Claiming Happiness by Djinn

Happiness serves hardly any other purpose than to make unhappiness possible. - Marcel Proust

Happiness is a hard master—particularly other people's happiness. - Aldous Huxley

Kirk sat back, watching his bridge crew work. Then he swiveled to face Spock at the science station. "What do we have on D'Ahlhal?"

"Not much, Captain. The D'Ahlhali are a xenophobic race. They have denied Federation landing parties access to their world for the last twenty years." Spock looked up from his monitor. "We will be the first to visit there, Captain."

"Why now?" Kirk got up, walked over to the science station. "The Klingons?"

Spock nodded. "So it would seem. There have been a number of Klingon incursions into D'Ahlhali space."

Kirk sighed. "How recently?"

"Twice in the last month. I am not sure what it is that D'Ahlhal offers that they find so tempting."

"Sir, I have an incoming message from Starfleet Command." Uhura looked over at him. "They're requesting privacy channel."

"I'll take it in my office." He looked over at Spock, debated asking him to come with him.

"I can wait outside while you take the comm," Spock said evenly, already rising.

Kirk grinned. "Just like the old days."

Spock's eyebrow rose as a slight smile grew, and Kirk immediately regretted saying that. But then there was a softness in Spock's expression, as if he knew what Kirk was thinking. He shook his head slightly, seemingly excusing them both from any lapse.

Following Spock onto the lift, Kirk rode in silence, his eyes resolutely forward. He wasn't in the mood for anything too personal.

"You are well?"

He nodded.

"I am also." At Kirk's look, Spock almost smiled. "Since you do not appear inclined to inquire, I thought I would tell you."

Kirk looked down, a smile playing at his mouth. "This is...difficult."

"Why?" Spock's expression was angelic, as if he didn't know that making Kirk talk about what happened in the past--and the current state of their relationship--might be a way to bring it back to life.

"You know why. And I'm not falling for that. I know you too well, old friend."

He saw a flicker of disappointment cross Spock's face, but then Spock nodded. "I would knock my king over if we were playing chess."

"It's not a game, Spock. There doesn't have to be a winner and a loser."

"I fail to see how that can be. From my perspective, Christine has clearly won." Then he added, "Even if it was my own fault."

Kirk laughed. "Yes, let's not examine that right now, okay?"

Spock nodded.

"I need you Spock. You're my friend and my first officer. I rely on you. That's going to have to be enough."

"I know, Jim." Spock's face was pure Vulcan-calm. But his eyes weren't completely tranquil.

"You left."

"You said not to examine that."

"Well, I changed my mind."

The door opened before Kirk could continue. Charging off the lift, he glared back at Spock. "You do this on purpose."

Spock wisely did not argue. "I will remain here while you take the message."

Kirk nodded and felt a moment of relief when the doors shut Spock away from him. "Uhura, patch the message through."

"Aye, sir."

His terminal lit up. Admiral Nogura looked grim. "Jim, I need you to table the visit to D'Ahlhal."


"We've gotten some mixed intel on the place. It might be nothing, but just put off your visit for now. I'll let you know when we want you to go in."

Kirk sat down. "What aren't you telling me, sir?"

Nogura sighed. "It's those damned Klingons. They're in and out of the sector; we don't know why. I'm not putting our newest ship at their disposal. I don't care how important it is to some of my colleagues to open up relations." He slammed his hand on his desk, the way he always did at staff meetings.

"Understood, sir." Kirk studied his boss. "Our new orders?"

"Rendezvous with the Curie--we're sending coordinates to you. They need an escort to Foremis V."

"Aye, sir." He frowned. Escort duty wasn't that unusual, but he wasn't sure what was on the Curie that needed the flagship's protection.

Nogura smiled. "I know what you're about to ask. And I can't tell you. Just don't let anyone bother that ship, is that understood?"

Kirk nodded. "Awful lot of things you're not telling me, sir."

Nogura gave him the look.

"And I'm sure you'll tell me all about them when you're ready."

Nogura ginned. "That's why I like you, Jim. You always understand me." He was already hitting the switch when he said, "Nogura out."

Kirk sat for a moment, then opened his door, letting Spock in. "We're not going to D'Ahlhal."

Spock did not question it, just raised an eyebrow. "Our new orders?"

"We're on escort duty, Mister Spock." Kirk grinned. "From ferry to bodyguard--our missions aren't exactly utilizing our full potential."

Spock nodded. "It is somewhat of a let down."

"Is it?"

"Since my meld with V'ger, I find that I feel more than I did previously, or than I allowed myself to feel." Spock let that hang out there, let it be what he probably knew it was. Very tempting.

Kirk chose to ignore it. "Well, I'm sorry if that meld led you to greater boredom, Spock."

"That is not precisely what I meant, Jim."

"Somehow I knew that." He stood up, smiling at Spock. "Chess tonight?"

"You are not otherwise occupied?"

"I am. Later. But if you want to play chess, I can fit you into my schedule." He shot Spock a warning look--don't push this, don't make this difficult.

Spock nodded graciously. "I shall look forward to it."

Kirk smiled. As much as he sometimes felt like he was negotiating a minefield when he was talking to Spock, he still missed him, still looked forward to time spent together. Their relationship as lovers was over, but they were still friends, and he still relied on Spock.

He couldn't imagine that ever changing.


"Mom, are you sure you're okay?" Chapel felt a moment of panic as she looked at her mother's wrist. The comm channel wasn't very good, but the wrist looked fine.

"Christine, I told you. It was just a little accident. I'm good as new." Her mother looked down. "I shouldn't have told you."

"Yes, you should have."

"You're out there, dear. What can you do about something like this?" Her mother smiled. "At least you're happy. You are happy, aren't you, Christine?"

Chapel thought about Jim and Spock playing chess. Wondered what they were talking about. She'd had to fight the urge to wander up to the lounge. But she had to trust him. And she had to trust herself--that she'd made the right decision to come with Jim. That he wasn't going to hurt her the way McCoy--and some of her other friends--seemed to think he would.


"I'm happy, Mom." It sounded terribly weak.

"I better go. I don't want to tie up the channels. I love you, sweetheart."

"I love you too, Mom."

She picked up one of her padds, tried to lose herself in the research she was doing, but her mind refused to focus. She kept imagining her mother falling off the ladder. She must have been working in her studio again. She was too old to be crawling all over ladders.

Giving up on the research, she began to pace. She wasn't looking forward to duty tomorrow. She and McCoy needed to have a talk, and she couldn't put it off any longer. But she wasn't sure she wouldn't just be making things worse if she forced him into a conversation he didn't want to have.

Had he really wanted more from her than just friendship--or whatever it was they had between them? Sometimes she wasn't sure what kind of relationship they had.

