Commander by Djinn

Begin part 2 of 2

Jim's send-off soiree is well attended, and the rooms are crowded at Admiral Morrow's house. There's barely anyone under the rank of captain, but Christine realizes she knows just about everyone there. The old Christine Chapel would have been out of her element and very nervous, but now she is relaxed, mingling comfortably with Jim.

He is looking at her. "You know more people here than I do, don't you?"

"It's possible."

He laughs softly. "Party's still for me. I don't care if they like you better."

He pretends to pout, and she chuckles.

"They don't like me better." She takes his arm, leads him to the bar and orders him a single malt. Glancing over at their host, she sees him gesture for Jim to join him. "I think Morrow wants a word."

Jim takes a sip of his Scotch and nods. "My latest marching orders, I suppose." He suddenly frowns. "You didn't date him too, did you?"

She rolls her eyes. "No."

"Good." He starts to say something else, but she puts her hand on his arm.

"Only Matthew. And it was just a few dates. I told you a long time ago, you've ruined me for other men."

He looks far too happy about that.

"Go talk to Morrow." She orders herself a cognac and joins Matthew on the patio.

"You two back together?"

"Don't know yet." She looks out over the bay--Morrow's view is outstanding. "Nice place."

"Yes." He grins. "Almost as nice as mine. Why don't you know yet?"

She laughs. Matthew is relentless when he is on a quest for info. "I just don't."

He shakes his head, as if she just doesn't get it. "He loves you. That's obvious."

"Well, I'm glad you think so."

He smiles at her gently. "I know so, Christine. The man is crazy about you. He brought you here with him. I can't think of a more public statement to that effect." He grins. "Or a more obvious message to those of us who were a little too interested in his woman."

She laughs. "I think you're reading a lot into this."

"You're not a man." Matthew grins, then looks past her, his smile growing larger. "Jim. I was just telling Christine how good it is to see the two of you together again."

Jim's hand snakes around her waist, pulling her close. She glances over at him, sees a possessiveness she doesn't expect in his eyes. Maybe he is being more territorial about her than she realized?

He sips his Scotch, smiles. "It's nice to be together again." His tone is a bit harsh, as if he's angry.

She supposes he might be--with both of them.

Cartwright doesn't seem to mind his friend's tone. In fact, he laughs and says, "Can't blame a man for trying."

Jim's tension seems to evaporate in the face of his friend's openness. He chuckles too. "No. I guess I can't." His hand tightens on her. "You want to walk? The grounds here are lovely."

She nods, lets him lead her away. He drops her arm as they walk down the patio steps and onto one of the paths that lead to the cliffs, but as soon as they are out of sight of the house he draws her to him and kisses her. His lips are fierce, and he pulls her closer than she expects. He isn't hurting her, but he's making no attempt to be gentle.

She searches his face, trying to figure out what he is feeling.

He's giving nothing away. He stares at her, then pulls her in again, kissing her gently this time before moving away. "Come on." Taking her hand, he leads her closer to the cliff. "It's beautiful here." He hugs her tightly as she moves in to snuggle against him.

"Yes, it is." She looks at him. His face is still unreadable. "Why did you want me here tonight?"

His answer is immediate, his tone almost savage. "Because you're mine."

She swallows, feels her mouth go a bit dry. "We're going to have an interesting night, aren't we?" When he doesn't answer, she looks down. "I thought you were against angry sex?"

He lets her go, moves away from her, closer to the cliff. He stares down at the crashing waves. "I am."

She backs away a little bit, is suddenly dizzy standing so close to the edge, even if there is a railing. "Hate to break it to you, but most of your kisses haven't been what I'd call tender."

"I know." He runs his hand through his hair, mussing it up.

She makes a sound, and he turns to her. With a smile, she finger combs his hair back into place. His eyes close as she touches him, and she leans in, her lips soft on his cheek.

"I'm sorry," she says.

He shakes his head. "Don't. It wasn't just you. I let you go. Maybe I shouldn't have. Maybe I should have tried to find a way to understand."

She touches his cheek, smiles when he leans into her hand. "It's done. Maybes won't do either of us any good. There's only now and what happens from here on out."

He nods. "Only now." He sighs, then he says softly, almost too carefully, as if he is working hard to keep his tone civilized. "You're not going home tonight."

"I'm staying here with Morrow?"

He doesn't smile, and she laughs nervously.

"So much for my little attempt at humor."

"I'm not in the mood to laugh." There is something in his eyes that unnerves her. He has never looked at her with quite such a combination of desire and anger and possessiveness.

She looks down. "Sorry."

He sighs again. "Quit saying that."

"Okay. Sor--"

He kisses her. His lips are relentless, his arms like steel as he holds her close. Opening her mouth to his, she feels his tongue slip in, questing, tasting, battling her own. Her arms tighten around him, and she moans.

He pulls away slowly. She is almost afraid to look at him, almost afraid to see how much anger he really does have for her. He takes her hand, leads her down the path, back to the house. His thumb rubs her palm, and she moans again.

Looking over at her, he smiles. A dark and seductive smile. She feels as if her legs might collapse and tries to get hold of herself. This is Jim. He'd never hurt her.

That thought doesn't keep her from being a little bit afraid. And very much aroused.

It's going to be an extremely long evening.


Jim pushes her inside his apartment, palms on the light, while with his other hand he is locking out the world. He leads her to his bedroom, and she moans as he pushes her against the wall, as he kisses her hard and fast. Then he pulls away from her.

He slowly undresses her. She notes that he doesn't rip her dress uniform from her, takes his time stripping her, folding her clothes and putting them on his dresser. Somehow the care he is taking makes her more nervous than if he lost control. She stands naked before him and shivers.

Pushing her against the wall again, he holds her there, staring at her, his look hungry. Then he lets her go. "Undress me." He watches her as she takes his uniform off and folds it as carefully as he did hers.

"I'm older," she says, suddenly embarrassed at his scrutiny.

"You're beautiful." He moves against her, and the feeling of his skin on hers is pure heaven. They kiss for a long time. His touch begins to get harder, more fierce. More possessive.

Finally, he pulls away. "Go lie down on the bed."

She does what he says and waits for him, but he doesn't move, just stands there watching her. Then he turns to the closet, seems to be looking for something, finally draws out some socks, which he ties together into one long strand. He walks over to her.

"You know what this is for?"

She nods. Her mouth has gone dry. This is not a game they've played very often.

Tonight it's not a game at all.

"Get up now if you want to leave."

"Jim?" She doesn't want to leave, but she is suddenly uneasy.

He nudges her, and she scoots over to give him room. He slowly ties the end of the strand to her left wrist, then he pulls her arm over her head and winds the cloth around one of the metal bars on his headboard, pulling her arm tight.

She makes a sound, not a moan exactly. Almost a whimper. It shocks her. "Jim?"

He kisses her. His kiss is tender.

That only confuses her more.

Reaching for her other wrist, he pulls her arm over her head and looks down at her. "Last chance."

She swallows, then closes her eyes.

