Better Sorry Than Safe by Djinn
I'm not scared, 'cause I know there's something out there waiting for me. And I swear that I'll find it someday, just wait and see.I don't care that you call me crazy; I can't stay 'cause I need room to breathe. There's nothing left to say. Better sorry than safe. -Halestorm
"I love you," Roger murmured, as he trapped her leg under his.
Chapel tried to pull away, felt her hair tug painfully, held tight under his arm. "Let me up."
"Let. Me. Up." As soon as he let her go, she rolled out of bed, walked over to the windows, and threw them open, breathing deeply.
Suffocating. She was suffocating in here, in his love.
"Is this...is this because I'm leaving?" Roger sounded tentative, the great scientist brought to his knees by her. "Come with me, then. Christine, you know you'd be more than welcome on this expedition. You're essential."
And that was the problem. She was essential to him, and she didn't want to be. Not anymore. "I don't want to go."
He took a deep breath, his look full of the infinite patience that had first drawn her to him. "All right, then. I can see it your way. But let's not waste the time we have left."
"No." She turned to look at him. "You don't get it. I do want to go. That's the hell of it. The expedition sounds fun--the chance of a lifetime. I just...don't want to go with you."
He looked as though she'd punched him. "What?"
"I'm sorry. I thought I could do this. But I can't."
"This. Love. Relationship. Togetherness. I'm not good at it, Roger." Actually, she wasn't completely sure of that. She might just not be good at it with him.
He sat up, the covers falling off his lovely body--he was so strong, capable of keeping her safe forever. "But you are good at this. I'm happy."
And she knew he was. It was what tore at her every time she considered leaving him. That she made him happy. That she was the thing without which he thought he could not live. "I'm not happy, Roger. I'm just not."
He didn't say anything, and the open, trusting look on his face slowly turned into something closed, something angry. "And what will you do instead? Or should I ask whom? Is there someone else?"
"I'm not the one with Andrea scampering around my lab like an eager little puppy."
"Andrea is nothing to me."
Chapel laughed, the sound barely more than bitter puffs of air. "I don't care, okay? I don't care about her. And I'm not seeing anyone. I just want out."
"But...where will you go?"
She wasn't surprised he'd ask her that, and in that way. Disbelieving. Incredulous, even. She'd been with him for so long. First as his student; he'd been her professor, her advisor, her mentor, and then her lover once she graduated. It was a short step to fiance, then to husband, or so the big diamond ring on her finger said he was due to be next.
She tugged it off, set it on the dresser, and took a deep breath. "Starfleet's offered me a billet."
"A nurse. With time to finish up my dissertation. And an option to transfer to biochem once my degree is awarded."
"A nurse? When you could come with me and make history? You're going to go serve on a ship?" He loaded the word "ship" with a great deal of disdain. But not as much as he lavished on "nurse."
"It's an unconventional path. But it's what I want to do. Leonard thinks Starfleet will be good for m--"
"Leonard. I should have known that reprobate would have something to do with this." Roger got up, stalking over to her. "Is it him? Are you fucking him?"
"No. He's my friend. Just my friend." Len was her friend in a way Roger never could be. She'd never worshipped Leonard McCoy. That went a long way toward helping equality bloom. "Roger, I'm sorry. I just can't have you go off for months and think I'll still be waiting. I want out."
"Then get out." His voice was implacable, his expression tight as he picked up her clothes and threw them at her. "I'll send the rest of your things to you in the morning. Get the hell out of here."
"Not like this." But at his look, she pulled on her clothes, fighting with shoes that seemed determined to suddenly not fit.
"You don't get to say how it will be." His face was red, his eyes wild, as if he wanted to strike her, but he stood still, staring at her. "Get out, Christine."
She didn't run. But she walked very, very fast.
She heard something shatter on the door after it shut behind her. She had no doubt it was something of hers.
"Here's to cadet life." Len saluted her with his beer. "And to seeing you wear the hell out of that uniform, Chris."
She laughed and clinked her beer against his. "You're drunk. How many of those have you had?"
Len's friend Jim sidled into the booth next to her, his arm going around her. "He's had wayyyyyy too many."
She extricated herself. "I don't believe I asked to be mauled."
"I have not yet begun to maul." But his grin was good humored as he bumped her with his hip to get her to move over.
She slid farther into the booth to give him room. "Len, your friend's a jerk."
"Nope. He's not. He's a stand-up kind of guy, Jim Kirk is."
"See." Jim lifted his beer to her. "Stand-up guy. You heard it from the wise old man."
"Who the hell you calling old, kid?" Len laughed. "Old was Christine's former fiance."
