Commander by Djinn

Begin part 1 of 2

Christine begins to search through the available video on the screen, trying hard to ignore how her hand is shaking as she looks for shots of the Enterprise coming home. She can't find the right channel, begins to poke at the screen with increasing force.

"It's here, Commander," Rasmussen says as he reaches around her, punching in the right number. The science officer moves away again quickly.

"Thank you," she whispers to his back, then turns back to the screen, where the Enterprise is captured as it sits in Spacedock. She is a far cry from the glistening ship that left orbit with a class of cadets. She is a hurt Enterprise--but not so hurt as her captain, who has lost his best friend. Not so hurt as her dead first officer. Christine feels the pain rise up again, filling her with a combination of grief and guilt. Spock--her friend too--is dead. And she suspects it is her fault.

She doesn't know for sure because the brass are being very tightlipped, and even Emergency Ops personnel are finding it hard to determine what happened. But that's telling in its own way. If it's that sensitive, it can only be about one thing: Genesis.

The project she let ruin what she had with Jim. The project she sold her soul to. The project that just may have killed Spock.

Janice comes back into Ops, walking slowly. She sighs as she gets closer to the station Christine is sitting at.

"It was bad?" Christine asks.

"It was worse than bad. The ship--I understand now why they're not sending her out again."

Christine wonders if Jim knows yet that the Enterprise is being mothballed. His ship. His love. Turned out to pasture.

She brought him back from retirement for this?

"Nyota sends her love," Janice says.

Janice went up to Spacedock to watch the ship come in. Used her lunch and then some to wait for their friends to appear, but Christine doesn't care. One of them had to watch everyone--or almost everyone--come safely home. And Christine suspects she wouldn't have been very welcome.

"Did you see him?"

Janice nods, turning away quickly.

Christine reaches out, stops her progress. "What?"

"He's devastated." There is still an oddly evasive look in Janice's eyes.

"Jan, what are you hiding?" When her friend tries to turn away again, she says. "Tell me."

"He wasn't alone, Christine. When he came out. He was with this blonde. They together."

Christine sighs. A new woman? She stole him back from Antonia only to lose him to another woman?

"He introduced her as Doctor Marcus."

Christine turns slowly, not able to believe what she is hearing. She hasn't told Jan the long, terrible saga. Has alluded to what went on, that she betrayed Jim by keeping something a secret from him, but she has left out all the crucial details.

Like the name of the woman who set her up, who made sure Jim found out exactly how much he'd been lied to. She can feel her resentment toward the woman turning into a fiery hatred. She thought Carol outed her for the sake of the project, but what if she really just wanted Jim back?

And now, courtesy of Christine, he is free of Antonia and ready for Carol to make her move.

She wonders who she can ask about this. In the past, she would have asked Spock, but--

No, not Spock.

Len then. He will know. He always knows. "Was Len with them?"

Janice frowns. "You know, I didn't see him."

Christine turns to the screen, does a quick search. "Oh no."

Leaning in over her, Janice reads the report from the logs Jim has transferred to Command. "Erratic behavior and collapse?"

Christine pushes away from the terminal. "I'll be at Medical." At Janice's nod, she hurries out of Ops and down the maze of corridors that will take her to the connector wing. Command is confusing, but she knows the twists and turns of the building by heart.

Medical is busy, and she slips by the reception desk. She still wears a small caduceus near her collar, is still authorized access to the area--but it is customary to check in first.

She doesn't give a rat's ass what is customary. Not now. Not when Spock is dead. Not when Jim might be rediscovering the mother of his son--how the hell can he be doing that when Spock is dead and something is wrong with Len?

She turns the corner and careens into someone. Whoever it is reaches out to steady her, and her hands come up to briefly rest on his chest as she tries not to fall.

"Chris." Jim lets go of her immediately, backs away. Looking behind him at one of the private rooms, he says, "I guess you heard about Len?"

She nods. "I was coming to check on him."

"That would be good." His voice is strained, almost inhumanly so. As if he's being pushed beyond his ability to bounce back. As if this is the last of a long line of blows.

"I'm sorry," she whispers. "Spock..." Anything she could say will be the wrong thing so she says nothing.

"He gave his life for the ship. We live because he doesn't." He brushes at his eyes, rubbing them hard.

She wants to pull his hands down, wants to hold him close. She resists the urge.

"Come on." He walks into the room, not even checking to see if she is following, which she is of course.

On a good day, she would follow him anywhere. With him looking so close to breaking, she would follow him into hell if it meant she could keep him safe.

Walking to the end of the bed, she studies the panel that charts Len's progress. He's only been in the room for a short time yet they have plenty of data to study. It's one of the ironies of modern medicine--you can have data up the yin yang, and still know nothing about what is wrong with someone. There is nothing in Len's chart to indicate why he might be behaving oddly. The only exceptional readings are some elevated neurotransmitter levels. And those could be from the stress of what he and Jim and the others have gone through.

She sits down by the bed, watching as Len moves restlessly before looking at the attending physician's notes. He's going to release Len, let him sleep in his own place, far from the controlled chaos that is a hospital. It's what she would do too.

"Is he going to be all right?" Jim has moved to the window, is staring out at the bay.

"I don't know."

He doesn't say anything, and Christine begins to feel out of place. She wonders where Carol is. Have she and Jim parted ways? Was what Jan saw just a friendly goodbye? Or will Carol walk into this room eventually and make the moment even more difficult?

Len mumbles something, and for one moment his voice sounds eerily like Spock's.

Jim turns, and she sees him wince. Then he looks over at her. His eyes are filled with some kind of dark hopelessness, then they fill with something new. Or old rather. The old anger he has toward her.

"You don't have to stay, Commander. I know you're busy." He turns back to the view.

She watches him for a moment, wanting nothing more than to reach out for him, to hold him and tell him it will be all right. Even if it won't.

She wants to lie to him. She wants to comfort him. She knows that comfort from her is the last thing he'll want right now. And he's had more than enough of her lies.

Sighing, she leaves him alone. Because he's right, she is busy.

And she knows when she's not wanted.


She watches the big screen, sits stunned as the Enterprise approaches the still-closed Spacedock doors.

Jim is stealing his ship back. Jim has clearly lost his mind.

She finds herself rooting for him anyway.

"Open," she mutters. "Open."

The doors open just in time, and the ship heads out.

