Collide on Dry Land by Djinn
There'll be a storm one night,
but you will find my place of hiding.
We'll watch the lights like children,
leave the fortress hand in hand.
I'll be thunder;
you'll be lightning,
and we'll collide on dry land.
-- "I'll Be Thunder" by Rupert Hine & Jeannette Obstoj
Kirk put his book down, the pages ruffling in the soft breeze that blew across the inlet. One of the benefits of being an admiral was being able to afford living right on the water. He closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the back of his chaise as he tried to think of other bennies. Having his apartment in town for when he was on duty was pleasant. Unlimited transporter credits were handy. The "brass groupies" were nice, too. Nice...until he'd started noticing that the lovely young things seemed to be less interested in him as a person than in him as a way of getting to the finer things in life--like those unlimited transporter credits. Or the lovely view from his house on the water.
"You're very serious," the latest of the lovely young things said as she walked onto the deck and sat down in the lounger next to him.
"Mmmm." He turned to look at her.
He'd been with her for five weeks. She was lithe, tanned. Her strawberry blonde hair gleamed in the sun. Her green eyes barely showed a crease around them as she squinted in the bright light before slipping on sunshades.
He enjoyed her beauty, relished showing her off to his peers. And he enjoyed having sex with her. But over the last few weeks, he'd decided he liked little else about her. Then again, up to now, her beauty and the sex had been enough.
"What's my favorite color, Marian?" he asked.
"Blonde," she said laughing.
"What's my favorite type of music?"
"What's the most boring game on the planet?" She sighed, leaning back and staring out at the water. "Twenty questions, that's what."
"What's my favorite wine?"
She frowned a little. "You seemed awfully fond of that cabernet you sucked down last night at Morrow's party."
He laughed in surprise. Was that a crack in her beautifully tended presentation? Although, she wasn't wrong--he was drinking more than he used to.
"Jim, what's wrong?"
"What are my hopes and dreams?" He leaned toward her, touched her arm--her soft, supple skin. "What do I miss most?"
"Sex, if you don't shut up." She laughed, then her smiled faded as she saw the look in his eyes. "That was a joke."
"Not a funny one. Not today." He took a deep breath. Not today and not tomorrow. And not the next day, when he turned fifty.
Fifty. When had he gotten so damned old?
"I know you miss your ship. It--"
"She. The ship's a she, not an it."
Her look clearly said she didn't see the difference--or why it should matter.
"Do you understand how much I miss her? Or do you just soak up what I say like a little sponge and give it back to me when I'm cranky?"
She'd called him that when he'd been in one of his moods. As if having your life pass you by was something that made you just a little cranky.
"What's wrong with you?" She got up, the movement simple and elegant. Only the young can get up that way. Without thought. Without effort.
He certainly couldn't get up that way anymore. "I'm tired."
"Tired of me?" She looked a little shocked at the thought.
"Tired of life." He met her eyes. "And...maybe...of you."
She didn't look hurt, just surprised again. "Do you love me, Jim?"
Did he love her? What did that even mean anymore? "I don't know."
"Well, at least you're honest." She leaned down, kissing his forehead. "You're not tired, Jim. You're old. And I don't want to be with an old man."
Her words stung--but not as much as they should. What the hell was wrong with him? "Then don't be with an old man."
"Not a problem." She walked away. No backward glance. No sigh or hesitation. He could imagine her inside, calmly collecting her personal items. He could picture the easy way she'd move as she filled up her little bag with the things she'd scattered around his bedroom and his bathroom. Things that had meant he wasn't alone.
"Goodbye," he murmured as he heard the front door close about ten minutes later.
It was a short walk to the transporter station, and he imagined she wouldn't cry as she covered it. But then he heard a flitter come in, and he couldn't resist the urge to get up. Walking quickly to the back window, he saw her close the door of the flitter, caught a glimpse of the thick, blonde hair and tanned, young skin of the man sitting next to her. Some kid she'd met at the marina, maybe? Or at the gym. Or at the store. Or just walking down the hall at work. A woman like Marian could meet a young man like that anywhere. A young man who would rescue her from her aging lover, with his cranky ways and stupid, female ship.
Kirk sat down heavily in the nearest chair. Had she been sleeping with this young buck? Had she even cared at all about Kirk? Had he cared about her? He hadn't liked her the way he'd liked the women he'd been with when he was younger. Marian had aroused him. She'd made him proud when he'd walked into a room with her on his arm. But he hadn't known her any better than she'd known him. She'd been using him; he'd been using her. And, until today, that had been fine with both of them.
He could feel the pang of loneliness. The cold, empty feel of a house that sheltered only him and his broken dreams. He was glad he was going out on the inspection cruise with Spock and his cadets. Normally, being around the cadets, back on the ship that wasn't his anymore--even if he'd always think of it that way--was a little depressing. Now...now it would be less depressing than his life.
Sighing, he went back out to the sunshine. To the lovely deck of his lovely house with the lovely view. His lovely--lonely--view.
"Captain, nice to see you." Chapel smiled at Spock as he walked into Emergency Operations. Her heart beat a little faster--something she hated, but had long ago resigned herself to.
"Commander." His eyes were warm, but it was the warmth of long association, not of any sort of tender feeling.
"How are you?" The question came out professional, not giddy. She'd learned over the years to temper her feelings. To present herself better.
"I am well. You appear to be thriving in this environment."
She grinned at him. He seemed to like that, even if he would never smile back. "I am."
"Then you made the right decision to come here." That settled, Spock began to scan the room.
"You're looking for the Admiral?" She nodded back toward where Kirk sat with Cartwright. "Not a happy fellow today."
"He has been moody of late."
"Turning fifty does that to a man." She imagined it did that to a gal, too. If she let it. Chapel didn't intend to let it. "Go join them. Take his mind off getting older."
Spock nodded and moved away.
"Should I be jealous?" A soft touch on her neck caused shivers.
"No." She smiled as Dan leaned down. He was the total opposite of Spock. Open and willing to show emotion--sometimes too much.
Like now. "I hate it when he talks to you. I know how you feel about him."
"It's ancient history." She was going to kill Jan for spilling the beans about Chapel's infatuation with Spock that night they'd taken her out to celebrate her promotion. So what if they'd all been drunk? She could have kept that little nugget to herself.
"Not so ancient. I see how you light up around him. And he almost smiled at you."
"No. He did not." She put her hand up quickly, touching him.
Her new beau was a little younger than she was. He'd been a co-worker long before he'd become her lover. Blonde and tan and handsome, he was sweet and just what the doctor ordered for someone suffering from tall, dark Vulcans who never loved you back. Or what the doctor would have ordered if doctors delivered boyfriends instead of meds and bad news.
She'd gotten tired of medicine. After pushing herself to get through med school in record time, she'd gotten tired of the damned prize. Len had reamed her up one side and down the other when she'd switched to emergency ops. Spock had been surprisingly supportive, as had Kirk. And she hadn't regretted taking the assignment. She was happy here. And she'd met Lieutenant Commander Dan Castello here. What more proof did she need that she'd made the right decision?
"Just pondering my extreme luck in finding you." She felt him touch her neck again.
"Keep that line of thought. I approve heartily."
"The old man wants a report," Rand said under her breath, looking over at Chapel.
Chapel looked down, realized her comm was blinking. "Crap. How long has he been pinging me?"
"Long enough to know you were monumentally distracted." Rand smiled at her, then up at Dan, winking as she said, "And who can blame her?"
"At least someone appreciates my charms," he said, letting go of Chapel.
"I never said I didn't." Chapel got up. "Watch as I try to recover," she said, grabbing the padd with the update on the outbreak at the shipyards on Mars. She may have tired of being a doctor, but she'd never left medicine behind.
"Sirs," she said, as she walked past Kirk and Spock.
"A trifle tardy, Commander," Kirk said, his voice not the normal teasing he usually gave her.
She looked up, saw that his eyes were puffy--he looked tired. "Apologies, sir." Although she wasn't sure why she was apologizing to him.
"No apologies needed. Love is a wonderful thing." His expression was hard. As if he believed anything but.
"Yes, love is." She could hear defiance in her voice and dialed it down. It was probably hypocritical to defend love when she hadn't been able to bring herself to tell Dan she loved him. "If you'll excuse me?"
"He'll break your heart. I guarantee it."
She looked at Spock who seemed to shrug a little.
"That's what they do. These people we love." Kirk grinned at her, but it was a terribly bitter expression.
She thought it was far more likely she'd break Dan's heart. Maybe Kirk was talking about his own situation, not hers? She'd seen him lately with some gorgeous, young thing. That seemed to be all he dated anymore. Star fuckers, Janice called them, and Chapel didn't disagree with her.
"Love doesn't always sour." Although none of them stood as a testament to the enduring happiness theory. She tried again. "It won't this time." There was something almost pleading in her voice and she hated that it was there. She believed in love. Didn't she?
Taking a deep breath, Kirk touched her hand, surprising her. "I hope it doesn't sour. For your sake, I hope it doesn't."
She let her hand rest on his. "Maybe for both of us." She glanced at Spock. "Or all of us?"
Spock shot her a look that was clearly telling her not to include him in their romantic messes.
She laughed and turned back to Kirk. "Well, for the two of us, anyway."
"Let's hope." He pretended to lift a glass to her, probably in a toast to her optimism--she decided not to tell him it was feigned. "Go on," he said. "Cartwright's waiting."
She hurried into her boss's office, ignoring his raised eyebrows as she launched into the situation report. As it usually did, the mission absorbed him quickly, distracting him from questions about what she was doing with a colleague--Ops folks tended not to date within the fold.
Walking back out, she saw Dan turn around, motioning her over as if he had an update to pass on. "Spock was bad enough, but Kirk, too?"
Laughing, she waved his worry away.
"He was holding your hand."
"No, he was sort of patting it. It was very former-captainly." She smiled down at him.
"You light up around him the same way you do with Spock."
She leaned in. "You've served on a starship. You know the kind of bonds people forge on those long missions. I light up around him because he's a fine captain and a friend." Which wasn't true. If he was her friend, how come he'd never asked her to call him by his first name? But Dan didn't need to know that. Or that it bothered her that Kirk hadn't done it. "Trust me on this one."
"Why's that? He's not your type? You don't find James 'T for Tomcat' Kirk attractive?"
"Honestly, I've never even thought about it." She glanced over at Jan. "She, on the other hand, had it bad for him. I lusted after Spock; she lusted after Kirk. It was very, very simple."
He took a deep breath. "All right, then. But nix the holding hands, okay?"
She saw Cartwright frowning at her. "Old man alert."
