Unlucky in Love by Djinn
The corridors seemed to be closing in around her, and Chapel slipped into the first unoccupied conference room she came to. Breathing deeply, she tried to compose herself, tried to forget that the man she'd left Emergency Ops for and followed onto this damned ship had just told her their relationship wasn't working. For him.
It had been working just fine for her.
She wiped her eyes, wished there was a mirror in the room. Then she headed back out into the corridor, stopping a moment to get her bearings. This new Enterprise was confusing and big and not the home the first one had been. Why had she thought coming here would be a good idea? Why had she followed a man...again? She'd promised herself she'd never go down this road again.
"You're a long way from sickbay." A gentle voice, familiar and one that always made her feel safe. "Are you lost, Chris?" There was no mocking in Kirk's voice.
She turned, smiled at him and prayed that he wouldn't be able to see she'd been crying. "I may be a little turned around." She tried to hide her embarrassment with a laugh. "I navigated fine through Decker's refits, but this new ship of yours is another thing altogether."
He narrowed his eyes, and she knew he could tell she was upset. But he didn't say anything, just eased her over to the side panel. "Let me show you the latest and greatest in personal navigation." He held his palm over a dark panel and it lit up, showing a small schematic of the ship. "Sickbay," he murmured, and the schematic changed, showing where they were and how to get to sickbay.
"Thanks." She turned to go.
"You were visiting Commander Wainwright?"
"On my break, sir." She sounded far too defensive.
He waved the words away, as if that wasn't where he'd been going with it. "John's a fine engineer." John. He'd been the one Kirk had selected. She'd just come along for the ride.
Much more popular than Chapel had been aware. They'd only been on the ship a week, and he'd found someone to replace her. Lots of someones, actually.
Kirk looked uncomfortable. "I don't make it a policy to interfere in my officers' romantic lives."
"Then don't start now." The words came out much sharper than she meant them to. Blushing, she turned to meet his eyes. "I'm sorry."
He didn't seem angry, was looking at her with something that seemed too close to pity for comfort. "For a big ship, it's a small place. I see things."
He'd probably seen this coming long before she had. "Bully for you, sir."
This time he did look irritated with her. "I'm trying to help."
"You can't. The man I'm in love with wants to be free. To play the field. I'll get over it, sir. I'm quite good with heartache. In fact, it's normally my steady state." She walked away, hating that what she'd said had sounded so self-pitying.
He caught up with her and they walked along in silence for a bit. Glancing at him, she wondered if his sudden desire for her company was an indication of sadism or masochism, or both. She decided not to ask--she'd said enough stupid things to her captain already--and settled for glaring at him.
He sighed and looked away.
"I guess you can see why he left me?" She winced at her tone. Gods above, she was pathetic.
He stopped. "Since you're hurting, I'm going to let all of this go."
"That's not an answer to my question."
He turned slowly, his eyes not letting hers go. "Wainwright's an idiot. There's your answer." He finally looked away, his jaw tight.
He shrugged, as if his patience had run out and then some.
"Unfortunately, he's an idiot that I'm going to have to see. On the ship. All the time. With other women." At least when she'd been infatuated with Spock, she'd been spared that. No one could call Spock a player. Or at least not when he was in his right mind.
"Why do you think I don't get involved with people on my ship?"
"You have much better judgment?"
He laughed softly, but she knew it was with her, not at her. "Time does heal all wounds."
"Just not always as fast as we'd like."
"That's regrettably true." With a last shake of his head, he left her alone.
She headed for the lift and sickbay to bury herself in her work. She was good at that.
Chapel sat in the most out-of-the-way bar she could find on the Starbase. It wasn't as out of the way as she would have liked. She could hear two of her shipmates ranking the men on the Enterprise. John's name came up--rather high on the charts--and she took her drink to a booth near the front where she wouldn't hear the gory details of why he'd merited that rating
She saw Kirk coming down the corridor with Sulu and Scotty. He nodded to her as he passed, and she tried to smile back. She was halfway through her third drink when he came back down the corridor, this time alone.
"So, how far on the road to drunk are you?" he asked, sliding into the seat opposite her.
"Not far. And I don't recall inviting you on my journey."
"No, neither do I." He nodded to the bartender and pointed to what she was having.
When the bartender brought the drink over, Chapel pushed her empty glass at him for a refill.
Before he could take it, Kirk shook his head. "Bring the lady a water."
"I'm in the mood for something stronger."
"Tough." He gave the man a "Shouldn't you be gone?" look, and the man hurried away.
"Why are you doing this?"
"What am I doing?" He sipped at his drink. "Having a drink with an old friend, is all."
"Right." She took the water the bartender brought and downed a healthy swallow. She really was thirsty--as a doctor, she knew booze was dehydrating; as a woman in pain, she didn't care. "I know you were stuck with me."
His frowned, wrinkling his brow in a way she didn't remember him doing when he was younger. "I don't follow."
"You wanted John. And we were a package deal."
He started to laugh softly. "We really need to work on your self-esteem."
"What does that mean?"
He threw back his drink. "I wanted you on the ship, and John was part of the deal. I wasn't all that keen on having him here." He leaned in. "I knew what a disruptive influence he could be, but he was with you and seemed to have settled down. So I reassessed my earlier rejection."
She stared at him. "You turned him down before?"
He seemed to think back. "About six months ago. We were filling some key posts in engineering."
Six months. One month before John had found her in the bar the Ops crews frequented and pitched some major woo. A very long, drunken night. Just another one-night stand, she'd thought. A safe thing.
And then he'd come back to the bar the next night. And the next. And the next.
She'd gone back into medicine for him. To be with him. Sighing, she took another drink of water, wishing it were something stronger. "He used me."
"How did he even know that you would take him if he were with me?"
He smiled gently. "You're part of my original crew. When haven't I taken care of any of you?"
That much was certainly true. "I don't know if I feel better or worse knowing he used me--that this wasn't personal."
"Can't help you with that." He patted her hand, slid out of the booth. "Don't drown your sorrows. He's not worth it."
She sipped at her water as she watched him walk away. Glancing over at the women who'd been assessing John, she saw that they were watching Kirk. Then one of them looked over at her, a strange look on her face. She said something to the other woman, and they got up and left. But not without another of those looks from the first one.
Chapel finally realized the expression was envy.
