The Morning After by Djinn

The grass, loaded with dew, smelled like an early morning back in Iowa--a morning in the spring when Kirk had been a kid and "roughing it" outdoors. He could hear birds chirping, the gentle swish of a stream, then he heard something else: the deep exhalations of someone happily asleep under the thermal blanket with him. He realized that his backside was much warmer than his front because someone was pressed up against him. That someone also had an arm around him.

"Oh, crap," he muttered. How much had he had to drink at the crew picnic?

He rolled carefully under the arm that held him only loosely, trying not to wake his partner. His partner who was also his ship's head nurse. Her blonde hair was mussed, her mouth open a bit, her full breasts exposed so he moved the blanket back up as he said, "Chapel?" The word came out louder than he meant it to, woke her more abruptly than was probably kind.

She looked as confused as he did. "Sir?" Frowning, she peered under the blanket, no doubt discovering that yes, they both were naked. "Oh, shit."

"Very flattering, Nurse."

"I didn't mean..." She shifted to lie on her back, her arm sliding off him, leaving him surprisingly bereft. "I remember drinking tequila."

"I remember drinking McCoy's bourbon." He rose up enough to see who else was in their vicinity.

No one. But off in the distance, he could see the picnic shelter, a wisp of smoke reaching for the sky, meaning someone was probably fixing breakfast.

"Hell of a shore leave, sir." She grinned and turned a charming shade of red.

He wished he could remember what they'd done. "Are you sure we actually...?"

She nodded, the red turning darker. "I'm a bit...out of practice." She looked down, mouthing, "Sore."

He felt suddenly very solicitous of her, rolled to his side and put his arm around her. Part of him felt more than tender, and he could feel her react to the presence of Jim Junior.

"Hmmm," she said, her arm stealing back around him.

"We should get cleaned up and dressed and go in for breakfast." He realized her skin was incredibly soft under his hand.

"Separately."

"Yes."

"Yes." Her eyes were practically twinkling. "But, if we had sex last night, shouldn't we remember it? Or we'll always wonder and..." She pushed him to his back and crawled aboard.

"Uh, Nurse Chapel?" There was absolutely nothing out of practice about what she was doing, and Jim Junior groaned in that happy, well-used way that said he'd been practicing all night.

"I think, sir, that under the circumstances, you should call me something a little less formal."

Holy God, she felt good. "Chris," he murmured, drawing out the "s" as she moved. "Call me Jim," he said quickly, knowing she wouldn't unless he gave her permission, and he suddenly wanted to give her permission to do any damn thing she wanted to do.

"Jim," she said, laughing as he rolled her to her back, as he took over and made her his--at least for the moment.

They were both a lot noisier than they probably should have been. Kirk heard the sound of whistling, of someone headed for the stream, a sound that veered off suddenly, and he refused to look up to see who had just seen them.

"That was Sulu," she whispered.

He sighed in relief. Of all the people who could have seen them, he thought only Spock was more likely to keep it to himself once back on board. And Sulu was far less likely than Spock to lecture either of them for being foolish.

"He got an eyeful," she said, cuddling in against him. "I'm sorry. It was stupid and self-indulgent of me to do that and--"

He kissed her. "Don't be sorry. I'm not." Which wasn't precisely true since regret was already filling him. He'd have to see this woman. Every day, on his ship, where he did not mess around with his crew.

Where he could not mess around with her again, no matter how much he wanted to--and he could already imagine how much he was going to want to when his resolve petered out and his desire raged.

How much was he going to hurt her when he doused that desire in someone else's body?

Although...maybe she wouldn't care. It was assuming an awful lot to think one night with him was going to change her world.

She ran her hand over his chest, making him shiver as she touched down lightly. "I've made this a whole lot more complicated than it was when we woke up not remembering, haven't I?"

He smiled, charmed by how her eyes, even with her makeup smeared a little, seemed to sparkle in the early morning light. "I can't promise you anything."

"Can't? You mean won't." She seemed surprised when he frowned. "Jim, I was Jan's best friend. I know how this works. You don't sleep with members of your crew. No matter how much you might want to."

He nodded, but Jim Junior, who was pleasantly sated, woke up enough to remind him that he had, in fact, just slept with this member of his crew. "Yet, witness this." Now, why the hell had he said that?

"Witness? I'm living it." She leaned in, her warmth a sweet thing, and he held her close. Then she pulled away and said, "I'm going to do that cleaning up thing, find my clothes--which, please God, are somewhere in the near vicinity--and go get breakfast. I'll see you in there?"

