TALISMAN

Part II


You only live twice or so it seems,
One life for yourself and one for your dreams.
You drift through the years and life seems tame,
Till one dream appears and love is its name.
And love is a stranger who'll beckon you on,
Don't think of the danger or the stranger is gone.
This dream is for you, so pay the price.
Make one dream come true, you only live twice.

Nancy Sinatra, You Only Live Twice


She felt a little overdressed, wearing her blue evening gown when they arrived in Rome.

Dazed, she blinked into the blazing sunlight and stepped outside with small, carefully measured steps. Did he notice her hesitancy? She still didn't know whether she was doing the right thing.

Diana's apartment was small, neat and sun streaked. The carefully chosen furniture and decorative artwork betrayed her interest and exquisite taste. There were green plants, lush carpets; and the cupboards and fridge were fully stocked.

"Diana has someone who looks after this apartment while she's gone. She often invites family or friends here; and sometimes she or Diego arrive unexpectedly."

He looked around, studying the matching furniture, the aquarelle paintings, the view from the windows. "You have a remarkable family."

She smiled. "I'm glad you approve, sir."

He shook his head at her, a wry look on his face. "You do know my first name, don't you?"

"I do," she replied softly.

They both moved closer to each other simultaneously; slowly, carefully, their gazes locked. She felt no fear. Not anymore. There was music on her mind and a radiance on her face that made her more beautiful than she could ever have imagined. She could not see it herself, but his eyes were all the mirror she needed. She leant in for his kiss, feeling her skin tingle beneath his fingers. She had longed for his touch and it was everything she had imagined it to be.

Maybe they were both a little surprised at her sudden show of passion as she prolonged the kiss to the last possible moment, her fingers digging into his shoulders, holding him tight.

"I'm not trying to escape, you know," he told her, an amused undertone in his voice. She looked up into his grey eyes, like a deer caught in the car lights, breathing fast and a little unsteady. He pulled her close once again, her head coming to rest at his shoulder, as he slowly ran a hand through her hair. "I wouldn't dream of running from you."

She struggled to find an appropriate response, but apparently, she lacked the talent for casual flirting. Oh well. You couldn't be good at everything

Instead, she settled on unbuttoning his shirt, and promptly, her nimble fingers were caught in a pair of much larger hands.

"What?" She caught his bemused expression.

"Just wondering… what exactly are you getting at…?"

"I thought that was fairly obvious," she replied, her look rather condescending. So far, he had proven surprisingly apt at deciphering nonverbal communication, and she saw absolutely no reason to start explaining herself now.

She heard him swallow. "Well… it is. But are you absolutely certain this is what you want…?"

"We wouldn't be here, if I wasn't certain," she snapped. He was ruining her moment! This was really not the time for prolonged discussions on proper protocol for the pursuit of intimate relationships.

He let go of her hands, and instead touched her face, softly running a finger from her temple to her chin. "That didn't come out quite right, did it? I'm sorry. I just… after what happened on Catreus II…"

Oh. So that was his problem. Or rather, he thought that she might have a problem with it.

"Nothing happened on Catreus II," she told him firmly, "well, at least nothing substantial. Not to me. It was Kelyra, who…" God, she still could not speak of Kelyra without that sudden, helpless rage filling her mind, without wanting to make someone suffer for what they'd done to her. Her fingers dug into the palm of her right hand, as she tried to chase the phantom screams away.

"I'm sorry," he whispered once again.

"Yes. So am I." Sorry I couldn't save her. Sorry I couldn't avenge her death. "It's not your fault." Try to focus on the pleasant memories, she told herself, the ones where… "You came to rescue me. It was rather sweet and romantic actually."

He raised his brows. "It didn't feel particularly romantic to me, to tell you the truth. I… I don't know what I was feeling. Rage. Pain. Relief. Yes… most of all, relief at finding you alive."

"Well, you practically carried me back to the ship," she said.

That earned her another smile. "I'll be your knight in shining armor, if you want me to. I just never thought you needed one."

She wanted to ask him why, but decided to leave that for some other time. In the end, all she said was: "Please."