People really did see what they wanted to.
The mess was empty, plenty of chairs to be had, but Chapel saw John walking toward her. He took the seat opposite her and gave her the grin she used to love.
"Slumming?" Her voice was bitter. She hated giving him that.
His grin faded, and he stared at her with something akin to bemusement. "We had some fun times, didn't we?"
They had. But she hadn't been short on fun when she'd met him. It just hadn't been long-term fun. She nodded tightly. "I know you used me."
"And you didn't use me right back? You weren't exactly hard to land."
"No, I guess I wasn't. I was stupid enough to consider it love."
"Well, Chrissie, that was your mistake." He took her hand. "Although I do care about you."
She jerked her hand away. "Sure you do."
"Come on. I let you down easy. And I tried to make it work."
"For a week? You consider that trying?"
"Actually, for me, it is. If we held a longevity contest, you'd win."
She sighed. It was so sad to think she was the champ of his relationships.
"No hard feelings?" He gave her his handsome smile--why had she never noticed how calculated it was?
"Fine." She was too tired to fight about this.
"Great." He pushed food around his plate for a minute. "So why the grudge? Why make him ride me?"
"My last landing party. The captain wasn't what you'd call friendly."
"That wasn't my doing." Although it made her sort of happy. "Did you deserve to be ridden?"
"No." He leaned back, pushing his tray away. "Well, okay, maybe I was spending more time getting to know Lieutenant Jamison than I should have been."
"The captain likes his crew to actually pay attention to their duties. Maybe you should keep your mind on your job and not on interrupting someone else's."
"Did you hate me interrupting you in sickbay when we first got here?"
"I didn't. But if the captain had caught us, I'd have expected a dressing down." She picked up her tray. "My appetite is gone. Can't imagine why."
He stopped her, his hand on her wrist. "Don't make this ugly, Christine."
"You leave me alone, and I'll return the favor." She stared down at his hand on her wrist until he let go, then she walked away, trying to ignore that her hands were shaking as she put her tray in the recycler.
"He's an ass," she heard someone say.
Turning, she saw one of the women who'd been in the bar. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Wainwright. He's a real jerk. I found that out the hard way." She laughed brittlely. "Pretty soon we can start a club of haters."
Chapel glanced back where he was watching them, a look of wariness on his face--but no remorse. "He's a piece of work, that's for sure." She patted the other woman on the shoulder. "My advice is to let it go. He's not worth it."
The captain had been dead on about that.
The lounge was packed with crew watching talent night. Chapel sat with Uhura and Scotty in one of the rear rows of chairs, laughing at the comedy routine that was being performed. When it was over and the ad-hoc stagehands were moving furniture around for the next act, she noticed Uhura whispering something in Mister Scott's ear, and he nodded with a big grin.
"We'll be right back," Uhura said.
"Well, maybe not right back." Scotty winked at her.
"Have fun." Chapel smiled, and realized it didn't hurt to imagine others happy in love the way it had when John had first ditched her. She scanned the room, saw him sitting with an ensign who'd just transferred on.
"Enjoying the show?" Kirk asked as he sat down next to her.
"Too bad Uhura and Mister Scott couldn't say the same." His eyes were twinkling in a way that told her he knew exactly why the pair had disappeared.
"Yes, given the option, I'd choose the amateur comedy club over...other things."
He laughed softly. "Ever since Spock's brother hijacked my ship, they've been enjoying other things." He shook his head. "At least someone got something good out of that."
"Not your finest hour?"
"Uh, no. Let's change the subject." He glanced over where she'd been looking but didn't comment.
"John's a busy boy."
"He does seem to be." He lost the tolerant look he'd had when Ny and Scotty were the topic. "Do I even know who he's with?"
"Nope. New meat. I checked her in this morning."
"Man wastes no time."
"It's eye opening. And not in a good way." She smiled gently to show him she was okay with the painful lesson.
"What I can't figure out is why you couldn't see through him." He was talking low, the conversation just for them.
"Because I'm known for my excellent judgment in relationships?"
He looked surprised. "Actually, you are. Korby was a good man, despite everything. And Spock, while perhaps not the most emotionally available, is certainly a decent guy. But Wainwright...?" His mouth twisted a bit.
"I was coming off a string of short-lived relationships. That was sort of the norm in Ops."
"Was that your norm?" He sounded surprised at her.
"Are you judging?"
"Don't get mean." He leaned in. "I guess I think of you as monogamous."
"I am. Repeatedly so." At his smile, she sighed. "It was easier in Ops to find a nice outsider. Preferably someone in town for a short stay. Have fun, move on. No harm, no foul. No complications. Like you, we tended not to mess in our nest."
"It's a good policy."
"And then John came out of nowhere. A great-looking man interested in something more. I guess the time was perfect for him to show up. I was..."
"Ready for something more? Maybe a little lonely?"
She met his eyes, saw only understanding. "You got it." She shook her head. "Unfortunately, a little lonely equaled a lot vulnerable in this case. And stupid." She leaned back and studied him. "You're not...riding him on my account, are you?"
"Did he tell you I was?"
"You two are still talking?" There was surprise--and something else she couldn't identify--in his voice.
"Not intentionally." The amount of rancor in her voice seemed to cheer him up. "He kind of cornered me."
"Ah. Well, no, I'm not riding him on your behalf. I'd do the same even if he hadn't been an ass to a friend of mine. Bad behavior is bad behavior."
"No argument from me. I just wanted to make sure it wasn't...personal."
"I don't like what he did. But I'm not going to let it get in the way of day-to-day operations--or my assessment of his performance of his duties."
"Okay, then. Let's drop the subject."
"It's dropped." He motioned toward the stage. "They're just about ready. You think our two lovebirds are coming back anytime soon?"
"Odds are slim to none."
He grinned. "Good. Because I like the view from here."
Glancing at him, she saw he was looking toward the stage with a serious expression.
Then his lips cocked up just a bit, as if he knew how that had sounded. "Do I have to rephrase?"
"Not on my account."
"We really do need to work on that self-esteem." His grin was warm and made her laugh softly. He sat back, his arm bumping hers and she shifted in her seat to make room. "It's all right," he said softly.
She leaned back, letting her arm come to rest against his. It felt odd to sit like that.
