What Makes You Stay?

by Djinn

At the end of your rope,
when you can't find any hope,
you still look at him and say,
"I just can't walk away."
Tell me what makes you stay.

-- "What Makes You Stay" by Deanna Carter

It's dark and the beeping of the biobed keeps Number One awake even though she's supposed to be sleeping. She'd be pacing if she could, or better yet fighting her way out of this infirmary to get to Earth.

To get to Chris.

But she can't get out because she's hurt, and she'll never get well if she doesn't lie very, very still. They threatened her with a medical coma if she didn't think she could lie very, very still all on her own.

She told them she could.

She's doing it, too. Her mind's racing, but she's clamped down on her body, on her need to move, to do something, anything.

Chris is hurt. Chris needs her. After the fight they had, after the words she said, if she doesn't go to him, he'll think she won't ever come.

And she will, she would. But she's hurt, too. His stupid fault that she's hurt because he went and got captured, and she heard about it and was distracted when she should have been focused.

The blaster hit her square. Her body armor took most of it, but the second hit got through. Some new kind of weapon. Of course, now. Some new kind of goddamned weapon.

She would have rescued him, only it was she who needed rescuing. And now she's heard that he's free, that the Kirk kid and Spock rescued him. And she's lying here.

Lying here useless. Lying very, very still.

"Gwen?" The whisper of sound fills the room but she knows there's no one there, doesn't have to look. She always knows what's around her--except of course when her lover is captured and her friend's planet is destroyed and she zigs instead of zags.

"Gwen, are you asleep?"

She almost laughs, but that will move her body and she's keeping very, very still. "Chrissy?" She speaks as softly as she can, barely moving her lips.

"I'm not five anymore, big sister."

"You're not thirty, either."

"Rumor is thirty was almost all you were going to be." Her sister's voice is off, as if she's making jokes so she won't cry.

"I'm all right now. Just can't move."

"Must be killing you, being inactive."

"It is." She almost sighs, but is afraid of that much movement. Even just breathing is scary when she's made a promise to be careful. "Chris needs me and I can't get to him."

"Chris needs you and you can't see him. But you can talk to him."

"I can?" But talking is what gets them into trouble. Talking is what she is bad at and he is good at, as long as by good you mean hiding what you're really feeling under a load of lofty sounding bullshit.

"Yes. Just promise me you two won't fight."

"Us, fight?"

"Oh, this is such a bad idea." There is a voice in the background, male, southern. Number One thinks he says, "Christine, hurry it up, the admiral's waiting."

Admiral. Her Chris is an admiral now. She does sigh, and it doesn't hurt as much as she feared.

"Gwen, my errr friend is in Chris's room. He's going to help us with this. So is my other friend who's really good at using comm channels she shouldn't and not getting caught."

"You have a lot of interesting friends."

"You have no idea. You can thank them when you see them." Chrissy sniffs. Always a sap her little sister. She's tried to teach Chrissy how to fight, how to be tough. Her sister knows the steps, but lacks the will.

Number One's never lacked the will. Fighting is what she does best. Being strong is second nature.

It's why she's always been alone. Even when she is sitting next to Chris.

"Spock says hello, by the way."

"You ever get over your crush on him?"

In the background, she hears the southern voice saying, "You had a crush on him?"

"Thanks so much, Gwen." A beep sounds. "Okay, patching you through, we'll be off as soon as we're sure you've got a good connection, so don't get all mushy till you hear the clicks."

Mushy? When had she and Chris ever gotten mushy?

They'd had sex in every position imaginable. They'd fought side by side more times than she can count. They'd risked censure, even court martial at times for each other.

But they'd never been mushy.

She hears the southern man say, "Okay, anytime, sir."

"Gwen?" His voice is strong. Oh, thank God, his voice is strong.

She isn't sure what she would do if he was weak and she was weak, too. They can't both be weak. It just won't work; one of them has to be strong. Generally, both of them are, whether it's called for or not, which is probably a good part of their problem.

"Chris." His name comes out breathy, scared even.

"I'll leave you alone, sir," Chrissy's friend says.

