1.

The first semester he arrives at the Academy, he does his best to adjust to his surroundings. He strives to go to class most of the time, complete his homework, and party as much as humanly possible. The last part means that he does stand out some, but he can hardly complain about the notoriety that accompanies him. He'd rather be infamous for something he does than for what his father did.

It's a normal Saturday night by James Tiberius Kirk's standards. There's a party to go to, Bones to drag along, nubile young cadets to flirt with, and feels to be copped. It's an off-campus party thrown by an upper-classman who'll be commissioned in a few weeks, so it's packed with everyone from cadets to students from Berkeley and other area universities.

There are girls he's slept with and girls he hasn't slept with, all of them smiling at him and winking and looking gorgeous, but Bones keeps steering him onward, to the makeshift bar in a corner of the room.

He nurses a whiskey and makes small talk with Bones when he sees her: blonde and curvy and dressed in a tight black dress and he can't not ignore the protestations of Bones. He knows he's a first-year cadet, but she doesn't know that. He knows she could be a fourth-year, might not even be a cadet, but he doesn't really care. She's hot, and it's Saturday night, and he's been a really good boy for the past few weeks. It's almost like Christmas has come early (but then again, he thinks that every week).

"Hey," he says. Her eyes flick down to her drink and up to his face.

"Hey. Any chance you're going to refill this for me?" She bites her lip innocently, but it's not so innocent, not with those eyes.

"I suppose I could do that much – what are you drinking?" he asks, taking it away from her. Their fingers touch and she laughs.

"Vodka tonic, make sure to add a lemon."

He returns with her drink, and a refill on his, and she stops and twists the lemon into the drink before taking a sip. They make eye contact, and she smiles and he smiles and other than that, they don't speak.

They end up groping in a stairwell, oblivious to the partygoers who protest and then climb over them to get more drinks or use the facilities. Her breasts fit perfectly in his hands, and she seems to like the way he kisses her. It's going blissfully well until there's a mad scramble over them and then Bones is there.

"Damn it, Jim, there's a fight going on in the back and we're getting out before you decide it's a good idea to get involved."

He has never hated Bones more than he does at this very moment.

The girl untangles herself from him and wipes at her lipstick on his face before standing up and straightening her dress. Bones hauls him up by the arm and pulls him out of the house before he even has the chance to ask for her name. As Bones tugs him into the streets of San Francisco and the cold burst of marine air, he glances back into the party, but she is already gone.

2.

"I need you to go on a double-date with Marlena and me," Gary Marshall asks one day after class. "Marlena won't go out with me again until we find a date for her best friend too. Something about sisterhood, but all I can think is cockblocking."

"Is she hot?" Jim asks, because, while he's not a fan of double dates, he is a fan of women. Especially those who are hot.

Gary whistles. "Damn straight."

"So is she Vulcan or something? Does she lack a personality? Why is it you need to find a date for her?"

"Nope. Too busy to find herself a date. Lab technician. Blonde. A damn workaholic - total opposite of you. Maybe some of her work ethic will rub off on you."

"I have a work ethic," Jim protests. "Maybe some of me will rub off on her." Gary hits him but, Jim knows, his friend had him hooked at 'blonde' because, really, he's got sort of a thing for them.

"Why me? Why not Bones or someone else?"

"I think you two might get along." Gary drains his glass. "Marietta's. 7pm on Tuesday. Wear anything but your cadet reds. A tie would be nice."

Jim arrives at Marietta's five minutes before Gary and Marlena, who is a petite redhead with an amazing rack. Jim's respect for Gary grows.

His date arrives five minutes late.

The blonde lab technician in question is not too tall –well, about his height in heels. She is gorgeous, and Jim wonders what's so damn wrong about her that she can't get a date. Curves in all the right places, brilliant blue eyes, and when she smiles, his blood starts the gradual migration from his head to other parts of his anatomy which are more than happy to receive said blood.

Her name is Carol, and she's a doctoral student at Berkeley studying microbiology. She is also strangely familiar.

They start with drinks, and when she orders a vodka tonic and twists the lemon just so he realizes how he knows her. As Gary and Marlena flirt on their side of the booth, he leans towards her. Her hair brushes his nose, and he realizes she smells really, really good.

"We made out a party," he tells her. "About two years ago. In a stairwell?"

"Oh my god, I thought I knew you," Carol says with laugh. "I never got your name. Your friend hurried you out the door because he was afraid you were going to throw down for the sake of throwing down."

Jim laughs. "He knows me too well."

