Matchmaker, Matchmaker by Djinn
The Idaho sun was glorious, the air fresh, and the sound of horses and creaking saddles filled the air.
"I told you that you needed to get away," Antonia said as she took Chapel's arm and led her to the barn. "You spend way too much time locked up in metal ships and stuffy offices."
"Well, you're not wrong about that." Chapel smiled at her friend, happy to have someone who was not in the "biz" in her life, even if she didn't see her much. "I've missed you."
"Oh, pfff. You haven't missed me at all. You've been too busy on that Starship of yours with Captain Bravado."
"I'm off the Starship. And he just goes by Kirk now."
Antonia laughed. "Cock is more like it. From what I understand from the locals."
Chapel mock slugged her in the arm. "Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?"
"I'm just saying what I've heard..."
"Well, you've heard wrong. Captain Kirk is a very nice man-and so, okay, he sort of follows a certain part of his anatomy when he's inclined. He's not involved with anyone." Or if he was-and that person was Spock-he was playing it damned close to the chest. "I've seen how loyal he is to his friends. I bet he'd be that loyal to anyone he was really serious about."
"He's not capable of being serious about anyone. According to the gossips."
"Why are you listening to them?"
"Waiting to see if there's any talk about you and Spock." Antonia laughed and pulled Chapel faster. "Why are we talking about Starfleet things, anyway? We need to pick out a horse for you."
"About that. Horses and I...we're not really the best of friends."
"Look, you keep an open mind about horses and I'll keep an open mind about infamous captains, how's that?"
Chapel didn't think that was an entirely fair deal since a meeting with Antonia's horses was imminent and it was unlikely her friend was ever going to meet Kirk.
"Hey, I forgot to tell you. Captain Kirk is having a big party next week in San Francisco. I can bring a friend."
"You're supposed to bring a date. Not a friend."
"Well, but I don't have a date." Not unless Len was currently unoccupied. They did have a convenient "friends with options" arrangement but it rarely proved handy for events like this-one of them was inevitably otherwise involved and they didn't like to flaunt their extracurriculars in front of crewmates. "So, I can take you."
"What about Spock?"
"Will you let that go?" Chapel laughed. "I told you last time. I'm over him. And he was never interested in me."
Antonia stopped. "You really want me to go to the party with you?"
"I really do." Chapel knew Antonia would be fun company. And it would be worth not having a dance partner to see her friend crumple against the JTK charm.
"Oh, all right." Antonia stopped in front of a stall. A big, black horse stood inside, looking like he wanted to eat Chapel for breakfast. "I think Satan would be a good match."
"I'm not." Antonia clucked softly and the horse came forward, burying his nose against her. "I never am. It's my downfall with men, you know that."
Which would be tragic if Antonia weren't drop dead gorgeous. She always attracted a new man before the last one was even a memory.
Although Chapel had never understood why Antonia couldn't keep a man. She was beautiful, sweet, funny, graceful, and athletic. It was unfair just how perfect she was. So why didn't men stay with her?
Not that Chapel had much room to talk in that department.
"Look behind you," Antonia said.
Chapel turned and saw a smallish gray horse standing quietly.
"Her name is Mia. She's very sweet."
Chapel went over and was surprised when the horse put her head over the stall door and gently nosed her.
"Just the horse for you. Very good natured. Nothing like my boy here. I don't let anyone else ride him. You'll never leave me, will you, my black one." She kissed Satan on the nose then helped Chapel saddle up Mia before getting her horse ready.
"Up you go," she said, pushing Chapel into the saddle, then mounting Satan.
Mia was extremely easy to ride. Chapel was exaggerating a bit about her antipathy with the equine members of the planet. She had ridden; she'd just never really enjoyed it.
Mia she enjoyed riding. She looked over at her friend who was watching her with a fond smile on her face.
"You were right. I'll say it now."
Antonia laughed and led them off at a gentle canter.
Kirk circulated among the guests at his party, smiling and joking as he made sure the waiters kept everyone well fed and fully stocked with their beverages of choice.
"Nice shindig, Jim," Bones said as he and his date-a woman he said was a neighbor from Georgia but Kirk had never seen on any of his visits there-filled their plates at the buffet. "Great place to rent out."
The party was in one of the old San Francisco houses-pieces of the city's history, lovingly preserved and available for lease-that had come open at the last minute because of a cancelled wedding. Kirk didn't like to profit off someone else's bad fortune, but he'd taken advantage of the ultra low fee and decided to throw a "well, that voyage is over now, too" party.
"Where's Spock?" Bones asked softly, his lady friend abandoned for the moment.
"Don't think he's coming. Already off with his cadets probably." Or Saavik. The girl-young woman now, actually-who Spock had rescued from Hellguard and could never quite let go of. Kirk hated to admit he was envious of his friend, but he was. He had a son he wasn't allowed to see. Spock had a girl who wasn't his blood who loved him like a father.
It was funny how things worked out. Carol used to say that Kirk couldn't settle down. That space would always call him. He wasn't so sure of that anymore. Not when space had kicked him loose, sending him careening back to another desk job.
Another boring desk job. Even if he was supposed to be shaping young minds. He was determined to abandon curricula debates as often as he could and stow away aboard the training cruises as an observer. There had to be some benefit to being a living legend.
Although he knew it was a bad sign that he hadn't even started and he was already having parties to get the old group together.
"You okay, Jim?"
"Just wallowing, Bones."
"Never let it be said you're not a pro at that, my friend." Bones looked toward the door, his eyes narrowing. "Who's that with Christine?"
Kirk nearly rolled his eyes. How long did his friend and Chapel think they could hide their little arrangement? Bones would be jealous all night of whomever Chapel was with but once he was free again, he wouldn't go for her. And Chapel wouldn't go for him.
Some relationships really were just about convenience.
He turned to see who Chapel was with now and was surprised to see she was with a woman.
A beautiful woman.
And extremely damn beautiful woman.
He went to say hello.
"Sir, lovely party." Chapel was grinning at him with the open, easy smile of someone who had seen him at his worst and liked him anyway. "This is my friend Antonia. She's dying to meet you."
Antonia-perfect name-glared at Chapel. Then she turned to him. "Hello."
"Hello." He could tell this was a woman who was not going to succumb to anything too overt. So he turned away and focused on Chapel. "Chris, what have you been up to?"
She gave him an odd look. They'd just had lunch two days before. He winked at her and she seemed to get it, launched into a vivid description of her new job-the new job he'd heartily recommended her for to his good friend.
Antonia was obviously Chris's good friend. She listened with interest. But after a bit, her expression changed. Especially as he worked hard to appear not at all interested in her.
Finally, when Chapel ran down, Antonia said, "I've heard a lot about you."
He grinned. "All bad, I'm sure."
He shrugged. "Wouldn't be a very good story if they made me out to be a paragon of virtue." He winked at Chapel again, this time making sure Antonia saw it.
"Speaking of paragons," Chapel said, "where is Len?"
Kirk nodded to where Bones and his lady were dancing. Chapel didn't seem at all concerned that she had been replaced. Instead she said, "I'm going to go get us drinks. What's everyone having?"
"Scotch," Kirk said and saw Antonia make a face. "You disapprove of good single malt?"
"I hate the taste."
"To each his own." He could tell she was surprised he wasn't trying to convert her or defend his own choice. "And you are having...?"
"No, I mean, it's nothing." He grinned and scanned the crowd.
Chapel hurried off with a slight smile, and Kirk looked at Antonia.
"Well, it's just red wine. It's a safe drink, isn't it?"
"Water is a safe drink. Red wine is delicious."
Antonia didn't defend her choice, just lifted her chin, her very blue eyes piercing his and said, "Well, I guess that's what I am, then. Very everyday."
He smiled, letting a bit of the famed charm out. "My dear, everyday never looked so good." With a little nod and half bow, he left her standing alone.
Chapel found him a few moments later and handed him his drink. "Interesting strategy."
"Did you bring her here for me?"
"Well, I didn't bring her here for me, if that's what you were thinking." Chapel winked at him. "She's a very good friend. Of the absolute civilian variety, of course. Loves horses and being outdoors."
"Hence the freckles."
Chapel laughed and nodded. "She's keeping a horse at your uncle's."