Her comm unit chimed, and she walked over to it slowly. "Chapel."

"I'm back in my quarters. If you want to join me?" Jim smiled at her.

Did he smile at Spock that way?


"I'll be there in a bit. I'm finishing up some work."

"Okay. Sure." He frowned a little. "Take your time, I'll still be here." He cut the connection.

Would he? Would he still be there if she took too long?

Spock would be waiting. She thought Spock would always be waiting.

Why was she here? Should she have stayed on Earth? Had it been stupid to come here?

She sat down, trying to find some inner peace, using disciplines that reminded her too much of the Vulcan ones she'd once studied in her attempts to impress Spock. She picked up her padd, put it down again. Finally, she took a shower, hoping the water would relax her.

She pictured her mother's shower--it didn't have a handrail. If her mother fell in the shower, who would know to check?

She toweled off, trying to not worry about things that weren't new. Her mother had been on her own since Chapel's dad had died. Slipping in the shower was not a new hazard.

She got dressed and dried her hair, spending a lot of time putting makeup on, then more time wiping it off. She didn't want to look like she was trying too hard. Like she was competing with Spock.

Finally, she forced herself out of her quarters and walked to Jim's, ringing the chime for admittance. She didn't have to, he'd keyed her into the access list. But she didn't like to abuse that. Didn't want to walk in on someone's private conversation with the captain--unless that person was Spock.

Jim's cheery "Come," immediately irritated her. She walked in slowly, almost turning around when she didn't see him at first.

Then he peeked around the corner, giving her a heart-stopping grin as he said, "Hey, I was wondering if you were ever going to show."

"I'm here." She hated how cold her voice sounded.

"And in one hell of a mood." He moved away from the closet, pulling his shirt over his head as he did it. "What's wrong?" He started to draw her towards him, and she jerked away.

"I didn't come here for sex."

He dropped his arms, pursed his lip slightly. "Okay." He walked around her, went to his bureau and poured two glasses of scotch. As he handed one to her, he asked, "What did you come here for, Chris?"

"I'm not sure," she said, as she took a drink. The liquor burned, and she blinked back tears.

"Chris?" Jim stepped toward her, gently pushed her hair off her face. "What is it?"

She didn't want to show him how much his touch moved her, so she took another drink. "It's been a bad day." At his look, she said, "I'm not crying. It's just the scotch."

He smiled, clearly not convinced. "I've seen you drink scotch, Doctor. Remember?" He turned away and walked to the couch, sitting down and gesturing for her to join him.

She didn't move.

He sighed. A long-suffering sound full of some strange tenderness. "Chris, come here." When she didn't move, he said softly, and a bit dangerously, "Now."

Their eyes met and she felt as if she was in a battle of wills. She glared at him; he stared blandly back.

"Now," he repeated.

Something in his eyes, something gentle and completely implacable called to her. Forced her to surrender. She walked over to him and sat down.

He smiled, no triumph in the look. "What's wrong?"

Looking away, she tried not to hear her mother's voice. "It's nothing."

"It's not nothing, or we wouldn't be playing twenty questions." He threw back his scotch and put the glass down. "Finish that."

Again she found herself in a stare-down with him. Again he won. She threw the drink back, put it down too hard on the glass table. The heavy clink was like a slap.

She pulled her hand back, turned to him. "There. I'm finished. What's your next order, Captain?"

He sighed again, seemed to be considering what he was going to do. Then he reached for her slowly, pulling her against him. When she tried to pull away, he said, "Shhh. I just want to hold you."

His hand on her back was warm and soothing. He carefully undid the clips that held her hair up, letting it fall and running his fingers up under it. She groaned in surrender, relaxing against him and wrapping her arms around him.

"What happened?" he said softly.

"It was nothing."

"What happened?"

"My mom," she said.

He waited.

"It was really nice being home, being with her again..." She trailed off then felt his arms tighten around her. It was so safe in his arms. She relaxed even more, laid her head on his chest. "My father died, at the tail end of our first mission."

"I remember."

She smiled. "Another time you were kind to me."

"It wasn't hard to be kind."

She pulled away enough to find a new position, one that allowed her to look at him. "And it was your job."

He nodded. "It was." He touched her face softly, playing with her hair again.

"I feel guilty." There, she'd said it. "I miss her, and I feel guilty. Because I wasn't around."

"Around for what?"

Chapel fought back the strange panic she felt. Her mother was fine. It had just been a little accident. "She's an artist. A sculptor. She works on big things...really big things, and she's getting older. The ladder, it's rickety. And I knew that, and I didn't fix it." The words came out in a rush.

"And she fell?"

She nodded. "She was only on the third rung. Sprained her wrist, nothing too serious. But..."

He kissed her cheek softly. "But it scared the hell out of you?"

"She's fine. I don't know why I'm acting like this." Chapel said, blinking hard again.

"Because you're realizing that she won't be around forever. Because you aren't there to make it all okay, and you feel guilty. Because you love her."

"And I like her." She smiled up at him, knew it was a plaintive look. "We had a really good time while I was on Earth."

"And now you're gone. Now you've"--he touched her on the nose, punctuating his words with a gentle tap--"deserted her."

She nodded.

"I know the feeling. I feel guilty leaving my mother alone in that rambling old farmhouse she refuses to leave." He sighed, seemed to be far away. "Iowa winters are so cold, the summers are miserably hot. She's alone there, ever since my dad died." His gaze became focused again. "She and I aren't really friends. We were once...I think. But not anymore. Too much time in space, I guess."

She nuzzled closer to him. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For your mom and for being a bitch."

"Oh that." He grinned. "I'll forgive you."

"I was..." She looked down.

"You were what?"

"When you spend time with Spock. I get a little..."

"Crazy?" he asked with a grin.

"I was thinking of jealous." She sighed. "Did you have a good time?"

He smiled softly and nodded. "He's my friend, Chris."

"I know."

"He's my friend, and you're my lover--that's the one I love for those not paying attention." He kissed her gently. "Do you still think this is just about the sex?"

She looked away.

"If you're hurting, I want to know about it. I want to be able to help. And if I've had a bad day, I want to know that I can tell you about it." He turned her face to him, kissed her again, this time more passionately.

She could feel her body responding to him, to the way he was holding her. She let go and lost herself in his kiss. When he finally pulled away, she said, "I haven't had the best track record, Jim. No real experience with a relationship that's normal...that's good."

"Well, then it's high time you got some experience." He leaned in, stopped just short of her lips, waited for her.

She moved toward him, laid her lips against his, then felt his mouth open. She let his tongue capture hers, groaning as she pulled him closer. He eased her back on the couch, kissing her relentlessly. When he finally let her breathe, she said, "I want you."