"I thought I was doing a decent job of distracting you," Carol teases, and there's something about the way her lips quirk upwards that makes him realize why he walked across that crowded room when there were plenty of hot girls wearing far less clothes than Carol.

He likes the clever ones.

"I think we needed more time to sufficiently test that hypothesis," he tells her, edging closer. She doesn't seem to mind when he slips his arm around her back. She runs her fingernails along the inside of his thigh underneath the table.

Carol glances across the table, but their friends are not paying any attention. "We've got all night, and I'm a damn good scientist," she says as signals for their waitress to bring them another round of drinks.

Carol is apparently a genius in the laboratory and in the bedroom.

Unlike a lot of the girls he picks up at the Academy, Carol knows exactly what she likes, and tells him with words and gestures, like the way she threads her fingers through his hair as he kisses his way from her breasts to areas further south. She's good with her hands, too, and he likes that. He likes everything about this encounter, from the foreplay against her front door to the post-coitus cuddling. He normally doesn't even like cuddling, but his hands don't really want to leave her body for longer than necessary.

The next morning, after a mutually-enjoyable joint shower, they make their way downtown to breakfast at a small restaurant that serves amazing pancakes.

"Last night was fun," she says, when his mouth is full of pancakes. "But I know that you've got exams and I've got exams and as fun as that was, I don't really have time for a relationship." She takes a sip of her tea and tilts her head to the side. The light shining in from the window highlights each and every fleck of gold in her hair. "But don't be a stranger, okay?"

"Absolutely," Jim says, mentally storing this information away while at the same time thinking of a date, three weeks from now, when he's done with finals and has absolutely nothing to do.

Two weeks after their date, he hacks the Kobayashi Maru simulation and Vulcan issues a distress call, and it all goes freaking pear-shaped.

3.

The Enterprise sustains enough damage to merit at least two months being repaired, which gives them enough time to sit through debriefing sessions and finish up the remaining classes of the school year before commissioning. Commissioning itself is a blur of congratulations and champagne to him, though he remembers the tears that glimmered in the corner of his mother's eyes all too well.

He spends a lot of time in meetings with Pike, or traveling up to see how the repairs are going, or filing out various forms in triplicate so that he can get the best crew possible. In the midst of all this work, he tends to ignore his messages – partly because if anyone really needs him for something, they'll come and physically get him, or also because there's only so many "way to go, champ, for saving Earth!" calls that even he can stand. So it takes him two days to get Carol's message.

"Hey there, stranger. Heard you did a good deed for the Federation. Any plans to celebrate in the near future?"

He calls her back almost immediately, the memory of her body wrapped around his providing momentum.

He invites her to meet up for some drinks with Bones and Scotty, because it's not exactly a date, and he thinks she would get along well with them. And he's right: Carol doesn't need Jim to introduce her, but he does anyway, and soon the four of them are sitting in a booth, deep in conversation. Or, rather, Bones and Scotty seek to simultaneously amuse Carol at Jim's expense, telling in full detail the entire (unclassified) events of the trip to Vulcan and back. Carol is incredibly amused.

"I've never seen a woman listen to Scotty so patiently besides one of those engineering types," Bones tells him as they get more drinks at the bar.

"And she listened to your hospital stories too," Jim points out. "So at what point am I actually going to get to talk to her, or are you both going to monopolize her for the entire evening?"

"Try and stop us," Bones says, collecting the drink tray.

"Hey now, you already stopped me from getting with her two years ago, I'd rather you didn't try again," Jim tells him. It takes Bones a minute to recall where he saw Carol but when he does remember – "that off-campus party your first year!" – It's worth it.

"Sorry now?" Jim asks.

"Sorry I didn't steal her for myself," Bones responds, carrying the drink tray back to the table.

Eventually, there is a limit to Carol's patience. She threads her hand through his and whispers, "Your friends are nice but I'm not here to hang out with them." Her lips brush against his neck and he can't help but shiver.

They leave the bar and wander down near the waterfront. He wonders if he should hold her hand but instead, she reaches for his arm and their shoulders brush as they walk. He tells her about Vulcan, and about the Romulans, and tells her about his father and the Kelvin. He never talks about his father, and maybe it's the alcohol or maybe it's just the aftermath of everything. It's one thing to tell it to someone who experienced it, like Bones or Scotty. It's another to share it with someone outside of it all, and he finds himself pausing every so often because the words don't seem right. Whatever he's saying can't possibly explain what happened the way he wants.

"Sometimes there aren't words," Carol tells him. "I don't think witnessing any of that could possibly be described with our vocabulary."