"Is she now?"
"Yep. Thought you might find that interesting."
"You playing matchmaker, Chris?"
"Possibly." She handed him the wine glass. "Go. She's waited long enough."
He looked back where Antonia was standing, looking the kind of temporarily awkward that only a beautiful woman at a party could look. He'd better get back if he wanted to keep her to himself.
Antonia took a deep breath. She hated to admit it, but she was completely unaccustomed to being left alone at a party. She wasn't even sure what to do exactly.
She saw men looking, realized that the fact she'd been talking to their very famous host had left her a little off limits to the rest of them. If she wanted to talk to someone, she was going to have to make the first move.
Her first move might be to kill Christine. Where the hell had her friend gone, anyway? How long did it take to get drinks at a private party?
"Your wine, my lady."
Antonia turned, saw Kirk grinning in a way even she had to admit was charming. She took the glass from him, swirled the wine and admired its legs.
"I trust it meets with your approval? It's from my private collection."
She glanced at him. "You said you didn't like red wine."
"I said no such thing." Again the quick grin. "You, however, did say you didn't like Scotch."
He had her there. She busied herself with sniffing the wine, then tasting it. "Very good."
"I'd be disappointed if you said it wasn't." He took her arm, led her away from the crowd a bit. "I got it in France. A little trip I took the last time I was on Earth."
"You're on Earth all the time now, right?"
He glanced at her and she blushed.
"Chris tell you that?"
She shook her head. "I may have heard it somewhere."
"Ah, from my uncle perhaps? Or one of the busybodies who surround him, hoping he'll pick one of them and settle down? Everyone knows my business there."
"Well, perhaps if you hadn't saved the planet they wouldn't care so much about what you were up to."
He laughed, and the actual humor in the laugh made her smile back. "Good point. Next time, you're all on your own."
"Will there be a next time? Will you get another ship?"
He shook his head, and she could tell the thought did not make him happy. "I'm done. Desk jockey now."
He shrugged and his eyes gleamed. "Will give me more time to pursue charming but resistant party guests."
"I'm sure you say that to all the girls."
"I'm sure you're wrong." He winked and sipped his drink.
She looked over, saw Christine watching them. Her friend raised her glass, then went to join a group of people talking.
Damn yenta. Antonia glanced back at Kirk. At his warm hazel eyes and very bright smile. She found herself smiling back, for no good reason.
Maybe she wouldn't kill Christine, after all.
Chapel was rushing through a lunchbreak when she saw Kirk heading her way. "Sir."
"Commander." He smiled at the lieutenant commander insignia and she smiled back-this had been one of the ranks she'd never even aspired to as a nurse. Now she could hardly wait to get to commander.
Although captain still seemed out of reach-and that was all right with her.
"Sit," she said, gesturing with her fork at the seat opposite her. "But be warned. I'm due back in training in ten minutes."
"Ah, that explains the inhalation rather than eating." He laughed softly. "I remember those days at the Academy."
She smiled but went on eating. They only got so many breaks during Emergency Operations training. They'd be down and dirty in some crisis scenario before she knew it.
Kirk leaned forward. "So...Antonia."
Chapel grinned. "Figured you'd like her."
"I do. Very much. She's a friend of yours?"
"Met her while I was in med school. She was dating my study partner. I got to know her, stayed in touch after she broke up with Mark. We get together from time to time-more now that I'm back here."
"She's not seeing someone now?"
"Nope. And it's been a reasonable time since her last break-up. You're not rebound boy." She grinned at him. "You going to pursue her?"
He nodded, a huge grin on his face. "So, what about you, Chris? Someone special in your life?"
"No." She wasn't sure why he was asking.
"I am aware, you know, about the arrangement between you and Bones."
She frowned. "It's never gotten in the way of our professional relationship."
He held up a hand. "I'm not asking for details. But...he's my friend and you are, too. Why don't you two try it for real sometime? That's all I'm saying."
She rolled her eyes. "God help us from romantics in love. They want everyone to share in their good fortune." She strove to keep her smile gentle. "Len and I...we're just friends. Very intimate friends, but just friends."
He held his hand up again. "Enough said."
"For the record, sir. Antonia thought you were charming."
"Did she?" He looked very pleased with himself. "Well, the feeling was mutual. But don't think you're distracting me with this ode to my charm."
"Foiled again." She finished off her sandwich and stood. "Sorry to eat and run, but your buddy Cartwright is a stickler for punctuality."
Kirk laughed and waved her off. She had to double-time it down the last of the corridors to make it back to class on time.
Kirk followed Antonia into the barn, then walked past her when a black horse stuck his head over the stall door. "What a beauty."
"Satan. He's mine."
Kirk rubbed the horse's nose the way he knew he'd like, and Satan whickered with pleasure. Kirk looked around, taking in Antonia's home turf-even if newly so. It was far more his old stomping grounds than hers. "What made you move here?"
"Needed some time away from my last job and..."
"And your last romance?"
"You could say that." She looked at him sideways. "They don't always end well."
"No, they certainly don't."
"It's why I like horses. They're loyal. They stick around."
"Me, too. And they relax me. No matter what I'm feeling, I get on one, and I'm in the moment." He gently blew on Satan's nostrils; the horse huffed in response.
"Well, you've got the touch with them."
He smiled. "It's been a while since I've ridden. I keep meaning to get back into it." He turned away from Satan, walked down the row of stalls, getting to know the residents. "Funny you should pick my uncle's farm."
"Christine told me about it when I needed a place to board Satan."
She walked over to her horse and let him look for apples in her pockets-Kirk had seen her stuff them full as she was leaving her flitter. "What do you dream of now that you're back on Earth?"
"Space." He could tell from the way she looked at him it was not a good answer. "I don't know, honestly. I've had the same dream for so long that I'm not sure what I want out of life anymore."
"Home and hearth doesn't appeal?"
"Home and hearth has always been encased in duranium." He smiled, saw he was not winning points. "I'm going to have to work on that I guess. Figure out what it is I want now."
She nodded. "I guess it won't be the everyday, though, huh?"
He leaned back against the door, felt Satan butt softly against his shoulder with his nose. "You say that like it's a bad thing. I've lived with the extraordinary for a long time. It may just be overrated."
He pushed off from the door, walked over to her. "Besides, my dearest, there is nothing everyday about you, if that's what you meant."
"No." He probably should wait to do this, but fortune favored the brave and all that. Pulling her into his arms, he gave her the best kiss he knew how.
She seemed to fully appreciate his effort. She reached up and pulled him back down to her, meeting his lips with her own.
"I'm suddenly not in the mood for a ride," she whispered. "Maybe we can go later?"
He kissed her again, gently, tenderly. Thinking things he usually didn't allow himself to think-that this might last, that this might actually mean something, even if they were moving far, far too fast for something that wasn't happening on shore leave.
But he didn't complain as she led him out of the barn and to her flitter. Or when she took his hand and walked with him up her front porch stairs and into her house. Or when she eased his clothes off him and they made love.
He didn't complain at all.
Antonia slipped into the shuttle beside Jim, tired already of the night of Starfleet functions. She'd been with him for months now. She'd thought these parties would eventually die down, but he had laughed at her when she'd mentioned it. "The brass like to party, Antonia. It's just the way it is."
They might like to party, but they had no idea how to make it fun for outsiders.
Space bored her. She hated to admit it, since it seemed to be Jim's life, but all this talk of ships and crews and missions made her want to scream.
Christine never bored her this way. Then again, Christine never talked work with her. And she didn't spend this much time around Christine.
They got to the next party-apparently it was command assignments that were being celebrated; she found it hard to keep track of what excuse the boys in red were using any given day for drinking and dancing and hearty backslapping. She saw Christine at the bar and excused herself from the captain-or was it admiral?-that Jim was talking to and hurried over to her friend.
"Jim's looking happy." Christine smiled and pulled Antonia into a quick hug. "Get ready for a whole new round of parties next week. Promotions are coming out. Jim will go from captain to admiral."
Antonia looked down. "Great."
"Hey, what's wrong?"
"He's just...he's just gone a lot."
"Well, that's the nature of the job. He's on the final training cruises with the cadets."
