Tender, Loving Care by Djinn

You wake with a start, surrounded by dimly lit silence. You lie still, examining the room as much as you can from where you are, afraid to give away that you're awake. Then you try to move.

Nothing happens.

You try again, can feel your heart speeding up. You try to cry out. A low croak comes out, barely more than a breath.

No one comes running as you try to thrash, but fail. No one comes to check on you now that you're awake. Inside, you can feel panic building.

Then a soft hand presses against your forehead, and the simple feeling of connection to something--anything--almost makes you cry.

"It's okay." The voice is low, a little husky. You know that voice. Who is she?

Better yet, who the hell are you? You think back, arrive squarely to the moment you woke up and no further.

"You've taken a hit from a very nasty type of weapon. Your memory will come back. So will your voice and your ability to move, but it's going to take a little time."

You blink. It's the only thing you can do, and you wish she would come into your field of vision. All you can feel is her hand. You can't see her. Maybe if you saw her, you'd remember her name.

Or your own.

She moves as if she can read your mind, leaning in enough so you can make out dark hair and pale skin. "Do you know who I am?" she asks.

You shake your head--or try to. Nothing happens, of course.

"One blink for yes. Two for no."

You blink twice.

"My name is Christine Chapel. You used to call me Chris."

You wonder why you called her Chris if she introduces herself as Christine.

"Your name is Jim. Jim Kirk. Does that ring any bells?"

Again two blinks.

She smiles gently, as if you have all the time in the world. "I'm going to move back a little, but I'm right here. I'll be watching you as we talk. Blink three times if you need to see me. Okay?"

You blink once.

"You always were a quick study." Her hand presses down harder on your forehead, and you close your eyes for a moment. "Does that feel good?"

One blink: Yes.

"Can you remember anything?"

No.

She sighs. "I'm going to just talk. Random things, okay? If you want me to go into more detail about something, blink yes. If you want me to move on to a new topic, blink no."

Yes.

She begins to talk, about ships and friends, men and women who followed you, women you loved, a son you don't remember. She speaks of missions and battles and times she saw you hurt. You feel overwhelmed, blink three times for her to come closer.

She does. Her breath is warm on your face. "Tired?"

Yes.

"Sleep, then."

Yes.

And you close your eyes. You can feel her breath on your cheek as you let go and fall asleep.

In your dreams, you run and yell and fight.

But you don't know who with.

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

You hear voices, open your eyes, and see people--a man and a woman, but not Chris.

"So, you're awake finally." The man sounds falsely happy. As if he thinks being awake is the best you can ever hope for.

You blink three times. If she's there, she'll come.

"His eyes must be dry. Go get me some drops," the man tells the woman, and there is the sound of footsteps moving off.

No.

The man pats you somewhere--you can't feel it, but you can hear it. You blink three times again.

Where is she?

"I want you to blink once for yes, two for no. Do you understand?"

Yes. Damn it, she's told you this, already. Doctors never talk to each other--they're always asking you the same damn questions.

That's a memory. Not a very helpful one, and it slipped through without bringing anything else with it. But it's a goddamn memory--your goddamn memory.

"Do you remember who you are?"

No.

"You're James T. Kirk. Jim."

Yes. You know your name. But that's not what you were asked. You know your name because Chris told you what it was, but you don't remember.

"Okay, let's go over that again. One for yes. Two for no."

You wonder how many blinks mean, "Screw you."

Oh, that's a memory, too. Or just something you know. Same thing, maybe? But you remember what screw means when it's not an insult. It's when...

"Jim?"

You smile, but your mouth only lifts up halfway. You remember what screwing means. You can see a woman, pretty in a severe way, blonde. She is riding you, and you're feeling sad. Why are you sad when her doing that feels so good?

"Okay, well, that's enough for today." The man puts drops you don't need in your eyes, making you blink furiously, and then pats you on the shoulder--or wherever--again.

Isn't the first time you've been groped by some guy during an exam, won't be the last.