Jim is gone. She imagines he has taken Len with him. The strange Len who looked at her with such disconcerting intensity the last time she went to check on him and asked her if she would like to play Ka'Vareth.

She's not sure what the hell Jim is doing. But she hopes to god it helps.

"Excelsior will get her," she hears someone say. "Styles will have a thing or two to say about this."

"Yeah," someone calls back, "but will anyone understand him?"

The room erupts in laughter. None of them like Styles. Or his stupid riding crop. Christine wishes Janice wasn't off duty--her friend would enjoy that it is Jim who is making Styles look like a fool. Normally, he just looks like a pompous ass.

Matthew turns to look at her, shaking his head and barely hiding the grin on his face. "Jim is one crazy damn coot."

She grins at him. "You have only yourself to blame for luring him back."

"Don't think I haven't thought of that." He sits down next to her, watches as Excelsior moves forward, no doubt preparing for warp. The grand ship makes her move--if jerking slightly then floating dead in space can be considered much of a move. "Sabotage?"

"I imagine, if you were to check, Mister Scott would be conspicuously absent from Styles's crew."

Matthew laughs. "Well, I think I won't check then." He sighs. "What do you suppose Jim's up to?"

"I'm not sure. But whatever it is, I'm sure he thinks it is life or death." She remembers Len's voice, deeper, more gravelly than usual, and sounding so much like Spock's it sent shivers down her spine.

"I just hope he knows what he's doing."

"Me too." She leans back. "Styles is going to be on a tear."

"Oh, no doubt." Shaking his head, Matthew gets up. "We should forward deploy that man to the Klingon Empire. It would bring them down in months rather than years."

She laughs. Being suitable for extended duty on Q'onos is the worst insult Matthew can give. She turns back to her terminal.

"You know, if you're never going to sit in your office, you're going to lose it. Space is at a premium."

She likes being in the thick of things. Feels a bit disconnected inside the office she inherited from Commander Reed. And it's not like Matthew doesn't spend his share of time loitering in the main area. "You're just jealous that you don't have a station out here."

"Maybe so, Christine. Maybe so." He looks up at the big screen again. "I just wish I knew what he was up to."

A security alert runs across her screen. Other ships are being scrambled. "Do you think they'll catch him?"

Matthew looks at her as if she's crazy. "Jim Kirk? On his ship? On one of his damn missions? Not in a million years." He smiles. "And it's a cinch he won't give up. That man never surrenders."

She remembers Jim jumping the ravine, remembers the moment he bowed to the inevitable. He surrendered then. But it doesn't count. He was only surrendering to what he really wanted in the first place: space...and his ship.

A comm she's been waiting for from a damage assessment team out in the Fesayan sector comes in and she smiles. "Business as usual."

He nods, turning away to let her read. The news is not good. Five ships hit hard by an unusually wicked ion storm. The third in as many months. And this time the damage seems awfully specific. As if the storm deliberately hit certain areas of the ship. She sends the comm to Rasmussen, annotates it with, "Does this strike you as normal ion storm behavior?"

Rasmussen reads the comm then turns to her, shaking his head. He messages back, "I'm sending it to the Special Projects department."

She nods. Nobody is quite sure what Special Projects does when they're not investigating cases like this. Christine isn't sure she wants to know. At any rate, a manmade storm sounds right up their alley.

"Christine?" a soft voice purrs in her ear.

She looks up to see Uhura. "Ny." She points to the chair. "Sit."

"I can't stay long," Nyota says softly, sitting down tiredly enough to make Christine wonder what she's been up to. "I'm bound for Vulcan."

Christine frowns. "Vulcan? I don't understand. Is there going to be a funeral after all?"

"Sort of. Do you know much about the katra?"

Christine nods. After all the studying she did back in her infatuation days, she probably knows more than Ny does about the Vulcan soul.

"Well, I'm not real clear on the details, but as I understand it, Sarek thinks Spock gave his katra to McCoy."

Christine nods slowly. That would explain some things. "They're taking him home?"

Nyota nods. "And healing Len in the process, hopefully."

"There'll be hell to pay when this is over." Command is not going to look lightly on this. But when has that ever stopped Jim?

Nyota gets up. "I have to go. Sarek is waiting for me." She touches Christine's shoulder. "I wish you were coming with us. I wish you were still with Jim."

"Me too, Ny."

She watches her friend hurry out, tries not to envy her for still being in Jim's inner circle.

It is a futile attempt.


The wind is whipping outside the windows of Emergency Ops, rain streaming down the glass as if someone has turned a hose on it. The humidity in the room has reached unbearable levels--it might as well be raining inside too. Calling the moisture that beads across the terminals and makes the fabric of their chairs ooze liquid "condensation" is like calling V'Ger a "little probe."

Christine tries to wipe off the screen, looks over to where Matthew is conferring with the Federation President.

"May I assist you in any way?" Sarek's voice is calm.

"You want to wipe off the monitor? Because that's all the good I'm really doing." She smiles, a sad, realistic smile. They may all be dead soon. But in the meantime, she'd like to read the comms while they still flow across the screen.

Sarek sits down. The chair sloshes as he does so, and his eyebrow goes up as if in distaste.

"Nice digs we have here, huh?" She laughs softly, is surprised to see his expression lighten.

He looks down at his sodden robe. "My appearance is also somewhat the worse for wear."

"I'm sorry I got you into this." She should never have called him, never asked him to be an advocate for Jim.

"You did what you thought best. Kirk needed someone to speak for him, and I owed him a debt for bringing my son back to me."

"You didn't owe him your life though." She doesn't want to think of dying. Not when Jim is somewhere in the past on a wild goose chase. Or wild whale chase.

She wonders how many women he will charm on that chase. Too many probably. At least, they'll stay in the past when he brings his oceanic bounty to the future. How the hell do you bring a whale home in a Klingon bird-of- prey? She smiles, imagines Jim saying, "Very carefully."

"He'll save us," she says softly, not sure which of them she is trying to convince.

Sarek considers that. "If anyone can, I think the odds favor him. But even so, the odds are not good."

"I know. But Jim doesn't play the odds. He just wins."

"That has been his history." He studies her, his scrutiny making her slightly uncomfortable. "He lost you, however."

She looks down. "No. I lost him. That's worse."

"Ah. I am sorry. The end of a relationship is often painful."

She is surprised at his choice of words, frowns. "For a human, you mean?"

