Parallels and Intersections by Djinn

The rec lounge was empty--Chapel supposed too many people had lived too many embarrassing moments under the effect of the Psi 2000 virus to want to party now. She wandered to the viewport, staring out at the streaming stars.

She'd betrayed Roger. She'd taken what had been an infatuation and turned it into a declaration of love for a man who would never love her. And meanwhile her fiance was out there somewhere. Alone, possibly hurt or dying. Maybe dead. And she was making fever-induced googly eyes at Spock.

She bumped her head against the viewscreen, then did it again.

"It won't help."

She turned, saw that someone was sitting in a shadowed area of the room--he had a perfect view of her. "Are you sure?"

"Yep. Tried it myself. Can I buy you a drink, Nurse Chapel?"

She realized she was sharing her misery with the captain and blushed deeply. He just laughed, then called for lights. He was out of uniform, holding a clear drink in a glass full of ice.

She shook her head. "I think I've had enough artificial help for one day." But she walked over to where he sat, took the chair next to him. "What's your poison?"

"Water."

It figured. He never seemed to let down, never let go. Not when he had all of them to care for.

"I made a fool of myself today, sir."

"We all did, Christine."

She was surprised he knew her name. She'd been on the ship such a short time--although she probably had made an impression on him when she'd pleaded her case to get on the Enterprise, the fastest ship heading in the right direction to find Roger. She doubted anyone else had used true love as the reason for nabbing such a plum assignment. Of course, it hadn't hurt her case that she'd been seriously overqualified for her job.

Kirk leaned back. "What did you do that was so embarrassing?"

"Spock didn't tell you?" She'd been sure he'd tell Kirk. Maybe even ask for her to be assigned to a different shift so he wouldn't have to see her. Although if he wanted to stick her on graveyard, Spock probably didn't have to ask Kirk. McCoy might want to know what the hell Spock thought he was doing reassigning his head nurse, but Kirk probably wouldn't care one way or the other.

"You did something to Spock?"

"I told him I was in love with him."

"You and half the crew." Kirk shook his head. "It's his indifference that does it, it's gotta be. If he could just bottle that and give it to the rest of us."

It was her turn to laugh. "As if you need any help..."

His smile faded. He turned to her, studying her with eyes gone a bit sad. "I see the rumors are still raging."

"Rumors?" She suddenly wished she had a glass of water so she could sip it and pretend she hadn't just insulted her captain.

"Captain Cock. Isn't that what they call me?"

It was; she didn't say so.

"If I were half as successful as they say..."

"You'd still be pretty damn busy." She saw his look and started to laugh, and then he started to laugh, too. She smiled, leaning her head back. "You deserve to have fun. Just because you're in the big chair doesn't mean you're not human."

"Doesn't it?"

"Nope. Sorry."

"Are you?"

She frowned, a little confused. "Am I sorry?"

"Are you in love with Spock?"

"I'm in love with Roger."

"Well, that's good since it's how you convinced me to let you on this ship."

"And I am in love with him. I don't know why I said what I said to Spock."

Kirk sighed. "Roger's been gone a long time. And you're not dead. If you did fall in love--or into some kind of infatuation--with someone else, don't beat yourself up about it. Nobody's perfect."

"We can't help what's inside us?"

"Nope. We sure can't."

"But I could have controlled it better."

"Maybe. Maybe not." He finished his water. "I'll let you have the room." Getting up, he threw a last look out at the stars. "Are you ever sorry I let you on the ship?"

"No, sir. Even if I never find Roger, I at least tried. And in a good place, with a good crew--and captain."

He smiled. "Good night, Christine."

"Good night, sir."

The room seemed almost too quiet once he was gone.

-----------------

Chapel sat laughing with Janice and Sulu when the door to the rec room opened and Kirk walked in. She saw Janice flush, then the color faded, leaving her very pale.

"Jan?"

"I have to go." Janice practically fled.

"I have to go, too." Sulu rushed after her.

Kirk watched them go, his face not giving away a thing.

Chapel stared at the door, then back at him. Seeing him look over, she patted the seat next to her. He walked slowly, as if he didn't want to talk to her.

Sitting carefully, like a very old man, he said, "Did she tell you what happened?"

"Yes."

"It wasn't me." He rubbed his eyes, hard, like a kid might do. "And it was me."

"As I understand it, it was only part of you. A part of you that you would normally have had under control."

"I hurt her."

"She hurt you back."

He laughed, a puff of air making a bitter statement, as he touched his cheek. "She did."

"You told me we can't help what's inside us."

"We can't. But we can keep it from coming out." He seemed to be about to get up, probably to get a drink.

She was afraid he wouldn't come back, so she pushed her own untouched drink into his hand.

He looked down at it dubiously, as if expecting something frilly with crushed ice and a little umbrella. "This is--"

"Single malt scotch. Drink up, sir."

He drank up, throwing it back and putting it down on the table with a clang that made the people to the side of them look over. "Damned beast inside me."

"We all have a beast inside us."

"Fine, but we all don't let it out."

"It's not as if you asked for that. It was an accident. And it's over, you're whole again. Things will go back to normal."

"Right. Whole." He turned to her, his eyes boring into hers. "And since you told Spock that you loved him, has everything gone back to normal?"

She looked down. Spock hadn't transferred her, but he'd avoided her like she was a Tymapial Plague carrier.

"I rest my case." He got up, his movements jerky, as if he hadn't fully reintegrated the beast and the lamb. "Good night, Christine."

"Good night, sir."

She saw Spock pass Kirk in the doorway. He looked after the captain with a concerned expression. Then he turned and saw her, and seemed to pause.

She got up, walked quickly to the recycler, trying to make it clear she wasn't staying.

"Mister Spock," she said, as evenly as she could as she passed him.

"Nurse," he replied. Not even "Nurse Chapel." Just "nurse." Just a title.

It stung. She tried to push it down, where her own beast lay chained. She knew the pain wouldn't stay there.

----------

Chapel watched on her terminal as Exo III dwindled to a tiny ball of ice and painful memories. She turned off the terminal, stared at the blackness for a long time until the chime of her door forced her back to the present--a present without Roger.

"Come in."

Kirk walked in. He still looked a little pale from the things Roger had done to him--how could Roger have done those things?

"Captain?"

"I wanted to check on you."

"I'm all right. You're very sweet to check on me, but I'm fine." She tried to wave him away; her hand trembled violently.

"You're not fine. You've been pretending, and I know you're a strong woman at your core. But you're not fine."

"I am. I will be. If you leave me alone." It was a rude thing to say to anyone, but especially to a captain who had made a special trip. A captain who had been tormented by the man she loved--the man who had put her into this state of "not fine."

Kirk didn't leave, didn't even seem offended. He took the chair across from her, sitting back, crossing his arms across his chest. Waiting.

She looked down, unwilling to see compassion in his eyes. Or condemnation.

"You spent some time alone with him," Kirk finally said into the silence.

"Yes."

"You made love to him, didn't you?"

She tried to swallow, couldn't. Did one make love with a machine? She'd taken a shower--long, very hot--as soon as she'd gotten back on the ship. Her skin still hurt from how hard she'd scrubbed it.

He pushed his chair out, stood. "You're right. It's none of my business."

"I did. I had sex with it." She couldn't call it making love. Not when she couldn't call Roger anything but it.

Kirk sat back down.

"I thought it was him. A very-happy-to-see-me him." She laughed, but it came out as a sob. She realized she was crying, dashed the tears away. "He wasn't usually that amorous. But then he wasn't usually a man-sized pleasure toy. With a woman-sized pleasure toy of his own."

"He found Andrea there, Christine."

"No, he didn't." She met his eyes, forcing herself to tell him this truth, to admit this truth. "Once he and I got engaged, he didn't want me to be his assistant anymore. He found a new one."

"Andrea?"

"Andrea. Lush little thing, didn't you think? Very secure in her own sexuality." She laughed, again it came out as a sob. "Not insecure like me."

"You're not insecure."

"I was about him. Especially when he hired her." She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, sir. You don't want to hear all this."

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to listen to whatever you need to say."

"I don't want to talk about him anymore. My fiance died a long time ago."

"All right, Chris." He looked thoughtful. "I'm sorry. You don't go by that name, do you?"

"Maybe I should? Maybe I'd have better luck as Chris?" She looked away. "I think I'd like to be alone now, sir."

"Okay." He got up, seemed to be staring down at her, but she didn't look up to see what expression was coloring his face. She didn't want to know, knew that just about any expression he could pick would send her to a place she didn't want to go.

She was fine. Roger had died a long time ago. She was fine.

She felt Kirk's hand on her shoulder, a gentle squeeze, then a whispered, "If you need anything...?"

"Thank you."

She waited until he was gone to turn the terminal back on and begin the letter to Roger's family. She saw that a memo was waiting for her, from Kirk with the details of his report--his not-quite-true report--to Starfleet Command.

So they could get their stories straight, no doubt. Even in such a small thing, he was looking out for her.

---------

Chapel sat alone in the booth in the mess. Normally, Janice would be sitting here. Filling her in on the latest gossip--but never about the captain. Janice had never abused the access she had.

And now Janice was gone. Transferred off. She'd finally given up on Kirk the way Chapel should probably give up on Spock.

Jan was a lot stronger than Chapel was, as it turned out.

"I'd ask if this seat's taken, but I know it's not." Kirk stood at her table, tray in hand. "Am I welcome?'

"Yes." She tried to show him that with a smile.