Triumph fills you. Three memories. Two tied to frustration, though. Is that what you felt for the woman? Not sadness, but frustration? What did she do, other than screw you, to make you feel that way?

Her belly stuck out. Pregnant--she was pregnant. Was that the mother of the child Chris told you about? Why can't you remember her?

God, you are so tired.

You close your eyes again, and when you open them it's dark.

Three blinks: Where are you?

"I'm here."

Yes. It's the closest you can come to "Good" or maybe to "Thank God."

You aren't sure how to tell her you've remembered other stuff. So you blink, "No. Yes. No. Yes," until she asks you, "Do you want to tell me something?"

Yes.

"Do you need something?"

No.

She moves closer, and you realize they must have turned up the lights because you can tell her eyes are blue. She has pretty eyes, even if she is frowning. Then her expression lifts. "Did you remember something?"

Yes. You wait a second. Yes. You wait again. Yes.

"Three things?"

Yes.

She laughs. "That's great." She moves closer.

Yes.

She smiles, and her smile is full of something that makes you feel warm and safe inside. You want to ask her so many things.

"I've missed you," she says. And she leans down and lays her lips on your forehead, and you feel them resting against your skin.

Yes. But you know she can't see the blink.

You've missed her, too. You're not sure why. Or even how much. But you've damn well missed her because you're crying and you can't stop.

"Shhh. Jim, it's all right." She's wiping your face, and you should be embarrassed, but you're long past that. She's the only thing that's not humiliating about this predicament you've somehow landed yourself in, with the help of some nasty weapon fired by some nasty person you can't remember.

Who would have wanted to hurt you?

"I need you to try something for me, all right?"

Yes.

"I want you to try to move your right thumb. Just think about moving the thumb, okay?"

Yes. But you wish there was a signal for "Why?"

"Try it now."

You try. Nothing happens.

"Close your eyes."

You do what she says because you trust her.

"This is going to sound odd, but I want you to become your thumb. Focus on it, until all you know--all you can feel--is that thumb."

You try; you think hard about your thumb, imagine it moving, imagine what it would be like to touch her with it. To run it over her lips.

To run it other places.

"Are you smiling?"

Yes.

"Why?"

Not fair. Open-ended questions require words. You try to say, "Because of you." It comes out as if you're a badger on bad drugs.

Which is actually an improvement over when you first woke up.

"Focus," she whispers.

You focus. And, after what seems like hours, you feel something. And you realize that your thumb moved ever so slightly.

"Good, Jim. Good."

Three blinks: Come here.

She is there. "You're tired?"

Yes.

You don't even hear what she says next. You're gone.

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

"How are you feeling?" It is the man again. He has blue eyes like Chris. Blue eyes that seem worried.

Yes. You try to tell him you're feeling fine. As fine as you can, under the circumstances.

His eyes don't change, but he remembers the code, because he says, "Good. That's good." He pats you on the shoulder, and this time you know it's the shoulder, because you can feel it just a little.

Yes. Yes, you felt that.

He doesn't get it. You think Chris would have.

He sits, and he stares at you, and gives you a smile that shakes. "Jim. I know you're getting better. You had us so goddamned worried." He wipes his eyes. "Look at me. Like a little old lady."

Same old Bones--hates to admit he cares.

Bones.

This is Bones.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

"What is it?"

You try to smile, try to make the badger noise, but he shushes you. "Rest now, old friend."

You don't want to rest. You're sick of resting. But your eyes close, and you're out.

When you wake, Bones is gone, and she is there.

One long blink, one long sigh.

You can sigh.

You try to say her name. The badger has given way to a tree frog. Or maybe a crow.

She smiles. "You're getting better."

It's because of her. Chris.

Chris and Bones worked together. You can see them working in your mind. They are linked.

In...sickbay.

Yes.

"What is it, Jim?"

You try to smile, and this time, you do.