"Vulcans are not incapable of feeling pain, Christine." His voice, as he calls her by name, is very sad. "Perhaps if you had come to Vulcan after the Fal-tor-Pan you might have won him back? Kirk was, I think, very much alone."

"Even with your son's rebirth?" She smiles. It is the miracle story of the century. Spock is alive. She wishes her guilt would die with his resurrection. But it hasn't.

"My son is not...himself. The refusion was a success, and yet Spock is different."

"I see." She thinks of the Ka'Vareth games she and Spock have shared, the minty Vulcan tea he taught her to enjoy. The way he planned Jim's recapture. All those things, all the other things she shared with him over the years. Are they really all gone?

She and Sarek might be gone if Jim doesn't strike gold. Christine sends Amanda a silent apology for bringing her husband to Earth just to die. Not that she meant to. She only wanted him to testify for Jim and the others. His voice carries weight. She knew the Council would listen to him. She would do it again if she had to.

Even if it means that he dies with her in this damn storm caused by that damn probe. She wishes someone would turn the sound of its sing-song call down--or better yet off.

She glances over at Sarek. Wonders if he is worried about who will carry his katra home if they are all killed. He appears serene, composed.

Matthew walks over. He stands behind her chair, reading the few comms that are getting through the interference. The damage is getting worse. She feels his fingers on the back of her neck, gently squeezing. Reaching up, she lays her hand over his, pressing down for a long moment. She sees that Sarek takes in their interaction, but he does not seem surprised--or offended.

She is glad she is dying among friends.

"Is there anything I can do, Admiral?" Sarek asks.

"Send Jim Kirk some luck?"

"Vulcans do not believe in luck."

Matthew laughs. It is a laugh tinged with exhaustion. "Then send him some logic, Ambassador. I'm sure he can use that too."

Someone calls for him, and Matthew hurries to the other side of the room. Christine turns back to the comms, sees the screen go black. "So much for primary communications." She watches as the techs try to link into the backup system. It does not look like things are going any better for them than for the techs trying to shore up the windows.

She takes a deep breath, forcing herself to relax.

"My son thought very highly of you, Christine," Sarek says out of the blue. It is a surprising statement, almost a gift.

They must be doomed.

She sighs. "I think highly of him too." Laughing slightly, she says, "He thought I could win Jim back."

"He knows Kirk well. Perhaps he is right." His eyes are very gentle. "It is something to live for, is it not?"

"Do you think I need that?"

"Everyone needs that, Christine." Sarek stands up. "I think the President could use my assistance."

She smiles. "Thank you."

"I did nothing."

"We both know better than that."

She turns back to the black screen, glances over at Janice who is trying to help the techs with the uplinks. The screens wink back into service just as a dull roar and then a loud crack fill the room. One of the windows shatters, rain and wind pouring in.

"Look!" Sarek suddenly says loudly enough for them to hear over the roar of the storm. He points out through the murk. Vulcan eyes must be as sharp as that famous hearing.

She sees a bird-of-prey roar toward the bridge. "Lower," she sends to whoever is piloting her. "Lower."

The ship drops just enough to clear the bridge, then crashes in the water. She can't see anything as the storm seems to intensify.

Then it stops.

The silence is eerie. She can hear the ping of comms coming in again, the sound of people moving in their chairs.

She looks over at Sarek. He nods in satisfaction. Matthew is grinning like a damn fool.

Janice walks past her toward her terminal.

"He did it, Jan."

Her friend laughs. "Like there was ever any doubt?"

Christine smiles. If there was doubt, there shouldn't have been. This is Jim Kirk. He saves the day. Every time. And lives to tell the tale. Or lives to let others tell it for him. He doesn't like to blow his own horn.

It's just one reason why he's a hero.


Christine steps away from her friends, glances over at Gillian. She wants to hate this woman that hitchhiked back with Jim, but she's finding it difficult to. She's too full of energy and good-natured awe. Christine doesn't want to imagine what Jim might see when he looks at Gillian.

Gillian looks over at her. "It was nice meeting you, Christine."

"Good luck catching up."

The woman makes a face and fingers the badge on her clothes. She'll be gone soon. The thought makes Christine both sad and happy. She thinks she could have enjoyed Gillian's company. She worries Jim might already be enjoying it.

As Gillian walks away, toward Jim who seems to be looking for her, Christine sighs.

"Don't worry. I told her he was spoken for."

Christine turns, sees Nyota grinning madly. "You did what?"

Uhura shrugs. "The concept of the rebound spans the centuries, Christine. Gillian doesn't want that. Was that wrong and bad of me?"

"Yes." Christine grins. "And thanks."

Nyota's smile fades as she turns to Christine. "You two belong together. I believe that." She sighs. "But I don't see that either of you are trying particularly hard to get back together."

"It's not that simple." Christine looks away, over to where Gillian is brushing Jim's cheek with her lips. He is staring at her forlornly. As if he can't believe she is leaving.

How much does he care about this woman?

"Not that simple?" Nyota says, shaking her head. "He's been back in Starfleet for months. What are you waiting for?"

Christine tenses as Jim looks over at her. Their eyes meet, his are stony, still sad from Gillian's departure. He doesn't look at all glad to see her. She can feel her own smile fading.

Jim appears to hate her. Spock barely knows her, although he seemed to be trying to remember who she was as they stood talking before the hearing. David is dead, killed by a Klingon in cold blood. All her fault, somehow. She feels the guilt as if it was a heavy weight strapped around her neck.

At least Len is back to normal. His hug was warm and welcoming. No lasting damage to him, thank god.

"Christine. He won't wait forever."

"He's not waiting now, Ny. I'll see you soon, okay?"

"Ops is calling?"

Christine nods. It is an easier answer than saying her heart is breaking with each moment she stays in the room. With each moment that the man she still loves pretends she is not even there.

He has not said one word to her, not even when she was standing right next to him after the judgment was announced.

She didn't try to talk to him either. Could see in his eyes the message to stay away.

Far away.

She obliges him and flees with as much grace as she can.

She somehow manages not to look back.

Ops is bustling with the verdict, the wonderful punishment that isn't any hardship. Jim will get his ship back. A ship that should have had another name painted on it but at the last minute was christened Enterprise. Matthew told her, made her promise not to tell Jim.

As if that would happen. She'd have to get close to him to spill the beans. And it's clear that close is exactly where Jim doesn't want her to be.

Janice comes in and wanders over. "You okay?"