"It's a lot," he says. "It's not just that. It's responsibility and attention too." Suddenly everyone is looking to him for something: Starfleet and his crew, for leadership; the media, for a golden boy; ladies, for the hero. It's frustrating to be so many things to so many people.

"You can't be more than who you are," she whispers, slipping an arm around his waist and nestling herself into the crook of his arm. He likes it.

Unlike their first night together, this time is slower, and so much better. He has an idea of what Carol likes and she doesn't have to tell him much, so that's an improvement. He enjoys getting lost in her, not because he just wants to get lost but because he enjoys her.

She makes him breakfast the next morning, complete with coffee that tastes real and not freeze-dried.

"So what are your plans?" she asks, sipping her own mug of tea. Earl Grey. He makes a note, for future reference, even though he's not the sort to make future plans at any given point.

"Five year mission," he says. "Exploring the deep dark emptiness of space." He takes a gulp of coffee, swallows it. His eyes trace the paisley swirls on her robe. "Not a lot of chance that I'll be back here for a while." He pauses. "Any chance your research includes travel?"

Her eyes sparkle from over her mug. "We'll see," she says, her mouth turned upwards in a smile that he thinks could mean yes definitely a good chance.

He invites her out a few more times, and she invites him over several times before the Enterprise is fully repaired and ready to leave. He gives her information how to reach him in space – "So you can let me know when you finish that doctorate" – and kisses her goodbye for longer than he normally would. He rationalizes it by thinking that Carol Marcus is a rarity – a woman who doesn't need constant reassurances that she's pretty and smart, and who knows exactly what she wants whether it's men, sex, or a relationship. He likes that about her, and doesn't want to give up on what could be a beautiful non-committed relationship.

4.

"Finally got that doctorate," her message says. "When are you taking me out to celebrate?"

He is more than willing to oblige, but it takes the better part of three months to arrange for a rendezvous. There's a run-in with the Klingons, and a quick brush with a group that calls themselves the Collective. It's total chaos for far too long and by the end of it all, everyone is begging for a break.

Carol is on a conference circuit presenting her new theories on microbiology and, from what he understands, life itself. Her biggest conference is a Federation event on Betazed, which attracts the attention of several of his crew, including Spock. Choosing the planet for shore leave is almost a given.

He tells Spock that he'll be gone for two days, giving most of the crew time to attend the conference while the ship has some minor engineering repairs done in spacedock, and that he'll be with an old friend from San Francisco. He gives her name, just in case.

"Doctor Marcus is making quite a name for herself recently," Spock says. "It is a shame we will arrive after her presentation."

"I'm sure she'd be willing to speak with you," Jim offers but only half-heartedly; as much as he loves his crew, he's selfish and eager for time away from them. When he contacted Carol about the arrangements, she told him she was planning on staying for a few extra days after the conference and renting a house on a nearby lake.

"I am certain she will be just as eager to avoid discussions," Spock tells him. "I will have to entertain the idea another time."

Jim likes the prospect of another time. Carol always said to never be a stranger, and he's tried his best to remain in contact. It's nice, having someone to talk to who's not involved in his daily life and who's a good listener. Their communication is few and far between – several times a year, at the most, but they're both busy people. Regardless, other than his friendship with Spock, Bones, and Christopher Pike, this is the longest relationship he's maintained and he's proud of himself for that.

Bones gives him a reasonable dose of hell when he learns Jim's plans for shore leave.

"You sure do go to a lot of effort for her," he tells him.

"There are some things in life that are just unexplainable," Jim says. "Carol Marcus is one of them."

The shuttle ride from the Enterprise to the surface of Betazed is brief. Their arrangement is to meet in the lobby of the convention center. Carol's presentation was earlier in the day, and she mentioned having no other plans.

He likes to think she enjoys his company as much as he enjoys hers.

When he enters the lobby of the center, bag slung over his shoulder, he is swamped by science officers and other Federation officials who want to say hello to Captain James T. Kirk of the Enterprise. Even in civilian clothes, he is still recognized. He knows he's famous, but never has he wanted to be anonymous. Just as the hand-shaking and introductions get tedious, the crowds seem to part and Carol appears.

She's wearing a white dress that falls to her ankles and shows off her tan. Her hair is pulled back from her face, and gleams in the light of the lobby.

"Captain," she says, "I'm so glad you could meet me here."

Just as the crowd seems to part for Doctor Carol Marcus, genius of the Federation, it just as easily drifts away. There are murmurs of luck on both their sides, and she bites her lip to keep from smiling too widely.