"Not very convincing, Chris." But he sat down anyway. "I'm sorry."

"For what? For not loving her? For not letting yourself love her?" She leaned forward. "Did you love her?" He'd seemed to be interested in that Lenore Karidian, at least until she'd turned out to be a homicidal maniac--Chapel knew how that felt.

"I don't know if I can love." Kirk pushed his meal around his plate, not really eating any of it.

"There's no actual nutrition in food if all you do is play with it." She smiled gently at him.

He didn't smile back. "How much do you know about me?"

"I know some things." Admittedly not as many things as Jan did, although she'd learned a lot by being Janice's confidant. Just as Jan had probably found out more about Spock than she'd ever wanted to know just from listening to Chapel go on.

"You know about Tarsus IV, though? Kodos? That I was there? That I...?"

"Survived? I know about that." And she hadn't needed Janice to tell her. It was in the captain's psych profile.

"I'm not sure all of me survived."

"What do you mean?"

"Other captains find love. On their ships, even." He sighed, and the sound seemed angry. "God, listen to me. Obviously the past few weeks have gotten to me."

She didn't think it was their standoff with the Romulan ship that had him this on edge. "You miss Janice, don't you?"

He looked like he might bolt. Then he said, "I do," and followed the admission up with a bite of food.

Jan would love to hear that Kirk was thinking of her, but Chapel didn't think she'd tell her. Some things were better left alone.

"She was right to leave, sir. You don't have a future together." If only Chapel could get that from her own head to her heart. If only she could give up on Spock enough to find a new path.

"I know." He gave her a sad smile, then went back to eating.

They finished the rest of the meal in silence.

----------------

The party was winding down as Chapel entered the lounge. She saw Kirk standing in the middle of a group of well wishers. He was smiling broadly--the smile that usually meant he'd had a little bit more to drink than he meant to.

She walked to the bar that had been set up, ignoring the hopeful look on temporary bartender Ensign Kallova's face--the man had been hitting on her since he had come on board. "Scotch," she told him. "Single malt."

"Wouldn't you rather have one of my special drinks?" Kallova leaned in. "Very strong. Very sweet. Like you."

"That is the worst pick-up line I have ever heard, Ensign." Kirk pushed in next to her, his shoulder pressed up against hers. "Pour her a scotch and refill this one." He glanced over at her. "I'm not guilty, in case you didn't hear how the court-martial came out?"

"I didn't think we'd be having a party if you'd been found guilty."

"Well, we might have. I'd just be a lot less happy and a lot more drunk." He grinned at her.

She laughed. "I'm glad you won, then."

Kallova poured their drinks without comment, although he looked fairly pouty. Kirk moved them off, toward a tall table that two crewmen immediately vacated for him.

"Oh, look a free table. Rank does have its privileges," she murmured.

"I hate it when they do that. Like I'm going to make them give up their fun so I can be comfortable..."

"How much have you had to drink, sir?"

"Oh, don't lecture me, Chris. I saw an old girlfriend. Another one I couldn't commit to. Although, she sort of left me, too. Damn, she looked good."

Chapel tried to fight her laughter, finally gave up. "It was a nice reunion, I take it?"

"Oh, yes. Well, if you don't count that she was prosecuting the hell out of me. And Areel is really good at what she does."

"But you beat her."

"That's what I do, right? I win." He looked down.

"What?"

"I found out how many people don't like me."

"There are a lot of people who do like you--even love you, sir. I offer this party as exhibit one. I offer the fact that there were at least three plans to break you out of the brig and run for the badlands as exhibit two through four."

He grinned at her. Then the happiness faded. "I'm serious, though. My peers don't like me."

"Yeah, well, the nurses aren't especially fond of me, either. You learn to get over it."

He looked surprised. "They're not?"

"I have more degrees than the next three in the chain have together. And they know that I was on my way to being a doctor. I've heard the word 'slumming' bandied about when they think I'm not paying attention."

"I didn't realize." He frowned. "McCoy's never said."

"McCoy's too busy using me as a junior physician to care what his nurses think of me. He doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to the dynamics." She took a sip of her scotch. "And they hide it from him, and I don't go to him with it, so why would he know?"

"Are you coming to me with it?" He looked like he was ready to do something about it.

"No. Just venting." She smiled.

She saw him relax a little, the captain ready to hand out discipline giving way to...to a what? A friend?

"Well, venting's okay."

"You can vent to me, if you want."

"I don't need to vent." He swirled the amber liquid in his glass. "It's just...I guess I found out who my real friends were."

"Well, you've got a ton of them here, and they're waiting to talk to you." She slid off the stool. "And I have a certain Vulcan to go terrify."

"When are you going to give up on him, Chris?"

"I keep asking myself that, sir. But if I give up on him, what would McCoy tease me about?"

Kirk's expression grew a little grim. "He's not very nice the way he does that."

"No, he's not. But he does it because he's frustrated with me. And he cares; he just has a rather caustic way of showing it." She shook her head. "He's right, though. Everything he says is right."

"He could say it a little nicer."

"But then it wouldn't be him. And I like him. A lot." She took a deep breath, saw Spock glance over at her and move deeper into the crowd and decided to hell with him. "Goodnight, sir."

"I thought you were going to...?"

"Not tonight, I think. Consider it my way of celebrating your victory. Spock certainly will be extra happy."

"Okay. Good night, Chris." He got up, was soon surrounded by a group of friends and admirers.

She smiled, watching them for a moment, then, without looking again to see where Spock was, she left.

---------------

Chapel downed her scotch, wanting to throw the empty glass at the viewport, where Omicron Ceti III was still looming.

Kallova walked over and handed her another scotch. "This one's on me." He sat down. "You know, you're one of the prettiest women on board."

"Oh, shove your flattery up your ass, Sergei. You want to sleep with me. And you're trying to get me drunk and into your bed--or to get yourself into my bed, because you probably have a roommate."

"Christine. I only meant--"

"That you want to screw me. Just be honest about it, why don't you?" She threw back the scotch.

"If I were honest, would it get me anywhere?"

"Belay that question," Kirk said, handing Chapel another drink. "And skedaddle, Ensign."

"Sir, I--"

"If skedaddle isn't clear enough for you, Kallova, I can assign you an extra shift."

"Skedaddling now, sir."

"Party pooper." She stuck her tongue out at Kirk.

He reached for the drink he'd given her. "Maybe you've had enough?"

"Take it and die."

He laughed. "You've definitely had enough." He sat down in the seat Kallova had vacated so rapidly. "Were you going to sleep with him?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Hmm."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" She sipped at her scotch--he was right, she'd had enough to drink.

"You get surly when you get drunk." He looked over at the ugly, ugly planet. "I'll be glad to see the last of this place." He glanced over to where Chapel was trying desperately not to look. "I bet you will, too."

She followed his gaze. Spock sat talking earnestly with Doctor Kalomi. He'd been doing a lot more than talking when she'd seen them on the planet.

"She's a pretty thing. Delicate." Chapel looked away, trying to push down the pain. "He cares for her."

"Yes, I think he does."

"You're supposed to say that he doesn't." She glared at him.

"Sorry. Not really my role to lie to you."

"Not when I'm doing such a bang-up job of lying to myself, you mean?" She lifted her glass to him.

He put his glass down, refusing to toast. "That's not what I meant."

"Bring back Kallova. He was more fun and at least he wanted me."

"You shouldn't assume things, Chris." He winked at her.

"What the hell does that mean?"

He grinned.

"Sir, you can't just say things like that..." Then she squinted at him--there were sort of two of him. How much had she had to drink? "You're just saying that to distract me."

"Is it working?"

"Yes."

"Good." He took her drink away. "I really do think you've had enough."

She didn't fight him. She was suddenly very tired.

"Can I walk you home, Miss Chapel?"

"Are you going to tuck me in, too?" She knew she sounded very surly again.

He just laughed. "That's not part of my captainly duties."

"Well, good. Because there'll probably be vomiting." The room had started to spin.

Sighing, he shook his head. "You're not as smart as I thought you were." He pressed something into her hand.

She looked down, saw a little white tablet. "Antitox? Oh, you're my hero." She slipped the pill under her tongue, and it dissolved immediately, and the room stopped spinning.

"Better?"

She nodded.

"Come on, then." He got up, waited for her.

As they walked to her quarters, she said, "I don't need an escort."

"I know. But I'm old fashioned."

She smiled. Then she remembered Spock and the way he'd been looking at Leila--both on and off the planet. "It hurts, sir. To see them."

"I know it does. I've had to watch women I cared for find other men. It never felt good."

She stopped at her door, turned to look at him. "I can't imagine wanting to find another man if I could have had you." She blushed. "I mean..."

He laughed, but he also looked a little pleased. "Guess that antitox hasn't fully kicked in yet?"

"Guess not." She turned to her door, then turned back. "Sir, if that was out of line...?"

"Why don't you call me Jim when we're alone? I'm getting very tired of all this formality."

"Really?"

"Really. Try it. Tell me good night."

She smiled. "Good night...Jim." She stumbled over the name.

"Practice that. In the mirror if you have to." He grinned at her. "Good night, Chris."

"Jim?" It sounded better this time.

He turned.

"Thank you."

"You'd do it for me." He smiled at her, then he turned and walked away.

She felt the last remnant of inebriation fall off, felt exhaustion take its place. Going into her quarters, she pulled her uniform off and fell into bed.

She only cried over Spock for a few minutes before sleep took her.