She sniffs in bitter amusement. "Sure."

"Not very convincing."

"First Carol, now Gillian. You think I should be clueing in to something? Like maybe Jim doesn't want me anymore?"

Janice sits down. "Maybe he doesn't. What then?" She's not saying it to be mean. Just working out a scenario. It's what they do in ops.

Christine shrugs. "I guess I move on." At Janice's look, she shakes her head. "I know, I know. It's what you've been telling me to do for some time." She looks up at the big screen. For once, all is quiet, nothing threatening. "Is it okay if I don't make any major life changes today?"

Janice squeezes her shoulder. "It's okay if you don't make any ever. It's up to you to decide what you want."

"So waiting forever? You think that's an option?"

"I don't know. You have to figure that out. I can't." Giving her a small smile, Janice goes back to her station.

Christine stares down at her comm queue, not even seeing the messages. Jim may never forgive her. Is she really going to wait forever for him?


Christine is bent over Rasmussen's station, watching a crippled freighter pull into spacedock when she feels someone nudge her. She glances over her shoulder, sees Janice staring at the entrance.

"Little busy here, Jan." She turns back to the terminal.

"Christine." Something in Janice's voice makes her turn around, look at the entrance.

Jim stands there; he is watching her. They stare at each other for a long time, then he motions with his head for her to join him. The way he used to when they were newly in love and he still trusted her, still wanted to spend time with her.

She feels anger rise inside her. A sudden contrary urge makes her plant her feet.

Jim's expression doesn't change, but she has the sense he is not surprised that she isn't moving.

"Christine, don't be an idiot. One of you has to blink." When Christine doesn't answer, Janice says, "Isn't this what you wanted?" She pushes her gently toward the door. "Go to him. Or so help me god, I'll kill you."

Taking her headset off, Christine lays it down and walks over to him. "Captain."

"Commander." He's not smiling. "I thought you might be free for lunch?"

She nods slowly.

"We need to talk," he says.

"We've needed to talk for some time. You weren't interested in talking." She tries to bite down the anger that keeps rising, knows some of it is because she feels so damn guilty every time she looks at him.

He takes her arm, probably looks like the perfect gentleman, but his grip is steel. "Come on."

"What if I don't want to?"

"Then you never should have jumped that damn ravine."

"That was some time ago, Jim."

"Yes. It was." He shoots her an annoyed look. "Time heals all wounds."

"Does it?"

"So they say." He looks at her again, his eyes giving nothing away. He doesn't let go of her as he steers them down the corridor toward the exit.

"I guess we're not going to eat in the mess?"

"No." He glances at her. "Somewhere more private."

"How private?" She tries to pull away.

He lets her go. "Not that private."

She stops, and he does too. They stare at each other, and finally she indicates he should lead on. He does not try to take her arm; she almost wishes that he would. She feels off balance. Very confused.

Why now? Why does he want to talk to her now? He's been gone, out in space on his shiny new ship. A shiny new ship that didn't prove very able, given the reports she's read. And a first mission that turned into a bit of a fiasco. She's pretty sure having his ship hijacked was not the pinnacle of Jim's week.

She slows as they approach the exit. "I'm not hungry," she says, her tone abrupt, the words coming out as one rushed sound.

"Fine. We'll walk then."

"Fine." She glances over at him.

His jaw is set, his eyes look angry. He turns to meet her gaze and she can see that he is indeed angry. Very angry.

Looking down, she stops walking. "Jim, if you just want to yell at me. Do it here."

"Why would I yell at you?"

She sighs. "For all the things you're still angry at. For my not telling you the truth. For betraying you. For working on the project with Carol and with David. For using protomatter--"

He looks startled; this is clearly a surprise. "Protomatter? You were involved with that?"

She nods. "I was the one who worked the closest with David. I told you that back when I gave you that damned tour. I was supposed to be the voice of reason, but all I did was egg him on. We were like two kids in the science equivalent of the candy shop. We played with fire; we thought we were gods. What more do you want me to say?"

"It was your idea?"

She looks down, feels a pang as if she is betraying the dead. "No, it was his. But a long time ago, I wrote about it in my dissertation. And he found that. He found me. I did tell you about that...sort of."

"At the conference?" It sounds like it is all coming together for him. "And then you stopped telling me much of anything about your work."

She nods. "So you see, my betrayal goes back even farther than you thought." She takes a step away from him. "I'm truly irredeemable."

"I'll be the judge of that."

"The judge of me, you mean? Well, why not? I hurt you the most, after all. Your son's dead, your best friend was dead, your ship was destroyed. You nearly lost your life and your career, and Len nearly lost his mind. What didn't I destroy because I let a young man talk me into doing exactly what I wanted to do?" She turns away from him, sits down on a nearby bench.

He sits down next to her.

"I have a lot to answer for, Jim."

"Yes. You do. But not to me. Not about the protomatter, anyway. That's between you and your conscience, Chris."

She turns to him, frowns.

"But the other...David..." He sighs. "I find myself in an odd position." He's not looking at her, as if it's easier to talk if he doesn't have to really see her. "Someone I cared about, someone I loved, who I trusted implicitly, betrayed me. Kept something from me and did some things that put my life and my ship at risk."

She looks down.

"Not you, Chris. Spock."

She turns to him. Confused. "Spock did?"

"In this latest mission." He sees her look and waves her questions away. "It's a long story. Suffice it to say that I forgave him. And now I'm wondering why I can forgive him and not you?"

She laughs. It is a bitter sound. "Maybe because you want to forgive him and you don't want to forgive me?" The sound only grows more cutting as she laughs again. "Maybe I'm not worth forgiving?"

"You're really wallowing in this, aren't you?" His tone is sharp, he's not joking.

"I should have stopped David. And now he's dead and the whole thing was a disaster." She wipes an angry tear away. "I knew it couldn't work, and I didn't stop him."

"Protomatter? You knew protomatter couldn't work?" His voice is hushed, this discussion is forbidden, but they are having it anyway. Genesis is a dead subject, yet he is going to let her talk about it. Finally, someone will let her talk about it.

She is glad he didn't want to eat in the mess. "Yes, I knew protomatter was unstable, but that didn't stop me from helping David add it to the mix so that Genesis would actually work, so that it really would create life from lifelessness."

"And it did."

"Not for long. The planet destroyed itself."