He smiled. "You gave me the impression that you weren't in the mood."

She tried to pull his shirt up but he wouldn't move. She gave him a mock frown, saying, "I can't be here with you this way and not be in the mood."

"Let's see if you say that in ten years."

She must have looked startled because he laughed.

"You don't think we'll make it that long?" he asked seriously.

She stared up at him, smiled slowly. "I'm beginning to believe anything's possible with you."

He nodded. "Now, you're getting the idea." He nuzzled her jaw, moved up to her ear. "The next time we're on earth, I'll fix that damn ladder." He bit down slowly, let go.

Chapel felt a warm feeling settle over her. Wasn't sure what it was, but decided she liked it. "That'd be nice." She tried again to pull his shirt off.

He pulled her hands away, lifted them over her head, pinning her. "Maybe we shouldn't rush it tonight," he said, as he kissed her.

She was drowning in the feel of his lips on hers, his soft and tender kisses, and the way he was holding her down, his hands firm on her arms. She kissed him back, nearly overwhelmed by the sensation of being loved by him. As their kisses intensified, she moaned helplessly and he pulled away.

"I love you, Chris," he said, as he let go of her arms and pulled her shirt up. He kissed her stomach, moved slowly up. "Do you have any idea how much I want you?"

She didn't answer, watched as he eased her pants off, then his own. She pulled his shirt off him, sat up enough for him to slide hers off. As his skin touched hers, she murmured, "I love you, Jim."

"Slow tonight. Slow." His voice was very husky.

She nodded, pulling him to her and holding him close as he moved. She closed her eyes, lost in the way he made her feel. Lost in him.

The warm feeling came over her again and she suddenly identified it. Security. Safety. Home.

It was a good feeling.


Kirk woke slowly and turned over. Chris lay on her side, facing him, one hand thrown over her face. He studied her as she slept, enjoying the opportunity to stare at her without her becoming self-conscious. She moved in sleep, moaned softly as she edged closer to him. Her hand dropped to the pillow, and her hair spilled over her face. He gently moved it back. She moaned again but did not wake.

He thought back to the previous night. Wondered how close he had come to having her run out on him again. She was like a mare he'd worked with as a boy. Fractious and difficult to gentle--too used to harder voices and hands. It had been a challenge to get the horse to accept him, to prove that she could trust him. Chris was proving to be as difficult. And that was a constant surprise. From what he had seen of her in the past, he would have expected her to be an easy sell on a relationship, on romance. He would have pegged her as one of those women who were invariably more enamored with being in love than actually in love with their partner. It wasn't a very charitable assessment, but he hadn't known the real Chris Chapel, had only his impressions of the woman who had chased after Spock all those years. Now, he wondered what she would have done if Spock had ever returned her interest. Run like hell, he guessed, picturing her backing away slowly before fleeing from any chance of happiness.

If anyone had told him how much work it would be to keep her, Kirk would have laughed outright. But he'd have been wrong. She was difficult, a challenge to hold onto, and the part of him that loved a challenge responded to that.

"You're staring at me," she said softly, her voice still crackly from sleep.

"I am," he agreed, moving closer to her.

She closed the gap between them, snuggling in close and wrapping her arm around him. "Why?"

"Why am I staring at you?"

She nodded, the movement more felt against his chest than seen.

"Because I can." He grinned, waiting for her response.

"Not an answer," she mumbled.

"Sure it is. You get uncomfortable when I stare at you when you're awake. So I thought I'd take advantage of your being asleep." He felt her move against him, her lower body rubbing his in a provocative way. "Although now I think there are other things I'd like to take advantage of."

She pulled away slightly. "You have a one-track mind."

"You started it." He grinned as he leaned in to kiss her. It was a long kiss, and he rolled to his back, pulling her with him.

As she broke the kiss and sat up, moving into position, he smiled, enjoying the sight of her on top of him. He reached up to touch her, ran his hands down her sides, and held her firmly as she began to move. "Chris," he groaned, making a hiss of the last letter.

She leaned down, kissing him deeply while never stopping her motion. "Jim," she whispered, as she straightened again, began to move faster.

He watched her as she rode him, felt her clench around him. As she threw her head back with a loud moan, he felt his own self-control break, and he followed her into pleasure, calling her name as he went.

She eased off of him, curling against his side and kissing his cheek as he came down from the place she'd sent him. He turned to meet her lips, kissing her deeply.

"Good morning," she said, a grin transforming her face into something radiant and devilish all at once.

"Good morning," he replied. "Have I ever told you how much I like waking up next to you?"

"Once or twice," she said. "But you can tell me again."

"I like waking up next to you, Chris."

"Me too," she said as she glanced over at the chrono. He saw her look change, become more serious.

"Time to get up?" he asked.

She nodded, giving him a final kiss before rolling out of bed. "Len's called an early meeting."

"Then you go first," he said, gesturing toward the bathroom.

"We know how sharing doesn't work," she said.

"Well it works for some things."

She laughed. "If you weren't so easily distracted, we could get ready together."

"If you didn't hog the water, we could do it."

"Me? I barely get to soap up."

He waved her away with a laugh, then relaxed into the pillows as he listened to her getting ready. He needed to talk to McCoy. He knew he hadn't been good about reaching out to his old friend, had been too distracted by Chris and Spock. He needed to do better. And he needed to find out what was going on between McCoy and Chris. Things hadn't been right between them since McCoy had told her he had come back to the ship hoping that she could offer him something more than friendship. Kirk knew she was trying to downplay the whole thing, but a shadow had crossed her face when she had mentioned McCoy. And it wasn't the first time it had happened.

Kirk knew that McCoy wasn't their biggest supporter, but was he actively trying to sabotage them? It was hard to believe his friend would do that, but stranger things had happened. The human heart was a tricky thing, especially when it was aching. But still, he had trouble seeing McCoy being too serious about this, had an even harder time imagining his friend nursing a great passion for Chris without Kirk being aware of it. Sure, Kirk had suspected that there was some interest on McCoy's part, but it was a long way from interest to head over heels.

"You look serious," Chris said, as she came out of the bathroom and grabbed some things out of the drawer he'd cleared out for her.

"Just drifting," he said, trying to disarm her with his trademark grin.

"You," she said, as she pulled on her uniform, "never 'just drift,' Jim."

"Come here."

"You say that a lot." She walked over, let him pull her down for a long kiss. "You're awfully bossy, you know?"

"Drawback of being in charge," he said as he kissed her again. "Besides, you like it."

She smiled. "You know me too well." She pulled away. "Okay, I've got to go. One of these days, I'll get breakfast before I run out of here."

He grinned and reached into one of the bedside drawers. Handing her a nutrition bar, he said, "Don't say I never feed you."