"He wasn't old." But he wasn't young, either.
"I keep forgetting you're an older woman." Jim waggled his eyes at her.
She gave him her best "Not impressed, buddy" look. They'd compared birthdays the last time they'd all ended up in a bar. She was barely a year older than he was. He'd taken his sweet time making up his mind what he was going to do with his life, was older than the cadets around him. Just like she was. Just like Len was.
"So why'd you leave him?" Jim actually sounded like he cared.
"Good reason." He took a deep breath. "That's why my mom left my stepfather. That and he was kind of an ass. Your guy an ass?"
Len muttered, "Yes," at the same time she said, "No."
Jim just laughed. "I'm not sure who to believe."
"He controlled her."
"He was my advisor before we became involved." She winced. That always sounded so bad. Was there no way to make it sound okay? "I mean--"
Jim held up his hand. "I get it." He nodded as if to himself. "I had this supervisor out at the quarry and I really looked up to him. Bit of a mentor, and then it just took a turn--"
She slugged him in the arm.
"What? You think I'm kidding?" He laughed softly. "So you fucked your professor, huh, Chris?"
"That's probably not how I would have phrased it."
"Yes, I did. Wasn't for the grades, already was acing his courses. Wasn't to secure an internship, already had that locked up--in fact, people were competing for me. I did it because I liked him."
Leonard made an unflattering noise.
"Despite what Chuckles over there thinks, Roger was a nice man. He just wanted to look out for me."
"He'd have locked you up in a tower if he could have." Leonard slid out of the booth. "This round's on me because I don't want to hear old Roger's virtues extolled."
Chapel sighed. "He wasn't a bad man."
"He couldn't have been. You loved him, right?" Jim was smiling gently.
"Well then, there you go." Jim pushed an errant strand of hair off her cheek. "I bet he misses you, though."
"Maybe." Although he'd ended up taking Andrea the puppy dog on his mission, and Chapel could imagine her trying to help him erase any painful memories of his former fiancee.
"I would. If I were Roger."
"But you're not. And I don't think you could be like him if you tried."
"I'm going to assume you mean controlling rather than brilliant."
She just laughed. Leonard came back and handed out the fresh beers, saying, "Did I miss anything?"
Jim smiled at her, then looked over at Len and shook his head. "Nope, Bones. Didn't miss a thing."
"You're Christine, right?" Uhura stood in front of Chapel's table, tray perilously full. Chapel could tell she was trying to look friendly, even though their circles hadn't crossed much, and when they did, she hadn't given Chapel the time of day.
Not that Chapel had been overly friendly herself. The peril of being a high flyer--life at the top was lonely. She expected it was for Uhura, too. "Is that food all for you?"
Uhura looked down. "Oh, yeah. I wasn't sure what I wanted." She gestured at the free chair with her chin. "Mind if I sit?"
"I'm Nyota. But...don't tell your friend Jim that, okay?"
"Just kind of a game we have."
Chapel wasn't sure how she felt about that. "Sounds fun." She went back to eating.
"You're wondering why I'm here."
"Wasn't really." She knew why Uhura was here. Her Orion roommate used to screw Jim on a regular basis. Now, he wasn't seeing her as much. Uhura wanted to know if that was Chapel's fault. "He's just a friend. Tell Gaila that."
Uhura looked startled. "Wow. You speak your mind, don't you?"
"Yep." She'd started the night she left Roger and hadn't looked back.
"That's not actually why I'm here, though." Uhura laughed. "And I'm not going to tell G anything. Because I've seen you and Jim together, and you might think you're just friends, but that's not really how it looks."
Chapel pushed her tray away and stared at the other woman. "No?"
"And you know this because you're so adept at hiding your relationship with Commander Spock?"
She thought Uhura's mouth might freeze open. "I-- I mean we--"
Chapel held up a hand. "It's okay. I don't care. I won't tell. And if you want to know how I know, it's not because it's obvious. I'm just intimately familiar with the signs of a woman screwing her mentor."
"Oh." Uhura looked both angry and intrigued. "Okay. Thanks, I guess."
"So what did you want?" She smiled at the other woman. "You said you didn't come about Gaila?"
"Oh. Right. Huh--it seems so mundane now after that thrilling conversation. Anyway, I'm not doing well in biochem. I hate it, and I was told you don't hate it. So, would you be willing to tutor me?"
"Are you any good at astrophysics?"
"I aced that class."
"Consider it a fair trade, then." Chapel pulled her tray toward her and went back to eating.
"You're a strange woman."
Chapel laughed at that. "You're probably right." She eyed the three chocolate chip cookies on Uhura's tray. "Do you think you're really going to eat all of those?"
