host.

"No. It's time, Christine. It's time to bring him back."

She walks over to him. "I may not be the right person."

"No. You're the right person." He surprises her by reaching out, stroking her cheek. "I have to tell you, I'm a bit torn over this. He comes back and you'll be out of reach. But then you're already out of reach. It's why I haven't pushed. You don't seem ready--I'm not sure you ever will be. Jim's got a hold of your heart and he's never letting go."

She looks down. "I think you're right. I do care about you but--"

He puts a finger over her lips. "It's all right. I want a woman who loves me for me, not because I'm a nice guy." He smiles sadly. Then perks up. "And it's better that we're just good friends because I'm going to be your boss. Kachowa's job is mine effective two weeks from now."

"Congratulations, Matthew."

"It's a big vote of confidence. But I know we won't let them down." He grins at her. "I want Jim to take my billet at the Academy. It's a lot more interesting than just teaching. He'll be shaping curriculum, out in space with the cadets on the test cruises, administering the Kobayashi Maru." He grins at that.

"I'll use that in my sales pitch."

"You do that. Oh and Reed will be rotating out soon too. I'll be assigning you to that job."

So Janice was right.

"Are you sure you don't want to wait and see if I can deliver Jim?" She grins. Bringing Jim back may be impossible--her own no-win scenario. She knows Matthew won't hold it against her if she fails.

"He loves you, Christine. I know it. Hell, even Spock knows it." When she doesn't comment, he says, "Jim told Spock that he and Antonia would be visiting his uncle's place in Idaho. They'll be there a few days before heading back home. Go there. It's neutral ground."

She looks down. "Not exactly. He met Antonia there, remember?"

"Even better. Guilty ground."

She's told him the story. Didn't mean to but it came out one night after too much expensive champagne.

"You go tomorrow morning, Commander. Failure is not an option."

She can't help it. She laughs. But she stands at attention, and her unwavering gaze forward is regulation perfect. "Sir, yes, sir."

He moves closer. "I'm only going to do this once. Then we forget I ever tried, okay?"

She nods, lifts her face to his so he can kiss her.

It's a nice kiss. Friendly. Warm.

It doesn't move her at all.

He seems to know that as he pulls away. "The man ruined you for anyone else, Christine. I'm not sure if you are lucky or cursed."

She laughs softly. "I'm not sure either, Matthew."

He smiles at her. "Good luck, Commander." Then he is gone.

She can barely sleep. Is up with the sun and has to wait a while before beaming over. This time she beams to the closest town and rents a flitter to take her to Harry's place. She flies over, gets out and walks to the main house.

She knocks and waits, but no one comes. Backing up, she studies the house and sees that a curtain upstairs is swinging slightly as if someone was watching her but then ducked out of sight. She turns and listens for a moment, then heads for the stables.


Jim's uncle looks up from where he is mucking out a stall. "Christine?"

She nods, unsure what her reception will be.

"Good god, girl. Come here." He drops the rake, strides over to her, and grabs her up in a hug. "How the hell are you?"

She laughs. "I'm good."

He lets her go. "Really?"

"Well, I'd be better if I was staying here and not just visiting."

He looks suddenly guilty.

"It's okay." She touches his arm. "I know she's here."

He nods.

"Harry, it's all right to like us both." She kisses his stubbly cheek and says, "It's good if Jim's happy."

She pulls back, studies Harry's face. He doesn't look like he thinks Jim is all that happy. But he tries to cover it up by telling her how much Jim likes riding.

"Is that where he is now?"

He nods.

"Can I borrow a horse?" At his look, she holds up a hand. "I'm not here on my own behalf. I'm on official Starfleet business. Admiral Cartwright sent me."

He looks uncertain, and a new, softer voice calls out from behind them. "It's okay, Harry. I'll get her fixed up."

Christine turns. If anything, Antonia is even more beautiful close up. Soft, perfect features. Deep brown eyes. Lustrous dark hair. And a lovely petite and very curvaceous figure.

She tries not to conjure up a picture of Andrea to compare her with. Tries not to feel gawky and overly tall and uncertain, but the vision moves closer--Antonia is graceful even in a dust-filled barn.

"You're Christine, aren't you?"

She nods.

Antonia turns. "Come on, the horses are out here." She leads Christine to a large corral where six horses are moving restlessly. She hooks her arms over the fence, whistles and a dark bay horse trots up. Her hand goes out, the horse nuzzles her gently.

"Yours," Christine says softly.

"If only everything were so easily claimed." Antonia turns to her. "I've spent the last two years being jealous of you."

