It's All About Survival

The jungle is dark and it smells. Chapel can tell the ocean is in front of her, but only because she can hear the waves crashing. There is no moon to light the night. No moon to tell her how far away her part of the shuttle landed from the other sections. Or if the other sections even landed.

She tries to find a light or a medkit in the wreckage, but she can't even see her hand in front of her face. She finds the body of the person who was sitting in the row next to her. Ensign Meyrouth. Young, sweet, first voyage. Reporting to duty, sir.

Neck broken. No need to report for anything ever again.

Chapel pushes herself up and feels a wave of dizziness come over her. Her head is aching and everything is tilting in the blackness, like bed-spins in an unlit room. Finally feeling the dizziness and pain let up a little, she gets up and limps out of the shuttle, trying not to trip over anything. Her hip is wrenched, and she's dragging her leg a little as she walks. Staying where she crashed is the recommended course of action; she should let the rescuers come to her. But it feels wrong to stay still when she knows she was the only doctor on the shuttle. When she knows she should be helping

Like she helped Meyrouth? No medkit, no light, just hands examining the young woman's neck and knowing by touch what that jutting bone at the junction with the spine meant.

Just before they hit, Chapel assumed crash position. Meyrouth was still sitting up, even though Chapel was yelling at her to put her arms over her head, to get down, out of the range of everything-not-nailed-down.

Obviously, Meyrouth didn't move fast enough.

There were eight of them in the shuttle. Sulu up at the helm, with Kirk next to him in the copilot's seat. The two of them talking quietly, their soft laughter filtering back to her. There'd been three new crewmen who Chapel hadn't met yet sitting in the front. Then Chapel and Meyrouth and Lieutenant Commander Dietrich in the back section. Dietrich, never one for company, spread his stuff out so they had to take the seats behind him. He probably saved their lives--from what Chapel could tell as she explored what was left of the shuttle's rear section, Dietrich had been sitting right about where the shuttle split apart. He could have landed anywhere.

Chapel trips over something soft, tries to correct but only succeeds in wrenching her hip and leg even more as she falls. The thing that has tripped her, also breaks her fall. It is a yielding thing, covered in Starfleet regulation fabric--worn and soft, not scratchy like Meyrouth's just-issued uniform.

"Dietrich?" she whispers, knowing that he won't answer, but trying anyway. "Commander?"

She feels along his body, finding his neck, searching for a pulse. There isn't one. She keeps moving, her hand stopping when she touches something wet and warm. He hasn't been dead long. But long enough.

She forces herself to her feet with a groan, again fighting dizziness, and moves around Dietrich. She has no idea where to go, just presses on toward the sound of the waves. She can feel tears stinging her eyes and blinks them back. The others may be injured. They'll need a doctor, someone in control. In command of her emotions.

She hears a rustle--like the waves but not--and freezes. Are there animals on this planet? Then she hears the sound of steps. Human steps--or humanoid, anyway. Not the soft padding of a predator.

"Hello?" it is Kirk's voice, and she laughs in a tone she knows is hysterical or nearly so. She runs into him, moving slowly because of the dark, so the collison doesn't hurt as much as it might have.

He steadies her, and his hands brush places he's never touched before. "Chris? Thank God."

She decides not to dwell on the fact that he can recognize her by cup size. "Sir? Are you hurt?"

"Yes. So are Sulu and Dileo. But you can worry about us once we get the others to safety."

"The others are dead, sir." Her voice breaks. And again she has to force tears away. She is glad of the dark, glad he can't see her nearly crying.

"Damn," he says softly, but there is so much emotion in the word. "Come on, then."

She finds his hand, and he says in a surprised voice, "Chris?"

"I don't want to get separated."

"All right." He sounds as if he is humoring her, but she knows it will keep them together in the dark as he pulls her along after him. Pulls her too fast.

She has trouble keeping up, tries moving her wrenched leg faster but feels a stabbing pain. She doesn't bite the cry back fast enough.

"You're hurt?" he asks, and there is regret in his voice, as if he is mad at himself for not checking.