He kisses her again. Then he ties the cloth around her wrist. "Try to break free."

She tries to get away. Can't.

"Mine," he says, as he begins to kiss her again. His hands are roaming everywhere, relentless and teasing, never stopping anywhere long enough for her to do more than groan as he touches her. His lips move lower, and lower still. She forgets she is tied, tries to reach for him and can't.

The feeling of helplessness that comes over her leaves her shaken--and even more aroused. She is his. His tongue touches her and she is gone, calling out his name as she bucks underneath his mouth.

Then he is holding her, his lips on hers, his hand gentle on her face. They kiss, and the kiss lasts forever, and she wants to weep at the feeling of being with him again.

She tries to reach for him, can't move her arms and groans--in frustration this time. "Untie me."

He shushes her with his mouth, moving so he is over her, then in her. He is kissing her as she strains at the ties, his body moving harder and faster until she can barely think.

Then suddenly he is moving a little too hard, and she cries out in fear. He stops instantly.


She panics, tugs at the socks and feels tears welling up when they don't give.

"Chris. No, it's okay." He is working the socks loose, tearing them off her hands. "Shh. It's okay."

She is weeping, only it's no longer because she's afraid. She says, "I'm sorry," over and over and over, and he is kissing her and telling her it's all right, and finally she grinds up against him, does it again and again, until he starts moving inside her again. She clenches down, and he calls out her name as he comes, his hands tightening painfully in her hair. But she doesn't protest, just holds him and cries again as he kisses her.

"You're not the only one who's mad, you know," she whispers into his chest.

"I know." He rolls off her, pulling her close and burying his head in her hair. "I love you," he says. "I love you, Chris." His voice sounds a little broken as he says, "You're mine."

She pulls away, and he wipes the tears off her face.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

"You didn't hurt me." She kisses him, desperate, hungry kisses. "I love you, Jim."

He brushes her hair away from her face, stares at her.

"I'm okay," she says.

He nods, kisses her cheek. "Just wanted you so much." He stops, presses his cheek against hers. "Wanted to make you p--"

She holds him close. "Wanted to make me pay?"

"Not very nice." He sounds utterly disappointed in himself.

"No. It's not very nice. But I understand the sentiment." She presses herself against him.

His body is so warm, and they fit together the way they always have. Like every hollow and curve is made just for the other.

"It's all right." She lets her hands roam, getting to know him again. She feels the new scar on his arm, feels another new one on his back. "Where did you get this from?"

He shakes his head.


He laughs. "I rode Caya after you left that day. Took her out and tried to make her jump that damned ravine. She bucked me off. Then she jumped it on her own." He kisses her. "She always reminded me of you. So goddamned contrary."

She laughs. "I love that horse."

"She's yours then."

"Isn't that up to Harry?"

"Oh. Well, I'm sure he'll agree." He smiles and it is a happy smile. He touches her face. "Look, ma. No more anger." He turns away. "I'm sorr--"

"--Stop saying that." She laughs. Kisses him. Loves the feel of it, laughs again. "Neither of us is allowed to say 'sorry' anymore tonight." She kisses him again. "Deal?"

"Deal." He pushes her to her back. "Are you still angry at me?"

She shrugs. She's not being flip. She's just not sure.

"Not right this moment anyway, huh?" He smiles, touches her face gently. "I love you."

They make love again. And again. And again. She picks up the socks, ties him up with them. Rides him as he lies helpless. As she arches back, trying to stretch out the pleasure so it never ends, she realizes he's worked himself loose from the ties, is holding her. She laughs. It doesn't matter--bound or not, he's still hers.

He'll always be hers. Just as she'll always be his.

Sweaty, utterly exhausted at last, they lie quietly--finally together.


Christine feels something on her cheek, swats it away and hears a low chuckle. She opens her eyes, feels Jim's lips touch down on her face again lightly, so lightly they tickle. She smiles as she pulls him onto her and hears him laugh as he settles over her, between her legs.

"Have I ever told you how pleasant you are to wake up," he asks as he begins to move inside her.


"And you're so articulate in the morning." Laughing again, he kisses her tenderly. Then he lays his lips next to her ear, whispers. "I'm so sore."

"I am too," she whispers back. Everything hurts. Everywhere aches. But she doesn't want him to stop.

"We're not young," he says softly.

She laughs, begins to run her fingers over his back, as lightly as he was kissing her, making him shiver. "We're not as young."

"Semantics." He closes his eyes, moves slowly.

Being with him like this feels so good to her even though her body is tired, and she's had a few hours sleep at best. "Don't stop," she mumbles as she kisses him.

"I wasn't planning on it," he says when she finally pulls away. Smiling at her, he runs his hand down her cheek. "I've missed you."

"And I've missed you." Lying under him, being with him again, it is almost too much. She looks away.

"Chris. Look at me."

She does, feels her eyes well with tears.

"I love you," he says.

"I love you, Jim."

He kisses her again, his lips gentle, his tongue moving slowly against her own. Then he pulls back, smiles almost sadly as he wipes her tears away. "How many years did we waste?"

She shakes her head. "Too many." She wraps her legs around him. "I was lonely without you."

He nods.

She shoots him a glance. "You weren't exactly alone." She tightens her legs.

"No, I wasn't. But do you really want to talk about this now?" He shoots her one of his grins, the kind that light up the quadrant, then he begins to move faster.

Throwing her head back, she arches up to meet him. "I guess not."

"Good." He closes his eyes, moans low, and moves faster still.

She is moaning too, the sound changing each time he moves against her. She closes her eyes, feels herself losing control. The sensation goes on a long time as her exhausted body climaxes under him. He follows her, nearly collapsing on top of her.

"I think I'm dying," he whispers as he moves just enough so his full weight isn't on her.

"I know I am." Her body aches, and she is so tired she feels sick. She lets her eyes close.

He pulls the covers up over them, kisses her, and closes his eyes. "Go back to sleep. It's not a workday."

She's glad he said that. She's so sleepy she can't remember what day it is. "Are you sure?"

"Positive." He nestles against her, and a moment later his breathing changes, his body relaxing against hers. He doesn't let go of her though, is still holding her tightly as if afraid she'll run away.

He doesn't have to worry. She'll never run away. She might kill him, but she'll never run away.

She listens to him breathe for a little while, amazed that they are together, that he loves her and wants her. That he has forgiven her and she has forgiven him.

More or less.

She laughs softly. They still have a lot to work out. But it can wait till she feels human again.

Closing her eyes, she falls back to sleep.


She wakes to golden sunlight and the soft purr of sexy jazz--the kind he knows she likes--out in the living room. The bed is empty, but by the good smells filling the apartment she can tell that her lover hasn't gone any farther than the kitchen. She stretches, feels aching muscles protest but not the way they had been earlier. She looks at the chrono, laughs. Hours have gone by. The sun is going down, not coming up. They've slept the day away, or she has anyway.

Jim comes in with a cup of coffee and sets it down on the bedside table. "Good morning."

She laughs. "I think it's almost evening."

"It is." He grins. "But since we just woke up and since I'm making you breakfast, just pretend it's morning."

