the drinks we drank last night

She's not at all surprised to find Jim Kirk waiting at her car; she's just grateful there's no one around to notice.

It's no secret that the Kirks' rent a small acreage on the Marcus' property, or that they've known each other since she moved to this town in elementary school. It's no secret that they're space orphans – children of Federation employees exploring space, dumped on stepparents or grandparents or whatever guardian can spare time to raise them.

It's also no secret that Jim Kirk is the biggest fuck-off in Riverside, and that's saying a lot. Valedictorian, most popular kid in school, now working the odd day jobs and drinking at night. Jim Kirk was yet another cautionary tale about what happens to people who stay in town after they graduate high school.

She adjusts her bag as it slides down her shoulder and levels her gaze on him in what she hopes is a threatening look. As usual, it does nothing. He just smiles even wider.

"Are your legs broken again?" she asks, because it's entirely plausible.

"Nope," he says, swinging off her trunk. "Good as new." He even jumps up and down to demonstrate the point. She rolls her eyes.

"Did you lose your bike in a card game?" she asks, leaning her hip against her driver-side door. Jim leans against the back door, and gives her what she's sure is a look that works on tons of girls in this small town. His eyes are down, his lips somewhat poutish, and if her stomach flips just a little, she can hardly blame herself – he's Riverside's resident lothario.

"You think so little of me, Marcus," he says. "Blew a tire outside of town. They have to special order it from Chicago."

"Your feet work - you could walk home," she grumbles but she knows she'll give him a ride anyway or feel the wrath of her grandmother's anger. Carol will probably have to invite him over for dinner, too – if her grandmother sees her.

She opens the door and slips into the seat, flinging her bag across the passenger seat.

"Come on," he says, and she looks back over her shoulder. He's leaning against her car door. "Don't make me walk."

"How are you going to pick up your bike?" Carol asks. "I'm not your chauffeur."

"Look – give me a ride home and I can find my way back tomorrow," Jim offers. "Promise."

Carol rolls her eyes again. "Fine. Get in."

Jim smacks his fist down on the top of her car, shouting, "Sweet, I freaking love you Marcus," before walking around to the other side of the car and slipping in to her passenger seat. He immediately rolls the window down and starts to play with her car radio as she pulls out of the school parking lot.

"So exactly how long were you staking out my car?" she asks.

"Long enough to have to have my buzz wear off," he tells her, settling on an oldies station.

"I thought school got out at two-thirty these days," Jim says, leaning back and slouching down.

"I had Beta Club." She turns the music up. She knows where this will go.

"Beta Club, Mock Federation – you're such a nerd," he teases her, playfully brushing the top of her hair.

"Do you want to die in a fiery wreck?" Carol asks, swatting him away. "Hands to yourself."

Jim settles down after that. In fact, he gets downright sullen, and she can sense the mood swing coming. If he stays quiet for much longer, he'll start muttering things like the destiny of the Kirk men and she's in no mood for drama queens today.

"Besides," she says softly, hoping to lighten the mood, "you always say women don't know how to drive."

Jim snorts. "No, I say not enough women know how to drive stick. A lost art, really." He sighs. "Why do you always paint me as the chauvinist, Marcus?"

"Maybe because you are, Kirk." They're just past the edge of town, and she can see the sprinkler rig in the distance that marks the beginning of her family's property.

"You're always so hard on me."

"More like I'm the nicest person you know. How many of your lady friends would give you a ride home?"

"You wound me," he says, clutching his chest, but does not refute her point. She considers it a small victory in the constant bickering war they have engaged in since she first moved to this hick town.

He's quiet until they reach his driveway, where he directs her to pull over to the side.

"Thanks for the ride," he says, springing out of the car.

Carol considers, briefly, reminding him that she has a first name, but decides it's not worth the effort. He knows her name – he just likes to tease her, and she can't show any sign of weakness in her defenses.

"Later." She waves as he sets off down the drive. She can't help but wonder what the fuck she's doing. He tosses her a jaunty salute as he ambles to his house, and she can't stop watching.

It's a secret that she feels anything at all for him, which makes her the biggest fuck-up in Riverside.

She pulls her car back out onto the road and drives the scant quarter-mile to her house, where her grandmother immediately tells her to call that young man up and invite him over for dinner. Like always, Carol curses that the woman may be half-deaf but her eyes are as sharp as ever.

She stalls, and when she finally makes the call, she's forced to leave a message, which she does half-heartedly. It's not like she doesn't want him to eat – lord knows what that man might cook for himself – but she feels like she's slipping through these days, that her thoughts are coming to the surface and, one day, he might see what she really feels.

Three days after he staked out her car at school, Jim comes over to help her grandfather cut up a downed tree branch.

She arrives home from school just as they finish the hard work – or, rather, Jim does; her grandfather gives orders from the porch, a glass of lemonade in hand. Jim wields an old axe (none of those power-blade high tech gadgets out here). His shirt is off and she can see the rivulets of sweat drip between the blades of his shoulders on this uncommonly hot May day.

She tries not to stare, but damn if Jim Kirk isn't a fine specimen of a man. Riverside has a lot of corn-fed farm boys-cum-football players, guys who wear their jeans and shirts equally tight to show of certain endowments they are quite proud of, and she's dated her fair share of them. But that doesn't mean she can't appreciate a real man instead of the high school boys she's surrounded by.