Dan nodded as if she was filling him in on the meeting. "Let's sneak away this weekend. Go up to the mountains or something. I found a very rustic place. No amenities except a comfy bed and a very big shower." Whenever things got uncomfortable for them, they fell back on the easy stuff--like sex.
"Bad boy. Stealing me away for your nefarious purposes."
He waggled his eyebrows. "Yes, and you like me bad."
He wasn't wrong.
Done with his round of pre-inspection cruise meetings, Kirk cut through ops, and saw Chapel with her new beau. He regretted what he'd said to her the day before. It wasn't her fault he couldn't make love work. Or that he'd been too raw from his own break-up to want to see her happy.
And no one deserved to be happy more than she did. After all the pain she'd known, it should be good to see her with someone she cared about.
She intercepted him in the middle of the room, smiling as she walked up, and he realized she wasn't holding the previous day's interaction against him. "Sir?"
"Just passing through."
She was about to answer, but something distracted her. She glanced over to the main entrance to ops, her smile dying. "God, I hate these damned tours."
He turned, was shocked to see familiar reddish blonde hair and lithe, tan legs well displayed in a very short, very tight, black dress. Marian glanced over at him, looking as shocked as he did.
"Isn't she a friend of yours?" Chapel asked, putting an interesting spin on the word "friend."
Chapel never missed anything. She rarely commented, though, so maybe she was paying him back for yesterday?
"Old girlfriend. As in two day's ago, she was still my girlfriend."
"I'm sorry, sir."
Kirk saw Chapel's beau glancing over at her. Then the man got up and seemed to be working his way slowly over to them, looking very busy as he checked monitors along the way. "I think your boyfriend has a problem with our conversation."
She was watching the tour group. "He's fine with it."
The man looked up, his eyes meeting Kirk's. His expression was not the look of "fine with it." Kirk was about to say something when he realized that Admiral Lovell had walked in and made a beeline for Marian.
"Took her no time at all to find a replacement," he muttered, wondering what had happened to the young man who'd looked a little like Chapel's beau.
"I think she's gone down in quality." An encouraging grin lit Chapel's face, and he laughed softly.
"Funny thing. I met her on a tour, too." He could imagine how Marian had targeted Lovell. The little stumble in the hall timed for when he'd been about to pass her. The gallant admiral would have stopped to steady her, getting the full force of her wide green eyes and sensual lips. He would have been bowled over by her interest. By her beauty and youth.
"She left me because I'm old." He wasn't sure why he was sharing that with Chapel.
"Sir, with all due respect, that's bull. Lovell's pushing sixty."
"He is, isn't he?" He wondered why that hadn't been the first thing he'd thought. Was he so busy leading his own pity parade, he couldn't see it? He wondered what other wisdom she might impart. "You want to get some lunch?"
"Sure." She walked over to her station, doing something that probably transferred her comms to someone else during her break.
Rand was not at her station, and Kirk felt a moment of guilty relief. Janice was over him, he thought...or mostly so.
Chapel stopped where her beau was standing--no longer trying very hard to look busy--and she said something to him, leaning in. The man looked over at Kirk, then back at her, his expression more angry than understanding.
She didn't need this. She didn't need Kirk mucking up her love life for no good reason other than she seemed willing to hear him rant on about his own.
Sighing, he walked over to them. "Commander, perhaps lunch isn't a good idea. I'm a little short on time."
She didn't look grateful for the out he was giving her. She looked damned pissed. "Then we'll eat fast, sir." Walking past him, she headed for the back entrance, leaving Kirk, her boyfriend, and the tour group behind.
Grimacing a little as if that could make it up to Chapel's lover that he was stealing her for lunch, Kirk hurried to catch up with her. "You sure that was a good idea?"
"What? Not letting him dictate what I can and cannot do?" She shot him a hard glance. "I had enough of that with Roger."
"Dan's jealous. Of Spock. Of you. Of any guy I talk to for more than ten seconds. He can learn to get over it."
"Don't humor me, Admiral."
"Wouldn't dream of it, Chris." He used the name that not many others did, and was glad to see her smile. "He loves you. He doesn't want to share you. Is that so bad?" But then he remembered Janice Lester. How paranoid she'd become during the last few months they'd been together. She'd said she smelled perfume on his clothes, that she'd found lipstick on his shirts. He'd never cheated on her--not even when she'd been making his life a living hell. But she'd been convinced he had. "Unless the jealousy is out of control. Is it?"
She sighed. "No. I'm just...I've just..." She looked over at him. "I sort of got used to being alone. To having my own time and my own way. To not having to answer to anyone."
He nodded. He'd liked that, too. But not enough to offset all the things he'd missed when he'd been alone. Seemed like, once he got off his ship, the first thing he did was find himself a woman.
Any woman, apparently. Maybe it was time to be a little more selective.
"It's new, and I'm just a little squirrelly." Laughing, she looked down. "I have a great guy who loves me, and I'm squirrelly."
"We all have our foibles."
"So how long were you with her?" she asked as they turned into the mess.
"Not long." Or too long. Depending on how he looked at it.
She grabbed a sandwich, saw him looking at it and got one for him, too. "Very healthy. Lots of veggies."
"I don't want a veggie sandwich." He put it back in the cooler, dug around for something supremely bad for him. "I'm turning fifty tomorrow. I should get to enjoy my last meal in my forties." He was used to hiding the fifty part, but she knew how old he was. Hell, this woman had seen him naked, sick, hurt, even dead--or pretending to be. No sense in trying to hide the truth from her.
She handed him another sandwich. Chicken salad. The kind with grapes and curry. And lots of mayonnaise.
"Perfect," he said, nabbing a large chocolate-chip cookie as they passed the dessert area.
They both seemed to head for a less populated part of the mess, then they laughed at the synchronicity.
Sitting in a back booth, she smiled at his look. "I have people at me all day. It's nice to have some privacy. What's your excuse?"
He shrugged. At her stern look, he said, "Okay, maybe I don't want anyone around to hear me share things I should keep to myself."
"Why to yourself?" She opened up her sandwich, biting into what seemed to be nothing but grilled, cold vegetables on dry bread. It looked awful.
"Because I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me. Or knowing I feel sorry for myself." He gave her his version of the stern stare. "And if you tell anyone, I'll hunt you down and make you sorry."
She held up a hand, nearly losing the innards from that side of her sandwich. "I don't plan to tell. So...this is a hard birthday, huh?"
He nodded, biting into the chicken salad instead of answering. It was a sinfully good sandwich.
"Why do you think that is?" She was gazing at him placidly. Reminding him of all the times she'd been in sickbay, tending him. So calm. Such a beacon of "you'll be all right" with her gentle way of being.
"Because I hate that I'm getting old."
"Why old? Why not just older."
A number of answers came to his mind. Because he had a son who was older than the cadets he had to try to keep up with. Because his endurance--in the gym, and other places--wasn't what it had been. Because his hair was thinner and his belly wasn't. Because when he looked at his life, he looked backward, not forward.
"For what it's worth, sir. You're not old." She smiled, then went back to her sandwich.
He decided to change the subject. "I'm sorry, by the way. About how I acted yesterday. Breaking up with Marian may have made me a little bitter."
"A little?" Her grin took the sting out.
"A lot?" He shook his head. "I'm glad you're happy." He saw something pass over her face, a shadow in her expression. "You are happy?"
"I am." She sounded like she was trying to convince them both.
"Is it Spock? I thought you were over him."
"This isn't about Spock. Only..." She sighed. "Do you ever feel like life was what happened on the Enterprise? That everything after that is just...redux?"
"Dan's good and sweet. And he loves me." She looked down.
"You left out a part."
"And I love him."
"Good concept. Shaky on the execution." His voice was meaner than he intended.
She met his eyes. "Did you love her? Your young bimbo?"
He was surprised at her sarcasm. "Bimbo?"
"I'm sorry. Was she not that?"
He sighed. "I don't think she was."
"You don't think she was? Or you hope she wasn't?"
"Vegetables make you presumptuous, Chapel."
She looked down.
He felt bad instantly, wanted the rapport they'd been enjoying back. "I'm sorry. I--"
"--No, sir, it's all right. I was out of line." She took a deep breath, looking up at him. Her eyes were like blue lasers. Hard. Harder than he expected. But she'd changed, she'd grown. And gotten older, too. "It's not as if we're friends."
He answered before he could think about it, before he could analyze why her words hurt him. "No, it's not as if we are."
She looked away, and he didn't say anything to make it better. They ate in silence--an awkward silence.
Unwrapping his cookie, he held it out to her. "Truce?"
"Are we at war?" But she tore off a piece.
"We shouldn't be." He broke off some cookie for himself. "We could be friends."
"We could. Maybe we shouldn't be, though. Maybe there's no reason to be." She reached over, taking another bit of the sugary goodness. "This is good. Happy early birthday."
They finished off the cookie in a silence that was not so awkward.
"Great." She was looking toward the door.
Turning, he saw that her lover had come in. The man seemed to be trying hard to look like he was not scanning the mess for her.
"Love is possession," she said softly. "Roger used to say that. I hated it when he said that." She slid out of the booth.
"You're going to go?"
"I have to get back. Enjoy your inspection cruise."
"I will." That, at least, was a given. Even if it was horrible, he'd be on his ship. On the only girl who loved him. On the only girl he'd never abandon.
She turned away.
She looked back.
"Are you over Spock?"
"I don't know." She gave him a sheepish grin. "But it's a cinch that he never cared enough about me to have anything to get over. So if I'm not over him, then I'm truly pathetic."
"No, you're not." He still thought about Carol. Even now, decades later, he still wondered: What if?
"Good luck in ops."
She turned and left him alone. He saw her beau turn away, as if he wasn't looking for her, as if he wasn't there to find her. She walked over, touching his arm gently. Her smile was sweet--but maybe not quite all there. Her boyfriend looked down at her, then nodded several times. Letting go of him, she walked out.
Kirk turned away from watching her, saw that he was being watched now. And not in a friendly way. Feeling surly, he lifted his water glass to Chapel's lover. The man turned away and disappeared inside the food service area.
Kirk waited until he came back out before he got up to leave. Deliberately going to a recycler near the table the man had chosen, Kirk chose a path to the exit that would allow him to meet the man's gaze, offering a cool, "Commander."
"Admiral," the man said back, challenge in his eyes. But then he looked away. Looked down. The challenge died.
Kirk walked on, feeling a moment of satisfaction. He might be getting old, but he was still alpha.
Chapel sat in the back of ops, head down, nursing her coffee as she tried not to cry. They'd been away, she and Dan. Using leave. Off in the mountains. Off in the mountains while Spock had died to save his ship, and his cadets, and possibly much, much more if that madman Khan hadn't been contained.
