Live Fast, Regret Later by Djinn
Chapel cruised the club, looking for anyone who seemed likely to be on Earth temporarily-and this club was usually full of people like that. She had the end-of-term crazies and was dying to work them out-preferably horizontally-with someone cute but unlikely to stick around for long.
"Hi." A sweet voice, honeyed even. Female.
Chapel turned, saw a petite woman with short, glossy brown hair sitting on a bar stool, looking her up and down.
"Hi." She moved closer.
"Can I buy you a drink?" The woman smiled. "Or do you have to get back to your ship?"
"Ummm. If you're looking for a soon-to-ship-out, no-strings kind of thing, I'm afraid I'm Earth bound."
"Well, that"-the woman gestured for the bartender-"is a shame." She uncrossed and recrossed her legs in a way that had to be deliberate; her skirt was very short, riding up on toned legs. "What's your poison?"
"Champagne tonight. I'm celebrating."
"You heard the lady." The brunette waved the bartender on his way and Chapel laughed. "What? Oh, was that imperious? My husband tells me I need to work on that."
The woman nodded. "He's very handsome."
"But still you come here?"
"He's handsome but often in a bad mood. I come here to find people who aren't in bad moods."
"I see." Chapel slid onto the stool next to her. "I'm Chris, by the way."
"Lori." She sipped her drink. "What are you celebrating?"
"One less term of med school to get through."
"Good for you. Starfleet Medical?"
Chapel nodded. "Do I look Starfleet?"
"A little. Now that I'm looking for it. It's the way you stand." Lori laughed. "Do I?"
"Well, the legs don't." Chapel gave her an obvious once over. "But yeah, you have the bearing."
"Don't tell anyone, but I'm an admiral."
Chapel suddenly felt very uncomfortable.
"Oh, for God's sake, I'm still the woman who just tried to pick you up. Relax." Lori took a healthy sip of her drink. "I wouldn't have tried to do that if I'd thought you were Fleet."
"Nope. Don't shit in your own nest."
"I know someone else with that philosophy. So your husband isn't fleet."
Lori laughed. "I don't consider marriage shitting." She thought about that. "Which is a terrible slam to you, and I don't mean it that way."
"I know what you mean. Actually, I was looking for no-strings, too." She sighed. "Get the kinks out or something." She sipped her champagne in silence for a moment.
"It's a term marriage," Lori said. "Up soon."
"Are you renewing?"
"Not sure. Like I said, bad moods a lot of the time."
"But you love him?"
Lori shrugged. "I did. I mean..." She looked down. "I think I did. This will sound terrible, but I thought he could help my career-thought we could help each other's career. But...no."
"I kind of understand. I was engaged to a man who was my graduate advisor."
"So you didn't love him?"
"I loved his authority. I loved his knowledge. I loved being his."
"None of those things are love. They're more...acquisitive. Love's supposed to be selfless, right?" Lori laughed. "I've never quite mastered that. Have you?"
"Once. I had a thing for this guy who did not like me back."
"You're sure he didn't? Men can be cagey."
"Positive." She smiled. "I sure did like him, though. Made a damn fool of myself."
"That's not good. Always leave them wanting more, Chris."
"Well that presumes they start out wanting anything."
Lori laughed again. "This is true."
"Having fun?" A familiar voice. Grumpy as hell, but familiar.
Chapel turned, saw Kirk standing behind her, glaring at Lori. Then he did a double take at her. Probably had never seen her wearing a dress as form fitting-or as backless. She tried a smile. "Didn't recognize me, sir?"
"No." His voice was so tight she thought he might sprain something. "But Lori I recognize. My better half."
"My ball and chain," Lori muttered into her drink.
"Heard that." Jim gestured to the stool next to Chapel. "Move over, Chapel. I need to talk to my wife."
"I can leave."
"Your hearing gone?" His hand clamped down on her leg. "I said move the hell over."
She moved over. Resisted trying to catch Lori's eye. Felt suddenly like she was caught between two annoyed hornets. "Are you sure I can't just leave?"