"Thank you, Leonard."

There are three clicks and then she knows it's just Chris and she, alone.

"Your sister is as determined as you are, Gwen."

"Is she?" That surprises her somehow, that Chrissy might be stubborn. She's been so busy being the tough one, taking care of her little sister, that she's never noticed that.

"She survived out there. She thrived out there. Fell in love, too, unless I miss my guess."

"Oh? The southern guy?"

"You Chapel girls have an astonishing propensity for falling for your boss."

That's supposed to be a joke. She's glad she doesn't find it funny since laughing is one of the things that is not going to keep her very, very still.

"Gwen?" He sighs. "I guess you're still mad?"

"You were the one who was mad."

"That's not how I remember it."

"Well, your memory's not what it used to be, then."

That's supposed to be funny, but she's hit too deep, as usual.

"They stuck a bug in my brain, Gwen. I'm not sure what I remember and what I don't."

"I'm sorry. Chris, I'm sorry." They do so much better when they can touch. A kiss can ease the sting of words said too fast. A soft caress can help take back a joke that isn't funny. Or maybe she just thinks it can. But perception is everything--she's walked away from many an almost-fight she'd never have won by being ballsy and acting badass.

But love isn't a fight. Or at least it shouldn't be.

There is a long silence, so long she thinks the connection might have dropped, but finally he says, "I gave away the defense codes."

"I know. Spock told me." Spock told her a lot of other things, about his mother, about his planet, about the friend Chrissy says is so clever with comms. Her heart hurts for Spock, but not as much as she's afraid it will hurt for Chris and her.

"Some mentor I am. If you want to know how to fold in a crisis, I'm your man."

"Spock didn't see it that way. There was no censure in his voice."

"Well, bully for him. He's a bit off his game, though. Lost his planet, his mother. Met himself--an older version of himself. Not his best time. I doubt he has much left to worry over what a coward I am."

"You're not a coward."

"Funny, you told me I was. Isn't that what we were fighting about?"

She feels the sting of the well-timed hit. She doesn't think he meant to set her up like that. It is just what they do, how they work--or don't work.

"We were fighting about being together." Or rather not being together. With him teaching, with her on someone else's ship, they can be together. They can finally be together. But he held her at arms' length until she wanted to explode.

And then she did explode, only without the noise or the fire, because she and Chris are like an underwater detonation in the deep ocean. They don't make a fuss when they draw blood. They don't cause a scene when they rip each other to shreds.

"I am a coward, Gwen. I don't think we'd last if we were together. I think you like what you can't have. And you can't have me, so we work. But once you have me, you'll realize I'm an old man and you'll leave me, and right now I couldn't stand that." He coughs, and it turns into a coughing fit, and she has to wait, while the man she adores but who thinks she doesn't finally coughs himself into silence.

"Drink some water."

"Don't baby me."

She hears water being poured. He does what she says, even if he hates it. She does what he says, too, and she generally loves it.

But she hates it when he tells her what she's feeling. Like that she doesn't really love him. When he says things like: "Try someone else, Gwen, before it's too late." Too late for what? Like it almost was too late now, for both of them? Or "Date other people." As if what she and Chris have could ever be called dating? As if she would even want that after going this many rounds with him.

"Look, I'm feeling really, really old right now. I love you. God help me, Gwen, I love you with everything in me. But I can't stand the thought of losing you when you look at me, when you realize that the man you love broke. Let's just...let's just leave it at this."

"At what?" She almost sits up, but a twinge in her chest reminds her to lie still. Nothing can stop the pain deeper in her chest, though. A pain about where her heart is--the heart most people would swear she doesn't have.

Nothing can make this hurt less. She wishes it were not such a familiar hurt.

"I have to go." There is a long pause, as if he expects her to protest. "Are you all right? I know you were hurt."

"I'm fine." Even if she can't move. Even if she hurts everywhere. Even if her heart is breaking--again.

He cuts the connection before she can.


Pike wakes and blinks against the bright sunshine flooding the room. Who the hell opened the blinds?

"Good morning," a sarcastically cheery voice says.