Then the performance--a very funny scene from a twentieth-century play--started, and she let herself be drawn into the moment. Kirk's arm pressed against hers harder as he laughed, then he'd pull away again. She glanced at him, decided he was just enjoying himself.
Nothing wrong with that. He needed time off as much as any of them did.
Sickbay was quiet, dimly lit so the few patients in it could sleep undisturbed. Chapel turned away from her screen, rubbing her eyes. She heard the main doors open, walked out of her office, and saw Kirk coming across the room. She heard him tell the nurse who'd risen to meet him that he just needed to see Doctor Chapel.
"Little late for you, isn't it?" She'd changed to Gamma shift when John had broken up with her and had found she liked it.
"We've got to get you back on Alpha shift." He motioned her into her office.
"Why? Everyone wants Alpha. I actually like this shift." She watched as he closed the door to her office. "Something on your mind?"
"Not really the body part that something's on." He seemed to be blushing. "Okay, this is more embarrassing than I'd originally thought. And I ranked it pretty high to begin with."
"Did you have a little too much fun with the Mandagrians?" She'd heard the captain had been quite taken with the head of the delegation. And vice versa.
"I think so." He made a sheepish face as Chapel scanned him. "But she was so sweet."
"That's what you get for going where no man has gone before." She checked the readings. "Although it looks like plenty have gone wherever it was you were."
"Very funny." He grimaced. "Bones said my shots were up to date."
"They are. This is new." She patted his arm. "New and interesting, not new and bad. If I don't say where I got the sample, can I study this?"
He rolled his eyes. "You can do whatever you want with it so long as you fix me. It itches like crazy."
"Sorry." She stepped out of her office into the main area, grabbing the combination of drugs she needed. "This should do the trick." She shot him in the arm with the mixture. "The itching should stop in about five minutes. The infection should respond to the antibiotic treatment I gave you. But just in case, come back in a few days, and I'll make sure the infection is gone."
"Thanks." He didn't seem to be in a hurry to leave.
"Was there something else?"
"Are you really going to study it?"
She nodded. "But you'll be 'Patient X,' I promise."
"Good." He still wasn't leaving.
She sat down and stared up at him. "Why didn't you go to Len? Wouldn't it have been less embarrassing?"
"Oh, definitely. But there's always a lecture factor with him. I didn't figure you'd read me the riot act."
She laughed. "Hey, at least one of us is getting some."
"I thought you were 'Ms. Love 'Em and Leave 'Em'?"
"Ship's too small to be that anymore. Not like Ops where you never had to see them again if you didn't want to."
"I appreciate you not trolling through the crew." His grin took any sting out of the words. "But we've been on shore leave, at starbases. Plenty of friendly strangers." He sat down in her guest chair, seemed to be studying her. "Why haven't you gotten back on the horse?"
She rolled her eyes at the expression.
"It's been four months since you came aboard, Chris."
"You're keeping track?" But she knew he could probably recite the dates all his command crew had reported for duty.
"Wainwright's not worth hiding out here on Gamma shift for."
"I'm not hiding. I was, but I'm not anymore." She saw that he didn't believe her. "It's quiet, and I like it." That wasn't a lie. It was quiet and she was getting to know a quieter version of herself. The Christine she'd allowed to sink away in the hubbub of Ops. "I think it's good for me here."
"Get back on Alpha shift. That's my advice."
"Just to find that horse? There are nice men who work Gamma shift."
"There are nicer ones on Alpha." His eyes twinkled.
She laughed. "Good night, sir."
"Just say you'll consider it."
"I'll consider it."
He stood up, smiling broadly. "I feel better already."
"Get some rest, sir. That's my advice. Alpha shift will be here before you know it."
"Aye-aye, Doctor." He mock saluted her and left.
She got back to work, trying to ignore that her office seemed emptier without him.
"So you're back on Alpha, I see?" Kirk sidled up to her as they walked along the riverbank.
"And on landing party duty. Wonder how that happened?"
"I thought you could use some sun. You were getting awfully pasty." He grinned and tried to look innocent.
"Who knew you were such a meddler?"
"I am, aren't I?" He took a deep breath. "This is a nice planet."
"It is. And habitable." This far out there were still some worlds left to discover. She liked that. It was a far cry from Ops, where everything boiled down to hostilities or natural disasters or technical failures. Here there was sun and sky and grass and the smell of life. And no one to muck it up.
"Just thinking that there's no need for Emergency Ops here."
"Not yet anyway." He smiled gently. "But give it time. People have a way of spoiling things."
"I know." She took a deep breath. "But we can't stop that. For now, I'm just going to enjoy the day."
"That's very Zen of you."
"You think I can't be Zen?"
"It's sort of rich. Coming from you. Mister 'Find a Way or Make a Way.'"
He laughed loudly. She saw Spock and the two crewmen with him turn to see what was so funny. The crewmen turned away, but Spock continued to look back.
"He's suddenly realizing what he turned down all those years," Kirk said softly.
"I sincerely doubt that."
"You never know."
"With him, I think I do know." She'd interacted very little with Spock since reporting. They'd had little opportunity or need to work together, and neither of them had seemed inclined to find a reason. Things had changed for her after he died. Something in her had died--she thought it was the hope that he'd ever be anything more to her than a colleague.
"Do you still have feelings for him?" Kirk's voice was nonchalant.
"Nope. Just mutual respect." At least, she hoped it was mutual.
"Yep." She crouched down to take a sample from a flower. "Why? Afraid I'm going to embarrass myself?"
"No, not at all." His look as he met her eyes was a little confused.
He took a deep breath, seemed to be coloring a little. "I'm not sure why I asked."
"It's okay. I don't mind that you did." She took a sample of a lichen-like growth that was covering several small stones.
"Well, I'll leave you to that."
But he didn't move, and she went on with her work as if she wasn't acutely aware that he hadn't left.
Finally, he said, "I should go."
"Probably so." She looked over at him, then pushed herself to her feet. "Or you could carry the sample case." She was perfectly capable of carrying the sample case by herself.
He rose quickly. "I could do that." Taking the case from her, he followed her to the next group of bushes. "I'm adding nothing to this venture. I do know that."
"Your company's not nothing." She glanced at him, smiling softly.
He smiled back. "Well, okay, then. Here's me helping."
She laughed and went back to work. He carried the bag around for while, and they talked softly about things that didn't matter but were interesting anyway.