"You tried to pick Chapel up, didn't you?" He didn't sound angry as much as disappointed. "I thought you said you were happy."
"I was happy. Till you walked in."
Chapel tried to slide off the stool; Kirk found her thigh again and held on tight. He let up as soon as she quit moving, but didn't take his hand off her leg.
Lori seemed fixated on that hand. "Let me guess. She's another of your conquests?" She gave Chapel a brittle smile. "You'd be amazed how many of you there are."
"She's not. She was on my crew."
"Do you always manhandle your crew that way?"
He let go of Chapel's leg.
"Could I please go, sir?" She wasn't sure which of them she was asking.
"Go, Chris. It was nice meeting you." Lori sounded as if she couldn't make up her mind if that was true or not.
Chapel fled-it seemed a smarter thing to do than try to reassure Lori that she and Kirk had never been an item.
Chapel sensed someone coming up behind her in the medical library, turned to see who it was and could feel herself blushing when she realized it was Kirk.
"As you were." He grinned, but it was another of the tight expressions that looked like it hurt to make. He sat down next to her. "You hiding here? I thought the term was over?"
"Just getting a head start." She could hear the defensiveness in her voice-mostly because he was right, she had been hiding.
"I'm sorry to have put you in the middle of that last night." He moved his chair closer, lowered his voice. "Except that you appeared to be willingly in the middle of it when I got there-I thought... I thought she was done with the extracurricular stuff."
"Oh, sir, she probably is. It was me, I mean, I was the one who tried to pick her up and-"
"You're a terrible liar."
"But thank you." He sighed too. "Did she even bother to mention she was married?"
"Before or after she tried to hook you?"
Her look must have told him the answer.
"Yeah, that's what I thought." He looked around the empty library. "Listen, this place is much too depressing. Come get coffee with me."
"I don't think so, sir, I-"
"Call me Jim. And I can make coming for coffee an order if you want."
"I don't actually think you can."
"I can. Starfleet Regulation Forty Four dot Eighteen. The right of a flag officer to seek independent medical counsel."
"There's no such reg."
"There is. I don't think it applies to coffee with the woman your wife just hit on. But you know me, always bending those rules." His voice dripped self mockery.
"Are you all right?"
"I hate my job. I am rapidly growing to dislike my wife. What do you think?"
She looked away.
"Chris, please? Coffee?"
"I don't think so, sir."
"Call me Jim."
His eyes seemed to go dead. "Okay, then. I certainly don't want to push this. My apologies." He got up and left quickly.
Chapel took a deep breath, then another. Then a lot more before she finally could pay attention to what she'd been reading.
She heard light footsteps approaching, smelled a familiar perfume when the steps stopped behind her. Before Lori could say anything, she turned and said, "Admiral Ciani, what a surprise. Tell me: how are you two finding me?"
"He's been here already?"
"Damn. I wanted to get here first."
"Well, great minds and all that. You're a hell of a matched pair."
Lori sat down in the chair Kirk had just vacated. "Admirals can find anyone. Or we know people who can find you for us. We're not supposed to use that privilege for strictly personal use but there's this reg that-"
"Yes, I've heard of it." Chapel turned off her padd and faced Lori. "I'm not getting coffee with you, either."
"Good, because I don't drink coffee." Lori leaned back. "I'm leaving him. I decided that."
"Okay. Well, you should tell him, not me."
"Wait, he asked you to coffee?" Lori leaned forward. "He didn't come to see you to find out what I was up to?"
"Oh, he did. Don't worry. Your boy is not interested in me."
"How close were you two on the ship?" Lori's voice had changed, wasn't as friendly as before. She scooted her chair closer.
"Not close." Chapel moved her chair away.
"He was that guy, the one you liked who you thought didn't like you, wasn't he?"
"He was not that guy. He was really not that guy."
"So he liked you?"
"As a friend. Mildly. Not a good one." Chapel could see Lori wasn't buying it. "You two are not normal, you know that, right? If he cares so much about what you do, and you care so much about what he does, shouldn't you be talking to each other? Clearly there are strong feelings here." She gathered up her things. "I'm going to go now, sir."