He moves closer, drops his voice even more. "Spock probably can explain this better than I can, but it did work, Chris. I saw the cave on Regula." His eyes seem very far away, he smiles. "It was a paradise. A stable paradise."

She waves his words away. "Small scale. But when Khan set it loose on a planet, then it failed."

"Khan didn't set it loose on a planet. Khan set the Genesis device off on the Reliant. In the middle of the Mutara Nebula."

"There wasn't a planet?"

He shakes his head. "The Genesis Planet was formed from the matter within the nebula, and the debris of what was left of the Reliant."

She sits back. "But when they debriefed us, they said the planet was dangerously unstable."

"Yes, inherently so. Carol told me that you had to tweak the mix numerous times before you were confident that the Genesis Cave could be attempted. She said that the system tended toward its original state."

She nods. "It was the protomatter that pulled it forward, kept it moving toward growth, not back toward lifelessness."

"It's mind-boggling to imagine the force strong enough to pull matter in from the nebula and create a world, even though that matter was trying to return to its original unfettered state."

She looks at him. "The matter was never meant to be together. It was the base material that was unstable, not the protomatter in this case."

He nods. "The protomatter did its job. It worked. There was a paradise there, for a short time anyway. If it had been a real planet you tried it on, it might have been a paradise forever." Smiling at her, he says, "It worked, Chris. You and David did it." He laughs. "And no one will ever believe you."

"No one should. It's too dangerous. Too likely to be turned into a weapon. Let them think it's a failure." But she smiles, a long, satisfied smile before she turns to him in alarm. "Carol will figure it out."

He shakes his head. "Carol doesn't know about the protomatter. I don't plan to tell her--neither does Saavik, and David never did tell her. The project has been shut down. You're the only one left who can tell her that her life's work wasn't a failure." He looks at her. "Will you?"

"No." It's not just because she feels she owes Carol some pain for setting her up. It really is too great a risk. "No. She'll never hear it from me." She frowns. "But it doesn't matter. I know her. She'll start to look at the notes we left."

He looks down. "Starfleet wiped the her lab, and on Regula."

"She'll have backups."

"Maybe. But no one to talk to about it. Genesis is a dead issue."

They sit quietly on the bench.

Finally, she turns to him. "Thank you for telling me."

He nods.

"I guess you have a ship to get back to?"

He nods again.

She smiles, knows it is a sad smile. "I do wish you well, Jim." Getting up, she starts to walk away.

"Don't you want to know if I'm going to forgive you?"

She stops walking, but doesn't turn around. "Are you going to?"

"Should I?" He is moving towards her.

"Answering a question with a question isn't very clever, Jim. Not after all the time we've spent together."

He moves closer. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

"You think I won't?" She turns, stares at him. "I don't have much left to show you. Pain and guilt, anger and loneliness, and mostly how I've had to move on."

"Did you move on?"

"I don't know, but you did. The lovely Antonia." Her voice is bitter.

"And you and Matthew?"

She looks down. "It didn't work."

"Why not?" He has moved closer again.

"He knows my heart is already spoken for. Even if you don't want me anymore." She takes a step back, suddenly uncomfortable that he is standing so close.

She is afraid she will reach out for him. That she will make an ass of herself. That if she touches him, she'll never, ever let go.

"Would you like to have dinner tonight?" His voice is gentle.

She looks at him, studies his face. The anger seems to have receded. He is waiting for her answer.


His eyes are boring into hers, and she can't look at him, can't face him. "I'm still in love with you, Jim. I don't think I can just be your friend."

"Fine." He doesn't move.

She looks up at him, perplexed. "Fine?"

"Fine, you can't just be my friend. But that's not an answer to my question. Dinner? Tonight?" He suddenly grins at her and it is the old look, the old grin that she didn't think he'd ever give her again. But it fades quickly.

"Yes. I'd like that."

"Good." He touches her hand. "I'm not sure where we're going with this. And I intend to take it slow. I don't trust you yet. You understand that?"

"What makes you think I trust you?"

His mouth tightens. "Touche." He stares at her, seems to be waiting for her to look away. He is disappointed.

"Reconsidering?" she asks.

"No." He sighs, as if he's already tired of sparring with her. "I'll pick you up at seventeen hundred."

As he turns to walk way, she calls out, "Why?"

He looks back at her. "Why what?"

"Why are you willing to forgive me?"

"I didn't say I was."

"Well, why are you even thinking about it?"

He looks at her like she is an idiot. "Because I've missed you. Despite everything."

She can feel a smile beginning, one of her old smiles from before everything went to hell. "Oh."

"That's all you have to say? Oh?" He chuckles. "Work on those conversation skills before dinner comes around, Commander. I didn't fall in love with you because you're monosyllabic." He turns and walks away.

She stares at him until he disappears from sight.


Christine is aware that Janice is staring at her, has been since she came in from her talk with Jim. Matthew too has glanced out of his office more times than is strictly necessary. She ignores them.

And tries to ignore how fast her heart is racing.

She manages to settle down, works productively until the shift is over.

"Everything okay?" Janice is smiling tentatively. "You weren't out there very long?"

Christine knows she waited until the end of the day to ask so that if it was bad, she wouldn't upset Christine during the shift. Jan's a good friend.

"He wants to have dinner."

"He wants to have dinner, and you didn't tell me? When are you going?"

Christine looks over at the entrance; he's just walked in. "Right about now."

"Do not sleep with him."

"Jan. It's just dinner." She grins, knows she is not fooling either of them. This is far more than just dinner. It's another chance.

She hopes.

"Jim." Matthew walks out of his office, clasps Kirk's hand warmly. "So how's the new ship?"

Jim shakes his head. "She needs some work." He glances over at Christine, as if to say they need some work too.

"I repeat. Do not sleep with him."

Christine just laughs. "I'll see you tomorrow." She walks over to the two men.

"Going out?" Matthew asks. His smile looks genuine, and he pushes her gently toward Jim. "Have fun. Don't keep her out too late." Then he turns and walks back in his office.

"Shall we?" Jim's look is warier than she likes.

"We don't have to do this. If you're having second thoughts, I mean."

"Chris, I've had third, fourth, and fifth thoughts. Let's go."

She smiles, tries to figure out if fifth thoughts ends the debate in her favor or not. Decides it must if he's walking with her into town.

She suddenly wishes she could change, feels grungy and a bit dowdy in her uniform. She decides not to ask him if they can stop at her apartment just so she can pull on something that actually makes her feel pretty.

