The sun was bright in its movement towards the beginning of the evening as Charlie looked out to the horizon as she leaned against her car. The crew had stopped at a gas station to fill up the cars on their way into the desert. Charlie had her hands in her pockets and didn't move her gaze from the horizon as Chekov walked up to her and leaned against the car next to her.
"Are you glad to see your family?" Chekov asked. Charlie nodded and smiled.
"Yeah," she answered. "Everyone's going to be there as well. I haven't seen them in a while. Not counting Josh, of course. And we finally get to hear all the details about them helping us out during the Klingon trap."
"I've been waiting to hear about that," Chekov said.
"You and me both," Charlie said. "Do you want to give Scotty a chance to drive on this last hour? I could use the time to talk."
"Sure," Chekov said. "Are you okay?" Charlie nodded.
"I just need to talk to someone," she said.
"Why don't you talk to Kirk then?" Chekov asked. Charlie sighed.
"It's about Kirk," she answered. Chekov sighed and nodded. He watched as Scotty and the rest of the crew walked up to them. Chekov turned and threw his keys to Scotty. Scotty caught them one handed and nodded. Kirk shared a look with Charlie that made her realize that he might have heard some of what she and Chekov were discussing.
She walked around the car to the driver's side and got in the car as Chekov got in the passenger's seat. The engine roared to life after she turned the key in the ignition. She turned the wheel and shifted the car into gear as she drove out of the gas station, the other two cars following.
Kirk and Scotty were coming out of the store at the gas station when they saw Chekov and Charlie talking by her car. Scotty stopped Kirk from going over, having known that it was usually best to leave Charlie and Chekov to their own devices.
"Why can't I go over?" Kirk asked.
"It's just best not to," Scotty said. "How long do you think before we're invited to their wedding?"
"What do you mean?" Kirk asked, trying to maintain a sense of composure, but also very curious as to what Scotty was seeing.
"I'm just wondering how long it'll take before they realize that they're going to get married," Scotty said. "I've never seen two people interact the way they do. When he was in the medical ward after the asteroid belt accident – which those were huge asteroids, by the way – she stayed with him for days. She wouldn't do that for anyone else, not even you, Captain. She might say that she will, but after a day she would need to get back to work to get her mind off of it. I don't think she could bear the thought of losing him."
"Interesting," Kirk said, watching the two young officers at the car.
"I've never seen her so comfortable around someone," Scotty mentioned. Kirk thought back to their interactions and when he would see her with Chekov. Scotty was right. Even when it was just him and Charlie, she still carried a hint of tension in her shoulders and the way she held her body. But with Chekov, she was the most relaxed. Perhaps that was why he felt most attracted to her when he would see her with the Russian ensign. When she laughed with Chekov, she would throw her head back and not worry about how loud her laugher was. When she was with him, she seemed to be more in control of her actions and every move was calculated. He knew that both of their stubborn natures would make them bump heads in the future and he wasn't sure if that would make for a lasting relationship.
Chekov let – no, not let – helped Charlie be who she was. Kirk didn't know if he could find himself to be angry with the young ensign. When the ship had warped into the middle of the asteroid belt, he thought that they would have everything under control. But it was seeing Chekov being thrown head first into the wall of the ship and then hitting the floor with a sickening crunch, that Kirk realized his attachment to the young ensign. He thought of Chekov as someone he could mentor and someone who would make an excellent captain in the future. He immediately jumped up from his chair to help Sulu get Chekov down to see the doctor. And he would do it again, no questions asked. Kirk even admired the nineteen year old.
Kirk followed Scotty as he walked up to the cars, probably sensing that the conversation was over. He watched as Chekov threw the keys to the car he was driving to Scotty. Kirk sighed as he exchanged a look with Charlie. She looked like she was caught with something. But Kirk was only musing on the discussing with Scotty about her and Chekov. Perhaps they would need to talk at her parents' house once they found some time to get alone.
In Charlie's car, she and Chekov were discussing her current relationship with the Enterprise captain.