"I'm touched." She ripped the wrapping off and took a bite. "God, these are awful."

"But nutritious."

"But nutritious," she agreed. "Have a good day."

"You too," he said as she headed for the door. He watched her leave, was happy to see her turn just before she got to the door and look back. He knew his grin was as silly as her own as he said, "Can't resist a last look, Doctor?"

She shrugged. "What can I say, Jim? You're one good looking man. Especially when you're in bed."

"Get going before I order you back in here with me."

Her salute was barely regulation as she laughed and then hurried out the door.


"You ready?" McCoy hardly looked at her as he passed her office.

Chapel swallowed the sarcastic retort she wanted to let fly and got up to follow him to the small sickbay conference room. "Of course, Doctor," she said blandly.

He glanced back at her, looking a bit surprised at her calm response. After the way she'd been fighting back since he beamed on board, her being so reasonable must seem a welcome return to their old ways. It wasn't the reaction she intended. This wasn't behavior that she wanted to return to. She didn't want to work in that environment again where he ranted and vented and occasionally took out his frustrations on his staff, and Chapel soothed him, calmed him down, and got him to laugh again. She didn't want to go back to that dynamic, but wasn't sure the one they were replacing it with was any better.

It was high time to find a new way to interact. And she had to find a way to patch up what had been ripped apart by his confession that he wanted more from her and her unwillingness to entertain the idea. She didn't like that the dynamic between them seemed to have become as little interaction as possible, with McCoy ignoring her while she tiptoed around him. She was tired of worrying that whatever she did would be the wrong thing.

She sighed as she took the seat next to him, watched as the rest of the alpha team came in and sat down.

McCoy seemed to be his old self as he led the meeting. Jovial, friendly, the good old southern gentleman that she knew he loved to play and that maybe was true most of the time.

Chapel wondered when she had begun questioning his behavior...or anyone's. When had she started wondering who people really were underneath the masks? She'd used to take her friends more at face value, but then everything had seemed to change when she and Jim had hooked up. She realized that it wasn't Jim they were reacting to. It was her. She was the one who had stepped out of character. Of any of them, she had been the most dependable, the most unswerving in her motivations and behaviors. She'd been the lovesick nurse, the caring friend, the woman who stuck to the shadows...a supporting player at best. Her friends hadn't been around to see her change as she finished her degree, hadn't been there to witness her growth, her confidence, her new attitude. Only Jim had seen it...seen it and liked it. Jim and that they were on board.

In the minds of her friends, she supposed that she was the one who seemed to have changed overnight. It hadn't been overnight, she'd fought hard to find herself again after nearly losing her way the first time on the Enterprise. She'd had to work to become a doctor, and with that work came the confidence she needed to become a stronger Christine Chapel. But they didn't know that. They didn't know that all she'd done was grow the hell up. To them she'd simply changed. Stepped out of the shadows and fell in love with the leading man. Unpardonable? She hoped not. But she wasn't sure she cared anymore. She did love him, and he loved her. Either their friends learned to deal with it...or she'd find new friends.

She forced her attention back to the meeting. Working out her personal problems wouldn't help with a question she couldn't answer because she'd hadn't been paying attention. But as the meeting went on, she realized that she needn't have worried. The discussion was routine, no medical crises on the horizon. As the meeting broke up, she followed the others out, went back to her office and started on some reports.

"Got a minute?" McCoy's expression was neutral as he stood in the doorway.


He moved inside and released the door switch, allowing the door to close behind him. She expected him to call for the privacy screens, but he didn't. In fact, he didn't do anything except sit down and stare at the floor. Finally, he looked up, met her gaze. His expression was a mixture of regret and irritation.


"I'm sorry. For what I said. That I wanted more from you..." He sighed. "You know I'm not big on apologies, but I overstepped a boundary, and I'm sorry."

She nodded, surprised that he was willing to talk about it.

"I think it would be best if we just pretend that the conversation never happened." He rose, turned for the door.

"But it did happen." Chapel's words stopped him cold.

"Wouldn't it be easier to just pretend?" He tried a grin, a small trace of his old charm.

"Maybe it would. But I don't think that's the kind of decision you get to make alone."

"I'm just trying to make things better." He sat down, reached over and flipped on his terminal, as if the conversation was at an end.

"That's it? You have spoken?" She wished she could get the sarcasm out of her voice, but she was frustrated and angry. She never used to let herself get angry, and it had only made her crazy. Holding back usually helped no one.

He looked over at her. "What the hell do you want me to say, Christine?"

"How about saying something honest? How about telling me why you thought we'd make a good couple when you never even gave me the time of day as a friend? When the Enterprise got back, you never called. Not once, Len. You didn't even come to my graduation ceremony." She closed her eyes. She hadn't meant to say that. Hadn't meant to dredge up a hurt that old.

"I meant to come..." He looked away.

"Just like you meant to call?" She shook her head. "We've never been friends, Len. Not the way you and Jim and Spock are friends."

He shot her a half-hearted grin. "I didn't call them either."

"Not at all?" This wasn't anything she and Jim had covered. They'd both been so busy finding common ground around Spock that it had never occurred to her that McCoy had neglected him as well.

McCoy rubbed at his eyes, he sighed, long and hard, as if he was letting out a lot more than just breath. "I let myself get a little lost. I lost touch with everything. Part of it was a woman--several, actually." He shook his head. "Part of it was that I was hurt. You all left me, you know. Every damn one of you."

"Left you?"

"You went off to medical school, then Spock ran away to Gol, and Jim took that desk job." He held up a hand, stopped the comment she'd been about to make. "I don't begrudge you your success, Christine. Or Jim his chance for moving up, even if I did think it was the worst move he could make. But put yourself in my shoes. Try to figure out if you matter when everyone you love is moving away from you."

"I'm sorry. I never--"

"--Of course you never. I never let you see that." He laughed; it was a terribly bitter sound. "You were right. I do use humor to hide things. I strike out and make fun so that no one will ever see me hurting." He shook his head. "And I plan things sometimes way down deep in my heart or mind or wherever. I plan things and forget to tell the people involved what I want or need or intend." His smile turned more wry than bitter. "I guess if I wanted you to know I had feelings for you, I should have called once in while."

"That is the preferred way." She took his hand. "You do that--that secret unilateral planning--for the same reason you make everything a joke, don't you? So that you won't get hurt?"

"You're no slouch in the psych department." He laid his other hand over hers, patting it as if he wasn't sure what to do but needed to touch her, to connect. "I'm sorry I've been so hard on you. About Jim, and Spock, and about this thing I dreamed up for us." He pulled his hands away gently. "It just...hurt. And it was a shock. I expected you to be free. And that's not very nice, nor was it very smart on my part." He smiled at her, a real smile. "Trust Jim to recognize a good woman when he sees her."