"Chris, it's Lori."
"No, sir. It's not." This time she fled with a little more dignity.
She was leaving class when she saw Kirk leaning against the wall, arms crossed, a small, rather sheepish, smile on his face. She saw the other cadets give her some looks that meant she'd just shot up on the interesting level-she'd been careful to downplay as much as she could the fact she'd served on the flagship.
"Lieutenant. Or should I say Doctor?"
"Not yet." She found herself smiling. It sounded good. Doctor. Not that lieutenant was bad, certainly better than ensign.
"How about if I just call you Chris like I used to." When she nodded, he took her arm. "And you can goddamn call me Jim."
"Stow it. I need a friend, Chris. Spock's gone to purge everything he cares about-that includes me, I guess. Bones is mad as hell at me for taking this job, and I'll be damned if I'll head to Georgia to tell him he was right all along. The others...well, they're busy on the ship." He waited, and she could tell he knew Decker had talked to her too. "And you'll be going, but you're not up there yet."
"No, not yet. You're leaving out your wife, sir." She saw his mouth twitch and gave up. "Jim. What about Lori?"
"She left me. Let our marriage lapse and that was that." He shook his head. "I let it lapse, too, I guess. Not like I put my seal of approval on the renewal request. That would be hell, wouldn't it? To want to renew and find out your partner doesn't?" He was guiding her down the hall. "I assume your classes are over for the day?"
"You know what they say about assuming?"
"Is there any possible way for me to be a bigger ass than I've already been?"
"That's what I thought. Look, there's a new restaurant down on the wharf. I want to try it. They want the brass there, looks good for them, and we might come back when we have visitors to wine and dine."
"But I don't want to eat there alone. So you need to come."
"If you want to." He stopped walking, turned to face her. "I'm making another assumption, Chris. I'm assuming that if Lori and I both pursue you now, you'll choose me."
"Big damn assumption."
"Yes, it is. But as any of my colleagues will tell you, I have a big damn ego."
"No, you don't."
His eyes softened. "No. I don't. Not when it comes to romance." He touched her cheek. "If you'd rather go look for Lori, I'm sure she wouldn't mind."
"I..." She looked down. "Sir-Jim, I feel very weird. This feels weird."
"It doesn't have to. We can be friends." The look he gave her was sweet, then it turned into something else. "Maybe more."
"I'm shipping out eventually. You just want me so she can't have me."
"That's not true." But by the way his lower lip jutted out, she could tell it was to some extent. Then again, the same might be said about Lori, now that she thought Chapel and Jim had enjoyed some kind of extra special friendship.
He waited, his eyes too hard to be puppy dog, but still damn appealing.
She started to smile. "Is the restaurant good?"
"Supposed to be out of this world." He laughed. "Only on Earth."
He took her pack from her, slung it over his shoulder gallantly. With a grin, he urged her forward, his hand on the small of her back, and she moved away quickly, not liking how extremely wonderful that little touch had felt.
She'd never ever been interested in this man.
She was leaving eventually, on his ship.
It was unclear why he was even interested in her.
She turned to look at him, saw he was grinning.
"Liked that, didn't you?"
"Shut up," she said, which only made his grin grow wider.
Chapel saw Lori coming down the corridor of Starfleet Medical with another officer and ducked into a stairwell, then down a few flights of stairs just to be safe.
There was no reason for her to hide from Lori. She wasn't doing anything wrong by going to dinner with Jim.
Not the first time. Or the next time. Or the next.
Cripes, for something that wasn't wrong, she sure felt guilty as hell.
She took the long way to her class, was happy to see no gamine brunette waiting for her.
But was less happy to see her inside the classroom, talking to some of the medical cadets. Lori turned, smiled at Chapel as if she'd never tried to pick her up or been jealous-or whatever she'd been.
"Chris. There you are." She gave the cadets a winning grin. "Carry on." She nodded toward the hall, and even though Chapel had at least six inches on her, she had the feeling Lori could carry her out the door on willpower alone. "I saw you duck into that stairwell."
"I forgot something."
"You're a terrible liar."
"So I've been told."