"Shut the damn blinds."

"Not a chance." A slim body steps between him and the window, becomes a silhouette, with sunshine playing on blonde hair.

"Christine, close the damn blinds."

"Close them yourself." She moves to the other side of the bed, sits down in the guest chair, and smiles at him. But it's a dangerous smile. "I'm not happy with you, Chris."

"What did I do?"

"I didn't risk my Starfleet career by setting up an illicit comm line"--at his rolled eyes she laughed softly; they both knew the comms were perfectly in order, especially for an admiral--"to my sister to have you go and depress her with whatever you said."

"She's depressed, huh? Normally Gwen takes her depression out on something big, tall, and ugly. She must really be injured if she's stuck actually feeling something in her hospital bed."

He thinks Christine might slap him. She looks astoundingly like her sister, blue eyes nearly flashing as she leans forward and says, "That is so unfair. You know she's never had the luxury of wallowing. She had to stop indulging herself the minute our parents died, and she was saddled with me."

"You had your aunt."

"When Aunt Judy wasn't on deployment, sure. But how often was that? Besides, Judy liked Gwen but not me. I wasn't her idea of what a Marine sergeant should be raising. Too soft."

"But Gwen was what she liked. And that's my point. She can take care of herself, so you don't need to worry about her--or lecture me."

"She can't take care of herself, don't you get it, you complete idiot? She only knows how to take care of others. She has no idea what to do when it's just her at stake." She sighs and reaches behind her, handing him some crutches. "You should start practicing with these. I can help you or I can get someone from P.T."

"My wheelchair's fine for now, thanks."

She gets up, takes a deep breath. "She'll come. The talk you two had left her empty, so she'll come. She'll come to give you hell, if nothing else. Do you really want to have to look up to her when she's giving you a piece of her mind?"

"She has to get well first."

"She's Number One. How long do you think it'll take her to get well when she's this angry at you?"

Pike eyes the crutches. It's true; long before his lover became his X-O, she earned that nickname in the Academy for being the best at everything she tried. No doubt healing would be a walk in the park for her.

"You want me, then, to help you, or you want the P.T. guy? They call him The Great Sadistico behind his back."

"You. I'll take you."

Christine pats him, gives him the sweet smile that hides a backbone of steel. "That's my smart boy."


Number One waits for the other passengers on the shuttle to get off before she grabs her carryall and makes her slow way to the hatch. Spock is waiting, with the cadet she's dubbed "Stud" when she's joking around with Chris, but who's generally known as Kirk.

Captain. Captain Goddamned Kirk. What in the hell was Starfleet thinking?

There's no one else in the waiting area, so she shoves her carryall at Kirk and gives Spock a gentle hug. "I'm so sorry, Spock."

He relaxes into her for a moment, takes a deep breath, then pulls away and straightens up, the picture of the perfect Vulcan.

Kirk stares at them openmouthed.

"What?" she asks. "You've never seen a Vulcan hug someone?"

"Actually, that's all I'm seeing. Who knew you were such a lady's man, Spock?"

She decides she likes Kirk; maybe she won't call him "Stud" to his face.

"Commander Chapel was my mentor before Captain Pike."

She laughs. "That didn't last long." Chris intervened because he said between the two of them she and Spock made maybe three quarters of a human, and she was pretty sure he gave Spock the lion's share of the humanity.

"I have missed you. You find the Lincoln a satisfactory vessel?"

"It's not the Enterprise. Then again, I hear after your kids got done with it, the Enterprise isn't the Enterprise anymore, either."

Spock looks down; Kirk doesn't. He purses his lips, as if he's trying to decide whether or not to reply.

"Out with it, Captain." She can't help it; she loads the title with more disdain than respect, and he definitely notices. She expects him to give her shit about it, to be the cocky stud she's heard so much about, but he looks away, and she realizes that, just like with Chris, she's gone too far again. "Sorry, sir. I'm old school."

He turns to her. "Old school--when people actually earned a posting like mine?"

He seems to want the truth, so she gives it to him. "Something like that, yeah."