She smiled softly. None of this could be easy for him to say. "I'm sorry too. You took me by surprise with the things you said, about us, and about Jim and Spock." She leaned back. "I know that they have a history, Len. I do. I'm a little afraid of what it will mean having Spock back on the ship. But I love Jim, and I trust him not to hurt me." She stared at him, wanted him to understand. Wanted him to say she was right.

"I hope you're right, darlin'. I do. And I lied. I'll be here with a stiff drink and a sympathetic ear if it does happen."

She smiled, but it wasn't exactly what she'd wanted to hear.

"But if you're happy and things work out, I'm still here."

"You're sure?" she asked.

He took a deep breath, seemed to hesitate before he finally spoke. The words coming out in a rush at first. "I feel like I've still lost the three of you. Spock is back but not very interested in spending time with me when he could be chasing after your beau. You and Jim seem to be permanently ensconced in your quarters. I guess I'm a little..." He didn't finish. Even this new honesty had limits apparently.

But she imagined what words might be applicable. None of them were very nice. "I'm sorry."

"Quit saying that. Just come up for air once in a while."

Chapel nodded. She'd hated it when a friend lost herself in a new lover. Hated it and swore she wouldn't be like that. And yet, here she was. Uhura had said the same thing. They never saw her.

She needed to work on that. Both she and Jim need to work on that.

"Are we all right now?" McCoy gave her his old smile. The one she'd always thought was like a fond uncle. It was hard to think of it that way now. But it was still a welcome improvement over the deadly silence.

"We will be." She walked over and touched his shoulder, lightly. "You do matter to me." She decided not to add the part about it just not being the in the way he wanted.

He nodded. "We're halfway there. I wouldn't open up like that to someone I planned to be at odds with for the foreseeable future."

She nodded, gave his shoulder a fond squeeze and headed back to her own office. As she walked, she felt something settle down inside her, felt herself fully relax in sickbay for the first time since McCoy had arrived.


"This seat taken?"

McCoy looked up, his smile broke before he could contain it, and Kirk felt instantly guilty. How badly had he been neglecting his friends that his presence at a lunch table should evoke such a smile?

"I guess that's a no." He sat, smiling at McCoy as if years hadn't passed between lunches. "You're a brave man, trying the stew, Bones."

McCoy pushed it around with his fork. "I wasn't paying attention when I pushed the selection." He took a deep breath. "Christine talk to you?"

"Chris talks to me a lot." Kirk grinned, probably not the grin Bones wanted but he was going to be damned if McCoy would make him pussyfoot around this.

"I mean, I think she and I have settled our differences. I figured that might be welcome news to you."

If it meant she'd settle down a little bit, it would be wonderfully welcome news, but Kirk knew better than to say it. Instead he just smiled. "It's me she's mad at. She just hasn't realized it yet."

"Say again?" McCoy took a drink of water, watching Jim carefully.

"I chose you, Bones. For CMO. I made her come up here with me--you did know she turned it down, right?" At McCoy's look of confusion, he sighed. "Very long story. Not a good time for either of us. She told Decker she wasn't coming. I convinced her she needed to. But I didn't make her my CMO."

McCoy didn't say anything, just tilted his head, his mouth pursed as if he was waiting for the punch line.

"I chose you, Bones. Over the woman I'm in love with. And then you two had your own issues. So, while I'm very glad that you two have found a way to make peace in sickbay, I know that one of these days she's going to wake up and realize how angry she is at me...not at you." He shrugged.

McCoy started to chuckle. "So when do you think she's gonna blow?"

"Do not start a pool on that, Bones." He gave him his sternest "Captain's glare."

"Me? Never."

"Good." Kirk tucked into the omelet he'd ordered.

"You seeing much of Spock these days, Jim?" McCoy's tone was casual, but there was something in his voice, something that dug.

"I see him every day. He's my first officer. And my science officer." He gave McCoy a bland smile.

"Just like old times."

"It's not like you to mince words, Bones."

"Okay, Jim. What the hell do you think you're doing? Your lover is back and he wants you again. You want me to believe Christine isn't going to get caught in the crossfire?"

"Are you afraid she will...or hoping she will?" Kirk kept his voice even, but he could feel his anger rising. If this was what Chris was getting from Bones, it was no wonder she'd been ticked off.

McCoy picked up his tray. "You know, this stew is really awful. I'm going to get something else." He stood up, looked down at Kirk. "Should I find a different table?"

Sighing, Kirk shook his head.

"You sure?"

"Oh, I'm sure, Bones. I live for conversations like this." He looked up at McCoy, annoyed that he'd been pushed into being snide. "Go get your meal and get back here. We have a few years to catch up on." Years that didn't include Spock, and he didn't plan to mention Chris too much.

McCoy seemed to soften. "Okay. I'll just be a sec." He sighed. "I don't know why I'm like this, Jim."

Kirk reached up, laid his hand on McCoy's arm. "Change is hard. And when the familiar changes, that can be the hardest of all."

McCoy laughed softly. "When did you get so insightful?"

"Two years of being unhappy at my desk. A desk you told me not to chain myself to. were right. I shouldn't have." He decided to let McCoy have the point--maybe it would soften him up even more. Besides, it wasn't a lie.

McCoy smiled--a ghost of his old, "aw shucks, I'm just a southern boy" smile. But then he shook his head. "Only you wouldn't have Christine now, would you, if you hadn't gone and done it?"

"Got me there." Kirk didn't look away.

McCoy seemed to accept that, just smiled and went to get more food.

Kirk breathed a huge sigh of relief. Navigating through his closest friendships never used to be this hard.


"Eating alone, Christine?"

Chapel looked up, forced herself to focus on Chekov. "Pavel, I'm sorry. You caught me daydreaming. Yes, I'm alone." She smiled up at him. "Please, sit."

Chekov looked around. "You're sure? If you're waiting for someone…?"

They both knew who he meant--and she was pretty sure Jim was eating in the forward mess. She smiled and shook her head. "I'm not expecting anybody. Please…join me. We haven't really had a chance to talk."

He slid into the chair across from her. "No. It's been busy." It wasn't much of an excuse, and they both knew it.

Chapel saw him cast a glance across the room to a table where an attractive ensign sat with a lieutenant from engineering. "Isn't that Ensign Karimazov?" she asked.

Chekov nodded unhappily, then turned a suspicious look on her. "How do you know about her?"

Chapel tried to think of a good answer, but he stopped her with a wave of his hand.

"Don't bother to lie, Christine. How do any of us find out anything?" He looked down and concentrated on his food, then he blurted out, "Sometimes I wish that Janice would just mind her own business."