As long as he doesn't notice.

Which he does.

"Want two tickets to the gun show, Marcus?" he asks, flexing his biceps

Most definitely.

"I think I threw up in my mouth," she says, edging past him as she walks to the house. If her grandfather wasn't here, he'd probably say something else, but he respects the man too much to sexually harass his granddaughter in front of him. Instead, Jim turns to stacking the wood in the wheelbarrow and carting it out back to the woodpile.

He stays for dinner that night. Over mashed potatoes and meatloaf, the topic turns towards Riverside High School's prom. Her grandmother, naturally, informs Jim that Carol's going to prom with Brody Pfeiffer, who's known as being a very polite boy. Carol doesn't say much, just mixes her peas into her potatoes, but she feels Jim's eyes on her the entire time.

After dinner, they wander outside into the clear May night. All the heat of the day is gone, and Carol shivers just a little as she pulls her sweatshirt over her head. Jim kicks a pebble as they walk out to the barn.

"Brody Pfeiffer, huh?" Jim asks, and she shrugs her shoulders.

"He asked, I accepted."

"Wasn't he a bit of a geek?"

"Doesn't mean that he can't have a date to prom," she says. Truth is, Brody is as much of a geek as Jim is. Captain of the Chess Club, yes, but also Captain of the Soccer team and the first boy that Carol's let put his hand down her pants in the backseat of his car. She likes Brody the way that a girl her age should like a boy: she feels butterflies when she thinks about him and she likes the way that he holds her chair out when they sit together at lunch. She definitely likes the way he kisses her, but she doesn't think anyone needs to know that but her.

"Hmmm." Jim is the first up the ladder to the upper story of the barn, and she's surprised he didn't even make a show of racing her to the ladder like they did in middle school. She thinks maybe - finally - Jim Kirk is maturing, but that thought is soon gone as he tries to remove the ladder before she can climb up.

They sit next to each other in the open side door of the barn, legs dangling fifteen feet above the ground. She was scared of heights when she moved to Riverside, but Jim and Sam cured her of that nonsense quickly. They climbed trees, rocks, barn roofs and silos, even the water tower once. No height was off-limits to those boys, which is probably why Sam's out in space somewhere on a research facility.

"Something I need to tell you about farm boys and prom night," Jim says, slipping an arm around her shoulder. She can smell beer on his breath, left over from the Bud he had at dinner. "Prom is just the first act. There are two acts, really – "

"Aren't plays supposed to have three acts?" she asks him, trying to forget how good it feels to have his arm around her.

"Two that matter. The first act is prom – you put on your monkey suit to impress the ladies – "

"Christ, Kirk, you can't possibly be drunk already- "

"I'm not. I'm being serious here. Do you think that any red-blooded American male willingly rents a tux and sits through hours of dinner and dancing if he doesn't think he's going to score?"

Her face goes bright red then, not because she's worried about that conclusion – she all but expects to give it up to Brody that night – but because Jim is talking to her about it. For a moment (definitely not the first time) she goes back in her mind to him, shirtless, this afternoon, and suddenly his arm on her is stiflingly hot, a heavy weight on her back. She shrugs her shoulders, and his arm is gone.

"Thanks for the advice, bro," she says, standing up. She stretches her muscles, trying to shake the image away, and when she looks back at Jim, there's a weird look on his face that she would almost classify as distinctly non-brotherly, if she could classify things as that.

Instead, she's saved by her grandmother's call for pie.


School days blur until prom, and then there's preening and primping and slipping into the blue dress that her grandmother says makes her eyes pop and her hair gleam golden in the sun. Carol checks her reflection once – twice – in the mirror before running down the stairs, heels in hand, for pictures out by the old oak tree. Her friends are there, and they pose by themselves and with their dates. Brody looks nice in his tux, and the corsage he got her is white and silver and she's all giggles and smiles and the nervous anticipation of Senior Prom and whatever the night may hold.

As they're about to climb into Brody's pickup, she catches the sight of Jim leaning on the fence by the drive. She waves and he smiles, she thinks – he's far from her - and by the time she climbs in the truck, he's gone. For a moment, she wonders if she imagined it, then catches a glimpse of white in the field. She quickly looks away.

Later that night, after prom, they go to the river and she goes all the way with Brody in the backseat of the truck. It's nice, because Brody's a nice boy, but it's not as special as everyone said it would be.

Later still, when she gets home, Carol stands in the shower, washing the hairspray out of her hair. She can still feel Brody's hands on her skin, phantom fingers ghosting across her stomach and breasts. She allows herself, for a moment, to ponder what Jim would have done in the same situation, but promptly shuts off the shower before her overactive imagination can go too far.

The next time he sees her – a few days later, when she stops by to give him some wrongfully-delivered mail, he stares at her long and hard.

"You look different," he says, and she throws the mail into a mud puddle in disgust. She wants to cry because he knows and he's making fun and when he calls her name she takes off, running as far and as fast as she can. Part of her hates herself for not standing up to him and for running instead, but she will not – cannot – tolerate this, let alone from him.