"Just my leg. Nothing serious."

"But I'm going too fast for you?" His hand tightens on hers.

"Yes." There is no point in lying. If she tries to keep up with him, she may fall. And she can't fall too many times before getting up again will become problematic. "I'm sorry, sir. I should have said something."

"And I should have noticed." He sets out again, his grip loose on hers as he keeps up a much slower pace.

"You said Sulu and Dileo...?" She can hear how ragged his breath is as he doesn't answer right away. "The other two...?"

"Had names, Doctor."

"I'm sorry. I didn't get a chance to meet them." They barely got away from the transfer station when they hit the storm that sent them plummeting back down to the planet. Even if it occurred to her to get up and introduce herself, she wouldn't have had the time.

"I'm sorry, Chris." He takes another ragged breath.

She realizes his breathing is off, and it may not be that he is just emotional. "Stop a minute, sir."

He doesn't, and she has to pull him to a stop, feeling over his uniform shirt, finally pulling it up so she can inspect the ribs more fully. She runs her fingers over his skin, probing gently,

"I think you should start calling me Jim if you're going to do that." He is joking, trying to make the situation better. Then he gasps as she puts pressure on what she suspects are two broken ribs. It's possible that one of them has punctured his lung, that he is breathing with only the other lung, and that is why he sounds so funny.

She wishes she had her medkit, hopes that there is one in the part of the shuttle that he crashed in. Leaning in, she puts her head against his chest. "Breathe deeply."

"I said later for this."

"Humor me."

He breathes in; the sound is something closer to normal.

"Again."

He does it, not questioning this time. There is a catch, probably as the pain of his ribs reminds him that it is better to breathe shallowly, but otherwise he sounds okay. Maybe it is just the combination of pain and emotional distress that is making him sound more hurt than he is.

"Okay." She pulls her head away, starts to smooth down his shirt, but he does it himself. They are standing very close, and he doesn't move for a moment, then he finds her hand and starts walking again.

"What were their names, Jim?" The question comes out as a whisper, his name even more of one as she tries it out.

"Njurijinski and Park. Both ensigns."

"First assignment."

"And last." He sounds angry. As if it is his fault that they died. "First time on a starship--they never even made it aboard."

"Meyrouth, too. She was so excited to see the Enterprise." She can hear him sigh, tightens her grasp on his hand. "The storm. Why didn't they see it at the transfer station?"

"I don't know."

"Mistakes happen?" She is glad she will not be the one who has to live with knowing her mistake took four lives.

He seems to speed up, and her leg complains. Tugging slightly on his hand, she can feel him immediately shorten his stride.

"Sorry."

"It's all right."

"We're almost there," he says.

"How can you tell? I'm impressed that you can even find your way in this darkness."

He stops and turns, and she runs into him, her hip complaining again. She hears a click, then another. His breathing is off again.

"What's wrong, Jim? What are you doing?"

But he is probing her head, fingers gentle as he works his way around her skull until he hits a place that hurts so bad her knees nearly buckle.

"I have a handlight from the shuttle, Chris." Again the clicking. "You can't see anything?"

She knows he must be shining it right in her eyes. She fights down a feeling of utter panic, and something of it must show in her face, because he moves closer, his hand dropping to her neck, rubbing lightly.

"You took a hard blow. Debris probably."

She nods. "It could be temporary." But it could also be permanent. "We should get going."

"Okay." But he is walking slower, as if he is afraid for her.

And she is stumbling more. She walked better when she thought it was dark for him, too. Now she feels alone, isolated. The darkness is only for her--and it terrifies her.

"Chris."

She realizes she is hyperventilating. "I'm sorry, sir."

"Jim."

"Jim." She feels him let go of her hand, and panic rushes up.

But then he loops his near arm around her and holds her forearm with his other hand, reaching across himself to do it, providing support through the increased contact. Support both real and emotional. He pulls her in closer.

"Aren't I hurting your ribs?"

"Yes," he says, in a voice that tells her to forget about it. They walk in silence, and then he whispers, "We're here."