"And any other training cruises he can worm his way aboard." She held up a hand when she saw the censure on Christine's face. "I know. I'm whining. But I miss him. I feel like we just get reconnected and he's gone again."
"Sweetie, this is who he is. You knew that going in."
"I just wish... He could retire, you know." She met Christine's eyes. "He's talked about it."
"Jim's not going to retire."
"Well, he could. I've been working on him." She saw Christine's face change and said, "What?"
"You can't change who he is. He's Fleet and will be all his life. That's just a fact."
"You could help. You could stand up for me and not for Starfleet."
"I'm not standing up for anyone, except maybe Jim."
"Right. Your good friend."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You only get to call him Jim because of me." Antonia hated the spite that was bubbling up in her. She hated that some part of her was jealous that Christine had access to Jim, at Command, where Antonia couldn't go without a million security checks and calls and then Jim coming to get her to sign her in and then out again.
Christine's face changed, her expression going cold. She stared at Antonia, then shook her head while smiling an incredulous smile. "You can't act this way and expect to keep him."
"I can't be with him if he won't stay on this planet." She squared her shoulders. "I won't stay with him if he can't commit."
"This is why Fleeters date each other." Christine took a deep breath. "I'm going to go now. Before I say something really ugly to you. But you need to relax about this. You'll only drive him away if you don't."
Antonia watched Christine walk away, then felt Jim's touch on her arm.
"Everything all right?"
She turned, gave him her most brilliant smile. "I'm with the most handsome man in the room and he's going home with me. How could it not be all right?"
"I miss you. When you're not here. I wish..." She looked down. "I'm sorry. I know I can't wish this." She met his eyes. "It's wrong to wish you were always with me, isn't it?"
He narrowed his eyes. "I'm not with anyone else."
"I know. But you are somewhere else. A lot of the time." She took his hand. "Never mind. I'm just being silly. Blame yourself, mister. For being someone I want around all the time."
He didn't look like he was going to smile so she leaned in and kissed him gently.
"I love you, James T. Kirk."
"I love you, too." His voice was steady, but there was confusion in his eyes.
She expected there was some in hers, too.
Chapel made her way down the Academy halls, stopped when she got to Jim's office.
Jim. Did she really only call him that now because of Antonia?
"Come," he said to her chime, and she walked in. "Chris. To what do I owe this pleasant surprise?" He got up. "Tell me there's an emergency you need my expertise on. Please, God, tell me that."
She laughed. "Bored?"
"Oh, my God, you have no idea. Spock is out with his cadets. Bones, Uhura, Sulu-all with him. I'm stuck here."
So much for getting on every trip he could worm his way aboard.
"You look serious." Kirk went over to the credenza behind his very large desk and poured a cup of coffee, then held up a mug to her. When she nodded, he poured her one and asked, "What's up?"
She walked over, fixed her coffee with cream and lots of sugar. Saw him smile at the amount she put in, but he didn't say anything.
"I just wanted to say..." She looked down. "Can I ask you something?"
"Of course. I may not answer, but you can ask." He grinned, but the grin faded when she didn't smile. "Is Matthew giving you a hard time?"
She laughed out loud. "Admiral Cartwright? No, in fact, some people think he's too easy on me." She smiled as she mimicked Cartwright's voice. "'Any friend of Jim's is a friend of mine' is one of his favorite sayings. Jan makes out pretty well from that outlook, too."
Jim smiled softly. "Associations run this place. You know that, Chris."
"I do. Jim." She watched to see if he'd flinch at her calling him that. He didn't. "Okay, this is hard because Antonia's a friend, but is she pressuring you to retire? Because if she is, you should ignore her."
His eyebrow lifted in a creditable impression of Spock. "What's brought this on?" His eyes narrowed. "Did Bones put you up to this?"
"No, Len has nothing to do with it. It's just...well, I checked with my friend Mark-the one Antonia used to go out with, and he said she was pretty...well, clingy."
He stared at her.
"It's why he broke up with her. I've never seen that side because I'm not dating her. But I just wanted you to know that maybe you should take any urging from her with a grain of salt."
"She's your friend, Chris."
"She is. But you are, too." She hoped. "And you're also my captain and always will be."
"And that's why you left my ship short of tour twice." He folded his arms over his chest.
"That's a negative way to look at it."
"That's the only way I'm looking at it right this second. What's this all about, Chris?"
"I just...I don't want to see you give up space."
He laughed, and the sound was astoundingly bitter. "Look around, Commander. This is not space. This is an office. On Earth. Where I am bored to death. The only time I feel alive is when I'm with Antonia."
She looked down.
"Should I tell her about this, Chris? Should I tell her you gave me such sage advice about your very good friend?"
She looked up and met his eyes. "You can tell her whatever you like."
He looked disgusted with her and she could feel her face turn red as he stared her down. Finally, she put her coffee mug back on the credenza and left. She was careful to walk slowly out of his office, even if she wanted to run like hell.
Kirk lay in bed, thinking about his talk with Chris as Antonia gently massaged his neck.
"You're awfully quiet," she said.
"I'm sorry." She kissed him, her lips lingering the way he liked. "Something you can talk about?"
He turned over, studied her. "Chris is your friend."
"Yes. My friend who introduced me to you." She kissed him and laughed softly as she pulled away.
"Would you consider her your best friend?"
"No, silly. That would be you."
Her smile faded. "I am serious. You're my best friend, Jim."
He could feel his smile fading. "I am?"
Her mouth tightened. "I guess, by your surprise, you wouldn't consider me your best friend." She pulled away and lay down, her arms crossed tightly across her chest as she stared at the ceiling. "Who would? Someone from Starfleet, no doubt?"
"Sweetheart, we haven't known each other that long." He took a deep breath. Why did he always end up in things like this? Janice, Carol. Always on him about how much he loved them. "Have I given you cause to worry?"
She glanced over at him and her eyes went soft. "No, Jim. God, I'm sorry." She rolled, kissed him as soon as she was close enough. "It's just...it's just I miss you."
"I'm right here."
"Some of the time you are. The rest..." She sat up, let him look at her fully, and he did, enjoying the lushness of her curves. "I'm lonely. I know you think it's strange, but I don't have that many friends. I never have. The horses, and a few people I've picked up over the years like Christine."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make light."
"I never had a crew, Jim. I never was part of a Fleet. Women don't like me and men just want to sleep with me. I can actually talk to you. You get me, and I think I get you. So yes, I think of you as my best friend."
"Hey." He pulled her closer. "It's okay. I like it."
"Are you sure?"
"Can I show you something?" She got up at his nod and grabbed a padd that had been sitting on the dresser. She handed it to him.
A cabin. In the mountains. With trees and blue sky and no one around for miles.
"You were saying you liked to get away. That you'd like to have more of that. It's for sale. If we wanted to buy it."
He smiled and handed it back to her. "A bit of a commute. No transporter stop anywhere close by."
"No, there's not. So maybe...maybe you wouldn't commute."
"Just come out on the weekends?"
She looked down. "Just don't go to work." She met his eyes, smiled a sweetly seductive smile.
"Retire." He tried not to hear Chris's voice as he said the word.
"Retire." She looked down. "Christine told me to leave this alone, but I just can't. You're not happy, Jim. You hate your job and even when you get back from your cruises you're only halfway satisfied. You'll never get a ship back. Not ever. So, let go."
He stared at her.
"Let go and grab onto something else. Us. Together. We could take the horses up there. They have stables-you missed that part." She pulled up the link, showed him the diagram of the land. "Just tell me you'll think about it. That's all I ask."
He took a deep breath. "I'll think about it."
Antonia sat in a coffee shop just off Starfleet grounds. She wanted to have equal footing for this encounter. Was not going to lose face by having to be escorted around Christine's building.
She saw her friend come in and waved her over. Imperiously. On purpose.
"Hi," Christine said, her voice wary.
Christine thought about it for a moment, then sat.
"So, I wanted you to see this." She handed Christine the padd with the picture of the property Jim had agreed they could have. It had taken her a week to bring him around to her way of thinking.
"Pretty. Where is it?"
Antonia took it back and smile tightly. "Somewhere you will never, ever visit."