The next day, there is a bouquet of flowers waiting for her in her car. She's surprised they didn't wilt in the Iowa June, and relieved as well. There's a simple card, too - I'm sorry written in Jim's own hand, not some florist's. She puts them in a vase and debates taking them to her room, but that way bodes destruction, so she leaves them on the dining room table and tells her grandmother they're from Brody.

She hides the card in her desk drawer but it calls to her like a beacon. Soon the edges become worn and dirty but she can't stop touching it. It's proof that Jim does have a heart, and it almost breaks her resolve.

Instead, she indulges in repeat performances with Brody, who is still eager and as inexperienced as her. She doesn't know what she's practicing for, but it's a way to pass the time until graduation.

Jim comes to graduation. He sits with her grandparents as she crosses the stage to be named salutatorian, as she gives her speech about possibilities and desires and pursuing them against all odds. He takes a picture with her afterwards, playing with the tassel of her mortarboard but she doesn't care. High school is done and Northwestern awaits her in the fall. Her future is so freaking bright she really does need shades.

The summer means hot days and even hotter nights, sweat-soaked shirt sticking to the small of her back as she runs each morning. She plans for college during the day, and spends her nights with Brody and crew. They're all nostalgic, and are constantly talking about the last remaining days of high school friendships, but Carol never has thought that way. She's eager to take the next step, and if she loses track of these kids, then that's a consequence of having bigger dreams than going to U of I and playing football. But that doesn't mean she's not going to ride out these last few weeks with the best of them.

One weekend, she goes with her grandmother to Iowa City because the shopping's better there, and – always overeager- the university bookstore has a copy of the textbook she'll need for her first-year biology class and she wants to start reading now.

They get burgers for lunch and as they're waiting for their food, she notices Jim at the bar, nonchalantly chatting up another patron with red hair and enormous boobs. Carol looks away, hoping he doesn't notice them, and her grandmother merely sighs.

"He'll always waste his potential," she tells Carol.

"Why is everyone so sure he has it?" Carol asks sarcastically.

Her grandmother looks at her strangely for a moment, and Carol looks away. She's not the sort of person to defend those with no aspirations – she's spent countless hours decrying her friends decisions to stay in Iowa and not go to college elsewhere – and defending Jim is hypocritical.

"You don't remember him when he was a little boy," she says. "He was going to take over the world."

"The day's still young," Carol says as their food arrives.

Luckily, Jim never sees them.

That night, she goes out with her high school friends. Since the bars now serve eighteen year olds, they find a corner booth at the Iowa 80 so they can people-watch. The bar is close to the Starfleet Shipyards, which means they attract people they don't normally find – aliens with engineering degrees helping build Federation Starships. They also find local hookers and drug dealers, but there's something refreshing about the fact that it's different – and scary, too.

"I want this," Carol tells herself as she looks in the ladies room mirror. She's always wanted a career in science, and has had aspirations of traveling the galaxy. But now, mingling with Andorians and Betazoids and other creatures she doesn't have names for, she feels the need in her veins, the same need that tells her to work harder and go faster and go farther.

She looks wild, even to herself, so she closes her eyes and opens them again, hoping that she's seems calmer. As she opens her eyes, she finds herself elbowed out of the way by a woman with vaguely-familiar hair and boobies. Carol is surprised to find the woman from Iowa City in the bar, but then a cold feeling slides down her spine as she realizes that this means Jim is here, too.

She goes back to their table with only a brief glance at the bar, where he sits. She slides back in between Melanie and Brody, and is about to lift up her glass when she finds Jim standing at her table. Everyone knows him – he's a local legend, almost, if legends can be made from misdemeanors and attitude. Her friends seem more than eager to chat with him, which makes her suddenly unhappy. For whatever reason, she doesn't want to spend tonight with Jim. She wants this to be about her friends and the people she's leaving, and Jim is not in this equation.

"Good to see you, Marcus," he says, and she smiles over the rim of her drink, knowing the expression most certainly does not reach her eyes.

"Brody, my man," Jim starts, sliding into the booth next to Brody (who, for his credit, seems equal parts amused and enamored by the attention of their own local hero). "I hear you took Ms. Marcus over there to prom. You know she's my neighbor, right?"

"Jim," Carol says, putting her glass down, "leave him be. He's not guilty by association." Her hackles are raised by what feels like a pretty invasive move on his part. She's more than willing to stand up to him, even if everyone else finds him so damn charming.

"Wasn't saying anything, Carol," Jim points out. "Didn't even get that far." He makes it clear from his smirk that there's an additional meaning to his words that has her sorely tempted to throw her drink in his face (but that would be wasting a perfectly good drink).

"Brody, you forget that my grandparents have a big farm, and so even the pigs are my neighbors."

Everyone at the table is silent, despite the booming music in the bar. Their eyes, she knows, are fixed on her and Jim, and she doesn't like being in this situation. She knows their conversation is charged with tension – of what kind she's not entirely sure – and as much as she wants to tell Jim off once and for all, this not the place and now is not the time.

"I need some fresh air," she tells Brody, slipping out the booth and past both Jim and his date, who looks annoyed by now.

The night is cooler than the day, but not by much, and she feels sweat start to form on her forehead. She walks over to her car and sits on the hood. The metal is still faintly warm from the day, and she doesn't mind feeling the heat through her tank top.