"Have you looked in the mirror?" Christine smiles a bit bitterly. This is a strange conversation.

"Oh, I've made a living on my looks. I have no illusions on that front." She touches the horse's forelock, moves it away from his eyes and rubs between them. "Beauty can attract, but it can't hold." She looks over at Christine, gives her an odd look.

"He's starting to sneak out at night, isn't he? You've caught him sitting on the front stoop staring up at the stars?" She isn't afraid to use what Spock told her. Knows he gave it to her as ammunition.

He wants Jim back just as much as she does. He'll never admit it, but he may want him back for the same reasons. Because he loves him. Because he misses him.

Antonia nods slowly. "He seems...bored these days. If he weren't, I'd give you the meanest horse here and send you in the wrong direction." She sighs. "Pick one."

Christine knows that Antonia's bay is not included in that choice. She looks out over the horses, chooses a scrubby buckskin that looks like it could run all day. "That one."

Antonia laughs softly. "Of course, you'd choose the mustang. She was skittish, hard to gentle." She looks down. "The only one Jim told me not to ride. I think I finally understand why." She climbs over the fence in a quick motion, grabs a halter, and retrieves the horse. "Her name is Caya," she says as she leads her out of the gate and ties her to the fence, saddling her quickly.

"I can do it."

"No. I'm the hostess." She seems angry now, won't look anywhere but at the horse as she works.

Christine thinks Antonia might be trying not to cry. She also thinks she will check the girth before she gets on.

"Couldn't you just turn around and go away?" Antonia says. "Leave us alone?"

"No. We need him."

"And they send you? The stars offered to him by you? Starfleet really doesn't fight fair, does it?"

"No." She meets Antonia's eyes. "I don't intend to fight fair either."

"I know." Antonia backs away. She laughs slightly as Christine tightens the girth before she swings up onto the horse. "Did you expect me to fight fair?"

"Frankly, I'd be disappointed if you did."

Antonia smiles, a real smile this time. "I expected to hate you."

"Same here." Christine smiles gently. "But then this is James T. Kirk we're fighting over. He generally has great taste in women."

Antonia looks down. "Tell me, are they enough? The memories of having loved him?"

Christine decides not to lie to her. "No. They're not."

Antonia sighs, then points down a dusty road. "Follow that until you come to the trees, then go straight on through. Once you pass the creek you'll see a ravine up ahead. He's usually there. Jumping it." She looks down.

From rock climbing to this new form of thrill seeking. Jim isn't very original when it comes to showing how dissatisfied he is. But she doesn't offer that opinion to Antonia, just nods and says, "I'll find him."

"I have no doubt of that." Antonia crawls back over the fence; her bay comes close and she wraps her arms around his neck.

At least she can be sure of one of her men.

Christine takes off down the road, letting the mare settle into her own pace. Caya's gallop is rougher than the horses she used to ride on her grandfather's farm, but the mare probably could run all day if she had to.

The sun is hot, and Christine wishes she'd brought a hat. She squints against the brightness, then sighs in relief when she finally reaches the trees. Caya has slowed to a nice canter, taking it easy on both of them. As they pass a creek, Christine slows her even more.

She sees him up ahead. He is on a dark bay horse, light-limbed and tall, probably bred to jump things like the ravine Jim is making him leap over and over. She pulls up, waits for him to see her.

He urges his horse forward, the movement of his hands and feet and seat nearly undetectable. He rides horses the same way he used to ride her. With perfect control.

She feels a rush of lust at the sight of him, at being alone with him finally after the time apart. She loves how he fills out the riding pants, how strong his arms look in the short sleeved shirt he is wearing. She barely looks at other men, but she can't keep her eyes off Jim.

She wants him. Will there ever come a day when she doesn't?

She sees his look change as he realizes it is her. "Chris?" For a second, she thinks he would like to pull her off the horse and into his arms, but then his expression becomes neutral.

And wary.

"Fancy meeting you here." He turns, clucks to his horse and shifts forward. The horse takes off for the ravine again, leaps it effortlessly. Jim stops him, wheeling in a tight circle so he is facing her. He leans forward. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here on Matthew's behalf."

"Let me guess. An offer from Starfleet? Not interested."

"Why don't you let me tell you about it before you reject it?"

"Well, I would, Chris. But see, you're over there and I'm here. It's a problem."

"Jump back over here."

"Don't want to." He grins--meanly, she thinks. "You show me yours, I'll show you mine."

She remembers a time, long before they got together, when he was the one pursuing her and she said those words to him. What was it he said? She remembers. "You think I won't?"