She leaned forward. "I know you tried to sabotage Jim and me. I don't know how because he won't tell me exactly. But he gave enough away for me to know that you were trying to make trouble for us."
"I told him you were going to urge him to retire."
Antonia wasn't sure what to do next. The truth had been the last thing she expected. And said in such a matter of fact way. "Why would you do that?"
"Because he's my friend."
"No, he's not. He was your boss. He wasn't your friend until I came around."
"That's not true." But Christine's voice was off. Probably because she knew it was true. "It doesn't matter what he and I are to each other. The fact is that man belongs in space. He's better off for it and so are we-all of us. He's better at what he does than anyone I know."
"He's done with that. Let him be done. It's people like you, who cling to him as if he owes you more than he's already given, that will get him killed. You're what makes him so miserable."
"No. You're wrong. We don't cling."
"Oh, I forgot. The precious Fleet solidarity. No, no clinging there with your sad little parties about how great it was when you were all on a ship. Move on, people." Antonia stood. "I really liked you. I don't have that many friends, so I say this with regret: We are done. We are not friends any longer, and I want you to stay away from me and from Jim."
"Jim works at Starfleet."
"Not for much longer, he doesn't." With a smile she had practiced in the mirror, Antonia walked away, leaving Christine alone.
Chapel sat for a moment, processing the conversation. Then she hurried out of the coffee shop and straight to Starfleet Academy.
Spock, fortunately, was in. A cadet was with him.
"Out. Now." She didn't wait to see how fast the cadet skedaddled.
"Christine. Your manners have degenerated." Spock looked amused. "Is there a problem?"
"I'll say. Jim is leaving."
Spock's eyebrow went up.
"As in retiring, Spock. As in never coming back."
"How do you know this?"
"His new girlfriend told me."
Spock stood. "Jim has said nothing of leaving."
"How forthcoming were you when you were planning on relocating to Gol?"
"Point taken." He sat down, accessed something in the computer. His whole demeanor changed.
"He has put in for retirement."
"I know. I just told you that."
"No, not in the future. Now." He met her eyes. "He will leave at the end of the week."
"He cites personal reasons."
"Yes, her name is Antonia. And I'm the idiot who introduced them."
Spock stood again and walked to the window. "I do not understand. He has been on our training cruises. Seemed to enjoy them."
"Did you know he was with her?"
"Yes. I have met her. She is...attractive."
"She's a bombshell, Spock."
"Yes, she is beautiful but not what I would consider his type."
"Umm, were you on the same ship I was on during our two missions?"
"Those were diversions. Look at the women he has been serious about. What do they have in common?"
She thought a moment. Then met his eyes. "Scientists. And not always beautiful. Attractive, though."
"Precisely. She will not hold his interest for long."
"Do you think he'll get sick of her by the end of the week? Because if not, you need to do something." She saw his look and said, "Spock. I already tried to warn him. He got mad and Antonia just rubbed this all in my face. He won't listen to me and she warned me off him. Go stop him."
He stood. "Very well."
He left her in the office. She paced until she couldn't stand it anymore and went home.
This was out of her hands, even if it was all her fault. Either Spock could stop him or no one could.
Kirk was going through files on his personal padds, determining what to archive and what to delete when he heard his chime ring. "Come."
Spock walked in, his face serious-or more serious than normal. "Jim."
"Spock." He smiled. "Problem?"
"I will leave that to you to tell me."
Kirk studied him. "This isn't about a cadet, then?"
"Sir?" Kirk laughed, then let his smile die when he saw Spock glare at him. Glare? "What the hell is wrong with you, Spock?"
"Christine came to see me. Your imminent departure was the topic of our conversation."
"Oh, Jesus. Spock, I was going to tell you."
"Before or after Friday?"
"Before." At Spock's look he said, "No, I mean it. I was."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Why am I retiring after umpteen years of noble service? You are seriously going to ask me that?"
"Well, if you must know, Spock, I met a girl. Nice girl. Name of Antonia. She cooked you vegetarian lasagna last week if you care to remember back."
"I am well aware of who you are with, Jim." Spock sat down in the chair opposite him. "You do not have to leave to be with her."
"No, I don't. But I want to. I need to. I'm tired, Spock. And I'm unhappy."
"And you think you will be happier with her, away from all of this?"
"Yes, frankly, I do. No matter what you and Chris think."
Spock stood. "I will leave you to your work, then." He turned toward the door.
"Spock." Kirk waited for Spock to look at him. "It's not that far. A transporter and a rented flitter. You'll like it. And there's a standing invite for you. Antonia's really fond of you."
"Thank you." Spock took a deep breath. "If I do not see you before you leave, I wish you well."
"Spock, this isn't goodbye. I just won't be down the hall." He smiled gently. "You aren't here most of the time anyway. Off on the Enterprise with your kids."
"Perhaps you should have taken the position."
"You did try to tell me." Kirk smiled gamely. Kept the smile going until Spock walked out the door and then rolled his eyes.
He wouldn't put it past Chris to bring Bones in on this now that Spock hadn't gotten the job done. Why the hell did she even care? It wasn't like they were that good of friends.
Antonia finished with the carton she was unpacking and looked at Jim out in the yard chopping wood, the mountains huge behind him, snow lingering on the peaks.
Jim's dog Butler lay just outside the danger zone. Safe from the axe but close to his master.
Jim loved that dog. Sometimes, she thought he loved the dog more than he loved her. But that was okay.
She walked over to the door, stood watching him as he worked. He seemed to sense her and looked over, smiling.
"Thirsty?" She opened the door and secured it on the hook that kept it open, letting in the cool mountain air. "I can make coffee or tea or whatever you like."
"I'm fine." He grinned at her. "God, it's beautiful here."
"It is. And it's all ours." She smiled, for once truly, exquisitely happy. He was hers-and he'd given up everything for her. What more was there to want?
Chapel watched as the Enterprise flew out on a training mission. "There they go."
"No Jim Kirk at the helm." Rand smiled gently. "Although he's probably on the ship. Retired nearly a year and he still finds creative excuses to come back for special appearances-although I think Spock just misses him and makes it happen."
"He shouldn't need excuses. He should be here."
"You did what you could, Christine. Let it go."
"I cannot believe you are telling me to let it go."
"I cannot believe you are the one obsessing over James T. Kirk." Jan laughed. "Did you fall for him while I wasn't looking?"
"Of course not. But I set her up with him."
"Yeah, on behalf of all those who like him, thanks loads for that. Could you have picked a more transparent woman?"
"I didn't know." She saw Jan's face and held up a hand. "I know. I know. You told me she was annoying. I just didn't want to listen."
"Well, no, because you were her only friend. You would have felt horrible letting her down easily. You're too nice, Christine."
"Uh huh. Tell that to your boy. Jim's still angry with me."
She went back to work, was surprised when Jan nudged her at the end of the shift.
"You sure the admiral is mad at you?" She nodded toward the door where Kirk stood with Spock. Janice waved them into Ops.
"What are you doing?"
"Saying hello to my old bosses. What are you doing?" Janice smiled as the two walked up. "Boys."
Jim laughed, then glanced at Chapel. "Chris."
He studied her, then mouthed, "Jim," and turned back to Jan.
She smiled easily. "So, what are you doing off your mountain, sir?"
"Slumming." He laughed, and Chapel was sadly very happy that he didn't tell Jan to call him Jim. "I needed to close out some investments here. Finalize my apartment sale. That kind of thing."
"And will you find more of those excuses to get away from her?" Chapel asked, then was mortified to realize she'd said it out loud.
Three sets of eyes took her in. Only Jim's were mildly amused. "Commander, I don't need an excuse to see my friends. Antonia's my girlfriend, not a ball and chain."
"Ah." He smiled tightly. "We'll be going. Good seeing you."
He glanced back at her. She mouthed, "Jim," and saw him smile.
"Well, that wasn't awkward at all, Commander Tact." Jan hit her not so softly in the arm. "Way to chase them off."
"They weren't going to ask us to join them, Jan."
"I can dream, can't I?" But Jan's dreamy expression was clearly put on. She was in love, and recently, with a very nice commander from the CINC's staff. She no longer cared all that much what a certain retired admiral did.
If only Chapel could say the same.