"Sir?" She hears Sulu's voice; he sounds all right. Calm and cool.

"Dileo?" she asks.

"Chris, he can wait."

"Dileo?" she asks again, giving him the look that has been known to make even Len mind.

Jim leads her to the man, supporting her as she kneels. His hand on her shoulder tightens as she winces, her leg screaming at the slow movement.

"This is Doctor Chapel," Jim tells the man.

"I'm a little bit blind. You'll have to bear with me." She smiles, hoping the crewman can see better than she can. That he can tell she is trying to lighten the moment, and dull the fear that must pulse through this young man at the idea that his doctor can't see a damned thing she's doing. She doesn't want to ask Jim what's wrong with Dileo, but she also doesn't want to go by feel.

"That right arm still bothering you, Ensign?" Jim asks softly, and she blesses him for it.

"Yes, sir."

"Let me look at it." She almost winces at the words. But they come naturally, even if they mean nothing now. She turns to where Jim's voice was. "Do we have a medkit?"

"Basic first aid, only. Your medkit, along with most of the shuttle, is beyond recovery."

"Tell me what we have."

He runs down the list: some painkillers, cleaning pads, antibiotic spray, burn foam, elasto-gel to cover wounds, and some cloth bandages and soft braces to splint.

She leans in, easing her way to Dileo's arm--there are no bones popping through skin, and she can manipulate it. Not a bad break, if it's even broken. The boy is lucky. "Can I have the braces, Jim?"

She feels him put two braces and one of the bandages in her hand, and she places the hard splints where she wants them. "Hold them while I wrap?" When she feels Jim take over, she begins to wrap the arm gently. "What's your first name?" she asks Dileo.

"Enrico." He sounds so young. Shaken and hurt, but not scared. Not panicked. A good officer.

"My name's Christine." Only a few people call her Chris. Jim. Sulu. Rand. The rest go with her full name. She finishes the bandage, checking to make sure it's not too tight.

"Your eyes look okay to me, Christine."

She can tell Dileo is trying to make her feel better. Trying to make her less scared. He's hurt and probably terrified, but he's doing what an officer does. He's making it better.

"Thank you," she says softly, and she smiles as Jim's hand closes on her arm, as if he's touched, too, by this young man's gift.

"Does it hurt anywhere else?" she asks Dileo.

"No, ma'am."

She feels Jim easing her up, and he murmurs, "You okay?" when her hip again complains.

"Don't know how many times I'm going to be able to get back up," she says as he continues to hold on to her, as if afraid she will collapse right then.

"Sulu?" She can hear him moving toward her. "Jim said you were hurt, too?"

"It can wait."

Jim coughs and she knows it shouldn't wait.

"Really. I'm fine."

Jim says, "Head wound, bleeding a lot when it first happened, but not deep. Over right eyebrow, wrapping around to his ear."

"Thanks." She doesn't want to touch Sulu's wound, not if it's stopped bleeding. "How badly does your head hurt?"

"Like I slammed it into the console. Which is what I did."

"You're lucky you're alive. Why weren't you in crash position?"

"It's a little hard to pilot from the crash position, Chris." Sulu sounds as if he is humoring her.

"All right." She reaches out slowly, stops when she finds his cheek and works her way to the tip of his nose. Then she pulls back. "Sulu, follow my finger. With your eyes not your head. Jim, watch his eyes, make sure they are moving."

She runs through the standard neurological trauma check-up--a check-up she barely remembers because tricorders and scanners have replaced the need to do this. When Sulu passes the eye bit, she makes him push on her hands and resist her pushing on his, and checks his reflexes. He passes all the tests.

"You're okay for now." She smiles at him. "We'll test it again once we're on the ship." We. As if she will be of any use then.

"I'm going to check on that distress beacon I rigged. Make sure it's still working." Sulu touches her cheek for a moment, and moves away.

She feels Jim leading her in the opposite direction, then he is pressing her down.

"Your ribs--"

"Can wait. Not a damn thing you can do for them, anyway, except wrap them, and the bandages aren't the right size." He is fiddling with something, then she feels intense pain as he starts to clean her head wound.