-------------

Chapel stood at Kirk's door, unsure if she should ring the buzzer. She heard footsteps, thought it might be Spock or McCoy coming down the corridor, and hit the chime.

"Come," she heard through the intercom as the door opened. Jim sounded sluggish. He looked up. "Chris."

"Sir."

He frowned. "I told you to call me Jim. You've been calling me Jim. Why the hell aren't you calling me Jim now?" He moved awkwardly, and she realized he was very drunk. "You came to comfort me, didn't you? I don't need you. I have this." He held up his glass, then stood up, walking to a cabinet near his terminal. "Can I offer you some alcoholic comfort?"

"No, I'm fine."

"Oh, but this is a wake, Chris. I can't drink alone at a wake." He refilled his glass, grabbed a new one and poured her what had to be five fingers of scotch--she was glad she'd brought antitox with her. "We're just having this wake about three hundred years too late."

She took the scotch from him.

"To Edith Keeler." His voice broke on the woman's last name. He turned away, but not before she'd seen tears.

"Jim, I'm so sorry."

"You know, too. You know what it's like to watch the person you love die. Only, you didn't have to kill the person you loved. You didn't have to let it happen." He turned to her, breathing hard, his face flushed. "I let the woman I loved die, Chris. What kind of monster does that make me?"

"You had to." She'd just come from hearing the story from McCoy. McCoy's drink of choice had been bourbon. Fortunately, he hadn't expected her to drink with him. "You didn't have a choice."

"Oh, you mean like you didn't have a choice when Andrea blew Roger and herself away? I'm afraid you're wrong, Chris. I had a much bigger role in this. I practically pushed her under the damn wheels." He stared at her, and a tear rolled down his cheek. "I killed her."

"I know." She tried to take the glass of scotch from him.

He jerked it away, splashing them both. "I'm not Spock. I don't need you fawning all over me. Trying to make this better." He moved away from her. "You can't make it better. It'll never get better."

"Jim, let me help."

He whirled, grabbing her by the shoulder, shaking her. "Don't you say that. Don't you dare say that." Then he dropped his glass, pulling her to him, holding her so close it hurt. But he was crying, and she didn't complain, didn't try to get him to loosen his hold. "Chris, what am I supposed to do?"

She tried to talk, couldn't get words out. Realized she was crying too. She swallowed hard, forcing herself to find the words, to get them out. "Live. Hurt. Go on."

His grip tightened, and she cried out. He immediately let her go, his expression stricken. "I'm sorry. God, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't mean to say--"

"Shhh." She smoothed back his hair. "Open your mouth."

He did, like a little child, and she shoved an antitox under his tongue. He closed his eyes, shivering a little.

"Come on." She guided him to the bed, pulled back the covers and made him sit down. Then she pulled his boots off and started to take off his uniform.

"Chris...no."

"Jim, there's no part of you I haven't seen in sick bay. You can keep your underwear on, all right?" She smiled gently, keeping her eyes locked on his as she undressed him.

He took a ragged breath, but she could tell that the antitox was working. "I won't be able to sleep."

"Yes, you will." She pushed him down, covered him up. All but one arm. She had the hypo out and was spraying the sedative into him before he could react.

"Chris, what...?"

"Sleep now." She stayed with him until he fell asleep.

-----------------

Chapel was about to palm open her door when she heard Spock say, "Miss Chapel?"

She stopped, hearing the new tone in his voice--fearing the new tone in his voice now that she understood what had been making him act so strangely. She turned. "Mister Spock. What can I do for you?"

"There is much you can do for me." His eyes seemed to burn. "But I would rather not speak of such things in the corridor."

"I think I would." She saw his surprise.

He moved toward her. Was he going to corner her the way he had before? If she hadn't told him they were bound for Vulcan, would he have had sex with her?

"It is illogical to protest against our natures." His voice was almost a caress.

"What does that mean, exactly?"

Again he looked surprised. "Christine, perhaps we could continue this conversation somewhere more private?"

"I know what happened to you."

He looked away. "Such things are best left unspoken."

"Okay, fine, but what you're saying has to do with what happened to you. Doesn't it?"

He met her eyes. "It does."

She moved closer. "You're...in need. Of me. Or of a woman, anyway. Right?"

He seemed confused at the tone in her voice; he probably wasn't liking the coldness she knew was in her eyes, either. But she'd seen his wife, she'd seen what he'd done to Jim to keep that woman who didn't want him. If Spock had seemed to desire Chapel sexually, it was because of that Vulcan beauty. And now it was just a side effect of not having had her. This had never had anything to do with Chapel.

"I find that I am remembering our conversation," he said. "The one we had in my quarters. I would like to continue it."

"Will you die if we don't continue it?"

He seemed to have no words, just shook his head slowly.

"Then perhaps a monologue would be preferable to a dialogue."

His face flushed, his skin growing almost olive green. "Your humor is not appreciated."

"That wasn't really humor, Spock. If you knew me better, you'd realize that." She took a step back, hit the door. She felt trapped, and she sidestepped, getting away from him. "I'm sorry, Spock. I just can't."

He didn't try to stop her as she fled to the most crowded place she could think of. The mess was full of people; the only table free was Jim's. She practically threw herself into the booth opposite him.

"Do you care that I might have someone joining me?" He looked up from his steak. "You could be seriously cramping my style, Chris."

"You aren't expecting anyone, are you?"

He must have heard the desperation in her voice, because his expression changed to one of concern. "What's wrong? Is it Kallova again?"

She started to laugh--a little too loud. She forced herself to stop. "No, it sure wasn't Kallova this time."

Jim met her eyes, seemed to understand. "You turned him down?"

"I did. Oh, God, I did." She closed her eyes, trying to get the picture of Spock's burning eyes out of her mind. "Should I go back and say yes?"

"If you'd wanted to say yes, I think you would have said it." He put his fork down. "Why didn't you want to? You've waited for so long?"

She thought about that before answering. "I'll never know why he wanted me. Was it me or the burning? And what if it wasn't me? What if he woke up tomorrow and didn't want me anymore?" She kept her voice low, not meeting his eyes.

"Those are all the right questions." Kirk fingered his neck. "I can tell you from experience that the burning can make him do drastic things. He nearly killed me for a woman I don't think he even loves."

"I did the right thing." She nodded, knowing she was trying to convince herself. "I should wait and see if he asks me again. When he's all better. Right?"

"I think so."

She hid her face in her hands. "What if this is the only time he asks me?"

He reached over, pulling her hands away so she had to look at him. "Then you'll know you absolutely made the right choice." He smiled. "Go get some food. I hate eating alone."

"I'm not hungry."

"Then go get me some dessert. Something you normally wouldn't approve of."

"Okay." She got up and grabbed some coffee for herself and some chocolate pie for him.

He smiled at her choice. "There's a vid tonight that looks good. If you don't want to go back to your quarters just yet?"

"You think I'll lose my resolve and go to him?"

His expression was lacking any mirth. "I think he might come back."

"You do?"

He nodded as he pushed his plate away and pulled the pie toward him. "Want some?"

"I'm fine." She watched him eat. "Do you not want me to say yes to him?"

"As your captain, I think it would be a bad idea. He's not fully in his right mind."

"And as my friend?"

"I think you'll get hurt." He held out a piece of pie, and she gave up on being strong and took it.

"It's good."

"Yes, it is. You chose well."

"Is there any other reason you don't want me with him?"

He didn't look up from the pie. "If there were, I wouldn't admit it to you."

Suddenly, she felt as if there was a strange awkwardness between them. "Is there?" She sounded like a little girl, her voice cracked and high.

"There might be." He took a deep breath and looked up at her. "So, vid tonight?" There was nothing in his expression to show what he'd just said.

"Sure." She tried to keep her own expression normal.

He smiled tightly. "This has been a hard time for all of us. Things being said that normally wouldn't be. Things being contemplated that normally wouldn't be."

"You're contemplating things--those kinds of things?"

"I meant you were." He winked at her.

"Oh. My mistake." She tried to wink back, had never been very good at it.

"Let's go contemplate the vid instead." He got up, taking their dishes to the recycler before joining her at the door.

She wondered if Spock was at her quarters again, buzzing to see if she'd returned.

Jim seemed to know what she was thinking. "Do you want to go find him or do you want to come with me?" His voice lacked judgment either way.

She took the time to think about it. Finally said, "You. I want to go with you."

She thought she saw a flicker of relief in his eyes before he turned and led them out of the mess.

--------------

Chapel walked over to where Jim lay. His face was pinched. "Are you in pain?"

"No. Being stabbed and having to hide that fact feels great."

She smiled as she held out a hypospray. "I bring relief." She held it to his arm, let it go and saw his jaw relax a little. She turned to leave, felt his hand on her arm.

"Stay?"

"If you like." She pulled a chair over and sat. "So, Sarek and Spock seem to have made up. Well, they're talking, anyway."

"You seemed to get along great with his parents." He grinned--a slightly drugged-up grin, but it was still pretty.

"Too bad I don't get alone with their son half as well."

"Spock marches to his own drummer."

"Spock marches to his own full orchestra, Jim."

He laughed, then grimaced. "Hurts to laugh."

"Sorry." She leaned back. "It's been a long few days."

"Yes, it has."

"You should go to sleep."

He grinned at her again. The effect was marred by a huge yawn. "You should, too. Get out of here."

"I'll leave when you fall asleep."

"Liar."