"It's occurred to me. Believe me."

"You should call him Jim," Spock offers, and she realizes he is trying to break the ice, playing Vulcan hostess for a man he should, by rights, hate if she got the story accurately from the various sources she's cultivated--or that found her on their own. "Jim, Commander Chapel is known as Number One because--"

"Oh, believe me, Spock, I know exactly why she's called that."

She thinks there will be a veiled insult, but he looks at her with respect.

"I've seen your scores on the beta tests for the Kobayashi Maru. They're still the highest anyone's ever gotten."

"Well, until you beat them."

He laughs, and it's a self-deprecating laugh. "I didn't beat them. I cheated. Ask the creator here."

"It is true. He reprogrammed it so it was possible to win."

"I don't believe in the no-win scenario."

"This fact did save us on the Narada. Although not without some lacerations."

"And bruises, Spock." Jim grins, and it lights up his face.

She watches the two of them, and her smile grows. Does Spock have any idea how easy he is with this young upstart, how happy he seems? Even though she knows his heart is breaking for his mother and his planet, somehow he is happy.

She hears steps approaching rapidly, the click-click of Starfleet-issued boots.

"Am I late? I told you I wouldn't be late." A young woman runs up, her pony tail whipping around her head. "Hello. I'm late. I'm sorry."

"You must be Nyota." She smiles at the girl. "You patched me through to the admiral, didn't you?"

"Just found an empty comm, ma'am. Christine makes it sound a lot more exciting than it was."

"Christine has a way of doing that when she wants to make her friends look good." Or dangerous and wily. Aunt Judy approved of friends who could be counted on when the going got tough.

She sees Spock looking at Nyota, sees the regard even though she doubts anyone else would notice it. He loves this girl. He has given her his heart and she knows it, because she moves closer, and Number One doesn't think she even realizes she has done it.

"We can show you to your quarters." Nyota smiles at her and it's a beautiful expression, not unlike Amanda's in its gentleness. Spock has always needed gentleness, always seemed to cry out to be taken care of.

She hangs back to walk with him while Nyota and Kirk fight over her carryall.

"Do you approve?"

"I do." She smiles at him. "What must Christine think?"

He shakes his head. "Christine has not had a crush on me since she was seventeen, and I think she would thank you to stop teasing her about it."

She laughs. "So what's with her new beau? Some southern guy?"

"McCoy. Leonard. Doctor."

"Do you like him?"

Spock nods slowly. "He is very good to her. I would tell you if he were not."

"Aww, are you looking out for my little sis."

The look he gives her is as warm as she has ever seen. "Yes. As you have always looked out for me."

"You're going to make me cry."

"You do not cry."

She does, just never in front of anyone, and never without a regen machine to fix her face so no one can tell. Tears equal weakness.

She is weak much more often than anyone would ever guess.

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

Pike hears her before he sees her, arguing with Christine as they come down the hall.

Christine. His little guard dog despite her "come to Jesus" pep talks.

"Gwen, I don't know that he's ready right now."

He grabs the crutches, stands and turns awkwardly to face the door as the two Chapels storm in like twin hurricanes. Christine looks at him and shrugs, and he gives her a forgiving grin--she's never been able to stop Gwen, hell he's never been able to stop her, not when she's in a mood.

And she's most definitely in a mood.

But then she clutches at her side and says, "Shit," and Christine turns instantly from cowed little sister to extremely good nurse and pushes Gwen into the guest chair. She pulls out a scanner, frowning as she checks her sister.

"Sit there. Don't pace. Don't throw things. Don't hit anything"--she glances at him, teetering on his wooden helpers--"or anyone. You got it, big sis?"

"Got it. Now get out."

Christine leaves, but she walks slowly, like she's not running the risk of getting her ass kicked if she doesn't clear out fast enough.

He gives Gwen a smile that ends up being tight, primarily because he stood up before he was ready and the crutches are pinching. "Well, this is how I imagined our reunion."

She is still holding her side. "Shut up."

"If you're going to sit, can I sit? These kill my armpits."