"Take one." Uhura rolled her eyes, but she seemed pleased at something approaching normal interaction.
Chapel took one and bit into it happily. "I'll see you tomorrow night, then? Study carrel fifty one?"
"You've got your own carrel?"
"Yep. Bought it off an upperclassman."
"That's not how it's supposed to be done."
Chapel just laughed. "Maybe not, but that still leaves me with the study carrel and you without."
Uhura nodded tightly as she got up, and Chapel wondered how long it would take her to secure her own ill-gotten carrel. "I'll see you at six."
"That'll be fine. Till then." Chapel finished off the cookie with gusto. She decided she liked Uhura. And not just for her yummy desserts.
"So," Jim said as he sidled up next to her in line for breakfast. "Rumor has it that you know the fair Uhura's name. You two being study pals and all."
"Rumor is wrong." She grinned at him, giving him a smile she'd never given Roger. A smile that said, "I'm lying, and you know I'm lying, and I know you know I'm lying, and isn't this fun?"
He laughed. "You're a tough one, Chris."
"Yes, well, no one's perfect." She handed him a tray as they neared the actual food. What were all these cadets doing? Inspecting the fare before they ladled it in? That way lay madness. "Get a move on, people."
"In a hurry?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. I have a seminar this morning and I don't want to be late. Genetics."
She glanced at him to see if he was making fun of her, but he seemed sincere. "Should be. I didn't think you cared about science. Being command track and all."
"I like science. Everyone thinks I don't, but I do. There might actually be peace in science."
She smiled gently. "Are you looking for peace?"
"I don't know what I'm looking for." His voice was soft, for once no cockiness or evasion. He met her eyes and smiled, a wistful little smile that nearly melted her, not least because she had the feeling it was completely uncalculated.
"Not many of us here do know what we're looking for."
"Yeah, but I've been that way all my life." He took a deep breath, slapped the back of his tray with his free hand, and said with his normal gusto. "Okay, what are they trying to poison us with today?"
She turned away, letting the moment go, which was what he seemed to want.
"Do you ever miss the freedom to just be...bad?" He was whispering, standing close.
"Actually," she murmured back, turning so they were even closer. "I wasn't very bad till I came here. So...no."
"You were the dutiful student?"
She nodded. "And then the dutiful intern, dutiful girlfriend. I guess I blew it as fiancee though." She laughed, and the sound came out a little ugly. "I've done more here."
His eyebrows went up.
"Not more people. More...things. More living."
"I feel a bit constricted." He tugged at his collar, as if to emphasize the point.
"Are you sure this is what you want?"
"No. I'm not." He smiled softly. "I was sort of...dared. I can't resist those."
"I've never had that problem."
"So, Len didn't dare you to come here?"
"Suggested. Not dared."
"And you always follow his suggestions?"
"When they don't involve weird combinations of alcohol, I do. Why?" She studied him. "Are you fishing for something?"
"I'm just curious, I guess. I room with the man; I see how many women he's with. But he's very...proprietary about you."
"He's sort of a big brother, I guess."
"That's kind of icky. Because I think your big brother wants to sleep with you."
"Len? No." She waved that thought off. "Believe me, he doesn't."
"If you say so."
"Are you asking about this for his sake? Or my sake? Or...?"
"Or my sake?" He grinned, the megawatt smile that lit up every room he was in. "Yes."
She knew she wasn't going to get any more clarity than that.
"So, you and Jim Kirk. What's going on?" Uhura stared at Chapel over the padd she was working on. Their status of study buddies didn't usually include talking about personal lives, but maybe Uhura was tired of keeping her secret from everyone. Even Gaila didn't seem to realize what was going on. Chapel had expected more from an Orion, but to be fair to the girl, she seemed to be so busy reveling in her freedom and excelling at her coursework that she didn't have time to worry about who was sleeping with whom. Even if the who and the whom were her roommate and their very senior training officer.
"Nothing's going on." Chapel smiled to herself.
"That's not a smile that conveys 'nothing' very well."
Chapel laughed. "He's...just a flirt. And I'm not as easy as he's used to."
"Yeah, he does like a challenge." Uhura smiled in a way that sort of bugged Chapel.
"Yeah. So, you and Spock--things going okay?" She saw Uhura tighten up. Sharing, apparently, was going to be one way. "Or not. Your secret. No problem."
"I'm sorry. I'm just used to hiding it." Uhura took a deep breath. "Just so we're clear, I met him before he took on our training."