He was surprised at her, had somehow expected her to cling more. Maybe because she'd chased after Spock for such a long time, which indicated a neediness--or perhaps in her case it was simply a tenacity--that outran common sense. But here she was, getting up, making "Oh, shit, this water is cold" noises, and then pulling on her clothes and hurrying off. She shot him a quick, enigmatic smile as she left.

He sighed, then got up and discovered the water was even colder than her cries had let on. He found his clothes, pulled them on slowly as his mind played back what had just happened even though he told it to stop.

She'd felt so damn good. Being inside her had been like coming home.

But he was a starship captain. He had no home. The ship was his home, his first love. One he'd deny all others to keep.

He sauntered as casually as he could back to the picnic enclosure. There were a lot of bleary-eyed people, drinking a lot of very strong coffee.

Sulu looked up as he came in, then glanced over at where Chris sat with Uhura and Bones. "Sir," he said, his voice betraying nothing.

"Hikaru."

"Hell of a picnic." There was just enough teasing in his voice to let Kirk know that this was okay with him, and that it was probably the last he'd say of it.

"Indeed it was." He tried his best not to look over at Chris as he dished up some food and got some coffee. But his feet carried him over to her of their own volition, and he found himself sitting down next to her, felt her leg press against his for just a moment.

"Where the hell did you get off to, Jim? I cracked another bottle, but you were gone." Bones wore post-shore-leave surliness with longtime ease.

"Wanted to sleep under the stars, I guess."

Bones shot Chris a look, and Kirk wondered if she'd said the very same thing.

"You know how I love to camp," he said, thinking he was probably just digging himself a bigger hole.

"Give me a nice, soft bed." Bones got up. "I need some more coffee. Damn, why can't I find my antitox?"

"He never packs it," Chris said. "Always swears he won't need it." She glanced over at Kirk. "Repeat offender."

"It's hard to resist what you like to do," Uhura said with a laugh, as she got up. "Anyone else for refills on java?"

"I'm good," Kirk said. Once Uhura was gone, he murmured, "We will resist."

"Right. Absolutely." Chris didn't look up. "I'll be sure not to drink tequila and you'll be sure not to drink bourbon."

"Because that's all it was. The drink." Although he was perfectly sober, if a tiny bit hung over, this morning. So he could not blame letting her jump on top of him and ride away as a function of too much hooch.

"I am sorry."

"Shut up, Chris." He met her eyes. They were very soft, very blue--and not very sad, which made him happy, but also nagged a bit at the part of him that wondered if he hadn't been good enough to want more of, to be sad over. "Eat your breakfast."

She leaned in, nurse to captain, sharing a secret. "I'd rather eat you."

Nothing to worry about on the not wanting front, then. He smiled, knew it shouldn't make him happy, but it did.

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

Kirk woke, happy beyond belief to be waking in his own body, not Janice Lester's. He stretched, felt muscles responding the way he was used to, felt Jim Junior making himself known. He turned his head and saw Chris sleeping soundly beside him, her dark hair still a surprise to him.

He eased out of bed, went into the bathroom, happily stood to pee. It had been so odd to be in a woman's body, and last night, when he'd finally gotten back into his body, he'd found pee on the wall by the toilet--Janice hadn't been having the easiest time getting used to a man's anatomy, either, from the look of it.

Chris was awake when he walked out. "Is this the part where I skedaddle?"

He crawled back into bed. "In a bit."

"But I do have to skedaddle?"

He took a deep breath.

"I withdraw the question." She cuddled against him. "I didn't expect this."

"I didn't, either." But she'd saved him. She'd been the person who'd allowed him to get to Spock. "How did you know she wasn't me?" Unless she'd seen Janice trying to pee? That thought made him smile.

"She didn't look at me right." Chris sighed. "Even though you've avoided me since that picnic, there's a certain way you look at me."

"Is there?" He'd have to work on that.

"Yep. And she didn't have it. And you did--I mean in her body."

"You didn't say anything."

"I wasn't sure what to say that wouldn't give me away. I figured they were monitoring you, and as long as they believed I wasn't a threat, you had a friend on the inside. So I left the glass and trusted that if you were who I thought you were, you'd find a way to make use of it." She glanced up at him. "I wasn't wrong."