She nods and stares at him, drinking in the sight of him in his robe, smiling at her, loving her. After losing him, she knows she won't ever take his presence for granted.

He touches her face. "Why so serious?"

"I keep thinking what if." She feels as if she is going to start crying if she keeps talking, so she reaches for the coffee, sips it. Cream and sugar. He fixes it perfectly.

"What if?" He sighs. "What if this hadn't worked? Or we'd never tried? Or we did and it didn't work out?"

She nods. "All of the above." She sets the coffee down. "I can spin you a hundred what if scenarios. What if you'd told me to go to hell when I came to Idaho? What if you'd never come to ops that day and wanted to talk? What if Spock had stayed dead, and you'd never gotten over it...or I hadn't...or Len hadn't? What if--"

"--I get the picture." He smiles tenderly at her. "I know scenarios are what you live and die by in ops, but there is reality." He pulls her into his arms, holds her for a long moment before kissing her and letting her go. "And reality says I'm about to make you Ktarian eggs."

She grins. "Where did you get those? They're my favorite." And nearly impossible to find.

"I have my sources." He laughs. "And, yes, I remember they're you favorite."

She looks at him suspiciously. "Did you have them on hand for someone else?"

"Antonia hates them." He shakes his head. "And you know they spoil so quickly it's ridiculous."

He's right, they do. If he has them on hand, then he bought them for her. He can't stand them either.

"You had this all planned out?"

He picks up the strand of socks from his side of the bed. "Well, obviously not all of it, or I'd have had something a little more prepared in this department." He tries to undo the socks but has trouble with the knots. "Guess this is recycler bound."

She takes it from him, opens the drawer of the table and drops it in. "We may want it again." She laughs at his grin. "And besides, it's part of our first night back together. I feel very sentimental about it."

He takes her hand and brings it to his lips, his mouth lingering on her skin. "If I do any more than this, we'll never get out of bed."

"Would that be so bad?"

"No. It would be heaven." He smiles as he gets up and walks to the closet. Tossing her a robe, he says. "Come on. Watch me cook your eggs."

She smiles.

Just like old times.

It is the sweetest feeling in the world.


Spock looks up from his dinner, seems to have an expression of extreme satisfaction at the sight of them sitting across from him.

"You're insufferably smug, Spock," Jim says as he pours her more wine.

"I am merely relieved that the two of you have settled your differences."

She looks down, trying to hide her smile. They've been settling their differences nonstop for days now. She's not sure her body will ever recover.

Jim is grinning too. "That's one way to put it."

"I was attempting to be polite." Spock almost smiles at them, then goes back to his meal.

She feels Jim's hand on hers, squeezes it. "So where is Len?" she asks.

"In Georgia. He said he felt the need to reconnect with Joanna after his near-crazy experience." Jim grins at Spock. "Your katra must have been a lot to bear. He's only human, after all."

"And yet he returned my katra to me unharmed despite that. Fascinating." Spock lets an eyebrow rise.

She laughs. He is so much more at ease than when she saw him after the whale probe. And Jim has told her that if she thought he was stiff then, she should have seen him right after the fal-tor-pan.

She cannot imagine how hard it was on Jim. She knows how hard it was on her, having to watch it from a distance.

She sighs, and Jim glances over at her.

He smiles sadly, seems to know what she is thinking. "Bygones," he says softly.

She wonders if it is that easy, is not sure she can ever forgive herself for losing him. Although he seems to be over his anger since he worked it out in sex that first night back together.

For one moment, she was afraid of him that night. But she should have known better, should have known that he would never hurt her.

He'd never be able to live with himself if he did.

It's what makes him better than her. Better than just about anyone she knows. He's a hero, and heroes do the right thing. Heroes forgive.

She's not sure she can be a hero. David's death looms large, and she hates herself for that, hates the Klingons for it, and hates David too. She's not ready to forgive anyone yet.

She forces herself to leave such dark thoughts alone. David is dead. Nothing will change that. She is wasting the moment that she has now, wasting her time with Jim. Which is stupid because he'll be gone soon enough, winging back out into space in his new ship.

"Repairs are moving along," Jim notes.

Spock nods. "The warp engines have been completely overhauled. And the shield enhancements are complete."

"Good." Jim smiles.

She can tell part of him is already gone. Already flying through space in the arms of his other woman.

She is jealous. A little. But she knows better than to dwell on it. This is Jim and he belongs among the stars. He's been miserable on Earth the times he had to stay there for any length of time. Would have been even if they'd stayed together. His destiny lies in space.

She forces herself to smile. She will not be like Carol about this. He has his job, she has hers. They aren't going to be together all the time. But that doesn't mean they aren't a couple. That doesn't mean he's not hers.

"I wish you were coming," Jim says softly.

At times, she does too. They were so happy when they were together on the ship. But she has grown away from that person, or maybe grown too ambitious. Or perhaps she's just become an adrenaline junkie, used to running twenty-four hours a day, day after day--emergencies as drug.

She smiles. "Who'll handle all the crises you cause if I'm not here?"

"I'm sure they'd find someone else. And what do you mean that I'll cause?"

She laughs. Turns to Spock. "Are you looking forward to being a first officer again?"

"I have missed serving with Jim."

She does not doubt that is true. Jim smiles, clearly touched that Spock chose to answer the question that way.

She thinks Jim has no idea how much Spock loves him. Even after all these years. Even though she has always known. She looks over at Spock, meets his calm, even affectionate gaze, and knows that he is aware she knows.

Neither of them seems to mind that he is probably in love with her lover. It seems....natural, somehow. Just the way things are.

And Spock's love is so quiet, so non-intrusive in its constancy. She finds it difficult to feel threatened.

Besides. He appears to love her too. Her good friend Spock--who would ever have believed it?


Christine looks around ops, trying to figure out if she has forgotten to do anything. She has a day of leave coming up, one last day to spend with Jim before he beams up to his new Enterprise and disappears for a while.

"You okay?" Janice asks, glancing up from her console.

Christine nods. "But I think I'm missing him already." She shakes her head. "Is it possible to love someone too much?"

"Only if they don't love you back just as much." Jan smiles, and Christine realizes that any angst her friend had over Jim is gone. "And that is clearly not the case here. The man is crazy for you."


"Yeah." Janice smiles and goes back to the comms.

Christine looks at the messages already queuing up in her system, and checks to see if any are important. One draws her attention. A personnel notice. Ops is getting a cadet on her last summer interim tour. She scans down, sees it is Valeris and smiles. Ops is no place for a youngster-- unless you happen to be Vulcan and riding head and shoulders above your classmates. The evaluations that accompany the assignment notice are glowing.

Valeris will report in a few weeks. Time enough to deal with it later. Christine closes the message, scans a few others and is replying to one when she hears Jim's voice at the entry way.

She gestures for him to come over. He looks at Janice, gives her a huge grin.

Janice stands up. "I guess this is goodbye, Jim."

Christine smiles. She cannot remember Janice ever calling Jim by his first name.