"So he'll make it?" Jim asked under his breath when he came to sickbay hours later to check on Pike. Leonard nodded, rubbing his tired eyes and stifling a yawn. "There's a good chance he'll live. He's been through hell, though."

Jim studied him for a moment, before replying: "I know. But then… I guess, we all have."

"How's Spock?"

"Alive," Jim replied dryly. "I believe, Nyota went to join him and to try to convince him to eat something. Maybe she'll be able to help him."

"You don't sound very optimistic."

"He's just lost his mother, his planet, his entire race. Will he ever be happy again? I don't know. I just know that it'll probably take a very, very long time. And that I pity him." He looked back to Pike. "Any guesses as to when he'll wake up?"

Leonard shook his head, trying to ignore the bells that rang in his ears as he did so. "We've no idea as to what exactly the venom of the Centaurian Slug did to his neural network and his brain. For now, he's sleeping and that's probably the best thing he could do. It'll be a long, slow healing process and there's a chance that he's sustained some lasting damage."

Jim looked up in concern. "What kind…?"

"His lower extremities might be permanently paralyzed. There may also be some memory loss. To what extent, I cannot tell you. Not yet. It's too early. But then again, there were several times during the last day or so when I thought he wouldn't make it at all. He might yet make a full recovery."

"Let's hope so. Is there anything I can do to help?"

Leonard shrugged. "No, not really… except…" he looked from his patient to the young Captain. "Well, it's just a small thing… do you know if he has any family we could notify? They'd probably be happy to hear that he's alive."

"As far as I know, he's a confirmed bachelor. No lover, no kids. He might have living parents or siblings, though. I'll look into it, okay?"

Leonard nodded his thoughts. He felt dizzy with tiredness.

"You really ought to catch some sleep, Bones. Have someone else monitor Pike and wake you, if anything happens." He patted his friend's shoulder, before heading back out.

Yawning, Leonard checked Pike's vital signs once more, before leaving his sleeping patient in the care of a nurse. On his way out, he passed Christine Chapel, who had fallen asleep on a biobed. She looked very young and vulnerable with her fair hair falling into her face, and Leonard could not help but smile at her sleeping form.

"You did a remarkable job today," he murmured, before drawing a blanked over her.


For your eyes only, can see me through the night.
For your eyes only, I never need to hide.
You can see so much in me, so much in me that's new.
I never felt until I looked at you.

Sheena Easton, For Your Eyes Only


She had drawn the curtains, locking out the day as she turned the room into a sheltered little cave. Catching his bewildered look, she frowned.

"Are you embarrassed, Number One?" He teased, the nickname more intimate than it had ever been before.

She shook her head. "No. But I only want to share this with you."

He smiled, beckoning her to return to his side with a wave of his hand. She hesitated for a moment, marveling at the fact that it felt completely natural to be here with him, sharing time, sharing a bed, sharing everything.

It was all hers now. She owned this moment and this memory, and she'd never let go of it. With that determination, she returned to the bed, settling down by his side as he drew an arm around her and the blanket over her naked body.

Her head resting on his chest, she could feel his slow, even breathing.

"Christopher," she whispered. "Cristobál. Cristo."

After all, it was only fair that she should come up with a nickname for him, too.

"We're going to get some company," Sulu informed the Captain when he returned to the bridge. Jim looked at the helmsman questioningly. There was only a minimal crew on the bridge right now, everyone else was either resting, recovering or assisting in the ongoing repair process. There was only so much they could do out here, but that did not seem to discourage people from trying. Jim was proud of his crew, even though he barely knew them. They were great people.

"Starfleet Command has assigned two ships to escort us back to Earth," Sulu explained. "They are due to arrive in approximately thirty-six hours." He sent his Captain a knowing look. "It seems that everyone is most curious about what exactly happened here."

"Imagine that," Jim murmured sarcastically. "During the last hours, I've spoken to more admirals than I even knew there were. Believe me, I know all of Starfleet Command intimately by now."

"Well, you're about to meet two of them in person. In the message they sent us, it was said that Admirals Archer and Barnett are to arrive with those ships."