"No, you weren't." He pulled her to him, kissed her. "I shouldn't have done this. Shouldn't have indulged myself."

"I think it was a mutual indulging." She smiled sadly. "I've missed you. It's odd, because you've never really been an intimate part of my life, only the captain that we all depend on. But since that morning, I've missed you, Jim, the person, the man."

"I know." He'd felt the same way about Chris the woman, wondered how he'd managed to not see her when he'd looked at the nurse. Although it seemed the night of the picnic he'd been seeing the woman just fine.

"No matter how much I like Jim the man, I know I can't have him, but I have to see him with those other women. And that's not easy. It hurts."

"They're not you. It's not that I've just moved on." He didn't want her thinking that. That he couldn't commit, couldn't be faithful. If things had been different...

"No. They're younger and prettier than I am, they're exotic and vivacious. Dangerous in some cases. I'm just Chris, the woman you don't sleep with." She looked away. "Usually, anyway. Why did you invite me in last night?"

"I wanted you. You'd saved me. The circumstances seemed exceptional." But had it been a cruel way to repay her for her help? Giving her something he couldn't keep giving, taking something he wanted but wouldn't reach for again if he could stop himself.

"I don't know if I saved you or not, Jim. I have a feeling you'd have found a way even without my help. But I do know that I need to save myself. I'm going to ask you for a transfer; I'm going to send it to you when I leave your quarters, and you're going to approve it."

"Where will you go?"

"Back to med school. Back to Earth. There's nothing here for me--nothing I can have, anyway." She pulled him down to her, kissed him almost frantically. "I've fallen in love with you, and that's the very worst thing I could have done, isn't it?"

He nodded, pulled her up onto him, their bodies joining with an ease that belied the number of times they'd been together. She rode him slowly, taking him in a way he was sure was designed to make him want her even more.

"I don't want you to go, Chris."

"I'd rather you tell me you love me."

"If I tell you that, it won't help. It won't change anything."

She nodded, seemed to clamp her lips together as if afraid of what she might say next and just rode him, hard and with a terrible intentness, and he felt as if he might explode into a million pieces as he came. She followed him, collapsing onto him, and he felt wetness on his chest that was cooler than sweat and knew she was crying.

"I do love you." He'd avoided her. He'd done his damnedest to forget her. But it hadn't helped, and he had fallen in love with her somehow despite the way he'd kept himself far away from her, despite the other women he hadn't kept his distance from. Chris was in his life, in his heart, and he could hide from her but not every second. They'd interacted. They'd been on landing parties. They'd even been to a shore leave or two together, glancing at each other from across baseball fields and crowded bars, never touching, just in counter-orbits, as if a collision would bring destruction.

But he'd never stopped watching her. Never stopped noticing who she was with, who she talked to, who made her laugh.

Who kissed her. God help him, he'd been jealous of Spock on Platonius. Wanted to punch his friend, had settled for taking Parmen out of commission. It had been all he could do to stay away from her that night. "Did Spock and you...?"

She lifted her head. "What?" She sounded betrayed, as if she couldn't believe he'd bring up Spock now.

And he knew he shouldn't but pressed on anyway. "After Platonius?"

She couldn't meet his eyes, and he felt as if she'd rammed a blade into his throat.

"You did?"

"My chime rang and I was sure it was you. And I ran, Jim. I ran to that door. And it wasn't you, and I sent him away. I told him to go away." She was angry now, her eyes flashing. "And I waited. For you. And you never came. And he came back."

"Was it good?" He closed his eyes. Why was he torturing himself?

"It was good." Again the knife, twisting this time. "And it was goodbye. To illusions. To what I thought I wanted. Maybe for him, too. A first taste, a last taste. I wasn't what he wanted, but at least he tried." She sniffed. "You didn't come, did you? You didn't come to my door?"

"I wanted to."

"But you didn't. That's your rule. You can't. And I shouldn't be here now." She slid off him. "And I don't even know why I am here, except you were so vulnerable last night you needed me. And normally you don't. Not enough to break your own rules." She rolled out of bed, pulled her uniform on rapidly, as if he'd sounded a red alert and she was hell bent on getting to her station.

"Chris. Stay awhile."

"No. Because awhile has a shelf life. And then it's back to what it was. And I could do that after one night. I could tell myself it was just a drunken interlude. But you and I were stone cold sober last night. And I can't tell myself it wasn't exactly what we both wanted. And I can't go back to pretending it's all right that we're not together."