Kirk sat in a café, watching couples go by, assessing them. Did he and Antonia look as happy as that pair did? Did they ever look as tired of each other as that couple?
"Sir?" Chris sounded wary. She'd only reluctantly agreed to meet him here.
"You can call me Jim."
"I never could before Antonia. Why should I now?"
"Because I'm telling you to." He looked up at her, towering over him with the sun behind her. "Jesus, sit down. I'm getting a crick in my neck."
She sat. "Does Antonia know you're here?"
"She knows I'm in San Francisco."
"Ah. But not with me."
"I didn't tell her that." He studied her. "It was a spur of the moment call."
"Oh." She sat, her gaze as implacable as Spock's.
"I didn't like how we left things. Before I moved."
"No? And you waited a year to bring it up?"
"Timing is everything." He gave her a rueful grin. "Look, I know you were just trying to protect me."
She finally smiled. "I was looking out for all of us. You've saved the world a few times, you know."
"Well, those days are over."
"They don't have to be." She sighed. "I don't want to fight."
"Then we won't." He pulled out a padd, showed her the shot he loved best, of Butler and the mountains behind him. "This is what I gave it all up for."
"Pretty." Her smile was real, but then it turned mean. "Funny how Antonia is nowhere to be found in this picture."
He pulled the padd back.
"I'm sorry. That was catty."
"Yes. It was. You were her friend. What happened, Chris?"
She shrugged, seemed to be looking anywhere but at him. Then she suddenly met his eyes. "She said, sir, that the only reason I got to call you Jim was because of her. That on my own, I wasn't your friend. And you know what? She was right."
He could feel his jaw tightening. "Did you care? Before her? I don't remember you wanting to be my friend."
"Are we going back to the short-of-tour thing?"
"No, Chris. I know you left both times because of Spock."
"I left because other opportunities came open. Things that I wanted to try. Med school. Then this, in Ops. You gave me recommendations for both."
"Of course I did. You're a good officer. They were lucky to get you."
"Then why are you mad?"
He took a deep breath. "I'm not." He laughed softly. "Well, all right, maybe I was hurt, Chris. You left. None of my chicks leave."
"Jan had to leave. It was getting awkward for us."
She didn't say anything. Then she reached out, touched his hand. "Well, now you found someone who will never, ever leave you."
Her voice wasn't mean. And as she pulled away, he met her eyes-they were unreadable.
She stood. "We're all right, Jim."
"We are." She smiled; it was almost a real smile. "I'll see you around?"
"Probably so. I can't stay away."
"Yeah. I noticed that."
Antonia watched as Jim got dressed. "Are you going into the city again?"
He looked over. "Guest lecturer. I told you about it months ago."
"Oh, right." She took a deep breath. "Do you have to go? I thought we could go to Idaho today. Ride a little." They'd never gotten the horses up here. Despite having stables nearby. There was always some reason not to go get them.
"That would be great but not today." He turned. "How do I look?"
"For a general audience. Fine. Or are you meeting someone else?"
"Is there someone you're going to see?"
"Well, I thought I'd say hello to Bones and Spock, if that's okay with you?"
"Don't make light of this, Jim. Are you seeing her?"
"Am I seeing who?"
He got a strange look on his face, as if he was going to laugh.
She threw her pillow at him. "Don't make fun of me."
"Antonia. Where is this coming from?"
"Just tell me you're not going to see her." She was crying. God, she hated when she did this.
"I'm not going to see her. Why would I?"
"She's trying to break us up."
"No, she's not, sweetheart." He tipped her chin up. "But you're doing a damn good job if you keep on being silly."
He shook his head and let her go. "I'm not cheating on you. Now, I have to go."
"I want to come."
"You can't come. You know that. I can't sign you in anymore and you have no reason to be there."
"Well, tell them you want me there. You're the great captain, right?"
"Admiral, to be exact."
"Well, sorry that I don't understand Starfleet speak better."
"Antonia." He took her by the shoulders, shook her very gently. "Stop it. I love you. But I have to go or I'll be late."
She nodded. Wiped her tears and said, "Give a good talk," as he left.
She waited until she heard the flitter leave. Then she commed the private detective she was always forced to use-why couldn't any man just be happy with her?
"Long time no see, Antonia."
"I have a job for you."
Chapel sat in the audience, unsure why she'd felt driven to use her day off to come hear Jim talk, other than she'd been a bit cold when he'd tried to make amends-or whatever it was he'd been doing-some months ago.
After the lecture, she lingered in her seat, saw him look over from the group of people waiting for one-on-one time and smile at her.
She smiled back.
It took a long time, but he finally came over, walked down her row and leaned against the back of the seat in front of her. "So."
"So. Good lecture, sir." At his look she laughed. "Jim."
"I am. But I'm sort of needed back at Ops."
"Of course you are. That's why you've been sitting on your ass for the past twenty-five minutes while I fielded questions from my adoring public." He winked. "Day off?"
"Guilty as charged."
"I have a yen for Chinese."
"I like Chinese." She rose and followed him out of the auditorium. "I want to say something. Now rather than later."
He turned to look at her.
"I'm really sorry for how I've acted. Antonia is-was my friend. And she loves you, Jim. I really think she does. And if you're happy with her, then I need to stop causing trouble. And I'm not even sure why I'm doing it. It's not like we've ever...you know..."
"Been interested in each other?"
"I know." He smiled gently. "And thank you. I appreciate your olive branch." He started to laugh. "She won't, so I won't tell her about it."
"Because every good relationship runs on lies." She looked down. "I said I wasn't going to do that, didn't I?"
"You sure did. I think that means lunch is on you, toots." He laughed and they talked about less touchy things as they walked. He led her into a new Chinese restaurant she'd always wanted to try but never had time. It was just enough off compound to be a pain to get to.
After they'd ordered and kicked back the better part of their beers, he said, "What if I'm not?"
"Not what?" She busied herself fixing the dipping sauce from the variety of base sauces and spices.
She stopped mixing and looked up at him. "Aren't you?"
"What was the word you used for her? That her boyfriend had said?"
"Bingo." He took a deep breath. "God. I should not be doing this...complaining about her to you."
"Then don't." She gave him a soft smile to show she meant it. "Talk to Len or Spock or whoever. You and I can use this time to chat about Matthew and his obsession with Klingons."
"Matthew, now, is it?"
His eyes narrowed. "Maybe." Then he laughed. But his smile quickly faded. "What if I want to talk to you about it? You did start this whole thing."
"I did. I'm really sorry if you're unhappy. If you're not, I'll take credit and we can move on."
"I think we've established which one I am." He took a deep drink from his glass. "You weren't wrong about the picture. The dog-Butler is his name. He's a great dog."
"He looks like it."
Jim nodded. "The best. And the house-beautiful place, just no denying. And the view. And the smells and the sunsets flaring pink over the snowcapped peaks."
"And the woman you share all that with...?"
"And her." He frowned and rubbed his forehead. "I love her."
"But you don't really like her, do you?"
He met her eyes. "I think I do."
"Jim." She remembered what Spock had said. "She's not your type."
"What is my type? I'm a lothario. Any port in the storm. Isn't that what the rumors say?" He leaned forward. "What's my damn type?"
She met his eyes, rather fearlessly to her surprise. "Me. I'm your type."
He sat very still and so did she. The waiter came with the food and hurried off as soon as he'd put the plates down, as if loath to disturb them.
"I'm sorry," she said, and knew her face was starting to flame. "I don't know why I said that."
"Maybe because it's true. You're a far better match for me than she is." He leaned back.
"Only, I'm not your type physically. Not pretty enough."
"You're an idiot, Commander." He dug into his lunch. "I think we should maybe take your earlier suggestion and talk about Matthew's Klingon hard-on."
"Interesting way to put it." She knew she was flirting. Was shocked she even remembered how.
"You know what I mean." His voice was serious, but his eyes gleamed.
She stared at him until the intensity of their gaze became uncomfortable. Then she looked away, took a bite of the very good General Tsao's, and told him the latest in a long line of Matthew stories.
They laughed through lunch. It was nice. She didn't even mind paying.
Kirk looked for Antonia in the house when he got home, didn't find her downstairs so made his way upstairs. He heard music before he'd gotten to the top of the steps, smiled as he pushed open the door.