"That beautiful smile." Her eyes fill, get brighter through the tears. "I always loved that smile."

Did she always love you? Why can't you remember?

Your face must give away the frustration.

She says, "Don't push it."

Yes. Or should it be no? You try both.

"Sorry. That was a confusing one." She runs her hand down your cheek. "Feel that?"

Yes. God, yes.

She touches your throat.

Yes.

Your shoulder, a harder press this time. Your chest. Your abdomen.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

"Good."

Isn't she going to keep going?

She laughs, and you realize you've broadcasted again.

"Same old Captain Kirk."

You wonder what she means by that.

"Do you think I'm attractive?" she asks, and as she does, she blushes.

Yes.

"Would you say that if I wasn't the only woman in the room?"

Yes.

And there is a sound. And it sounds like a laugh, and you realize it's coming from you.

She laughs, too, and then she leans down and kisses you on the lips. Only for a second, but your lips tingle a little after she's pulled away. "See, how much better you are?"

Yes.

"Do you want me to tell you things? Things from our past?"

Yes.

"I was engaged, and my fiance disappeared. That's why I ended up on your ship."

You try to frown, and your features cooperate.

She shakes her head. "It was a long time ago. Don't be sad for me."

Yes.

No?

"Sorry, Jim. Another confusing one to try to answer."

Yes.

"Anyway, you let me serve on your ship to look for him. You were very kind to me. And when we found him, he wasn't really himself."

No.

"Do you remember?"

No.

But then you get a sensation of spinning, and in your head, you look over and you see...yourself. And Chris. But she's blonde. Only not the blonde who was riding you and making you sad.

Yes.

"You do remember?"

Yes.

There was a brunette there, too.

Andrea.

Korby.

Ruk.

The names come almost unbidden, and you feel as if a dam has burst inside your brain. It's all coming back. And it's coming too fast.

You start to breathe hard.

And she's there. "Hold on. Just ride it out. I know it hurts."

And you feel pain, pain and fright and every emotion from every memory.

And then it's over, and it's all inside you again. And you feel like someone has just run you over with a shuttlecraft.

You can remember the Enterprise. And Spock. And Bones. Scotty and Sulu. And Rand and Uhura and Chekov. And Matt Decker, God help him. And his son Will.

Will has the Enterprise.

You make a sound, and it's a moan. Because you've lost the ship. You've lost it to Will Decker, and you'll never get it back, because you were the one who said he should get it in the first place.

"You remember?" Chris asks.

Yes.

"Everything?"

Yes.

"Do you remember Khan?"

Yes. Goddamn bastard tried to steal your ship.

"Do you remember Khan and Genesis?"

Genesis? Like, in the Bible? No.

"Not quite everything came back. But it'll come."

You aren't sure what to say.

But in a way, it makes you happy. Because you don't remember you and Chris being close. And you know you were, because she's here, and she's helping you more than Bones is.

Bones. Bones looked so much older than the memories of Bones that just flooded over you.

Come here.

She comes. "What?"

No.

She is older, too. Not just brunette, but older. Years older. How much time are you still missing?

"No," and this time you try to say it. The crow has turned into a dying gull.

"Jim, calm down."

No.

"You're all right. You'll remember.

How much time, dammit? You want to ask her that.

And she knows. Somehow, bless her sweet soul, she knows you need that information. "Okay. We'll figure out how much time is missing, all right?"

Yes.

"First, calm down a little."

You breathe in slowly, breathe out just as slow. The way Spock taught you once when he tried to show you how to meditate.

"Okay. Good. Do you remember Saavik?"

No.

Wait. That was the girl Spock found. The little Vulcan girl.

Yes.

"As an adult?"

Oh. No.

"Antonia?"

Who? No.

"Resigning?"

What the f--?

"Okay, not that. V'ger?"

No.

"Ilia?"

No.

"Will Decker?"

Finally. Yes.

"Will Decker getting the Enterprise."

Yes.