Spock was dead. How could Spock be dead?
How could she have been gone when he was dying? When it was announced to all the worlds of the Federation, but not to their cabin in the mountain that Dan had been so pleased was rustic enough to not have any modern conveniences. And he'd kept her too busy to get to the main building, where they did have the news on.
She'd seen the announcement at breakfast as they'd gotten ready to come back to work. Seen it and felt her world crumble. Now they were back in ops, and she'd read all the comms she could find on the incident, and her world was still crumbling.
"Hon'?" Dan sat down next to her.
"You don't even know what I'm going to say."
She realized she didn't care what he was going to say. But it was not good to admit that to him. "I'm sorry."
She was sorry he was there, bothering her, when all she wanted to do was try to absorb that Spock was dead.
And Dan seemed to realize it. "Christine. Let me in. I know this hurts, but I can share it with you."
She looked up at him slowly. "You didn't know him. At all."
"But I know you. I can be with you." He had been with her--she'd been screwing him as Spock died.
"Christine. Please don't shut me out." He sounded desperate. Love and fear coloring his voice. Making it one she recognized. Her own voice when Spock hadn't wanted her. Her own voice when Roger had left her alone with only her engagement ring.
She let Dan hug her, then. In the middle of ops. Where it wasn't done, where you didn't advertise that you were dating your coworker. But Spock was dead, and Dan wanted to help, and he loved her, and Spock never had.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, clutching at Dan. She wasn't sure if she was sorry she'd shut him out, or only sorry that Spock had never wanted her the way this other man did.
"It's okay." This time he didn't seem to read between the lines. "I'm here."
She let him lead her back to her station. She stayed there, working, burying herself in the reports that came in.
"He's worried about you," Janice said softly as she leaned over, handing Chapel a padd.
"He's smothering me." She hadn't meant to say that.
"We should all be so cursed." Jan shook her head. "You finally have a man who loves you without limit, and you hate it."
"Jan, not now, okay?"
Janice sighed, but she nodded, turning away.
Chapel read through the padd Jan had given her, then went back to the comms, until she saw the notification that the Enterprise would be in spacedock soon.
"I have to go see her come in," she said, looking over at Rand. "We should both go."
Rand nodded. Taking command of their leaving. Assigning their reports elsewhere.
"You're going up, aren't you?" Dan asked--Chapel hadn't even heard him walk over.
"You can come with us," Janice said, her voice very gentle.
"No." Chapel could hear how harsh her voice was. Tried to make it less cold, but failed as she told him, "You didn't serve with him."
Dan sat back down; Chapel didn't look at him.
"Christine, why did you do that?" Janice said as they left ops. "He loves you so."
"Jan, we don't have to go together."
"Fine." Janice didn't say anything as they walked to the transporter room. Beaming up, they found their way to the lounge. Chapel was stopped by a nurse she'd served with on the Enterprise; Janice moved on toward the viewports. From opposite corners of the lounge, they watched the ship limp home. Chapel was shocked at the damage the ship had taken.
They met back up by the door, working their way to the transporter area, hovering around the pads like so many others, watching as the crew beamed in. There was subdued clapping, murmured condolences. Hands reaching out to touch cadets, to reassure the youngsters who never should have gone through what they did.
Chapel felt her friend tense next to her. "Oh, god," Janice said, turning away.
Looking at the transporter pad, Chapel saw Kirk had beamed in with a blonde woman. "Isn't that Carol Marcus?" She'd been a legend at Chapel's university even back then--a prodigy obsessed with terraforming.
Jan nodded. "He was with her. For a long time. Years ago." She glanced back. "And now, too. From the look of it."
"How do you--"
"--You obsessed over Spock. You looked up every little thing you could about him. Well, I did that for the Admiral. I know who he was with. I know that this one...she's not casual." Janice took a last look at the couple and fled.
Chapel stood, torn between going to comfort her friend and staying for the man who wasn't her friend but could have been. She chose him, turned to see him walk up.
He looked surprised to see her, but pulled her into a hug almost without thought. "He's gone, Chris."
"I know." She started to cry. Tried to hold it in, her body shaking.
He whispered, "Let it out. It hurts too much to keep it in."
She did what he told her. Finally pulling away, she saw that she'd left his uniform damp where she'd hidden her face against him. "Admiral, I'm so sorry."
"It's okay." He turned her. "Carol. This is Commander Chapel. She served with us. With Spock. He was...special to her."
The other woman touched her hand. "I'm sorry. He was such a good man."
Chapel wasn't sure what to say, so she just nodded. "I should get back to duty."
"Yes." He smiled at her. His eyes seemed to convey a message of "I'm happy. In all this hell, with all this death, I'm somehow happy."
Chapel suddenly knew Janice had been right to flee. She leaned in again, near Kirk's ear. "If she can make you happy, then I'm pleased for you."
He looked touched, then he turned to Carol. "Ready?"
She nodded, her expression gentle. The look of someone who's had something precious returned.
"Will there be a service for Spock?" Chapel asked.
"We had one. On the ship."
"Of course." She straightened. "Good bye, sir. Doctor Marcus."
He nodded. "Take care, Chris."
"Goodbye, Commander," Carol murmured.
Chapel followed Janice's lead and fled. But not back to ops. She found an out-of-the-way room in an out-of-the-way section of Starfleet medical, and locked herself in.
And then she cried until she ran out of tears.
"What do you mean you have to go?" Carol looked at Kirk, her expression hard. The expression he remembered from years ago. When she'd made him choose between her or space. Between his son or space.
"It's not something I can talk about."
"Not this again. Not this classified bullshit again."
"Carol. I swear to you this is important. This is...this is the most important thing I may ever do." McCoy was going insane, and Spock's spirit lived on inside him, yearning to go home. And Kirk could do something to give them both peace.
"I won't do this again." She turned, and he stopped her with a hand on her arm.
"It's for Spock. It's for Bones. And...it's not really regulation."
She turned to look at him. "What are you going to do?"
"I can't tell you." If he mentioned Genesis, she'd want to come. She'd be in direct violation of the order keeping them away. Keeping her away. Starfleet had, for whatever reason, allowed David access, but not Carol.
It had killed her to leave her planet behind. He'd thought she'd been all right, though, after they'd spent the time back to Earth getting reacquainted in every way that mattered. He'd thought she'd settled down a little. That the caustic energy that had always driven her toward one day making Genesis a reality was gone now that it had worked. Genesis had worked.
And no matter what else happened--no matter how much they excluded her from this point on--she'd done it. She'd made it. It was her baby. But, Genesis was her Enterprise, and he knew if he told her that he was stealing his old ship to go to her new planet, she'd never understand. Never forgive him for not including him. Even once he got back, he was going to have a devil of a time getting her to forgive him.
He accepted that, but he hadn't expected her to not forgive him for simply being unable to tell her where he was going. And he could see her closing down. Could feel it in the way the air changed between them. The ease they'd found, the desire they'd rekindled, was dying.
"Tell me where you're going and why, or I'm leaving," she said.
So that was the choice this time? Spock or her? "Then leave."
It hurt more than it had with Marian. It hurt a lot, and if his heart hadn't been broken by the meld with Sarek--by reliving Spock's death over and over, first in his mind, then on the video--he might care more. But this mattered. This was for Spock. Carol had to stand aside and let him do this. Or she had to get the hell out of his way before he knocked her aside.
"I've missed you," he said. "Having you back in my life--it's been indescribable." He saw her eyes soften. "But I won't be held hostage by the fear that you'll walk away again. I won't have you dictate what I can and cannot do." He thought of Chapel's words, said them out loud. "Love is not possession."
Carol's eyes went hard. And he knew she was not going to accept that. Because to her, love was possession. David had stayed in her world, because sharing him with Kirk had been something that her love would not allow. And now, she would not share Kirk with Spock. Or with his duty to his friends, with his need to take this one, last, desperate chance.
He turned away from her. "Good-bye."
She moved close to him. "You haven't changed a bit." Her voice was harsh, ugly.
And he suddenly knew she'd try to poison David. That she'd win him back to her world. That Kirk was giving up his son one more time.
Giving him up for a dead man who was closer than a brother. And for a friend who might lose the best part of himself if Kirk did nothing and stayed with Carol.
He touched Carol's face. "I thought you'd changed, too. I guess we were both wrong." Then he turned and walked out of the room, leaving her so he could make plans. So he could get this reckless, career-ending mission started.
He knew she'd be gone by the time he got back.
Chapel finished briefing the officer taking her station while she was on leave. He was new, but he'd do fine. Janice would look out for him.
Her friend looked over at her, smiling sadly. "Good luck."
Chapel nodded. She wasn't sure what either of them thought she'd need luck for. But it seemed to fit. It seemed to be the thing to say.
"What are you going to do about Dan?" Jan asked.
"He's not happy with my decision to go away for a while. But he'll survive."
"Are you sure?" Jan was staring hard at her--she knew where Chapel was going. It wasn't just leave, it was leave to Vulcan. Leave to see a no-longer-dead Spock.
"I know you think I'm making a mistake. I just..."
"I know. You have to do this." Jan got up, hugged her. "Go do it, then."
Chapel headed for the main door, where Cartwright was standing as if he was waiting for someone. As she walked past, her travel bag slung over her shoulder, he murmured. "Tell Jim hello for me."
She didn't acknowledge the comment, didn't stop walking. She had not officially told Cartwright she was headed for Vulcan. It was her leave; she could go where she wanted. But he'd guessed, and she was a bit surprised he'd guessed.
Or had Dan told him? Would Dan do that? Would he tell their boss so that Cartwright would keep her from going?
Stopping, she turned and walked back to Cartwright. "How did you know?"
"Dan told me," the admiral said, his eyes hard. "I'm not happy with you."
She nodded, accepting that. "And I'm not happy with him."
"No, I don't imagine you are. I wouldn't be, if I were in your place." Was that a warning note in Cartwright's voice?
"What would you do? If you were in my place?"
"I'd go to Vulcan. And I'd find myself a boyfriend I could trust."
"Maybe I'll do that." She took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "While I'm at it, do you want me to find another assignment when I get back?"
"No. I'm sure there will be other times I'm not happy with you. Doesn't mean I want you to leave." Cartwright smiled tightly.
She smiled back the same way. "Okay."
"Maybe Dan should find a new assignment, though?"
She felt a pang. This wasn't supposed to go this way. She hadn't broken up with Dan, just left him angrier at her than she'd ever seen him. He didn't understand why she had to go to Vulcan. Why she needed to make her peace with a Spock resurrected.
She hadn't told him it was really to see if a Spock resurrected loved her any better than the old one had.