"I feel so… caged," Charlie said. "I feel like I'm constantly watching out for what I'm doing. And should we get into a situation where I need to be able to think freely, I would fail. I can't do that now, not when I'm worried about how it would affect what we're doing. I don't even know if it's a relationship. It hasn't even been long enough to determine what it is. And if I'm feeling like this now, what's going to happen when or if this continues to go on? I can't do that. I can't be tied down by someone. I can't be worried about all the time. I can't be worrying about someone worrying about me all the time. I've taken care of myself for long enough. I mean we get along well enough but after the whole incident where he fought me and Scotty on the new lab for the warp core reactor I just don't know if we could survive that long."
Chekov nodded, allowing Charlie to take a deep breath.
"Maybe you need to learn to let someone else worry about you for a while," Chekov said. "Maybe Kirk is the right person to do that, but then maybe not. He could be overly protective and that could be smothering to you. If you have any doubt, you shouldn't do it."
"Yeah?" Charlie asked. Chekov nodded.
"You know what's best for you better than anyone else, so you have to make the decision," Chekov told her. "Do what you think is best."
"Stop being so damn smart for a nineteen year old," Charlie told him. Chekov chuckled a bit. Charlie took a brief moment to glance at him. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said. "Is your parents' house really going to be able to fit all of us, plus Spock and Uhura when they show up?"
"Yeah," Charlie said, full of confidence. "It's big enough." Chekov laughed.
About an hour later, Charlie turned onto a familiar unmarked dirt road off of the highway. She checked her rearview mirror to make sure that the others were following her. When she saw that they had, she concentrated on navigating the dirt road in front of her. Chekov saw the house in the distance and the few cars that were parked around it. Chekov stared at the large house in awe and was pleased to see that there was a front porch that wrapped around the entire house. As Charlie neared the house, Chekov could see someone stand up from a chair on the porch and watch as she parked the car by the others. Kirk and Scotty parked next to her. Chekov looked at those sitting on the porch and immediately recognized a few of the people there. Chekov was sure he could pick out her mother, brothers and father. Her father was the one who had stood up as they approached. Charlie turned to Chekov and sighed before she opened the door to her car and stepped out. Chekov followed suit and was delighted in seeing Charlie's mom rushing down the porch stairs to greet her daughter. Charlie and her mom walked into a wonderful hug.
"Leave your stuff in the car for now," Chekov could hear Charlie's mom saying. "We'll get it after dinner. You must be starving." Charlie smiled as she pulled back from her mother.
"I don't think we'd be able to say no to your cooking, Mom," she said. Charlie's mother smiled and then turned to greet the others that had gotten out of their cars and came to stand around Charlie. Her mother went right for Scotty, having recognized him. Scotty grinned broadly when Charlie's mother engulfed him in a hug.
"Montgomery," she said. "How are you? Are you eating enough sandwiches on the ship? I can make you one if you want." Charlie chuckled in the background. She smiled when she felt an arm go around her shoulders and looked up to see her dad there. Her dad smiled down at her and turned her to guide her to the porch. She walked up the steps with every crew member but Scotty following. If Charlie heard correctly, Scotty was letting her mom know just what kind of sandwich he wanted. The crew spread out on the large porch and looked at their surroundings. The large house in the middle of the desert seemed like the perfect place to raise a few kids and Charlie's parents had used it to its full potential. Once the crew spread around, Charlie was able to look around and make introductions.
Charlie introduced the crew to her father, Stephen, her mother, Judy, her brother, Josh, and her other brother, Andy. When Charlie finished the introductions, she turned to her eldest brother, Andy with a confused look on her face.
"Where's Stacey and the kids?" she asked. Andy looked around.
"They must be inside," Andy said. He looked toward the open door of the house and turned in his chair to yell inside. "Jackson, your Auntie Charlie is here!" Charlie looked in the direction of the door and grinned as she heard footsteps pattering toward the porch from inside. She walked toward the doorway and crouched down waiting for the onslaught.
Chekov watched Charlie's eyes brighten and she opened her arms as a three year old boy flung himself into her. She stood, picking up the small boy with her and hugging him tightly.
"Hi, buddy," Charlie said. Jackson kissed Charlie on the cheek and Charlie kissed him on the cheek after.
"Luckiest little guy ever," Scotty said, causing everyone to chuckle. Jackson laughed and then buried his head in Charlie's neck.
"What's wrong?" Charlie asked. "Are you getting shy on me now?" Jackson shook his head but kept it buried in her neck.
"Where's Stacey?" Charlie asked Andy.
"Probably in the kitchen with the baby," he replied. "Another boy. Aaron."