She was wearing a black negligee that left little to the imagination. Her hair was loose and long and she was lying in bed, a sensual smile on her face.
Gorgeous, gorgeous creature.
"Howdy." She grinned at him and leaned forward enough to bring her cleavage into prominence. "I was waiting for someone, but I guess you'll do." Again the grin.
"Well, hello there." He walked over.
She pushed herself to her knees, slipped off his jacket, then began unbuttoning his shirt. "You, sir, are severely overdressed."
"I am, aren't I?"
"Yes, indeed." She pulled him to her, kissed him.
It wasn't one of her best. Something a little too...desperate in it.
"Hey." He pulled away, stroked her hair back. "Sweetheart, are you okay?"
"Can't a girl miss her fella?" She ran her fingers along his cheek.
"I wasn't gone that long."
"The question stands." She reached down, unbuttoned his pants.
He should have been ready for her. Normally would have been.
But he wasn't. Her expression changed, and as she reached down, she said, "Rough day?"
She leaned in, kissing his neck, but he was almost positive she was smelling him, too.
"Antonia. Stop, okay?" He eased her hand off him. "What's the matter?"
"I think I'm the one who should be asking that."
"I'm tired. It's been a long day."
"Catching up with old Fleet friends?"
"Anyone I know?"
He took a deep breath. This was the moment when he should tell her he had lunch with Chris. There was nothing wrong with him seeing his old friend.
Nothing at all.
"No one you'd know," he said, and turned away, going into the bathroom and staring at himself in the mirror.
The mountains from the window behind him were framed beautifully. This house, this place, the woman outside his door. All perfect.
He looked down at his traitorous dick. "Thanks a bunch."
Antonia waited until Jim disappeared into the woods with Butler and commed her detective. "Well? Was he with her?"
"He was. They had lunch. Little Chinese place. Seemed to be having a good time. Lots of laughing."
"Hey, it's not all bad. There was no touching, no hugging, no leaving and heading back to her place or a hotel or anything. I think they're just friends."
"You're an idiot, and I don't pay you to think." She put her face in her hands.
"Kid, I'm telling you. He's not doing it with her. I know the signs. People normally can't keep their hands off each other."
"You think that groping is the only kind of foreplay? You're very, very wrong."
"Listen, Antonia, please. You ever stop to think that maybe if you trusted your men more, they might not leave you? This guy is not cheating on you. I guarantee it."
"Okay. Thanks. The money's been sent." She broke the connection.
He just didn't get it. Jim had been laughing with Christine. Having fun with her.
Antonia couldn't remember the last time she and Jim had really laughed. The last time he'd looked like he was having fun.
He might not be sleeping with Christine. But there was something going on.
Chapel was at home, relaxing after a hard week when her chime rang. She slipped on a cardigan to cover up the fact that she hadn't put a bra on under her t-shirt and went to the door. It would probably be her neighbor, complaining about the couple across the hall again.
It was Jim. "Can I come in?"
She nodded and let him past her, then said, "I'm going to go put some real clothes on."
"Chris, you look fine." He took a deep breath, then pulled out a mini padd from his jacket pocket, handed it to her. "Can you find out who that is?"
A bank account number was the "who" in question. The date of payment was some months back.
"It would be unethical to-"
"Antonia made that transfer. And it was the day I came into town last fall. The day we had lunch, remember?"
"I do." It had been ages since he'd looked her up. She'd thought maybe he and Antonia had found happiness and he would finally settle down, Starfleet free.
She took the pad to her terminal, set it to secure mode, then read the number to it and waited for the computer to spit out, "Daniel Merriweather. Private Investigator."
Chris glanced at Jim, then asked the computer, "List associations. Date range: last ten years. First name: Antonia. Last name: Fairchild."
The room was quiet, then the computer said, " Twelve associations found."
"Quit query." Chapel turned the computer back to regular mode. "I bet if you linked the dates, they'd all go with when she found a new beau. But I'm not going to do that for you. She's probably just being careful."
"A year and a half into the relationship, Chris? Why the hell are you defending her?"
"I'm not. I'm making excuses for her. It's a slightly different thing."
He sat on the couch, leaned back and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Why would she do this?"
"Clearly because she doesn't trust you." Chapel went and joined him. "She told me once that men don't stay. That was the great downfall of liking them."
"Well, no. Not when we're not trusted. Not when every move we make is scrutinized, every private moment we take questioned."
"Sounds like someone isn't happy."
"Shut up. This is all your fault."
While she often thought that, she didn't like the way it sounded coming from him. "I didn't know what would happen. And no one made you pursue her. You did that all on your own."
He closed his eyes and sighed loudly.
"Do you want a drink?"
"Do you have Scotch?"
"I do." She got up and poured him one, then handed it to him forgetting how thin her t-shirt was, how she'd forgotten to do up the cardigan.
Jim seemed fixated on her breasts. Then he looked down at his lap in annoyance and said, "Oh, sure, now you're alive and well."
She sat next to him, no longer trying to appear modest but not flaunting herself, either. "Performance issues."
"None of your goddamned business."
"Did you ever have them while you were still with Starfleet?"
"What part of 'None of your goddamned business' isn't clear?"
"I'm just saying." She leaned in, could hear his quick intake of breath. "There's a place for you at Command-in space with the cadets-if you want to come back. The head of academics is retiring. And you do want to come back, Jim. You need to come back. And you know it." She reached down, surprised at her boldness, and fondled him.
He moaned. Loudly. No performance issues at the moment.
She let go. "You know it. And so does your better half down there."
He was watching her helplessly.
She stood and walked over the door. "Time to go, sir. You have some decisions to make."
He got up slowly, his pants tenting in a way that told her she'd more than made her point. As he walked by her, he murmured, "You're a real bitch."
"Maybe. But did I say a single thing you haven't already thought yourself?"
He didn't answer, just slipped by her and left.
She closed the door and leaned against it, glad he couldn't see how shaken she was by the encounter.
Kirk commed Spock, trying to appear more composed than his meeting with Chris had left him.
"Old friend." It was easy to smile, easy to let the affection into his voice with Spock. "I need to know something. Chris said Camlion is retiring. Is it true?"
Spock nodded. "You would be an excellent replacement."
"That can be easily remedied. And we both know it." Spock almost smiled. "Are you considering coming back?"
Kirk nodded, then was surprised at how he hadn't even had to think about it.
"Does Antonia know?"
"No." He looked down. "She won't be happy."
"Of that I have no doubt." Spock waited, seemed to be content to sit on the comm channel forever while Kirk thought.
"Morrow still in charge?"
"You have not been gone that long, Jim." Spock looked very pleased. "I would be most gratified to have you back."
"Well, we'll see, okay?"
"Of course. I know this is not an easy decision." With one last, fond look, Spock cut the connection.
Spock was right. It should not be an easy decision. It should be damned near impossible.
Leave the woman he loved for space? For not even space but only the hint of space? He'd still be behind a desk. Nothing would change except that-
Wait. Why did he have to leave her? It had been her idea for him to retire, not his. He'd played it her way for the last two years. Now it was time for her to accommodate him. They could still keep the place in the mountains. Go there on weekends. It could all work out.
He commed Morrow's office and set up a meeting for the following week.
Antonia could hear Jim down in the kitchen, fixing her breakfast. She smiled. Things were finally settling down again after weeks with him going back and forth to San Francisco.
She heard his step on the stairs, smiled and pretended to be sleeping as he came in.
"Wake up, sleepyhead." He was holding a tray and lowered it so she could see. Coffee, Ktarian eggs, and toast on it.
"For you." He waited till she sat up, then put the tray over her lap. "And this." A velvet bag.
She couldn't bite back the huge grin. "Jim...what is it?" There had to be a box inside that bag. And a ring inside the box. An engagement ring. Because they'd be together forever. She'd finally found that guy.
He handed her the bag.
It was far too heavy to be an engagement ring. She pulled out a metal object, saw that it was a horseshoe with a rose tied by a ribbon to it.
The symbolism eluded her.
"For the first day we met."
She smiled, but knew it was coming off as confused. "It's nice."
"But we met at your party."