"Jim, if it's not bleeding..."

"It is bleeding."

"Oh."

He works slowly and is incredibly gentle. She winces, then tears spring up as he has to work something loose.

"Metal shard." Then, very softly, he says. "It's okay to cry, you know?"

"I don't want to cry."

"That's fine, too." He goes back to work, and she thinks the pain will never stop, but then he says, "That's probably as clean as I can get it. What next?"

"Antibiotic spray. Then cover it."

He sprays, and the fine mist must contain some anesthetic, because the throbbing eases. He fumbles a little with the gel, but he gets the job done. "Can I do anything for your leg? It's not bleeding."

"Leave it. It's just wrenched, I think." She can tell he has settled down next to her. "Rescue should be here soon?"

"As soon as the storm lets up. It's moving off, not heading this way." He pulls her against him, which takes pressure off her sore hip, but must be hurting his ribs.

When she doesn't relax, he says, "Chris, let me help," and she slowly lets go and gives herself up to him.

"Dileo's a nice kid," she says softly, so the kid won't hear. "He'll be a fine officer."

"Yes, he will." Jim shifts a little, and she hears his sharp intake of breath.

"You don't have to--"

"Stow it." He rustles around for something, and she feels the coolness of a cleansing pad. "You have blood on your neck," he says. His touch is soothing. "I was surprised you stayed on the ship after V'ger. You were Will's girl."

"I was his choice. I was never his girl." Somehow, she can tell he is staring at her. "I know there were rumors about us. That I was an awfully new doctor to get the posting--unless he had other reasons for wanting me aboard."

"He didn't?"

"No." She turns to face him. "Did you really think that's how I got this position?"

"Not once I saw how happy you were to see Spock."

She laughs, it's a little bitter sounding, but she is too tired to try to dial it back. "A moment of weakness."

"So things aren't going well with him?"

"You know exactly how things are going with him. You spend far more time than I do with him."

"Well, we're not...you know..."

"No? Holding hands in sickbay doesn't count?" She is suddenly not sure why she wants to know the answer to that. Is it because she wants Spock to be free? Or because she wants Jim to be?

"Holding hands can be a friendly thing." He sighs, as if this is ground he doesn't want to cover. Then she feels him taking her hand in his.

"Friendly." She doesn't move, lets him run his fingers around hers, his thumb tickling the side of her palm. What he is doing doesn't feel just friendly. "So if you were to rate your feelings for Spock on a scale of one to ten," she says, smiling when he laughs.

"I'd rate him off the scale as a best friend." He lets go of her hand, goes back to cleaning her neck. There is a long silence, then he says, "And if you had to rate him?"

"I think I've given up on him."

"Good. I think that's healthy." The words may be just captainly feedback, but she notices that his voice drops as he says them.

"Yes. Healthy." She sighs. "They'll make me leave the ship if this blindness is permanent."

"It's not." He sounds very certain.

"It could be."

"It's not."

"What if it is?" And her voice breaks on the last word, and the tears that she's held back up to now start to fall. She blinks furiously, trying to stop them, but they don't stop, and he wipes them off her cheek.

"It's not permanent. It's not, Chris."

"But--"

And she can't finish her thought because he's kissing her, and she's kissing him, and then she hears Sulu coming back. and they pull away like teenagers caught naked when they thought the parents were gone.

"I'm sorry," Jim says, his voice pained and low. "I shouldn't have..."

"It wasn't like I minded," she says, and it's absolutely the wrong thing for her to say to her captain. But, by the way he touches her hand before he lifts the pad to her neck again, she can tell it's exactly the right thing to say to the man who is taking such tender care of her.

"They're on their way, sir," Sulu says.

She reaches up, stopping Jim's hand. "I'm all right. Go do what you have to do."

She hears him get up, hears his rushed intake of air. He's in pain, and she can't help him. Then he touches her hair and is gone. She can hear him bustling around the crash site. Can hear him talking to the rescuers when they finally beam in.