"I needed a Vulcan to practice my syntax with. He was available, interested in helping. We spent hours together, using different dialects, different levels of formalities. He helped me a lot. And we became friends. And then..."
"And then more." She definitely knew how that went. "So you didn't know he'd be working with you later?"
"There are lots of instructors. I guess I didn't think they'd assign a Vulcan to that job."
"He's not the most intuitive when it comes to how people are feeling. And cadets are fragile."
Some more than others. Chapel didn't think either she or Uhura were particularly fragile. "He's a really good scientist. I know that's a stupid thing to say, him being Vulcan and all, but he's intuitive when it comes to that."
"Yeah. He's given me some ideas for directions to take experiments for my dissertation. Really helpful, out-of-the-box kind of things."
"That's good to know. Thanks." Uhura looked down.
"He gets you, though, right? He's intuitive about that?"
"Yeah. Of course he does. Great boyfriend." Uhura was clearly reaching on that last one. Her voice quivered at the word boyfriend. "I'm crazy about him, and I'm pretty sure he feels the same way."
"Pretty sure?" Chapel put down her padd. "Listen, just don't promise this guy your life or your soul or anything else that has a price down the road. Just enjoy the relationship for what it is, and then 'pretty sure' will be fine till you're really sure."
"Power of hindsight." She grinned. And sent a mental apology to Roger. He'd had his faults, but leaving her in the dark about how he felt hadn't been one of them.
"Mmmm, that was good." Len stretched out on the double lounger he'd set up on the beach. "Good damn oysters."
Chapel nestled in next to him, aware they were pushing the "just friends" concept, but too sated to care. "They were good."
"Didn't I tell you?" He put his arm around her, pulled her close. "I'm so glad you're here."
They sat for a while, enjoying the sunset and the sound of the water. Then he whispered, "If I let myself, I could get used to this."
"Yeah, I know. Roger thought we were involved."
"We are involved. Just not the way he thought." Len pulled away enough that she could see his face. "Should we be involved the way he thought?"
"I don't know."
He didn't seem offended by the answer. "Jocelyn left me a bitter man, you know that."
"I do." Truth be told, she'd never really cared for Jocelyn.
"And I've been working my way through the females."
"Are you really? Working your way through them? Because what will that leave Jim?"
He laughed. "We've divided them down the middle."
"Whose list am I on?"
"I'm not sure. I wouldn't be averse to having you on mine."
She leaned in and kissed his cheek quickly. "The point of a list is to cross off what you've done and move on. Sounds kind of empty for me. I'll stick with being your friend."
"All right." He tucked her back under his chin. "I'm used to it, anyway. Friends." He tightened his grip on her. "Good friends."
"Very good friends. So, does this mean I'm on Jim's list?"
There was a long silence, and then he said, "I don't think so."
"Oh. Should I be insulted?" Didn't he think she was pretty enough or sexy enough or--
"No, darlin'. Insulted is not what you should be." Len leaned in and whispered. "He's a good kid. You'd be a good influence on him."
"You just said I'm not on his list."
"I did. And you said lists are for crossing off and moving on. And that's not what he seems to be thinking about when he talks about you."
"He talks about me? You never told me he talks about me."
He chuckled, then groaned as she gently elbowed him. "I'm not sure how I feel about him talking about you."
She waited, but he didn't go on. "He's still working his way through that list. You have plenty of time to figure out how you feel."
He took a deep breath, let it out slow. "I don't think I'm the one who needs to figure that out."
Chapel kicked off her shoes, not caring that her roommate glared at her. Her roommate always glared at her. She wasn't sure the woman had any other look.
"You're going to pick those up, right?"
"I'm tired of you leaving your personal belongings around."
Chapel took a deep breath. Her roommate was a Kellaran, and they had an overabundant need for order. One thing out of place sent Lareez into a tizzy. But most species weren't as damn anal as Kellarans, so Lareez would just have to get used to a little disorder if she wanted to make it in Starfleet. "Toots, this is my personal space. Shared, unfortunately, with you. But personal. Ergo, my personal belongings belong here."
"There is a closet for a reason."
To stuff Lareez in when she killed her? Chapel ignored the other woman and left her shoes by the bed. The door chimed before she could start strewing other articles around just to up the annoyance factor.
"Hey. Chris." Jim was smiling as he pushed her inside and followed her.
"This is not a co-ed room," Lareez said, viewing Jim with alarm.
"Relax, I'm not staying." He pulled Chapel with him to the bathroom, then locked the door. "Do you know how to take care of this?" He pulled up his sleeve; his arm was covered with nasty, seeping red welts.
She started to laugh, despite the look on his face. "Who was she and why didn't you check for poison ivy first?"