Then he gave the case back to her. "I should check on the others."
He went to join Spock, then made the rounds of his other teams. She found herself occasionally peeking over to see where he was.
Several times, she caught him peeking back.
Chapel looked up from her reading to see Spock standing in front of her, hands behind his back. "Hi."
"Doctor." He just stared down at her.
"Did you need something?" It certainly wasn't a seat. The lounge was nearly empty.
He sat down stiffly in the chair across from her. "We have not had many opportunities to talk since you reported."
"We've had lots of opportunities, just little desire." She grinned at him, enjoying being able to act natural, not like a lovesick fool, around him.
To her surprise, he seemed to relax. "That is a more accurate assessment of the situation."
"I'm a realist. Despite my romantic tendencies." Before he could panic, she waved at him in what she hoped was a reassuring way. "I don't mean you're in danger anymore."
"I was not unduly concerned that I was."
"Well, aren't you the brave one." She put her padd down. "Why are you here, Spock?"
"Do you like Beethoven?"
"I assume you mean the composer?"
"I do like him."
Spock nodded, his eyes narrowing, as if he was filing that away for future use. Then she saw him look toward the entrance, and his expression--such as it was--changed.
She followed his gaze, saw John hugging a woman, then another, then a third. "What's going on?"
"I imagine he is bidding them farewell."
"He is leaving. Are you upset at the idea?"
She stared at him. "Did the captain do this because--"
"Jim did not do this. I did. At Mister Scott's urging."
"Oh." She frowned. "You didn't do this for me, did you?"
"I did not." His tone was pretty definite on that one.
"No, I guess you wouldn't." She watched John as he pulled one of the women back in for another go. "So he wore out his welcome?"
"That is an excellent way to interpret the situation. And Mister Scott is usually quite lenient with emotional excess."
"He's a big softie, you mean."
"I believe that is what I said." He stood. "I will let you return to your reading."
"Okay." She watched him walk off. He passed John, not seeing, or else ignoring, John's glare at him.
John looked at her, then walked over slowly. "You heard?"
He sat down. "I wanted to get on this ship more than anything." He sighed. "Well, I was on it."
She smiled gently at him. "You were. You got here."
"Not on my own, though. Kirk wouldn't take me on my own."
She looked down.
"I'm sorry. It was wrong of me to use you."
She nodded, accepting that this was probably as real as he ever got. As he rose, she said, "John?"
He looked down at her.
"Would it have been wrong if you weren't getting transferred?"
He gave her the shit-eating grin that had first caught her interest. "Hell, no."
"Yeah, that's what I thought." She picked up her padd. "Safe journey."
"You, too, Chrissie."
She didn't watch him walk out of her life.
Len stood in her doorway, holding up the wall or something, as she stayed late to write up her case notes for the day. "So, only an hour till Starbase Fifteen, Christine. Big plans tonight?"
He frowned. "No?"
She shook her head.
"Hmm." Then he looked out to the main doors, and the little frown disappeared. "What are you doing here, Jim?"
Kirk frowned. "I thought you had a date tonight."
"I do," McCoy said, grinning.
Chapel looked at him. "You do?" She was sure she'd heard him making plans with Spock.
"Yes. I do." He stalked off.
"So, hi." Kirk sounded nervous.
She smiled up at him. "Hi."
He sat--almost plopped--down in her chair. "Do you like Beethoven?"
"Wow, that's a popular question."
"I love Beethoven. Why?" But she could guess why. And she was going to kill Len and Spock.
"I have tickets to a concert tonight."
He had the grace to look embarrassed. "Well, yes."
"And Len has his big date." Spying on the two of them with Spock, probably.
"So he says." Kirk looked at her expectantly.
"Are you asking me to go with you?"
He started to laugh. "I guess I didn't really get to that part, huh?"
"No. And you're supposed to be the big ladies' man?"
"I generally am." He grinned, showing her just how brightly he could turn on the charm. "But this is uncharted territory."
"I do seem to remember a 'no dating your crew' policy. Or is this not a date?" She was going to be very embarrassed if it wasn't.
"No, it is." He sat down. "You're medical. Independent."
"I'm still your crew."
"I'm attempting to come up with a creative caveat. You're not helping."
"You're right. We're very independent here in medical. Barely crew at all." She grinned at him, laughed at the way he glared at her. "So, umm, why?"
"Are you going to say yes? Because I refuse to answer until I know you're in."
"I'm in. Now why?"
"I like you." His smile was very soft. "And I find myself wanting to come up with caveats. So that must mean something."
"Must it?" She was smiling, trying to let him know that she was suddenly a huge fan of caveats.
He nodded, and his eyes met hers, and for a moment she felt a surge of pure connection.
"I have a debrief when we first get in," he said as he stood. "I'll meet you at the bar outside the auditorium?"
"Sounds good." She smiled as he walked away.
Len had the grace to wait for Kirk to leave sickbay before he sidled up to the door and said with a huge grin, "So, big plans tonight?"
"You two are in such trouble."
"What? Why?" His attempt to sound innocent was not working.
"You have a date, my ass. You and Spock are--"
"I'll have you know that Spock has an experiment he doesn't feel like leaving, and I really do have a date. Besides"--his eyes grew very soft--"it won't hurt you or Jim to have a little fun."
"Two big yentas." She pretended to glare at him before going back to work.
His only reaction was a deep, satisfied chuckle.
The bar was crowded, and Chapel sat with Sulu and Lieutenant Jamison and waited for Kirk to show up.
"So I heard Commander Wainwright left." Sulu did not sound broken up.
"He was nice." Jamison laughed at his expression. "Well, he was nice to me." Then she glanced at Chapel. "Did you know him?"
"You could say that." Chapel managed to grin. A few months ago, she'd have never believed she'd be smiling in this type of situation.
"Did you like him?" Jamison was young and pretty and still had stars in her eyes.
Chapel decided to keep the story simple. "Yeah. I did."
Sulu shot her a look but didn't contradict her. "The captain's here."
She hadn't actually told him who she was waiting for.
"And coming this way."
Kirk grinned at them all. "Crowded in here." His smile changed a little when he looked at her. "Sorry to have kept you waiting."
"No problem. I was in good company." She had trouble not laughing. She thought Sulu's eyebrows were going to disappear into his hair. "You know Karen Jamison?"