"It wasn't just Jan."

"Oh, but I'm sure she had something to say. Did she mimic me? Or Oksana?"

"I've seen you laugh at the imitations she does. You know she doesn't mean anything by them, Pavel."

He exhaled, a disparaging sound. "Yes, I laugh. She is funny. But sometimes...she has a bitter edge…deep down. We call it soul ice in Russian."

"Oh come on, Pav. I'll admit she likes to gossip, but she's not mean."

He raised an eyebrow, an eloquent twin to Spock's normal gesture. She chose not to comment.

He continued, obviously unwilling to drop the subject. "She can be mean, you know."

Chapel waited.

"But it comes from inside. Like she's so unhappy, it makes her mean." He made a face as if unsatisfied with how he was expressing himself.

"Unhappy how?" Chapel didn't want to discuss Kirk.

"Unhappy with how her life has gone." Chekov looked away. "I think she expected to stay young and pretty forever." He looked back at Chapel. "I think it's because I don't look my age that she's always picking on me."

"Pav, she's not always picking on you. And that's a ridiculous theory."

He shrugged. "Well she's mad at something."

"Maybe it's me." Chapel looked down. "She's not very happy with me."

He shrugged. "Maybe that's it. And you have a protector. She'll respect that. I, on the other hand, am fair game."

Chapel saw Rand enter the mess and suddenly felt as if she was being disloyal to her friend. As she gestured for the other woman to join them, she said, "I think you need to grow a thicker skin, Pav."

He sighed, but didn't say anything as Rand sat down next to Chapel.

"What're you taking about?" Rand asked.

"Nothing interesting," Chekov said.

"Well then, it's a good thing I showed up with the latest dirt."

Chapel saw Chekov shoot her a knowing glance before turning to his lunch. "Maybe we could do without the dirt today?" she suggested.

"Without?" Rand's expression was full of disbelief. "You love the dirt."

"I know. But maybe I shouldn't," Chapel said. "There are plenty of other things we could talk about."

Rand frowned. "Such as…?"

Chapel turned to Chekov. "Like why you're at tactical and not navigation anymore?"

Chekov shrugged. "I want to get into command someday. Need to have as well-rounded an experience as possible."

"And navigation was reserved for Ilia," Rand noted. "But you could have taken beta shift."

"Nothing happens on beta shift," Chapel said. "Even I know that."

Chekov smiled as he got up; he gathered his tray and said, "Unlike the rest of you, I'd like to get off this ship someday.

Rand changed to the seat he'd vacated; she seemed to be avoiding Chapel's eyes.

Chapel sighed. She'd thought Rand's coming over was a good sign, but this did not seem like progress.

"This wasn't where I intended to end up either," Rand said softly, briefly glancing up at Chapel.

"Where then?"

Rand seemed to shake herself, as if mad that she'd said anything. "It doesn't matter."

"Are you sure?" Chapel said softly. "You can tell me anything."

"I said"--Rand slid out of her chair and picked up her tray--"it doesn't matter."

Chapel reached out, touched her arm. "Jan...if you need to talk…?"

"What? You'll be there for me? You sure you'll have the time?" Rand hurried away.

Chapel frowned, not sure what to think as she watched her friend hurriedly dump her tray before fleeing the mess.

She sighed, unsure how to help, or even if she would be welcome if she tried. She ate her lunch, finding the food difficult to swallow. Finally she pushed her plate away.

"May I sit down?" Spock said, hovering suddenly over her.

She jumped slightly. "How do you do that?" She nodded, gesturing to the spot across from her. "Sit."

He eased into the booth. He had no tray.

"You're not eating?"

"No. I wish to speak with you."

She suddenly felt utterly weary and started to get up. "Spock, if this is about Jim..."

He reached out, his hand on her stopping her progress. She stared at his hand, then at him.

He let go of her. "This is not about Jim."

She sat back down.

"I just saw Ms. Rand in the corridor. She appeared to be quite upset."

Chapel frowned, unsure why he was telling her this.

He frowned back, and she realized that he had been far freer with his expressions and tone since his meld with V'ger. Great, a more emotional Spock. Just what she needed as a rival.

"You are her friend, are you not?" He made a slight face, as if acknowledging the recent rupture in relations. "This business with Jim aside."

"This business?" She laughed. "Wow. That's such a great way to put it."

"I did not mean offense."

"Sure." She laughed again. Realized that despite his possible digs, she felt more at ease around him than she ever had. Maybe it was having what he wanted. Or maybe it was just that she no longer had to act the lovesick moron.

"She was crying, Christine. That is normally not a positive sign in a human while on duty."

"I'll go check on her." She slid out of the booth to dump her tray.

He followed her out.

"You came in there just to tell me about Jan?" At his nod, she asked, "Why?"

"I am first officer. She is a valued member of this crew. I do not believe that I can help her with an emotional issue, but I suspect you can. I also know that there has been a rift between the two of you. This might help you bridge that."

"And you care about Jan and I making up why?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Crew squabbles do not increase efficiency, Doctor Chapel. Quite the opposite. And I am, of course, only concerned with efficiency." He nodded formally, an odd, slight smile on his face. "Good day."

"See ya." Watching him walk out of sight, she shook her head in puzzlement.

She went to the transporter room, but Rand wasn't there. So she took the lift down to her quarters. She didn't answer right away. Finally, her door opened.

"Jan?" Chapel peered in.

Rand was sitting at her desk, hastily wiping her eyes. "What?"

"I was worried..."

Rand rolled her eyes, laughed softly. "Spock told you I was crying, didn't he. I almost ran him down in the corridor outside the mess."

"I know."

"He was worried?"

"I think he was." Chapel walked into the room, sat on the bed. "I know we're in a rough place right now. But I care about you. And if you're hurting, I want to help. If I can?"

Rand made a face, dashed another tear off her face, then turned to look at her. "I expected us to be in the same damn boat. I expected it to be like old times."

Chapel sighed. If this was going to be about Jim... "Old times are hard to recapture."

"Yeah. I know." Rand got up, began to pace. "It's not just that you're with Jim, or that I'm not and never will be." She rubbed at her eyes, as if she could force any more tears away. "I had someone. Thought I did. Right before..." She stopped talking, stopped pacing. Seemed to be holding herself together by will alone.

"Who, Jan?"

"Commander Walters. Do you know him?"

Chapel nodded. She didn't actually know the bastard, but she knew of him. Single, perpetually dating someone new, unusually messy breakups. If his uncle hadn't been an admiral at Command, and very fond of his only nephew...

"I thought he loved me." Her hands tightened. "He didn't."

"I'm sorry, Jan."