"Archer? Oh, Scotty's going to love hearing that." Jim grinned.

"I think Admiral Archer will have better things to do than to take revenge for his lost dog. They are probably sending him because he is fluent in Vulcan and knows quite a bit of their culture."

"Which means that they're sending Barnett to deal with us," Jim concluded with a sigh. "Great. I've always liked Archer better. He reminds me of a kind, old grandfather. Barnett's different. More reserved. He'll give us a hard time. Who are the captains of those two ships?"

"They didn't tell me that," Sulu said, shrugging. "I guess, it'll be a surprise party. By the way – how is Captain Pike?"

"Alive, which – according to our favorite doctor – is a small miracle. He's asleep in sickbay."

"This is a violation of Starfleet standard regulation," she stated matter-of-factly.

Pike answered with a wry smile. "That's such a romantic thing to say, Number One."

She scowled back at him, but he had the distinct impression that she didn't mean it quite that way. He had gotten better at reading her over the course of the last few days. Right now, she sat on the kitchen counter, her long, shapely legs dangling down; watching him cook their dinner.

"I'm serious," she said, "we could both be facing a court martial if it became known."

"Too bad. You know, I always thought that those rules only exist to be broken. At least it happens often enough."

"Is that the reason you've closed both eyes to such occurrences on your ship…?" She asked.

He shrugged, adding thyme to the sauce he was stirring. "They are my people. Would you have me turn them in because they're human beings with human emotions they can't suppress?"

"Starfleet Command would ask you to do so."

"Starfleet Command isn't God Almighty. They don't have to know everything. As long as it doesn't endanger our mission, I see no reason to turn anybody in."

"It might endanger our mission. In our case, I mean."

He turned around to face her. "It might," he agreed, "depending on how we deal with it."

"Can you still treat me and see me as just your first officer while we're on duty?"

He averted his gaze. "I don't know. I suppose we'll have to wait and see."

She shook her head. "Not good enough."

For a moment they were silent, both contemplating their situation; then he reached out for her, drawing her into his arms. "It'll have to be. If I know one thing, it's that I won't be able to let go of you. Not ever."

He felt her touch his cheek.

"I don't regret it, you know," she told him in the same, calm tone of voice that never seemed to waver. "But you'll always be two separate entities to me – my Captain and my lover. I don't know any other way to deal with it."

"Well, at least you're good at keeping secrets," he replied with a melancholy smile.

"I'll teach you," she offered, before lifting her face to kiss him.

"Shouldn't he be awake by now?" Christine asked, studying the sleeping captain.

Leonard frowned. "He seems a little reluctant to wake up," he agreed. "But those might still be the aftereffects of the slug's toxin. Let's wait another six or eight hours. His vital signs seem stable enough."

He watched her draw something from her pocket. "I should probably return this to him," she said.

"What is it?"

Christine held up her hand to show him a small pendant dangling from a thin leather cord.

"Some sort of keepsake or talisman, I think. I took it from him when I fixed his broken ribs. He wore it around his neck."

Leonard raised his brows. "It's a little glass bottle, and it's even got a message inside. Interesting choice for a Starfleet captain."

"It must mean a lot to him. He wore it under his uniform, what does that tell you?"

"He didn't want to violate Starfleet dress code…?"

Christine waved his comment aside with a negligent gesture. "Nonsense. It probably means a lot to him, if he's wearing it all the time, but he doesn't want it to be seen. I think it's a gift from someone who means a lot to him. Maybe a parent or a lover. It might even be some sort of family heirloom. "

"I wonder what the message is," Leonard mused.

She shrugged. "Ask him, once he's awake."

Leonard watched her as he carefully tied the string around Pike's neck, thinking that Christine Chapel really was a remarkable person.

...