She's not sure she has anything that will cut it anyway. She's nervous and excited and afraid that this is all going to blow up in her face, and she'll lose him again before she ever has him back.

"You don't need to look as though we're going to a funeral," he murmurs.

"Sorry." She laughs softly, looks down. "I'm nervous."

"I thought you got over being nervous around me?"

"That was when we were together. We're not together."

"No. We're not." He glances at her. "I'm not sure what I want to do about this, Chris."

She looks away, pretends to be mesmerized by the merchandise in the shop windows they are passing. "Gillian causing complications?"

"Gillian?" He laughs then. "Gillian Taylor? No. She's gone."

Christine nods, but it is a weak gesture. The other woman may be gone, but that doesn't mean she won't turn back up. Or that Jim couldn't find her if he wanted. Couldn't have her transferred to the Enterprise if he wanted.

Her expression must be terribly morose, for he actually takes pity on her. "I'm not interested in Gillian, Chris."

"That's not how it looked from the peanut gallery."

"Trust me on this. Gillian is gone."


"Well, two syllables. It's an improvement over 'oh,' I guess." He grins at her.

She tries to smile back, but knows the expression doesn't quite hit the mark. His own look softens, and he reaches over, touches her commander's bars gently.

"I saw you get these."

"You did?" She supposes it's possible. She got the promotion just after Jim got back, after she took over from Reed. "You were in the audience for someone else?"

He shakes his head. "I came to see you. I'm proud of you. Despite it all..." His expression shifts, and he doesn't look proud of her. He looks disappointed in her. And still angry.

She wishes she could pull him close and hug him to her and tell him again how sorry she is and how much she loves him and how she'll do anything to make it up to him. But she just keeps walking. "I didn't know you were there."

"I know. I left before the reception." He sighs.

She nods, feels a sharp pit of misery starting in her stomach. She's not sure this is a good idea. Maybe all they're doing is bringing up old pain? She stops walking.

He stops too, as if he knew she was going to. He stares at her, and she knows the look she is giving him is anything but happy. She feels...hopeless. Lost and more alone standing here with him than she has for a long time.

She backs up, toward the entryway of the closed shop she stopped in front of. She wishes the shop was open. She would flee inside. She would run out the back and try to forget how much she loves him and how much it hurts that he may never let her in again.

He moves closer, trapping her in the entranceway, and takes her hand. His skin is warm against hers. "It's okay, Chris."

She realizes she is shaking, tries to pull her hand away, but he won't let her. "Jim..."

"I know." He pulls her close, wraps his arms around her. "I know."

She is stiff, but he doesn't let go, just runs his hands up and down her back the way he used to until she relaxes against him.

She whispers, "I'm so afraid that I'm going to lose you again. Before you even give me a chance." She pulls away, and this time he lets her go-- probably because there is nowhere she can run in the small space. "If you can't forgive me, then let's just say goodbye now and cut our losses."

"I don't know if I can forgive you."

"That's crap, Jim. You either can or you can't. You just may not want to."

His eyes widen, and she realizes he's never heard her use her command voice. She laughs and he laughs and suddenly the moment is a little bit lighter.

"Remind me not to piss you off, Commander." He touches her face, and she closes her eyes at the feeling.

"Too late for that." She stares at him. "I'm not sure I can forgive you for Antonia."

"I thought you were cheating on me."

"I wasn't."

He nods. "I know that now. You weren't very convincing back then. You didn't even want to make love, Chris. You didn't want me anymore."

"That's not true. I never stopped wanting you."

"Well, you stopped having sex with me. I'm sorry, but the distinction is a bit fuzzy, especially when you're the one being rejected."

"I know. I'm sorry." Sorry seems to be all she is saying. She wonders if it means anything to him. Sighing, she eyes the door again. Could she break in?

He touches her face, and then his hand keeps moving, under her ear, tracing her uniform collar, to the back of her neck. He pulls her toward him. "Chris."

And then he is kissing her, and she is lost in the feeling, and clutching at him, and she is glad that she can lean against the door of the shop so her legs don't give out on her as he pushes against her.

She can tell he still wants her.

He pulls away, and his expression is troubled. "I wasn't going to do that."

She smiles, her lips trembling slightly. "No?"

Shaking his head, he looks as though he's a little disappointed in himself.

"Is it so bad that you did it?"

He nods. But then he reaches out and touches her cheek again. "If I touch you, I won't want to stop."

"Who says you have to stop?" She grins, trying to make the moment a little less serious, his expression a little less dire. She takes his hand. "I'm hungry."

She is hungry, but she'd rather be kissing him. But she knows that what she wants to do and what she should do are two different things where he's concerned. "Let's eat, okay?"

He leans in, rests his cheek against hers. "I've missed you so." Then he pulls her out of the doorway and back onto the sidewalk. "Food then."

"Yes. Food." His grip tightens on hers, and she finally begins to relax.

Maybe, just maybe, they can make this work again.


Christine sees Jim in the corridor coming out of ops with Matthew. She nods at him as she and Jan pass him, and he nods back.

"I don't get it," Janice says. "You said dinner went fine?"

"It did. Kind of stiff at times when we strayed into painful ground. But fine other than that."

"It's been two days." Janice looks back. "What the hell is he doing?"

Christine has been wondering that herself. Dinner was nice, especially once they finally relaxed enough to have some fun with each other. Jim walked her home, gave her a quick hug, and left.

Actually, fled might be more accurate. Was he afraid she would attack him right there on the street like some sex-crazed ex-fiancee?

Not that the thought didn't occur to her. "He said he was going to take it slow."

"Yeah, but this is geologic."

Christine laughs. She's been thinking the same thing.

She knows he's not sure of her. He can't ever be sure of her again. That may be a deal breaker. Only why wasn't it a deal breaker for Spock?

"Maybe he just wants you so badly that he knows he won't be able to control himself. So he's staying away."

"Right." Christine says, but she thinks he is testing her. He wants to see what she will do if he really does take it slow, like he said he was going to. She sighs. What does he think she will do? She'll wait and see what happens. Nothing else she can do.

Janice pulls up the comms. "Didn't you raise Peterson's access level?"

"Last week."

"Well, he's commed three times asking for clearance to the delta-three-one project."

Christine sighs. "The man is an idiot. He can't figure out anything without a guided map." She sends a message down to security. Morhaven will enjoy dealing with this one. "He'll get the special briefing."