She stares up into space, trying her best to see the stars. They may be out in the country but the lights of the shipyards and Iowa 80 do their best to prevent any views of space. Still, if she squints, she can make out shapes and constellations. Her mind wanders to the future, to space, and she loses track of time. She is jarred back into reality at the sound of footsteps near her car.

"Go back inside," she tells Jim, who stands near her, arms up in surrender. "Just. Go."

"Carol –"he starts but stops. She says nothing, and does not look at him.

Eventually – longer than she'd like – she hears his footsteps as he walks back towards the bar.

She closes her eyes against the tears she didn't even see coming.

August comes out of nowhere and soon there are clothes to pack and farewells to say. One farewell is to Jim, who comes over for dinner one evening. They had out to the barn afterwards, and as they sit up top and watch the sun set, she thinks about how she'll miss this – especially Jim.

"I'm surprised that your grandparents don't get suspicious about us being up here," Jim says. It's a random comment, so she replies nonchalantly, "That's because there's nothing to be suspicious about."

"But I'm a twenty-year old guy up here with their teenaged granddaughter."

"I'm eighteen now and besides, you've known me since I was a kid. It's not like you think about me that way."

"How are you so sure?" he asks.

Her blood freezes in her veins but her heart keeps pounding as loudly as ever.

He leans forward first – that much she's sure of. She braces herself before his lips touch hers. They're soft, so incredibly soft that it feels weird, then he leans forward more, the pressures increases, she kisses back and – oh- that's tongue. But it's not weird because it's Jim and she's wanted this for longer than she's been aware, probably, and then he's kissing harder and his fingers are in her hair. She pulls him closer by the collar of his shirt, tastes the beer on his tongue.

All she keeps thinking is that it should be so weird, kissing the boy next door, but it's not. It's so definitely the opposite of wrong that she wonders if this is what right is.

She pulls back and opens her eyes, surprised to find him looking at her, blue eyes wide open. There's something in the way he's looking at her that she doesn't quite understand, a feeling deep in the pit of her stomach that tells her to go forward, not to look back.

She smiles, and waits for his response.

He smiles back, and kisses her again, softer and close-lipped. Soon the kisses are harder, faster, and he pulls her into his lap, running his hands over her shoulders and down her back. He pulls her back with him to fall onto the wooden boards, and she can feel him pressing between her legs. She brushes her hair out of her face with a giggle before leaning back down to kiss him. His chest and arms are hard beneath her fingertips, and his hands never trail further than the small of her back or the top of her thighs at he pulls her closer to him.

Somewhere in the distance a door slams and a dog barks and then her grandmother's voice rings out loud through the night: "Better come inside, Carol, the weatherman says a storm's coming."

At her grandmother's voice, they both tense. She laughs against his lips, and he pulls her into a hug before kissing the middle of her forehead.

Without saying much, they get up and make their way downstairs.

"I better head home," Jim says, and Carol shrugs, wondering if her lips are as red as his. She knows her hair's a hot mess and her heart is beating a million beats a minute, but she doesn't care at all.

"Yeah," she says, and with one last look, he takes off, running towards his house. In the distance, there's a roar of thunder and suddenly the skies open up and the rain starts. She does not move for a minute, merely enjoys the warm summer rain, but soon she's running for the house too.

She leaves the next day for college.

Carol doesn't say goodbye to Jim, and he doesn't come over before they leave for the transporter station. She doesn't feel like she needs to; after all, he'll be there when she comes back for Thanksgiving.

It's October in Chicago and she swears the air off the lake makes Evanston colder than Iowa ever was. That, or the stress levels she's enduring are making her body react by always being cold –

Regardless, she's at Northwestern and she loves it. Her classes are challenging, her roommate isn't a total bitch, and for the first time in her live, she feels like everything is possible.

And then he calls.

"Hey, it's Jim, I'll be in Chicago and I wanted to know if I could crash in your dorm room."

Her roommate watches the message and says "That is a hottie if I ever saw one."

Carol shrugs. "Good thing I never trust your opinion."

Reema spins on her chair. "I think I'll be out of town that weekend," she tells Carol with a devious smile.

"He never said what weekend he's coming to Chicago," Carol points out, but Reema just continues to smile.

"And I never said when I'll be out of town."

Carol shoots her a look. "He's just a friend from back home," she tells her roommate, but Reema just smiles and picks up her PADD, ignoring her further protestations.

Two weeks later, when Jim arrives, Reema is gone to St. Louis and it's just her and Jim, in a room the size of a cardboard box, for the first time since they kissed in her grandparents barn.

If her palms are sweaty and her heart's beating three times too fast, she can't be blamed for it.

Jim looks the same, though he's not as casual or indifferent as he's been in the past. There's still a playfulness to his words, a teasing quality to his actions, but this is Jim out of his element, a fact she catches whenever he hesitates before speaking. He's in her world now, and she is both exuberant and uneasy at the prospect.

They bundle up in heavy coats to ward off the chill and head out for a trek around campus. They stop at her favorite pizza parlor, the one with the best cheese bread in the galaxy (she swears) where he buys a pitcher and she uses her dining card to pay for the food.

"You look happy," he points out as she slurps a long string of cheese from the pizza into her mouth.

"Really?" she asks. "Have I always seemed depressed?"