"I like to think we met in the barn." His smile grew. "Certainly a more memorable time." He waggled his eyebrows-something that normally made her laugh but she just stared at him, still trying to figure out why he thought a horseshoe said "I love you" better than a ring.
He turned and started to pace. Never a good sign. "I've made a decision. I'm going back to Starfleet."
She felt as if he'd slugged her. "You're leaving?"
He turned. "No. I'm just...un-retiring."
"So, you're leaving."
"Sweetheart, I can do both. Be with you and work at Starfleet."
"No?" His eyes narrowed and she knew she'd gone too far. "No? I came up to this place, this gorgeous place in the middle of goddamned nowhere and lived here with you for two years, Antonia."
"Two years? Is that forever to you?"
"No, but it's long enough. I'm bored."
"You're bored?" She picked up the coffee mug and threw it at him.
He ducked, and the coffee went all over the wall behind him.
"You're bored?" She pushed the tray off her lap, got out of bed. "And what else is there, Jim? Who else is in San Francisco that you might want to see?"
"Who else? Let's try my friends." He was angry but he wasn't shouting, unlike her.
He'd rehearsed this. Was ready for her arguments. For her hurt and anger.
He'd have an answer for everything.
"Let's try Christine."
"I am not with Christine."
"You love her."
"I don't. I barely know her." He moved closer. "But I do know you had me followed. I know you know I had lunch with her. But that's all it was."
"I had to. I don't trust you."
"I've never cheated on you."
She looked at his face and said, "I don't believe you."
She saw something then. Something in his eyes. That told her this was over. That told her it might have worked but now it really was over.
But that was how it always ended for her. No one ever stayed. No one ever loved her enough.
"I don't believe you," she whispered again.
"No one ever does." He closed his eyes and said, "I'll send someone for my things. You can live here till you find somewhere else to go."
Then he turned and walked out.
Chapel saw Jim sitting in the officer's club. Uniform back on. Looking like he'd never left. He lifted his scotch and drank without taking his eyes off the view out the window. He had his back to most of the room.
She walked over. "Hi."
He nodded. Then he waved over a server and ordered her a drink. Single malt. Just like he was having, no doubt.
She sat down in the chair next to him, looked out at the view-not that great a view to be honest. Not from this side of the club, the side that backed onto a corner of Starfleet Command. "I'm sorry."
"No, you're not." He waited for the server to put down Chapel's drink before he said, "You wanted this."
"I didn't." At his look, she said, "I didn't, Jim. But you were unhappy and I wanted you happy."
"Why? Why do you even care?" He gave her a twisted version of his normal smile. "I'll be fifty in just a few months."
"That's not that old."
"Isn't it? Isn't it really?" He drained his glass, motioned for another. "I try to make things work. With a woman. It never does. Never."
She didn't answer.
"Carol. Janet. Janice. Now Antonia. Every single one of them thinks I'm not there for them. Or worse, that I am there for someone else." He looked over at her. "Antonia was convinced I was sleeping with you."
"I know. I got an angry comm a few days ago."
His face fell. "I'm sorry. I should have warned you."
"I'm a big girl. She didn't say anything to me I couldn't take. She was upset. She was really sad."
He nodded absently.
"She did love you, Jim. She just doesn't know how to love, I think. Not in any kind of way that lets her be happy."
"Oh and you're the expert on love?" He sniffed, the sound so derisive she almost got up and left him alone. "Like I am?" He made an equally dismissive sound for himself so she decided to cut him some slack. "What if she was right? What if it was a choice: her or space? And I chose the wrong one."
"You didn't." She reached over, took his hand and gently squeezed it.
He didn't squeeze back so she let go quickly.
"So what's next for you?" she asked.
"Kobayashi Maru is coming up. Always a barrel of laughs." He sighed. "Spock's girl is taking the test. Saavik-you've met her?"
He shot her a look. "You with Spock?"
"No." She laughed softly. "He and I...we don't work."
"You ever try?"
She shook her head. "I just know. The same way I know Len and I will only ever be bed buddies, I know Spock and I will never be. We're too different. And we have no spark."
"Spark." He shook his head. "I think after fifty your spark goes out."
"I think you're wrong." She got up. "Thank you for the drink."
"You're welcome. Thank you for...well, I'm sure there's something."
She left before he could think of it.
Kirk sat in his quarters on the Enterprise. Spock was dead. His ship was crippled. A good number of the cadets were wounded or worse.
His son was talking to him. He supposed he should accept the small miracles.
And Khan was dead. He couldn't hurt them anymore.
The door chime rang. "Come," he said, not surprised to see Carol walk in.
"David was here?" she asked.
He nodded. "You put him up to it?"
"No." She sighed. "I've told him so much about you. Most of it bad." She sat on the couch across from him. "I probably wasn't fair."
"You never were."
She nodded and looked down. Then she got up and walked to the viewscreen. "I don't get it."
"Why this view is so important to you."
"You never did." He took a deep breath. "You never will." Her. Antonia. Janet. None of them ever understood. Janice hadn't, either, even if she'd wanted a ship of her own. But it wasn't for the ship's sake. It was to have his life-and to take what he had away from him.
His choices in women were horrible when it came to compatibility with his chosen path.
Chris, though. Chris got it. Even if she'd left his ship behind on two occasions, she understood how he felt about the Enterprise.
"I'm very, very sorry about your friend." Carol knelt down in front of him, took his hands and chafed them gently. "I wish..."
"He saved David. Saved all of us."
He smiled gently at her. "We made a fine boy, Carol."
"We did. An exceptional boy." She laughed softly. "But what do you expect? We're no chopped liver, Jim."
He laughed, a nearly soundless expression of air.
With a look full of sympathy, she leaned in and pressed her lips to his forehead. "I truly am sorry. For Spock. For the ship. For everything."
"I know." He let her go. Could probably have called her back-thought maybe she expected him to.
But he didn't.
His friend was dead. Carol's comfort wasn't what he needed.
A while later, his chime rang again. "Come."
Saavik walked in. "Admiral?"
"Lieutenant." He gestured to the couch Carol had taken. "Sit."
She shook her head. "I will not take much of your time. I just...I wanted to say that Spock believed you were worth any risk. Any sacrifice."
Kirk knew his expression was lost as he looked at her, tried to pull in some inner strength but failed in the face of his friend's almost-daughter and how sad her eyes were.
"I just wanted to say, sir, that I think he was right. I did not at first. I thought you were arrogant. Nothing more than a boy playing."
"A fifty-year-old boy."
"On Vulcan, men of fifty are considered quite immature."
He smiled. "We're not on Vulcan."
"No, sir. I know we are not." She looked down. "I have come to appreciate your qualities of leadership. I know that we are alive because of you."
"Yes. And Spock." She turned to go.
She looked back at him.
"He was enormously proud of you. And he loved you. Very, very much."
Her eyes gleamed in the low light. "Thank you, sir. Good night."
"Good night," he whispered, once she was gone and the room was empty again.
Chapel strode across the Vulcan sand to where the Klingon Bird of Prey sat. "Where is he?" she asked Sulu who looked up at her in surprise from the component he was working on.
Sulu pointed to the top of a cliff behind them. She could just make out Spock. He was alone.
"Wrong he. I'm looking for an Admiral. In a lot of trouble. Gazillion-watt smile, which won't do jack for him in this case."
Sulu pointed inside with a grin. "He's in a hell of a mood."
"That's swell. Me, too." She stomped up the ramp, smiling at Uhura and Chekov, then stopped when she saw Len.
"Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle." He pulled her into a tight hug.
"You all there now?" She tapped his head gently to show him where she meant.
"I was always all here. I just had that green-blooded imp in here, too."
She smiled. "But now...?"
"I'm fine. Spock...well, the jury's still out on that one."
"Yeah. He looked very Vulcan standing on the cliff ledge."
"He does that a lot. Sort of creepy. Don't think he can quite figure us out. Despite the fact that we all nearly lost everything helping his sorry ass out."
"It was for your sorry ass, too. Jim was frantic when he thought you were losing your mind."
Len's eyes narrowed. "It's Jim now?"
"Yep." She smiled noncommittally. "Where is he?"