"You taking it away from him?"

No. Although it makes you smile and feel bad all at once.

"Well, the good news is we know pretty definitely where the memories stop. The not-so-good news is that we've got a ways to go before they're all back."

No.

"But not that many. Not like you stopped as a teenager."

Teen--thirteen. Kodos. Butchery. Death. Hiding. No, not like you stopped there--even if the memories feel brand new.

"I'm sorry they're not all back, Jim. But this way may be better." She strokes your forehead again. "Less traumatic than all at once."

Right. Less traumatic.

She kisses you again. Her lips full against yours, and even though you know she's using this kiss to distract you, you let her. You kiss her back for all you're worth and hope it will wash away the taste of Tarsus IV. And Edith. And Miramanee. And...

God.

"I'm sorry, Jim."

Yes.

When would your voice come back? You want to say more than yes or no. You want to scream.

She kisses you again. She kisses you until the exhaustion you feel warring with impotent fury takes you over.

"You can sleep now?"

Yes.

"I'll be right here."

Right here. Three blinks: Don't leave.

She stays near, stays in sight. You close your eyes and let go.

Your dreams are hell. You're paralyzed in them, too. But that's not what makes them bad. Your memory, even at partial strength, is hell, all by itself.

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

Spock. You smile as you wake, hearing the familiar voice. You open your eyes, see him sitting by your bed.

He looks like shit. Not just because he's older, but he's been injured--maybe by the same weapon that hit you.

You suddenly wonder what the hell you look like.

"Jim." He is almost smiling, and his voice is husky.

Yes.

"See, Spock. I told you he'd come back."

Yes.

Bones touches you, and you can't believe you felt no comfort before in his care. He's always been such a good frie--

Bones didn't agree with your decision to take a desk job.

Bones was a complete son of a bitch about your decision to take a desk job.

"I'll leave you two alone," Bones says, but his expression is easy. He doesn't know what you're thinking. He'll just leave you two alone.

Just like he left you alone the last time. Fine. Go. See if you give a flying one.

"Jim."

You want to tell Spock to keep it simple. Yes/no questions only.

He proves he's telepathic. Or just as astute as ever at reading the frustration in your eyes. "I did not think. Are you feeling better?"

Yes.

Your old friend. Your best friend.

Wait.

Gol.

Shit.

They both fucking left you.

"Jim?" He touches your shoulder. A bold move from someone who ran like hell from you.

No.

"You are tired?"

Yes. Leave me alone.

"I will go."

Yes. Good call.

He is gone, and you lie seething for hours. And when Bones comes in, you pretend to be asleep so he won't see in your eyes how mad you are.

"It's not their fault."

You open your eyes, realize that sometime during the pretense, you fell asleep for real.

"They're not those people, anymore. Jim, don't punish them."

No.

Only you're not sure what "no" means in this case.

"Move your thumb."

You do it. And you smile at her, and the crow/seagull sound has turned into something resembling a dog.

Damn, you want your voice back.

"Move your foot."

That's harder. But you do it.

She leans down, kisses you. Her lips open, and you slip your tongue in, and her fingers run through your hair, and you feel every goddamn follicle react.

She pulls away, looks down, and smiles. "That part moved all on its own."

You realize you're hard. And you grin like a fool.

This woman. So sexy. Like a Deltan.

Like Ilia.

Like--

"Hold on, Jim."

The memories come crashing in again. And it's V'ger, and losing Will, and the time you resigned, and there's Antonia, and then there's Khan with his damned obsession.

And Spock. Oh, God, no. You call Spock's name out, the sound is half moan, half word.

Chris is holding your shoulders. "Hold on, Jim."

Spock is dead. And Khan is dead, damn his black soul, or you'd kill him for this. And Carol is there, Carol with David, and David hugs you--and how can anything hurt this much?

And Bones. Bones is crazy, and there's nothing you can do--only, there is. Sarek makes you live it all again, which doesn't hurt as much as having it rocketed back into you. Sarek sends you out after Spock's body, and you get it, and your son pays the price for that quest.