He looks a little surprised, but recovers nicely, his grin growing larger. "I guess this is, Jan." He gives her a quick hug. "Have I told you how proud I am of you?"

"Not recently, no." She grins, then looks over at Christine. "Go. Sign off and get out of here. Or I'll take off with him myself." Her smile is easy; the joke is a real one.

Christine signs off. "I'll see you."

Janice nods.

Christine glances over at Matthew's office. It is dark. He's actually taken an afternoon off.

"We'll be fine. Now get out of here."

Jim takes her arm, urging her toward the door. "Come on, Chris. Let's go."

As they head for the main exit, he says softly, "Jan's come a long way."

"Yes. She has."

She suspects that neither of them means in her career.

"I've always wondered if she left the ship because of us," he says softly.

She has never shared that with him, decided to let Jan's pain stay Jan's. "If she did, she's over it now."

He nods. "You know Sulu's going to get the Excelsior."

He's probably just guessing. Unless Morrow told him that. She, on the other hand, has it from the best hallway rumor network that Sulu will indeed get the Excelsior when Command finally manages to pry Style's hands off her. She wonders where Jim is going with this, looks over at him quizzically.

"A man needs people he can trust on his ship. Hikaru should think about Jan."

She smiles. It's her opinion that Sulu thinks about Jan a whole lot more than anyone guesses. He sure seems to make it a habit to hang around ops when Janice is on shift. He doesn't come in when it's just Christine and company.

But she keeps that nugget to herself. "You going to suggest it to him?"

He nods. "I think I will." He turns to her. "It's our second to last day. What do you want to do?"

She smiles, wondered if he would ask her or if he would make plans for them on his own. "It's sort of silly."

"Tell me."

"I'd like to go to Idaho and ride."

He grins. "Okay."

They head for her place. He's moved the things he doesn't need on the ship out of his apartment and into her closets. She knows that when he's gone, she'll be glad they are there. A reminder that he's with her again, even if a whole quadrant separates them.

They change clothes quickly, head for the nearest transporter station, and Jim uses his charm to get the tech to beam them directly to the ranch rather than just the nearest station.

Harry is sitting on the porch when they walk down the drive, his hat covering his eyes. He pushes it up, grins when he sees them. "Well, if you two aren't a sight for sore eyes."

She smiles. "Hey, Harry."

"Christine." He looks at Jim. "Seems you came to your senses, boy?"

Jim just laughs.

"You gonna take that from him, sweetheart?" Harry asks.

She nods. "He's shipping out tomorrow. I'm indulging him."

"Well, don't indulge him too much. You'll spoil him." He pushes his hat back even more. "You two come to ride?"

She nods.

Harry starts to get up but Jim says, "It's okay. We can manage."

"You want some food to take out with you?" He winks at Christine. "Or do you two just want some alone time?"

She can feel herself blushing.

He nods knowingly. "At least grab some canteens from the cooler." He pushes his hat back over his eyes. "Caya could do with a good run, Christine."

"I sort of gave Caya to Chris," Jim says.

"Mighty generous with my horse, Nephew." Harry doesn't sound as annoyed as he's pretending to be.

"I didn't think you'd mind, seeing as how you're such a fan of my girl."

She smiles at the term. So silly. So sweet.

Harry peeks up through the hat at them. "She oughtta be your wife by now, Jim. When you going to make an honest woman of her?"

Jim's smile fades somewhat, and she hurries to say, "How about you let us feel our way through this, Harry?"

"Suit yourself, Christine." He waves them away. "Just an old man making a simple suggestion."

"Ignore him," she tells Jim, as they walk to the corral.

He nods tightly.

Maybe he's not as over his anger as she thought.

She sees Caya at the far end of the corral. "Here, girl."

To her surprise, the mare trots over and nudges her. "Maybe she knows she's mine now?"

"Maybe she recognizes another crazy woman when she sees her." Jim is smiling again.

She grins in relief. "Maybe so."

They get saddled up quickly, and she grabs a couple canteens of water, handing him one before looping the other over her shoulder and mounting.

Jim is back on his dark bay, leading the way at an easy trot, then a canter, then they are galloping. She realizes they are headed away from the ravine and smiles. Their progress turns into a race, and she urges Caya on. The mare pulls up with his more elegant horse, then she turns her head and nips at the bay before pulling ahead.

"You really are a bitch," Christine whispers to her horse as Jim pulls alongside then passes her.

Caya takes off after him, and they race for a stand of trees. She catches Jim's horse, and they ride abreast, neither gaining ground until Jim finally pulls up as they enter the shade. She eases Caya back too. They walk through the patterned shadows, and Caya tries to bite Jim's horse again.

"She is a menace," he says, moving his horse closer so he can take Christine's hand.

Caya goes for another nip, but Christine yanks her head back.

"Thank you." Jim pats his horse's neck. "From both me and Kaiser."

They walk until the horses have quit blowing, then Jim leads them over to a spot on the edge of the grove. It is warmer here, but still in the shade. Dismounting, he ties his horse to one of the trees.

She jumps off and ties Caya out of reach of Kaiser. "What now?"

He pulls a blanket out of his saddlebag, winks at her. "I thought we might want to lie down?"

She laughs. "You did?"

He spreads the blanket half in and half out of the sunshine. Then he sits down and holds his hand out to her. "Come here."

She walks to him, sinks down onto the blanket, into his arms. He kisses her and she closes her eyes and tries to memorize every feeling. It will have to last her for a while.

He pulls away, stares at her. His look is troubled.

"What?" She wonders if he is thinking about Antonia? Was it stupid to come here?

"It's not that I don't want to marry you."

She waits for the rest of the sentence but he doesn't finish it. "Okay."

He smiles. "No, I mean, it's not that I'm ruling that out. I'm just not ready yet."


He laughs but his look is more uneasy than amused.

"Still mad at me?" she asks softly.

"No, I don't think so." He strokes her face. "In fact, I know I'm not mad. And I do love you." He sighs. "I'm just not sure I trust you completely yet."

"You may never trust me, Jim. Have you considered that?"

"I have. I have to figure out if I can live with that."

She swallows, is suddenly cold. Pulling away from him, she gets up, walks into the sunlight.

It doesn't help with the cold.


She doesn't turn around, just stares out at the dusty horizon. She can hear him getting up, coming toward her.

"I do love you," he says.

"Uh huh." Her tone is sharp, almost mocking.

He turns her, quickly, almost roughly. "Don't."

"Well, what do you want me to say? How many more ways can I say I'm sorry?" She starts to move away, but he grabs her arm.

"I don't want you to say anything. It's just going to take time."

"You can forgive, but you can't forget, is that it?"

He shrugs, drops her arm.

"Maybe you wish your sweet little Antonia was here?"

"Well, she wouldn't be goading me." He yanks her to him. "And she wouldn't be making me want to do this."

He kisses her hard, passionately, pushing her back toward the blankets.

She is pulling off his clothes even as he does it. She is angry, now it is her turn to be filled with rage, to make him pay for the guilt that never leaves her. "I may do it again, you know. Maybe you don't trust me because you can't."