Janice laughs. "You're siccing Russ on him?"

"Yep." She grins. "We have enough to do without stupid-ass captains who can't find their butt without a--what?"

Janice's eyes have gone wide.

"Is there a problem, Commander?" Peterson has decided to pay a visit.

She turns. "Yes, Captain, there is. You keep asking for accesses that we sent you a week ago. I believe Admiral Cartwright wanted you to read in on the project before you reported."

"I'd love to have read in, but I never got my accesses." He gives her the snotty look that is just one of the things that got him booted off the Louisville. Everyone in ops knows he's planet-bound because Command can't figure out what to do with him. "Perhaps you could just download the project data into a padd for me."

"Sorry, sir. This information isn't portable. Why don't you look again to see if the accesses are there?" She tries for a slightly conciliatory tone. He does outrank her. Even if it's a crime that he outranks anyone.

"I don't need to. Not when it's your screw-up."

She points to a terminal. "Why don't you log in? We'll look for it together." Her tone is no longer very nice.

His expression changes. "I don't have time now. I'll do it later."

"No, you're absolutely right. This is urgent. Let's look now. If I've screwed up, I'll fall all over myself apologizing." She gives him a hard smile. She knows he is hedging.

He looks down. "I seem to have misplaced my password."

God. What else has the man missed in the comms? And why were they giving him access to anything the least bit sensitive?

She forces her face to stay neutral. "Commander Morhaven stands ready to assist."

Peterson actually goes pale. He may outrank the security head, but no one is meaner than Russ when he's dealing with incompetence and shoddy security practices. "Is that really necessary?"

She shrugs. "I've done my bit. If you can't get in, he'll have to get you a new password. I'm not authorized to do that." It's a lie. She can hand out passwords to anyone and everyone if she needs to. But she saves that for emergencies. She doesn't like to deal with Russ's lectures about access control either.

"I don't like you, Commander," Peterson says, not noticing Matthew coming back into ops, not hearing him walk up behind him.

"Duly noted, Peterson," Matthew says in his quiet voice--the dangerous one.

Peterson turns even paler than before as he turns to the admiral. "Sir. I only meant--"

"Oh, your words were self-explanatory, Captain." The derision Cartwright puts on the title is impressive.

Christine smiles at him. "Captain Peterson was just on his way down to see Russ."

"Lucky him." Matthew is speaking as if Peterson is already gone. When he sees the other man still standing there, he gives him one of the famous Cartwright glares. "Don't let us stop you."

They watch as Peterson walks out, his feet nearly dragging as he heads for the security office.

"Damned fool. I told Command they should give him to the Klingons. He'd bring the Empire down in a heartbeat."

She laughs. "I thought you were giving them Styles."

"The list is expanding." He grins at her. "Did you piss him off on purpose?"

"I might have."

He shakes his head. "One of these days, Christine..."

She gives him her best "I learned it from James T. Kirk" grin.

He laughs. "Don't try to Kirk me, woman. I know you too well. And him too."

She wishes Matthew could tell her what is going on between Jim and her then, if he knows the two of them so damn well. But it seems unfair to ask him given the feelings he may still have for her.

He gestures vaguely to the front screen. "See if you can't find Peterson a nice planet close to the border. Where have the Klingons been active lately?"

As if he doesn't know that by heart?

"I'll get right on that, sir." She laughs. Knows he is kidding about Peterson. Mostly.

She waits until he goes into her office and then hurries to her station to double check that she did send Peterson the accesses. The memo is there, just like she knew it would be.

Sighing, she gets back to something that actually resembles an emergency.


"Commander Chapel?"

Turning, she sees Spock at a table in the mess. She walks over, unsure why he wanted to see her.

"Please. Sit."

She does, then looks around. There are very few people in the mess hall-- lunch has been over for hours and the dinner rush hasn't started.

Jim comes out of the serving area, carrying two cups of coffee. "Spock, are you sure you want your coffee this way?" He sees her and stops in his tracks, coffee sloshing a bit.

It's been a week since she had dinner with him.

Not that she's keeping track.

She stands up. "I must have misunderstood, Spock. Did you mean some other day?"

He stands up and pushes her gently back into the chair. "No. I meant today." Walking over to Jim, he takes one of the coffees from him and sets it down in front of her. "If I remember correctly, you prefer it with cream and sugar?"

Jim squints at him. "I knew you didn't like sugar."

"The Fal-tor-Pan is quite a useful excuse. For many occasions." Spock indicates the seat he's just vacated. "Please sit."

Jim sits.

She tries not to smile.

Spock looks down at them and shakes his head. "The Enterprise will be here for another three weeks. I see no logic in the two of you avoiding each other." He starts to walk away.

"Spock." Jim's voice is almost panicked.

Spock turns and nearly sighs. "I was not aware you were afraid of anything, Jim." He looks at her. "Perhaps you should ask him about the scar on his arm?" Then he does walk away, more quickly than normal.

Jim slides his arm off the table.

"Show me?"

He sips at his coffee.


"It's nothing."

"I could come around and take a look for myself."

He looks up at her, and she sees the anger again. "You could try."

"Forget it. Forget this." She stands up and hurries out of the mess, leaving her coffee cup for him to deal with.

Spock is waiting outside. "That did not go as I hoped."

She glares at him. "What were trying to do?"

"Help you."

She gets in close, nearly in his face. "Why?"

Nearly frowning, he says, "You are my friend. I do remember that now."

She laughs bitterly. "It was my fault you died. Do you remember that?"

"While you were involved in the events leading up to my death, you do not carry the sole blame. And it is a diffuse trail, with many bends along the way. You did not, for example, have anything to do with Khan."

"He wouldn't have gotten loose if Reliant hadn't been there; Reliant wouldn't have been there but for Genesis. And Genesis wouldn't have reached the stage it did but for my work with David."

"True, but have you considered another scenario? Khan might have freed himself from his prison some other way. He might still have come after Jim. I might still have died trying to protect him, only there would have been no Genesis planet to bring me back to life. You cannot know how much you do or do not bear blame in this." He gently pushes her back. "Christine, if you do not mind?"

Jim comes barreling out of the mess, sees her and stops.

"Ah. Jim. Perhaps you are on your way to see Christine now that you have had time to reflect on her hasty departure? As you can see, she has not run far." It is clear from Spock's tone that he considers them both idiots.