Rand sat down next to her. "He promised me I'd have a place on the Windstormer. His ship, just a frigate but it still needed a transporter chief. Then I heard he'd traded me to Decker. He didn't even tell me himself. I had to find out when my new orders came. And the thing was, I couldn't complain. The Enterprise was a much better posting. And you were there and Ny." She broke off, a sob escaping before she stopped it.

Chapel reached for her, but Rand pulled back.

"Don't. I can't. Not yet. It hurts too much. I'm afraid if I let go of it, I'll never be okay again."


"Thank you. For coming by. It was nice of you--especially when I've been so nasty." She looked away. "I was just so jealous."

"Jan, if you were hurting and then we were in your face with it...?"

Rand shrugged. "You're with him. That's the way it is now. I have to get used to it. And it has nothing to do with Matt and me. You didn't mean to make that hurt worse."

"No. I didn't."

Rand touched her hand, a glancing meeting of skin on skin, but it was something. It was a start. "I'm sorry I've been such a bitch."

Chapel nodded. "It's okay. If you need to talk about this."

"In a while. Not yet. I'm too raw." She wiped at eyes now dry. "I've got to get back on duty. Don't want the Captain to write me up." She tried to grin; it came out barely a smile. "Maybe you'd use your influence for me?" She shook her head, as if telling Chapel she didn't expect her to answer that.

Chapel smiled as gently as she could, then stood up. "I'll see you later."

Rand nodded. Chapel had the feeling she was very close to falling apart. Then Rand stood up, closed her eyes and found strength from somewhere, pulling composure around her like Kirk did.

Rand was strong, stronger than anyone knew. Chapel left her alone, trusting that Jan could deal with her own demons. And hoping that if she couldn't, she'd come to her friends for help.


Kirk watched as the Curie established orbit around Foremis V. "This has been scintillating, hasn't it, Hikaru?"

Sulu looked back at him and grinned. "One for the books, sir."

Getting up, Kirk walked up to stand next to him. "What I wouldn't give for a bird-of-prey to show up."

Sulu laughed.

Pitching his voice very low, Kirk said, "I wanted to thank you, by the way."


Meeting Sulu's eyes, he said, "Chris. You've been good to her."

Sulu shrugged, and his grin was his normal sunny expression. Kirk could feel himself relaxing just looking at it.

"I just wanted to say that." He started to head back for his seat, but Sulu touched him on the arm.

"It's not hard to be good to her. Or to you, sir. I have no stake in this. Other than wanting to see my friends happy."

Kirk laughed softly. "If only everyone felt like you do." He resisted turning around to see if Spock was looking at him. Could practically feel the Vulcan's eyes on him. If Chris thought Spock was making her crazy, she should try being in his shoes.

His comm signaled on his chair, and he sat, hitting the button. "Kirk, here."

"It's Chapel, sir."

He smiled. "Doctor. What can I do for you?"

"I just wanted to commend you on your logistics services. I got a thank you call from someone for a new ladder."

He laughed. "I didn't figure we'd be back home any time soon. Thought a new one was in order."

"Well, you've got a huge fan now. Chapel out."

He smiled. It was unlike her to use the comm channel like that. But he liked that she had. He could hear Spock shifting behind him as if in some discomfort--like he had never used the comm channel upon occasion for non-official business?

He turned to look at Spock, caught him staring. "Problem?"

"No, sir."

Kirk laughed, he couldn't help it. The look on Spock's face was so...put out. "Remember that time on Canala Prime?" Spock had really pushed the comms policy to the limit on that landing party.

Spock looked down, nodding slowly. "Point taken, Jim."

Kirk got up and walked over to the science station. Laying a hand on Spock's shoulder, he leaned down. "Those are happy memories, Spock. There just memories now, but they're not something I'll forget. Or that I wish would go away."

"And the unhappy memories? Are they so easily accepted?" Spock's voice was pitched very low.

"How do we know we're happy if we've never been unhappy?" Kirk smiled, knew that the expression probably came off a bit sad.

"Indeed." Spock touched his hand briefly, then went back to work. Kirk let go of him and went back to his chair.

The Curie still hung in orbit, the most boring non-target in the world. What had Nogura been thinking?

Then Kirk smiled. He was bored...on the Enterprise. It beat the hell out of a good day down at Command. It beat the hell out of the best day he'd ever had in that damned desk job.

His ship. He had his ship back. Maybe someday that thought wouldn't thrill him.

But he wasn't going to hold his breath.


Chapel heard the door to her quarters open and put her padd down. As Kirk came into her bedroom, she smiled at him. "Hi."

"Hi, yourself." He picked up the padd and sat down on the bed. "More light reading?" His grin was gently teasing. "I wish you'd give up these torrid romances and try something more thought provoking. I mean"--he checked the title of the abstract she'd been reading--"'Duranium Applications in Prosthetics'? How lightweight can you get?"

She laughed as she pulled him down to her. "What can I say? I love reading the smutty stuff."

"You love doing the smutty stuff." He studied her for a moment. "This is different."

She nodded. "I know. Nothing's wrong." She kissed his face with short, gentle touches, her lips barely landing on his skin before she moved on. "I'm damned lucky to have you."

"Well, I'm glad that you realize that." He laughed as he tried to turn to kiss her, but she held him in place, nuzzling her way up to his ear.

"And you're damned lucky to have me," she whispered.

"I am," he agreed, again trying to turn, then groaning as she refused to let him kiss her, as she kept nibbling his ear.

"I'm tired of all the problems. I just want to be happy. With you." She finally let him turn. "I love you."

He studied her for a long moment before leaning in for a long kiss. When he pulled away, he was frowning slightly. "What happened?"

"Nothing happened. Why do you think something happened?"

"Because I'm not used to this new, defiantly happy Chris. And I'm wondering if she's come out to play because someone pushed her too far?"

She shook her head. "Sometimes you have a day when you just realize that you have it good. That the problems and the issues don't matter. I love you, and you love me. And we're happy. Why shouldn't I enjoy that?"

He took a deep breath. "Don't take this the wrong way, Chris. But it's sort of out of character." He leaned back, pulled her in close to him. "Not that I mind."

He seemed content to just hold her so she relaxed against him, her hand drawing nonsense patterns across the front of his uniform. "Am I that neurotic?" she asked quietly.

"Yes," he said, looking over at her with a grin. "And this is a definite improvement over you nearly running away from me every time I turn around." He kissed her forehead gently. "I talked to McCoy today."

"Me too." She smiled. "I don't think he'll be a problem. But we need to be better about including him. And not just in landing parties. He's our friend, and we've been neglecting him."

"Yeah, I got that feeling from him too." He was quiet for a moment so she kissed him, a long tender kiss that made her feel sort of squishy inside.