"No, no," Jim clarifies. "I mean, sure, you looked fine in Riverside but I think – I feel - that you were sort of idling. Going through the motions. Doing whatever was fine and appropriate for the time and place. You're different here." He grins wickedly. "You're blossoming."

Carol raises her eyebrows. "Can it, farm boy, or you'll be sleeping in the streets." Or some co-eds bed, she thinks sardonically, before glaring at him.

"Are you seriously going to take the last piece of pizza?" she asks, fisting her fork.

Jim smiles innocently. "I am the guest, after all."

"More like a visitor. I didn't invite you."

Jim flinches subtly – so subtly that no once else would recognize but she knows his face by heart, has memorized every line and facial expression since she was eight, and she sees it. She needs to make amends.

Carol picks up a knife and cuts the last piece in half, making sure that Jim gets more pepperoni and olives than she does. She picks up her piece and takes a bit out of it.

Jim catches on – he always does – and reaches for the other piece. There's a small smile on his face as he bites in, and the moments of silence that follow aren't a tense as they could possibly be.

Sometime on their walk back from campus, he reaches out for her hand, and maybe it's just the alcohol, but she takes it. She glances over at him, but he's looking straight ahead, like he's bracing himself for something. She's not sure if he feels like it's his duty to hold her hand, or if there's something else, but she'll do it all the same because everything is different here, in her new world.

When they get back to the dorm, she sneaks him into her room and lets him pick the movie to watch. The pizza is making her sleepy, and she doesn't object when he lays down on the futon and then gestures for her to join him. She settles down beside him before he turns her slowly and curls around her. Somehow, he slips one arm underneath hers and another on her hip and the position, which she thought would be awkward, is the exact opposite.

"Comfortable?" he asks, his breath frighteningly warm against her neck, and she responds by threading her fingers through the hand that rests on her hip, pulling him closer to her. Every part of her body that is against his feels like it's burning, and she doesn't mind behind consumed.

It doesn't matter that she's violating dorm rules or that it's Jim – if she's going to get this chance, she's going to take it, even if it means she's going to burn.

At some point, they must fall asleep watching the movie because she wakes up to a dark screen and Jim curled up against her.

When they both wake, it's not awkward, even if his hand is still lingering on her hip.

She lets him shower first while she gets her thoughts together. When he exits, he's wearing only her towel around his waist and with water droplets traveling down his shoulder to points further south that she shouldn't be thinking about but damned if she is. She pushes past him into the bathroom, trying hard not to brush against him.

He's brought shaving cream and shampoo and aftershave that smells so freaking amazing that her heart starts to beat faster again and she feels a bit dizzy. She jumps into the shower and places her forehead against the cool tile, thinking about the boy in a towel with only a door between them.

The rest of the weekend passes easily, though Carol swears that every second is full of the excruciating tension that comes with having Jim Kirk within a five mile radius of her, and while part of her hates it, the other part loves it. She feels alive in ways she's not sure she's ever felt, and, sadly, cuddling with him is far more satisfying than those heated nights in the back of Brody's car ever were.

She doesn't want to part with him but he has to go back, and all too soon she finds herself hugging him goodbye. She inhales his aftershave and tries (desperately hard) to not kiss him. When she lets go, the look on his face makes her wonder if he was trying hard to do the same.

"I'm really glad you came to visit," she says, putting her hands into her back pockets.

"I'm glad I came too," Jim responds, shifting his feet. "Didn't want you to lose your immunity to my charms."

"Oh, no chance of that happening," she tells him. "I've got a life-long vaccination. I'll never fall victim to your insatiable appetite."

Even though it's just them playing like they always do, she feels sad by the words she speaks, words that she's so used to saying to him which are – and may have always been – lies. She looks down and away for a moment, then looks back up to find him watching her. He's squinting into the morning sun, and for a second he reminds of her home, and all the things she's left – her grandparents, specifically, and him - that she runs to give him another hug.

He takes her into his arms easily, resting a hand on the back of her head and pulling her closer.

"Don't tell anyone," he whispers, "but I have a weak spot for you."

Her stomach does a triple flip as she pulls away, but the second they cease touching, he's reaching down to pick up his duffle bag and she can tell the moment is lost.

"I'll see you at Thanksgiving," she says.

Carol spends Thanksgiving weekend in Riverside.

Jim spends Thanksgiving weekend in whatever new whore he's found. He doesn't show up for dinner, like he has every year since she can remember, and when she drives by the Iowa 80 and sees him laughing and joking with a group of ladies outside, she decides she won't even begin to hate herself for falling victim to his charms.

Instead, she'll just hate him.

She has a month off for Winter Break, and Carol plans to spend part of it in Riverside, and the last week before school in St. Louis with Reema and her family. She's never been and it's an exciting prospect. And, she'll admit, she's eager to see her high school friends again, even for a short while.

She tries really hard not to think about Jim.

That's the difficult part, since very memory of her life in Riverside includes him.

Christmas Eve, she's in her grandmother's kitchen rolling out pie dough when she sees movement across the field, near the Kirks' house. Her grandfather had mentioned that Jim had gotten a place in town recently, so the house is mostly been vacant though rent's still paid on time. She's surprised to see a vehicle pull up, then a flash of brown hair. She finds the binoculars her grandfather keeps near the back door, and immediately recognizes the woman by her strong shoulders and straight posture – as straight as a Star Fleet officer's should be.