"Doctor Chapel? I'm Doctor Raemis." A kind voice, an older man, she thinks. "I hear you have some vision issues."

"If the total lack of vision is an issue, then I've got it." She sounds like McCoy, and she imagines Raemis is smiling at the joke. She hears the whir of a scanner, imagines it looking deep into her brain, checking for damage.

She's just kissed her captain. A horrible breach in protocol. That probably is one of the signs of impaired cognitive functions.

Then again, he kissed her first.

"And the verdict is...?" She doesn't want to know, but she has to know. And Raemis can tell exactly what the verdict is with his lovely scanner. She's used a scanner like it a multitude of times without ever considering what a wonderful tool it is.

"Temporary. Can't promise exactly when it will come back, but should be within the week. You've got trauma to the optic nerve, related to the injury back...here." He probes her head gently; there is very little pain. Then she can hear a new sound, and the last bit of pain goes away as he heals her wound, peeling the gel away as he works. "Who cleaned this up? You ought to recruit him."

"Captain Kirk is a man of many talents."

"So I've heard." There is a trace of a leer in his voice, and she thinks that she probably put a bit too much fondness into the way she said Jim's name.

"Your hip is hurt, too?" There seems to be very little that Jim has not told the good doctor.

"Here." She points, and hears his scanner. "It's wrenched," she says, wanting to impose some authority on the situation. She is a doctor, she doesn't need that scanner to tell her she's pulled a muscle, probably has deep bruises.

"You're right, Doctor." He works on her hip, and she feels the pain go away.

"The captain's ribs are broken, Sulu has head trauma but not serious, and Dileo's arm appears to be sprained, possibly a fracture, but I could rotate it without pain."

"You sure can do a lot with no vision. Guess that's why you're on the flagship, eh?" He pats her hand and leaves her.

She listens to the sounds of her shipmates being worked on. Then the sadder sounds of bodies being collected, the muffled thump as they are wrapped in emergency bags and prepared for return to wherever was home.

Jim doesn't check on her now that there are others to do that. And she quits listening for him after a while. It was a moment of madness. Shared sorrow, stress. And her nearly giving in to the darkness of the moment. He was just stopping her the most effective way he knew how.

"Doctor?" It is Raemis again, helping her stand, putting her hand on his arm as he calls for beam out. Dileo comes with them, and she expects they'll have to get on another shuttle, but the Enterprise has come for them. Spock apparently is not willing to trust his captain to another ship.

McCoy is waiting when she and Dileo beam up, and he hustles them both to sickbay for a complete exam before he lets Dileo go back to his quarters.

"You're not springing me, too?" she asks.

"Nope."

"Why not?"

McCoy has confirmed that the blindness should be temporary, that, once the nerve has had a chance to recover, she'll be fine. He does speculate on timing, thinks she'll be able to see again by the next day. He's worked on her head, even though Raemis already did it. He's just that way.

"Len, why do I have to stay here?"

"Captain's orders." His voice is amused. "Guess he wants to make sure you don't go jogging around the ship or something."

"I don't jog."

"Yeah, well, this might be the night you get your heart set on starting." He helps her onto one of the beds, covers her with the light but very warm blanket. "Can I get you another pillow?" He always surprises her when he is tender.

"No, this is fine."

"I'll be in my office."

She knows that since she's the only one in the ward, he's probably lowered the lights. But she can't tell, and she hopes with all her heart that he's right, that she'll be able to see by the next day.

"So, you can be a good patient? Bones is always so bad at it." She hears Jim pulling up a stool, feels the soft swish of air as he moves in, his breath on her face as he asks, "How are you feeling?"

"Better. How are those ribs?"

"Good as new." He touches her face and it startles her--she tries not to flinch, but fails. "I didn't mean to scare you, Chris."

"You don't scare me. But I wasn't expecting it."

"I was going to stay away."

"I noticed." Her voice is wavering, a little pathetic. She hates it. "And I understand why. Completely."

"You do?"