Her eyebrows went way up.
"No he, either. It was a search and evasion exercise. I found a very good place to evade, only I didn't realize what I was crouching in." He made a face. "Please? It itches and hurts, all at the same time."
"I've got some anti-itch things, but you really should go to Medical for this." Or Len. Why hadn't he just asked Len? "Jim, why'd you come to me?"
"You were close. And I knew you'd help me."
"And I may have told Bones he was crazy that the plant in question was poison ivy. Help me keep my secret?"
She rolled her eyes, then dug around in her supply case until she found the anti-itch relief spray. "This is going to sting."
"Just do it."
She sprayed it on, coating the area, then watching it dry to a nice seal. "Anywhere else?"
He lifted up a pant leg and she took care of the small area underneath.
"All things considered, you got off easy. Good thing there wasn't a she involved."
"Agreed." He sighed in what was clearly relief.
She gave him the container of spray. "If it starts itching again, give it a good spray."
"Thank you." He leaned back against the counter and smiled at her. "Your swell roommate is going to wonder what we're doing in here. Should we give her sound effects? Maybe a groan or a moan?"
"I don't think so. She dislikes me enough as it is." She studied him, arms crossed as she leaned against the wall. "So, is she on your list or Len's?"
"Of the women you two are working your way through."
"That's it. Bones is out of the manly-man club for spilling secrets." Jim laughed. "There's no list, Chris. I'll admit that if I see something I like, I don't strain myself not reaching for it. But there's nothing so systematic as a list." He pushed up from the counter, moved toward her. "Were you jealous?"
He played with her hair. "Not even a little?"
He moved closer and then stopped, watching her as if he could see inside her. "Roger must miss you a lot."
She swallowed hard, unnerved suddenly by how close he was.
Then he moved closer, his body pressing against hers. "I really like you."
"I really like you, too."
Lareez suddenly pounded on the door. "I need to use the bathroom. Please finish whatever you are doing and get out."
Jim laughed. "God, I don't envy you." He pulled her after him as he unlocked the door and nearly barreled Lareez over. "Sorry, we're in a hurry. Happy hour's almost over."
Chapel giggled as she followed in his wake, pulled by his hand and the force of his smile.
"Cadet Chapel." Commander Spock looked distinctly ill at ease. Had Uhura told him that Chapel knew about their little affaire de coeur?
"Sir, what can I do for you?"
"I wish to gather information of a personal nature. About a friend of yours."
"Oh." This was different. "Which friend?"
"His name is Kirk."
"What's Jim done now?"
The look on Spock's face told her Jim had done something very, very bad, but he didn't spill over with truth the way she wanted him to.
Feeling on shaky ground, she took a deep breath. "I mean, sir, what can I help you with?"
"I think your first statement was more apt, Miss Chapel." Spock began to pace, something she'd never seen him do in the lab. "I know that you are familiar with the Kobayashi Maru test."
"Failed it last week."
"There is no pass or fail. It is a test of character."
"Tests generally are pass/fail. How about calling it an evaluation of character? Evaluations are much more forgiving."
He gave her an odd look, then nodded. "An excellent suggestion."
"I'm full of them." She waited for the part of this that involved Jim.
"Has your friend Kirk talked about the test to you?"
"It's against the rules to talk about the test, sir. It's against your rules, unless I misunderstood."
"Nevertheless, has he talked about it?"
"No." But he'd been hiding something. She knew him well enough by now to know when he was up to no good, and he'd been wearing the "fox in the henhouse" look for days.
"If you are involved in any way..."
"Involved in what?"
Spock studied her for a long moment, then nodded, as if satisfied. "It gratifies me that you are not. You are an excellent scientist and would be well served to stay far from Cadet Kirk."
"Stay far away from him? You don't like him, sir?"
"Like is an emotion, Cadet. Any judgment I have as to the man and his character is professional and logical."
She might believe that emotion wasn't an issue for him if she didn't know he was screwing her study pal. She didn't think logic entered much into that, given Uhura's seeming contentment with their sex life--not that she ever gave any details, but a woman got a certain look if she was happy in bed.
"Of course, sir."
She waited for him to leave, and then she commed Jim to warn him that whatever he'd done had riled a certain Vulcan trainer. As she expected, Jim didn't seem very surprised.
Steam and smoke filled the corridor as Chapel tripped over the wounded who'd found their way to sickbay on their own power. Cadets were bringing others more seriously hurt, dragging or carrying their peers.
"What the hell happened?" she asked one of them.
"I don't know." He looked like he might be hurt and not know it, so she took a discreet reading of him. No injuries, just shock.