"Dan shouldn't leave" she told Cartwright. "Not if he doesn't want to."
The admiral took her arm, steering her along the corridor, away from ops. "Christine, this is not going to go well. It's why we don't date in the group. Ops isn't a starship. It's a room that gets smaller come crisis time. And you two are falling apart, and it's going to get messy if you both stay in that small room. And maybe that mess will cause you to make mistakes. Mistakes I can't afford. So one of you has to go."
"He didn't ask for this. Make it me, then."
"Don't want to. You're the better officer." He smiled grimly. "And I know that you wouldn't have told me about him, if the situation were reversed."
"No, I wouldn't have." She took a deep breath. "Can you do that? Can you find him a new assignment?"
His smile grew grimmer. "I can do just about anything I want."
"Make it something nice, then? Something that won't look like what this is."
"That won't look like banishment? Okay." Cartwright took a deep breath. "Just...keep a low profile while you're on Vulcan, all right?"
"All right. Thank you."
"Get out of here, Chapel. Before I regret being stupid for my friends."
She obeyed him, hurrying down the corridor to the transporter that would take her to spacedock and the shuttle to Vulcan.
Dan was waiting outside the transporter room. He still looked furious. "I knew he wouldn't stop you. He's Spock's friend. Kirk's buddy."
"Don't blame the admiral."
"I don't. I blame you."
"That's fair. Blame me, then." She pushed past him, felt his hand on her arm but shook it off.
"Christine, did you ever love me?"
Turning, she studied him. She felt a pain of sorts at leaving him. But it was warring with her resolve. With her horrible grief turned to whiplash-inducing relief. With her need to see if this time, maybe, Spock could love her.
"I'm not sure I know what love is. But I know what it isn't. It's not possession. I don't belong to you, and you don't belong to me."
"That's crap. Because you belong to that Vulcan who will never, ever give a damn about you. And you like it. Your sick, twisted, little heart only has room for him. And I knew that. I knew that, and I kept thinking I could slip in. Could find room to carve out my own space. I was an idiot."
He turned and walked away. But he wasn't walking in a very straight line, and Chapel felt a pang for him.
"I never loved you, Dan," she whispered once he had turned the corner. "I'm sorry." Entering the transporter room, she took a deep breath.
"Where to, ma'am?"
"Spacedock." She blinked back tears, surprised that she was crying.
"Are you all right?" Another sweet young man. Why were they so plentiful? Why did they care?
"No. But there's nothing you can do about that." She stepped onto the pad. "Except send me the hell away." She smiled, knew the expression was probably a little scary.
Starfleet Command disappeared and spacedock materialized around her. Stepping off the pad, Chapel began her journey.
Kirk sat in the shade of the bird-of-prey, staring up at the cliffs where Spock often stood. There was no Spock today. No almost-friend. No shell of the man he'd once known. It was comforting to look up and not see Spock there. It was nice to not be disappointed. To not have to think that Kirk had thrown away everything he cared about for this.
But...not nothing. Spock lived. Bones was himself again. It was a miracle.
A miracle paid for in blood. In his son's blood.
He turned so he wouldn't have to look at the cliffs, and saw dust rising as someone walked toward him. He could just make out a Starfleet uniform and dark hair. He thought it was Chapel, so he got up and walked out to her. When she drew closer, he could tell she was exhausted.
"Here. Sit down." He eased her into the shade, onto the equipment carton he'd been sitting on.
She looked up at him, her expression helpless. God...what had she given up to come here?
"He won't know you," Kirk said. "He won't love you. He isn't himself." The words came out in a rush, as if by tearing them into her, he could spare her the later pain. The greater pain.
"I don't care. I have to try." Her voice was scratchy, so he grabbed his water container and let her drink.
"What about Dan?"
"It's over." She reached up, touching his face, her expression wounded in a way that made him fear a little for her sanity. "What about Doctor Marcus?"
"It's over, too." He sat down next to her. "Cartwright knows you're here?"
"He says hi." She leaned against him, and it felt normal. It felt right.
Putting his arm around her, he pulled her closer, felt her rest her head on his shoulder. "It's bad, Chris. Everything...everything's gone." Everything but the two friends he'd set out to save in the first place.
"You can tell me."
And he did, but he realized she'd fallen asleep against him before he reached the end. He held her, keeping her safe, until McCoy came up and said, "Good god, Jim, is she all right?"
McCoy didn't really want Kirk's opinion, though. He was already hurrying into the bird-of-prey, reemerging with his equipment. Chapel woke up as he scanned her.
"Len." She smiled. A tired smile, but less the look of a woman on the edge of something bad.
"Christine. Nice of you to pop in for a little visit." McCoy shot her full of something.
Tri-ox, Kirk realized. The thin air had hit them all when they'd first arrived. But now, he was getting used to it. Needing less of the compound to keep him going. He should have thought of that for her. Hell, she was the doctor--she should have thought of that for her.
"I told her, Bones. I told her how he is."
McCoy's look turned tragic for a moment, then he smiled--the expression light years from reaching his eyes. "You'd think being in my head would have given him more personality, not less."
Chapel didn't laugh. "Can I see him?"
"Darlin', don't do this to yourself. Whatever Jim told you. He's right. Spock's not the man any of us remember." McCoy knelt down, forcing her to look at him. "If you came here to see if he'd finally love you, he won't."
She moaned softly, as if his words were fists punching into her, and Kirk glared at McCoy. Couldn't Bones leave her alone--at least for a while? She'd be hurting their way soon enough.
"I want to see him."
Kirk started to get up.
"I'll take her," McCoy said. "Saavik is up there now."
"Be strong," Kirk said, as he gave Chapel a final squeeze.
She turned and looked at him, her eyes holding his. "Do we believe in love?"
It seemed the saddest question in the world. Smoothing back her hair, he said very softly so only she could hear, "Yes, we do. But I don't think it believes in us."
She nodded. "That's what I'm afraid of." Then she got up and followed Bones up the path.
Kirk thought she looked like she was walking to her death.
Chapel tried to breathe normally as she climbed the path. Mercifully, after only a few minutes, McCoy led them into a cave, where an inner staircase carved out of the rock waited. It was still hard going from there, but it was much cooler.
"They took his katra out of me and put it back in his body." Len was huffing a little as he tried to climb and talk. "He's confused now. We think the synapses are growing back. That the connections that aren't there now will return, and all these loose memories will organize themselves, and he'll remember us. But right now, he doesn't seem to remember much that matters."
She sighed, wasting breath. How could Spock remember her when he'd never really thought about her to begin with? Why had she come here?
They finally reached a chamber with a few benches. Len indicated she should sit, so she did, trying to get her breath back.
Amanda walked out of the far chamber of the cave. "Christine? Oh, my dear, how good it is to see you."
"Amanda." She'd always thought Spock's mother would have been a great mother-in-law. Someone she could have loved unreservedly.
Amanda took her hands, staring down at her. "But why are you here?"
Chapel couldn't meet her eyes.
"Oh, dearest. I think you've made a mistake." Amanda sat down next to her. "Why don't you go back down and keep the others company. Spock...Spock is not the man you remember." The man who never loved you, Chapel thought she heard in Amanda's words.
"I'd still like to see him."
Amanda looked over at Len.
He shrugged, his expression hard. "She's determined," he said, his voice resigned. "Let her do what she's so hell bent on doing."
Amanda rose. "Come with me."
Chapel followed her into the far room. As they walked in, a young Vulcan woman turned. It was Saavik. Chapel had met her a few times, but didn't know her well.
"Commander Chapel." Saavik nodded formally. "I am surprised to see you."
"Come, Saavik," Amanda said. "Christine wishes to speak to Spock."
"I am not sure that is a good--"
"--She does not care about that," Amanda said, her tone firm.
Saavik nodded, following Amanda out, throwing Chapel a look that seemed almost pitying. Chapel was left alone, wondering where Spock was. Then she realized there was another form in the shadows, hunched over a high desk where a computer sat.
He turned slowly. His eyes did not change as he studied her; his lips did not lift in the slightest. "Do I know you?"
"Yes." That was easier than she'd expected. Simple. Yes. Yes, you know me.
He tilted his head, as if she was a sample in a lab that he was having trouble identifying. "I do not remember."
She felt something die inside. "We served together on the Enterprise."
His head tilted the other way. Chapel could feel sweat beading up on her forehead, her upper lip, under her uniform in places that would chafe later probably. What in the hell had she been doing coming here?
Why not go for broke? "I...I was interested in you. Romantically."
"It is illogical to protest against our natures." He frowned, as if the memory of his Pon Farr had just erupted and forced itself out of his mouth. "Were we intimate?"
Spock had nearly made them so that day, but for her blurting out that they were headed to Vulcan. Then later, the Platonians had almost made them so, but for Kirk's fighting his way free of their power. "No."
He considered that, then he turned back to the computer.
"I came a long way to see you."
"I am unsure why." His tone was not unkind. It was not anything.
She moved closer. "So that I could believe you were really alive again."
He glanced at her. The sentiment was clearly lost on him. "I am occupied here."
"I see that. Is my presence a distraction?"
By his look, she could see that her presence was an annoyance. But one with no baggage. One with no emotions. He did not remember her. She was inconsequential, and yet she stood here for no purpose when he could be working. He did not say it though, just turned back to the computer.
She took a chance, moved near enough to reach out and touch his hand.
He looked down at her hand, then up at her. "Why do you do this?"
"Because I care. I always have. Maybe I always will."
"Interesting." But he turned back to the computer as if her declaration was anything but. Then he frowned. And the look he gave her next was more the old Spock. Not the Spock of a few weeks ago. But the Spock on the Enterprise, who viewed her as something to avoid at all costs. "To care about someone who does not care for you, is that logical?"
She felt the words hit home this time. Like little knives carving out her heart. "Do you remember not caring for me?"
"I remember you made me...uncomfortable. Would I see you and walk the other way?"
She'd always thought he'd been doing that. "Probably."
He barely considered it before turning back to the computer, and she understood he had not cared about her answer. He'd only been collecting information--perhaps to help him categorize some errant memories. "I must finish this," he said, and something in his tone told her it was past time for her to go.
"Of course." She took a deep breath and went back into the other room.
Len and Amanda looked up; Saavik had gone.
Somehow, Chapel kept her expression even. "It's wonderful to see him doing so well. I know he'll be fine, eventually." Fine. And not ever caring about her the way she needed him to. He'd be a good Vulcan, eventually. But his human side. His loving side. Where had that gone? Had the priestesses left it inside McCoy?
Although, to be fair, his human side had never loved her, either. No side of him had ever loved her.