"Come along," Judy said. "Let's go on inside." Charlie followed her mother inside the house and breathed in deeply as she carried Jackson with her to the kitchen. Charlie could already hear her mother offer to and then start giving a tour to her fellow crew members. Charlie, not needing nor wanting to join a tour of her house, went in search of her sister-in-law, Stacey. She was rewarded when she stepped into the kitchen with Jackson still in her arms.
"Mama!" Charlie heard Jackson yell in her ear as he turned around in Charlie's arms to look in the kitchen. Charlie smiled at Stacey who was sitting at the kitchen table, feeding Aaron with a bottle. Stacey looked up and smiled upon seeing Charlie with Jackson.
"Charlie, it's good to see you," Stacey said. Charlie smiled.
"Good to see you too, Stace," she responded. "How's Aaron?" The young mother smiled proudly.
"Beautiful," she responded. "He's fantastic. A perfect little brother for Jackson."
Jackson started reaching out to his mother and squirming enough to cause Charlie to switch her grip on him and hold him tighter. Stacey sighed as she looked between her two sons.
"Charlie, do you mind finishing feeding Aaron?" Stacey asked. "I'll take Jackson for a bit."
"Sure," Charlie answered. She put Jackson down on the floor and let Stacey pass Aaron to her. She cradled the baby in her arms and took the bottle in the other hand. As Stacey tended to Jackson, Charlie began to take a wonder through the house. She swayed her upper body as she held and fed the baby. Aaron looked up at her with familiar blue eyes. All of her siblings had the same deep blue eyes.
Aaron eagerly sucked on the bottle as Charlie navigated the ground floor of the house. She walked through the dining room that was pristine and sparkling. She wandered into the formal family room and marveled at the clean shine that permeated through the room. She wandered through the formal family room, across the foyer and into the living room. The more casual room held the heart and soul of the West house. She kept going and then reached a back room that led out to the backyard. The temperature was still relatively warm. She looked down at Aaron and guessed that he was bundled up enough to step out into the backyard. And besides, Stacey would be able to see her from the kitchen anyhow. She left the door open behind her to give another clue to her whereabouts.
Charlie was standing in the grass surrounding the large pool and watching the sunset when she heard the sounds of the crew coming out of the house and into the backyard. Charlie turned and saw that each of them brought out supplies to set up an outside table for dinner. Bones and Scotty took care of laying out two table cloths over two tables that they pushed together. Kirk had napkins and plates with him and were setting them out while Chekov and Sulu followed with silverware and cups, respectively.
Charlie was finishing up feeding Aaron as she walked to the table and the rest of her family came out with dishes of food as the crew found seats at the table. She sat down on the end of a side of the table, next to Chekov and across from her brother Aaron. Judy sat down at the head next to her two children. Charlie set Aaron's bottle down on the table and shifted him onto her left shoulder. Chekov smiled and played with Aaron as he faced him. Charlie rubbed her hand in a circle on Aaron's back as she tried to get him to burp. He let out a mighty burp from such a small baby that it caused Chekov to look at him in surprise. Then Aaron began to laugh. Charlie grinned as Chekov chuckled. Charlie held Aaron against her shoulder as she dug into the fine home-cooked meal.
"Mrs. West," Kirk started before Judy stopped him.
"Please, call me Judy," she corrected.
"I can still call you 'Mum,' right?" Scotty asked from down the table. Judy laughed and nodded.
"Of course, Montgomery," she said. "What were you saying, Jim?" Kirk smiled a bit.
"I was wondering, Judy, if you and your family would like to tell us what happened while you so graciously helped us out," Kirk said. "We've been dying to know how you helped the Enterprise get home safely."
"I believe we can do that," Judy said. Everyone around the table tucked into eating their food as Judy began with the story of the West family and how they helped the Enterprise. "When we received that call from Charlie we knew that you were in serious trouble. While you didn't give all of the details upfront, Stephen and I knew you had to be in a life-threatening situation. You see, Charlie doesn't call home if she can help it. She's always so busy with that garage and working on getting things done for some of her friends. We barely get to see her on holidays let alone get calls from her."
"Mom," Charlie interjected. "The story?"
"Right. Sorry, dear," Judy said before continuing with the story. "After she talked to Stephen, we immediately called Josh as he is very versed in transporters and warp speeds. We also wanted to give him fair warning that his baby sister was most likely going to be calling soon."