Together we faced the cold outside
No one can say we didn´t try
And I will never give you up or let you go
Together we faced our final fears
Remember the moments that we shared
That´s why I'll never give you up or let you go.
Blue, Curtain Falls


Commander Trygve Thorsteinsen told himself that he had absolutely no reason to feel apprehensive as he approached the Captain's quarters. After all, he was her first officer. It was his job to look after her and make sure that she was fit for duty.
Nevertheless, he felt as if he were entering the lion's den when the door slid open to admit him. Yeomen Ellen Frazier, who was busy setting the breakfast table, looked up briefly to send him a smile and thumbs-up.
Well, he thought wryly, at least somebody seems to appreciate my efforts to preserve our Captain's health and sanity.

The Captain herself stood by the window, but she turned when she heard him approach.

"Commander. I am glad you could join me," she greeted him.

He felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. She was a scary person. Scary in her perfection and the way she seemed to look at people and see all the way down to the bottom of their heart. You couldn't hide anything from her, she'd always catch you at it.

"I hope you are well rested, Captain."

To his surprise, there were some hints of amusement in her voice when she answered. "Yes, thanks to you and our infamous doctor, I am."

"Captain, I –"

"It's alright, Commander. I know that you acted in the best interest of the ship and the crew. I was being… irresponsible."

Thickheaded, he thought. "I apologize for going behind your back, Captain."

She shrugged. "I didn't leave you much choice, did I? Anyway, I believe I told you to call me Sofia when we're not on the bridge. I only call you Commander because I can't pronounce your first name."

He smiled at that. Somehow, she always had that effect on him, at least when she wasn't looking at him as if she contemplated eating him alive.

"Please, sit down." She pointed to the table with a graceful wave of her hand. As he sat down across from her, he noticed a silver chain dangling out from beneath her partially opened collar. He'd seen it before, but never dared to ask about it. Maybe now was a good time, since she seemed to be in a friendly, open-minded mood.

"Does the number one have any particular significance to you?" He asked, pointing to the pendant.

She studied him for a moment, her hand moving to the necklace almost unconsciously.

"A… shared joke. My own captain used to call me Number One when I was first officer."

Trygve looked back at her, trying to read off her face. He had a suspicion that there was more to it than just a shared joke.

"You let him call you by a nickname?", he asked, grinning.

She frowned. "He's taller and faster than me."

Trygve laughed. "I'd have loved to see your face when he first came up with that."

"It's foolish, but I don't want to go back." She told him, when they sat on the small balcony of Diana's apartment, watching the sunset on their last day of shoreleave. "I should not feel this way… I've made a commitment to Starfleet, made it with all my heart, and I love being in space and serving on the ship, but somehow, it's different now. I've never had something to lose before." Her light blue eyes met his and he could see something akin to fear in them.

He would have liked to kiss her and tell her that everything was going to be alright, but he couldn't. She had never lied to him, so he wouldn't start lying to her, not even to comfort her.

"But haven't you missed your Captain at all?" He asked, trying to lighten the gloomy mood with a joke.

"He tends to get on my nerves sometimes," she replied in kind, "he's always trying to engage me in leisure activities or conversation. Especially the latter. He'll talk, and talk and talk…"

"Hey! What would you have me do? You're not exactly talkative yourself."

"Maybe you're just asking the wrong questions," she replied, resting her head against his shoulder. "And you should ask them now, because tomorrow we'll be back on the ship, as captain and first officer."

"I'll miss you," he said softly, curling a strand of her dark brown hair around one of his fingers. "The person you are, when you're not my first officer."

"She's always there, you know. You'll just have to look deep enough."

"I've just one question for you…"

"Yes, I do love you." She smiled.

"That wasn't it, but I'll take the answer anyway."

He watched as the orange gleam of setting sun brought out dark red highlights in her hair and cast an eerie light on her pale face. Her sudden beauty made his heart ache and he wished that they could stay frozen in this very moment forever.

But time would not stop, not even for them.

"I'm officially starting to get worried now," Leonard announced, looking up from the strange readings he had just gotten.

"Well, good," Christine replied, frowning, "'Cause I have been worrying unofficially for a while now. He should be awake by now."

Leonard nodded. "Look at this," he said, showing her the readings, "notice anything abnormal?"