You exhale slowly, and realize you're shuddering.

And she's still holding you. "Let's find out where it stopped. Okay?"

Yes.

"Spock--dead?"

Yes.

"And alive?"

Yes.

No.

But you've seen him. He's alive, so he must have been.

"You got as far as finding his body?"

Yes.

"Did you take it to Vulcan?"

No.

But...the priestesses. That incessant hum-chant. It grates on your nerves. The fal-tor-pan.

Yes.

"You were on Vulcan for a while. Do you remember that?"

No. Only minutes. Spock got up, and he walked over to you, and he knew you. Sort of. And then it gets fuzzy.

"You've nearly got it all. Not much more to go."

"Sure?" The word comes out a word. Ugly, ungainly, and you feel as if you've torn your larynx out making the sound. But it's a goddamned word.

"I'm sure." She touches your lips, her fingers tracing them. "Say my name."

"Chris." It sounds ugly.

It sounds wonderful.

"Don't push it. I bet when you wake up, you'll be able to talk again."

She turns away. As if she's going to leave you.

"No."

She looks over at you, and you realize she wasn't leaving, she'd just started to cry and didn't want you to see it. You wish you could hold her. You wish you could hold her forever and keep her safe.

"You. Tell?" It's as much as you can say. Your throat is on fire, and you swallow hard.

"Me?"

Yes. Blinking doesn't fuel the fire.

"You want to know about me?"

Yes. No.

She is staring at you, her eyes bright from tears that still fall, but more slowly now. "You want to know about us."

Yes.

"There is no us."

No.

"I'm afraid so." She laughs, and it is a sad sound. "This connecting we're doing now, it's pretty much the most we've ever done."

No.

"Yes." She stares at you, then she leans in, and, as her lips touch yours, a tear falls on your cheek.

It burns, but not as much as your throat does when you say, "Love you."

"I love you, too." She laughs, and you see all the women she has been. And soon you'll know the last of it. What she became after Spock came back.

Then there'll only be now and the future. And the two of you can find a life together.

Yes.

"All this time, Jim. So much time we wasted."

Yes.

But she must have loved you. Or why would she be here?

You want to ask her, but, when you open your mouth, she lays her hand over it. "No. You'll damage your vocal cords if you don't rest them."

You know Bones would say the same thing.

Bones--not crazy.

Spock--not dead.

But David is dead. Your son is still dead.

"You're tired, Jim."

You are. But you're almost afraid to sleep.

"I'll be here."

Yes. She won't leave you.

Your dreams are bad. But somehow, you're getting used to them.

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

You see Bones and Spock by the door in the hall. You see this because you can finally turn your head. You feel as if your whole body is waking up. You have a pins-and-needles feeling all over, like when your leg falls asleep.

You practice a few words, very softly, so you won't hurt your throat if it's not ready.

The words come easily.

Your friends walk in, and you pretend to sleep, but, as they sit down, you say, "Nice to see you."

It's a lot to try, but your voice works. Your throat carries the sound. Your mouth forms the letters.

"Hot damn, now that's what I call progress." Bones is beaming when you open your eyes and turn to look at him. "Damn, Jim. Have you been cheating on me and getting better on the sly?"

"It would appear so, Doctor." Spock is as close to a grin as you've seen since V'ger.

"You died." It's a waste of breath to state the obvious. And Spock probably doesn't know why you didn't want to talk to him before--or even that you didn't want to talk to him. But you have to say it.

"How much do you remember?" Bones is running a scanner over you. "This is astounding, Jim. You're healing so fast. The trauma--I didn't think it would respond this way."

Somehow, you reach out. Somehow, you touch his hand. And he grabs it and squeezes it like he never wants to let go.

"I'm back, Bones."

Or almost.

Spock is watching you with such satisfaction you almost don't care how it ended. You have him back.