"Gosh, who could have told you that?" Lori settled in next to her, arms crossed, eyes hard. "I know you're seeing him."
"It's not what you think."
"Isn't it?" She leaned in. "I saw you first."
"He did. I worked with him, remember?"
"Ah, but I thought you said there was no interest. Are you saying he saw you first...that way?"
Chapel sighed. She was not up to this level of sparring. No matter which way she went, there'd be a trap. "Can I just get to class?"
"I'm not with him. It's just dinner."
"Toots, that's how he and I started. Has he taken you to Delmonico's yet?"
Chapel felt a nasty smile growing, tried to bite it back but couldn't help it. "No. He said he's over that place." Actually, he'd told her it was where he and Lori used to go, and he didn't want to be reminded of them. But her version was harsher. And she suddenly felt the need to be harsh. She moved forward, saw Lori's eyes widen for a moment. "Look, Admiral, my class is about to start. Unless you have some Fleet business to discuss, I'm going to have to go."
"He'll break your heart."
"And you wouldn't?"
Lori laughed. "You have me there. I'm not very good over the long haul-at least not with him. Then again, you're not going to be very good over the long haul, you leaving and all on the pretty ship Jim used to captain. Maybe you'll break his heart."
"I'm going to try not to." She realized she was admitting a little too much with that statement, but she felt she owed it to Jim. She knew he didn't care who knew they were seeing each other socially. Hell, he probably wanted Lori to know.
Lori gave her a long, hard stare. Then she laughed, a short puff of pitying air. "Good luck with that." She turned on her heel and walked away-a picture perfect Starfleet officer.
Yet something about her struck Chapel as sad.
Chapel walked next to Jim, enjoying the feel of his arm wrapped around her shoulder, the sighs he made after a good meal. Contentment. The only kind he seemed to feel anymore. She saw him glance up at the sky; it was dark enough to see the stars.
"You miss them."
"More than anything." He pulled her closer. "You'll be up there soon."
"Another six months."
"That's soon to me." He smiled at her, a real smile, not tight, but a little bit lost. "I'll miss you."
"I'm just your dinner partner."
"No, you're not." He leaned in, kissed her slowly, wrapping his other arm around her.
She kissed him back, enjoying the feel of him, the solidness -always someone she could depend on, even if not someone she'd known very well.
"Is this smart?" she whispered when he finally pulled away.
"No. No, it's not." He nuzzled her neck and murmured, "When we get to your place, can I come in?"
He got them moving again. "I'm going to take advantage of you."
"You damn well better." She grinned at the way he chuckled. Then it hit her, the idea she might make him happy, and then leave him anyway. "I'm shipping out, Jim."
"Not for six months." He met her eyes. "I want this. I know it's going to hurt like hell when you leave. But I want this."
"Do you care if I want this?"
He stopped walking, turned to look at her, the smile dropping away. "Have I overstepped?"
"No. Jim, no." She pulled him closer. "You were just being really focused on yourself. 'I want this.' No thought of me."
"I think of you. Believe me, I think of you." He kissed the tip of her nose, and she laughed at the whimsy of the touch. "I'm the one standing still, Chris. I guess I am over-focused on me. And I'll get worse the closer you and my ship get to leaving-without me. Can you deal with that?"
"I don't know." She didn't try to smile away the answer.
"Will you try to deal with it?"
For that she could smile. "Yes, I'll try."
He tucked her hand over his arm, pulled them along faster. They made it to her apartment in record time, and she palmed them in. They rode the elevator in a silence punctuated by furtive looks and quick grins. He followed her down the hall-she'd never brought him this far; he'd only ever walked her to the lobby-and he waited as she palmed open the front door.
She expected him to grab her as soon as the door closed, but he didn't. He walked into the apartment, past the bedroom, into the living room. She watched him as he went to the window.
"It is. I'll miss it. The stars aren't quite the same." She smiled at his expression. "Blasphemy, I know."
He turned to the interior, studied the pictures on the wall, the little knick-knacks on the tables, wandered around the place, touching fabrics. At her look, he said, "This isn't just a fuck-and-leave, Chris. I want to know who I'm going to be with."