She felt like a teenaged girl who finally wakes up and realizes the teacher she has a crush on is not in love with her and never will be.
Len started to get up, but she waved him back into his seat. "I can find my own way."
"You don't have to." Getting up, he moved toward her.
"I want to." Her tone made him stop walking. Her tone made Amanda look at her with pity. "I'm fine. I got what I needed here." Finally, like a bucket of cold water in the face, she'd gotten what she needed to close the door on this.
She forced her steps to be measured and calm. She took her time going down the stairs, then rested before heading back into the sun.
This Spock didn't love her. The old Spock hadn't loved her. Why had she thrown Dan away when it had been doubtful from the start of this crazy journey that anything would have changed?
Dan might be gone from ops by the time she got back. The thought should have filled her with sadness. Or with guilt. All she felt was relief--relief that she wouldn't have to deal with him, anymore. Or listen to him saying, "I told you so."
Kirk saw Chapel walking back down the dusty path. He could tell how it had gone for her. Didn't have to ask her or McCoy or anyone else to know how Spock had acted with her. Because Spock was acting that way with him. Posing questions that tore his heart out for their lack of emotion. Or staring at him with expressions so cold, so mechanical, they made Kirk question everything he'd done--everything he'd lost.
He got up, waiting for Chapel to get to him. She wasn't crying; she didn't stumble as she came toward him. But he could tell by her expression that he wasn't wrong about how things had gone.
She met his eyes; hers were dead. "I don't want to see the others."
"Come on." He grabbed a bag he kept packed, and led her past the bird-of-prey, out into the desert. The sun was going down, and he sighed in relief. "It'll get cold, believe it or not. Not freezing, but not comfortable. It's never comfortable on this damn planet."
She didn't seem to care. Probably felt cold inside after her visit to the mortuary that was Spock's study room. Kirk didn't think she'd notice any extra cold the planet might provide.
"He's dead," he said. "The Spock we knew is dead."
"No, Jim, he's not. He's just...confused."
He glanced at her. He'd never told her she could call him that. But it sounded right from her. On this planet, with this stabbing grief inside him, it seemed right that she'd finally gone ahead and called him that.
"He never loved me." She looked at him. "It was a fantasy. One I've held onto all these years, and I don't know why. I lost Dan over him."
"Do you care?" It was a harsh thing to say.
But she didn't seem to mind. "No. I care more that I don't care. If that makes sense?"
It did. He wished he cared more that he'd lost Carol over this.
He stopped walking when they were well out of sight of the ship and the cliffs. Opening the bag, he pulled out a nearly full bottle of vodka and handed it to her. She took it without comment.
Then he grabbed a large thermal blanket from the middle of the bag and spread it on the ground. "Sit."
She sat. A bit gracelessly, as if she'd lost the power to control her body.
He pulled out a fuel sack from the bottom of the bag and set fire-stones in a pile in front of the blanket. He lit them with his phaser, and they glowed warm and comforting in the Vulcan night.
"Do this a lot, do you?" She stretched out on the blanket, studying the bottle of vodka as it stood on her stomach, kept safely upright by her hands. "And where did you get this?"
"Chekov's relatives sent a case. Seems they have a history of exile, and vodka makes the hard time go down easier."
"And the cold warmer?"
"I don't think I'll ever be warm again." She sighed, staring up at the beautiful Vulcan night sky that was the best part of this world.
"Wait till the sun comes up. Then you'll wonder if you'll ever be cool."
"You know what I mean."
"I do. But I'm not wrong, either. You'll be freezing inside, boiling on the outside. It's not a good mix." He took the bottle from her, opened it and sucked down some of the clear fluid. "It's normally just me out here. I'm afraid there are no glasses."
"Give me that." She sat up and took the bottle, didn't even wipe it where he'd drunk, just put it to her lips and sucked down a respectable amount. She didn't cough, didn't choke. But then she was part of ops now. Like unhappy ex-captains, ops officers tended to drink more than they used to.
"Did I make a mistake, Chris?"
"I don't know."
"You're not much comfort."
She laughed. A sad little sound. "And that's my role for you, isn't it? I've always stood for comfort?"
He glanced at her. "Is that so wrong?"
"It's not who I am anymore. It may not be who I ever was." She handed him the bottle.
"It's who you were for me. Sometimes I would look for you when I visited Bones in sickbay. You made me feel...calm." He drank deeply, gave her back the bottle.
"When you came into sickbay to visit, I usually felt better. I guess you stood for comfort, too. Especially after Roger..."
What they'd shared. And she'd been with Miramanee when she'd died. Chapel had seen so much of his life that mattered. "My son died. I lost him saving Spock."
He nodded, felt her stick the bottle back in his hands. "David Marcus was my son."
"Oh, Jim--" She seemed to realize what she'd called him. "Sir, I'm sorry. You never said I could--"
"--Stow it, Chris. Call me Jim. I need you to do that. I want you to do that." He took a long pull from the bottle, could feel the woozy sensation of alcohol hitting his bloodstream. "Carol took him away from me." He sighed. That wasn't exactly right. "I had the choice--I chose space not my family."
She moved closer to the fire. "Why did it have to be a choice?"
"With Carol it was." He moved closer to the fire, too. And closer to her. "What did you hope to find with Spock this time?"
"I don't know. Love, I guess." She shook her head. "I feel as if someone ripped a film off my eyes, and I can finally see what a fool I've been. He never wanted me the way I needed him to. Why did I think dying would change that?"
"Because we're goddamned romantics."
She took the bottle from him. "Soon to be inebriated goddamned romantics."
"Damned straight." He smiled at her, was relieved to see her smile back, even if he knew it was the booze providing an uplift to their mood. "Your fellow back home? Did you love him?"
"No." She leaned in, her arm pressed against him. "Your bimbo?"
"She wasn't a bimbo."
"Good." Chapel's smile was sweet.
"And I didn't love her."
"Not so good."
"Well, considering I pushed her away, it probably was." He put the lid back on the bottle and set it down. They'd had enough, and he noticed she didn't ask for more.
Her hand stole into his.
He squeezed. "Warm."
He moved closer to her, the scent of her perfume--faint but still there--meeting him as he nuzzled her neck. "We could be lovers."
"Yes, we could. It would be easy to be lovers tonight, wouldn't it?"
She turned, wrapping her arms around him, her lips finding his. But it wasn't a lover's kiss. It was better. It was sweet and warm and sad and full of the pain he was afraid would eat him alive if he didn't let some of it out.
"Oh, god, Chris. What am I going to do?"
She kissed his cheek, her lips leaving some kind of calm in their wake. "What you always do. You'll pull victory from the jaws of defeat. You're the master of that."
He pulled away enough to look at her. She wasn't mocking him. Wasn't teasing him or trying to prod him into resolve. She just believed it. She believed in him.
He kissed her, not pushing. Not asking for sex. Just asking for some kind of connection under these cold stars on this cold planet. "We are friends, Chris."
She nodded. "You were the only one I wanted to see when I left Spock and the others. You were the only one who I thought would understand." She ran her fingers across his forehead, stopping at the corner of his eye, tracing what he called crinkles but were more like sagging lines. "You're not old." Then she kissed him, and this time the kiss was different.
And this time he was ready for it. This time he pushed her down, following her. His hands traced her body--a body he'd never fantasized about. This woman had never meant sex to him. He was pretty sure he'd ever meant it to her, either.
She opened her mouth to him, tasting of vodka. They kissed for a long time. When they finally pulled away, she asked, "Do you want to make love?"
"Yes." He smiled down at her, knew why she'd phrased it that way. "Do you think either of us is capable of that? Of having more than just sex tonight?"
He laughed, rolling off her. "Finally, we're the wise ones."
He reached for her hand, somehow knowing it was stealing toward him.
"Does it ever rain here?" she asked, twining her fingers with his.
"I've never seen it rain. But it must." He turned his head, wasn't surprised to see that she was looking at him too. "Are you sorry you came to Vulcan?"
"No. It was time to grow up." She smiled in what she probably thought was a game way. But it came off as sad and tired.
He was tired, too. Exhausted in mind and body. "The fire-stones will burn all night. We can sleep here if we want?"
She let his hand go and rolled to her side, snaking her arm over his stomach. For once, he didn't feel the need to suck in his gut to impress the woman he was with. She sighed, as if she too was relaxing. Pulling the blanket down, he wadded the part they weren't lying on under their heads as a pillow, then pulled the sides over them for warmth. It didn't work as well as when he was alone, but he didn't mind at all.
"Do you like sex?" he asked, feeling as if he could ask her anything tonight.
"I used to think so. But Dan and I had great sex, and I walked away from it."
He nodded. That's what he'd been thinking of. How great sex with Marian had been. And how it hadn't been enough.
"What do you like best? I mean in sex?" Her words came out a little slurred. Friend vodka was making her say things she probably shouldn't.
"You mean other than all of it?"
She laughed and nodded against his chest.
"The feeling of connection when I'm inside a woman. But..."
"Have you ever been with someone and looked at them, expecting to find a connection when your eyes met?"
"And you find emptiness? Or just not what you expected?" She sighed. "I used to do that to Dan, I think. He'd stare down at me in this searching way, and I'd have to look away."
"It was too much?"
"Way too much."
He stared down at her. "Look at me."
She slowly tipped her face up to him. Their eyes met--and held. He leaned down and kissed her.
"Was it like that?" he asked her when they finally pulled away.
She was smiling. "You know it wasn't." She pulled him back down to her. "You sure we couldn't just have sex?"
He chuckled as he kissed her. As her hands--strong hands he remembered from all those visits to sickbay--moved across his body, leaving him shivering from the way she touched him, he began to rethink the no sex thing.
He forced himself to pull away. "How long can you stay?"
"A few days." She cuddled up against him again. "You're going to be in so much trouble, Jim."
"I know. My career's almost certainly over. It's just a question of how big an example they want to make of me. Will you visit me in the stockade?"
Her arm tightened around him. "You've done so much. They can't--"
"--They might. I destroyed the Enterprise."
"She was going to be mothballed."
He smiled. Chris knew the ship was a she. Chris was pretty damned fierce in her defense of him, too. "Still."
"Still what? You saved a friend, and a valuable member of Starfleet. You..." She sighed. "Your ship, Jim. To know she's gone..." She nuzzled his neck. "You loved her better than any woman."
"And I destroyed her."
"Don't think of it like that. Think of it that she gave her life for you." Chris's breath was warm on his ear as she whispered, "Like an old-time cowboy whose horse runs and runs until she can't run anymore. The Enterprise ran her heart out for you. And she was happy to die for you."
He realized she was crying. "What is it?"
"What are we going to do?"