"Engine room. With Scotty." He pointed her in the right direction. "You sure you want to go down there? He's in a piss-poor mood right now."
"So I've been told." She headed off the way he'd indicated.
"Well, I'll be," Scotty said when he saw her in the doorway.
Jim turned. He did look really cranky. "Chris?"
"Hello to you, too." She smiled her best Ops smile at Scotty. "I need the room."
"Oh, well, never let it be said I would ever get in the way of a lady and her needs." He winked at her as he hurried out.
"What the hell are you doing here? You were clear of this. Now, they'll think you're involved."
"I'm here to collect Sarek, not break you out of jail."
"I'm not in jail. We have temporary asylum."
"You're crazy enough to need an asylum." She grinned at him, was happy to see him grin back, even though she could tell he was fighting it.
"Character witness. Your trial. I need to convince him, though. Don't think it'll be hard since you gave him his son back." She studied him. "You look good. All things considered."
"You do, too."
She let her voice soften, dropped some of the Ops attitude. "I'm sorry about your son."
He looked down. "He was just like me. Took shortcuts."
"I heard." At his look of surprise, she said, "I know a lot these days. I have access, and Matthew keeps me pretty well apprised if it's something I can't see on my own."
"What happened to need-to-know?"
"Flew right out the window when his friend was involved." She smiled gently. "And mine. I think."
"Yes. You are my friend." He took a deep breath. "Spock doesn't remember me."
"I'm sure that's not true."
"No, he really doesn't. Not our friendship. Not the emotions."
"Well, he's a Vulcan."
"No. I mean when you consider what Spock's gone through, from growing up half human on this world to trying to expunge his emotions, is it any wonder they're the most problematic part of his personality? I have a feeling once the rest of him is fully functional, the emotions will follow. But...in a controlled way. A safe way." She touched his cheek. "Probably a much slower way than you'd like."
"I like your version much better than the Vulcan healers. They just look at me like I'm a moron for wanting my friend back."
"You're many things, Jim Kirk, but you are not a moron."
He grinned. "So you're here to get Sarek?"
"This isn't your fault, Chris. Unlike Antonia, there's nothing you have to fix."
"I know. But I've abandoned you twice. I'm not going to do it a third time. Not when I think he'll listen to me."
He smiled, and there was so much relief in the expression it almost broke her heart.
"You look tired, Jim."
"I am tired. I'm lightyears past tired."
"I'm sorry." Her chrono beeped. "I have to go. Sarek's waiting for me. I'm gonna pitch the hell out of him. Wish me luck."
He pulled her close, the hug more than a little desperate. "Luck. Much, much luck."
She eased away and took his hand. "Keep the faith, Jim. We're going to get you out of this."
"Brave talk." But he squeezed her hand before letting it go.
Kirk saw Chris leave the post-whale party as it was being called and followed her out. "Leaving so soon?"
She turned and he was surprised to see her expression was tight and unhappy.
"Where's your blast from the past?"
"My what from the what?" He saw her lips tighten and laughed. "You didn't think that Gillian and I...?"
She shrugged and turned around, walking away from him quickly.
He caught up with her easily. "Touchy touchy."
"Don't. I know we've never been anything to each other. I know I'm acting stupid. I know you've never once indicated you were interested in me. I know that-"
He pushed her into a side corridor and kissed her. When they finally pulled away, he said, "Respectfully, Commander, you don't know shit."
She laughed. "No?"
"No." He touched her cheek, allowed himself to linger, to follow the curve of her jaw till he had his hand on the back of her neck, could pull her slowly to him and kiss her some more.
She moaned and he pushed against her, laughing as he kissed her, as she pushed him back against the other side of the corridor and ground against him.
A low throat-clearing made them both stop and look over. Spock stood watching them. "I wanted to thank Commander Chapel on your behalf, Jim."
"I think I've got that under control, old friend."
"Yes. I see." Spock looked at her. "You are well?"
"I am." She sounded very amused.
"Excellent. I will leave you two alone. Although perhaps I might suggest more private surroundings if you intend to engage in sexual activity." Ever the helpful friend, he nodded again and left.
Kirk laughed softly. "He's kind of back."
"I told you." She was smiling very gently. "I have this problem, sir."
"And it is?"
"I set up a friend with this guy I know. And it went all wrong."
"Oh, I don't think it went wrong at all." He took her hand. "So, before we go ravish each other, do you mind if we talk a bit?"
"Not at all." She let him lead her down the main corridor and out to the grounds. They sat near some trees on the hill overlooking the bay and watched the lights come on around them, turning the city into something magical.
"I love this view," he said.
She leaned her head against his shoulder. "But it's not your favorite."
"And what is?"
"The starfield at warp through a viewscreen." She nuzzled his neck. "Any viewscreen will do, but preferably one on the Enterprise."
"You're not mistaken."
"I know. I do know you, Jim. At least that part of you."
He put his arm around her and sighed. "Yes, you do."
They sat quietly, enjoying the night air and the view and each other.
Then she said, "Sarek was inspired. You would have loved his speech about you."
She nodded. "Very complimentary. Your courage. Your selflessness. Your-"
"My ability to break eighty Starfleet regulations in an hour without breaking a sweat."
She laughed. "He left that one out."
"You didn't have to get him."
"I did actually. And it had nothing to do with this." She took his hand, ran her fingertips across his palm until he shuddered with pleasure. "It's because we need you. The galaxy needs you, Captain Kirk."
"And do you need me?"
"I do." Again the fingertips across his palm. Then she leaned in and kissed him, her tongue slipping across his upper lip lightly, mirroring what her fingers were doing.
He moaned. "Unless you want me to take you right here, you will stop doing that until we are back at one of our apartments."
She laughed and let his hand go. "Party pooper."
"Do you know what ship I'm getting?"
"You do. You know."
Again the shrug.
"Damn it, Chris. Tell me."
"And spoil the surprise-or the let down? Not on your life, lover."
"Oh, I'll get it out of you. Trust me on that." He pushed her down so she was lying on the grass, eased his hand underneath her waistband. "Last chance to do this honorably."
"Do your worst." She grinned when she said it.
He let his fingers slide down and down and...
"Oh, my God." She moaned a lot of things, but the name of his damn ship was not one of them. He finally had to put his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet, and he could tell from the way her eyes were crinkling that she had said the name into his palm.
"We're not done yet." He pulled her close again and kissed her, then groaned as he felt her hands settle in his lap.
"Oh, sir. Whatever are we going to do about that?"
"Well, I can think of several things a considerate woman would do."
She laughed. Then she leaned in and said, "Keep an eye out. If I get caught doing this on Starfleet grounds, I'll never forgive you." She unzipped his pants and-
"Oh, holy crap." He tried to keep watch. When his eyes were open and he could actually still make out shapes and colors and anything at all.
She reached up and managed to get her hand over his mouth before he made too much noise.
Quick thinker. And capable of multitasking. No wonder she was doing so well in Ops.
Chapel walked down the row of stalls at Jim's uncle's farm. Satan was gone. A bay pony was in the stall the big black horse had seemed to fill. "Guess she left."
Jim came up behind her. "Yeah. About a month after I came back to Starfleet, she moved out of the cabin and took Satan to Colorado."
"She wasn't a bad person."
"No. She wasn't." He dropped his arm around her. "Just not right for me."
"You need someone who can share you with the stars."
"Not anymore I don't. I am officially not on the prowl."
She laughed, warmed by his grin and his easy way of loving her. And by the way he nodded at Mia's stall. "Is that the horse you like?"
"Well, let's get her saddled up."
She stopped him as he started to pull away. "I don't ride as well as Antonia did."
He started to laugh. "I think that all depends on what you're riding, Chris. Mia may not enjoy you as much, but trust me, I have absolutely no complaints."
"No. In fact, if I were grading on a curve, you'd get the higher marks."
"A bell curve? You grade sex on a bell curve?" She saw his smile, the one that lit up only when they were about to get into a lively argument that required a reasonable amount of brainpower-and some understanding of science or math.
She rubbed under his hair on the back of his neck, heard his happy groan. "I love you. Just want to say that before I explain why you can't possibly grade sex on the bell curve."
"I love you, too. Now give it your best shot."
They were still arguing when they rode out.