"Maybe." His lips are bruising hers, he yanks her shirt over her head, lets it fall in the tall grass.

She is crying, but her anger won't let her shut up. "So when do you say you're sorry, Jim? When do you apologize for screwing her before our relationship was even cold?" She tries to pull away from him but he won't let her. "You cheated on me." She is hitting him now, her fists ineffectual because she doesn't want to hurt him, even if she does want to make him pay.

She pulls away, drops her hands. "You cheated, Jim. Was this a favorite place? Did you have her here too?"

"No." He pulls her back to him, kisses her. "I'm sorry for what I did to you. I'm sorry I cheated. It was wrong, but I was hurt. I can't excuse it. But I thought you were seeing someone else. And I was mad."

"And she was here."

"And she was here." He kisses her gently. "She and I never made love in this spot. You know me better than that."

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure." He kisses her again, then lays his lips on her ear, whispers, "I'm so sorry. Forgive me."

She nods.

"No. Say it."

"I forgive you."

"I love you, Chris. We may kill each other before this is over, but god help me I'll die loving you."

"I know. Stop talking now, okay?"

He smiles and kisses her again. She pushes him down, mounting him and riding him as if he were Caya and they were still in that race. He pulls her down to kiss him, his lips moving off her lips and along her cheeks. She realizes she is crying again, that he is kissing away her tears.

"Chris," he says, and she slows. He holds her as they move carefully now, gently.

His lips are tender on hers, and he rolls her over, moves above her, controlling the pace.

She sobs, looks away, but he forces her to look at him.

"I love you." He kisses her and it is a kiss so filled with love that she sobs again. "I do love you."

"I know." She shakes her head. "What if we can't trust each other?"

"What if we don't try to figure it out today? What if we let time answer that for us?"

She doesn't say anything, but then Caya whinnies softly.

"See, she agrees with me?" He smiles, moves faster.

Moaning, she closes her eyes. "Okay."


She nods.

He reaches down, his fingers touching her in ways he knows will make her crazy. "Okay?"

She laughs. Nods again. Then she can't do anything but feel for a few moments. Neither can he.

They finally pull away enough to get comfortable on the blanket, limbs wrapping tightly around each other.

She is no longer cold. "I wish..."

He opens his eyes, waits.

"I wish I could go back and do it over again."

"I know."

She sighs. "I love you so much it hurts."

He kisses her. "I know that too. Right here." He touches her abdomen, under her ribs, then lower.

"Yep. That's the spot."

"For me too. Don't think you're alone in this, Chris." He sighs. "I'm going to miss you. I wasn't kidding when I said I wished you were coming with us."

She nods, burrows her head against his chest, unwilling to face the waning sunshine.

She forces tears away. She can handle this.

"What do you want to do tomorrow?" he asks softly.

"Be with you."

He kisses her cheek. "That's a given, Chris."

She turns so that his next kiss lands on her lips. They kiss for a very long time.

"What do you want to do?" she asks.

He touches her face. "Be with you." He traces her eyebrows, then the curve of her cheek. "Let's sleep late."

She nods.

"And let's finish our ride now." He pushes her away gently.

They pull on their clothes, but she can't find her shirt. He grins, walks through the grass to where he dropped it and brings it back to her, pulling it over her head. "Now how did that get over there?"

She shrugs.

"It couldn't be that you got me all riled up? You'd never do that."

She grins. "Never."

"Right." He kisses her again, then they mount up and ride out into the sunshine, enjoying a lazy pace and holding hands.

On the way back to the ranch, they race.

It's a dead heat.


Their apartment is an oasis of calm, and they lie in bed, curled around each other. Christine sighs, wishes she could bottle how it feels to be next to him so she can pull it out once he is gone and re-experience the love.

"You okay?" He kisses her cheek, pulls her closer.

"Just thinking sad thoughts." She smiles as he kisses her again. "I'll miss you."

"I know." Running his hand down her arm, he sighs. "I wish we had more time."

"Me too." She turns so she can see his face. "But I'm glad we had this."

"I am too." He kisses her again, this time on the lips. His touch is soft and full of the old exquisite tenderness.

They don't completely trust each other. They aren't completely over their anger at each other. But they love each other--at the subatomic level, it seems. She knows that neither of them is in any doubt of that anymore. They belong together, however they happen to define togetherness.

She closes her eyes, gives herself up to his lips and hands and the way his body presses against her.

"You feel so good," he murmurs.

She laughs softly. "There's more of me to feel." Opening her eyes, she sees that he is grinning.

"I'm not going to call the kettle black for that one." His grin grows.

"Just more of you to love."

"Ditto." He runs his hands down her chest. "And I must say, if you've put on any weight, you've done it in a very nice way. And in some very nice places." He kisses his way down to where his hands already are.

She closes her eyes again. His mouth makes her crazy. He seems to understand her body better than she does, knows exactly the right pressure, how hard to suck, where to stroke to make her crazy. She arches as his mouth pushes her harder, as the movement of his fingers becomes more deliberate. She closes her eyes and just rides out the pleasure he gives her. Loudly.

She hopes the neighbors aren't home. There has been intermittent loudness coming from the bedroom all day.

She opens her eyes, sees that he is watching her.

"I love you," he says. "I don't always understand the way I'm drawn to you."

"I know. I don't understand it either. The whole time you were gone, I felt empty. As if some vital part of me was missing."

He nods. "I know. And having Antonia didn't make that better. She filled her own space, but it wasn't the same." Frowning slightly, he says, "You own me at some fundamental level."

"Maybe it's like Plato said. Maybe we are all looking for that part of us that was split apart?"

He smiles, an amused grin and she guesses that Antonia didn't discuss Plato in bed. Or probably at all.

At least it makes her feel better to think the other woman didn't.

"Soulmates?" He kisses her, pulls her onto him. As she sinks around him and moves slowly and very deliberately, he sighs, a slow smile turning up his lips. "When we make love, I believe it. The connection..."

She leans down so she can kiss him. "It's overwhelming?"

He nods.

"For me too. It scares me sometimes, Jim."


"Because I lost you once and I know how hard it was to get through that. What if I lose you again?"

"Well, you'll just have to do your best not to let that happen." He grins, but his eyes are not laughing.

They both know anything can happen in space. They both know they aren't even that safe on the ground if left to their own devices. There is no place that is not dangerous for them.

"Do you think love goes on?" she asks.

"After death you mean?"


"I hope so." He smiles, a teasing look. "Just don't rush to test that out, Chris."

"I won't." Moving faster, she watches as he tenses, then calls out, his body pushing up over and over as if seeking some even deeper connection. She smiles as she watches him come down, feels him relaxing inside her. "But I'm fairly certain that I'll love you until death and beyond."

He sighs. "Love me in life. I don't want to think about death."

They've both seen so much of that lately. She kisses him as she slips off him, cuddling around him. He pulls her closer. There is no such thing as too close for them right now.

She thanks whatever god is in charge of reconciliations for that closeness. It is not something she thought she would ever have back.