"Lieutenant." Kirk gave her his best grin. "How are you finding the Enterprise?"
She blushed prettily. "She's everything I heard."
"Well, glad to have you aboard." He was urging Chapel up, his hand on her arm where the other two couldn't see. "If you'll excuse us?"
"Enjoy the concert, sir."
"You, too." He took her elbow, guiding her out of the bar and around the side of the auditorium.
"Isn't the entrance back there?"
"I have really good tickets. Captain's privilege and all that." He stopped and spoke softly to a man guarding a private lift, then the man stepped aside and let them on.
It went up one floor, and she followed Kirk off and around a long corridor with curtained doorways on the inside wall. "My, my. Didn't realize we were doing this up in style."
"Hey, when I ask a lady out on a date..." He held open a curtain, motioned her under his arm and into a box with a perfect view of the stage. In the back, there was a bottle of champagne on ice and some pricy hors d'oeuvres.
"Yeah, but don't you usually bring Spock or Len?"
"Don't start with me." He mock glared at her as he opened the champagne. "Or there'll be no bubbly for you."
She pretended to seal her lips.
"That's better." He handed her a glass, raised his own. "To...different company."
She laughed. "You can't do better than that?"
"I can, but the night is young."
"Pass the caviar, then. That is caviar, right?"
"It damn well better be." He laughed softly, clinked his glass against hers.
She spread some caviar on a cracker and took a long moment to savor it. "So, do you always live this large?"
"I may have splurged, once I knew it was you coming with me." His grin was adorable.
"Lucky me." Winking at him, she went in for more caviar.
He watched her with an indulgent smile, then helped himself to some baked brie.
"You know John left the ship?" It was a stupid question. There was probably no crew change on his ship he didn't know about. But she needed to get it out there.
"I saw. Wasn't my doing."
"I can't say I was sorry to see him go." He met her eyes. "Were you?"
"No. Not sorry. Not happy. I'm over him."
"Good." He lifted his glass to her. "To moving on." Then he grimaced. "Okay, that makes me sound like rebound guy. And I don't like that idea."
She laughed. "To new beginnings."
"Very nice." He drank, and she drank, and by the time the orchestra started tuning up, the bottle was nearly dead and the food long since cleared by the steward.
He moved to the front of the box, let her pick the seat she wanted, and waved to someone across the way. Chapel was surprised to see so many Federation brass at the concert. Then she realized they could all see her, too. With Kirk.
"We're on display, sir."
"Yes, we are. And don't you think you should call me Jim?"
She looked over at him. "I probably should."
"I think so." His grin was sweet. "Try it out."
"How's this, Jim?"
"Sounds good." Leaning back into his chair, he took a deep breath. "It's nice to have privileges."
"You'll get no argument from me." She settled into the cushy chair--it was much more comfortable than the ones below looked--and watched the crowd and the others in the box.
He closed his eyes, seemed to be dozing, but she had a feeling he was just enjoying the chance to relax. She thought it was a compliment to her, that he could let down that way. Either that or she was boring the shit out of him.
"Just enjoying the moment."
So, not bored. Good. "You do realize Len and Spock set us up?"
"Yep." He looked over at her with a lazy head turn, gave her a slow, seductive grin. "I let them think I didn't, though."
"You don't mind?"
She realized he'd moved his hand; it sat on the armrest next to hers. Lonely. Cold, maybe.
She slid her hand over and saw him smile when they made contact. Then the lights dimmed, and the music started, and he turned his hand so their fingers were clasped. He gave a gentle squeeze once, then seemed to be transfixed by the music, lost to it. She leaned back in the chair and let the sound flow over her, brought back to reality every now and then by the feel of his hand on hers, the sense of him tapping his foot with the music, or swaying slightly in the chair to the slower melodies.
Then it was over and the lights came back on and they had to let go to applaud.
Her hand felt very cold after the warmth of his.
"Ready to go?" When she nodded, he took her arm and led her down some stairs that led to the busy concourse on the Starbase. "Hungry?"
"A little." They walked around the main level until she saw a place that was selling kebabs and pulled him to that. "My treat."
"You don't have to."
"I want to."
Smiling, he let her order for them both. They ate in companionable silence, offering food to the other, laughing over silly things.
"This is nice," he said as they walked back to the transporter room. He bumped up against her as they walked, a friendly sort of nudge. Once back on the ship, he walked her to her quarters. "Thank you for coming with me."
"Thanks for asking me." Reaching out, she touched his cheek for a moment. "I had fun."
"So did I."
"I should probably get inside." She had her foot in the door, keeping it open as it bumped against her leg.
"You probably should." He eyed the inside of her quarters. Then he leaned in, giving her a quick but firm kiss on the lips. "Hold that thought."
"What thought?" She stuck her tongue out at him.
"Oh, that's mature." He pushed her into her room. "Go to bed, Doctor."
"Aye-aye, sir." Watching him walk away, she very much wished she didn't have to go to bed alone.
He glanced back. "Inside. Now."
She was pretty sure the sound she made as she ducked into her quarters qualified as a giggle. She couldn't remember the last time she'd done that.
The mess was full and noisy with people grabbing breakfast before shift change. Chapel heard snatches of conversation from all directions.
"Doctor." Jim sidled up next to her, eying the empty chair across from her. "You were saving that for me, weren't you?" He didn't wait for an answer, just took it.
"Actually, I was saving it for someone else."
"A handsome someone else?" His voice was mock serious.
He looked like he was about to laugh. "Handsomer than I am?"
"Uh, no." She couldn't keep a straight face anymore. Chuckled softly and saw his expression change, become...tender.
"How'd you sleep?" he asked.
"Alone." She hoped their conversation wasn't being picked up by anyone, pitched her voice lower. "You?"
"I found myself distracted." He was talking softly, too. "Waiting builds character. Isn't that what they say?"
"They being people who've never had the it we're waiting for?"
"Damn good point." He was grinning, the sunny look that was light years away from John's even though, when she first met John, she'd thought they were similar. "So, Chris, are you saying you don't want to wait?"
"Maybe I am." She knew her eyes were sparkling. "If I don't wait, will I be less of a challenge?"
He frowned and shifted in his seat, moving forward. "Do you think I need a challenge?"
"That was a joke."