Christine studied the charts intently before replying. "Well – depends on your definition of abnormal, I guess. Those are areas of the brain largely associated with memory. But I'm wondering about the amount of neural activity going on there – what the hell is he remembering?"

"At this rate, he's probably not so much remembering as actually reliving things. It must be a side-effect produced by the Centaurian Slug."

"Do you think he'll wake up once he's done reliving whatever it is he's seeing there?"

"To be honest, I have no idea. And I don't like it. We've already tried to bring him back using all kinds of stimulants, both chemical and environmental. Hell, I've even tried slapping him in the face. But so far, he hasn't even stirred."

"Maybe it has to be something associated with those memories. A certain scent, a sound – maybe music or his mother's voice," Christine suggested.

"And how on Earth am I supposed to know what sort of music he listens to? I barely know the man! And his mother has been dead for years, according to Starfleet records." Leonard ran a hand through his dark hair, looking agitated.

"Well," Christine replied reasonably, "you should probably go and talk to the person aboard this ship who knows him best."

"And who would that be?"

"Spock. He has served under Pike before they both came to teach at the Academy."

Leonard looked at her open-mouthed for a minute. "How come I never heard of that?"

"You spend too much time in sickbay. You should come out and talk to people once in a while," she told him with friendly scorn.

"Huh."

He tried to stop himself from looking at her from across the room, but it wasn't easy. She seemed so distant to him now that they were back on the ship, but he missed her with every fiber of his body. He missed her smile and the way she looked at him from under long, dark lashes. He missed the scent of her silky hair and the feel of her soft, cool skin under his hands.

Surprisingly enough, life had fallen back into its well-accustomed pattern almost effortlessly. They both moved through their day and through all of the routine work aboard a starship as if nothing had happened. No one had noticed anything strange; no one had asked any awkward questions. It was as if they had woken up from a beautiful, but already distant dream.

But he could not forget, and his mind often travelled to those golden moments back in Rome, when everything had seemed so childishly easy and natural. After his shifts, he lay awake tossing and turning on the bed, and having trouble to find sleep, even though he was tired. He stared up at the darkened ceiling and wanted to be somewhere else, to go back, until suddenly, a soft sound at the door broke his concentration.

Acting on impulse, he allowed it to open, and a slim shadow slipped inside, moving fluidly until it was only about two feet away from the bed.

"What…?" He asked, still struggling to comprehend, when the sound of a zipper cut through the silence of the room. Her uniform fell to the floor, and with it went stockings, shoes and undergarments. She stood very still for a moment, and even though he couldn't see her face, he knew that she was watching him, maybe waiting for a reaction.

"Number One…", he murmured, but then, suddenly, mirth struck him. It was the most unlikely situation, after all. His first officer standing in front of his bed in the middle of the night, and completely and utterly naked, but for a pendant she wore around the neck. "You really are impossible, you know."

She moved closer, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Pike lifted the blanket as an invitation for her to join him.

She hesitated for a moment, but then, with an almost immeasurable shrug, slid under the blanket and into his embrace. "Screw regulations," she said, and he laughed.

"I do love your attitude."


So close so far
I'm lost in time
Ready to follow a sign
If there was only a sign
The last goodbye
burns in my mind
Why did I leave you behind?
Guess it was too
high to climb

The Rasmus, Justify


Leonard found Spock in the company of Sarek and Nyota. It was an odd sight, the two silently brooding Vulcan men, and between them a somewhat flustered human woman, trying very hard not to let the situation get too uncomfortable. She seemed almost relieved at his arrival, and Leonard could hardly blame her. Keeping grieving Vulcans company did not seem a very appealing pastime to him.

"I am sorry to disturb you," he said smoothly, keeping his eyes on Spock, who was now looking at him expectantly, "but I need your help, Commander."

"I will assist you in any way I can," Spock assured him promptly.

"Good. It's about Captain Pike. I was told that you have known him for a long time."

"I have known him for several years, yes. I served under him on this ship's predecessor and namesake."