They lie in silence for a long time, the only noise the sounds from the street below them.

"We've never talked about him." Jim's voice is a bit shaky. "We never mention David."

She tries not to tense.

He rubs her arm, as if reading her apprehension, wanting to ease it. "I don't mean fight about him. I mean 'talk' about him."

She moves her head back a bit on his shoulder so she can see his eyes, read his mood. He looks unbearably sad.

"If you want to talk about him, we can." She strokes his face. She'd do anything to make his terrible sadness go away.

"I got to know him a little." His smile is tentative. "You knew him much better, I think."

She nods, waits for him to go on.

"He seemed so bright. He was, wasn't he?"

She smiles. This is an easy one. "Oh, yes. I've never met anyone as bright. Never seen a mind that could turn so quickly, find answers so easily in the most unusual places. He was brilliant, Jim. Truly brilliant. And incredibly creative."

"Did he ever wonder about me? I mean about who his father was?"

"If he did, he never talked about it to me." She wishes she could give him a happier answer. And she could, if she lied. But she doesn't want to do that anymore.

He looks disappointed, but not surprised. "I think Carol was enough for him."

"I think she was." She snuggles closer. "I wonder what her life is like now? David was her world. And Genesis. Now she has nothing."

He just nods.

"Jan saw you with her coming off the ship. She said you two seemed...together. Were you?"

"I thought maybe." He smiles sadly at her. "It was like a dream--a bad dream because of Spock's death. But I had a family suddenly. Carol and David. In my life. It was wonderful."


"But it didn't last. David went to the Grissom, and Carol and I stayed here, and without him for us to bond over there was nothing left between us. It was over before it even began."

Christine wonders if that is true, but decides she doesn't want to know if he slept with Carol or not. "You know she set us up, right? She arranged for you to take that tour when she and David were gone and I was there."

He nods. "I figured that out." He sighs. "She's was always obsessed with her way--and her work. You were important to that. I can see her doing just about anything to keep you in her world not mine."

"No, I think she wanted me in David's world."

He shoots her a strange look.

"I don't mean like that. I mean for the sake of the project, and because he and I just sparked when it came to work."

His eyes are shuttered when he asks, "Did you spark in other ways too, Chris? I remember how intense you two were in that coffee shop. Even looking back, it looked like more."

"We were arguing over protomatter. I was about to leave the project, and he talked me out of it." She smiles at the look of relief that comes over his face. "He didn't want me that way. I wasn't his type."

"Too brainy?" He grins. "Too much competition?"

She laughs gently. "Too feminine, I think."

"Oh." He shoots her an incredulous glance. "Why didn't you just tell me that back then?"

"Would you have believed me? Or would it have just been another excuse? You didn't even know it was David at first. Would you have believed it of some random rival?"

"Maybe not." He sighs. "What a mess we made of this." He kisses her hair. "Did you love him?"

She nods. "He made me feel alive. He was like something out of myth." She smiles. "Which is fitting because look at his father." She doesn't say that while Jim is Jovian in stature, David was more like Mercury--the eternal trickster.

"Myth." He shakes his head. "It's no myth that he died before I could really get to know him."

"Did you love him, Jim?"

He starts to answer, then stops. The look he turns on her is full of pain. "I don't know." His voice is hoarse with the truth he gives her.

"You would have loved him. If you'd just had more time." She is not so sure of that. But it seems the best thing to say. For all of them.


The air in the shuttle is dank and getting thinner by the second. Lieutenant Walters looks back at her. "I don't think they see us."

They are hiding from the Klingons. Tucked into a pocket of asteroids, running in silent mode, even life support is turned down to practically nothing. They were trying to return to the Cascade from Chyvria when the Klingon ship decloaked and fired on them.

Christine had a moment where she regretted that they chose not to use the transporter. But none of them wanted to chance it with the interference that the planet itself seemed to generate. Even the Klingons didn't tend to beam down to Chyvria's various ports of call if they could help it, and Christine has heard horror stories about some who had--it was the last thing they ever did.

She closes her eyes. It's so easy to remember Lori, the way she died so long ago. Jim told her that she was beaming up for a final inspection, that when she had talked to him earlier that day, there had been no warmth in her tone. He said that if you hadn't known that they'd been married, you wouldn't have guessed it from the interaction. Lori might as well have been a stranger. Certainly, he didn't seem to grieve terribly long. She thought it was because he'd already come to terms with losing Lori. The tragedy in the transporter didn't change anything.

The ship moves slightly as its deflectors--set to minimum--kick away a small hunk of space rock. She hopes Walters is good at figuring minimum safe levels on the shields, has no desire to die when one of those cosmic boulders pops through the shuttle's hull.

She sighs, then wishes she hadn't. She is wasting oxygen, exhaling before she needs to.

She wonders how the battle is going. They can see nothing from here, and their sensors are locked down to bare minimums too. She almost wishes they were in a better ship, one that could take on the Klingons. She'd rather be in the thick of things. Not waiting out the battle the way they were ordered to--quietly, not taking any unnecessary risks.

She smiles. Jim has rubbed off on her. There was a time she would have preferred hiding where it was safe. Until she was needed for the inevitable clean up.

She looks back at the young man sitting so quietly next to Valeris. Toral was the heir to the throne, now he's the ruler of Chyvria, has been since his father fell to the virus that is running rampant across the planet. He has found himself in a role he did not plan to assume for years. But one he was ready for nonetheless. His first act was to ask for Federation emergency help.

The Federation was delighted to send medical and emergency assistance to such a dilithium rich world.

As soon as the Cascade arrived in orbit, Toral's second act was to expel the Klingons who viewed his world as a sort of shore leave planet when they weren't lifting dilithium and forgetting to pay for it.

His next was to apply for Federation membership.

To say he's not a popular man on Q'onos is to put it mildly.

The Klingons attacking them were some of the ones Toral ordered to get off his world. They sure didn't go far. She's not sure how they know Toral is on the shuttle--spies in his household perhaps. At any rate, they're gunning for him now.

Nothing like an assassination to put things back the way you like them.

She checks on Valeris, feels guilty as she looks at the woman. She did not mean for Valeris's last away mission during her summer assignment to be so exciting.

Valeris turns to look at her, her eyebrow lifting in what looks like an expression of enjoyment. Is the woman having fun? "Quite the adventure," she murmurs so low that only Christine and Toral can hear her.

Christine smiles. "You find this fun, cadet?" She supposes it is more fun for Valeris, she isn't struggling to breathe the way the rest of them are.

"Fun is an emotional response, Commander." Her eyes sparkling with the devilment Christine has learned to expect from her, she lifts her eyebrow again. It is a perfect imitation of Spock's, even down to the faint lifting of her lips.

Is it a Vulcan trait then? Or does she mimic her mentor out of flattery-- or some other, more complicated, emotion?

Toral shifts, coughs slightly.

"Try to limit your movements," Christine tells him. She knows she is using up air by talking, sits back in her seat and sets the example she is supposed to by waiting in silence. She tries to distract herself with thoughts of Jim out on his own ship. She'll see him again finally in a few weeks, when they take leave.