"After I talked to Charlie, I started to get my shuttlecrafts ready," Stephen continued, drawing the gazes of the table to the head where he sat. "I had two fighting crafts and one transport craft. They hadn't been used in a while and we were more than eager to get them in the air again."
"You have fighting crafts and transport crafts?" Sulu asked. Stephen nodded.
"Are they registered with the Federation?" Kirk asked. Judy chuckled and smiled.
"No, of course not, dear," she said with a laugh. "Did Charlie not tell you what we do?"
"Seriously, Mom," Charlie said. "Now is really not the time to be discussing the family business." Judy just turned to her daughter and scoffed.
"Didn't you think they would find out by coming here anyway?" she asked.
"I didn't think they would be coming," Charlie muttered to herself as Kirk asked a question.
"What's the family business?" he posed to the heads of the household. Judy nodded at Stephen. Everyone else around the table was quiet, even Jackson and Aaron.
"Now, Jim," Stephen began. "I don't know how much of this you are going to like, being a high officer for the Federation and all. You guys don't take too kindly to us. We're a family of bandits. We're space pirates, if you will." Kirk nodded and saw that Charlie was watching him intently, waiting for a reaction. When the nod was all that was produced from Kirk, Judy continued on with the story.
"We got the signal to begin and we shot out of here to meet the Klingons at the approach to the atmosphere. We had Josh in contact with us the entire time and we took off to distract the Klingons. Charlie knew the weaponry work Stephen had done on the crafts was very extensive and could take out a Klingon ship," Judy said.
"How did she know that?" McCoy asked.
"She took out a Klingon ship with one of them," Judy said proudly as she looked at her daughter. Charlie smiled a small smile back to her mother.
"Judy and I went up in the fighters and easily helped with fighting the Klingons. They weren't expecting you to get any help from below so they were especially surprised when we snuck up on them," Stephen said with a chortle.
"The hardest job was getting the ship to completely disappear to surprise them with the fighters," Josh said. "I've never beamed a ship before especially when having to make sure my sister got off the ship and in one piece. It was not easy to lock onto a Federation ship without being part of the network. And then having to beam you into a place that I'd never seen before. That was exciting. I was very relieved when Charlie beamed into my studio. We had no idea how the ship turned out. We knew that it had disappeared as we got word from Mom and Dad, but other than that we didn't know what had happened to it. We were very anxious, but assumed everything was alright as you hadn't tried to contact us with any problems."
"I stuck around Josh's for a bit," Charlie said. "And we were discussing the Enterprise when he gave me the idea of rebuilding the warp cores and the reactor."
"You told me you came up with that idea on your own," Scotty said. Charlie laughed.
"Come on, man," she said. "Did you really think that?" Everyone else around the table laughed, even Scotty.
Charlie approached her mother in the kitchen and stood next to her. Judy looked over at her daughter from where she was washing the dishes and smiled. She watched Charlie for a moment. Charlie was staring out of the kitchen window at those crowded in the backyard. Aside from the sleeping Aaron, Judy and Charlie were the only two people in the house. Judy watched Charlie smile and followed her gaze to where Sulu, Chekov, Kirk, and Josh were playing with Jackson.
"Your father and I miss you all the time, you know that?" Judy asked her daughter. Charlie turned her face to her mother.
"I know, Mom," she said. "I miss you too."
"I'm surprised," Judy said. "I'm so used to hearing about you running from the police – no matter your luck – and now all I'm hearing about are your days with the Federation."
"Would you rather I was killed or in jail?" Charlie asked laughing a little. "I'm sure that can be arranged."
"With your black market friends," Judy said. "I'm surprised that you're still alive."
"Yeah, well I traded all that in for a cushy Federation job."
"Tell me more about Chekov," Judy said. "All I know is that he's Russian, a navigator, and nineteen." Charlie looked out the window again before she spoke.
"He's fluent in Russian and English, of course. He's one of the youngest officers in the history of Starfleet and knows more about advanced theoretical physics than anyone I've ever met. He also knows a lot about transporter theory and stellar cartography so he's been able to help Scotty and me out a lot in getting this ship up to maximum potential warp speed. He loves to play chess. That's mostly what we do when we're not working. He also loves vodka, but only the kind that his mother sends him from Russia. He can play the piano and composes music. As far as I know, he's an only child and his parents still live in Russia. They live in St. Petersburg. He's very good with numbers," Charlie finished with a laugh recalling a past conversation with Chekov. Judy noticed how much more alive Charlie looked as she talked about the young ensign.