You have them both back.

And Chris.

"Do you remember the accident?" Spock asks.

You settle for shaking your head as you give your throat a rest. You point to your head, then to the two of them. Then make the sign for crazy.

Bones laughs. "Hell of a thing to remember." He sits, still holding your hand, not appearing to be in any hurry to let it go.

You try your voice again. "Chris said the rest will come." Your voice is stronger. The words more sure.

"Chris?" Bones looks at Spock.

You nod.

"Chris said that?"

"When she was here."

Spock isn't looking so happy, anymore. "Here--to see you?"

"Yes. Here."

Bones shakes his head, and his expression becomes tight.

Evasive.

"Bones?"

"She wasn't here, Jim. Trust me."

"She was." You say it too loud, and your throat pays you back with a fiery twinge.

"No, Jim." This time, it is Spock, with that voice you love. "Doctor Chapel was not here."

"She's in Ops." But you've missed things. You're still not up to speed. Maybe she's not in Ops.

"She is part of the Enterprise crew," Spock says.

"My Enterprise?"

Spock nods.

She's on your ship--you're not sure how you have the ship, but she's on it. It will be so easy to do this. To have her in your life the way you want.

But then you notice Spock's face. He's evading, too.

"What aren't you saying?"

"Just--" Bones looks down. He takes a deep breath. "Jim, she wasn't here. All right?"

"No, it's not all right." You're so mad, you don't think. You just sit up.

And it works. It hurts like hell to muscles that have been stuck in place. But it's the kind of hurt that's a good hurt, not the kind that says, "Oh, shit, you should not have done that."

You move your arms, putting your hands down, supporting yourself--well, not really, but it probably makes you look stronger than you feel. You lean in, looking at first one, then the other of them. "She. Was. Here."

Something seems to snap inside Bones. He turns, pulls a wheelchair from the corner. "Get him out of that bed, Spock."

"Doctor, is this wise?"

"Get him out, Spock."

And Spock gets you out, scooping you up carefully and setting you into the chair. Bones moves to place your feet onto the rests, but you say, "I can do it."

And you do. One foot, the right one, up and onto the metal shelf. Then the other. You can't walk, but you will soon. Damn it, you will. And you know why. It's because of her. Because of Chris, who was here, no matter what they say.

Bones pushes the chair, faster than is probably wise, but you don't say anything, and neither does Spock. You're only going two doors down. Into a room with a bed and a person so smothered in tubes and monitors--

No.

The double blink is a reflex. Taught to you by Chris--a woman who lies on a bed breathing from machines, so badly burned, you barely recognize her.

"No."

And the rest comes back. The whale probe. Getting your ship back. And getting Christine back on board. She was tired of Ops. She wanted to come home.

You welcomed her back. She was one of your crew. Forever and always.

You started calling her Chris before you knew it wasn't a name she really liked. But by then, it was your name for her, and when you asked her if she wanted you to stop, she said no.

And her smile...her smile when she'd said it...

The morning of the attack, you had breakfast with her. And there was something there. Something new. In her eyes, and, you suspected, in yours.

Interest.

Delight.

What might have been.

After the attack, there were no more might-have-beens.

You weren't expecting to be attacked. It was a routine mission on a peaceful planet. You imagine now, looking back, that they were after you personally. Certainly the man with the terribly big gun aimed it right at you with no hesitation.

It should have hit you in the chest. But she pushed you out of the way. You got hit, too, but only indirectly, as a little of the blast ricocheted off her. The last thing you remember is that she didn't scream.

"Bones. She was here."

You look at Spock. She loved him for years. He was hurt, too, probably from going after the man with the awful gun. You wonder if the man survived the encounter, but you don't ask, because you need to ask him if Chris came to him. She would have, if he'd needed her. "You saw her?"

"No, Jim. I did not."

"I saw her." But you hear the monitors mimicking life. You hear the rasp of breath. You glance at her again, see enough to be sickened. "Is she in pain?"