He can tell she wants to be mad at him, but she starts to laugh and nods. He sits back in the chair with relief, puts the crutches on the bed and wheels his way over to her, stopping when he can touch her without straining.

He runs his hands over her face, stopping at her lips. She feels good, but then she always does. She smells good, looks good. Her voice is like honey when she murmurs, "Chris, damn you."

He pulls her to him, trying not to hurt whatever's already hurting. Their lips meet by reflex, by magnetic pull. He loves this woman, wants this woman, would die for this woman.

So why is he so damn afraid of this woman?

"I've missed you?" He pushes her hair back, kisses along the cheek that he can imagine bruised from her injuries. He knows she's assessing his damage just as carefully.

"I've missed you, too." She grabs him, kisses him fiercely, then groans and pushes at her side again. "If we were goddamn together, we wouldn't have to miss each other."

"You'd still be on the Lincoln. In another sector from where I was. Even together, we might not be there when it matters."

"Don't be logical. I have Spock for that."

He sighs. "He's not being all that logical right now, Gwen."

"I know. He's hurting. But he has you and me and Chrissy. He has Nyota and he has Jim, who I think I might actually like, by the way, and get that self-satisfied look off your face right now or I will punch an injured man."

"I told you you'd like him." He pulls her to him again because when she's this close and they're alone, he finds it impossible not to kiss her. "I wasn't very nice the other day."

"You were hurting."

God, he loves that about her. She can always see the other side, even when it kills her.

"And no, you weren't. You were a prime asshole."

And while seeing the other side, she has no problem providing her take on it.

She pulls away, and he sees how tired--how terribly, terribly tired she is. He's been pushing her away so hard it didn't occur to him that she might not have been around for him to do that to. That she might have died. That they both might have.

"Everything's so screwed up," she says, and for once, she doesn't sound like she can fix it. And that's what he loves about her: she can always fix things. Always wins.

Except with him.

"I love you," he says.

She touches his cheek. "And that's the most screwed up thing of all, isn't it? What are we doing? Why do I stay?"

"I don't know. I've asked myself that a thousand times." He pulls her close again, holds her, burying his head in her neck, and she grips him almost frantically.

His cadets think he's strong. Think he's wise. Think he's brave--well, at least they did before that goddamned Nero put a bug in his mouth. His cadets think he is easy to know. But this woman, this woman is probably the only person who knows the real Chris Pike. Who understands that he's not strong, and he's not wise, and he's far from brave. Especially where she's concerned.

Because this--this touching and kissing and just having her--it keeps him going. It keeps him alive. And he's desperately afraid that if he gives in to her, if they make their stolen moments something more permanent, more visible, she will tire of him and then she will leave him.

And he will be alone. Truly alone, without his rock. Without the love of his life.

It makes no sense to his mind, but his heart understands perfectly.

"You should go," he says. It's not what she needs to hear. It's not what he wants to say. It comes out, though.

"You're tired," he tries again, trying to be noble. To think about her. "Get some rest and come back, okay?"

She meets his eyes and looks utterly defeated. She nods, and kisses him gently on the lips. Then she looks at the bed, big enough for both of them if they cuddled. Christine wouldn't mind. Leonard wouldn't mind.

For a moment, he thinks he sees the shine of tears in her eyes, but that's impossible. She doesn't cry. Not ever. Not even for him.

"I'll see you soon." She gets up like she's an old woman, pushes him away when he reaches for her. "No, I'm okay. I'll see you. Chrissy knows where I'm staying if you need me."

In the past, she would have told him where she was staying, would have had a glint in her eyes as she did. In the past, he would have asked, or would have seduced her into spilling the location if she was intent on making him work for it.

This time, he just lets her go.

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

Chrissy finds her hiding out in her guest quarters. "I thought you were going to dinner with us?"

Number One glances in the mirror, as if she's primping, but she's really checking to make sure the regen unit did the job. Chrissy's eyes narrow, and she thinks how stupid she's being--she never primps and Chrissy knows it.

"So, how'd it go?"