"I like him," Judy said. She turned to look out the window and noticed that Chekov had glanced back at the house, possibly looking for or waiting for Charlie to come back out to the backyard. Judy also noticed how warmly her sons took to the Russian. While Judy also knew about Charlie's recent involvement with the captain of the ship from a discussion on the phone with her daughter, she thought she knew who she would be seeing around the house with Charlie when she came to visit.
"Mom," Charlie said. "Let me finish washing up. You go outside." Judy nodded and handed her daughter the sponge she had been working with. After rinsing off her hands and drying them, Judy stepped back out into the backyard and watched as Kirk tried to look casual as he headed into the house. Judy joined her husband, eldest son, and daughter-in-law at a table with Dr. McCoy and Scotty. She smiled at her husband as Stephen put an arm around her and pulled her closer to him.
Inside the house, Kirk leaned against a counter in the kitchen as he watched Charlie finish up washing the dishes. He sighed as he faced her.
"I think we need to discuss a few things," he said. Charlie nodded as she concentrated on the dish in her hand. "I can't keep worrying about you."
"I can't have you keep worrying about me," Charlie responded. "I'm sorry that sounds like I'm trying to one-up you, but it's true."
"When I think of you as a friend and a colleague, I'm fine when it comes to potentially dangerous missions that we will likely find ourselves on," Kirk said. "But if you are anything more than a friend I can't have you do anything that would just cause a scrape. I don't know why that is and I don't know if I will ever be able to explain it. Besides, you don't belong with me Charlie. Anyone can see that. In fact, everyone has seen that. Well, Scotty, at least." Charlie had stopped washing dishes and turned toward him, leaning against the sink.
"I still want us to be friends and I don't want this to be awkward," Charlie said. "I enjoy working on the Enterprise and I wouldn't want anything to complicate that, especially with you as captain."
Kirk nodded in agreement. "Exactly. But I don't want to see you dating anyone on the ship, unless it's Chekov. In fact, I don't want to see you dating anyone else unless it's Chekov." Charlie turned back to the dishes at that and laughed.
"Yeah," she said sarcastically. "I'll be sure to remember that when that happens." Kirk laughed with her and moved so he stood beside her. Charlie smiled for a bit before turning to him. "It was the skin, wasn't it? Not green enough?" Kirk nodded and laughed a bit.
"Yep, that was it." Both laughed.
Over the next few days the crew settled in around the West house. Kirk had gotten a message from Uhura saying that she and Spock would have loved to have met the West family but found the quiet of the Enterprise officers' quarters too soothing to leave. The crew had all gotten a good chuckle out of that. The days were filled with long, relaxing talks on the porch in the afternoons, playing with Jackson and Aaron, home-cooked food for every meal, and rousing card games in the evenings and into the early morning hours.
As Charlie loaded her duffel bag into the trunk of her car, she smiled. She had thoroughly enjoyed her time spent at home and kicked herself for not doing it more often. Or perhaps, she had found the right people to bring home with her when she did visit. She walked around the cars and back to the porch where everyone was saying their good-byes. She received tight hugs from her father and mother. Both asked her to come back soon and bring any of her friends with her. She hugged Stacey and cooed at Aaron for a little. Both Josh and Andy told her that they really enjoyed "that Russian kid" and that he was welcome at the house any time. Charlie picked Jackson up to say bye to him and hugged him tightly.
"Are you going to be here for my birthday?" Jackson asked. Charlie smiled at him.
"You know it," she said. She hugged him tighter. "Of course I will be." She put him down and followed her friends to their cars. Everyone was waving to each other as the members of the Enterprise crew got into the cars. Charlie sighed as she sat in the driver's side of her car. Chekov sat next to her.
"Good to be home?" Chekov asked. Charlie smiled at him.
"Yeah," she said. "It was good to be home. Let's go. We've got a lot of chess games to catch up on."
Charlie led her fellow crew members away from her childhood home and out onto the dirt road. She looked back briefly in the rearview mirror to see her family still standing on the porch, watching the cars drive off.