"My question wasn't. Do you think I need that to be...happy?"
She could tell he wanted a straight answer. Hated that she'd gone down this road. "I don't know." It was honest, but she could tell it hurt him a bit. "I don't know you very well, Jim. For all the years we've served together, this is new."
"And after all those years, you've come to the conclusion that I need a challenge to stay with a woman."
"I didn't say that." But she had indirectly, and she knew that. "Can we just...rewind past my stupid remark."
"Sure." His voice was tight. His smile was, too, even though she could tell he was trying to make it genuine.
"It's just me, Jim. I'm not full of trust right now."
He nodded, and she knew she was just making it worse. In all the years she'd known him, he'd never given her a reason not to trust him. In fact, he'd protected her on more than one occasion. She opened her mouth to try again, but he got up.
"I have to go. Another diplomatic outing. Tour of the flagship and all that."
She remembered the results of his diplomatic outing with the Mandagrian woman, wondered if his comment was meant to hurt her in some way. Meeting his eyes, she thought she saw pain in his. She could feel her expression change, become the one full of sympathy that had worked so well for her as a nurse.
It backfired here. His expression grew tight. "I'll see you when I'm done."
"Have fun." Her voice was ugly, not what she'd been aiming for. But she suddenly saw John, in the lounge, with all his new women.
Jim looked like he wanted to say something. Something to make things better. To make her less neurotic, maybe.
Before he could do it, she said, "I'm sorry."
"I'll talk to you later." His voice was kinder this time. Too kind. As if he just wanted to get out of the mess without a scene.
She went back to her breakfast, letting him escape. As soon as he was gone, she got up and threw her tray into the recycler.
Her appetite had deserted her along with any sense she possessed. They'd gone from playful to hurt in record time. What the hell was wrong with her?
Chapel was just leaving sickbay when she heard Jim coming down the corridor. He walked around the corner with Spock and a delegation that included several very attractive women. She nodded as they walked by, tried to smile and thought she came up with a reasonable facsimile of the real thing.
"Doctor Chapel," Spock murmured as they passed.
Jim said nothing. But he gave her a smile that managed to be both contrite and wary. She tried to give him the same one back as she murmured, "Good day," back to them.
Then they were walking again and passing her, and she saw one of the women move closer to Jim and say something that made him laugh.
Chapel felt her gut clench.
"Christine, you'd better come to terms with this," Len said in her ear.
She turned, wondering how much he'd seen. "What?"
He laughed. "Don't play dumb with me. You're like a cat with her hackles up. This is what he does. And sex is a card he uses."
"Not really the tack I'd have taken to put someone's mind to rest."
"I don't mean having sex; I mean using it. The tension and attraction that's always there. He's good at it. Hell, I'm not sure he can help it."
She remembered Jim saying Len had lectured him. "And you approve of it?"
"It's not my place to approve or not. As long as he's careful."
"But you just said he didn't have sex, so why should he be careful."
Len pulled her into his office. "I know damn well he came to you the last time he wasn't careful. And you know why he did that?"
"Because you nag him?"
"I've never nagged him. He wanted you to understand how things were."
"That he wasn't hiding anything. That he wouldn't." Len sat down, sighing dramatically. "Do you remember Janice Lester?"
She looked down. How the hell could she forget that woman?
"She never trusted him. Thought he was cheating on her. He didn't. He doesn't. Not when he's in love. Not when it's serious."
"He's not in love with me."
"Maybe not yet. But I saw his look as he went by. You're making him awfully unhappy--too much so for this to mean nothing." He gave her a disappointed look. "And you know he wouldn't break his own rules for something that meant nothing."
She sat, playing idly with the instruments on Len's desk, until he reached out and took them away.
"Look at me, Christine."
She slowly met his eyes.
"What's really wrong?"
"I don't know, Len. Maybe...maybe I'm scared." She took a deep breath. "After Roger, I pined for Spock for such a long time."
"Despite my attempts to get you to move on."
She held up her hand, gave him a stern look.
"Sorry. Your story. Continue."
Fighting a small smile, she said, "When I got to Ops, there were so many people, so many opportunities to connect."
"Had a lot of one-night stands, did you?"
"Nothing wrong with that. As long as everybody understood."
"I know. But you can get used to that. The variety. The newness." The safety. No one could ever hurt you if you didn't give them the chance to get inside.
He leaned back, taking a deep breath. "But you came on board with someone. You seemed committed. Are you saying you want to go back to that other life?"
"No." She looked away, sighed in frustration. "I'm saying maybe Jim's not ready to leave it."
Len stood and walked to the window that looked out into sickbay. "I think you should let Jim worry about what he is or is not ready for. You should worry about your own lack of trust." His voice was hard.
"You're right. I should let him worry about his issues. Just like you should stay out of mine."
He turned, his face red--in embarrassment or anger or maybe both. "I interfere because I care."
"You set this up. You want it to work for some reason. And you're afraid I'm about to ruin it."
"Maybe so. But if I'm worried, it's not just for Jim. It's for you, too." He laid his hand on her shoulder, squeezed gently. "I'll butt out."
Pulling away, she left him, trying not to feel like a kid called into the principal's office.
It didn't work.
Chapel was stretched out on her stomach on the bed, surrounded by padds of images and vids, of papers she'd written, and random notes from school. Her chime sounded softly, and she looked up from the images of Roger she'd been browsing through. "Come."
Jim walked in. He stopped in the doorway, took in the state of her bed. "Memory Lane?"
He moved into the room. "Any particular reason why you're feeling nostalgic?"
"I was trying to find all the places I lost the old me and became someone else."
She thought he wouldn't understand, but he smiled and pulled a chair over to the end of the bed. Kicking his boots off, he put his feet up.
"Make yourself at home," she said with a smile.
He nudged her leg with his foot. "Do you mind?"
"Nope." Pushing back, she felt a warmth where his foot and her leg met. "I can be a coward sometimes." She rolled over to her side so she could see his face. "I go from brave to cowardly and back again."
"Where are you now?"
"Cowardly, I think." She felt his foot stroke her leg, moving down to find her own foot, pushing hard against it. "I don't want to be."