Well, who the hell wasn't in shock? They hadn't even been commissioned yet--one minute she was in an assembly watching Jim get dressed down for cheating and the next moment she was on the flagship in some kind of war.
"Nurse Chapel!" she heard Len bellow from inside sickbay.
"Need you in here."
She looked over the wounded, unwilling to leave them but Len wouldn't call her unless he needed her, so she picked her way as fast as she could back to his side.
"I called you five times," he muttered as he handed her a scanner and pointed her to a female cadet lying on the biobed.
"I didn't hear you." She snuck a glance at him--was he okay?
Blood smeared his uniform, but it didn't appear to be his blood. His eyes were angry, not haunted, not lost.
"I'm the new goddamned Chief Medical Officer. How's that for stupid?"
"You'll be good at it." She hated how patronizing she sounded, so she went back to work and didn't try to make him feel better.
Hours and many patients later, she felt a hand on her shoulder. "We've done everything we can, Chris. Have to just wait it out now."
She nodded and put the scanner down.
"Want to hear something else that's funny but not. My last trip to the bridge, I found out Jim had been jettisoned."
"You think that's funny?"
He held up a hand. "No, that's not the funny part. Jim's back. Not sure how. And he's the captain."
"Jim's the captain? Jim, the cadet whose ass is in so much trouble it may never catch up with the rest of him, is the captain?"
"Yes." He shook his hands out, as if they were cramping. "Temporarily, naturally. But still, he's our fearless leader now."
"Relieved. Emotions over Vulcan." He saw her look of incomprehension. "Another thing I'll fill you in on later. Long and short of it is that my roomie is now in charge of all of us."
She wasn't sure how she felt about that. Jim was great and everything to hang out with. And very smart. But...in charge? "Are we all going to die?"
"We sure as hell better not. Or Jim and I are going to have words."
She smiled and followed him to his office, one of the few places left with room to sit. Jim was in charge and they were probably all going to die, but she was exhausted and who knew when the next batch of patients would be in? She put her head back, let her eyes close, and promptly fell asleep.
The crew, wounded and tired and maybe still a little scared, was in full celebration mode when Chapel and Len hit the officers club.
"Ah, terra firma, how do I love thee, let me count the ways." Len was stomping happily and Chapel laughed.
"Well, it's about time you two got here." Jim slung an arm over both of them, pulling them in close. He kissed McCoy on the cheek--a silly little peck that made him look a lot more tipsy than Chapel supposed he was--then he did the same for her, only his lips lingered a lot longer. "My two favorite people."
"Since you and Spock saved our lives, you're on my list of favorite people, Jim." Chapel looked around, saw Spock in the corner talking to Uhura. They looked as if they were the only people in the world.
"Her name's Nyota," Jim murmured.
"I know. How'd you find out?"
He smiled. "I've known for a while. You don't break into Spock's computer program without going through a few cadet databases on the way."
She laughed. "So why did you keep asking me if you knew?"
"Wanted to see how discreet you were. And you're very, very discreet." He gave her a scorching look.
She gave it right back.
Len coughed. "Get a room, you two." Then he extricated himself from Jim's arm and headed for the bar.
"So." He was smiling at her in a way that was making her heart beat faster.
"This may be my last night as a free man. I'm still accused of cheating. I pretty much stole the ship out from under Spock. I may end up in the brig for the rest of my natural life." He looked for a moment like this was not a surprise.
"No." She moved closer, smoothed his hair back, didn't care who saw her do it. "No, you won't spend the rest of your natural life in the brig."
"Something like that." She smiled gently. "Brilliant, gutsy people get breaks the rest of us don't. It's not always fair, but it's pretty standard."
"You don't think you're brilliant and gutsy?"
"I'm very smart and somewhat brave."
He laughed. "And beautiful. Don't forget that one, because I sure as hell don't."
"Why, thank you, Jim." She took his arm. "Alcohol awaits."
"By all means, lead on."
Len smiled as he saw them coming toward him. He raised a glass in toast to Jim and threw the amber liquid back, then sighed in what looked like utter contentment.
"I owe everything to Bones, Chris. Everyone does. If he hadn't been willing to smuggle me on..." He grinned and laughed. "Thank God he's the rebel he is. Anti-authoritarian, plain-talking--"
"Curmudgeon." She laughed. Even at his not-so-advanced age, Len fit the bill.
"Curmudgeon, yes, perfect word." He leaned in and kissed her quickly on the lips. "And I am going to buy you and my favorite curmudgeon some very pricey drinks."
And she was going to let him. Who in their right mind would turn down free expensive hooch? Or time with Jim?