"Gram," Carol calls. "Did you know Winona Kirk was coming home for the holidays?"

Her grandmother ambles into the kitchen slowly. "She messaged something like that, yes."

Carol stops her movement, glancing across the field. "Does Jim know?" she asks, looking for his bike. It's not there, so he's probably not either.

"Don't know," her grandfather says, coming to stand by her and look out the window. "Think we're in for a rough night?"

Carol shrugs, unsure of how to answer. She knows that the chances of Jim and his mother fighting are as likely as snow on Christmas here in the Midwest, and she's not excited about the prospect. As she lifts the dough and sets it into the pie dish, she wonders exactly how "rough" things could get.

She finds out around eight o'clock.

They've finished their dinner and she's in the kitchen helping her grandmother clean up when it starts.

First, there is shouting, then yelling. Carol runs to the back door and flings it open, stepping out into the harsh Iowa winter. The cement of the back step is cold against her feet, and once more, through the binoculars, she watches as Winona, wearing a dark black coat, storms back into the house. She sees Jim follow her, still yelling and shouting at his mother's back.

"Jesus, he keeps this up, someone will call the cops," her grandfather says, pausing next to her. She understands his hesitation: this is clearly a domestic dispute, and one that no one wants to get involved in.

As long as she's lived in Riverside, she's known of how Jim barely gets along with his mother, how he was raised by an uncle he despises, and how he always dreamed of running away (only to never actually do it). This is not the first time that Winona Kirk has returned on a holiday, nor is it the first time (Carol assumes) that a casual comment about Jim's life has turned into a brawl.

There is motion, and Jim slams out the door and onto his bike, firing it up and taking off into the night. Carol lets out the breath she didn't know she was holding, and goes back into the house.

After dinner, they sit down to watch 'A Christmas Carol', the movie interrupted by the static and occasional noise from the police scanner in the corner of the room (a relic, she swears, but one she knows every farm family has). Tonight, unlike other nights, Carol listens carefully, half-ignoring the movie until –

Garbled, but clear. "Disturbance at the 80" between static "taken into custody" and "Kirk".

She's out of her chair before she thinks twice, grabbing her purse and a scarf and her boots on the way.

"I'll be back," she cries over her shoulder as she runs out the door and down to her car, revving the engine and skidding out into the dark night.

She's not sure how much his bail will be, but last she heard a buddy from high school was working at the police station now. Carol's not one to flaunt either connections or the law, but all she can think about is Jim and how no one should spend Christmas in jail.

"Hey, Luke," she greets her old friend, who's working the counter at the station and seems genuinely happy to see her (though not happy to be working on Christmas Eve). After a few minutes of catching up, she finally says why she's there.

"Is Kirk in here?" she asks, and Luke laughs.

"Yep. First time in nearly a year – we all lost some money on that. Come to bail him out?"

"Maybe," she says, and Luke smiles.

"Look, the guy's drunk. If you promise to get him home safely so he's not a menace to society, you can buy me a drink later to make up for my generosity. None of us want to be here babysitting him over Christmas anyway."

"I promise to make sure the bastard gets home safe," she swears, hand over heart.

Within a few minutes, Jim is escorted out of the back. He shakes hands with the deputies, who thank Carol profusely for taking the drunk off her hands. She smiles and nods and slips her hand around Jim's wrist, dragging him towards the door.

"Merry Christmas," he says, sliding into her passenger seat.

"It won't be if you throw up in my car," she points out before starting the engine and pulling out of the parking lot. Jim chuckles from his side of the car.

"So I hear you live in town now," Carol asks, pulling out of the parking lot.

"Yeah – West Main, take a right, three blocks, down by the post office."

Jim slumps into the seat and doesn't say a word for the short drive. She pulls up in front of his building, which is a dump, really, and does not turn off the engine.

There are a billion and one things she wants to ask him: what exactly he was fighting with his mom about, why he's living in town, why he never came for Thanksgiving dinner. She knows she won't ask any of them. She isn't quite sure why she's even here, or why she ran out of her house to save him. She knows what Jim means to her, that's for sure, but she also knows that she's tired of feeling like her stomach is constantly twisting and untwisting, but that's her own damn fault.

"Aren't you going to come up?"

She looks up from the steering wheel, which she apparently has been contemplating, and glances over. Jim's half-out the door and so she shuts off the engine and follows him, up narrow stairs into an apartment barely bigger than her dorm room.

It's one room, with barely more technology than her grandparents have. The light is not very bright, there is a rusty and barely-functioning heating unit in the corner, and a rickety table in the middle of the kitchen, where she's standing. Jim's next to her, rummaging through cabinets until he takes out a bottle of whiskey. He uncaps it, takes a swig, and passes it to her. She does the same, not enough coughing as the harsh liquid burns its way down her throat.

"Nice place," she says, and he shrugs.

"Didn't want to be at home anymore," he tells her, pulling out a chair and sitting at his kitchen table. He puts his feet up on it, and it tilts sideways just a bit. The whiskey bottle is still in his hand.

She nods, feeling out of place in this foreign space. She leans against the counter for a moment, looking anywhere but Jim. There's something inside her that's breaking, standing here in his miserable kitchen, looking at his miserable home, and suddenly she can't be there any longer.