Leonard nodded. "Captain Pike's current condition is… puzzling. He seems to be caught in some kind of ongoing memory loop. It appears to be a side effect of the Slug's toxin. Now, frankly, I am at a loss as to how I could rouse him from his coma. I have tried everything I could come up with, but he won't wake up. Nurse Chapel suggested that we could use something associated to those memories – a sound, a smell, a particular piece of music. The problem is, nobody seems to know Pike well enough to know what that would be. And that's where you could help. At least I hope so."

"I will gladly accompany you to sickbay," Spock told him, "but I must warn you, Doctor – the fact that I served with Captain Pike before, does not necessarily mean that I know him better than others on this ship. Our relationship has always been a professional one. He is not as… open as our current Captain."

Nice way of putting it, Leonard thought.

"That's okay, Spock. At this point, I'm glad for any help I can get."

"He does seem oddly happy," Christine Chapel insisted about half an hour later, after studying Pike's face intently. "I think, we should start with happy memories. You know, things that evoke a positive emotional reaction, like favorite songs." She looked at Spock expectantly.

"As far as I know, Captain Pike's favorite piece of music is Tchaikovsky's piano concert in B-minor."

Leonard caught Christine's gaze and shrugged. "It's worth a try, I guess. Anything else, Spock?"

"He mentioned on several occasions that he enjoys homemade cookies, especially when they are freshly baked and still warm. He said that the smell reminded him of his childhood. His favorite colors are ochre and light blue, but that would not be of much help here, since his eyes are closed and he would not see anything."

"Is there anyone… I mean, are there any people he has a more intimate relationship with? Friends? Family?"

"As far as I know, Captain Pike has no living family members except for a paternal aunt and a cousin, who both live in Vega colony. I am sure that there are several people he served with or worked with at Starfleet Academy that he would consider his friends, but unfortunately, I do not know who they are."

Leonard shook his head. "The man seriously needs a life. He may be a great captain, but where's the person behind the rank?"

"I was just thinking that he might be pretty lonely," Christine said. "And I still want to know who gave him this." She pointed to the tiny glass bottle.

Spock leaned closer to examine it. "I have seen it before. He already wore it when I first met him. He never spoke about it, though."

Leonard sighed. "Figures," he murmured. Then, turning to Pike, he added: "Who the hell are you?"

They had their first serious fight over something that seemed silly to him at the time, but turned out to be much more important than he had thought.

It was another of those dreaded diplomatic missions, only this time, war had already broken out before they reached the system. There was fighting down on the planet, and Pike would have been perfectly happy to let the Ysandrians deal with their own, self-made problems, but unfortunately, they had taken the Vulcan ambassador hostage, so turning back was not an option.

As he put together a team to accompany him to the planet's surface, he was acting in the best interests of his ship and the mission. Or so he thought. It wasn't until his first officer literally stomped into his ready room, that he realized he had probably overlooked something.

"Did you want to tell me anything, Number One?" He asked, looking up into her beautiful eyes, which were now narrowed and filled with barely controlled anger. He had discovered early on that she did have quite a temper. She was just very good at hiding it.

Usually.

"Why exactly are Lieutenant Nilson and Esign Benora accompanying you down to the surface?" She asked, her voice dangerously calm.

"Would you rather have Dr. Melchior and me go there unaccompanied?"

"No, of course not. What I'm asking is: Why are you taking a completely inexperienced Esign, whose only virtue is his ability to use a phaser, down to the planet and leaving me on the ship? Last time I checked, I was the only one aboard having at least a basic grasp of the Ysandrian language."

"Yes, but you are the first officer of this ship. If anything were to happen to me down there, I need you to take command."

"Allow me to be frank – that's nonsense. Any officer could get this ship back to the next starbase. You don't need any special talents for that." She bent forward, placing her hands on the table that separated them, glaring at him. "Don't you think I know what you're doing…? Stop trying to protect me. You're doing neither of us a favor, and you might be putting the mission in jeopardy."

He put his hands over hers, in an attempt to calm her. "Maybe to me, there are more important things than the mission," he said quietly.

"No," she replied flatly, "no, there aren't."

And in the end she accompanied them, translating and doing a marvelous job at it. Nothing happened to either of them and they managed to negotiate a seize fire and free the Vulcan ambassador, who had not taken any serious harm.