Walters turns to her and gives a thumbs up; the battle is short lived. He brings the shuttle back to life, and as fresh oxygen begins to pour in, she relaxes, breathing deeply.

The Cascade hails them, and Walters looks at Valeris. "Didn't you say you wanted a chance to fly one of these?"

Christine can feel her own eyebrows going up. "Into the shuttle bay?"

He winks at her. "How much scarier can it be than trying to outrun a Klingon bird-of-prey in a shuttle?"

He has a point. She looks over at Valeris. "Go on. You know you want to."

A human would jump up and rush to the front seat. Valeris rises gracefully and takes her time getting to the copilot's seat. "Thank you for your confidence in me."

"Oh, cut the crap and let her rip." Christine laughs.

Valeris looks back at her, eyes shining. Then she turns around and follows the directions Walters is giving her. He may appear not to care that she could crash the damn thing and kill them all, but he sure is taking his time getting Valeris set.

"I believe I have the concept down, sir," Valeris finally murmurs. "I have taken basic shuttlecraft operations." Valeris is doing so well at the Academy that she can probably take any class her Vulcan heart desires.

Walters lets her take them in. Christine forces herself to breathe normally. Valeris will get them home safely.

And of course she does. It is a picture perfect return to the shuttle bay. As she turns the engines off, Valeris turns to Walters. "Thank you, sir."

He nods, clearly pleased with her performance. "Just wait till you fly a real ship." He grins.

"I will not have to wait long." Valeris already knows her first assignment once she's done with her final year--probably had people fighting over her. She'll be helm on the Portofino. It's not a starship, but it is one of the new class battlecruisers, more maneuverable. Valeris is likely to find herself in combat as the Portofino's crew patrol the area along the neutral zone. Christine has no doubt she'll excel there too.

Walters nods to her as he exits the shuttle. Valeris is still sitting at the controls.

"You going to move in here?" Christine asks, as she gets up. She turns to Toral. "Can I offer you some good old fashioned Federation hospitality?"

"Yes, thank you, Commander Chapel."

Christine waits for Valeris to join them before leading Toral off the shuttle and to the quarters Captain Nichols has assigned him.

Toral sinks into one of the chairs, looks at her. "You said that the Federation representatives are here already?"

She nods.

"I wish to get this done quickly. I am needed on my world."

"There is no reason the negotiations for membership should take undue time," Valeris says softly.

"Good." Toral rubs his eyes. As he does it, Christine notices a long scar on the top of his hand. He smiles bitterly as he follows her gaze. "A memento of my childhood. A constant reminder of why it is a bad idea to let Klingons drink bloodwine at an official banquet." He touches the scar. "And why you should never touch a warrior's bat'leth without his permission."


"A weapon with a curved blade, held like this." He demonstrates.

Christine realizes she has seen them among the dead warriors on those border worlds the Klingons were raiding back when she and Jim were on the ship together. "You're lucky you didn't lose your hand." She shudders.

He shakes his head. "This wasn't from his bat'leth. It was from the meat knife we had so kindly provided him. I think he just meant to teach me a lesson."

"You were only a child," Valeris says, and there is something harsh in her voice. Some measure of her distaste at the idea of such brutality to a child.

"I doubt they viewed it that way. Klingon children grow up fast." Toral shrugs. "It is no matter now. And hardly grievous when compared to nearly losing my life to them today." Sitting up straighter, he says in a resolved tone, "They will never find a welcome on Chyvria. I plan to live a good long time."

"Long enough for Federation membership to become inured in the minds of your people?" Christine asks.

He nods. "Long enough to make my world a safer place."

"It is an admirable goal," Valeris says.

"It is the only goal I have." He turns away.

"We'll let you rest." Christine motions for Valeris to come with her.

As the door close, Valeris says softly, "They will try to kill him again."

"Probably." Christine sighs.

"Admiral Cartwright will want to know what happened here."

Christine smiles. "You think I don't know that? Like he needs one more reason to obsess over the Klingons." If anything, Matthew's passion for bringing down the Empire is just growing.

"Perhaps he is right to obsess. I am unsure if Starfleet Command and the Federation leadership fully understand the kind of threat that the Klingons pose to stability in the quadrant."

"That's a very logical way of saying you've jumped on Matthew's bandwagon." She grins at Valeris. The young woman seems to idolize Matthew. Not that Christine blames her. He's a good man, and a talented one. And he and Spock are friends. Any friend of Spock's appears to be a friend of Valeris's.

Christine often wonders if that is why Valeris appears to like her so much too. It's not very flattering to the young woman, or to herself. Not when Christine knows she has opinions and likes of her own.

"Well," she says, deciding not to worry over why Valeris likes her, "this is sure an exciting way to finish out your interim in ops."

"It has been a most enlightening tour. I have"--she almost smiles-- "enjoyed my time in Emergency Operations. And I will miss you, Christine." Valeris's tone is warm.

Christine smiles. She's not sure what to think about Vulcans anymore. Spock, Valeris, even Sarek, seem to give lie to the cold, unemotional stereotype. Even if they hide their feelings well, they do appear to have them. Frequently.

"I'll miss you too, Valeris."

She doesn't think Janice will though. For some reason, Jan has never warmed up to Valeris. She asked her about it once.

Janice looked sheepish as she said, "It's not rational, Christine. There's just something I don't trust about her. And no I'm not just jealous that she's brilliant, beautiful, and could squash me like a bug in a game of tennis."

Janice is usually a good judge of character, better than Christine is, in fact. But she's wrong this time. Christine only feels a deep affection when she looks at Valeris. And she's gotten better at hearing those warning bells since Carol betrayed her. Valeris is a fine officer. And she's Christine's friend. One who Christine would trust with her life.


She opens her eyes slowly, sees that Jim is watching her. It is a wonderful coincidence that she needed a ride out to Denela and he was there to offer her one on the Enterprise, especially after just seeing each other on leave.

"So," she asks, moving closer to kiss him, "do you give all your passengers this kind of treatment? Dinner in the mess and a night in the captain's quarters?"

He grins as he begins to touch her. "Only the ones I'm in love with."

"And how many are you in love with?"

"'Bout a half dozen or so." He laughs--he is aware of his reputation. "I'm holding auditions soon. Would like to get it up to an even dozen."

She groans as he moves into her. "And would that be a baker's dozen or just the garden variety kind?"

"Thirteen is bad luck, remember?" Smiling, he kisses her again, and they stop talking as their mouths find other things to do.

A little later, she sighs as she shifts in his arms. "So Sulu is filling in for Spock?" She was surprised to see the science station without Spock sitting there, to see Sulu as acting first officer.

Jim nods. "Spock's off on some hush hush mission. He's been pulled off a number of times lately." He nuzzles her neck as he talks, his lips touching down lightly on her skin. "It's good experience for Sulu, will get him ready for his new lady. And sooner rather than later, I think. Have you heard anything about Styles leaving?"

"Just unsubstantiated rumors."