"And what does all this tell you?"
"You like exotic things. You have a practical streak. And you don't have a single picture of family or friends or anyone out here."
"That's because they're in my den." She pointed to the room in question.
He went in, smiled at the number of photos in mismatched frames scattered around her shelves.
"Much." Leaning against the desk, he said, "Come here."
She moved slowly, trying to make her walk seductive. She was good at it in the clubs, but here, any sensual grace she used to have seemed to desert her.
She was horribly nervous. She swallowed hard and tried to smile as he reached for her, pulled her in.
"Not just a fuck, is it?" His smile was easy, his eyes warm.
"Not at all."
He kissed her again, running his hands all over her body. She moaned and she could feel him smiling under their kiss. Pulling away, she took his hand and drew him into the bedroom. They undressed each other slowly, but once the clothes were off, she found herself in a rush, saw he was, too. The sex was furious and quick, and they both laughed a little nervously when it was over, breathing hard and feeling like teens trying to do it before the parents got home.
"I promise I can last longer," he said as he lay back and pulled her on top of him.
"So can I." She laughed softly. "Although, normally I take too long."
"I don't believe that. You're very responsive."
"I think it's more that you are very skilled."
"Oh, well, I am." He laughed and pushed her to her back. "Shall we see which of us is right?" He kissed his way down her chest, her belly, her-oh, holy God.
Turned out they were both right.
Chapel nodded to assorted brass-brass she was getting to know from being Jim's companion to dinners and parties and picnics-as she walked down the corridor of Starfleet Command with him to his office.
"They like you." He smiled at her, laughing softly as she bumped up against him and then moved a more respectable distance away.
"But do you like me?"
"Have I not made that clear over the last few months?"
She shrugged, then laughed at his expression. "Well, maybe, you've made it clear."
"But I should make it more clear?" He looked like he might try to make it more clear in his office.
"Why are we going to your office again?"
"Something I want to show you."
They turned a corner, and she saw Lori standing in the hall talking to a commander. Chapel looked down and sighed.
Something he wanted to show her or someone he wanted to show her off to?
The commander left, and Lori turned to watch them coming. She nodded. At Chapel. Jim she ignored.
"Sir," Chapel murmured, sending Lori the most apologetic look she could without betraying Jim.
"Lieutenant Chapel. You're looking well." Lori's smile was genuine, and Chapel saw Jim's eyes narrow. Not the reaction he was going for apparently. "Nice lunch?"
"Was he as talkative as he is right now?" Lori winked at Chapel.
Chapel felt Jim tense and tried to bite back a sigh. She was not doing this, not now.
"Sirs, I need to get back to class." She smiled at them both, a neutral-probably rather uncomfortable-smile. "Last few days and all that."
"And then your residency?" Lori glanced at Jim and then back at Chapel. "An accelerated one, I imagine. If you're going to make the launch."
"Chris is top of her class." Jim sounded proud-but Chapel couldn't tell if he was proud for her or just proud his woman was doing well.
"Accelerated means lots of work. Not much free time." Lori's smile was vicious. "What will you do with yourself, Jim?"
Chapel sighed again. "Excuse me, sirs." She hurried off, nearly collided with someone as she took a corner too fast.
"Christine." Rand did not sound happy to see her. "Something wrong?"
"Not a thing."
Their relationship had soured since Chapel had started seeing Jim. More she thought because she hadn't had the guts to tell Jan about it, than that Jan really cared anymore who Jim saw.
"Can we talk?" she asked as Jan started to move away. "Walk with me, back to Starfleet Medical."
"I might have things to do here. You're not the only busy one, you know."
Chapel looked down. "I know. I'm sorry. I just...I just miss you. You're...sane. I need that. Someone who's not angry all the time. Or manipulating me."
"Oh, for God's sake. You're pathetic." Jan took her arm and got her moving. "Tell me all about it."
"I can't. They'll kill me." Chapel took a deep breath. "Isn't love supposed to make you feel good?"
"So you're in love with him?"
"Yes." She met Jan's gaze.