"When I was a kid, my brother Sam used to tease me. I was afraid of things I couldn't see but was sure were there. The boogey man in the closet. The monster that lived in the tree outside my window. I grew out of it--actually, I just learned to hide the fact that things scared me." He took a deep breath and she realized his hands were clenched on the arm of the chair. "Then I went to Tarsus IV. And I met the monster who lives in the open. And he killed people and he nearly killed me. I learned to be afraid of real things and not bogeymen. I pushed the kid who was afraid of things under the bed so deep inside me, I'm not sure anything is left of him."
"A changing moment." She moved closer to him, padds falling as she did--the past being pushed aside for the sake of the present: wasn't that what living was?
He leaned forward, rubbed his hand along her cheek. "When I learned Carol was pregnant, that was a changing moment. Then everything changed again when she made me choose between my family and space." He tilted her chin up. "Just like you chose your career or space--to find Roger."
"That is one of my big moments."
"You know me...what are some of my others?" He let go of her, leaned back, and smiled gently.
"Giving up your ship."
"God, yes. I didn't like who I became. Go on."
"Getting it back." She looked down; she'd been there for that. "You weren't the same person after you did that, stole it out from under Will's nose."
"I know. I was...harder."
"Is that why you retired?"
He nodded. "I thought I could reclaim some of the things I'd lost along the way."
"We can't, though, can we?"
"No." He sighed. "Have you lost your ability to trust?"
"I don't know."
"It's going to be crucial for us. I can't stop what I do. I can't change who I am."
Sitting up, she rummaged through the padds on the bed, handed him one. "Do you remember this?" It was a picture of her getting her MD and her lieutenant's insignia. She'd asked him to award her new rank. It had been during those bad years, when he'd been grounded and miserable.
"So I did know how to smile back then."
"You did. You smiled at me a lot that night." She handed him a padd of notes. "Read the middle paragraph."
As he read it, she studied his face. At one point in med school, when her studies had seemed too much, she'd been ready to quit. And she'd gone to him, and he'd talked to her. Told her not to give up on her dreams no matter how hard it got.
"I forgot this."
"Me, too. It was a long time ago." She took the padd back, turned it off. "I've always trusted you. With Roger's reputation--you protected him when you didn't have to. And with my future." She looked down. "And I think I can do it with my heart. But it won't be easy watching you with other women. I won't always be nice."
She began to gather up the padds. He reached down, finding the ones she'd knocked off the bed and handing them back to her.
"I don't cheat when I'm with someone, Chris. No matter what it looks like."
She got off the bed, grabbed the carton off the table, and started to put the padds back. She heard him get up, sensed him coming up behind her. Straightening, she felt him pull her to him, her back to his chest, no space between them.
He brushed her hair away and kissed her neck softly. "I'll try to never hurt you." He moved around, his lips finding the tender place under her ear.
"And I'll try to trust." She tilted her head to give him more room. "I trusted John and was an idiot for doing it. Now, when I need to, with a good man..."
"Are you sure I'm a good man?"
"I am." She turned, traced the lines of his chin, the curve of his lips. "I changed when I was in Ops. Then I tried to change back when I came here with John. But I should have been moving forward."
"You can do that with me." He pulled her close, kissed her hard.
She fell back to the bed with him, undoing his clothing, moving so he'd have an easy time taking hers off. They lay there, naked, exploring each other slowly, taking time for leisurely kisses. She closed her eyes and drew in the smell of him and what his skin felt like.
She opened her eyes, met his.
"Just wanted to make sure you were with me."
"Not with ghosts?"
"I'm here." She pushed him to his back, climbed on top, showed him just how much she was with him.
He moaned and smiled. The moan was slightly helpless, the smile warm and sensual. Leaning down, she kissed him, and he captured her by the hair and held her fast, owning her, making her kiss him again and again. Then he let her go and let her ride him at her own pace, moaning that moan again, smiling that smile.
She knew she was smiling the same smile. And in no time, she was moaning, too. She collapsed on top of him, and he held her tight, drawing patterns on her back, making her shiver.
She rolled off to lie next to him, cuddled close. He kissed her hair and murmured something she couldn't quite catch. But she didn't ask him to repeat it, suspected if he'd wanted her to hear it, he'd have said it louder.
He stroked her arm, eyes closed as he held her. Then he said, "I'm looking for more, Chris. More than the one-night stands. I'm tired of being alone."
"Me, too." She looked over at the carton of padds on her table. "We have a history. But not one that I'd ever have suspected would lead us here. I..."
She tried to think of the best way to say what she wanted to say.
"Don't sugarcoat it."
"Has it occurred to you that we both want more, but maybe not each other?"
"Your pillow talk is appalling." But his smile was easy, his eyes narrowing, as if he was considering what she was saying. "You think we're grabbing at each other because we're what's in sight."
"I don't think that. I'm asking you if we're doing that." She ran her fingers through his hair, wanting to make him feel good, wanting to take any sting out of her words.
He closed his eyes and let her work on him for a while. Then he shook his head.
"You want me to stop."
"No, keep going." His tone was pure captain; she liked it. "No, I was saying that I don't think that's it."
She leaned in to kiss him, and he pulled her to him, kissing her more fiercely than she expected. Rolling her to her back, he rose over her, pausing for a moment, staring into her eyes, not letting her break the gaze.
"Do you think so, Chris?"
She swallowed hard.
He slowly took her. "Because I don't."
She tried to reach for him, and he imprisoned her hands with his. "I think this is more." He began to kiss her. Slow, deep, achingly sweet kisses as his body kept time, taking her and releasing.
"No. I don't think so." She tried to move again, but he refused to let her up.
"Is this real?" When she nodded, he said, "Say it," and his voice was almost savage.
Then he let her go and they moved like addicts, trying to get just one more taste of each other. She felt her head spinning as she came, heard him calling her name out as he followed her into pleasure.
Then it was quiet, and he lay collapsed on her, and there was no sound but the harsh noise of their breathing and the bed creaking as they shifted.
"This is real," he said softly, pulling the covers over them.
"It's real." She ran her hand over his chest, kissing wherever she could reach until he fell asleep. She tried to follow him into slumber, but it eluded her. But it was warm next to him; his breathing was soothing, and his hand as he found her in his sleep, tender and possessive.
She finally fell asleep once she quit trying.
He woke her gently the next morning, tracing nonsense figures on her arm and over her chest, kissing her. His eyes were calm--but wary.
"Good morning." She smiled, made it a real one. A fearless one.