"I don't think so," Bones says. "But we're administering painkillers just in case."

You nod and hate yourself that you have to look away. "I'm tired."

"Sure, Jim. Just hold on, and we'll have you back to bed."

Bones wheels you back much more slowly. Spock lifts you from the chair, and Bones pushes it back to the corner.

"I saw her," you whisper, but you think you are trying to convince yourself now.

"Do you want us to...?"

"No. I'm fine. Please, just leave me alone."

As soon as they are gone, you turn painfully to your side, close your eyes, and cry yourself to sleep.

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

You wake to silence. The room is dimly lit again. Night. Her time.

Not her time. Never her time. Because she was never here.

"Hello."

You nearly jump off the bed.

"I guess you remembered everything?"

You turn, expecting to see the real her: burnt and blasted, with tubes sticking from her. But it's just your Chris.

"I saw you," you say. "You're down the hall."

"I know." She moves away, and you realize you've never seen her sit, not on the chair, not on the bed. Or touch anything. Other than you.

"Chris, how can you be here?"

"I didn't save your life to have you live it in this bed. Not moving. Not talking. Not in any way the Jim Kirk I was falling in love with." She sounds angry. And she turns, and she's crying, and you aren't sure how a ghost--or whatever she is--can do that. "They said you might not ever get better. I didn't believe it. I knew you could, if you thought you could. I knew it."

"I did it because of you."

"No. You did it because of you. I just made you believe it was possible."

"Chris, I don't understand this."

She shrugs. But you shake your head, and she says, "In some cultures, they believe that when you save a life, you own it. It's yours. So, maybe that's what this is. We're connected in some way."

That you believe. You feel connected to her.

But if you are, how could you not have known what lay in that bed two doors down?

"They also say that when your life is saved, you owe the person who saved you the same service."

You look at her. You'll do anything for her. "If it's rehab, we'll do it. We'll get you back, Chris."

"That's not what I meant." She meets your eyes.

"No."

"I don't want to make Len do this again."

You remember Sybok, the memory he dredged up for Bones. No. Not again. But... "You want me to kill you?"

"No, Jim. I want you to set me free. The same way I've set you free."

"I will," you say. But you're already thinking of the places you could take her to get better. Institutes that might help.

"No. You're thinking too much." And she stalks over to you and kisses you and suddenly you see the future you're creating.

And it's hell. For you. Not for her, because she's not going to get any better.

Ever.

"I didn't save your life to have you live it that way, either." She leans in again, her kiss a gentle one that brings no memories and no visions with it.

And you give yourself up to this Chris who can't be. And you pull her down, and you wish you were strong enough to make love to her just one time.

But you're not.

You're not even sure you're strong enough to set her free. But she can touch you, so she can make sure you're strong enough.

"Help me," you ask. And you know by her expression that she understands what a concession that is.

She gets you out of the bed, lets you lean on her to the wheelchair. You have to arrange yourself like you did before, and this time it's more taxing.

But this time, you know where you're going.

She pushes you, not the chair, and it doesn't work as well. But she gets you out the door and down the hall. And into that other room.

You realize there is a smell. You sniff softly, trying to identify it.

"It's burned flesh. I smelled it enough times on an Emergency Ops mission to know."

You've smelled it, too. On Tarsus IV.

"Still think I'm attractive?" She sighs.

"You didn't scream when you went down." You're not sure why that's important to say. Maybe you just want to know that the memory is right.

"I didn't. There was blinding pain but only for a moment. Then there was nothing. Until I woke up standing next to your bed, listening to Len tell Spock you might never be the man they knew."

"Thank you for not believing that."

"You're welcome."

"That breakfast. That day." You are rambling, hoping she'll follow you. "I wasn't imagining it, was I?"

She kneels down, puts her hands on your knees. "No. You weren't."

You kiss her this time. A long, desperate kiss, because you know she'll make you do this fast. Before you lose all will.