He nodded, not wanting to, but doing it anyway, because he owed her that. Because she was right..

"I'll send you the transfer request."

"Okay." The knife had gone through him. All the way into his bed. He should be bleeding all over it. Bleeding--and it was his hand really that had pushed it in, his hand, his rules, his stupid devotion to this ship. He wanted to ask her not to go, to stay with him, to give them a chance.

Only he was the one who'd destroyed their chance for happiness, with his rules--rules he'd always lived by. She was a member of his crew.

"I'll always love you, Jim." She slipped away before he could say anything more. No last kiss, no last touch, just the words that meant everything and nothing at all.

He sighed and rolled over, could feel the vibrations of his ship, of his one, true love.

For once, the feel of his one, true love didn't comfort him at all.

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

Kirk woke to the feel of solid Earth below him. Even this many floors up, he could sense the permanence of it, could feel the immensity of the planet that supported him. He breathed real oxygen into his lungs, not recycled. Saw real sunlight coming through the blinds in his bedroom.

He was done with space. He'd let the Enterprise go. Had let her be sent in for refits and taken the desk job that went with his new rank.

Admiral James T. Kirk. A free man.

He got into the shower, relishing the sense of ration-free water. He spent far longer than he would have on the ship in the shower, letting the water get hotter and hotter, the hard stream beating on back muscles cramped from too many years in a command chair.

Why had he let that become his everything? Why had he let life pass him by?

Why had he let Chris get away?

He got out of the shower, toweled dry, and took a deep breath. No emergencies. No red alerts. No crew changes. Just this from now on. Earth. Solid. Dependable.

And no more rules.

He dressed, hurried out of his apartment, taking the stairs because the elevator took too long. It was early, even though he'd slept in. Earlier than was probably polite, but he didn't want to wait a minute more. He knew her address by heart, took the elevator so he wouldn't be out of breath when she opened the door.

She didn't open the door. A man did. A handsome man, taller than Kirk. A man in his bathrobe. "You're not from the diner, are you?"

Kirk shook his head.

"We were expecting bagels."

We. He and Chris?

"Walt, make sure they brought the salmon cream cheese. Last time it was plain." She moved into view, seemed to go very still. "Jim."

"Hi."

She was in her bathrobe, dark hair mussed--from sex, he imagined. Sex with this very tall man who wanted Kirk to bring him bagels. She seemed at a loss, and moved between him and the other man. "Walt, why don't you make the coffee?"

"For two or three?" He didn't sound happy.

She looked at Kirk, and he thought he saw her heart breaking in her eyes. "Just two."

Or maybe he was projecting. Maybe it was just his heart breaking. "I only wanted to say hello. I was in the neighborhood."

Walt gave him one last, suspicious look, then walked away.

"You should have commed."

"So I see."

"What are you doing here?"

"The ship's in for refits."

"Oh. A short visit, then?"

"Major overhaul. And I've been reassigned. Desk job." He could hear the tightness in his voice, could feel the muscles in his face freezing. "Is he important? This Walt?" His voice was bitter, more bitter than it had a right to be; it wasn't fair to do this to her, to let her do this to him--only she wasn't doing it. She hadn't known he'd be on Earth; he hadn't told her.

Damned, fucking surprise.

She looked like she was going to cry. "Walt and I are getting married."

"Good. Great. Wonderful." He laughed tightly, a mean sound. "I'm going to go now."

"Jim." She grabbed his arm.

"I know, sweetheart." His voice dipped into something beyond bitter, beyond mean. "You'll always love me."

She let him go. Backed away and let the door close in his face.

He turned and walked back to the elevator, passing a man carrying a carton. Bagels. Salmon cream cheese. Or maybe they forgot. Maybe they damn well forgot the salmon and just brought plain.

He found himself walking toward Starfleet Command, let his feet take them where they would. He ended up in the corridor Nogura worked in, the one where his office was, too.

"Hey there." A sweet voice, lilting.

He turned, saw Nogura's aide standing in her doorway watching him. She was small, curved just right, exotic. Brown eyes instead of blue. Short brown hair instead of long. Nothing like Chris. Nothing like her. "Admiral Ciani."

"Call me Lori. Please." She followed him into his office. "And I'll call you Jim."

"Will you?" He usually had to give permission. He liked that this woman was just going to do what she wanted.

"You seemed...distracted out in the hall."

"Not at all. I just wanted to see my office. What are you doing here on a Sunday?"