"Okay, I'll leave once I think I should leave...and you've fallen asleep."

His eyes were closing, and she could tell he was trying to fight to stay awake.

She leaned in, said softly, "Jim, just let go."

"Bossy," he muttered. Then he seemed to let go. He was asleep a few minutes later.

She watched the monitors for a while, until she was sure he was going to be all right. Then she went back into her office to finish up her reports.

-----------------------

Jim came rushing into sickbay for his check-up. Chapel smiled at his energy. It was such a relief to see him as he should be, not as an old man.

"I know, I know. I'm late. Again." He hopped up on the table.

"It's nice to see you're back to your old self."

"Funny, Chris."

"I'm a comedian." She watched the monitors, then ran her scanner over him. "So, Doctor Wallace on her way home?"

He nodded.

"You all right with that?"

"I'm all right."

"She was very worried about you, Jim. It was obvious she still cared. A lot."

"I didn't figure you for a matchmaker." There was something in his tone that told her to drop it.

She didn't, of course. "You could keep in touch."

"I could."

"You, as in you all. As in the two of you."

"Do you want that?" He shot her a funny look.

She turned away, adjusting the settings on the scanner.

"You seemed pretty worried about me, too."

"I was." No point in telling him that the idea of him dying of untimely old age had left her feeling empty and cold. It had also left her very worried about how much she was starting to care.

"Chris, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. I was worried about all of you. Spock, too."

"Spock, especially, you mean?"

"Yes. That's what I mean." She tried to stare him down, found she couldn't.

"What are you doing, Chris?"

"Jim, give it a rest. I'll stop talking about Doctor Wallace if it makes you so grumpy."

He frowned at the word. Grumpy meant old, and she'd picked it on purpose.

"Fine. You do that." He sat up. "Are we done here?"

"Yep." She gave him her most vacuous smile. "You can get back to work. All systems go."

He looked very confused. "Fine. I'll see you later."

She nodded, busying herself with the scanner as if it was the most fascinating thing ever.

-------------

"What a mess," Jim said, as he watched Spock sleep. "Tyree's bound and determined to go to war; Nona's dead. Spock nearly died." He sighed. "I don't know what I thought I was doing."

"Sometimes things just don't go right."

"That's the understatement of all time." He glanced at her. "Been playing the devoted nurse?"

"I don't have to play at it, Jim." She remembered how she'd been holding Spock's hand. How she couldn't bring herself to slap him the way M'Benga had said he needed.

"He's going to be fine, Chris. Buck up." Jim turned to go. Then he turned back. "What the hell is going on with you? Why are you being so cold?"

"I'm not." She didn't want to tell him how worried she'd been about him on this mission, and on the earlier ones. How she'd hated watching him fight on Triskellion. How worried she'd been at his obsession with catching the cloud creature--too worried. More than just friendly concern.

Jim stared at her, then turned on his heel and walked out.

Chapel watched him go.

"You care for him?" Spock's voice was gravelly.

"Of course I do. He's the captain."

"That is not what I meant."

"What difference does it make to you?" She turned to him. "Or are you interested in him for yourself?" She'd never been sure. Spock's devotion to Jim was becoming legendary.

"He is my friend."

"Ah." She turned to go.

"He seems to care for you, as well."

"You know his policy, Spock. I certainly am aware of it." She forced her expression into one of perfect composure, then turned back to him. "I have no interest in the captain."

"I see."

"Or in you. I'm over you. Really."

"Yes, that is why you were so attentive while I was in the healing trance."

"If you were in a healing trance, how would you know?"

"Excellent question." He closed his eyes. "You should not be so cold to him, Christine. He is a good man."

Chapel hurried away. She should not be getting relationship tips from a Vulcan.

---------

Chapel walked to Jim's table in the mess. "Mind if I join you?"

"Joining is really not the word you want to use, right now, is it?" He looked up, wearing the slightly distant look she knew that she too sported since Spock's consciousness had shared her mind.

"Good point. Can I sit?"

"Yes." He smiled at her. "Listen, I'm sorry about the other day."

"I am, too. You were right; I was cold. And I shouldn't have been." She took a deep breath. "I get very worried about you, and it...frightens me. Bothers me. Concerns me."

"Very worried?"

"Very, very." She looked down, spearing a chunk of lettuce and eating it slowly.

"Are you telling me this because you and Spock have finally come to an understanding?"

She looked up at him, startled. Then she started to laugh. "Maybe. But not the kind of understanding you think. I learned a lot, having him in my head. For example, there are some physics problems I finally understand." She grinned at him. "But mostly, I learned that he and I are never going to be anything to each other. It'll take awhile to let those feelings go. But I know I have to. He doesn't love me. He never will."

"You're sure?"

"Positive." She shook her head. "But, this is a concern to me. That my pattern is that I need a man to care for. And I'm afraid I'm going to transfer things. From him to..."

"To me?" He grinned. "Or should I transfer Kallova off the ship before you set your sights on him?"

She laughed. "The former. Kallova's safe." She leaned in, before he could say anything. "I know your rules. I know how it works. I won't press it."

He studied her. "We're friends, Chris. Maybe there's more. Maybe there's not. But we're friends. And that's important to me. The other thing--we just can't let it get in the way."

She nodded. "I know."

"So, no more coldness. Deal?" He held out his hand.

She took it. His skin felt warm and soft on hers. "Deal."

------------------

Chapel swallowed the lump in her throat, trying not to cry as she watched Jim holding Miramanee. She turned away, giving him the privacy he needed--trying to push back how much she hurt for him, and for herself. He'd been missing for so long, and the whole time he'd been down here with his wife--his pregnant wife.

She heard his steps, turned. "Do you want me to do anything for her?"

He moved her away from the home he'd shared with Miramanee. "She's theirs again. Let them tend to her."

"Will they? They tried to stone her."

"That was when they thought I wasn't a god. They'll care for her, now that they're afraid of me again." He looked down, and she could tell he was fighting tears. "We'd just do it wrong. I never saw anyone die while I was here. I don't know how they bury a loved one. Or even if they do."

"Do you want to stay? To find out?" As if it was her call to make. But she thought he should think about it, should realize he could stay and be here for that, if he wanted.

"No. Let's get the hell out of here." He walked away, leaving her alone.

One of the Indian women came up, her face full of reverence as she touched Chapel's skirt, then lifted her hand to feel her hair. Chapel imagined she'd never seen blonde hair before.

"Are you Kirok's sister?" the woman asked.

"No."

"But you are a god? You will go with him when he goes back into the sky?"

"I will go with him, yes." She glanced back into the tent, thinking of the body lying there. "You will tend to her, won't you?"

"I will, my goddess. We all will. She was beloved of a god. She died for him."

"No. She died because your people--and maybe even you--stoned her."

The woman looked down.

"Do not blame Miramanee--or the gods--for her fate, when it was the doing of men...and women." Chapel realized she was sounding a little too god-like. "Will you bury her?"

"Below the ground? Where animals could dig her up?" The woman looked horrified. "We will erect a scaffold. Give her back to the Creator in his own time." She glanced up at Chapel. "Do our ways not please you?"

"They are fine." And now, if Jim ever asked, she'd know what had happened to the body of his wife--and his unborn child. "Go attend to her."

The woman hurried into the tent.

"Chris, come on." Jim sounded angry at her.

She imagined he would be angry for some time. With his memory restored, it must make this life he'd led both remote and even sadder since it had never really been his.

She hurried up to the obelisk, took her place beside him.

"We can't risk any more contamination," he said softly, just before the transporter took them.

Any more than he'd already done, she knew he meant. She could hear the sorrow in his voice. And the guilt.

There was nothing she could do to make it better. She didn't think he even wanted her to try.

--------------

Chapel dipped her towel into her facial cleanser, trying to get the last remnants of the Platonian's makeup off. Damn bastards--not only had they humiliated her and nearly injured her, their makeup was like greasepaint.

She finally got it off, was starting to take down her hair when her chime sounded.

"Go away," she muttered, removing what must have been one of a hundred tiny hair clips.

The chime sounded again. And again. And again. Then the door opened.

"Chris?"

"Go away, Jim." She could hear him coming over. "And nice abuse of your override authority."

He looked sheepish as he stared at her in the mirror. "It was the kironide--some lingering effects. I thought about it hard enough, and your door opened."

"Great." She grimaced and made a little sound as one of the clips got stuck.

He pulled her into the bedroom, eased her down into a chair. "Sit still." Then he went to work on her hair, his hands gentle as he took the clips out one by one.

"If you can override a Starfleet door, you can take all the clips out with a thought."

"I know." His hands were moving again, doing something to her hair as he freed one side from the nasty little clips.

"So why don't you just think about them being gone?"

"Because then I'd be done, and you'd kick me out, and we wouldn't get to talk." He leaned over her, and he smelled clean--no remnant of the Platonian oils.

"You got to shower."

"Don't sound so grouchy. You'll get to, eventually."

"If you ever finish."

"I'll finish. Just not anytime soon." He put his hands on her shoulders, sort of turned her, and she moved in the direction he wanted her to go. "Perfect. Stay like that." He started on the back of her head. "You could say thank you."

"For what? Doing my hair?"

"Undoing it. And no, I meant for becoming god-like...again"--he sighed, and she knew he was thinking of Miramanee--"and saving all of our lives."

"Oh, yeah. Thanks for that." She knew she sounded mean and tried to make her voice sweeter, more sincere, since she had been very glad to see him out-Parmen Parmen. "I mean it, actually. I do appreciate that you stopped them."