"You look amazing," he tells her. She laughs.

"Of course you'd say that after too many months trapped in a tin can with the same people." But she hugs him nonetheless.

"Look at you in your civvies," she says, running her hand down his arm. "It's strange not to see you in full Starfleet regalia. You look nice."

"And you are freakishly tan. How do you have so much time to sit out in the sun and still get work done?"

"I took a looooong vacation," she says, slipping her arm through his, "after all my work was done and before I had to start this dog and pony show. I went to the Caribbean and stayed there for a month. And I try to make time on Sunday to relax. There's a reason I got a lake house."

"Tomorrow's Sunday," Jim says absentmindedly.

"I hope you've brought your swim trunks," she says. "Not like I haven't seen it all before, but it would be a shame to get burned in certain places. McCoy would never forgive me."

"It's nice seeing you, Carol," he says, and she rests her head on his shoulder.

"You too, Jim."

She has made reservations as a nice restaurant. As they walk through the city, they are met by a few colleagues of Carol's. One in particular lingers, glancing between Carol and Jim with a look of annoyance. Carol does not seem to think much of it, but it bothers Jim that this man may have been involved if not is currently involved with her.

"So I'm guessing you've gone out with that guy," he says. Carol sighs.

"I have to do something kill time while you're off protecting the universe," she tells him. "It was just a few times, nothing special."

"And I'm special?" he asks, stopping her. Carol smiles and wraps her arms around his neck, drawing him closer.

"You're like birthday cake with ice cream and champagne," she says. "You're special enough that when you show up, it's a celebration." She angles her lips towards his to kiss him.

The kiss goes on for obscenely long before they both pull away to take a breath.

"I like being birthday cake," he says. She smiles against his lips.

Dinner is wonderful. They catch up on everything that the other has been doing, and between glasses of wine she explains her research on the formation of cells.

"Theoretically," she says, "it might just be possible to create life from nothing."

"And that's why they pay you the big bucks," he tells her, but he's proud, in a way. He's happy to see that everyone else thinks as highly of her as he does, because maybe it's the wine or maybe it's just his own feelings, but he thinks the world of her and is glad she's getting respect.

"Not yet," she says. "I haven't figured out what I want to do just yet. I've got a couple job offers, though, so that's a start."

He lifts his glass. "To Carol Marcus, and her bright future."

She smiles and lifts her. "To Jim Kirk, who makes that future possible."

The lake house is right outside the city limits, so they take Betazed's version of a rickshaw to it. Carol's dress glows in the moonlight, and her hair shines silver, and he follows her like in a trance to her rented condo on the lake.

Once the door closes, her lips are on his and their dance starts all over again.

The next morning, he finds her in the kitchen wearing his shirt from the night before and a pair of baggy pajama bottoms. She's making breakfast, and so he places a small parcel on the counter. She turns to face him and she's still beautiful the next day, hair pulled back haphazardly from her face, a pair of glasses perching on the bridge of her nose.

"What's in the box?" she asks.

"Some things I've picked up for you in my travels," he says, and she smiles.

"Watch the pancakes," she instructs, hurrying over to unwrap the bundle. Inside, there are several different types of tea.

He burns some of the pancakes as he watches the look that crosses her face, the way her features change from anticipation and amusement to sheer pleasure. He likes that he can do that to her, and makes a note to find more tea in the future.

They spend the day lounging outside in the sun. She reads a trashy romance novel ("sometimes even my brain needs a break") and he reads something Spock found about strategies for 3D chess. She's obtained Bud Classics which they drink lazily, and if he stops reading to stare at her for moments at a time, she says nothing about it.

And if they happen to drift down to the lake, and spend time splashing each other before falling together, her legs around his hips, rolling with the moment of waves made by the wind, then it just happens.

As the sun sets and light fades, they make their way inside. He cooks dinner for her, steak and mashed potatoes like they make at home, and they can barely keep their hands off each other in the spacious kitchen. At one point, she wraps her hands around his waist and leans her head into the space between his shoulder blades and breathes in. Her contented sigh sends shockwaves throughout his body and he tries not to think of how nice all of this domesticity is – especially as shore leave is ending.

Later that night, in bed, he wraps his arms around her and holds her close to him. There are, literally, dozens of things he'd like to tell her, things he'd want her to know about why he's here and he's sure she'd listen and commiserate and distract him once more.

He's just grateful to feel normal for once – like he's not the captain of the Enterprise and that he can have the things he wants and needs easily without complications (though he knows that's not true at all).

5.