Jim glares at her. "Come back in."

She glares right back. "Give me one good reason I should."

His lips tighten, and he starts to turn away.

"Humans are fascinating. You both want each other quite badly, yet you will not admit it."

"Stay out of this, Spock." Jim is clearly pissed.

She's no slouch in the short fuse department either. "Don't take it out on him. At least he has balls enough to talk to me."

"You know, emergency ops has not helped your demeanor."

"Well, I'm sorry you don't like my demeanor." She is about to turn away when she feels Spock's hand on her back urging her into the mess.

"I would like to issue a challenge. How is it Doctor McCoy puts it? Oh yes. I double dog dare you both to sit for fifteen minutes and talk. Preferably with a minimum of histrionics."

She glares at Jim again. When Spock is reduced to spouting southern dares, they really have fallen to an all time low. She can see by Jim's face that he is thinking the same thing, so she walks into the mess and sits back down at their table. The coffee is still there and she sips at it.

Jim comes in a moment later. He sits down and angrily pulls up his sleeve. There is a long scar near his wrist.


He nods.

"Rock climbing?" she asks. "Still working up to El Capitan?"

"I was on El Capitan. Unfortunately, I wasn't on it quite long enough."

"You fell?"

He nods, then shrugs. "Spock was there. To the rescue. I didn't die."

"You could have." She stares at the scar. "When did this happen?"

"After the hearing."

She looks down. "Were you that unhappy? Even with a new ship and your career handed back to you? You only take the extreme risks when you're past caring."

"I wasn't--" He sees her look and his mouth tightens. He takes a deep breath, then says softly, "I was alone... or I felt that way." He sighs. "I left Antonia after you came to Idaho." He waits until she looks up at him to continue. "I didn't have to. She and I could have made it work, I think, even with me back in Starfleet."

The idea of that hurts. She doesn't like how much it hurts. "Then why didn't you stay with her if it was so goddamned blissful?"

He sighs. "Because of you."


He nods. "I'm so damned angry with you, Chris."

She shakes her head. "Maybe that's all there is to say. Maybe you need to go back to her then."

"I can't."

"Why? She's beautiful, she's sweet and protective, and she loves you. What more do you want?"

"I want you."


He laughs, the sound unexpected. "Back to that, are we? We need to find you a new word."

"So, if I understand correctly, you are angry with me."

He nods.

"And you want me?"


She takes a sip of coffee to hide how thrown she is. "Angry sex, Jim? That sounds like a recipe for disaster."

"I know. Why do you think I've stayed away?"

"You seemed so nice the other night at dinner."

"I didn't say this made sense." He sips at his coffee, as if he too is desperate for something to do. "I wanted you so much that night. I couldn't get you out of my mind. And the more I tried, the angrier I got." He shakes his head. "Spock has been telling me to stop avoiding you. That I'm letting you become my personal bogey-man."

"Spock's really upped his command of the vernacular, hasn't he?" She leans forward. "And why are we taking advice from a man who hasn't dated in what? A decade?"

He laughs. "Probably ever. I don't think he and T'Pring really dated. They just went from daycare buddies to betrothed in one easy step." He stares at her. "It's easier to joke, isn't it? About him, about this. Than to face it."

She nods.

There is a long silence.

She finally says, "If you want to end this. If it's easier for you, then we will. You don't have to forgive me; you don't have to try to get to know me again. You don't have to do anything with me. Just go out on your shiny new ship and find a new person to love." She looks down. "Or maybe an old one? At dinner the other night, you mentioned Carol a lot." It hurt how easily he referred to the woman he used to speak of with such misery.

"I'm not in love with Carol." His tone brooks no argument.

"Well, then Gillian, maybe? She was fun, right? I got to know her a little. She had a real exuberance for life that I think would be attractive to you."

"I'm not in love with Gillian, either." He suddenly sounds impatient.

"And Antonia? Is that really over? You had two years with her?"

"And I was jumping the ravine at the end." He sighs. "God help me, I love her, but I'm not in love with her. Not the way I should be."

"Well, I'm running out of candidates." She knows she doesn't sound helpful any longer; she sounds angry.

"Good." He smiles, takes her hand and studies it. "You have such strong hands."

She waits. Doesn't want to think about how good it feels to have him touching her. Even just like this.

"I'm in love with you," he says. "I've been in love with you since that damned shuttle and that damned virus. I can't shake you."

She starts to laugh. "I hope that wasn't supposed to be romantic."

He grins. "It wasn't." His grin turns into a frown. "I don't think it was, anyway. You know, before you, I used to think I was good at this." He lets go of her hand, leans back in his chair, and crosses his arms.

He looks very much like a ticked off little boy.

She finds him damn near irresistible.

"Don't look at me that way," he says softly.

She looks away quickly. "Sorry." When he doesn't say anything, she asks, "So where are we, exactly?"

He smiles. "We are right back where we started. I want you, and I'm pissed as hell about it." He looks up at her, and for the first time, there is not even a little anger in his eyes.

"As hell?"

He nods.

"Can I make it better?"

"God, I hope so." He leans in. "I have to go to a send-off soiree tonight. You have a dress uniform, I suppose?"

"I have several." One of the benefits of taking Reed's job and being promoted is that her uniform allowance was increased.

"Would you like to be my date, Commander Chapel?" He laughs nervously, as if he can't believe this is a good idea.

She's not certain it is either. "Jim, are you sure?"

He doesn't answer at first. Then softly, "Yes. I'm sure."

She looks down. "That's sort of what you said about dinner, and then I didn't see you for a week."

"I know." He laughs and she looks up at him. "But this time, Spock'll have my ass in a sling if I avoid you."

She smiles. "That's true."

"I think he just wants his Ka'Vareth partner back."

She smiles. "Maybe." She finishes her coffee and stands up. "I have to get back. They're going to wonder if I got lost."

"I'll pick you up at at eighteen hundred?"

She nods. "Provided you still remember where the apartment is?"

"I remember." He looks down. "And...I may have been by the building a couple of times in the last week..."

She smiles. "Really?"

He nods. Sheepishly.

"I think I love that." She takes a deep breath, one that is not full of apprehension or sadness. But actually of anticipation. "I'll see you later."

"Count on it."

He almost sounds convincing.

She gives him a look.

"I'll be there," he says. This time he does sound sure.

She leaves him to finish his coffee in peace.

End part 1 of 2