He seemed to relax. "Good morning."
"What time is it?"
"Time to get up." But instead of getting up, he snuggled in next to her. "Time to go to work."
She laughed as his hands wandered all over her. "Are we playing hooky?"
She glanced over his shoulder at the chrono. They had an hour before they had to get up. "So you do lie."
"Only about this." He pushed her to her back, showed her how an hour could be worth a little white lie...and then some. "I wasn't sure how you'd wake up," he murmured as they lay still.
"Thought I'd be surly?"
"Surly was a distinct possibility. I think regretful would have hurt more."
"No." She curled in closer. "Bored is the worst."
"Oh, God, yes. Bored is the worst. Have you had bored? Because I don't think that's right."
She smiled. "I've had bored. You mean you haven't ever been off your game?"
"Me? Never?" He was obviously trying to keep a straight face.
"Then how do you know bored is the worst, huh?"
"You argue like a Vulcan." He gasped as she reached for parts south. "Well, not entirely like a Vulcan."
She kissed his cheek. "Did you really think I'd be surly?"
"I don't know. Last night was..."
"I was going to go with different."
She laughed and let go of him, heard him moan in an unhappy way. "Different is just you sugarcoating weird."
"Okay it was weird. But damned nice, too." He found her hand, put it back where it had been.
She obliged him and started to play. "It was nice. I like being with you."
He didn't seem to be paying as much attention to her as he'd been, so she shut up and finished what she'd started.
"For the record," he said, when his breathing went back to normal and his toes uncurled, "I'm not bored."
"Somehow, I knew that." The chrono went off, chiming softly until she said, "Off." She studied him, smiling at the untroubled way he lay watching her. "I feel like I should offer you breakfast."
"Do you have anything here to eat?" At her expression, he laughed. "Other than you?"
"I sure don't."
He patted her backside, urging her out of bed. "Fortunately for you, my pretty new ship has a lovely mess. We've shared a table before. Would you care to do it again?"
"Why, Captain, I'd love to." She let him pull her into the shower, marveled at how light he could make this, even when it was clear this wasn't just about one night.
They got dressed and walked into the mess together. It was still relatively empty, so she chose a table for four. A few minutes later Spock walked in and brought his tray over. "May I sit?"
"Of course," she murmured, glancing at Jim to see what he thought of this. He just smiled at his friend and kept on eating.
"Christine, I trust you are well?" Spock was clearly on his best behavior.
"That is most gratifying. Jim? You appear content."
Jim just gave him another happy grin and went back to his pancakes.
"How are you, Spock?" She glared at him. "Experiment coming along all right?"
He met her glare with a slight eyebrow lift. "To which experiment are you referring?"
"A biology one, I believe."
In the light of the mess, his eyes almost seemed to sparkle. "Ah, yes. That one. Quite well. Thank you for inquiring." He turned to Jim. "We have new orders from Starfleet."
"Just tell me I don't have to do another meet and greet. I'm toured out, Spock."
"I cannot tell you that."
Jim sighed. Then he glanced at her; she stared back as blandly as she could. "You can fill me in on the way to the bridge."
Spock was already rising.
"I'm sorry," Jim said, leaning in. "I'll see you tonight?"
"Do you trust me?"
It took a little longer to nod.
"Work on that, will you?" With a helpless look, he let Spock lead him away. He dumped his tray at the recycler, glanced back at her and gave her a ghost of the smile he'd worn that morning.
She had a feeling the smile she gave him back wasn't at full strength, either.
It was like a bad nightmare, deja vu all over again. She was standing at the sickbay door. She could hear Jim coming around the corner. Could hear the tittering of what was no doubt an astoundingly beautiful--and probably exotic--visitor.
Her heart pounded. For a moment, she could see John, hugging all those women in the lounge.
For a moment, she could see herself, hugging all those men she'd been with before John had come along and convinced her to settle down.
She frowned. She wasn't like John.
She wasn't like him. And Jim didn't have to be like him, either. Jim could be like her.
He came around the corner. The woman with him was beautiful. Exotic. Hanging on his every word. He was flirting outrageously, laughing.
And it hurt. More than a little.
But then he looked over and smiled at her, and it was a smile that John had never, ever given her. She wasn't sure that Roger had ever given her a look that warm, that...complete.
"Doctor," he murmured.
"Captain," she said back, her voice throatier than she meant it to be.
He took a long, deep breath and his grin turned mischievous. Then he turned back to his guest.
And Chapel went back into sickbay. She saw Len watching her from across the room and walked over. "Something on your mind, Doctor McCoy?"
"Why, no, Doctor Chapel. Something on yours?"
"Nope. Not a thing."
He held up his coffee mug to her. "To Jim. He'll drive you nuts, Christine, but he'll be worth it."
"Have I thanked you for interfering?"
"Why, darlin', I believe you have forgotten to do that."
She just laughed and walked away from him, into her office where work waited and she threw herself into research when walk-ins didn't need her help. At the end of her shift, Jim walked in. Finishing up with her patient, she walked over to him. "Hi."
"Hi." His smile was huge.
"Did I pass?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing?" He nodded toward the door. "I'm really eager to get out of here."
He nodded, his eyes raking over her. "I'm really eager to get you out of here."
"Oh, well in that case..." She put her instruments away, turned off her office lights, and followed him out. "She was gorgeous."
"Yep. She was."
"Were you tempted?" she asked as they got in the turbolift.
He looked at her. "The females of her species have what is commonly known as dentitia err down there. The males of their species don't mind this because, like a salamander, they can grow back certain parts of their anatomy."
"You're making that up."
He started to laugh. "I can see beautiful things and not want to sleep with them. I trust you'll be able to be around handsome men and not be tempted to disappear into the nearest storage closet?"
"I'll try my best. But I don't, I must point out, give as many tours as you do."
"That could change if you don't mind your manners." He laughed at her look, pulled her to him for a quick kiss then let her go just before the door popped open on his floor. "Come on. My place tonight."
He didn't hold on to her as they walked, but he was close, shoulder bumping hers. He turned into his doorway, palmed open the door. She saw champagne in a bucket. A plate of appetizers like they'd had at the concert. Turning to him, she saw him shrug.
"What? I can't spoil my girl?"
"Is that caviar?"
His grin was enormous and utterly irresistible. "It damn well better be."