"But you don't feel good with him? Hmm, wouldn't have seen that coming. Just don't tell me he's not good in bed. I can't bear to have all my fantasies shattered."
"He's great in bed."
They walked in silence for a moment, then Jan said, "He's always loved that damn ship. More than any of us, even Spock. And now that ship is not only leaving him, it's taking you away, too. How do you think that makes him feel?"
Chapel turned to look at her, mouth a little bit open.
"What? I can't be insightful?" Jan shook her head. "If you love him, this is just part of the package."
"But there's the evil ex-wife." Who she was not going to mention just might be interested in her.
"That's part of the package as well." Jan slowed at the crossover between Command and Medical. "I really do have somewhere to be. But I've missed you, too." She slugged Chapel in the arm-softly, but still a slug. "Don't be a stranger, okay?"
Chapel nodded, feeling a little bit better about her day. Until she heard her padd buzz and saw she had a message from Lori.
It was a text. "I am proud of you. All the other stuff aside. Well done, Chris."
It was just exactly the right thing to say.
Chapel had no doubt Lori knew that.
Chapel and Jim lay in bed in a rented cottage on the beach, his head on her stomach. The wind came through the open windows, making the curtains billow, cooling them. She played with his hair as her breathing returned to normal.
"This is nice," he murmured.
"This could be how it is all the time." He took a breath, seemed to be holding it.
He rolled over and got out of bed in one lithe move, stalked over to the windows, then back to stare down at her. "That wasn't fair of me."
She didn't answer. He didn't always fight fair-but she wasn't sure this was a fight.
"What if I asked you to marry me?"
"I'd say yes." She told her heart that he wasn't actually asking her, that a hypothetical question was not a proposal.
But then his smile twisted, the way it did more and more. "And then you'd stay here. With me?"
She didn't look away. "Would that make you happy?"
He started to answer, but then the nasty smile faded, and he turned and walked into the bathroom. As the door closed, she heard him say, "No. No, it wouldn't."
She got up and found her robe, pulled it on and went out to the deck, sitting on the wicker loveseat. He came out a moment later, sat down next to her.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't do that to you."
"I don't know what you want." Although she did. He wanted to be up there, where she was going. And she wasn't sure it would matter, if he got there, if she was there or not.
Jan had been right. The ship was all that mattered. No matter how much he might feel for Chapel.
"I want you to be happy." He turned to look at her, leaned in and kissed her slowly, very tenderly. Then he pulled her close and sighed. "I didn't mean to ruin our vacation."
"You haven't ruined it."
"You're still not a very good liar."
She found Lori in the same club as before, held up a hand as Lori gave her the smile that had drawn her in the first time. "I'm not here to cheat on him."
"Fine. Sit down. Have a drink." Lori ordered her champagne, put it on her credit chip. "To your last few days on Earth."
Chapel drank it halfway down before she looked over at Lori. "Did you love him?"
"I did." For once Lori was serious. "Has he asked you to marry him?"
"I think that means he might actually love you. He cares too much to try to hold you." She took a sip of her drink.
"I don't know. Maybe." Chapel sighed.
"For what it's worth, he clearly loves you." Lori laughed softly. "I think I could have loved you better, though."
Chapel wasn't sure being manipulated all the time would be an improvement to Jim's raging bad moods.
"What did you come here for, Chris, if not to cheat on him?"
"I wanted to ask you something. Just...look out for him? When I'm gone?" She didn't smile, tried to show Lori how serious she was. "I'm worried about him."
"He's an unhappy man, Chris. Unhappy men do stupid things." She pushed her drink away. "What exactly do you think I'm going to be able to do?"
"Just...just be nice to him. A little."
"I'll try. For you, I'll try."
Chapel slid off the stool, stopped when she felt Lori touch her hand. She turned. Lori leaned in, her eyes open, watching Chapel as she moved.
"It's just a kiss. It's not cheating." Lori smiled. "I don't think you believe it would be cheating. Just once. To see what you're missing."
"It doesn't matter what I do or don't believe." Chapel pulled away. "He'd think it was cheating."
"I'm not sure he deserves you."