The buzzing of the chrono competed with the chiming of Chapel's comm system. She aimed in the general direction of both, managed only to turn off the ringing time alarm. Another swipe took care of the comm system, audio only since she had no idea what state she was in after the wild "Didn't die on our first cruise" night. "Chapel here."
"Kirk here. You okay?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" She searched the drawer in her bedside table for some antitox. "Where are you?"
"Well, not in your bed, obviously."
"Obviously." She glanced over to see Lareez sleeping happily despite the multiple loud sounds. The woman was a good roomie in that respect.
"How is your bed, by the way?"
"Small. Built for one. And still calling to me. What do you want, Jim?" There--she snapped two antitox out of their container and popped them into her mouth to dissolve under her tongue.
"Be sure to make the assembly."
Her comm unit lit up suddenly with news of an all-hands. "Oh, that assembly. Something good, I take it?"
He chuckled and she smiled hearing the sound. "Just be there, Chris."
"You know I will." The connection went dead and she took a deep breath then rolled out of bed and got ready for the all hands.
"Why are you up so early?" Lareez mumbled.
"Assembly at oh nine hundred."
"If I knew that, I wouldn't be a cadet." Chapel tossed Lareez a nutritional bar. "No time for breakfast."
Lareez sat up and began to eat the bar. "Your friend did well. He didn't get us killed."
"He sure didn't." Although some had died. A whole planet had died. But that hadn't been Jim's fault. If anyone's, it was Spock's. The Spock of the future. Only not their future because they'd all changed in certain ways. Shit, this was confusing. Jim had tried to explain it to her, but it made her head hurt.
"I have decided that I like your friend."
"I'm sure he'll be thrilled." But Chapel found herself smiling at Lareez. Even annoying roomies seemed less aggravating after a rousing game of "Kill me if you can." She wound her hair into a loose bun and left the room, heading for the auditorium.
"Miss Chapel?" A harsh voice, rasping across her nerves like nails on a blackboard. Feeling a shiver, Chapel turned. A Vulcan stood watching her. It took her a moment to realize it was Spock. The older Spock. The one that wasn't from their time, their reality.
He smiled gently and she nearly dropped the padd she was carrying. She'd never seen Spock--her Spock--smile before. "It is good to see you, Christine."
"Uh, okay." He was definitely checking her out. It was unnerving as hell. "I mean, yes, sir?"
"This is confusing for you, I realize. For myself, as well, I must confess. I never knew you like this. So young. So...free." It seemed for a moment as if he might touch her, then he took a step back. "Jim Kirk is very fond of you."
Jim had told her about the meld Spock had done with him. It had never occurred to her that there might be things about herself in Jim's mind, or that Spock would care--why did Spock care?
"In this reality, sir, you are not in a position to notice how Jim regards me."
"Yes, I know. In this reality, I am otherwise engaged." He took a deep breath and then met her eyes; there was something unspeakably sad in his. "That may not always be the case, Christine."
"I know you're not asking me to wait for you--for him. Are you?" Before he could answer, she laughed. "Because I don't know that I like him that way. He's a good lab advisor, but..."
"But he is no Jim Kirk?"
"Bingo. And no Len McCoy, either, for that matter." She moved closer, saw him react to her. "What was I to you?"
"My Christine was everything to me. At one point in my life."
"And hers." Could this guy hear himself? Was it all about him? "I'm sorry, sir. But I have an assembly to get to."
He stepped aside. "It was good to see you again, Christine."
"Right. Same here." Feeling very confused, Chapel hurried off.
Len was waiting for her at the entrance to the auditorium. "You all right? You look funny."
She glanced back but couldn't see Spock--the other Spock--anywhere. "I'm fine." But she had serious doubts about her doppelganger in the other universe. Was she fine? Or was she long dead--or no, probably not, because now wasn't the future, and Spock was from a different reality, but this was still the only reality she'd ever known and--
Shit, this made her head hurt.
"Drinks, my lovely, lovely friends, are on me." Jim kicked his feet up on the table and motioned a server over. Sighing happily, he glanced around the bar. "I got beat up here. The night I first met Pike. Seems a lifetime ago, now."
"It was a lifetime ago," Len said, rescuing a lonely bowl of peanuts from a nearby table. "We were different people then."
Chapel rolled her eyes. "You haven't changed that much, boys. You still pull your uniform pants on one leg at a time."
Jim smiled, that goofy half-cocked grin that was as sardonic as it was amused. "I will master the two-legged pull eventually."
"And we'll say we knew you when." Len was watching Spock and Uhura in the corner. "Never thought I'd see that one in here."