The Enterprise is ordered to attempt a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a prototype of a science space station. Spock is genuinely excited – or, what passes for excited to a Vulcan – at the prospect of seeing the Regula NX in its glory. Jim is just wondering how being Starfleet's representative at this function fits into their five-year mission.

His dress uniform is uncomfortable, and the liquor is watered down, but he can't help but admire the design of the space station. The machines are state of the art and while he doesn't understand half of what they do, watching Spock examine the entire station looking impressed is well worth the price of admission.

He hears her voice before he sees her – just a sharp laugh but he knows that laugh too well, plays it over and over in memories in the darkest, longest nights of space.

Carol is here.

She is standing around a throng of male admirers dressed in a gray jumpsuit. She has cut her hair in the year since he's seen her, and it's now just a bit shorter than her shoulders. She is talking with the throng in an animated manner and he realizes that, save for the brief glimpse when she rescued him at that conference a year ago, he hasn't seen her in her element. He rather enjoys it.

Spock approaches. "That is your friend, Doctor Marcus, is it not? Did you know she was going to be on the tour?"

"Yes, that is, and no, I did not," Jim replies.

"I cannot believe that this is an unfortunate occurrence," Spock points out.

"No, it's not. Let's go say hello."

The crowds seem to part some as he approaches, and Carol's eyes widen when she spots him.

"Captain Kirk," she says with a smile. "I didn't know you were coming."

"I didn't know you were either, Doctor Marcus. May I present my first officer, Commander Spock."

"How very nice to finally meet you, Commander," Carol says, though she refrains from shaking his hand. "I've heard very much about you."

"And I have read a great deal about you, Doctor," Spock says, extending his hand. Carol shoots Jim a quick glance before taking it gently.

"So what did they tell you to drag you out here on official business?" Carol asks.

"Acting as Starfleet's ambassadors at the ribbon-cutting," Jim tells her. "And you?"

"Recruitment. Fancy invitation, swanky tour, elegant dinner – they also promised me dancing."

"Of course they'd promise you dancing," Jim replies with a smile. Any man in the room would promise Carol anything – that much was obvious from the way they drifted about her. Only once before has Jim felt territorial, and like the previous time, he has no reason for being so protective: Carol has never been exclusively his, but it doesn't mean that he wants to give up her company so easily.

"We'll see," Carol says with a roll of her eyes and a tightening of her mouth. She glances over in the corner as yet another group of scientists approach.

"Didn't think you were coming, Marcus?" one of them says. "Good to see you're feeling better."

"The flu," Carol tells Jim. "It didn't last long." She turns to her colleague and raises and eyebrow. "Have I ever missed something like this?"

"You did leave that conference on Betazed early," another points out, and Carol raises her eyebrows. Jim can see color rise in her cheeks briefly, but instead, she turns to him and Spock.

"We are very lucky to have some members of the Enterprise senior staff with us. This is Captain James Kirk, and First Officer Spock."

Carol introduces them to her colleagues but before much talking can take place, the tour begins. Carol lingers by him and Spock, and spends most of the tour discussing the finer points of the space station with Spock. Then there is dinner, but before there is dancing, Carol leaves her seat at her table and stops at his.

"I've never seen your ship," she says. Kirk smiles.

"Sure you want to miss out on that dancing?" he asks her.

"Most scientists don't dance well."

"I can dance."

"I want to see your ship while you're dressed all fancy."

He takes her to the Enterprise and shows her everything from top to bottom – warp cores to holodeck, bridge to mess hall. Carol is inquisitive and interested, and asks more questions than he can possibly answer. As they wrap the tour up, he glances at his watch.

"It's getting late," he says.

"I believe you're right. It's been a long day."

"You're welcome to see what my cabin looks like," he says, and Carol can hardly contain her laughter.

"Why Captain!" she teases. "I thought you'd never ask."

"Hey, now," Jim replies, slightly offended, "I don't give lots of attractive women tours of my quarters."

Carol snorts. "Somehow I doubt that." But she follows him into his quarters nevertheless.

"I'm serious," he says. "I'm too busy saving the galaxy to invite nubile young girls back to my room."

Carol runs her hand along his desk and before taking a seat in his chair. "Jim, I'm only teasing."

"I'm only telling the truth, Carol."

Carol's gaze turns towards the bed. "So you're telling me that you've never properly broken in that enormous bed."

"Being captain has its advantages but sadly, that bed has not been properly taken advantage of." Jim sits down on the edge, and then lies down. Rolling over to his side, he tries to look seductive. "Care to help me with this problem?"