"Forget this. I'm not going to ruin my Christmas just because you ruined yours." She's surprised at the sound of heartbreak in her voice, and Jim must notice it too. She turns away quickly, not willing to show him any weakness, and hears the sound of a kitchen chair brushing against the linoleum.


She hears him place the bottle on the table and walk towards her. She turns, looking up at him defiantly.

"Don't what?" she asks, surprised by the slight waiver in her voice.

"Don't go, Carol," he says. She can see his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.

"And stay here? I'm pretty sure that's asking a hell of a lot."

"Just stay."

"No," she says, shifting her weight. With his comment, Jim has made the mood in the room change and the tension she felt in Evanston is back. She feels coy, looking down and then back up. "Why should I stay?"

"Because I asked nicely?" he offers.

She sighs dramatically and reaches into her pocket for her keys when his hands finally move. He cups her face, thumb sweeping across her cheekbones, brushing away the faint tear tracks. He studies her carefully, and she doesn't move, barely breathes, as his eyes traces every feature on her face before meeting her eyes.

"Damn, Carol," he says before he kisses her.

It's like their kiss last summer and it's nothing like it. There's urgency behind it and she gives in to it, pressing up against him as he presses into her. Her hands reach around to his back, fingers running across his muscles. He pulls her hair out of its ponytail and lets it fall so he can run his fingers through it.

"This better not be a pity fuck, because I'm not about to be a pity fuck," she tells him.

"Trust me, this is more about fucking and less about pity that most things I do," he tells her.

"Way to make a girl feel good about herself."

"Less talking," he says, stopping her words with his mouth. As pleasant as that might be – and it really is pleasant, because Jim Kirk can do a million and one evil things with that mouth of his – she needs more than just that.

"No," Carol says, stepping back. She gets a good look at Jim, at his glazed-over eyes and bruised lips and is sure she looks exactly the same. "If we're doing this, it's not on your terms. You're not going to tell me I'm beautiful or precious or call me baby and then leave me to wake up alone in this shit-hole. I'm worth more than that, so at the very least, at the end of this, I'll drive myself home and drop you off wherever you want to be on the way."

The look on Jim's face is indescribable, though he does say, "Jesus, Carol, is that what you think I'd do?"

"You're Jim Kirk," she tells him, running her hands through her hair, wondering to if gathering it back into a ponytail is too presumptuous, too obvious a way to signal she thinks this evening is over (even though that's the last thing she wants). "Word gets around."

He looks at her, blue eyes wide and serious. "I promise not to do any of those things that you described because you're worth far more to me than you think."

When she fails to respond, he takes a step forward to resume kissing her, and she decides that she's just going to go with this.

Which means that, when he somehow maneuvers her back onto the bed she'd never noticed, tucked away in the corner of the room, she doesn't protest. When the bedsprings creak in anguish over their combined weight, they both laugh.

"You'd think this bed would be able to hold up to the task at hand," she tells him, fingers threading through the hair at the nape of his neck. He looks up from his task at hand – namely, licking his way down her neck, and shrugs.

"Don't know," he tells her. "Never really got a chance to break it in." And then returns his tongue to her neck, causing a long shiver to pass through her body and her hips to buck up towards his.

The knowledge – that Jim doesn't bring girls here, but he let her come here – is strange and frightening and bordering on that weird friend/almost family territory that - it's also incredibly hot because ilord/i Jim Kirk doesn't bring many girls back here (and rightfully so, this place is a dump) and iwhat/i is that boy doing to her breast right now?

There's something to be said for just giving in to sensation, especially when she's wanted this for a year, maybe more, maybe since the time she realized that boys weren't just friends you shove into mud puddles. It's like all her birthdays at once or – trite – but the best Christmas ever.

She pulls his head forward so that their lips touch, and she doesn't care that she tastes whiskey faintly on his tongue.

Before she knows it, they're both naked and it's just utterly amazing, the feeling of all this skin sliding together and creating friction that makes her gasp and shudder.

In a gentlemanly manner, Jim eases into her and rests his forehead against hers, waiting for the rise of her hips until pressing forward. There are no words spoken save for soft exhalations and she bites her tongue hard then gasps, eyes meeting his, surprised by the intensity in his eyes.

When it's over, he pulls her towards him, not seeming to care about the sticky-heat that binds their bodies together. She doesn't want to stop kissing him and so they lay there for a while, listening to the heating unit sputter on across the room. She doesn't want to stop doing this, not as long as his hands keep resting on her hip.

Eventually she gets cold, and he pulls the blankets up over them both. Carol's not surprised that the blankets smell heavily of his aftershave and him, and burrows deeper into the warmth.

She falls asleep with Jim's arms around her.

She wakes up cold, and for a moment wonders if that means he's left her, just the opposite of his promise. She barely has a moment to consider this idea before he slides back into bed behind her, and his arms encircle her again.

"Good morning," he says, pulling her closer against him. He sounds sleepy, but she can feel his lips smile on her neck.

"Good morning," she replies, then wonders. "Is it even morning?"

"It's two A.M. so it's definitely morning."