"The old man was in, so I came in."

"He's still here?"

"No, he left." Lori grinned. "I was about to. Since you don't have any work to do yet, maybe you could find it in your heart to buy me a drink?"

"I'm not sure I have a heart." He would have smiled if it hadn't been true.

"Well, whatever part of your anatomy is still working." She winked at him.

Jim Junior apparently thought a broken heart was an excellent reason to remind him he was still working and that he liked this young, gamine woman who looked as if she wanted to drag him home for a romp. "I could use a drink."

"Wonderful." She took his arm. "I have a feeling this is the start of a wonderful partnership, Admiral."

"What happened to Jim?"

She laughed. "I'm sure it's still a thrill for you to hear the title. I remember how it felt when I made Admiral." She moved closer, the way she tucked into him felt very different than Chris.

That could only be a good thing.

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

He woke in a biobed, signals getting louder as he stirred. "What the hell happened?"

"You fell off a mountain." Chris's voice, stern, angry even. But sitting right next to him, from the sound of it.

He opened his eyes, glanced over to be sure. A darkened room, and she was sitting in the chair beside the bed. No wife to check on him, though. Lori was gone. Even if he still had to see her every day at work. Term marriages were not all they were cracked up to be, not if the ex-spouse worked right next door.

Chris got up, ran a scanner over him. She seemed to be refusing to meet his eyes.

"Your bedside manner's still the same." He got her attention with that comment; she looked like she was going to leave. "That wasn't a dig. I meant from when you were a nurse, not from when you were..."

"In your bed?"

"Yeah." He took a deep breath, wished he could stop himself from asking, "So how is Walt?"

"Walt and I decided not to get married. He moved to Sydney a month ago."

"I see."

"I, uh..." She laughed, an embarrassed sound almost. "I chose the Enterprise over him. Isn't that a wonderful irony?" She glanced at him. "You don't seem surprised."

"I saw the crew manifest."

"Of course you did." Her tone was brittle, her head held at an angle that seemed guaranteed to let her work without having to look at him. "You don't seem amused at the irony."

He opted not to tell her that very little amused him anymore. "I'm sorry for what I said that day."

"I know." But she didn't sound like she knew.

"I mean it. I'm sorry. I was...hurt."

"I came to see you the next day. It was a nice day; I was outside your apartment. But Admiral Ciani and you were just walking up. You were laughing. Holding each other. It was pretty clear you were heading for your bedroom so..."

"Actually she preferred it on the couch."

Chris slammed down the instrument. "Damn you. I'm trying to be an adult about this. Why can't you?"

It was an excellent question. He hated the answer. He hated her for being the reason he couldn't act rational. He hated himself for making her his reason. He hated Lori for leaving him and smiling every morning as if leaving him had been nothing hard. And he hated his life and his job and that damned desk in Command.

"Your blood pressure's going up."

"No shit."

She sat back down. "That day you came over, Walt wanted to know who you were. I didn't explain it very well considering it's so simple: you were my captain."

"You told him I was your lover, too?"

"I didn't. But he guessed. Your expression might have given it away." She shook her head. "I don't think he ever fully believed that you were out of my life."

"Is that why you're not married?"

"I don't know. Is that why you are?"

"I'm not. It was a term marriage, and Lori chose not to renew." He gave Chris that--that Lori had rejected him. That he'd been left. It should make her feel good. Vindicated maybe?

But she only looked sad. "I'm sorry. You two seemed happy."

"We weren't. We just had mutual interests and good sex."

Chris didn't appear to know what to say to that. After a moment, she asked, "Is that why you were climbing alone?"

He shrugged.

"You could have killed yourself."

"Would you have been sad?" He meant it, the question, but it came out as sarcasm, and he knew it was because he didn't want to hear her say she wouldn't have been sad, that she didn't care at all about him anymore. "Would you have cried over the great love of your life?"

She stood up slowly, moved over to him. "You're acting like a son of a bitch. And right now I hate you."

"Well, we're even. Right now I hate myself, too." Jesus God, why had he said that? It was too much to give her, too much to give anyone.

She picked up her scanner and walked out of the room, leaving him alone with his festering anger.

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

He woke in his apartment; he'd been released from Starfleet Medical, had gone right to a bar rather than home the way his new doctor--Chris had taken herself off his case--had ordered. He'd had almost too much to drink, had come home and more or less passed out, and now he was waking to the sound of his chime.