Carol's laughter is expected, but she leans over to take off her boots, and he does the same. She saunters over and he can't help but watch her. She kneels on the bed and leans forward, crawling her way towards him in a humorous imitation of a prowling seductress that he can't help laughing. It's all right, as Carol bursts into giggles before flopping ungracefully on top of him.

"You know what I like about you?" Carol asks, running her hand through his hair. "You always make me laugh."

"I can make you do other things too," Jim points out, trailing his fingers up her sides to rest right below her breasts.

Carol leans down to kiss his nose. "Show off." She reaches between them for the zipper at the top of her suit, starts to ease it down slowly until he takes it in a hand and pulls it all the way off. Her lips find their way to his neck and he pushes the offending clothing off her shoulders, helps her shimmy her way out of her pants. Once the suit is nothing but a neglected pile of fabric on the floor, he rolls her over, pressing his hips against hers. She tugs impatiently at his shirt.

"I always hated Starfleet's decision for dual-layer uniforms," she pants in between kisses, and he could not agree with her more at this moment. They both work to get his shirts over his head, and then slip his pants over his hips until most of their outer clothing is deposited on the floor.

"I do like the tighty-whities," Carol points out, as Jim tongues his way down to the clasp of her very-sexy, very not-uniform-appropriate black bra.

"I'm sure Starfleet will be glad to know they're civilian-approved," he says, opening her bra and placing kisses along her breasts.

"Maybe I should write a letter?" she asks, threading her fingers through his hair and pulling him up to kiss her.

"Something along the lines of 'Dear Starfleet, I am quite the fan of Starfleet officers and while I approve your regulation underwear, I heartily disapprove of shirts that take too long to remove in the throes of passion.'" Jim slips her bra off her shoulders and Carol sighs.

"They probably wouldn't take me seriously." She slips her fingers beneath the waistband of the aforementioned regulation underwear, and he groans.

"Nope," he says, concentrating on breathing. Carol laughs, her hot breath on his shoulder sending shivers down his spine. His own fingers work her underwear (also as sexy as the bra) down over her hips. Now it's Carol's turn to gasp. He takes advantage to place a trail of kisses down across her breasts to her stomach. He pauses.

"I like it when you skip work to hang out with me," he tells her, kissing below her hipbone. "Makes me feel special."

She rolls her eyes and shifts her hips upward. "How are you so sure I'm not bored with my job and need some adventure?" she asks, gasping again as he places kisses along the inside of her thigh.

"Because you've done it twice. There are plenty of other men who would be willing to dance with you." He dips his head lower, Carol cries out and threads her fingers through his hair.

"Most scientists can't dance very well," Carol tells him, her voice breathy and strained. "And I already told you that I like your company. You make me laugh."

"It can't just be that," he says. She ignores him and arches her back, panting. He laughs against her thigh then crawls up her body again. She slides her legs around his waist, urging him forward.

"You have to admit," Jim asks, pausing just a moment before rolling his hips forward, "you like me. Just a bit." Carol sighs into his shoulder, wrapping her arms around him.

"Maybe." Carol kisses him below his ear, taking the lobe in her mouth. He shivers.

"You and me both."

"You're so egotistical." Carol rolls her hips in time with Jim's.

"I meant you," he says, capturing her mouth with his. "I like you."

"Is that why you're not dragging more nubile women in here?" she asks, tracing patterns on his back with her fingernails.

"Possibly."

"I have a hard time believing that, but whatever works," she says, her hips rising to meet his. He pushes forward, and they talk very little except for sudden exhalations and gasps and finally she shudders beneath him and he groans, burying his head in her hair and remembering how goddamn good she always smells.

She rolls away and he shifts, pulls her towards him and tucks her head into the crook of his neck. She sighs.

"Stay the night," he asks. She laughs but shifts closer, wrapping her arm around his chest.

"Your Yeoman will be amused."

"Rand can deal with it." He kisses the top of her head. "Stay. Please."

Carol smiles. "Okay. Just make sure I don't miss my shuttle out." She turns away from him and rolls onto her side, dragging him with her. He likes how they fit together like this. Sleep comes easy with Carol in his arms.

When he wakes up in the morning, Carol is zipping up her boots and fixing her pants.

"My shuttle leaves in two hours," she says, walking back over to the bed. He pulls her down to join him.

"So that means you can stay here for an hour, right?"

"Maybe I should be flattered you're skiving off work for me?" she asks, kissing him.

"Oh, you should definitely be flattered." He gets lost in kissing her for some time before she pulls back and brushes her fingers through his hair.