"Kironide's a handy thing."

"Your timing was especially good." She could still feel the heat of that poker, the look on Spock's face as he'd tried to fight what they'd wanted him to do.

I couldn't bear to hurt Uhura." Jim took a deep breath. "And the thought of Spock hurting you..."

"I wasn't looking forward to it, either."

He was quiet for a long moment. Then he said, "I mean that I think seeing a blazing hot poker headed for your face gave me a little extra impetus to become super-Jim." He kept working, not saying anything more as he took out the clips and laid them on the desk.

"I was jealous of her," Chapel said, then wished she could call the words back.

"Uhura?"

She nodded.

"Because I was kissing her?"

She nodded again. This time it was right as he was undoing a clip, and the hair pulled, causing her to cry out a little.

"Stay still," he said gently. "If it makes you feel better. I was jealous of Spock."

"Were you?"

"Yes. But you got to do it. You found out what it was like to kiss him." His voice sounded falsely light. He set another clip onto the desk. "There. Last one." He dropped his hands to her shoulders, squeezed gently, then let go, and she heard him walking away.

She whirled in the chair. "Where are you going?"

"I don't know. Somewhere that's not where you are."

"Is the perfume that bad?" It was actually rather pretty. Heavier than she'd normally wear, but the smell didn't bother her.

"No, it's not bad at all." He met her eyes, and she saw something helpless in them.

And she knew she should let him go, but instead she held her hand out. "There's all this jewelry. I don't think I can work the clasps alone."

He walked back slowly. His hands on her wrist as he undid the bracelet-ring combination made her shiver. He removed the heavy earrings, brushing her neck as he did it. "There." He started to take a step back.

She stood up. "I'm not sure I know how this dress comes off."

"I think you just pull it over your head."

"Have you thought about it?"

"Maybe." His breathing was off, his eyes dark, pupils dilated. "Chris, I should go."

She moved closer. "Okay."

"You know...I can't." He was pulling her dress off as he talked. There was nothing else to remove, the Platonians had planned for easy access.

"Jim." She made short work of his uniform, pulled him to the bed, kissing him, no longer having to be jealous of Uhura.

He pushed her down, following her, covering her. Their bodies joined easily, the normal awkwardness of finding places for elbows and knees seemed to be gone as they made love frantically. He kept murmuring her name, the sound sweet and heady. She threw her head back and called out his name as he sent her places Roger never had. Then he was following her, his eyes closed, her name the last thing he said before he collapsed on top of her.

He rolled off her, pulling her to him. She studied his face, noting how he kept his eyes closed.

"Jim?"

He took a shuddering breath, finally opened his eyes. "I want you. So damn much."

"And now...now you have me." But she could see in his eyes what was coming.

He didn't pull away, held her and kissed her, but she could tell he was going to leave. And that he wasn't going to talk about it.

"If tonight's all we get, then shouldn't we get all of tonight?" she finally asked.

"Won't that make it more difficult?"

"You're going to walk away from me. It's going to hurt like hell no matter when you do it." She pulled him to her, kissed him almost desperately.

He kissed her back the same way. "In for a penny, in for a pound?"

"Yes. I want the whole night." She could tell she'd won when he let his hands roam over her body again. When he pulled her to him and kissed her and touched her in ways she'd been fantasizing about him doing for a very long time now.

Morning came far too soon; they hadn't slept at all. He kissed her tenderly, didn't say anything as he got up and dressed. He started to head for the door, stopped. In a small, strangled voice, he said, "I wish..."

She waited, but he didn't finish it. "I wish, too," she finally answered.

He nodded. A tight nod. The captain's nod. Then he walked out of her quarters and left her alone.

--------------

"You got the zienite?" she asked Jim as he walked by her in sickbay.

"I'm sure McCoy told you all about it."

She looked down. Their gentle sparring had turned into this harder thing ever since their night together. It hadn't been immediate. Had grown as she'd watched him pull away and resented him for doing it--even though she'd known he would.

"Got the zienite, got the girl, too. What was her name? Vanna?"

His face tightened. "She needed my help."

"And so did Odona. And Deela." She could feel her smile turn cruel. "I see a trend in the names. Maybe I'd have done better if I were Christina instead of Christine."

"Don't do this, Chris."

"Oh, wait. I forgot one. Rayna."

He looked confused.

"Android? Remember?"

"Flint's ward. I remember. She died."

"God, you really do push away whatever you don't want to think about, don't you? Feel too much? No problem. Just forget about it."

"Chris, it wasn't the same thing as us."

"No? Let me guess. Her you actually loved?"

"Why are you being like this?" He pulled her into her office, hit the button to close the door.

"Maybe because I'm sick to death of seeing you with other women. And not with me. Because you want me so damn much, isn't that what you said?"

"Chris, if I could take back that night--"

"Damn you! Do you think that's what I want?" She was crying, hated that she was crying. "I want you back."

"Chris, we can't have that. You know that."

"So you throw yourself into the arms of every woman who comes along? Were they all blondes?"

She saw something in his face--she'd hit a nerve? "Not all of them."

"Are you trying to forget me? Or was there never really anything to forget?"

"There's something to forget. I'm trying to get you out of my system." He turned to her, and there was nothing mean in his expression. He looked lost. "I can't want you this much."

"Then give me a transfer back to Earth." She looked down, almost raised her hand to her mouth. Had she really asked for that?

"Chris?"

"It's not fair making me stay here. And I still have time to get into med school. Like Len's been telling me to do all these years."

"Chris. Don't go."

"What can you offer me if I stay?"

He didn't answer and she pushed him back against the door, kissing him. He kissed her back--a passionate kiss, a sweet kiss. A heartbreaking kiss, because as soon as she pulled away, he murmured what she knew he was going to say, "Nothing. I can offer you nothing."

"Then you'll approve my transfer as soon as you get it. And I'll be gone as soon as I can arrange it."

"All right." He pushed her away gently, his hands lingering on her arms for a long moment before he turned, hit the door button, and was gone.

She filled the transfer form out and sent it to him before she could lose her resolve. He approved it a short while later.

-----------------

The lounge was half-empty, and Chapel found a seat in a secluded corner, where she could watch the stars go by.

"I'm not going to ask if this seat is taken," Jim said, sitting down next to her.

She looked over at him. "I should have known that was you in Lester's body. Why didn't you try harder to let me know? Something personal, our night maybe? Something only I would know?"

"I was still disoriented from the transfer. Later, when I remembered everything, when I could have told you, I wasn't anywhere near you."

"Well, it's all right now. You got away; you got your body back."

"Did you leave me the glass on purpose? Real glass, Chris? How often to you use that in sickbay?"

She shrugged. "I'm a little off my game these days."

"That was more than a little off."

"If it was you, Jim, I wanted you to have a fighting chance." She sighed, slumping into the chair. "It's more than you gave us."

"Chris. It's your last night on board. Do you want to make it ugly?"

"No." She sighed.

"It was a nice party."

She nodded. Uhura had thrown her a party earlier. A quiet thing--Chapel hadn't wanted a big blow-out where she might get drunk and come on to Jim, or else go home with someone like Kallova just to forget Jim.

"I like your hair."

She turned to see if he was being sarcastic, but he looked sincere. "You'll have to start chasing brunettes to forget me."

"It doesn't matter who I chase. I'm not going to forget you."

"Once I'm off the ship, you will."

"Chris, I know this hasn't been easy for you."

"So it's been easy for you?"

He sighed, a sound of frustration. "Quit twisting my words."

"What is this serving, sir? This little heart to heart we're having?"

"I just...I wanted to spend some time with you."

"I'm not sure I want to spend time with you."

He sighed, said softly. "Spock's leaving, too. Did you hear that?"

"I heard."

"Everyone leaves me but my girl, here." He rubbed his foot along the carpet, as if petting the ship. "Spock said he was going to someplace called Gol, but..."

She turned to look at him.

"I just find the timing odd. If you and he...you'd tell me, right?"

She couldn't bear the look in his eyes, took his hand in hers. "I'd tell you, Jim. That's not why I'm leaving."

"Okay."

"You should have asked Spock. He'd have laughed."

Jim's expression grew even more morose. "He's not laughing much these days. He says he's acting too human."

"Too human?"

Jim nodded. "I suspect you read up on things Vulcan when you were interested in him. Did you ever run across any references to Gol?"

She shook her head.

"I've never heard of it, either. He says it's a retreat, but his voice is...I know he's lying. I just don't know why."

"It's probably like one of those monasteries out in the desert on Earth. A place to go and reconnect with who you are, and what you believe in. Free from the distractions of everyday life."

"Maybe so."

"It'll be all right, Jim. Spock will never leave you."

"I hope you're right." He got up. "I'll leave you alone since that's what you want."

"I'm sorry, Jim. But I need to start forgetting you. And this isn't helping."

"I understand." He stared down at her, his eyes so full of tenderness she wanted to pull him down to her, never let him back up. "Goodbye, Chris."

"Goodbye, Jim."

She pretended to be absorbed in the view. But as soon as he walked away, she turned and watched him leave her.

He never looked back.

----------------

"Doctor Chapel?" A nurse she didn't recognize was hurrying down the corridor. "You have a visitor. Admiral Kirk." The woman grinned at her.

"Is he in my office?"

The nurse nodded and hurried away. Chapel walked back to her office, saw the "Doctor Chapel" on the wall by her door and smiled. She'd been a doctor a very short time, and it was still a thrill to see the title in front of her name.