She watched as Kirk's expression changed from a happy post-kiss one to something slightly annoyed. "You know, he was the one who couldn't get away from me fast enough when I accepted promotion, Chris. He made it clear how stupid a choice he thought I was making, and wasn't what you'd call supportive. So it's a bit hard to feel like I am totally at fault here."

"I know." She kissed him again, this time on the cheek, letting her lips linger on his skin.

"I mean he--"

She touched his lips with her finger, a grin starting, a grin she knew was a lot like his own. "I said, I know."

"I'm working on a good rant here."

"Oh." She pulled her fingers away, laughing. "Then by all means, don't let me stop you."

He laughed too, pulled her close and just held her, rant apparently forgotten.

She said softly, "I know we've been neglecting him and our other friends. But I'm not sure I really want to leave our quarters. They're warm and safe--" Damn. She hadn't meant to use that word.

He sighed. "Who was it this time?"

"No one."

She tried not to tense in his arms, knew she failed when he pushed her away and sat up.

"If it's Rand again, I--"

She touched him on the arm. "It's not Janice. It's not anyone." She looked down. "Well, that's not true. It's me."


She nodded. "I'm just not used to a relationship being this good, Jim. And I'm afraid. So it's safer staying in here where it doesn't seem fragile, and I don't seem so screwed up."

"For the record, I don't think you're screwed up." He stroked her cheek. "Neurotic as hell, yes."

"But not screwed up?" She closed her eyes as he rubbed her neck, couldn't keep a small moan from escaping her lips. "I think I am though."

She could feel his lips on her cheek, mimicking the way she'd kissed him earlier.

"No, you're not, Chris. You're hurting from old relationships, maybe still from what we put each other through back on Earth, and now how our friends are reacting. And you're confused and inexperienced in relationships--good ones anyway." He held her tightly, his hand running down her back. "And I think this situation is custom made to play on every insecurity you have."

"Don't you have any insecurities?"

He was very quiet for a moment. Then he whispered. "You know what Spock's leaving did to me. What do you think my insecurities might be?" His hold on her tightened. "Every time I turn around you're trying to run away. I can't stand that. Call me crazy, but I'd like to think the person I'm with is going to stick around for a while, is going to be there through the good times and the bad."

"I'm sorry." She pulled away enough that she could see his face. "I never considered that."

He nodded shortly, as if to acknowledge that he didn't doubt she had not given it a thought.

"I're James T. Kirk. T for Tomcat. Rogue of the galaxy. Renowned ladies' and, uh, man's man." She grinned and was relieved to see him smile too. "You're not allowed to have insecurities."

"I'm not, huh?" He let her go, began to undo the belt on her robe.

She shook her head. "You're not." They stared at each other for a long time, then she said softly. "Except with me."

He brushed her robe from her shoulders, following its progress with his lips. She tried to undo his uniform, but he stopped her. "Lie still," he said, as he knelt before her, opening her legs.

She tried to reach for him, then gave up as all thought fled in the face of the sensations he was evoking. "Jim," she moaned.

He reached up, took her hand in his and squeezed tightly. She began to buck under him and soon was crying out loudly. When she finally opened her eyes, he was looking up at her with a pleased, and very proprietary, grin.

"Doctor, you need to learn to let go," he said as he shrugged off his uniform. "You're too inhibited."

She nodded, still coming down from the place he had sent her.

"Make some noise. Show some enthusiasm." His grin grew larger as she beckoned him closer with an inviting finger, her expression as come hither as she could make it. "Let me know you want me."

She slid down a bit until she could reach him. Holding him firmly, she slid her hand up and down. "Would this be a good way to show you that I want you?"

"That's a good way to start." His eyes closed as he threw back his head and groaned at what she was doing to him. "Oh, god. That's a great way to start."

Then he looked down at her, and their eyes met, and she was suddenly overwhelmed by him and what he wanted from her and what she wanted from him. She let go of him, grabbed his hand, and pulled him down to the bed, into position, then into her.

He was watching her carefully the whole time, even as he gave himself up to her and buried himself in her body. "Chris?"

She just shook her head, then kissed him deeply as she pressed upward, pushing against him to urge him to move faster and harder, to make their connection complete.

"Chris." Her name turned into a moan as he moved over and over, finally giving a loud cry of release. He collapsed onto her, her legs holding him captive, her arms not letting him slide away.

"I love you so much," she whispered, pulling him closer even as she felt part of him slipping away from her. She didn't realize she was crying until he wiped a tear from her cheek. "I'm sorry, I don't know why--"

"--Shhh." His lips on hers stopped any further apology. The kiss was sweet and tender, full of the promise of security and love and all the things she'd never really known.

"I'm no good at this," she mumbled.

His smile was incredibly tender. "I'd disagree with that assessment." He wiped another tear away. "When she was good, she was very, very good."

She thought of the old nursery rhyme, finished the thought. "And when she was bad, she was horrid?"

He shook his head. "Let's agree you won't be. Neither of us will be." He kissed her again. "This is good, what we have. I love what we have."

She let him roll off her, curled into his arms and said, "I love it too. I love you." She wondered if she would ever get tired of saying it.

"I love you too." He kissed her on the forehead, his arms tightening around her.

She knew she'd never get tired of hearing it.

"I'm happy," he whispered to her. "Do you know that a few months ago, I thought I'd never be happy again?" He kissed her cheek. "I'd lost you, the ship, my friends. I was at rock bottom. And now...I've got it all back. And I'm happy."

She pulled away enough so that she could see his face. He was grinning that grin that she could never resist. It only grew bigger as she began to smile too.

"You're a huge part of that, Chris. I'm happy because we're happy together," he said, and for once it didn't sound like a dare to the fates, just a simple statement of fact.

"I'm happy too." She smiled. It was such an odd thing to feel strange admitting to. But happiness had always been something for other people. She'd always felt lucky to find contentment, had never chased after more.

Or at least not until she'd fallen in love with James T. Kirk.

"Go to sleep," he said, pulling her back to rest against him.

"Thank you for thinking of my mom," she murmured.

"I didn't want you to worry. And I started to worry. About her and..." He sighed. "I called my mom. It wasn't a very good conversation."

"I'm sorry."

"I'll call your mom next time." He laughed. "I think it would be more fun."

"Well, she's definitely a dues paying member of the 'I love Jim' club."

"Which is how it should be," he said, barely containing a yawn.

"Go to sleep, love," she said, still finding it wonderful that she could call him that. Would it ever get old? Would it ever not be true?

"Love," he murmured, his breathing changing slowly over to that of sleep.

She lay awake for quite a while, watching the stars go by as the ship rotated slowly above the Curie, listening to him breathe, feeling his heart beating solidly under her palm.

Then she closed her eyes and drifted off too.