He ignored it and went into the bathroom, relieved himself as he heard the chime change. Someone was holding it down, one solid stream of sound coming in. He pulled on a robe, walked out to the door, and palmed it open.

"Good morning." Chris stood, hand on the chime, an angry look on her face.

"Is it?"

She pushed past him. "You look like crap."

"Please, come in. Make yourself at home. Mi casa es su casa."

She slapped the door shut, pushed him hard against the wall, and kissed him. He thought briefly about how bad his breath must be, how much he must need a shower, then she wriggled against him and he forgot about everything but the fact that she was in his arms, and her mouth was on his, and she was making him feel things that he hadn't felt in a long time--he'd married Lori but had never loved her.

"Where is your bed?" She was pushing him in the general direction of "out of the hall," so he exercised some of that famous James T. Kirk initiative and got them to the bedroom.

"You have nefarious things in mind, don't you?" He knew he shouldn't be joking, but it felt so good to feel something light, to feel something almost like happiness. It would be happiness if he didn't know that Chris was slated to report to the Enterprise today.

She didn't seem to mind the humor, just tore off his clothes and pushed him back to the bed. She crawled on top of him, the way she had that first morning, and he moaned at the feel of her. How could one woman feel so much different than another? So much better? Sex with Lori had been great, but she had never made him feel like this. Whole. Absolute.

And now Chris was leaving him behind, taking off on his ship. She'd been right. The irony was incredible.

"Quit thinking," she said, her voice fierce in his ear, her lips kissing their way back to his mouth.

He obliged her, gave in to her, surrendered to the thing he wanted but was destined not to keep, only to have. But having was good. Having was all right.

Having was fucking terrific.

If only...

She was sitting up, arched back, groaning as she came down, and he yanked her to him, kissed her savagely. Paying her back for making him wish for things he'd thrown away. Paying himself back for not being a different kind of man.

She didn't pull away, let him roll them so he was on top, clamped down on him as he made love to her almost viciously. He met her eyes, concerned at the near brutality of their coupling, but she smiled, a strange smile, but still a smile. And she murmured, "I love you."

He slowed down, swallowed hard. She loved him. He loved her. They loved each other.

She glared at him. "Say it, dammit."

He smiled; there was a time for inner clarity and this wasn't it. "I love you, too."

She smiled at hearing it, and he kissed her and made it the best kiss he knew how to give, and he kept moving and thrusting, and soon she was gasping into his mouth, finding her own completeness as he kept kissing her, as he finished also.

"Good morning," he whispered in her ear, and she laughed, and the sound was sweet and light and filled the bedroom in a way that seemed to chase away the lingering ghosts of a wife who couldn't be bothered to stick around another year, and the woman he'd wanted all along in her place--the woman who was here now. He tried to move off her, but she wrapped her legs around him, holding him a willing prisoner.

"Okay," she said, "I get to talk now."

He kissed her, making that impossible until he felt sated, and then he snuck a few extra kisses to hold him over. "Talk away."

"I'll be on the ship. You'll be here. We're both single now. It won't break your rules if we're a couple."

"No, it won't. It will, I feel compelled to point out, be damned difficult to connect if you're on my ship." He smiled at her expression. "It is my ship and I don't care what Decker's done to it." He took a deep breath. "As I was saying, if you're out in space and I'm stuck on Earth..."

"Stuck." She let him go, let him slide off and moved so she was staring down at him. "Do you hate it that much here?"

He nodded, content to tell her the truth. What difference did it make anymore? Who was he hiding his dissatisfaction from anyway? He was cranky all the time; everyone knew he hated being chained to a desk.

She cuddled against him, her arm over his chest, her leg wrapped around his thigh. It felt like heaven. "Get a ship. Before you climb another mountain and don't survive the fall."

"Is that your expert medical advice?"

She looked at him, as if she thought he was mocking her, but he smiled at her gently, not in the hurtful way he'd done before. "Yes, Jim. It's my expert medical advice. Be happy."

"I'm not sure that's an option. But I think I can muster pretty damn content when you're around."

"You need more than that."

"I'll work on it." He rubbed her back, heard her moan as he scratched lightly. "When do you report?"

"In ten hours." She sighed. "Was it right of me to come here?"

"Oh, yes." But he felt an emptiness inside him. She was leaving. She was leaving him.

"And we can make this work?" She sounded so tentative; he hated that she seemed to believe in them as little as he did.