"Fine. It was fine. I'm just tired. Rushed the recovery, you know." She tries to appeal to the nurse, but her sister insists on staying in control, concerned in a personal way and frowning. A diversion, then. "So when am I going to meet this mythical McCoy, hmm?"

It works, and she sees just how in love Chrissy really is by the way she goes still for a moment and then a slow smile spreads over her features, features so close to Number One's that people always guess they are sisters. Only Number One's have never looked that happy, never ever. Not over a man. Not over the only man who's mattered for a very long time now.

Shouldn't love make you look like that? Shouldn't love make you happy?

"He's just outside. Do you want to meet him?"

"Of course I want to meet him. Or wait. It's more like he better want to meet me. We may not have a dad anymore for him to impress, but he's going to have to get by me."

"Oh, Gwen, go easy, okay? I really like this one." She opens the door and motions him in.

He gives her a quick kiss, then turns to Number One, assessing her not as her sister's suitor but as a goddamned doctor. "You're in shit shape, young lady."

"Young lady?"

He walks toward her, scanner already out.

"I did not say you could do that and--"

He's got his hand over her mouth. His goddamned hand is over her mouth and he leans in and says, "Shh."

And God help her, she shhhs.

She looks over at Chrissy, who shrugs in a "What can you do?" sort of way, and then opens the door and beckons someone else in.

Kirk walks in, sees what McCoy is doing, and shakes his head manically. "Oh, don't let him start. Soon he'll be lecturing you on nutrition and proper breathing techniques. I roomed with this guy for too many years, and I can tell you, he'll follow you into the bathroom, if you let him, and inspect what you left in the toilet."

"That last part is an exaggeration," McCoy says softly, then he backs off. "You really are not in good shape. You need sleep. You need some food. And you're a little dehydrated."

"I'll eat. I'll drink. I'll go to bed."

"I think that's a hell of a plan." He smiles gently. "You've also been crying." He says this so quietly she is sure the others can't possibly hear. "I wish I could prescribe something for that."

"It's okay." And she suddenly wants to cry again and has to blink hard a few times, and he moves so he's in front of her and there's no way the other two can see. And then she wants to cry some more, because this man is a good man, and he's a gentle man, and he's going to take care of her sister the way she should be cared for.

More blinks, desperate blinks, and McCoy is talking as if she's giving him lip about vitamins, and he winks at her and she takes a deep breath and nods, and for a moment envies Chrissy this softer, sweeter life.

Then she remembers how hard she's worked for the one she has, and sits up straighter. "Thank you," she whispers.

"You're welcome. And it's a pleasure finally meeting you. Are you coming to dinner with us? A little change of scene might not be a bad thing. There's a good restaurant just down the block."

"No. Thanks."

He nods and walks back to Chrissy, bumping up against her in a sweet way, in a possessive way. In a very open, aboveboard way.

God damn it. She is jealous of her little sister.

Jim studies her, then walks over. "You all right?" He sits and she's struck by how young he is, by how little he's probably really seen of the world, this boy-God who is all the rage at Starfleet. "You seem..."

"Down?"

"Yeah."

"It's just...I've never lost." She smiles at the boy who still thinks there's no such thing as a no-win scenario. "Spock likes to say, for every thing there is a first time."

"You haven't lost yet."

"You don't even know what it is I've lost."

But as he meets her eyes, as his become gentle and so knowing she wonders how she ever thought him young, she realizes maybe he does know, maybe he absolutely knows.

"It's one thing to lose hope when no one loves you, Gwen. Believe me, I've been there. But it's another thing to do it when you're surrounded by those who care. The esteemed admiral will come around."

"You don't know him."

"A lot of people would have said that about me being in Starfleet. But here I am." He turns to Leonard and Chrissy. "You two mind having a private night out? The lady and I are going to play chess." He's already requisitioning a board from the guest services computer, the idea of asking her if she even wants to play apparently not occurring to him.

She's about to protest, to tell him to forget it, when she sees Chrissy's face. Her little sister looks rather happy at the idea of being stuck alone with the man she loves. Number One smiles at her, the smile Aunt Judy would never give her, the one that meant the world to her sister growing up. "Go have fun." Then she looks at Jim. "I'm going to mop the floor with you, boy."