"Survive. It's what we always do." And he knew it was true. They were so alike in that. Love kicked them in the teeth, and life spit in their faces, but they kept going anyway. Nothing--no loss, no matter how terrible--seemed to be able to stop them. But there was a cost. Pretty soon, would anything be able to touch them?
"Len thinks I'm an idiot for coming here," she said.
"You did what you had to do." And if she hadn't come here, then she wouldn't be lying with him under the stars, siphoning off some of his pain by giving him some of her own.
"Did I? Or did I just do what I wanted to do?"
He pulled her closer. "Sometimes, they're the same thing."
Yawning, she shifted, seemed to be getting comfortable. He quit talking, settled for kissing her on the forehead, feeling her arm tighten around him. Then, as they lay silently, her breathing changed and she slipped into sleep. He found the feel of her stretched against the length of him soothing, and closed his eyes. And, for the first time since he'd landed on Vulcan, he slept through the night.
"So? How was it?" Janice smiled at Chapel.
"It was...not what I expected." She couldn't bring herself to tell Janice the truth. That she'd been a fool to go. Or that, despite that, she hadn't wanted to leave Vulcan. Not because of Spock, but because of the man Janice might still be in love with.
Chapel looked around ops. Dan wasn't at his station--someone new sat in his chair. "Where did he go?"
Janice followed her eyes, and her expression hardened a little. "The Achilles. Did you get him sent away?"
"Me? I don't have that kind of power, Jan." Chapel wondered if Cartwright had picked that ship on purpose. She'd been Dan's Achilles heel. Now he was free of her. Maybe he'd find what he really wanted. True love. Someone to adore him. Someone who wouldn't be afraid to make him promises.
"You seem different," Janice said, as Chapel sat down.
"I am." Chapel looked over at her friend. She knew she couldn't keep this from Janice, that it would only get harder if she let it sit. "I found...wisdom"--she'd been about to say "comfort" but decided that was too loaded a word--"in an unlikely source. Admiral Kirk was good to me." She couldn't bring herself to call him Jim in front of Jan. Not yet. Not during this first foray into trying to explain how he might just have saved her life.
She suspected she might have saved his, as well. She was already trying to save his career. She'd visited Sarek before she'd left Vulcan. He'd assured her that he'd come back for the trial and testify on Jim's behalf. Jim had refused to ask him--she'd felt no such compunction.
Jim. Closing her eyes for a moment, she remembered those nights in the desert. Those nights of intimacy without sex.
"What do you mean?" Jan asked, her voice brittle. "He was good to you how?"
"He was there for me."
"There how?" When Chapel didn't answer fast enough, Jan said, "In a naked way, you mean? Did you sleep with him?"
"I didn't have sex with him." But she had slept with him, curled up in his arms on the monstrously hard and cold Vulcan ground that hadn't kept her awake that first night. They'd brought a second blanket the next night, a mattress pad the night after that.
Janice swallowed. "I thought you went back to see Spock?"
"I did. Jan, I did. This...this just happened. And it's not a thing. I mean he and I aren't together. We're just friends." She looked down. It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't entirely true, either. She'd felt something she hadn't expected to under that glittering Vulcan sky. And she thought Jim had, too. "But...but I needed to tell you. Because, things changed between him and me, and I wanted you to hear it from me. I didn't want you to see that we're closer and wonder why."
Janice took a deep breath. Then she laughed and it was a strange sound. Angry, but also nervous. "Well. I guess this is probably the time, then, to tell you that the night you left I felt sorry for Dan because he was so devastated at your leaving. We had a few drinks. I was there for him. And I'm afraid clothes did come off." She stared up at Chapel. "You left a nice man behind. You hurt him deeply."
Chapel stared at her. Not sure if she was making this up or telling the truth. Sitting down, she put on her comm headset. "We can talk about this later."
Janice put hers on, too. "Fine."
They both busied themselves with the comms coming in for a minute. Then Chapel tore off her headset.
Janice glanced over and pushed hers back. "Something wrong?"
"You need to go to Vulcan."
"No, really. Meet up with the man you've wanted all your life. Maybe it will work better for you than it did for me." Chapel felt a pang at the idea that Jan and Jim might hook up. She pushed the pain away. "Go. Confront Jim."
She saw Janice blink at the name. Probably at how easily it tripped off Chapel's tongue now.
"Go. See him. Ask him: Do you love me? I can recommend shredding your soul as the fast track to enlightenment." She was crying and brushed the tears away.
Janice looked down. "I don't need to go to Vulcan. I already had my moment. A few years ago. He didn't want me then, he won't want me now. I've always been a bit better at knowing when to give up than you were." She took a deep breath. "But that doesn't mean it's all right with me for you to take him."
"I haven't taken him." She held Janice's gaze with her own. "Did you and Dan really...?"
"Yeah. We did. You were done with him, remember?"
Chapel felt something tighten in her. Something good was dying, and it was her relationship with her best friend. Had it been her fault?
Rand had been fucking her ex-boyfriend without knowing what Chapel had been up to. How was this Chapel's fault? Why was it okay for Janice to do that, and not for Chapel to find comfort with a man who was in pain and needed her help. "Would you have told me about Dan if I hadn't told you about Jim?"
That hurt, too. Chapel had been naive enough to think she had no secrets from Janice. She suddenly wondered what else her friend had not told her over the years. "Have you slept with Dan before?"
Janice blinked in surprise. "No." She sounded so hurt that Chapel believed her.
"Did you sleep with Jim, Christine?" The name didn't fall so easily off Jan's lips.
"I slept with him. I didn't fuck him." Chapel saw that Cartwright was pinging her. She stood up. "But, in the future...who knows?" She saw Jan's face tighten. "I've got to go."
"I'm leaving ops." The declaration was thrown out like a dagger. I'm leaving you, was what Janice was really saying.
Chapel turned back to look at her.
"I have an opportunity, and I wasn't sure if I was going to take it. I was going to talk it over with you first." Jan laughed bitterly. "It's as communications officer on one of the Fleet's new battle cruisers. Position's opening up in a few months."
Chapel smiled. She could guess which ship it was for. "Go to Dan, then. Maybe the two of you will be happy. That'd be nice."
Cartwright pinged her again.
Chapel took a deep breath. "Just so you know. Jim may never seek me out again, Jan."
"The mere fact that you get to call him that..." Jan shook her head, and there was something helpless in her eyes. "What if it was Spock I was with instead of the boyfriend you threw away? Can you imagine wanting to be around me?"
Chapel looked down.
"Chapel?" Cartwright was at his door, and it was not a happy bellow when he yelled her name again.
"Take the assignment, Jan. Find happiness." Chapel turned and left her friend.
"Trouble?" Cartwright asked her. He sounded like he knew there was trouble and just wanted her to admit that he'd been right.
"Nothing I can't handle, sir." It was like Jim had said: Come what may, she'd survive.
Kirk stood watching people file out from the tribunal, nodding to well wishers, accepting handshakes and hugs from friends. He'd beaten the odds. He'd kept his career--didn't even have to be a boring old admiral, anymore--and gotten back his ship. Sort of. Some kind of ship. God knew what Fleet would saddle him with.
He saw Chris coming up with Cartwright, and smiled at her. He'd had dreams about lying next to her out in the desert. They hadn't always the cleanest dreams, either.
She waited for Cartwright to get done pounding him on the back, then she gave him a quick hug and a glancing kiss on the neck. "Didn't I tell you?" she murmured. "Defeat didn't stand a chance."
He laughed, hugging her closer. "You were right."
"And you brought back someone from the past. Trust it to be a good-looking woman. At least she's more your type."
He glanced over at Gillian. "My type?"
"Brainy scientist instead of vacuous bimbo."
"They weren't bimbos and they weren't vacuous."
She laughed. "You just keep telling yourself that." Pulling away, she said, "I hope you're happy together." It sounded like she'd been practicing that.
As she turned to go, he caught her hand. "I don't think she's staying with me. I've heard that she's being sent out on the scientific training vessel." He was trying to let Chris know he wasn't broken up about the way things were working out. In fact, he'd restrained himself around Gillian. Some of those dreams he'd had about Chris had been when he'd been back in the past.
"I heard that, too." Chapel said, and he thought she looked relieved.
"Have you heard other things? Like what kind of ship I'm really getting?"
He could tell by the way her eyes sparkled as she said, "Nope, sure haven't," that she knew precisely what ship Command was going to unload on him. He also thought, by the size of her smile, that he was going to like the surprise.
"Those nights...on Vulcan. I think you saved me," he said softly, realizing he was still holding onto her hand and reluctantly letting it drop.
"No, Jim. You saved me." Her smile was so tender he wanted to pull her back into his arms. "Godspeed, sir."
"Good luck in ops, Chris."
Her smile was sad, and it grew even sadder as Rand walked up. They barely acknowledged each other, and Rand almost pushed past Chris to get to him.
Something in their interaction told him that Chris had tried to let Janice know what had happened between them. Obviously, Janice had not appreciated the honesty.
"Hello, Janice," he said, putting a little less warmth than he normally would in the greeting.
"Congratulations, sir." She hugged him almost gingerly.
He gave her a careful squeeze back.
"I'm moving on, sir. To the Achilles. It would be wonderful if they gave you that ship."
He shook his head. "Battle cruisers are for the young."
She looked a little crushed. Like he'd rejected her, not just the suggestion. Maybe he had?
He glanced over to where Gillian was waiting for him to be free to talk, before he turned back to Rand. "Good luck, Jan. Make me proud."
She shot a look at Gillian. It wasn't a pleasant look.
So much for being over him. He took a step back. "Fly true, Janice."
"You too, sir." Then she turned and left.
He felt unaccountably relieved.
There were a few more people who cornered him before he could work his way over to Gillian.
"So this is goodbye." She looked a little sheepish.
He analyzed his feelings as he said all the right things to Gillian. He was sorry to say goodbye, but a long way from heartbroken. Maybe it was because he saw Chris lingering in the hall, saw her throw a glance at him. He tried to think of some hand signal that would tell her he'd been right about Gillian leaving, but before he could come up with one, Gillian was kissing him goodbye, and Chris was gone, too.
He smiled as he joined Spock. It wasn't like he didn't know where Chris worked. In the meantime, he had a ship to woo.
Chapel glanced around ops. It was odd to see Jan's chair with someone new in it. It was also a relief. Jan would ship out on the Achilles tomorrow. As she'd finished up at ops, she hadn't been talking to Chapel except for business. No one could say she'd been being hostile in that respect, but her coldness at other times had begun to weigh on Chapel.
Manetti, the officer who'd replaced Jan, looked up, smiling at Chapel. "Not the same without your friend?"