He forced certainty into his voice. "We can make this work."

He wasn't sure she bought it. But she went back to kissing him, and soon they were making love again.

He tried to repair the damage the years had done, making love and holding her, enjoying just talking to her, until it was time for her to go.

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

Kirk felt as if he was finally awake. V'ger was gone, taking Will and the Ilia probe with it. Or they were all one--he wasn't quite sure; he just knew whatever he had seen out there had been awe inspiring and terrifying, and he'd felt more alive than in the last few years sitting at a desk.

He'd saved them. Or Will Decker had saved them and he'd just thrust Will into V'ger's way. It didn't matter anymore. Not when he was sitting in the chair, in his chair, on his ship, with new orders and his crew all around him.

And Chris. Chris on the ship, too. He was suddenly terrifically glad he'd demoted her. She didn't work for him; she worked for McCoy. She was a member of his crew, but he could live with that. Finally, he could live with that, because he wasn't ready to live without her, not now, now when they'd survived V'ger and they were together again.

Everyone all together again.

He rose, leaving the big chair with a pang of regret. Then he smiled. It was his again. He wasn't leaving it, just surrendering it temporarily. "Mister Spock, you have the conn. I'll be in sickbay."

Spock nodded knowingly.

Kirk walked over to the science station, spoke very softly. "Something you want to say?"

"Christine and I shared consciousness, as you well know."

Kirk hated that Christine and Spock had shared consciousness.

Spock smiled, a vestige of the V'ger meld, an expression that looked so wrong on his face.

"Your point?" Kirk gave him a stern look.

"Only that it is, as Doctor McCoy would no doubt say, about damn time." His eyebrow slowly headed for the ceiling.

Kirk looked down. "You don't...disapprove?"

"They are your rules, Jim. They have never been mine. Or anyone else's, as far as I can tell."

"Thank you for your input, Mister Spock. Now, I have a doctor to go mollify."

"I am certain you can make up for the demotion." Spock's almost smile was much more in character, and much more familiar.

"I've missed you, Spock. I've missed all of this." He saw that Spock probably couldn't say the same, wondered again what his best friend had gone through at Gol, then put it out of his mind. Spock was back; it didn't matter anymore what he'd been through, what he'd been after. He was back and he was staying.

And he was fine with Kirk being with Chris.

Kirk headed for the lift, felt a spring in his step that he hadn't felt in a long time. He smiled at those who got on the lift, didn't mind the ride being slower as he got to know his new crew.

Chris was waiting for him in her office, sitting on her desk, leg crossed, arms tight across her chest. "Len told me you're staying. Do I need to put in a transfer request again?"

"It will make it damned hard for us to have sex if you do."

She beamed, and he found himself grinning like a fool.

"Unless, of course, you don't want to have sex with me anymore?"

"The hero of the galaxy? Think of the bennies of being that man's sex kitten." She laughed, a soft, easy sound that he hadn't heard for a long time.

He moved closer. "You're a lot more than that to me."

"I know. And you're not just the hero of the galaxy. You're my hero." Her smile dropped a notch. "Even if you did demote me."

"I had to. My rules are flexible, but they aren't going away altogether."

"That's why you're keeping me demoted, and I'm fine with that. That's not why you demoted me in the first place."

"I needed Bones." He tensed--was this going to be a problem?

"Do you believe in me? As a doctor, I mean?"

"Absolutely."

"As an administrator?"

"Yes." He studied her. "But he's my CMO. And he always will be. And if we can't work through that, then I don't know what else to say."

She stared at him, and it seemed she was assessing him in a way she never had before. And then she smiled, and her stern look faded. "I can live with it. I didn't want to be CMO, anyway. Decker insisted."

He sighed in relief. "You're the love of my life--Bones can't come close to that."

She smiled, moved into his arms. "That's a very good line."

"I thought so." He wrapped his arms around her, kissed her, was still kissing her when he heard a rather grumpy coughing sound from behind them. "Something you wanted, Bones?"

"You're kissing my deputy."

"Why, yes, I am. Is there something the matter with that?" He turned to look at McCoy, saw that his friend was grinning broadly.

"Nope. Not a damn thing wrong with it." He nodded to Chris. "I'll see you in the morning?"

"I'm not going anywhere," she said, as she squeezed Kirk's hand.

He smiled. She wasn't going anywhere. And neither was he.

He couldn't wait till morning.

FIN