The door was open, and she paused in the entryway. Jim was standing in the corner, trying to see out of the miniscule window--she might be a doctor, but she was low woman on the totem pole as far as plum offices went.

"Not the best view," she said.

He turned. "No." Then he grinned. "I have a much better one."

She walked to her desk, busying herself with arranging padds. "I heard that."

"It's been two years, Chris. Can't you muster up any more enthusiasm to see me than that?"

She looked up at him. "I don't think my husband would appreciate me showing the kind of enthusiasm you want." She held out her hand, saw him take in the plain gold band.

His face fell. "I hadn't heard."

"It was sudden. Very romantic." If you could call term marriages romantic? "To have and to hold. You know the rest; you performed the ceremony enough times." A low blow, one she saw hit home. "I'm surprised Len didn't tell you. He was quite happy for me." She knew Len and Jim weren't speaking. Knew Len was mad at him.

"I can see that coming here was a mistake." He took a deep breath, met her eyes.

It was the same intensity between them, the same fire she always felt roaring up inside her for him. She forced herself to look away. "Jim, don't."

"Are you happy? With--what's his name?"

"I am happy." Sort of. "It's Danny."

"Danny?" He made the diminutive sound ridiculous. "Danny who? Maybe I know him?"

"He's not fleet. And you don't hang around with neurologists, do you?"

"Sure don't. My loss, I'm sure." He checked the name plate on her desk. "You didn't change your name."

"No."

"Term marriage, then?"

She could feel her face redden. "There are other reasons not to change your name."

"Sure there are." He used his words like needles; she felt each one hit and break skin.

"What do you want me to say? He's not you? Well, I couldn't have you. And I didn't feel like waiting around anymore."

"So you married the first guy that came along and asked?" Forget needles, these were like knives.

"I moved on. I didn't hold onto a fantasy. It's what you and others told me to do with Spock. I figured it would work just as well with you."

"Glad to see it did." He walked to the door. "Congratulations on your marriage, Doctor."

"Thank you, Admiral."

He walked out, and she tried to find the padd she'd been working on, but they all looked alike. Mainly because she was crying, and she didn't want to cry.

Her comm unit sounded, and she wiped her eyes. It was Danny.

"Hon', I'm going to be late tonight."

He was always late. His lab held more allure for him than she did.

"Fine."

"Don't wait up."

"I never do, Danny."

He gave her an odd look. "You okay? You don't sound right."

"I just saw an old friend. It was kind of an emotional reunion."

"Emotional bad?"

"I'm fine. Go back to your research."

"I'll see you later." The screen went dead.

Dead--like she felt inside.

---------------

"Jim, there you are."

Chapel looked up, saw a petite brunette get up off the bench across from her and hurry over to the restaurant door, where Jim was waiting.

"I checked," she said. "They have the calamari."

He smiled at the woman. A warm--very, very warm--smile. Then he turned, saw Chapel watching him. "Chris. Hello."

"Admiral." She realized the other woman was an admiral, too. "Admirals."

Lori smiled. "Friend of yours?" Her voice went up a little, there was a tightness in it, a question.

"Old shipmate." Jim moved closer, drawing the woman with him with what looked like practiced ease. "Have you met my wife, Chris?"

She felt like he'd punched her in the stomach. "No."

"Doctor Christine Chapel. Admiral Lori Ciani."

Lori laughed. "We got married last weekend. Just decided to tie the knot. It was a very spontaneous thing."

And Chapel imagined it was a very disposable thing. They had the look of term marriage written all over them. She knew that look; she saw it every day in the mirror, even if she and Danny did keep renewing the damn thing. Probably out of habit rather than any real desire to be together.

"Are you eating alone?" Lori asked. "You should join us."

"I'm waiting for someone."

"Oh. All right." Lori gave her a brilliant smile, then turned to Jim. "Wait till I tell you what the old man said about you today."

"Your table is ready, Admirals," the maitre d' said. He sucked up much more to them than he ever had to Chapel.

"It was good seeing you, Chris." Jim gave her a rather distant smile, his arm firmly wrapped around his wife.

"Same here, sir."

She didn't have much appetite when her lunch mate finally showed up.

------------

A faint knock on her door sounded, and Chapel turned around.

"Hi." Jim smiled, almost sheepishly.

"Hi." It had been almost a year since she'd seen him in the restaurant with his pretty new wife.

"Can I come in?"

"Sure."

He looked around. "Bigger window."

"More experience."

He nodded, then sat down on the couch. "So, you're doing well for yourself?"

"I am."

He glanced at her hand. "And still married? Still happy?"

"Very much so." She tried to nail that sentiment with her smile. He didn't need to know that she and Danny were in counseling, trying to make it work, which was more than she'd expected from her husband.

"That's good."

"And how's Lori?"

"I really don't know. It was a term marriage, as I'm sure you guessed. She chose not to renew."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah. Well. At least the old saying isn't true anymore, right? Marry in haste, repent in leisure."

"Lucky, that."

He looked down. "I have no idea why I came here. I just...missed you."

"Are you going to make a habit of coming here now?"

He looked at her, his eyes almost seemed hopeful. "Should I?"

"No. Because I won't be here. I've accepted a position on the Enterprise."

"Really?"

"Decker's a friend. Has been for years, ever since his father..."

Jim nodded.

"Anyway, he trusts me, and he wants me there even though I've told him he should get someone with more experience. But he's adamant, so I'm going. CMO on the flagship--once again, I'm so popular with my peers."

"I bet." He frowned, as if puzzling something out. "How popular is this decision with your husband?"

"He's not thrilled, but he's busy. He'll be fine, and he can join me for leave in all sorts of exotic places." She smiled, as serenely as she could.

"That's good, then. Very good." He got up. "Say hello to her for me."

She knew he meant the ship. "I will. I'm sure she misses you. She always was your first love."

He seemed to wince.

"I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."

"We used to be friends, Chris." He met her eyes. "Maybe we still would be if we hadn't...?"

"Maybe. Or maybe it was inevitable that we would do that, that we would wreck it? Maybe our friendship was an accident, and we were never supposed to be anything more than shipmates?"

"Maybe." He looked defeated, but then he seemed to pull composure around him. "Good luck on the ship, Doctor."

"Thank you, sir. Good luck to you, too."

"Thanks. I'll need it more than you will, probably." He nodded, as if convincing himself of something. Then he was gone.

-------------

Chapel was packing. Throwing everything as quickly as she could into her bag before Jim figured out that Spock and McCoy had just approved her transfer. She'd told them she'd talked it over with the captain. She'd just neglected to mention that the captain she'd told had been the Enterprise's ex-captain. Decker, not Jim. Decker had been touched. Had thought it had been out of loyalty. He'd been wrong.

Her chime sounded. She packed faster.

"Captain requesting authorization to enter," the computer informed her.

"Tell him to get stuffed."

"Repeat command."

"Ignore request."

"Affirmative."

The chime sounded again.

"Captain requ--"

"Let him in."

The door slid open. Jim came in, not looking at all happy with her. "Computer, lock doors."

"Is that really necessary, Jim? I'm hardly going to run. We won't be within beaming range of Earth for at least four hours."

"A lot can happen in four hours."

"Can it?" She slid her wedding ring around, working off nerves. And to show him she was still wearing it.

"I'm told you're transferring off."

"Yes." She decided not to go for a smart-ass retort.

"Why?"

"Decker wanted me for this job. You've already shown how little confidence you have in me by demoting me. And you're right. I'm not ready. So I'm going back to Earth. I have a position waiting at Starfleet Medical. The one I probably should have taken in the first place."

"Is this because of Spock?"

She stared at him. "What?"

"You were pretty damned happy to see him. You certainly didn't show the same kind of excitement when you saw me."

"You think I'm leaving because of Spock?"

"Yes. I do." He stalked over to her. "I don't believe your demotion story for a minute."

"This isn't about Spock." She took a step back, then another, until there was enough space between them that she could think again.

He took a step toward her; she took another step back.

She held up a hand when he looked like he might move again. "Jim, I made a mistake coming here. My marriage...Danny needs me on Earth, not gallivanting around the stars."

He closed the distance between them, his eyes narrowing. "With me, you mean?"

"Yes, with you."

"So, you do still care?" He touched her hair, a fleeting caress. "Answer me, Chris."

"Yes, I still care. And I can't stay here with you. I just can't. Your rules. My marriage. My goddamn heart, Jim--I can't let you break it again."

"Let me break yours?" He laughed, the kind of laugh that utter surprise brings on. "That's a good one, Chris." He moved away, sat down on her bed and made a gesture toward her bags that she decided meant she could go back to packing.

"So you won't deny my transfer?"

"Haven't stopped a woman from running away from me yet, why should I start with you?"

"That's not fair."

"That was really more a slap at myself, dear." He sighed. "Is it me? Do I chase you all off?"

She put the shirt she was folding down, and went to sit by him. "I'm not running because I'm not interested. I'm running because I'm too interested."

"That makes me feel much better. Thanks." He took her hand, held it lightly. "You must really love your husband."

She didn't answer. Finally asked, "If I stayed here, Jim. What kind of future would we have?"

"I don't know."

"Be honest."

"None. Probably. Nogura's letting me have this ship on sufferance. If I slip up..."

"Then I better leave. Because I know which of us is more important to you."

He let go of her hand. "You didn't see me grounded. You didn't see what a bastard I became. Lori left me for a reason."