"Uh huh," he says as he sets up the board. "We'll see about that."

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

Pike is startled awake by the feeling of something soft but heavy being tossed on his chest.

"Napping like an old man, there, Admiral." Jim looks insufferably pleased with himself. "And don't thank me."

Pike stares down at the pile of clothes Jim has thrown on him. "Okay, I won't."

Jim whistles and opens the blinds Christine opened earlier and Pike just closed a few hours ago. "Wow, you are really wallowing, sir."

"And you are out of line, boy."

"Your girl called me that. When I was playing chess with her. She's really good." He turns and smiles in a way Pike isn't sure he entirely understands.

"Who won?"

"I'll never tell." He grins at the look Pike gives him, then gestures to the clothes. "Don't you want to know what those are for?"

"I'm sure you'll tell me."

"You are not making this any fun." Jim sits in the chair, manages to lean it back on two legs despite the fact that it is supposed to be sturdy and un-tippable. "You're going on a date."

"I am?"

"Yep." He lets the chair fall with a thud. "With a very, very beautiful woman who for some unknown reason thinks the world of you."

"Jim, I appreciate the romance help, really, but I don't need it."

Jim's expression changes. The lightness is gone, and something dark and sad and scared is there for a moment. Something Pike thought he saw in the cadet bar, the first time he talked to the kid. Hurt--this kid has been hurt.

By someone he loved.

Pike looks down. "Jesus, did she send you?"

"Why in God's name would she send me? She loves you but she's not desperate. Her heart's goddamn breaking, but she's not going to crawl back to you. You need to go to her, and that's why you have date clothes."

"She and I don't date."

"And I would suggest that may be the root of your problems, Christopher." Jim smiles, and Pike smiles too. Jim's never called him by his name before. And it feels challenging and annoying but also very, very right.

"I won't hold her interest. It's just...some things don't work in the light."

"Oh, is that why you're hiding alone in the dark, then?" Jim stands up, smiles as he says, "My father bought my mother one dozen red and one dozen white roses on their first date. I dare you to do better." His grin is huge and infectious and full of something that Pike realizes just might be love.

"You're a good kid."

"You're the only one who ever thought so, sir. And I'm very grateful you helped me by kicking my ass the way you did that night."

"I think the cadets did the ass-kicking."

"You remember it your way, and I'll remember it mine." He winks and walks to the door. "Since Leonard and Christine will kill me if you leave the hospital, I took the liberty of getting a soon to be very good friend of mine who works in administration to set you up a little private dining area in conference room seven. Gwen's on her way. I told her you took a turn for the worse. Don't prove me right."

And with that he's gone, leaving Pike to stare down at the clothes and wonder when Jim took command of his life as well as his ship.

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

Number One practically storms into Chris's room, out of breath from having rushed.

He's sitting in his wheelchair, in clothes that are not hospital issued, looking very handsome with a nervous grin on his face. He's holding a huge bunch of flowers--roses, so dark a red they're almost purple.

She counts quickly. Three dozen? "You haven't bought me flowers in a long time."

"That's been entirely wrong of me." He hands her the flowers, then grabs his crutches and stands. "There's a conference room with our name on it. I have no idea what's on the menu, though."

"Kirk." She is going to wring his neck. Or maybe kiss him. It all depends on how this goes.

"Kirk. I wish I could take credit for it, though. It's long overdue."

She doesn't answer, because she's afraid to mess up what could be a first step. She's almost glad he has to work to walk with the crutches, that maybe it'll keep him from thinking about what a scary first step this is.

She opens the door to the conference room he stops at, smiles as she looks inside. "Wow, your Cyrano did good."

"You don't call him 'Stud' for nothing." He grins at her and she laughs, and feels the nerves playing across her shoulders relax a little.

There are candles. Tablecloth. Even wine. And a couple of orderlies that she imagines Jim is paying overtime to act as waiters. They take the roses from her, put them in a vase.

The food is definitely not hospital fare. At first, she's not sure what to say to Chris, so she digs in, and when he looks amused says, "I'm hungry. Haven't been eating much."