She nods, then expects pain to come flooding in. But it doesn't, and she releases the breath she didn't mean to hold. She hears him moving closer, then he is smoothing her hair back off her face, his skin so warm on hers. His hands so gentle.

"I don't like it, but I understand it," she says, not meaning to sound quite so cranky.

He laughs. "I find myself in a quandary."

"You do?" Lord knows, she listened to Rand go on about Jim's "not in the nest" policy enough to know that this is normally not a problem for him. So much not a problem that Janice left the ship rather than continue to sigh wistfully over a man she couldn't have.

"Medical's more independent than any other section." He sighs, then he pulls his hand back. "But it's still on the ship." The last is said with resolve. Or more of it. As if he is trying to convince her.

"I take it your quandary is solved?"

"No. But I think I need to get away from you. I'm feeling very...engaged, at the moment."

"Is that why I'm here? So you couldn't come to my quarters and engage even more?"

"Nothing wrong with your brain, Doctor." His voice is a little sharp, and she winces. "I'm sorry." He is silent, seems to be staring down at her. Then he says, "Goodnight," and she can hear his footsteps taking him out of sickbay. Quickly.

She is not sure how she feels about that. She wants to cry. She also wants to just roll over and fall asleep and forget this whole, horrible night ever happened.

"You know," McCoy's voice is so close that it makes her jump. "The thing about Jim is that he always wants what he can't have, and that leads him to do crazy things." He sits in the stool Jim vacated. "He gets lonely for a woman, so he gives up his ship and marries the first admiral who'll have him." He makes a disparaging sound. "You ever meet Lori Ciani?"

"No."

"Count yourself lucky. Then, when that relationship fails, and he realizes what he's given up by grounding himself, he goes and steals his ship back. Which, he'd have never had to do if he'd listened to me about finding a nice girl on board--say in the medical section where he can't muck around too much?--and staying on the blasted thing with her like I told him to."

She starts to smile. "You were eavesdropping."

"Nyah. He was talking too softly. But I know what Jim looks like when he's interested in someone."

"You're one up on me."

"Give it a day or so and you'll see it, too. Do you like him, Christine?"

She nods. This is such an odd conversation. They are discussing her captain. They are discussing her and her captain. Before tonight, this conversation could never have taken place. Before tonight, she wouldn't have seen him as a possibility.

McCoy pats her on the shoulder. "Go to sleep, kiddo. We can strategize tomorrow." He sounds far too excited over that.

She thinks sleep will elude her, but it smothers her. She knows she has slept well into the next day when she opens her eyes and sees Nurse Caruthers on duty.

When she sees Nurse Caruthers.

Smiling, she closes her eyes and opens them again. Yes, she can see Nurse Caruthers, and the other staff, and McCoy coming out of his office, and the rest of the ward. And when she turns her head, she can see Jim coming into sickbay.

Their eyes meet. And he smiles. It's a tentative expression.

McCoy walks over, grinning like a fool. "See? Am I ever wrong on my predictions?"

"Never." She smiles up at him.

McCoy turns to Jim. "She's very hungry."

"She is?" Jim looks at her.

"I am," she says, knowing that she'll get the McCoy death glare if she contradicts him--or gets in the way of his strategy. Besides, she is hungry.

"She should eat. You should go with her. To the mess. Help her with the food. Her eyes are probably a bit sensitive." McCoy looks at her and winks.

"Right. Okay." Jim sounds utterly outmaneuvered. But he is to her side quickly as she sits up in bed. "Slowly."

McCoy smiles a smile of pure satisfaction, and murmurs, "I better get back to work," as Jim helps her down from the bed.

"You're okay to walk?" He is still holding on to her.

"I am," she says, and he lets go.

They walk slowly as she gets her hip used to moving again. It's a bit stiff, but Raemis did a good job on it; it doesn't hurt. They get to the lift, and she stops Jim. "I need to shower. And get a fresh uniform."

He nods, not saying anything as the lift lets them out on her deck and as he follows her into her quarters.