"You chose to become those things."

"I need to be on this ship. I just stole it from Decker. Stole it."

"I know."

"I haven't admitted that to anyone, Chris. Bones tried to lecture me on it, and I shut him down. I'm admitting it to you, so you'll understand."

"I understand. I've always understood." She leaned in, kissing him gently on the cheek. "But the Enterprise is a harsh mistress. She demands that you sacrifice everything on her altar. When will it be too much, Jim?"

"I don't know. I've lost more than you know already."

"Well, I hope that you don't lose anyone else you care about." She watched him get up.

He stared down at her, his eyes full of resignation. "I lo--I do care for you."

She decided not to hedge the way he just had. "I love you, too."

He pulled her up to him, kissing her fiercely, and she kissed him back. But the kiss could only last so long, and then he let her go and hurried out.

She didn't try to call him back.

----------------

"I'm trying, Christine. Why aren't you?" Danny was pacing, and he never paced.

"I am trying." He didn't need to know that that Jim was back on Earth, that he'd finally left the Enterprise.

"Christine, look at me."

She looked at him.

"When you left the Enterprise for me, that saved our marriage. It meant more to me than you will ever know."

She nodded, trying not to feel as if she'd cheated him. But he was right. Whatever her reasons for coming back, that act had changed their marriage--he'd started to try more; so had she. But that had been years ago, and neither of them was trying very hard anymore.

"And it's good now between us, isn't it?"

"It's good." But good wasn't great. Good wasn't Jim.

Jim was back. God help her, that phrase kept running through her mind, had been for weeks. Jim was back; Jim was back; Jim was back.

"Let's go somewhere nice for lunch. Somewhere we never go."

"Okay."

Danny put his arm around her as soon as they left Starfleet Medical. It was affection he didn't usually show. He turned them down a street toward the wharf, led her into Gianinni's.

The maitre d' made much of them. The servers were beyond gracious. The food was scrumptious. Everything was perfect, until Jim walked in with another woman. A tall, brunette woman. Chapel stopped eating her dessert, and Danny--perceptive, for once--looked up to see who she was staring at.

"Hello, Chris," Jim said.

"Jim." She gestured to Danny. "I don't believe you've met my husband. Doctor Danny Carson, this is Captain James T. Kirk."

Danny got up to shake Jim's hand, smiling the smile that had won her originally. Jim looked surprised--had he expected someone plain just because she'd said he was a neurosurgeon? Danny was a nice looking man, and he could be charming when he wanted to be. He seemed to want to be now.

The woman with Jim sort of nudged him.

"Oh, excuse me, darling," Jim said.

Chapel thought the darling came out a bit forced.

"Chris, Danny, this is my very good friend Antonia Burke."

"An old friend?" Chapel asked as sweetly as she could.

Antonia smiled, it was a sweet smile and looked a lot more sincere than Chapel's probably did. "A new one."

"How about that?" Chapel looked at Jim.

"Yes. How about that?"

She suddenly found it hard to swallow. "We'd ask you to join us, but we're just finishing."

"Our bad luck," Jim said, sounding like it was anything but.

"Jim, be nice." Antonia smiled at him, then at Chapel. "He's been testy lately. Change is never easy."

"Change?" Chapel asked.

"He's leaving Starfleet." Antonia sounded like she'd had a lot to do with that decision.

Chapel could feel her forced smile dying. "Leaving?"

"Leaving," he said. "Our table's ready. We really have to go." He smiled at Danny. "Nice to have met you."

"Good luck with your new life." Danny smiled at both of them, and Chapel wanted to slug him.

She sat down, pushing her now unwanted dessert away.

"That was kind of weird, huh?" Danny asked.

"All these years, you mean? And you're just now meeting the famous Kirk?"

"No, I meant more how much his girlfriend looked like you."

"I didn't see a resemblance, Danny."

"No, really. She could have been your younger sister."

"Thanks for the younger part. Makes me feel really good."

He looked over and signaled for the check. "I didn't mean anything by that."

"I know. I'm sorry."

Jim was leaving Starfleet? And with a woman who did look a lot like her, even if she'd never admit that to Danny. Just like she'd never tell him how much Jim's decision hurt.

------------

Chapel stared down at the padd, reading the forms that would renew her marriage to Danny. She looked over at him; he was staring down at his, too.

She put the stylus down, and he looked at her, a question in his eyes.

"Do we really want to do this?" she asked him.

He swallowed, took another look at the padd. Then he put his stylus down, also.

"You're sure?" the facilitator asked. "Why don't you take a minute?"

She smiled at Danny, probably the sweetest smile she'd given him in the last few years. "We don't need a minute."

"No, we don't." Danny leaned in, kissing her gently on the cheek, then pushed his padd back to the facilitator and got up.

Chapel gave her padd back and got up, too. "Do you want to keep the house? You had it first."

The facilitator didn't try to stop them as they walked out.

"Do you mind? I like the house. I'm not sure you were ever that fond of it."

"It's yours, then." She sighed. "Do you want me to get my stuff when you're not there?"

"No, I'll help you move. I'm not mad, Christine. Are you?"

"No."

"I'm kind of relieved, actually." He saw her face and grimaced. "Not the right thing to say."

"It's probably the most honest thing you've said to me in a long time. And that's good. I'm going to look for something closer to Command. With the new job and the weird hours..."

"Oh, that makes sense." He took her arm, walking her back up the hill. "You'll be good at Emergency things, I think. You're always so...practical."

"Yeah. That's me." She didn't tell him that she was so practical she'd just dissolved her marriage because Jim was back in Starfleet. Because he wasn't with Antonia any more. Because he was on Earth and in charge of cadets, and she could date him, and no one would mind, not even him.

Providing he was still interested in her? But then he wouldn't have found her younger clone if he wasn't--or that was what she liked to tell herself.

She needed to get settled first, though. He was out on a training cruise. By the time he got back, she'd have everything ready.

---------------

Chapel saw Janice get up to go to watch the docking.

"You're sure you don't want to go?" her friend asked.

"No. I'm good here." She had plans for a much more private sharing with Jim. She knew how much Spock's death had affected her; she could only imagine how hard it was hitting him.

"Okay."

Chapel lost herself in the alerts coming across her terminal, noticed that some of the folks had come back from the docking, and decided to duck out and grab some lunch. She passed Jan on her way back.

"Do you want anything from the mess?" she asked her.

"A coffee? Black, two sugars."

"I'm on it." Chapel hurried down the corridor, getting the coffee and some lunch for herself in record time. As she rounded the corner to ops, she nearly careened into two people walking very close together, only one of them in a Starfleet uniform.

She looked up and almost forgot how to breathe. Jim. Jim and an attractive blonde woman. Standing so close. Her hand on his arm as they stopped.

"Chris." He didn't sound happy to see her. He didn't sound not happy, either.

"Jim."

He turned to the woman. "This is an old shipmate. Doctor"--he turned to Chapel, gave her a real smile--"only it's Commander now, isn't it?"

She nodded.

"Commander Christine Chapel. This is Doctor Carol Marcus."

A legend. The woman was a damned legend. Was Jim involved with this legend?

"Hello," Chapel finally managed. "I'd shake but..." She held up the coffee in her right hand, the bag with her lunch in the other.

Jim seemed to hone in on her left hand. "No ring?"

"It's being cleaned." Not that a plain gold band needed cleaning, but Jim appeared too distracted to consider that.

"So you and Danny...?"

"We're fine. Just fine."

"Jim, we'd better go," Carol said.

He gave Carol a look that cut Chapel all the way to her gut.

"Say hello to Danny, then," he said.

"I will." She smiled, trying to keep her mouth from shaking until they disappeared down the corridor.

Somehow, she managed to make it through her shift without crying.

Janice kept looking over at her. Finally, she leaned over and said, "I know this is hard. Spock meant a lot to you."

Chapel just nodded.

"I know it was a long time ago. It can still be a shock. I mean I've been over Kirk for how long? But it was still a shock to see him disembark with that blonde."

"I know."

"You know? You weren't up there."

"No, I ran into them in the corridors."

"Oh. How'd he seem?" Janice did sound as if she was over him; her tone was that of someone asking how a distant cousin had looked at the family reunion.

"Sad. And not really processing all of it yet. But he looked happy with her."

"Do you know who she is?"

"Carol Marcus."

"His one true love, I guess?"

"What?" Chapel's voice sounded way too sharp.

"They were together a long time ago. I sort of researched that part of his life when I was interested in it." She shrugged. "I've stopped doing that with guys I like, because you know what? Life will be what it will, and it won't be what it won't. Sort of basic as far as philosophies go, but I like it. And it's much less stress on my psyche." She grinned at Chapel and turned back to her terminal, leaving Chapel earnestly wishing she could embrace Jan's philosophy.

---------------

Chapel walked up to Jim, giving him a quick hug. "Congratulations. I knew they'd see reason after you saved the planet."

"Yeah, it's sort of hard to argue with that one, huh?"

She laughed. "And you brought back a hitchhiker?" A young, blonde, pretty hitchhiker.

"Didn't really mean to."

"Well, some things just happen. She seems very nice, Jim."

"Chris, we aren't..." He seemed off balance. "At least I don't think we are."

"If you don't know, you might want to find out." She took his hands, giving them a squeeze.

He looked down, frowned. "Ring still being cleaned?"

"What?"

"You're not wearing your wedding ring. You weren't wearing it the last time I saw you."