"Never underestimate the effect of the fair Nyota."
Chapel frowned, trying to determine just how much interest Jim really had in Uhura. "She is pretty."
"Pretty?" Len snorted. "She's goddamned stunning. I'd like a piece of that myself."
"Thank you for sharing. And the drinks haven't even begun to flow yet." Chapel could hear the tartness in her voice, saw Jim watching her with a knowing glint in his eye. "Smart. Beautiful. She has it all."
"No, she doesn't," Jim said, his grin growing more lopsided. "She doesn't have me."
"Even if she wanted me..."
She met his eyes. "Even if she wanted you what?"
"Well, she might have to wait until someone else got done with me."
"Oh, you're with someone now, are you?"
"With isn't the word I'd use just yet, but give it time."
"If you beat around those bushes any harder," Len said, as he took his bourbon from the waitress, "you might fall in. Jesus, I've never met two people less able to say, 'Hey, there. I like you. Do you like me? Let's do something about it.'" He downed his drink.
Chapel started to laugh, and Jim nodded as if in concession. "Bones, you make a good point."
"Damn straight." Another drink went the way of the first. "Chris isn't going to wait for you forever."
"I'm not waiting now, Len."
"Shut up. Don't ruin my story." Len's grin took any sting out of his words. "She's got other men watching her, you know. Smarter, older, wiser men."
She laughed softly. "Also arrogant and vain men."
"Them, too." Len stroked her cheek, his touch unaccountably gentle. "I'm giving her to you, Jimbo. I'm letting her go."
"Len, I'm not yours to let go."
"What did I say about not ruining my story?" He got up slowly. "I believe that the bewitching young Gaila is beckoning for me to come join her."
Chapel looked over; Gaila was making a come-hither gesture, and it was clearly not to either Jim or her. "Never let it be said we stood in the way of true lust."
"Amen to that, my dear. Jim, Chris, enjoy your evening." He tipped an imaginary hat and walked away.
"Long dance we've done here."
She nodded slowly, finding it difficult to pull her gaze away but also unnerved by the intensity of his look. "You're my captain now, aren't you?"
"That I am."
"Doesn't that mean no fraternization?"
"I'd ask my first officer about that--as I'm sure he's up on the regs--but sadly..."
She laughed. "Not the font of information you might want in this case."
"You know about his relationship with...?"
"You are discreet. I do like that."
"She's my friend. Sort of." She frowned. "I mean..." Hell, what did she mean? "Medical is independent. That's what Len says."
"You can relieve me, after all."
"Well, I can't, but a doctor can." She looked down. "I won't always be a nurse."
"Let's deal with that when we come to it?" He leaned in. "There never was a list. I wasn't kidding about that. But there were a lot of women."
"I'm tired of women plural. I'd like woman singular."
"I'm sure there's one out there for you." It was hard to hide her grin.
"I deserve that." His smile was not hiding any better than hers. "So, woman singular, do you want to get out of here?"
"And go where?"
"Well, the way I figure it, Nyota will be with Spock, who rooms alone, which means Bones can have Gaila to himself in her room, and that means I have our room to use for nefarious purposes." He stepped around, held her chair for her as she got up, leaned in and whispered, his breath hot on her ear, "For the whole night."
She shivered and followed him out. He took her hand as they walked, not trying to hide the movement at all, seeming to go out of his way to make it very apparent.
She saw Uhura smile as they went past, and she smiled back in a way that lacked their normal tinge of rivalry.
Jim led her to a maintenance shed, left her standing for a moment, then was back with some keys, which he plugged into a motorcycle. "Get on."
"Get on? We don't need that to get to your quarters."
"You're right. But we do need it to get to my home. My mom's kind of a piece of work, but I'd like you to meet her."
Chapel looked down, more touched than she wanted to let him know.
"If you want to. We don't have to go." Jim sounded suddenly unsure, as if he'd overstepped.
She walked over to him and kissed him long and hard on the mouth. He pulled her down so she was lying half across his lap, and they kissed for a very long time. She could tell a lot by the way his mouth moved over her, by the way his tongue met her own, by the way his hands moved up and down her body.
The rumors weren't overselling the man. This was going to be damn good sex.
But there was something the rumors couldn't capture, and that was the sweetness as he rubbed her back, as he straightened her shirt when he finally let her back up. This was going to be a lot more than just damn good sex.
She got on the bike behind him and put her arms around him. "Let's go, then."
She could hear him laughing, even over the sound of the bike. Closing her eyes, she leaned into him and held on, trusting him to get them where they needed to go.
She had a feeling she'd be doing a lot of that.