He shrugs, begins to turn away.

She leans down, pats Caya on the neck, under her coarse mane. "Let's show him what wild horses are made of, girl." She urges her forward, and Caya tears up the ground as the ravine gets closer and closer.

She cannot see Jim's face. She wonders if he is worried, but forgets everything in the rush she gets as the horse takes off, clearing the ravine by several feet. The horse slows, and Christine turns her in a lazy circle, joining him at the edge of the ravine.

He is staring at her, and she sees that he was worried. She doesn't hesitate, knows this may be the only time he will be open to the offer, to even listening to her. "Matthew is moving up to be head of Emergency and Relief Operations. Starfleet needs someone in his position at the Academy. Someone like you."

"I'm retired."

"Yes, and quite busy, I see. Are you climbing mountains too? Or is this the extent of your risk taking?"

His look turns stony.

"You're bored, Jim." She turns Caya, trots her back, then sets her against the ravine again.

The mare clears it effortlessly. She turns. "I've shown you mine..."

His mouth tightens and he turns his horse, getting the distance he needs to make the jump. The horse is beautiful when he runs, even more beautiful as he leaps the gap.

When Jim rides back to her, she leans in. "Tell me, love, how many times has Antonia jumped the ravine?"

He looks away, and she laughs. This is it; this is where she doesn't play fair. This is where she wins him back for Starfleet, for Matthew, for Spock, and please god, someday for herself.

"She doesn't need to jump the ravine." He is making his horse sidestep up against hers, pushing Caya away from the edge. She wonders if he is even conscious he is doing it.

Her mare suddenly lunges at his horse, nipping him as he gets too close.

Jim's laugh is unexpected. "Even your horse is a bitch."

"She's not my horse, as you well know."

"Well, then, it figures you'd pick her." He exhales loudly and something seems to leave him.

She realizes it is his resistance to her offer. She pushes her advantage. "This isn't for me, although I'd be lying if I said that I don't miss you. It's for you and for the Fleet. We need you." She grins. "And you'd be the one to administer the Kobayashi Maru. Isn't there some fine irony in that idea?"

He grins. But as he looks at her, something fills his eyes. It is the old anger.

He hasn't forgiven her.

He may never forgive her.

She sighs. "Our paths won't cross unless you want them to. I'm in the operations center or I'll be off world at some emergency or other." She looks down. "Matthew will keep me out of your way, I promise you."

"You and Matthew seem pretty close now."

"Jealous?" She studies him.

He clamps down on something that does look very much like jealousy. "You're a free agent."

"Yes. You made me one." She looks down. "But that's immaterial, Jim. I'm not the reason you should consider this. Do you want back up there?" She points up. "Because you can get there again." She plays her trump card. "On the Enterprise."

He starts to look up at the sky, but then his gaze is arrested by something else. She follows his eyes, sees a horse and rider silhouetted on the hillside.

She knows it is Antonia. "She loves you," she says.

"And I love her." His voice sounds broken.

Christine leans in. "I believe that. But has it occurred to you that she's your Joe?" Their eyes meet and there is something lost in his. "Starfleet will need your answer by the end of the week." She wheels the buckskin and gallops off.

As she rides back to the barn, she realizes that Antonia is shadowing her. The other woman has not chosen to ride down, is not going to try to convince Jim to stay with her.

Christine knows she's won.

Unless, of course, Antonia is armed. She does not appear to be, or if she is, decides not to shoot Christine on the short trip back to the barn. She rides up and dismounts as Christine is undoing the girth, getting ready to pull the saddle from Caya's back.

"Leave it. I'll do it."

Harry walks out. "I'll take her." He unties Caya, urges her to follow him into the barn. "It was nice seeing you, Christine."

Antonia stands between her and the flitter. Her eyes are hard. "He loves me. He'll choose me."


"He doesn't love you anymore." Pain is making Antonia harsh.

And a liar. Christine saw love mixed with all the anger in Jim's eyes. But Antonia doesn't need to know that she knows that. Not when Antonia's going to lose him all on her own. She's beautiful, she's loving. And Jim's bored with her.

Christine doesn't say that either. "It doesn't matter whether he loves me. Does he still love space? Does he still love the stars and the ships and the life he left behind?"

Antonia looks down.

"I am sorry." It's a lie, but Christine is getting better at them. And this time it's for a good cause. "I know what you'll be going through."

She walks around the other woman, hurries to the flitter and climbs in. As she flies away, she sees Jim slowly riding up. Antonia takes one look at his face and turns on her heel, walking quickly into the house.

He doesn't follow her.