"I'm sorry."

She reaches over, and they hold onto each other for a long moment before she lets go and goes back to eating.

"So Jim said you two played chess."

"Yeah. He's really good."

"That's what he said about you. So who won?"

"I promised him I wouldn't tell." She laughs and feels something hard inside her break open and turn soft and warm. "He said it would drive you nuts not knowing."

"He does know me."

"He's a little scary that way. He sees things. So does McCoy."

"He's a good man, too. If he gave you advice, you should listen to it."

"That goes for you, too."

"Yes, sir." He grins and takes her hand again. "I do love you, Gwen. I'm sorry."

"I've always known you love me. It's...it's what we do with you loving me that makes me crazy."

"It's what we don't do."

"Yes."

He grins, and it's sweet but slowly turns a bit wicked. "We're in a semi-public place."

"Yes."

"And the waiters could come back at any moment."

"Right."

"Come here. Let me take our relationship into the open."

She stands and walks around. The chairs are straight, no padding, and she steps over him and eases down, checking to see if he's in any shape for this before she even thinks about taking off articles of clothing.

He's rubbing her back, and her arms, running his hands under her full skirt as he smiles a wonderful smile. "I won't break, Gwen." His smile fades and he looks like he's about to push her off.

"No, you won't break. But you did, once, and anyone would have. Except maybe Spock. So quit beating yourself up for that. I mean it." She kisses him fiercely, as if she can make him believe in himself again through the power of her lips.

But he pushes her away. His face goes hard. His eyes old and dead.

This is what defeat feels like. This is how losing feels.

She can hear her Aunt Judy, yelling at her as they ran. "Gwen, there's no one can make you cry, you hear me. Tears are nothing but a reason for them to keep you down. Tears are inexcusable. You're not some crybaby, are you?"

"No. I'm. Not." She'd said it in cadence. Running forever to the words, running until Aunt Judy deemed them done.

But Aunt Judy had never been in love. Of if she had, it wasn't with this man, with this heart, with this pain.

Turns out, she is a crybaby. She's tired, and she's aching, and her stomach hurts from eating so much after so long not eating. The wine has gone to her head, but in a bad way, already dizzy with no buzz. And in her chest is this pain, a pain that beats in time with her heart.

She buries her face in her hands and cries, really fucking cries, and as she cries, she sobs out "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you."

She's not sure who she's talking to, though.

For a moment, even though she's sitting on his lap, even though he's only inches from her, she's alone. And she feels as if she might freeze in the space he's giving her.

She starts to get up, can't see and knows her makeup is running down her face.

"I love you," she says as she swings her leg over him, hitting the edge of the table, adding to her pain as her ankle joins in the throbbing.

And then she's being pulled back down, and he's kissing her and saying, "Baby, baby, it's all right."

And she's not a baby, and she tells him that, only her words don't come out because he's kissing her, his hands tangled in her hair, and she's pulling him closer, so there's no air between them.

He's talking, murmuring things she's never heard. Things about how he was raised, how he felt unloved. How afraid he is that if he reaches out, that if he really wants her, she'll leave. She'll walk away. She won't love him.

"What makes you stay?" he asks, shaking against her as he holds her so tightly it hurts. "Why don't you leave?"

"I love you. I love exactly three people, Chris, in this entire life. Chrissy. Spock. And you. I don't know how to walk away."

"I'm not sure that's a good thing, sweetheart." But he's smiling and he's kissing her, and then he pushes her up and opens his pants and pulls her back astride him, and they go slow, because they are both the walking wounded. They go carefully, because too much too soon will break them.

And they go lovingly, because that's all that's left.

They sit, foreheads pressed together, his arms wrapped tightly, so tightly, and she is playing with his hair, rubbing it. The waiters come in and smile and clear the table and she and Chris don't move, and her skirt covers them so there's nothing to see except two people in love.

And not afraid to show it.

"So who did win?" he asks her softly as he pulls away and kisses her slowly.

She smiles, kisses him back, and says, "I did."

FIN