"I won't be long." She leaves him looking at the things on her bookshelf. She tries not to linger in the shower, realizes too late she's forgotten to bring a new uniform in, and she's thrown the old one in the refresher. She wraps a towel around herself, opening the door and peeking out. "Can you get me a uniform?"

She takes him by surprise, and he stares at her--at all the parts of her that the towel isn't covering. He doesn't look away for a moment, then he goes to her closet and grabs a new uniform. His eyes are trained on her face as he hands it to her.

She closes the door and puts on her uniform, fixing her hair quickly. He turns as she comes out, smiling at her, but his eyes keep darting toward the door.

Taking pity on him, she moves closer. "I can find the mess on my own, sir."

He doesn't answer, just stands, staring at her. Then, very softly, he says, "It's Jim. Remember? And McCoy would have my hide if I don't go with you." He moves closer, reaches out to touch her cheek. "How is it to see?"

"Scary," she says, trying to ignore how fast her heart is suddenly beating.

"I know." He drops his hand. "I was proud of you. I mean of the officer. Not just of the doctor or the woman."

She drops her eyes. The compliment is unexpected and very sweet. But then she looks up at him and thinks that he is not trying to be sweet, he is just telling her the truth as he sees it.

"I learned from Len. And Spock. And you."

He nods, looking touched by her words. Then he closes his eyes. "I had to notify the next of kin. I didn't even know what to say about the new crewmen."

"I know." She had to do that, too, during her internship at Starfleet Medical Emergency. Finding the right words is never easy. Finding any words can be a challenge, sometimes.

He meets her eyes, and for a moment they are in perfect communion. Then he glances around the room, his eyes lingering on the bed, and he seems to shut down.

She sighs. "Jim, go if you want to. You don't have to--"

She has to stop talking; he has pulled her close and he's staring at her as if he's drowning.

"It's lonely alone," she says.

He nods, his hands gripping her even more. But he makes no move to kiss her.

So she kisses him. She doesn't hold on tightly, ready to let him go if he balks. But he doesn't balk. He pushes her up against the wall, his hands running down her body, her own hands running down his. His lips are hard and sweet, and she moans. And he does, too.

Then her stomach growls.

He eases away, smile growing as she laughs in embarrassment. "You did say you were hungry."

"I did."

"We better go."

She nods and starts to turn to go, but he draws her in for another kiss; this time her stomach does not interrupt them.

When they finally separate, she pulls him with her to the door, dropping his hand before it can open. She can see the panic in his face and acts the same way she would if he were a patient. She begins babbling about anything and nothing, in a voice that says, "It's all right. No reason to panic. Everything will be all right."

And she sees him start to calm down. And begin to smile. That beautiful, wonderful smile that she thought she might never see again.

They walk to the mess like any other pair of officers. Get their food and pick a table that doesn't look like they want to be alone. She doesn't crowd him, doesn't try to touch him or act as if she's "with" him. They talk, reminiscing, for some reason, about the first mission, when they'd just met.

"Remember those uniforms?" she asks, rubbing her thighs, which are considerably less toned than they were back then. "I used to have good legs."

"You still do," he says. He seems to realize what he's said, and he grins.

Suddenly the ice is broken, and she relaxes. "Do you think so?"

"Oh, yes." He is laughing now, not hard or loud, but as if in relief. As if he is letting go of something.

She knows it is his rule. His isolation. She really doesn't know if they will make it, but she likes that he is willing to try. Willing to bend enough to let himself.

She starts to yawn, can't seem to stop.

"You need a nap."

She nods. She doesn't want this meal to end. But she doesn't protest as he takes her tray and his own to the recycler.

At her door, she sees him hesitate for a moment, then he says, "We're both on medical leave. For the next twenty-four hours. Per our good CMO's orders."

"We are?" She knows she is. She didn't know McCoy ordered Jim off duty, too.

"A nap sounds good," he says.

She palms open the door and lets him in. There is an awkward moment while they remove boots and arrange themselves on the bed, but then she is cuddled against him and he is pulling a blanket over them.