"Crap," Carol says, shifting. She's loathe to do it but she feels like she needs to sit up and process all of this and –

"My grandparents." She sits up and rests her head in her hands. Jim shifts in bed but doesn't touch her. She can feel him sitting next to her, however, as he says "Tell them I was in a bad way and you were looking out for me. Neighborly duty, and all."

It's a logical explanation – one that will pass with little thought from her grandparents – but that doesn't explain what just happened and where to go from here, if there's anywhere to go.

"So," she asks, looking down at her hands, "what exactly inspired all of this?"


Carol shrugs and wraps her arms around her legs, still beneath the sheets. "Okay, not just this – going back to last summer. When did I stop being the girl next door and become the girl next door you were trying to seduce?"

Jim doesn't make any smart-assed comments about seduction, or how he's completed that mission. Instead, he tells her, "Probably the year you turned seventeen and I realized that you weren't some little brat anymore."

Carol nudges him in the ribs. "I was never a brat."

"True, but it was like – different. One day you're Carol, and the next you're Carol. It's like you suddenly shifted over from one category to another in my brain."

"So I have hormones to blame for this? Thank god it's not boredom," she says sarcastically. She hasn't looked at him during this conversation and she's not sure she wants to yet.

"You're such a bitch sometimes, you know?" Jim points out, though she's not offended in the least. "And it's never boredom with you. Why do you think I went all the way out to Chicago to visit you?"


"I missed you. Holy shit, I missed you so bad. You weren't there to talk to or hang out with and I was bored, yes, but I wanted to see you. Honestly. I don't think I would have wanted to see you as bad if I hadn't kissed you last summer but I did. And I went to Chicago like a total fool."

She finally raises her head to meet his eyes, but he's not looking at her. Instead, she stares at his profile and he stares off towards the kitchenette.

"I don't think it was foolish," she says softly. "I was glad you came."

Now, he finally looks at her. "Wasn't ever sure of that," he tells her.

She looks away, feeling slightly scared at what she wants to say next. "You think it's easy to like you?"

"What do you mean?"

"You can have any girl – and every girl – you want. And for years I was just your shadow. Do you think I honestly thought you'd ever look at me twice?"

"Do you think I honestly thought you'd ever look at me twice? Hell no, Carol. Never. You're right when you said I have a reputation. I'm not always proud of it."

"Oh my god," she says, running her fingers through her tangled hair, "are we really sitting here and having this high school conversation over whether or not one of us noticed the other? "

Jim laughs. "I guess we are. And it's a moot point now, isn't it?"

Carol flops back into the bed. "I guess so."

With a laugh, Jim turns around and lays down on his stomach next to her. She's aware that the sheets barely cover her breasts, but she doesn't mind. Not with the way that he's looking at her. Instead of feeling awkward or embarrassed, she doesn't feel anything other than comfortable.

He sees the smile on her face, because he leans down to kiss her softly.

"I'm fairly sure this rates as the best Christmas ever," he tells her.

She doesn't object, nor does she object when he leans back down to kiss her, and his hand creeps the blanket down, and when he moves to cover her completely.

The second time is different; just as intense as the first, but with something deeper beneath it. Maybe it's knowing how much he cares about her, or vocalizing how much she cares about him, but it's different. Softer, and harder, and more urgent and ultimately more satisfying.

They doze off for a while, but she wakes before dawn. Her clothes are easy to find at the end of the bed, and she shimmies into her jeans quietly. Should she wake him before she goes? Does it even matter? She thinks she'd probably want someone to say goodbye to her before leaving, but –

"Think your grandparents will buy the story?" Jim asks, sitting up in bed. He looks tired, and she feels bad that in one week, she'll be in St. Louis and he'll still be here, in Riverside, avoiding Winona.

"Yeah, I think so." She slides her sweater over her head. "Do you want to come over for dinner tonight?"

"Yeah, that sounds nice," Jim says as he wipes his eye with the palm of his hand. "What time should I be there?"

"Whenever. I'll probably sleep 'til noon, so don't show up before that."

"Can do," he says.

From the foot of the bed, she looks at him and he looks at her. She feels incredibly happy and just a bit sad, though she knows this isn't goodbye, that there's nothing in the universe that would keep him from her grandmother's Christmas roast (seven years and counting). But she doesn't want to forget this, doesn't want to lose any of the feelings that are fluttering in her stomach right now, so she kneels on the bed and kisses him.

He snakes his hands around her and into her hair, and though she wants to just fall back into bed and spend the rest of Christmas there, she pulls back. Running a hand through her hair, she looks down and Jim who is looking up at her and smiling.

"See you later," she says quietly as she stands back up, grabs her coat, and hurries to the door without any more distractions.

Her drive home is quiet. There is some snow on the ground, and she's careful about ice, but as the sun comes up over fallow fields, she feels content.

She tells him that she'll call him, that she'll write.

She doesn't.

Life picks up after winter break, and soon there are internships to apply for, labs to work in, and friends to hang out with, and papers to write. Carol soon finds herself wrapped up in the bustle of the scientific community on campus, and if she returns to the homestead, however infrequent those trips become, she never sees Jim.

When she returns during her senior year of college for her grandfather's funeral, he's long gone. They tell her he's joined Starfleet, which she finds impossible, but dismisses with nothing more than a thought. He's probably anywhere that is not here, because no one stays here long enough.