"I'm pretty sure you don't, either."
Lori laughed. "Touche, my dear. Godspeed on your journey. Decker's lucky to have you."
"You don't know that."
"Oh, I've kept up with your academic record. It's not just your physical assets I'm interested in." She winked.
"Not goodbye. I'll be up on your ship, with Commander Sonak. Nogura can't come and it was Jim or I to stand in his place. It would kill Jim, so Nogura's sending me." Lori laughed suddenly, her mean laugh. "Well, he could have sent Carruthers, but our newest admiral's out of favor. She learned the hard way that when the old man's in one of his moods, it is not the time to speak truth to power."
Chapel could imagine Lori was the master of surfing the political waves of Command. Jim probably was, too. When he cared enough about his life to bother.
Alarms sounded on the Enterprise as Chapel beamed up, fifteen hours ahead of schedule. The goodbye she'd envisioned having with Jim had worked out a little differently than she'd expected. He was standing in the corridor, smiling at her as she walked out from the transporter room.
"You know where to go?" His look was tender-but then he'd just stolen his ship back, or was about to. Even if it was only temporarily.
"Do you know where to go?"
"No goddamn idea. Just charged up here ready to save the day." He winked at her, and she saw the old Kirk, the one she'd served with but never slept with.
She loved this version of him. Even if he'd disappear as fast as it took to deal with this crisis. Unless, of course, they died. Then, at least, he'd be the right Kirk at the end.
"Wish me luck?"
"You don't need it." She moved closer and smiled. "But of course I wish you luck."
"I love you," he said, his eyes meeting hers for a long moment. Then he grinned and took off, walking fast, every inch the captain, even with admiral's insignia on. He was walking the wrong way if he wanted to get to the bridge, but he looked damned good doing it.
Her communicator buzzed. "Ciani to Chapel."
Lori did not sound happy. "He beat me up there, the bastard."
Chapel laughed. The situation was dire, a terrible danger threatened the Federation, and these two still could not give this up. "So this is goodbye?"
"You're damn right it is. I'm not coming up if he's there. Carruthers is excited as hell she gets to go." There was a long pause. "Good luck, Chris. I hope to hell we survive this."
"I hope to hell we do, too."
"I'm going to look you up again someday. If we survive, he'll have to come back to Earth. And we both know how that will go."
"And if we don't survive..."
"Then none of us will give a damn. Godspeed, Doctor."
"Thank you, Admiral."
Even in the middle of a crisis, Lori could screw with her head and make her feel warm all over. It was a gift.
Len sat back in his office chair, finally coming to roost after gallivanting all over the ship. Not that Chapel hadn't done her share-trying to coax any shred of the real Ilia from the automaton V'ger had sent over.
But it was over. V'ger was gone, and the ship was full of people trying to sit still even though adrenaline was rushing through their veins.
"So," Len said, breaking into her reverie. "You and Jim, huh?"
She stared at him. "How did you arrive at that?" Especially after her horribly embarrassing welcome for Spock.
"The way he talked to you when he needed Spock back on his feet. Like he was used to telling you what he wanted."
"You think he orders me around? I mean if we were together, which I'm not saying we are."
"He didn't act like someone who was seeing you again for the first time."
"Were you there for the handholding with Spock? Because I'm not sure how you arrive at me being the one with Jim when there was that moment to jump to conclusions from."
"Ah. The final proof."
He laughed. "You just called him Jim."
"Shit." She laughed. "All right, you caught me."
"He's staying, you know. Nogura gave him the ship."
"I didn't know." She felt an empty pit forming where her belly was. The ship back. He wouldn't want her, or couldn't have her-that was an easier way to think of it.
Len narrowed his eyes. "Hasn't been easy, has it? Him stuck on Earth. Imagine he was a bit of a bitch."
"I don't know what you mean." She played as dumb as she could.
"That act worked better when you were a blonde." He smiled at her expression. "I like the new you. Doctor Chapel. Nice sound to it. You think Doctor Chapel can stand working with Doctor McCoy again?"
"You're staying too?"
"Someone has to keep an eye on him."