He tried to make amends, and it seemed that she forgave him, but that didn't resolve the underlying issue. They had now seen that it was there, and the crack wouldn't just close up and go away. Things were never going to be just like they had been back in the days when they had been just captain and first officer…

About a month and a half later, it was Pike who stormed into her office, angrily waving a PADD in his right hand.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

She looked up from her paperwork, frowning at his raised voice and agitated manner.

"I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about," she stated calmly. "Please explain."

"Of course you do! You asked for a transfer!"

"Oh," she said, not sounding remotely shaken or guilty, "that."

"Yes," Pike replied grimly, "that. What were you thinking? Did it never occur to you to tell me about it? Maybe ask me whether or not I approved of it? Because I don't."

"I wasn't aware that I needed you permission to make a decision regarding my career."

"I'm your Captain, for Heaven's sake! I do believe it concerns me, if my first officer decides to leave this ship."

"I haven't decided yet," She said, "I merely applied for a different position on another ship. There will be other applicants."

"Oh please! You're the goddamn best first officer in the Fleet, and someone is bound to have noticed that. Sanchez will be only too happy to snatch you up from under my nose. The question is why. Why are you doing this?"

She shrugged. "They are going to promote me, if I make it. From Lieutenant Commander to Commander in just under a year, that's a pretty big step."

"Not buying it. You are ambitious, but you aren't driven by ambition. There has to be something else."

Please, his eyes said, please tell me that this isn't about me and that there is something I can do to stop you.

"It's my life, Christopher. And I won't have you or anyone else telling me what to do with it."

"So, the music didn't work," Christine reported. "But he has been stirring and moaning a little, so maybe he's coming around."

"Or maybe, he's just come to the point where the memories are starting to get unpleasant," Leonard replied darkly.

"You're such a pessimist, you know? Have some faith. He's going to wake up."

"Uh-huh. Question is, when?"

Christine shrugged.

"This is just getting really frustrating," Leonard complained. "What is he waiting for, a Princess to kiss him awake…? Wanna try, Christine?"

"I doubt that would help," the nurse replied. "I mean, he doesn't even know me. But…" - she paused to think for a moment – "you might have had a good idea there. Maybe we need someone who's close to him. I mean, really close. Like a very good friend or a lover."

"Well, that'd be a pity for him, because he doesn't appear to have any." Leonard shook his head. "I'm starting to wonder whether he'd even want to wake up. I mean, there seems to be no one who cares about him, except for us and maybe Spock and Jim."

"I'll do some digging into his past," Christine suggested.

"Well good luck with that. The guy seems to be as elusive as a Starfleet version of Zorro."

Meanwhile on the bridge, Jim was being introduced to Captain Francis Campbell and Captain Sofia Mondego by Admiral Archer. Admiral Barnett stood close by, looking worried and displeased.

To Jim's surprise, after the introductions, the Captain of the Serenity turned to his first officer, greeting him cordially.

"Spock. It is so good to see you. It has been a while."

Spock inclined his head. "Indeed."

"I am very sorry for your loss," she said quietly.

"Excuse me, you two know each other?" Jim asked, somewhat surprised.

"We served on the same ship several years ago," Captain Mondego confirmed, before adding with a weary smile, "on the Enterprise, actually. The old one, of course."

"Fascinating, " Jim said, unconsciously using one of Spock's favorite words, as he looked from one to the other. "And now you're both back here. Must be destiny."

"And so is Captain Pike," Francis Campbell put in, sending Sofia Mondego a strangely knowing glance. "How is he, by the way?"

"He's asleep in sickbay. He seems to be a little reluctant to wake up, but at least his life doesn't seem to be in danger anymore."

And at that, Jim could have sworn that he heard Captain Mondego sigh in relief.

Of course, he had been right about others seeing her potential. She was by far the most qualified applicant for the new position, and obviously, they chose her.

Pike watched mutely as she prepared to leave Enterprise and him, feeling cold and numb inside. They hadn't spoken a private word since the fight in her office, nothing beyond the civil, impersonal necessities of working together on the bridge.