He laughs. "Yes, but your unsubstantiated rumors come from admirals, not from the bowels of my ship."

"True." She giggles as he finds a sensitive spot on her neck. "Word is Styles is accepting promotion in six months."

"Then I'll need a new helmsman. I'm happy for Sulu..."


He sighs. "I'm losing my crew, Chris. It seems like we just launched, but I know before I'm ready for it, we'll be standing down--whoever of us is left to stand down."

"I know." She's wondering what he'll do when he stands down. Will Earth ever be enough to hold him, to make him happy?

Will she?

"I miss Spock," he murmurs, sighing. "I'm losing him to diplomacy."

"It was just a matter of time. Look at Sarek. It's in his blood."

"I suppose. I'm just not used to him not talking to me about things."

"And your experience with that is less than stellar." She turns to look at him.

His eyes are bleak. "I wasn't going to say that."

Kissing him, she strokes his face gently. "Spock won't betray you. It's not Genesis all over again."

He nods, but doesn't look convinced. She gives up trying to make it better, knows that she can't. Things change, including perfect crews under perfect captains. Jim's world is breaking apart naturally, and there is nothing either of them can do to stop it. Nothing either of them should do.

"I've missed you," he says, and she feels him relax against her.

"I've missed you too."

His breathing changes, becomes the long, deep breaths of sleep. She turns to look at him, studying his face. Still so handsome to her even though he is no longer young. But then neither is she.

Pretty soon it will be time to step aside, to make room for younger officers who haven't seen and done it all. She's ready to make the move whenever he is. Ready to pack it all in and try the quiet life. The rockbound life. She hopes this time they can settle down together and make it work.


Christine looks around the room, watches as Janice blushes at something Matthew says. It is a joint goodbye. He's moving up, and she's shipping out to the Excelsior--Sulu listened to Jim and lured Jan away. Not that it probably took much convincing. Sulu's here now, looking proud and a little territorial every time his eyes rest on Janice.

Christine knows that look. She wishes them luck, hopes they are as happy as she's been with Jim. She also hopes they never know the heartbreak she and Jim have known. But she thinks maybe they won't. They've waited so long, and neither of them is particularly volatile. Not that Christine thought she was, until she learned otherwise through loving James T. Kirk. Certainly she is very different than the unassuming nurse who first went out to look for Roger.

She thinks Roger would not like her much anymore.

Jim, however, only seems to love her more, no matter how strong--and incendiary--she becomes. But then Jim isn't afraid of a challenge.

"Nice party, Christine." Matthew hands her a refill on her champagne. "Thank you."

She smiles sadly--ops will be a lonely place without him and Janice. "Who better to throw it than someone who knows all your faults?"

"You said there wouldn't be a roast."

"I did?" She laughs as his expression changes, becomes a lot less complacent. "Relax, Matthew. Toasts only. And best wishes and congratulations. A billet on the CINC's staff is quite the plum assignment." Winking, she leans in, says in a whisper, "Think of all the ways you can foil the Klingons from there."

"Very funny. Someday, you'll be glad I'm out there foiling the Klingons, Christine." He holds up his glass to her. "To shared emergencies. There's no one I'd have rather spent a crisis with than you."

"Ditto, Matthew. And to you, for saving me all those years ago when I didn't care what happened."

"I didn't save you," he says, but he clinks his glass against hers anyway. "You saved yourself. I just pointed you in the right direction."

"I don't think so. But okay." She sees Janice coming over with Sulu, smiles to include them. "So how does it feel having a ship of your own?"

Sulu grins as if he's just been given free run of Risa. Janice looks a little nervous, even if she is smiling gamely.

Christine knows she'll be fine. And she knows Janice will figure that out sooner rather than later. Her friend takes no crap off anyone, and her competency is off the scale. If she lacks confidence, a few days doing well in the job will fix that.

"Here's to you, my friend," she says softly, holding her glass out.

Janice lifts her glass and taps it lightly to Christine's. "Is it bad to throw up at your own party?"

"Yes." Sulu laughs at her. "Why are you so nervous, Jan?"

"Why aren't you?" Glaring at him, Janice turns back to Christine. "And how about you? Emergency Ops is going to be mighty lonely."

Christine shrugs and feels Matthew nudge her.

"I think she's waiting to see what Jim does before she makes any commitments." Matthew grins at her.

"Maybe I'm just waiting to see who my next boss is? I mean I just got you trained and now I have to break in another?"

"That's the life of a Starfleet officer. One new boss after another." He lifts his glass. "To good times. And bad ones. All spent together. In this room. Possibly in these same uniforms."

They murmur "here-here's" and "To good times," before Sulu and Janice wander away to mingle more.

"So, you really going to retire if Jim does? Whither thou goest, and all that?"

"That's the plan. He has a while to go in the center seat, fortunately."

"And you'll stay here?"

"It's in my blood, I'm afraid."

"I hear that. I think I'll miss this place more than I even realize once I'm up in the CINC's pretty offices."

She laughs at that. "You'll be loving life. Think of the access." Glancing over at him, she laughs harder. "You're practically salivating, Matthew."

He shoots her a glance that is more penetrating than she expects. "It's a chance to do some real good, Christine." He puts a lot of emphasis on the word "do." "Can you understand that?"

"I have no doubt you'll do good," she says breezily and sees immediately that he is disappointed in that answer. "What?"

He sighs, shaking his head and looking down.


"It's nothing. I'm just emotional, I think." Smiling, he looks around the room, seems to be taking in all the faces, stopping at some of the ops old- timers. "I'm going to miss this."

"And we're going to miss you." She hands him a small package, laughs as he frowns. "It's not from me, it's from Jim. He doesn't care if you said no gifts."

"Typical Kirk behavior. Rules don't apply." He is grinning though as he tears off the wrapping to reveal a bottle of stimulants, the kind normally used by Academy students in the middle of exams. "For all the boring meetings," he reads, then laughs. "Wow. I'm touched." But he does look tickled at the gift. "He made you schlep this here?"

"He sure did." Not that she'd needed much convincing. Anything that made Matthew laugh was worth the effort.

"I think this is his revenge for my having asked you out." He winks at her. There is nothing wistful in his expression, nothing sad in his voice. Whatever he feels for her these days outside of friendship, he seems to be at peace with it.

"You should find someone, Matthew." She grins. "I'm happy. I want you to be too."

"Can't just go looking, Christine. Someone has to sort of stumble into your life. Or at least that seems to be the way it works."

"You may be right," she says, thinking of that cramped shuttle, the terrible virus that brought Jim and her stumbling into collision. Nothing has ever been the same since that moment.

And she is glad for it. Can see how far they have come. Through tragedy and triumph and soon inevitable retirement. In love, always in love, even if not always together.

But they're together now. Perhaps not physically, but their hearts--maybe even their souls--are joined. It's a whimsical, intense thought, and not one she would have been given to before she met Jim.

He's made her reconsider everything. He's made her a believer in true love.

Even though, at times, true love can rip your world apart--and your heart with it.

She'll risk the pain.

For him, it's worth it.