She looked down. Someone would. Many someones. Len. Spock. His crew. His damn ship.
She heard the sickbay doors open, steps coming, steps she didn't recognize till Jim walked in Len's office. He'd never sounded that light on Earth.
"I'll be going." She got up, was surprised when he stopped her. "Sir?"
He didn't look at her, just smiled at Len. "Bones, we'll catch up later?"
"Count on it, Jim." Len smiled at them both. "Go have fun. You've earned it."
Yes, it would be so much fun to be broken up with, to have the ship take him, to know that she'd been a nice sop for his pain on Earth, but here-here she couldn't compete. She didn't look at Jim as she followed him to the lift. It arrived much too fast, deposited them on their deck before she was ready.
He palmed open his door, gestured her in.
"Look, just make it fast, okay."
"You normally don't say that." He was grinning, in a way that was lighter than she'd seen since they'd gotten together. It was also a very wicked grin. He moved closer. "Do you want me to rush through this? I did just save the world so it's possible there are lots of other women who'd like to give me a hero's welcome, but I was sort of hoping you'd want me to keep it in my pants when you aren't around."
"I do. I mean, you want that?"
He laughed. "I'm sorry I put you through hell." Pulling her close, he whispered in her ears. "But I'm glad I never asked you to marry me, not down there, not the way I was then."
She wasn't sure what the appropriate answer was for that declaration.
"You know that I don't get involved with people on my crew."
Here it was. The inevitable. She nodded.
"I believe I could relax that policy if that person on my crew also happened to be my wife."
"But I'm not."
"I know. But it's the damnedest thing..." He drew her to his terminal; she saw a long queue of messages with congratulatory headers. And one from Lori that said, "This isn't over."
He opened it. It wasn't long, had a link at the end. "Dear, Jim. I will steal her from you. This will make it just that much more fun. Also, it's my little way of saying thank you for saving us all so I have a chance to steal her. Give her a kiss for me-little tart thought she should be faithful to you and wouldn't give me one herself."
"Is that true?" He was grinning at her.
She was heartily glad Lori hadn't mentioned that the kiss hadn't happened in the bar where they'd first met, after Chapel had gone looking for her. "It's true."
"I'm very glad." He nodded to the link in the message. "See what's there."
A marriage license. Term. One year. Between James Tiberius Kirk and Christine Marie Chapel. Dated two days before she'd reported to duty.
"This is a forgery."
"Yes, unless we got married and weren't aware of it." He nuzzled her neck as she read. "It's a very, very good forgery. I had Spock look at it. He hacked into it-even from the back end, he said it looks legit."
"Spock knows we're not married?"
"'Fraid so. He congratulated me anyway." He laughed. "So, Doctor, would you do me the honor of making this lie the truth? I can marry us, you know. Captain on the ship and all that."
"You can't officiate at your own wedding."
"I can do anything. At least today." He undid the clips in her hair, smoothed it off her face. "If you don't want this, then we don't have to use it. Lori can no doubt cause it to cease to be as easily as she had it created. She will, however, take that as a sign of interest on your part."
She smiled. But then she muttered, "This is not romantic, just so you know."
"We had romance. Down on Earth. Look how badly I screwed that up." He drew her to the bed. "I promise to make it romantic from here on."
"You better. Because Lori's waiting and she looks like she'd be hell on wheels in bed."
He smiled, a fond smile. "She is."
Chapel slugged him, harder than was probably necessary.
"Not as hellish as you, though."
"I'll take that as a compliment." She pushed him down, crawled on top of him. "I expect one thing."
He waited, his smile easy and calm.
"I expect that if you're not happy with me, you'll tell me."
"I expect the same thing from you." He pushed her off him, to her back, and began to pull off her clothes. "I want something else, though."
"I want you to expect me to try to make you happy."
"And I want you to try to make me happy-although I think I have farther to make up in that department than you do. I was happy with you, Chris. I just hated everything else about my life."
"I know." Even though she didn't. She wished she did, but she didn't.
"You're still a terrible liar." He kissed her softly. "Give me time. I'll make you a believer."