When she pulls away, you say, "You could stay."

She shakes her head.

"No. With me. Like this. We'll go away."

"When you were still unconscious, I ran some experiments. I am a scientist, after all. I found out that I can't get very far from my body. I'm lucky they didn't put you in another ward."

"Then we keep your body around."

"No, I won't tie us to a life like that."

You close your eyes.

Then you blink twice.

"Jim." She puts her head on your knees and sobs. "Don't you think I want to stay? It's so damned unfair. We were just on the verge of something good. I know we were."

You know you were, too. Because you've already found it, in a dimly lit room, in this quiet ward. "I love you, Chris."

"I love you." She pushes herself up, her weight real and solid on your knees, and then she's off you. She pushes you closer to the machine that controls her life--her un-life.

"What do I do?" you ask.

But she does it for you. Pushes your fingers into buttons and pads, giving you that distance. She does it--through you, yes--but she does it.

Once again, she is saving your life.

As she is destroying what is left of hers.

For a moment, you want to tell her to stop. That you can keep her body around. That you can stand doing it to keep her. But you know how wrong that is. You know she will chafe at the limitations. At the wrongness that is in that thought.

"I know what you're thinking."

"I don't want to lose you."

"I know." And she pushes a larger pad, one that has an ominous look to it. "I don't want to lose you, either." Then she kisses you.

The best kiss you will ever have.

You pull her into your lap, and it hurts to hold her, but you grab onto her as tightly as you can, as the beeping stops, and the rasping of the tube that makes her breathe goes silent.

"Thank you," she whispers, and her tears fall on you again, and they burn as they track down your skin.

And you rub them in, hoping they can make you like her, hoping you can follow her wherever she goes.

"I love you," she says.

"Wait for me." You've never really believed in anything after this life. It's why you've lived as hard as you could--because this was your one chance.

But you suddenly think there could be a Power that lets a debt owed become a debt paid. And allows love cut short to become love discovered--for a little while.

And maybe, when it's over and you're done playing with life, she'll be there waiting for you.

"I'll wait forever," she says, and her voice is getting faint, and her breath isn't warm, anymore.

"It's a long time." But maybe it's not. Not where she's going.

You hold her tighter, but your arms slip through her.

"Chris." Her name comes out a strangled moan.

She is gone.

You sit there for a long time, staring at the floor, not at her body because you don't want to remember her that way. And when you finally feel that you have the strength, you wheel yourself very slowly out of the room and down the hall, and over to a window.

You watch the sun come up, and Bones and Spock find you there, still staring at the sky, cried out. Your eyes ache, and your nose is stuffed up, and you feel tired enough to sleep for a week.

"Jim?"

You point to her room, and Bones runs in.

"She was here, Spock." And you look up at him, and you let him see the grief.

And you'd offer a meld, to make him understand, but he suddenly grasps your shoulder, his grip so hard that the pain centers you and keeps the tears you thought were used up from falling.

Bones comes out, his eyes red, and he sits down on a chair across from you. "She wasn't supposed to be part of your landing party. She traded with me. Said she needed some fresh air."

She died because of breakfast. Because of possibilities. Not because of Bones, and Bones needs to know that.

"She wanted to be with me. I wanted her to be with me. In the fresh air."

They both look at you, and you nod.

"It was just...starting." You swallow the word, can barely get it out.

It was just starting. Now it's over. And you feel drained.

"Let's get you to bed."

Your two best friends push you and carry you and tuck you in. And you let them because it is the only comfort they can give you. And when they leave you alone, you lie staring at the ceiling, because it seems treacherous to sleep when she has died.

You fight the way your eyelids are drooping. You fight the sick feeling in your gut that begs you for sleep. You fight until you feel the place her tears fell start to burn.

She didn't die for you to make yourself sick, you can almost hear her say.

After all she did for you, it's treacherous not to live.

You give in, close your eyes, and pray you'll dream of her.

You don't.

FIN