"We didn't renew."

"Oh." He suddenly seemed a lot less off balance.

"There are people waiting for you."

"Maybe they can wait?" His grip on her tightened.

"Gillian's one of them." Chapel leaned in, kissing him on the cheek. "I'm very happy for you. I think you'll like your new ship." She hurried off, catching up with Jan and Cartwright.

"Hell of a day," Cartwright said, still beaming over his friend's victory.

"That it is." Chapel looked back, saw Gillian kiss Jim on the cheek and then hurry out of the room. She frowned.

"Something wrong?" Janice asked.

"I thought Doctor Taylor was staying."

"She got a posting on a science vessel."

"How do you always know everything?" Chapel asked her.

"People talk to me; I listen." Janice grinned. "I wish I could see the captain's face when he finds out it's the Enterprise."

"Me, too, Jan." She took a deep breath and let it out.

Jim had his new ship--his new love. He didn't need her.

------------

Chapel tried to manhandle the side of the Starfleet shelter into place. Where the hell was Seacrest?

"Commander, do you need some help?"

"How'd you guess?" Then she realized the voice didn't belong to anyone on her crew. She turned her head.

Jim was standing there watching her with a huge smile on his face. "Couldn't get any private time with you on Earth. Had to come all the way out here just to shoot the shit."

"Right. Because 'all the way out here' is where your pretty new ship is."

"You checked?"

"I might have. Not that I let myself care overly. After all, you've been a little busy with that pretty new ship."

"You heard what happened?" He moved in beside her, helped her get the side piece straightened out, and then dragged over the second one.

"Yeah. Sorry about that."

He shrugged. "She needs some work, but she's getting there. As for Sybok and the quest for God, well...the less said, the better." He grinned again.

"So you came out here just to talk to me?"

"Yes, but that's not how I broached it to the brass. I volunteered my ship and crew to help your team with the relief efforts." He smiled broadly. "Some of us are down here to help on the ground, while the ship makes a much needed supply run for the things the reports you've been sending back to Command indicated you were running low on."

"That's very generous of you."

"Morrow didn't mind. And Cartwright certainly wasn't going to deny his favorite staffer the help she needs."

"No, I guess he wouldn't."

They managed to get the side in place and started on the third one.

"Just how close are you and Cartwright, Chris?"

She glanced at him. "That's a rather personal question."

"It is, isn't it? Answer it."

She found herself unable to look away from him. "He's a great boss."

"And...that's all?"

She nodded.

"And Danny's history, I take it?"

"He is. But that's probably not how I'd put it."

"Of course not. I can, though. He seemed like a nice guy."

"He was." It had never been Danny's fault that nice just didn't cut it when compared to the man standing in front of her.

"And there's no one else?"

"I don't know." She found herself grinning at him in a way she hadn't for a long time--not since Platonius. "Where's that handsome Mister Spock?"

"I left him in charge of the ship. Didn't figure you'd miss him. Should I go get him?" His eyes were sparkling.

"Yeah, go get him."

"Don't want to."

"Fine, be that way." She laughed at his expression.

He stayed close to her as they walked over to get the last of the uprights. "I'm afraid I don't have any lodging, Chris."

"There's a dorm tent."

"I'm afraid I don't want to sleep in the dorm tent."

"That's too damn bad."

He waited until they'd finished putting the fourth wall in place, before he pushed her through the door.

"Jim, dammit, I've got people here."

"Shut up, Chris." And he kissed her. Long and slow.

She noticed he was careful not to lean her against the not very stable walls. When he finally pulled away, he said softly, "So, about my lack of sleeping space?"

"I have a very small cot."

"I'll requisition us a bigger one."

"From where? In case you haven't noticed, there's no quartermaster here."

"Then we'll sleep on the ground."

She frowned at him. "I'm too old, and this ground's too hard."

"I've missed you," was his only answer. And then he smiled. Tenderly. Lovingly.

She could feel all her resolve melting. "Jim, I've missed you, too." And she pulled him back to her so he could kiss her some more.

"Commander Chapel?" The voice of one of her staff. Mayberry, probably. Or Danton.

Jim let her go, moved away and walked around the inside of the enclosure as if he was inspecting their work.

"In here," she called.

It was Danton. He smiled at Jim. "You found her, sir?"

"Thanks to your help." Jim motioned toward Chapel. "You needed your C.O., I believe?"

"Oh, yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Danton seemed a little star struck.

"Danton?" Chapel gave him a stern look, hoping to call back her capable lieutenant. "Report?"

"The dam's been repaired, ma'am, as of oh five hundred. Medical section reports that the Enterprise dropped off supplies before heading out to get more building materials at Starbase Four. I put Seacrest and D'Anivo on extra water rations and mandatory eight-hour rest--they've been overdoing it again."

"If they don't learn to pace themselves..."

"I know, ma'am. Other than that, situation normal. Oh, except Captain Kirk was looking for you." Danton grinned at both of them, then ducked out before she could think of a smartass comeback.

"Nice kid."

She nodded.

Jim moved closer. "I didn't show up just to complicate your life, Chris." He gave her his old heart-stopping grin. "I'm also here to help; just tell me what you need done. I'd prefer to work with you, but I'll go wherever you need me."

"I could use some help putting these shelters up." She preferred that he work with her, too. "Seacrest was supposed to be here--if he hadn't overdone it on his last task."

"Let's get to it, then."

They secured the corners of the shelter and put the roof up, working in a silence broken only by soft requests for this piece or that tool. As they attached the door, she said, "I thought, once you got the new ship, that'd be the last I ever saw of you."

"That was a stupid thing to think." He glanced over at her, his look more annoyed than anything else.

"Well, you looked pretty cozy with Gillian."

"Gillian's on another ship. I'm sure you know that, too."

"Maybe."

"On. Another. Ship."

She looked down. "I thought you'd go find her."

He shifted the door a bit, settling it into its slots. "Why? So I could have her on my ship?"

She nodded.

"If I was going to go find anyone to 'have' on my ship, it would be you." He stared at her, as if daring her to be as honest.

"Who says I'd come?"

"I haven't asked you to."

She could feel her face turn red. "No. I guess you haven't."

He sighed. "What I mean is that I think we can do this with me on my ship and you on Earth--or wherever your job takes you. Unless you get tired of Ops and want to come home."

"Home." She smiled. "The Enterprise will always be home to you, won't it?"

"I meant home to me." He brushed a stray wisp of hair out of her face, and stroked her cheek, even though they were in full view of any others who might have been working in the area--fortunately, there were no others. Had he sent them all on break or something?

She took a deep breath. "We've been dancing around this for so long."

"Yes, we have. And I, for one, am sick and tired of dancing. What about you?"

She nodded. "No more Gillians?"

"I never had Gillian."

"Then no more Antonias. She looked like me, by the way."

"Yes, she did. She wasn't, however, anything like you." His look told her pretty much all she needed to know.

"Okay, then, no more Carols, or Loris, or women whose names end with 'a' or--"

He leaned in and kissed her. She decided to take that as an answer, not an evasion.

He pulled away, looking at her tenderly. "I love you. Windows, next?"

As she followed him to get the windows, it took her a minute to figure out what he'd just said. "You love me?"

"I do." He handed her two small windows, took the larger one for himself. "That's usually followed by a reciprocal declaration, Commander."

She laughed at the expression on his face, the pure playfulness of his smile. "Is 'up yours' the proper response?"

"I think not." His smile grew. "Try again."

"How about 'sorry, I'm busy'?" She snapped one of the small windows into place, walked to the other side of the door and inserted the second one.

"Definitely not what I was looking for." He snapped the last window into place, pulled her inside the structure, and actually did inspect it for a few minutes. "Looks sturdy. It was put up kind of quick, probably not what anyone was expecting. But it'll last."

"Are we talking about the shelter?"

He grinned. "I don't think I was."

She ran her finger down his cheek, smiling when he closed his eyes at her touch. "I love you, Jim."

"See, I knew you'd get it eventually," he said, as he pulled her to him. This time he did push her up against the wall--it didn't give even a little.

"Built to last," she murmured. "Material tested over time, trial and error."

"But worth the wait?" He tightened his hold on her, pulling her closer, kissing her again.

"Not fair, you're trying to lead the witness." She grinned at his laugh. "And yes, worth the wait. But my bed is still too damn small for both of us."

"We'll figure something out, Chris. We're smart people."

"Not always."

"Well," he said, as he led her to the next pile of building material and grabbed one of the side pieces, "nobody's perfect."

She grabbed the other end. "Perfection's overrated."

"Let's debate that. Tonight. In bed."

"Going for perfect, are we?" she asked as they hefted the side into place.

"Why the hell not?" He lifted the next piece and grimaced a little. "If I can still walk once we're done. I'm not as young as I used to be, Chris."

"Join the club, Jim."

"As long as you're in it, I'll be happy to." He pulled her to him for a quick kiss.

It turned into something much longer. When they pulled away, her crew was standing by the far pile of material, watching the two of them. They wore huge grins.

"What? You've never seen two people kiss?" Kirk waved at the places that shelters were supposed to go up. "Quit slacking and get to work." Then he looked at her. "Hope you don't mind me doing that."

"I don't mind--you were talking about kissing me?"

"I was really referring to taking over."

"Oh, yeah." She frowned as if considering it. "How about we debate that later, too."

He laughed, and so did she. And then they went back to building someone else's future. Their own could wait a few hours.

FIN