"I've been offered a position on the Regula I," Carol tells him. "Okay – not officially offered a position, more like told there'd be a space for me. So I guess I've got future career plans."

"Congrats."

"Thank you kindly. I'm excited." She smiles and he smiles too.

"We've got six months of this voyage left," he tells her. "Then I have to figure out a backup plan."

"Any ideas what you'll do next?"

"I was thinking of staying around the Academy, making lecturing."

"I'm sure they'd like that. The famous James T. Kirk, former captain of the Enterprise, hanging out on the quad and hitting on first-year cadets."

"Wouldn't be such a bad life," he tells her. "You'll still be around, right?"

"For the indefinite future. They have to outfit the Regula 1 and I've got things to do on terra firma before I go."

Carol's communicator beeps – a reminder about her shuttle. She kisses him one last time then stands up, fixing her collar. "Should I get your Yeoman to deliver me home or will you do the honors?"

He rolls out of bed. "I'm sure I can manage escorting a visiting dignitary back to her ship."

Carol rolls her eyes as he puts on his pants, pulling the discarded shirts over his head. He runs his hands through his hair and looks at her.

"Did you really skip a conference to see me?"

She tucks her communicator into her pants pocket. "How many girls get Jim Kirk to detour just for them?" she asks. "Don't tell me – I'd like to think I'm special."

They make small talk on the way back to her ship, and when Spock comes to ask him why he left dinner so soon, he can't help but think about San Francisco and pancakes.

1.

"We need to talk."

The message arrives as their mission is ending so it takes some time before he can visit Carol. He explains that he has debriefings and paperwork to attend to, and Carol seems understanding.

Seems, because he can't tell if she's just tired, though she looks it during their brief talk. He hopes nothing is wrong with her. Three days after arriving on Earth, he finally manages to stop by her apartment.

Carol is pregnant.

"Six months," she says, her fingers absently running over her expanding abdomen.

"Am I the father?" he asks, still recovering his surprise.

Carol offers a small smile. "Yes, without a doubt," she says. "I couldn't take the inoculation when I needed to because I was sick and then I had that official visit on the Regular NX. I wasn't expecting you to be there, and I wasn't expecting the previous inoculation to wear off so quickly." Carol looks down at her mug of tea. "I'm sorry."

"I don't see the need for apologizing," Jim tells her, though he's still a little baffled by things. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"

"Your last mission made communication impossible," Carol says, "and I knew you were coming home soon. And I wasn't sure if I should tell you." Her voice waivers as she says this.

Jim frowns. "Why wouldn't you tell me?"

"I don't know. I don't know what to do." At this moment, he realizes that she is crying. "I love the baby and I want to keep it in my world but it's your baby too and you're James Freaking Kirk, out there exploring space and women and I don't know."

He's never seen her cry before. Strong, stoic Carol, who doesn't seem to need anyone, is crying and it's probably just hormones but it might be because of him. He wraps his arms around her and kisses her forehead.

"Hey, it's okay," he says, rubbing her back and pushing her hair away from her face. "Carol, its okay."

"It's not okay." She is sobbing down, the tears warm on his neck. "It's not okay because I fucked everything up. I fucked up the inoculation and I didn't tell you about the baby."

"It's okay, Carol," he repeats. "Everything will be okay."

He holds her until her crying subsides and his shirt is wet from her tears. When she pulls away her face is blotchy and puffy but her eyes are so blue. He remembers the first time he saw her, and the feeling of her arm around his waist, her hair blowing into his face by the force of the wind near the bay.

He leads her into the bedroom, and lies down on the bed facing her. He runs his fingers through her hair, and as she drifts off to sleep, he can't help but lay a hand on her stomach. If by some miracle, he feels the baby move, and suddenly everything is painfully real. It's not just Carol crying. It's him and Carol and a tiny life inside of her that is part of him as much as it's part of Carol.

He gets up and writes a note, then pulls out his communicator.

"Bones, I need a drink."

"I'm going to be a father," he tells Bones. "Carol's pregnant."

Bones sits up straighter in the booth and smiles. "Well, Jim, it's a good thing to know that your only acknowledged son will inherit some common sense from his mother."

"Go fuck yourself."

"Congrats. I'm serious now. You couldn't have picked a better lady to have a baby with."

"Bones," Jim says, "It wasn't planned. It was entirely accidental." He thumbs the label of his beer, peeling it off slowly, starting in the right corner.

Bones takes a drink from his whiskey. "And how do you feel about this?"