"Nope." Chapel gave the woman her best grin. "But new friends are good, too."
Manetti smiled back. "Thanks. I'm finally starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of it."
Chapel nodded. Manetti was good; Jan had been better.
She sighed. She did miss her friend. But she'd been missing her for some time--ever since she'd come back from Vulcan. Should she have not told Jan the truth?
Could Jan really be her friend if Chapel had to hide something like this from her?
A message marked personal popped into a side-list on her comms board. She opened it, smiling when she saw the message.
"New horse not running as well as old one. Will be back in two days for visit with vet at company stables. Am told horse may require extensive rehab, so time in town may be lengthy. Is this visit of any interest to you?"
She typed a reply. "Sorry to hear horse is in need of check-up. Not sorry at all to hear that check-up will be here or of an extended nature. Is that the answer you were looking for?"
A little while later, Jim's reply came through. All it said was, "Just exactly. See you then (if horse doesn't go lame on the way)."
She smiled as she closed his message. Jim would be back on Earth. And he wanted to see her. And she wanted to see him.
It was completely unexpected. Not that she was complaining. The last time her heart had beat this fast had been for a certain Vulcan back on the Enterprise. This time, the man in question's heart was probably beating just as fast on that wonderfully faulty ship that was bringing him home.
Chapel realized someone was standing by her chair. Looking up, she saw Janice. "Jan?"
"Let's take a walk. Manetti can take your comms."
Chapel routed her messages to Manetti, then followed Janice out of ops. "What are we doing?"
"We're getting out of that damned fishbowl, is what." Janice sighed.
Janice shook her head. "I'm tired of fighting."
"Me, too." But she didn't think Janice was going to want to hear that Jim was coming home. Then again, Jan would be gone before Jim got back, so why tell her? Just because he wanted to spend time with Chapel did not mean that there was anything serious going on. Or that they would last.
Why tell Jan anything?
"I can't explain how I feel about him." Jan looked at her. "I know I have no right to be territorial, but I am."
Chapel wasn't sure what to say, so she waited.
"You really hurt me."
"And sleeping with Dan was your way of making me feel good?"
Janice looked over at her. "You were done with him. You were done with him practically from the moment you went to bed with him."
Chapel looked away. She wanted to argue, but Jan wasn't wrong. "Are you still with him?"
"I am. And...it's nice. He's such a sweet man."
Chapel resisted saying that you couldn't make a meal off sweets.
Janice walked to a window that looked out on the city. "I'm going to miss the view."
"You don't have to go."
"Yes, I do. It's time. I'm ready to do more." She looked over at Chapel. "And, to be honest, I don't want to be here when you and the captain get together."
"Jan, I told you--"
"--Christine, I saw you after the tribunal. Do you have any idea how close you two were standing? My god, he didn't want to let go of you."
"He was with Gillian."
"I thought that, too. Until I saw her leave the room without him. She shipped off on some science vessel."
"And he walked out later with Spock. And he didn't look like a man who'd lost his one true love." Janice sighed. "Look, I don't begrudge you or him any happiness. But I can't stick around to watch it. And Dan's nice, and it won't hurt my career to have the second officer looking out for me. We made sure he's not in my chain of command."
Chapel had no doubt she'd done that. Janice was good at arranging things the way she wanted them. Except with Jim. She'd been no better at getting him to do what she wanted than Chapel had been with Spock.
"I didn't mean to hurt you." Chapel touched Jan's hand, saw her flinch. "But I have hurt you, and I'm going to again, probably. So maybe it's best to just say goodbye."
"I think you're right. I just wanted to get things out in the open before we did that. I wanted to part without all this baggage."
With a strangled sound, Janice pulled her into a hug. "I hate you. I love you. You're my best friend. I'm sorry." The words came out in a rush, as if she was afraid she wouldn't be able to say what she wanted if she didn't say it fast. "Maybe, someday, we'll look back on this and laugh."
Chapel squeezed her. "Maybe we will."
Jan backed away. "But the odds aren't good, are they?"
Chapel thought of that Vulcan sky and Jim's arms around her. "No, I don't think they are."
"Lucky girl." Jan stood straight. "Fly true, Christine. It's what he told me."
"It's good advice. I'll miss you, Janice."
With a nod, Janice turned on her heel and walked away from Chapel. She didn't look back, but Chapel watched her until she'd rounded the corner. Walking over to the window, Chapel stared out on the view she wouldn't have to miss and whispered, "I'm sorry, Jan."
Kirk roamed the bridge as the Enterprise approached spacedock. He was antsy, ready to get off the ship. He'd had meetings with all the crew chiefs who were staying aboard for the repairs as early as was feasible. He'd talked to Starfleet Command until he was blue in the face. All so he could leave the ship in the first wave. He was looking forward to some downtime--with Chris.
Docking was uneventful, and Kirk waited as the bridge crew went through the protocols to prepare the ship for repairs.
"Ready, sir?" Sulu smiled at him.
"Ready." Kirk watched his crew file out, then went to Uhura's comm panel. He figured that he had about five minutes before the repair crews started showing up and tearing out boards.
Deciding that Chris had gone home by now, he tried her apartment, pulling the number from the central registry. She answered after a few rings. He smiled, wondering if she'd been sitting by the comm unit and had forced herself to wait to pick up, not wanting to appear too eager.
God help him, he hadn't thought about things like that since he was young. He smiled broadly over the audio-only channel. "Hi."
Her voice was breathy. "Hi."
"Where is here?"
"Still on the ship. You want me to come see you?"
"That would be nice." She sounded like she thought it would be a lot more than just nice.
"I'll be there in a bit. Tell me where you live." He took down the directions and signed off. Her apartment was close to a transporter station, so it took him no time to get to her door. His palms were sweaty, and he wiped them on his pants before he rang her chime.
She opened the door, dressed casually, but not sloppily--he imagined her standing in front of her closet deciding what to wear. He still had his uniform on. He'd let his apartment lease run out, but he still had his house, and most of his casual clothes were there.
She pushed her hair back. "Hi." Her grin was very big. Happy was a good look on her.
He liked the idea that he made her happy. "Hi." He resisted the urge to wipe his hands again. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had this mix of nerves and anticipation.
She moved out of his way. "Come in."
"I have a house. My stuff is there."
"In the city?"
"Up the coast a bit." He wanted to forget the small talk; he wanted to grab her and pull her to him and kiss her. But that was probably too forward, even if she'd slept in his arms those nights on Vulcan. He moved farther into her living room.
"Do you want a drink?"
"No, I want you."
"I did not say that out loud, did I?"
She moved toward him. "Fraid so, pardner. Got a little lonely on the road?"
"Well, that. And I had my ship shanghaied."
She nodded, had no doubt seen the reports. She stopped just short of being close enough to touch. "Tough break for you. Kind of nice for me. I like that you're eager to see me."
Her eyes met his, and he found he couldn't look away.
"It still works. Or is just me feeling this connection?" she asked softly.
"It's not just you."
She took another step, and he pulled her to him, kissing her the way he'd wanted to in the middle of the tribunal room. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her body against his in a way that was a long way from just friendly. Pushing her up against the wall, he ran his hands up and down her body. She moaned as she closed her eyes and leaned back.
"Do you want to do this now?" he asked softly.
She opened her eyes. "Don't you?"
"Oh, I do. I'm just trying to be a gentleman."
She laughed. "What the hell for?"
"I have no idea." He began to unbutton her shirt, pulling it away from the lacey black bra she wore. The bra he decided to explore around. "Pretty. Picked that out for me, did you?"
"Nope. Had it." She laughed as he tickled her. "Well, maybe I went shopping. I wasn't sure what you liked."
He worked his way back up to her lips. "You. I like you."
"I like you, too." She ran her fingers through his hair.
Her comm buzzed. Groaning, she whispered, "I have to get that. I'm on call tonight. I traded so I could get the next two days off."
"Go get the comm." He walked around her living room, learning what she liked by what she put out on her tables, what she hung on her walls.
When she came back into the room, she was in her uniform. "I have to go in for a while."
He nodded as he walked toward her. Lifting her uniform top, he checked to see if she'd changed her bra, too. She hadn't.
"I'll take that as a good sign." He put her uniform back to regulation, ruined the effect by running his thumbs across her chest, causing her to groan.
"God, Jim. I want you." She kissed him again. She was a great kisser. He hadn't just made that up in the rosy afterglow of their time together.
"Hold that thought." He let her go.
"I'm so sorry I have to go in."
"Shhh." He kissed her. "When do you get off duty?"
"I'm yours free and clear at midnight."
"Midnight is officially my favorite time of day." Winking, he led her to the door. "I have some reports to file. I can walk you to Command, if you want." He didn't want to be too demanding. Didn't want to be like Dan.
But she smiled. "I'd like that."
"If you want, once you're mine at midnight, we could go to my house. The view's beautiful."
"It's going to be stormy."
"Well, staying in won't be much of a hardship if you're there." He laughed. "You're blushing."
"I do that. When I really want someone. And when I like them."
"Did you do that with Dan?"
He decided not to ask her if she'd blushed around Spock. She probably had. But after their time on Vulcan, he thought she was over Spock.
"If we're going to go straight to your place," she said, "I'm going to need a few things."
He prepared for a wait, but she came out of her bedroom a few minutes later with a small bag slung over her shoulder. At his look, she smiled. "We never get much notice when we have to ship out. I keep my stuff ready to go."
"Smart." He liked that about her.
"Well, I have to keep up with you." At his grin, she laughed.
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Commander." He pulled her to him for a quick but very thorough kiss before they left the apartment and walked to the transporter station.
They beamed into Command, and separated. He watched as she nodded to several officers before hurrying down to ops. She'd come a long way from the nurse he's always thought of as retiring.
Finding a free terminal in the visiting officers' hospitality room, he worked on the more bureaucratic aspects of his job. He'd hated this stuff when he'd been chained to a desk, but if it involved his ship, he didn't mind doing up reports. Midnight came before he was done.
His communicator sounded. "Kirk here."
"I'm finished if you are?"
"Give me another half hour, and I won't have to think about any of this for the next two days."
"Comm me when you're done," she said, not asking him what he had to do or why it couldn't wait. Just accepting.
He finished in twenty minutes. Comming her, he shut off the terminal and started the walk to ops.
It took her a while to pick up, and this time he knew it was most likely because she was busy, not trying to look nonchalant. "Chapel."
"I'm all yours, Chris."
"What a nice thought." He could practically hear her smile. "Now, I'm the one who needs more time. Ten more minutes?"
He saw that the mess was still open. "I'll get us some coffee."