He is about to kiss her, she can tell. And she has a sudden vision of the kiss leading to more, and more making him panic and never come back. When he reaches for her, she keeps her lips soft, the kiss tender but not passionate.

He lets her go, frowning slightly. She wonders if he is about to bolt.

Tightening her hold on him, she murmurs, "Nap," as if she is very, very sleepy.

He relaxes, pulling her closer, saying, "Sleep, Chris."

And she closes her eyes, but she doesn't fall asleep until she hears his breathing change. When she wakes, he is still there, curled against her. And she studies him until he opens his eyes. The first thing he does is smile, and reach for her, and she feels something in her heart--something that she must have closed off without realizing it--break wide open.

His smile changes. Like he knows she was doing that. And she suddenly wonders what McCoy told him about her. That she was giving up on love? That she needed him? She wouldn't put it past Len.

She presses in, kissing Jim. And he doesn't push her, and she doesn't push him, and when they pull away, he says, "Bones also said you need to exercise that hip."

"It's funny how concerned Bones is with my welfare. I don't believe he's ever made it so much your responsibility to see to it."

Jim laughs. "I don't believe he has, either. But you know him. He sees an opening, and he goes for it." He takes a deep breath. "He used to lecture me about being alone. Did you know that?"

"I didn't at the time. But last night he sort of hinted."

"You think this can work?" Jim plays with her hair, and she closes her eyes at his touch.

"I guess the only way we'll know is to try and see. Or we'll have to explain to Matchmaker McCoy why we didn't."

"Good point." He slaps her gently on the butt. "Up and at 'em, Doctor. We have a walk to do."

They see Spock on the way out of her quarters. He nods pleasantly at them, not even raising an eyebrow as he murmurs a greeting.

"McCoy told him," Jim says.

"I think so." It is a little frightening to think of the two of them in cahoots against--or for--Jim and her. She wonders if Spock is heaving a huge sigh of relief that she is finally interested in someone else.

As they walk, they see Dileo coming in the other direction with Chekov and Sulu. He holds up his arm--good as new, now--and grins at them. Sulu gives her a very sweet smile, a smile that holds approval. Chekov seems oblivious.

"There's a concert tomorrow night," Jim says.

"I know. Do you need a date?"

"I do." He smiles at her, as if relieved she is making it easier--and possibly more fun--than he expects.

"Sounds good," she says.

"Sounds very good."

They continue their walk, not noticing until it is time to say goodnight that they have moved much closer than is strictly professional. And no one has seemed to notice--or if they did, to care.

"I'd come in," he says, "but I don't want to rush it."

She nods. She can see in his eyes that he wants to come in very much. "I'll see you tomorrow, then. For the concert."

He smiles. A little sheepishly. "I have a feeling I may find an excuse to wander down to sickbay before that."

"I wouldn't mind."

They stare at each other, and she leans in, then one of them moans. She thinks it is him. He pulls back, saying "Good night," as he hurries away.

Her quarters seem bigger without him. She changes out of her uniform, digging through her pajamas for a lacy nightgown, suddenly concerned again with the state of her lingerie drawer and whether a man will like her nightgown.

She pulls it on, decides it still looks good on her. She studies the things on her shelves, trying to imagine the image Jim got of her from them. There are pictures. Her with Janice and Ny. Her with Sulu and Scotty. Her with her family. Never her with a lover--she got rid of the pictures of Roger long ago.

She lets her hair down, brushing it out, glad suddenly that she didn't cut it. It looks shiny, and she studies herself in the mirror, aware that she shouldn't take the sight for granted. Any sight.

She closes her eyes, can feel Jim's lips on hers and shivers as she thinks about it. She wants him. She wants her captain. And he wants her. And everyone seems to be fine with it.

The chime sounds, and she leaves the bathroom, opening her door and standing aside to let him in.

He seems to drink in the sight of her.

"Forgot something?" she asks, knowing her grin is a sultry one.

"Who the hell am I kidding?" he says as he pulls her to him. "This is okay?"

"Oh, yes."

She didn't have to worry; he likes her nightgown a lot. On or off of her.

FIN