He knew that he couldn't stop her, but he also knew that he couldn't let her go. His ship was losing a damn fine officer, but he himself felt like he was losing not only his heart, but also his mind.

You cannot leave me. You simply can't. What am I to do without you…?

Nothing seemed to matter anymore. He was moving through his day and his duties mechanically, like a robot, just functioning but not feeling or comprehending.

He felt like reaching out to her, like taking her into his arms, holding her tight and telling her that she could not leave him, but she already seemed to be miles away.

The evening that was to be her last aboard the ship, she spent packing in her quarters, while he sat alone on the Observation deck, staring at the fleeting stars, knowing that only hours from now, she would be gone for good. He had to do something, anything. He had to at least let her know how he felt, had to see her one last time before she left.

There were no flowers, not dinner, not surprise goodbye gift, just him getting up and slowly, but determinately walking down the corridors to her quarters.

He hesitated a moment, but then the door swung open as if she'd heard him come – and maybe she had. He stood there for a moment, looking at her and feeling the pain of their imminent separation even more acutely than before.

"Come in," she told him, stepping aside. The door closed with a soft swish and she added: "I knew you would come."

How? he wanted to ask her, but didn't, because the next moment, he found himself drawn into a wordless embrace. Their kisses tasted of desperation more than of anything else, and he could swear that he caught the salty taste of tears, too, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was that she was back in his arms, and that he was about to lose her.

"I can't… not without you…", he blurted out, incoherently, only to be kissed again, with as much passion as sadness.

"I want you to have this," she said, drawing the necklace he had seen so often out from under her uniform, pulling it over her head and handing it to him. "It's a family heirloom. I've been wearing it ever since my fifteenth birthday."

He looked down at the tiny glass bottle with the note inside.

"When will I see you again?"

"As soon as I can make it. I promise."

And she always kept her promises.

"Dr. McCoy…?"

"Huh?" Leonard blinked against the sudden brightness of light, then sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Spock? What the hell…!"

"Sch!" The Vulcan admonished, and Leonard was starting to believe that he was still asleep and dreaming. "We need your help."

"We…?" But sure enough, there was someone else with Spock. Someone utterly unexpected.

"Now what are the two of you doing in my sickbay in the middle of the night?" He asked irritably.

"I could ask you the same thing," Spock replied calmly, "Should you not be asleep in your quarters?"

"Humph."

"It is a good thing that you are not, though," the Vulcan continued, "Because we need to see one of your patients."

And just then, the person accompanying Spock stepped out of the shadows. Leonard stared up at Captain Sofia Mondego in her crisp Starfleet uniform and had the distinct feeling that he was missing some important information here.

"Captain…?"

She laid a finger to her lips. "I am not here. And I will never have been here," she told him sternly, then added in an afterthought: "You may call me Sofia. It's my given name."

Leonard shook his head in disbelief, then held out his hand. "Leonard. Now, what brings you here at this time?"

"She is the one you were looking for," Spock said.

"Er… could you be any more mysterious, Spock? I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I am Christopher Pike's lover," Sofia told him calmly.

"You what…?" Now Leonard was staring at her, trying to comprehend. "But how… right, you served on the same ship, but that would mean…"

She nodded gravely. "And that's why I need to ask you to keep this very, very quiet."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Leonard asked Spock.

"Because he did not know until about an hour ago," Sofia replied in the Vulcan's place.

"Let me get this straight – you've been in a secret relationship with Pike for what…? Five years?"

"It's actually closer to nine," she said.

Spock turned and raised an eyebrow at her. Apparently, he hadn't known that either.

"Leonard, please," Sofia said urgently, "I need you to believe me. The pendant he's wearing – the little glass bottle – have you seen it?"

He nodded.

"It used to be mine. I gave it to him as a talisman."

"I do believe you," Leonard said slowly, exchanging a glance with Spock. "It's just so… weird."

"Well, I'm glad that's settled," Sofia murmured. "Now, can I see him?"

Leonard nodded. "Of course."