Jim considers the question. How does he really feel? His world has been a jumble of emotions since Carol opened the door to her apartment, and he's feeling so many things it's impossible to pick just one.

"I'm scared out of my mind," he says. "I never thought about being a father before and now suddenly I'm going to be a dad in three months and that's a lot to process."

"Joanna was an accident, you know," Bones admits. "We weren't planning on having kids."

Jim thinks for a moment. He knows how much Bones loves his daughter.

"And don't tell me it's about Carol, because I've never seen you go to as much effort for one lady as you do Carol."

Something Carol said earlier comes back to Jim at that very moments and makes his stomach feel uneasy. "Carol said she wasn't sure she was going to tell me because I spend my time exploring space and women."

"She's got a point, you know," Bones says. "You do tend to rotate between those two rather frequently."

"But she wasn't going to tell me because of that?"

"She's thinking about herself, Jim – you can't sit still on Earth forever, and you've never contemplated a relationship longer than a few weeks. Hell, Carol's the only woman that's been in your life long enough to count, and then it's only a hook-up once a year."

"We sent messages to each almost every other month." Jim peels the label off his beer completely. "If possible. Just sort of…checking in. Talking. It was nice."

Bones slams his glass on the table. "Christ, Jim." He pauses. "Is it the sex or is it her? Or is it both?"

"I like her…I like being with her. I feel comfortable around her. And the sex is phenomenal," Jim admits. "So maybe both?"

Bones whistles low, then takes another sip of his drink.

"I think the question really is…how do you think she feels about you? She obviously knows you well enough to know you're not the monogamous type."

"I don't know what she thinks. I'd like to think she likes me," Jim says. It's true – he wants to believe that his role in Carol's life is noticeable, enough to matter (though now, he supposes, it's grown).

Bones finishes his drink.

"You got two options, kid. You can cut and run and let her raise the baby, or you can take an active role in your future miscreant's life. And I'm not going to tell you what to do this time, so you better figure it out fast."

Bones leaves him at the bar, where he orders another Budweiser Classic and peels yet another label off before reaching his decision –if it can be called that. Truthfully, he knows it was the only choice he could make.

When he returns to Carol's apartment, letting himself in with her key, he finds her sipping tea at her dining room table.

"I thought expectants mothers couldn't have tea," he says. She raises her mug.

"Herbal. Decaffeinated. Tastes like ass unless I dump a ton of sugar into it, but it works." She traces a pattern on the table runner with her finger. "I take it you told McCoy."

"I needed someone to talk to – this is a pretty big deal, Carol."

She keeps her eyes on the table. "I know."

He pulls a chair over so that he's sitting next to her. Placing his hand over his, he stops the nervous movement of his fingers. Her hand curls underneath his and she sighs.

"Why didn't you call me when you first found out?" he asks, though he's a bit terrified to learn the answer to the question that's been plaguing him for the past few hours.

"I wasn't sure what to think," she tells him. "I was in shock, actually. And the funny thing was – I knew I'd keep it. It would be silly for someone who spends so much time making life to throw away a new life that was growing inside her."

"Okay," Jim says. Carol sighs again.

"I told you once that I was flattered you detoured to come visit me. It's true. I've always been flattered that I can manage to capture of bit of your attention for some period of time. It's like an ego boost – knowing that the great Jim Kirk wants me." She pauses. "I just don't know exactly what you'd think about the baby." She glances at him. "What do you think?"

"I'm not sure," he says. "I never really thought about being a dad, and it's been a shock. But if I had to really pick a word…I'd say 'neat'."

"Neat. Huh." Carol stands and carries her mug over to the kitchen sink. She turns the faucet on, looking over her shoulder as she does so. "So am I to take it you're not entirely averse to this baby's existence?"

"No, I'm not. And I'm not averse to you either."

"Okay." Carol turns off the faucet and dries her hands on a nearby hand towel. Leaning against the counter, she says nothing. Her eyes stare out into the middle-distance and it's his turn to stand and close the space between them.

"Hey," he says. "Things will be okay. I promise that. I want to be here. If I didn't want to be here, I wouldn't keep coming back."

Carol laughs and he takes the moment to kiss her. She tastes like sugar and raspberries and he realizes how 'neat' is not the word at all to describe this, and that 'nice' may be better. Nice. After all these years, maybe it's his turn to get something nice.

"So how long do I get to steal you for?" Carol asks when he breaks the kiss.

"I'm not going anywhere," he says, wrapping his arms around her.

"Not yet. One day."

He kisses her forehead. "Still, not yet."