"Perfect. Cream and--"
"--Two sugars. I remember." During her stay on Vulcan, he'd eaten breakfast with her at Amanda's. Spock's mother had given them a break from rations and Vulcan food by making them an old-fashioned Midwest breakfast. Chris had lectured him on the merits of oatmeal over bacon. He'd told her to put her sticky oats where the sun didn't shine. She'd just laughed at him, had let him feed her a piece of bacon, her eyes closing in pleasure as she chewed. Of course, Amanda had ruined his fun by telling him the bacon was made from wheat gluten. Chris had winked at him, in the know the whole time, apparently. Vegetarians.
"If you're going to get coffee..." she said, her voice a little scratchy over the communicator.
"They have these cookies I really like."
"I'm in the mood to indulge you," he said. "What kind?"
"The ones with the white chocolate chips."
"You know that's not really chocolate, right?"
She laughed. "Yes."
"And that's it not terribly healthy."
"I'm living on the edge, Jim."
"Okay, as long as you're aware of that. See you in ten." He cut the connection. Wandering around the part of the mess still open, he found her cookies and filled a small bag with them, slipping in a few with actual chocolate chips. Then he got their coffees, taking his time preparing hers. By the time he headed down for ops, he saw her coming toward him.
"Decided to flee while I could." She took the coffee from him, sipping at it. "Oh, this is good."
"It's high test. Will keep us up all night."
Her smile was evil. "You say that like it's a bad thing."
Laughing, he handed her the bag of cookies. "His and hers."
She smiled as she checked it out, then she started to jam it into her bag.
"And now we have cookie pieces," he said.
She glanced at him. "Who knew you were so fussy?" Laughing, she eased up on the bag enough that maybe a few of the cookies would survive intact. "Do you eat in bed?"
He shot her a look, his grin probably way over on the wicked side of the scale.
"Let me rephrase that. Do you eat cookies in bed?"
"What do you think?" he asked.
"You're crumb phobic, aren't you?"
This was not something they'd covered during their tell-all sessions on Vulcan. "Guilty as charged."
"So am I. Hate crumbs in bed."
"What a relief. I thought I was going to have to call this off before it began."
"That would be tragic," she said as they walked into the Command transporter room. She fell silent as they beamed over to the transporter station near his house.
There were no flitters waiting. He could call for one, but this time of night, it took less time to just go on foot. "It's a short walk," he said, as he took her bag and slung it over his shoulder. With a grin, he said, "Chivalry is not dead."
"Oh, I knew that." She looked up at the sky. "Storm's coming, though."
"We'll be inside by the time it gets here."
As they walked along the path that ran by the landward side of the beach houses, she sipped at her coffee. "You make this perfectly, by the way."
"I do a lot of things perfectly." He meant it as a joke, but it came out as fact. Not a boast...just truth.
"I know you do. It's not a bad thing." She smiled at him. "I learned a lot about command from watching you."
"You did?" He beamed. Pleased that she'd say it, even if he'd heard similar things from others.
She nodded. "But I've learned something else from trying to be like you."
"That there is a hidden cost for the grace under pressure." She sighed. "Hidden deep inside us is the negative of that. The anger or loneliness or depression. No one ever sees those things, though. The only one who experiences them is the random carton that won't open and ends up against the wall."
"Don't do that with anything that's made with tomato sauce. Devil to get off things."
"Now you tell me." She touched his back, her hand running gently down, just enough for him to feel it through his uniform.
"I do that less--give in to the anger," he said. "But I do notice a raging disappointment at minor setbacks."
"Yep. I take a lot of things personally that I probably shouldn't." She looked over at him. "People commend me for keeping my cool. But inside...I feel as if I'm a volcano."
"There are ways to let off steam." He waggled his eyebrows, thinking of that lacey bra and wondering if it came with matching panties. He loved the idea of lace under the wool felt. Lace that was just for him.
"Sex is good. And there are other ways. Ways that are harder sometimes to find. Talking. Laughing. Having someone you trust enough to share the problems with. To let them know when you're on the edge."
"Those are good, too. It's great if you can work all that into one package."
"Or one person?"
"Or one person." He glanced at her. "Think that can be done?"
She met his eyes, didn't look away. "I'm hoping."
"Me, too." His words came out breathy and rushed. Almost desperate--but she didn't seem to mind.
"So how far is your house, anyway?"
"Just ahead." He took her hand and pulled her with him down the side path that led to his place. It began to rain just as they got to the door, and he had to let go of her to palm open the door.
She was laughing as she hurried in after him. "Perfect timing, Captain Kirk."
He grabbed her hand again and pulled her out to the living room. "The view from here is phenomenal." Storms were rare, but when they came, they put on a great show. He left the lights off, drew her with him to the couch that would let them see the most sky. Putting his coffee down on the table, he set her bag on the floor next to the couch, digging around for the cookies.
They were in surprisingly good shape.
"Did you really think I'd crush them?" She laughed as he sat down next to her.
"You were jamming them in with such gusto." He broke off a piece of the kind she liked, and held it out to her.
She took it from him, her lips lingering on his fingers much longer than was necessary--not that he minded.
She fed him a piece of the kind he liked. He nipped at her fingers, and she smiled. Leaning back, he pulled her to him, her head resting on his shoulder. They sat like that for a while, waiting for the storm to start. He could feel his heart beating. He could feel other parts of his body responding to her proximity. As he was about to reach for her, the sky lit up. The lightning began as flashes that illuminated large chunks of sky, but then the bolts started to fly, striking down in jagged flares, thunder following immediately after.
"It's right on top of us," she whispered.
Turning to him, she smiled. "I had no doubt of that." Then she leaned in, kissing him tenderly. "I didn't think today would ever get here. I'm very happy to see you."
"I'm very happy to see you, too." He knew by the way she was touching him that she would soon be able to tell that parts of him were extremely happy to see her. "Chris, I'm going to be out in space. For long periods of time."
She frowned. "Uh huh." Her hands didn't stop moving.
"No, I mean, if it's a choice..." Why in God's name did he feel it necessary to bring this up now?
She stopped. "You work in space, Jim. I know that. You know that. It's not a problem. Now, find a new theme." Laughing, she kissed him fiercely. "Or don't talk at all for a bit?"
He laughed. "Sorry, I had a paranoid moment."
"It's all right. I like that you think this will go on long enough that where you work will be an issue."
"I do think that. I think we could be good together." He began to pull her uniform off. Lace panties--good girl. "I dreamt about Vulcan."
She was stripping off his uniform, too. "So did I. I dreamt that we were making love."
He nodded. "Me, too."
"In the dreams," she said, "it was good."
"In my dreams, it was good, too."
In real life, it was way beyond good. As the lightning flashed around them and thunder crashed so loudly it made the windows shake, he found out that the reality of loving Chris was better than his fantasies. He hadn't even come close to imagining how sweet she'd be in his arms, or how well their bodies would fit. Or how passionate she could be--there was something to be said for inner volcanoes.
As they finally lay together on the couch, the storm moving off, she sighed and turned into him. The movement was natural and easy, as if they had always shared this couch in this way.
"So nice," she said.
"Mmmm." He was almost asleep, and he didn't want that yet. Kissing her, he eased off the couch and went up to his bedroom, finding two bathrobes that he took back down to the living room. Pulling her up, he helped her with the robe, then put his own on before he took her hand and led her out to the deck. "I love the air after a storm."
"So do I." She stared up at the sky, where a half-moon was just starting to peek through the dissipating clouds. "I love y--" She looked down. Seemed suddenly nervous.
He smiled. "Don't want to say it?"
"I would never tell Dan I loved him." She turned to look at him. "With you, I'm afraid I'm saying it too soon."
Thunder still crashed in the distance, and he pulled her close. "Why don't you let me be the judge of that, Chris?"
"Okay." She took a deep breath. "I love you, Jim."
He pretended to be thinking about it. "You're right. It's too soon. See ya."
She laughed and hit him gently on the arms. "Jerk."
He captured her hands. "Probably so. But your jerk." He eased her down onto one of the chaises, knew that water was soaking into her back. Pulling open her robe, he said, "I find I need you again."
"Right here? In the biggest wet spot ever?"
He laughed. "Yes. Exactly there." He untied his robe, felt her moving under him, her legs coming around him, under his robe. Wet legs that were a little cold. "I may not have thought this through."
She was grinning at him. "Think so?" He grin was incredibly sexy. So was the way she was using her legs to pull him closer.
Cold legs be damned. He took her, finding the connection that he loved so much. Head thrown back, eyes closed, he moved, and she moved too, meeting him, bodies coming together in a mini-storm of their own making. Opening his eyes, he looked down, wondering if the intimacy could survive this.
She had her eyes closed. But she opened them, as if she could tell that he was looking at her. She smiled at him, the look sweet and mischievous and utterly sexy. He felt as if he was seeing a Chris he'd never known. He imagined she was seeing a Jim that wasn't usually on display. They didn't look away from each other, until she threw her head back, leading the way down the pleasure trail.
"I love you, Chris," he said.
She opened her eyes, her expression unfocused but with the sweetest smile on her face. He kissed her, moving faster. Then he had to close his eyes, moaning as he came and hoping to hell that none of his neighbors were insomniacs who liked the smell of ozone. If they were, they were getting quite a show.
She was kissing him, her legs still wrapped around him as he came down from where she'd sent him.
"Are we going to make a habit of this?" she asked. "Because I'm going to have to demand rights to the top at least half the time."
"Are you cold?"
Her grin was tender. "I'm light years away from cold. But my backside is very wet."
He eased off her, closing his robe, but leaving hers open for a moment so he could really look at her.
"Stop it. I'm blushing again."
"It's too dark to tell." He touched her cheek, could feel the heat. "You are. It's a charming trait."
"Right." She did up her robe, letting him pull her out of the chair. The back of her robe stuck to her, nicely outlining her body.
"Why don't you go first?" He traced parts the robe was already framing.
"I don't think you really mind."
Turning, she caught him up in her arms. Her perfume, the same as she'd worn on Vulcan, wafted up around him. They kissed for a long time, under the half-bright moon, with the departing storm to keep them company.
Then she drew him inside. "So where's your bed?"
"Upstairs." He grabbed her bag, led her up the stairs.
As he tossed her bag onto a chair, she walked to the windows. "The view is spectacular here," she said.
For a second he thought he heard Marian's voice, the first time she'd been up here.
Chris turned around, giving him a long once over. Walking to him, she undid his robe, and gave him another long look.
He thought he was blushing.
"The view's even better from here." She grinned at him.
Marian had never said that.
"What's my favorite color?" he asked her.
"I don't know. But it'll be interesting to find out."
It was the perfect answer.